THEOLOGY & APOLOGETICS
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
Part 5: Hope in the Journey to Freedom
By Christopher Schwinger
The SeriesHow Confusion Thwarts Holiness
Being Serious without Fear
Identifying a Hard Heart
Hope in the Journey to Freedom
As I have lately thought more about what gave some of the Old Testament writers profound faith even without an understanding of the atonement of Christ and resurrection, I became convinced that hope is the natural outgrowth of virtue, and virtue often comes out of our own choice to stand against the prevailing vices of the culture. You will notice if you carefully read Psalms 49, 73, and 103 that the psalmists don't have an explicit "going to heaven when I die" answer to what makes it ultimately better to be righteous than wicked, but they are encouraged by the impermanence of the wicked, rather than concluding like the Book of Ecclesiastes nearly does that there may be no point to making righteous choices. They take a prayerful approach rather than looking to reason and experience alone like Qoheleth ("the preacher" who wrote Ecclesiastes). The psalmists of those three psalms (and other psalms and proverbs and poems within the Books of the Prophets) don't always despair when they consider death; they don't always give up at the realization that everyone dies. I believe God gave us a natural yearning for life after death which points to what God accomplished through Jesus. I believe this is linked to a natural self-analysis which knows, without being able to explain it, that we are doing the right thing — which sin often distorts in our understanding, I grant, but it's still an inborn instinct. But if the psalmists who wrote Psalms 49, 73, and 103 believed strongly that God would be with them forever, even if they didn't know how, and Job experienced similar moments of strong hope in the midst of the darkness, we need to ask ourselves why, with the hope and knowledge we have in Christ, we are more self-centered and less appreciative of God's truth than these people who had less revelation.
It is a hard question to wrestle with, especially because we are supposed to avoid too much comparison to others because of unhealthy pride, but I submit that the problem stems from people thinking God is someone He isn't. I don't have a problem with emphasizing the permanency of sin's eternal consequences, but I think most Christians never get past the Deuteronomy mindset that we must not neglect a single precept, lest He cast us out of His presence. The falling-away experience is heartbreaking to watch, and we all want to avoid it if we have God's truth, but the goal ought to be to not work so hard on our own holiness and instead have it flow out of us to help a broken world. I sense an emptiness in people at the deep relationship level, and like the youth culture of the 50s and 60s realized, it comes from misplaced priorities and weak theology. The movie Rebel without a Cause is surprisingly explicit in associating the philosophy of James Dean with the atheistic, evolutionary presentation at Griffith Observatory. But the materialistic (and devoid of God) cultural values of accomplishing, acquiring, and living up to others' expectations, which made his character angry in the movie and resonated with that generation, are still at large today, and just as much among Christians. If Christians are still solid in their moral codes about abortion and gay marriage, they still have a great weakness in how much they try to fill their lives with more things to do, driven out of deep emptiness. The new Christian movie War Room by Alex and Stephen Kendrick is wonderful at addressing this issue.
Though not everyone fears they've lost God's favor, the point I'm making is that most people fear they will lose His favor if they can't continue to perform according to society's expectations, because they don't believe people can be loved unless they earn that love. If people recognize that they have this problem, then the first thing to do, besides pray for help, is remember that God loved Jesus even when Jesus was dying for our sins. We naturally will think suffering has a connection to God's favor in an economical or statistical sense: when the suffering is up, the favor is down. There are psalms which have this weak theology, that God must really love them because they had a military success. The New Testament has a wonderful concept that suffering develops character, in that we realize that life is not in itself a blessing or curse. Life is the arena of good and evil.
Besides remembering that God loved Jesus even when He was suffering, nature is a potential way to discover God's goodness and break free from fear-based living. Nature is both a blessing and a curse, and by itself isn't a surefire way to discover the character/nature of God. This is why some of the Old Testament passages which describe God as He's displayed in nature seem to believe God is fickle — though they never forget His unchangeable promise to Abraham. Jesus and the Book of James appealed to natural law (deriving moral concepts from principles of nature), though, such as when Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, "He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (My Old Testament Bible teacher at MidAmerica Nazarene University, Jim Edlin, called the Book of James the New Testament's wisdom literature, with a lot of similarity to the Book of Proverbs.)
It is interesting that when most of the evidence of creation, including amazingly designed creatures, is that God is good and upholds peace, people still naturally are drawn to fear, such as scary-sounding Bible verses like the "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit," and can't break free from a performance-based attitude about life. I just now realized that another layer of Jesus' "look at the birds" passage about anxiety in Matthew 6, besides that God knows they can't do everything and understands their individual limitations (which means a lot to me personally: birds don't expect all of their survival to depend on themselves alone), is that they don't get their worth or purpose from performing. They enjoy life.
Who are we really trying to impress by doing so much that we have no emotional energy for giving to others: God, ourselves, or others? When we feel our self-worth coming from others, we need to remember that Jesus' self-worth came from always realizing He was in sync with the will of the rest of the Trinity (Father and Holy Spirit). Even on the cross, when He felt so, so horrible about what the Father had allowed to happen for Him to make atonement for humanity, He didn't believe God hated Him, but remained motivated by the desire to restore fellowship with us. The only way He was able to accomplish this was by His consistently good priorities. He spent a lot of time praying to maintain His focus and viewed deeper relationships with other people as the ultimate goal. I too can testify that even though relationships are made more enjoyable by life's blessings, life's blessings wouldn't exist without healthy relationships. I pray that the church would see this and that this 5-part article would be therapeutic, instructive, and motivational to people, maybe even changing some of them.
Image Credit: OpenClipartVectors; untitled; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Salvation | Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | God-Father | Jesus-Christ
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