Saturday, 18 July 2009

What is Sure

“Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”

(Hosea 6:1,3)

Thursday, 9 July 2009

God's Trademark

A year or so ago, I received as a gift a beautiful wallet - one that I would never have bought for myself. It was designed by one Louis Vuitton, and is probably worth more than any money I'll ever have in it at one time. People are often interested by this wallet, and the first question I am often asked is "Is it real?" Well, it came in a pretty fancy-looking box, with a tag inside that said "Made in France for Louis Vuitton, #801" (actually, I'm not sure if the number is really 801 and I'm too lazy to go and dig it out right now, but you get the picture...) One girl told me that there is a way to tell for sure if an item has truly been made by Louis Vuitton, and that is to check the pattern stamped onto the leather. Since each genuine article is stamped witht he LV symbol after being cut, the symbol should never extend past the edge of the wallet. That's how you know you have the real deal.

My recent reading in Daniel has reminded me that God, too, places a mark on those who belong to him. His trademark is humility, and it has been indelibly stamped onto the lives of those who have come to know him.

Take Daniel, for instance. This is a young man who has been dragged out of his own country and carted off, a captive, to Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar in the beginning of the book of Daniel is about ready to do in the whole lot of his advisors and magicians, because none of them could tell him what his strange dream means. (Apparently, what these crafty gentlemen had been doing was getting together and agreeing on what they would tell the king, so that it would appear that their stories matched - but Nebuchadnezzar was no slouch, and had found a way to test the validity of their 'interpretations'.) When he hears why he is to be killed, Daniel offers quietly to tell the King is dream. To make a long story short, he is able to tell the dream and its meaning and is made very rich and powerful in short order. Human nature says that it's time to make the most of such a promotion, but here's what Daniel says:
"No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries...But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but to the intent that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart."
Can you believe this guy? Everyone thinks he's a superstar, but he wants them to know he has no special powers. He doesn't hold a big Judaism rally with long robes and mood music. There are no big promises, no fantastic claims. There's no capitalising on King Nebuchadnezzar's change of heart. This is clearly a man with God's mark.

Anyone who has ever come face-to-face with the God of Eternity has first had to have a good look at the destruction in their own heart. And it's not easy to be the "big man on campus" when it's not just your accountability partner you are accountable to, but a Holy God.

In this age of mass-mediated everything, including Christianity, there are so many confusing messages. Everyone claims to speak for God. The Bible gives a good picture of the genuine article, so we don't get fooled by all the big claims.

There are some good fakes out there. Keep an eye out for God's mark.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Faith Like a Mustard Seed - Or a Lab Rat

I spent Saturday with my grandmother, participating in a Hallmark channel movie marathon from the comfort of her couch. One of the movies' heroines had dealt with the loss of her husband by renouncing her faith in God and was being counseled by a wise old missionary who advised her earnestly that "God's ways can't be understood."

I was immediately struck with the dichotomy the movie offered. It's the same one we are offered everywhere. On one hand is the person who seeks to understand, portrayed alternately as the truth-loving scientist and the hard-headed empiricist; on the other hand is the person who accepts without understanding, depicted either as a noble idealist or as a pie-in-the-sky dream-chaser. The options are only two. Either we can utterly relinquish all claim to that which cannot be held in the hands and counted like peas, or we are forced to shut ourselves into the walled gardens of our fantasies and reach for our ideals by wishing upon stars. Perhaps it is this divide that has left 'faith' romanticized almost beyond repair. It has come to mean a idealistic clinging to what I want to believe at the expense of all that I know. By contrast, to insist upon reason is to reject out of hand all that is not see-able and smell-able.

Hallmark's gentle missionary was presented more as a noble idealist than a brainless fool... but her words made me feel tired. Is this all we really have to tell people? You don't need to understand - just accept it? Must faith be a blind leap into the dark?

But no! God's ways CAN be understood - more and more, as I come to know him. He doesn't ask for blind belief, but action that is based on what I DO know.

It is true that God asks me to trust him when I don't like or understand what he is doing - but he doesn't leave me there. He does let me see some of his plan. I do eventually come to understand the 'why's, as I come to know God himself.

He doesn't explain it all up-front. I do have to trust him - for a little while. The difference is this: I know who I am trusting. He asked for a little trust in the beginning, when I knew him a little; now that I know him better, he asks for more. But it's only a little while that I have to wait without understanding. God is not the enemy of the intellect - he created it. He does ask that we subject our understanding to him, but only for a while, and only to the degree that we know him.

God is not fully encompassed by reason, but he is never unreasonable. Every life winds through dim wastes, and when I find myself in its dark corners, I am driven to reach for his hand. But when I emerge into the sunlight again, understanding casts its rays backward onto the way that I have come and illuminates the reason why. And then, too, with every experience I know more surely the One who has chosen it, and that I can trust the hand that has led me. As I come to know God, his choices for me seem less and less incomprehensible, and more and more I can appreciate the Good he offers, though its wrappings frustrate and sadden me.

My confidence is not based upon the fact that God will give me what is comfortable. It is based upon the fact that God will give me what is Good. How do I know that? Trial and error. I understand how, contrary to appearances, the things that he has already given me have been Good. The things I have chosen for myself have not always been, but His choices have - every time.

A lab rat can exercise that much faith.