Yesterday’s post talked about the ‘hyper-defense of God.’ What I wanted to confront was the sort of insistence on giving God credit for things that the place of the individual human, and the Church in particular, has in carrying out God’s plan. I gave as an illustration the fact that salvation is by grace alone through Christ- ie, accomplished by the power of God- and yet Paul can say elsewhere that he ‘saves’ people.
Yesterday, I wanted to build towards addressing the notion that God expresses his love for us, and we express our love for God, without reference to any other person. Surely, there is room for such a thing, but I argued that actually, according to the Scriptures, God expresses his love for us through Christ- who is yet manifest on this earth in the Church, which is his body (Eph 5), and according to the same Scriptures, God asks that if we are grateful for what he has done for us, we direct our thanksgiving, love, mercy, etc, to each other. Christians should not, when come across some need to be met or good deed waiting to be done, simply pray that God will meet that need or accomplish that need, without considering if they themselves ARE the answer to that prayer. The hyper-defense of God has Christians going so far out of their way to make sure that God gets the glory that they wouldn’t dream of lifting a finger of their own… since no human is worthy.
I said yesterday, and I will repeat today, that God’s choice to use unworthy humans (the ‘weak’) to carry out his purposes on this planet only add to his glory in my book.
But hyper-defenses of God pop onto my radar in numerous places. The connection with love gets on my nerves because that particular one results in brothers remaining needful while other brothers could provide succor. It’s a tangible harm.
There are other harms, too.
For example, I find that some people are very quick to give God credit and defer to his awesome power and so quick to contrast humans against him that they actually serve to demean, diminish, and ridicule the plans and purposes of God- whom they set out to defend!
The Apostle Peter was called on something like this in the book of Acts. In a vision, Peter insisted that he had never eaten anything impure or unclean- you know, he had met God’s standard of holiness- and the voice retorted: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
In the end, it wasn’t food that God was referring to, but rather people, namely the Gentiles. (Acts 10)
God has chosen to operate through people and tangible, physical stuff like sound waves (the Word), water (baptism), and bread and wine (the Eucharist). (Some will object to baptism and the Eucharist, but at least people and the Word should be conceded). To attack such things in the name of spirituality is to attack that which the Spirit is actually using. In fact, this line of attack sounds an awful lot like Gnosticism, which considers matter inherently corrupted and only the spiritual things pure.
As a quick, pointed example, the accusation that the Christian community abhors all things concerning sex isn’t an entirely fabricated. There are indeed Christians who will talk about sex as though it were some base, physical act that only serves to get in the way of spiritual pursuits. But God made us as sexual beings, and marriage was God’s way of creating godly children (Mal. 2). One gets the idea for some Christians that God permits people to have sex, but only reluctantly- so we should try very hard not to enjoy it and participate in it only as duty requires. Yea, compare and contrast that with the Song of Solomon, why don’t you!
This sort of abhorrence to the material universe- which God created and called Good- in the name of all things Spiritual, ostensibly in deference to God, manifests sometimes in sterile, sanitized dogmatic expressions. I find that a lot of talk about heaven is like this. I talk to a lot of unbelievers, or at least read what they write, and it is not uncommon to hear them describe what they believe about heaven as being hellish. That is because believers will sometimes present heaven as though it were sitting in a church for all eternity, leaning back on the pew, and singing hymns of praise- forever- and… actually like it.
Well, a lot of people don’t find that to be a particularly heavenly image. Christians should realize that the imagery in the Scriptures is just that, imagery. Heaven will be more than we can imagine, because the promise of Scripture is not heaven as much as it is direct communion with God in Christ. The symbols and images of that age do not communicate the same thing in our age. When people hyper-spiritualize, they refuse to contemplate what kind of images might be more ‘heavenly’ in our own age, and translate accordingly.
Another brand of ‘hyper-defense’ of God occurs when people insist that there is no mediator between God and man and so they can commune with God without connection or relation to any other believers. These people justify not going to their Sunday morning assembly on the grounds that they don’t really need that, and who are you to get in the way of what an all powerful God can do in the private life of the individual!
That way of thinking is answered by yesterday’s post and the summary above which discusses it. True, there is no need for a priest to offer a sacrifice for us any more, but the raw fact is that God works through other believers in order to strengthen you and similarly he works through you to strengthen other believers. That is a little difficult to do if you never engage with other believers. 🙂
If you would like to argue that even showing up for the Sunday morning assembly (what some call ‘church’ and a ‘worship service’) there is very little meaningful engagement with other believers anyway, well, that’s a different argument. But let’s not have this silly and unbiblical notion that you can strip away the community and still be ministered sufficiently by God. Obviously, that can happen, and probably sometimes does, but the New Testament is pretty clear that the ministry of God proceeds through that very community.
Which leaves, as an after thought, the conclusion that maybe we should think carefully within the Church what constitutes a community. Is it sufficient merely to be in proximity with other believers, or should you maybe know a few names, for example?
In conclusion, I find that hyper-defenses of God pop up all over the place. They all have the same basic outline: in their quest to give God all the credit and glory and raise up spiritual things they actually insult the very plans and purposes of God himself, as revealed in the Scriptures. I’m all for defending God as appropriate and giving him his due, but this kind of defense seems to me to really be insulting.
And right now, there is a hyper-defender of God who is going to jump in right now and say, in defense of God, “God needs no one to defend him!”