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?

My Love/Hate Relationship with Scripture Memorization

I enjoy memorizing scripture.  There is something special about hiding God’s word in my heart that I might not sin against him (Psalm 119:11).  What I don’t enjoy, however, is being awakened in the middle of the night by the Holy Spirit and having him use the very scripture I have memorized against me.

That happened to me this week.  I went to bed at peace with the world.  Then about 2:00 a.m. I found myself wide awake, thinking about how I had misled someone and that I needed to confess it and make amends.  I started to rationalize that it wasn’t any big deal: no one was hurt and besides know one would ever find out.  That is when it happened – there it was: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).  Why did I have to memorize that verse?  I laid there trying to argue with God, but all I heard was, “Do you want me to prosper you?” and “Do you want mercy?”  How am I supposed to answer those? “No, Lord, I would prefer that you remove your blessing and grace from me.”

The thing about memorizing God’s word is that it is still there when you wake up in the morning.  I might have been able to pass off the middle of the night encounter with God as just an over-active brain on a sleepless night, but there it was again in the morning: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

I want to live in the center of God’s will.  I want him to prosper me and I certainly want all of his mercy.  So I am in the process of going to those I deceived and confessing and renouncing my lie to them.  It is embarrassing; it is hard.  However, I keep reminding myself that God’s mercy is so much more wonderful.  Pain and embarrassment is a small price to pay for God’s mercy.

Why Devotions Are Not Enough

I recently learned something I wish I had learned years ago.  I should have known it; it is everywhere in the Bible.  It was in my theology – that is, I had it in my brain.  However, it never worked itself into my life.  Because of what I recently learned, my life will be forever changed for the better.

I learned that spiritual growth requires more than a personal relationship with God.  It also requires me to process life devoson a deep, heart level with safe people.  Not only do I need a strong devotional life, which is what this blog is all about, but I also need others to help me incorporate God’s work in my life.  I need people who will walk with me through life.  I need people who will empathize with my pain, my hurts and my losses.  I need people who will celebrate victories and will be a support team to help me become more like Jesus.

Until recently I believed that Jesus was all I needed for navigating life.  I really thought my personal relationship with him was sufficient.  In fact, if I admitted needing others in my life, that would be dishonoring to God.  For example, when my son was born prematurely and died after two days of life, I went to God alone with my pain.  I found Psalm 139:16 and reasoned that if God had ordained those two days of life before my son was born, then I would consider them a gift.  To grieve the loss of more days with my son would be to dishonor God’s gift.

What I know now is that I needed some safe people who could have come alongside me and grieved with me.  Grieving isn’t dishonoring to God; it is healing.  I missed out on the full extent of God’s grace because I ignored my loss.

Were my son’s days ordained by God? Yes. Were they a gift? Yes.  My personal relationship with Jesus was not the problem; my devotional life was strong.  My theology was not the problem; it was just incomplete.  What I failed to understand was that when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15), God was once again incarnate in the world.  Now he is not just incarnate in one man – Jesus, but he is incarnate in his church – the body of Christ!  I knew this theologically, but now I know it experientially.  Finally, I am beginning to experience the healing power of bringing my losses to other Christ-followers who will share in my grief and will extend God’s grace to me.  I love it that I can be 55 and still not too old to learn life-changing lessons!

The point is this: a strong devotional life is a must for spiritual growth, but so is a strong, community of safe believers.  Continue to nurture your relationship with Christ through the disciplines of Bible reading and prayer, but don’t neglect building a community of safe people through whom God can extend his grace to you.  My devotions will work bigger changes in my life when I process life with others, inviting them to walk with me on God’s path.  For a much better understanding of this, read How People Grow by Henry Cloud & John Townsend.

What does your community of safe people look like?

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