Stop Defending God

I heard a sermon yesterday on Genesis 22, where God tested Abraham by commanding him to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him on one of the mountains of Moriah.  As I was listening to the retelling of this story, I thought to myself, “What understanding of God did Abraham have that he would so instantaneous act to obey this command from God?” After all, when I read this passage, I immediately begin to wrestle with tough questions like:

  • What kind of God would test someone, especially someone like Abraham who had already proven that he was faithful?
  • What kind of God would ask someone to kill their own son as a sacrifice?
  • What kind of God would subject any person, especially a child, to such trauma?

As soon as I attempt to answer these questions and resolve the tensions they bring, I begin to define God.  Of course I don’t think of it as “defining God.”  I would prefer to say that I am forming a theological understanding.  Nevertheless, the reality is that I am defining God for myself in ways that diminishes the tensions of this passage.

However, Abraham didn’t seem to be as bothered by these questions.  Was he pained by the command?  I am sure he was.  Did he grieve deeply?  How could he not?  Did he ponder the purpose of the act he was being commanded to perform?  Of course!  This was Isaac, the only son born to Sarah and him.  He was the son God had promised to give them in their old age.  Isaac was the one through whom a great nation would descend– the nation that would bless all peoples on earth (see Genesis 12:2-3).  Yet Abraham obeyed.

What was Abraham’s understanding of God that caused him to obey with such immediacy?  Well, Abraham believed:

  1. God is God.  For a moment forget the Bible and Christianity, or any other faith or religious system for that matter.  By definition, God is one to be obeyed.  Whether that God is benevolent or a mean-spirited, harsh God, he must be obeyed.
  2. God is Creator.  He created us; he was not created.  He defines us; we cannot define him.  He is God – He is.  He made us according to his design.  We cannot make him according to our design.    Therefore, he is boss.  If he commands us, we must obey.
  3. God is the Source.  He is the giver of life and all things.  We are to be totally dependent on him for all things.  To disobey would be to depend on someone or something other than God.

Abraham knew from previous experience that God was good and the giver of good things.  Therefore, Abraham knew that God would bring good out of his act of obedience.  He reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead, though there was no guarantee of that (see Hebrew 11:19).  ramBecause Abraham knew God to be God, Creator and Source, he could confidently say to Isaac, when asked where the lamb was for the sacrifice, “The LORD will see to the lamb” (Genesis 22:8).  Most translations read: “The Lord will provide the lamb.”  However, the true sense of the word is that God sees.  The implication for Abraham was that God was in control, he knew what is going on, and he could be trusted.

My point is that when we read the Bible, we should not feel compelled to defend God or to define him in such ways that smooth over hard realities and make him more presentable.  He is God; he is his own defense.  So, relax when you read and study the Bible.  You will discover God to be a God who is for us.  He loves us and extends his grace to us at all times.  He can be trusted to be God, Creator and Source.

When have you had to trust God to be God, Creator, and Source, even when everything around you seemed to be pointing to something different?

40 Days of Philippians

Are you looking for a way to jump-start your devotional life, while at the same time digging into a meaningful Bible study?  Maybe you have tried to use SOAP in your devotions and find it difficult to get the hang of it.  Why not embark on a devotional journey through Paul’s letter to the Philippians?  Below is everything you need to do this:

  1. Click here to open and print the “40 Days of Philippians” document.
  2. Read the “Introduction to Philippians” at the beginning of the document.
  3. Everyday for the next 40 days read and/or listen to Philippians all the way through.  This should only take 15-20 each day.
  4. Each day follow the daily devotional thoughts and fill in your own personal application and prayers.

The daily devotional thoughts in the “40 Days of Philippians” follow the SOAP format and cover every verse in Philippians.  Give it a try.  It will change the way you do devotions and Bible study.

When you complete your “40 Days of Philippians,” then take the next step with the “35 Day Challenge.”

The First Step in Bible Study

G. Campbell Morgan, the great Bible teacher and preacher, was known to have read a book of the Bible over 50 times before he would begin to teach it.  The more I read the Bible the more I am convinced of the wisdom of this approach.  I am currently starting a study of Hebrews in preparation for leading a men’s study of it at the first of the year.  My first step is to read through Hebrews in one setting numerous times.  Actually, I am listening to it using as many different translations as possible.  To do this I use the YouVersion app.  It takes about 45 minutes each time through.

So far I have listened to Hebrews 3 times.  Only 47 to go!  Each time I glean a better understanding of the message of the book and I realize how limited my understanding has been of some of my favorite verses from Hebrews.  Yesterday I counted that over the years I have memorized 26 verses from Hebrews.  By getting the bigger picture of the book through reading through it in single settings, my understanding of these individual verses is becoming much more complete.

Too often we approach Bible study by going straight to a verse, pulling it out of context, trying to figure out its meaning, and then looking for other verses that back up our conclusions.  When we do that, cross-referencing really becomes proof-texting.  The better approach to Bible study is to read the book in its entirety first, preferably numerous times.  Only after we grasp the big picture of the book are we ready to begin to dig into the specifics.

Try this approach.  Start with Philemon.  Read it 10 times.  It will take about 3 minutes each time.  See if this doesn’t transform the way you approach Bible study.

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