What About Them?

God is at work in the world! Jesus said so (Matthew 5:45-48). Paul said so (Acts 14:16; 17:24-29). We see His work all over the place, in non-Christians as well as Christians. It’s just that millions of us don’t know that it’s His work when we love faithfully or think and do lovely things or refuse to do what we know is plainly unjust. We do see this all around us and we need to acknowledge it as the work of a gracious and faithful God who works in the midst of a world of humans who don’t know the truth about God or themselves. Are we capable of cruelty and selfishness beyond belief? Of course! Who doubts it?
Sin in all its forms is brutal, infectious and corrupting; it blinds and enslaves, it justifies itself in sophisticated ways—“It’s right that we should do these things because…” and individuals and movements and nations offer moral justification for what they do. Once more, “What we are doing is morally right because…” Few are willing to be and do evil without attempting to justify it. It’s true that in some quarters the question, “And why did you beat her to death?” gets this for an answer, “Hmmm, maybe because it was Tuesday and I was in the mood.”
Humanism in its strident crusading form proclaims as its watchword: “Goodness without God!” “Humanism” doesn’t weep but many humanists do. Humanism doesn’t help others but many humanists do. Humanism doesn’t place the ‘blame’ where it belongs for cruelty and selfishness that beggars belief—on powerful, cruel and selfish humans but many humanists do.
There are those of us who had grown weary of the evil we were/are addicted to, evil that God couldn’t or didn’t help us to overcome, so we say we converted to Humanism without God to build a better life and to help others live freely and in peace. No Sin, you see! This is ‘the higher calling.’ Reject God and you reject “Sin” and find peace and a guilt-free life. Rather than confess we are enmeshed in sleaze or cruelty we become ‘intellectually honest’ and turn from God, no remorse about the past or repentance required in the present or future.
I suppose that would mean no one sins. We end up with a world that agnostic and humanist, Bertrand Russell, looked at with great sadness; confessing that he saw things going on in the world that appalled him but he said he had no rational grounds for condemning it. Agnostic Nietzschean scholar, Walter Kaufman said, “Try not to call anything evil.” No one lives this way! No one can live this way. We all end up believing there’s a ‘higher ground’ and Herbert Butterfield (Cambridge professor of modern history for 35 years) said he learned down the years that all the nations claimed they stood on that higher ground. History proclaims a central sin: “Self-righteousness.” You never heard Stalin, Hitler or Paul Pot confessing they had done wrong. You would have heard them admit they made tactical or strategic mistakes, but they were always doing the right thing.
Oh God!
The wave that is climbing highest and becoming stronger in the West, in scholarly theological gatherings and religious conversations and sermons, is the social justice wave. How can we regret the desire for social justice and the concrete attempts to gain it? We can’t and shouldn’t! It matters much to GOD! Read through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, and if you have a mind to, read some of Rabbi Heschel’s work on The Prophets and see how fiercely interested God is in social justice.
But the speech of the prophets is saturated with phrases like, “Thus saith the Lord!” What they had to say was not based on rational argument or warm humanitarian feeling (though they would  not sneer at such things)—what they had to say was the voice of GOD and they weren’t educated enough to hide that!
Most of what we (at least what I) hear these days is sociology and the religious/theological fashion which is the result not of sustained listening to and reflection on the self-revelation of God beginning in Genesis and culminating in the indwelling Lord Jesus—Humanism and many fine humanitarian people are the engine that drives it.
Of course if that’s what it takes to waken God’s Companions we should thank Him for it but, as Lesslie Newbigin, warned us years ago, it’s astonishing how quickly the reign of God becomes a church program or a theological fashion.

This piece has wandered from what I meant to say and say in few words. Humanism promises a better world now, or at least soon, and it promises it on the basis of human effort and thought (without GOD, of course). It’s a bit like looking in a cemetery for the secret to staying alive. (See Isaiah 8:19 which is addressed to God’s people.)
The Humanistic speech is addressed to those who have the time and freedom to think about it. It might be useful to a great host here and far away but it assumes they’ll be alive tomorrow to hear it and benefit from it.
The trouble with a Humanism without GOD that troubles me most is that it destroys—utterly destroys—all hope of justice for the unnumbered millions who never got any from the day they were born until the day they were butchered or burned, raped and sold and starved into oblivion!
What about them? What about them?
The future offered by Humanism is THE VAST DEATH OF THE MINDLESS UNIVERSE THAT KNOWS NOTHING OF ‘JUSTICE’ AND NEVER DID! It ignores the machete-hacked parents, the boy-soldiers in Africa and the very young girls who are kept to be gang-raped to death before they become mentally unhinged and kill themselves.  This! This is superior to the prophetic “God will judge the world in righteousness and has given assurance that He will do it by raising Jesus from the dead”? Acts 17:31.
Lectures and sermons that nod at appropriate ‘liberation texts’ from the Holy Scriptures, and then proceed to offer sociology and historical surveys, without remainder, are no substitute for establishing congregations of Jesus Christ with Him and the meaning of Him as the throbbing center of “the whole counsel and purpose of God.”
No doubt we will, and should, take any help God gives us through any avenue but when hermeneutical strategies and society’s newest and focused interest become our major interest and impetus and our teaching/preaching/writing and lecturing is for peer review or peer sampling then the Holy Scriptures are pushed into the background and the entire world suffers loss as it spins farther from its Sun and deeper into unfathomable cosmic darkness.

(Holy Father, give us we pray, teachers drenched with a rich understanding and living relationship with your Holy Bible and with yourself the loving Creator and the Judge of all the earth who has done, is doing and will finally do what “is right.”)

 

The Lord: Present or Absent?

  1. Thoughtful [truly thoughtful] people are not nor do they need to be thoughtful in the same areas. They have different interests, life-settings, giftedness and so forth. (To oversimplify, these are the product of ‘nature and nurture’—or lack of it—and they lead persons to reflect in and about some areas and not others.)
  2. Many people share similar life-situations but they differ in depth, intensity so some are ‘interested’ in music and others are ‘obsessed’ or ‘taken’ with it.
  3. A person can be “present with” and “absent from” us in the same experience though not in precisely the same way in that experience.
  4. The physical note you sent that I read was you making yourself present. The medium you used to make yourself “present” isn’t making itself “present”. It made no choices, has no mind.
  5. You made yourself “present” using this medium. There was a “meeting of minds”—your mind met mine. You chose to send your mind into mine. Your questions, proposals, doubts, convictions and other realities entered my ‘world’ of questions, proposals, convictions and such and dialogue begins.
  6. “Mind” is notoriously difficult to define because there are so many aspects, facets of a human. Our “mind” is not the totality of us—it is an aspect of us, it is not our physical body though in this phase of human living it cannot be severed from our physical make-up. It’s an entire person that “thinks”. “Thought” does not “think”. We think. “Speaking” does not speak—we speak. “Writing” does not write—we write. Imagine this:
    “Did you get a note from Herman?”
    “No, but I got a note from his mind.”
  7. In you sending me a note we didn’t make contact in any of the five physical senses ways so in that sense of “present” you are “absent.”
  8. Nevertheless, your thoughts, tone, emotional depth, attitude are currently with me. Since none of this is possible without you as an entire person in that sense you are really present with me.
  9. If someone should say: “The person is not really present with you,” they would be using “really” within the “five senses” limits. In saying that they would be saying, “The only way someone can be ‘really’ with another is if they are physically/spatially there.” That makes sense only if we confine the word ‘really’ to physical/spatial reality.
  10. Our words and thoughts are not the totality of us but they are us functioning as a total person. If that were not true then we (persons) never do anything. It would not be you that loves or weeps, or builds a house, or teaches a class. It wouldn’t be me writing this.
  11. The note did not come from X. So it isn’t who contacted me—it was you; you and not another person. The note did not write itself so I am not in touch with a self-created note. Nor did it come into being by chance so I am not in touch with a mindless and therefore purposeless note. An actual, particular person made her or himself ‘present’ in and to me.
  12. So it is with the ‘absent’ Lord. We “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” He is returning so in that sense He is ‘absent’—He is not physically/spatially ‘present’ at this time. But in many ways He speaks to us and in particular and centrally He speaks to us via the Holy Scriptures. But it is HE who speaks to us. They are “Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:15) because the Holy Spirit speaks to us in and through them. As it is you who speaks to me via your letter so it is that it is God who speaks to us through His Holy Writings.
    Your letter doesn’t speak, the Holy Bible doesn’t speak—you speak and God speaks in and through the media you choose.
    (Of course we commonly identify the letter or the book as the writer. That only drives home the truth that the person makes him or herself present in what they write. “Of course ‘she’ said it. Look! It’s written right here in her book.” She said it. Or even more pointedly, “You said it; look, it’s right here on page 29!”
  13. I need to end this! I’m particularly interested in God making Himself “present” in Holy Scripture. He doesn’t not need to do “space travel” to make Himself “present.” He wills to be “present,” wherever, and He’s there. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear know He makes His presence felt in sunshine & rain and fruitful seasons (Matthew 5 & Acts 14). But it’s His presence. The sun/rain is not God but He makes Himself present in our world and lives by those media.
  14. Take issue with whatever you think you need to in this piece, presuming you think it worth your time and energy. But if you think God makes His heart and mind present in and to you via the Holy Bible do allow yourself the joy of knowing HE, He Himself, is making Himself present with you. “He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17)