Posts Tagged ‘Belief’

Your God is Too Small

That was the title of a book I read many years ago, by author J.B. Philips. I really don’t remember any specific content, but the title pretty accurately sums up the core message.

We think small thoughts of God.

At times – many times over the years, truth be told – I’ve wondered if God could forgive my sins. If He could actually “do” this salvation thing. Can the Lord truly renew a wreck like me?

But then I thought – when I walk outside, I don’t question whether I’m going to feel enough of the sun’s light and heat to survive the day. I am confident each morning that the sun is big enough for me (and everyone else on this lovely planet, for that matter). There is so much more than enough sun that it would be silly to question its riches of power.

Yet, how much of the sun’s total energy output actually falls on the earth?

Oh, about one one-billionth of a percent.

Were I to stand at a street corner at 11 am, anxiously looking up at the sky and wondering if the sun would still be warm at 2 pm, I’d rightly be considered by my neighbors to be a bit daft. And my anxiety and questioning really wouldn’t change the nature of the sun anyway, would it? Doubt doesn’t diminish a single photon.


Do we walk out the door and question whether there will be enough air to breathe that day? Do we stand at the shoreline of the ocean and wonder if there’s water enough for a swim? Do we think the sun is insufficient to give light today, tomorrow, and next week?

Yet God, who made all of these things and billions of galaxies beside, is not enough to take care of me??


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Making Sense of Prayer

I’ve always envied those who seem to pray so naturally, with such child-like faith.

Prayer, for me, has always been a tangled struggle of half-belief, pressure to perform, and guilty feelings of failure – especially when you read, say, the biography of George Muelller or some other stellar disciple of the past. Prayer has too often focused on me, not God.

Why such struggle? I don’t think it’s really about prayer itself. It likely stems from tangled and half-blind view of God, particularly as my gracious Father. Add to that a proudly independent spirit, and you don’t have a recipe for child-like faith.

Looking within never produced believing prayer.

Yet – God is infinitely patient with His erring, stubborn, myopic children.

I really need to see prayer as my believing collaboration with a willing Father in the outworking of His will, rather than my doubting performance trying to live up to the standards of a grudging God – trying to convince Him to do my will.

I get it so backwards most of the time.

Lord, I don’t know why you bother with the likes of me. But thank You for Your unending grace.

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Can You Spare Me a Sign?

I was reading with the family this week the ancient story of Gideon, one of the “judges” God raised up to lead Israel out of the oppressive grip of its conquering neighbors.

Long story short, Gideon was a hesitant soul. God told him what He wanted him to do, and promised to provide deliverance, and Gideon kept asking for miraculous signs to confirm that God really meant it.

Instead of frying him to a cinder for his unbelief, God (who had chosen Gideon with full awareness of his weakness) condescended to accommodate his wavering faith, and actually provided multiple confirmations of His power to help embolden Gideon and give him the confidence to go forward.

Then, this morning, the story of Zacharias in the New Testament book of Luke. An old man, he and his wife had been unable to bear children. One day, as a priest serving before God, an angel appeared and told him that they would experience a miraculous conception and birth, and the child would be the forerunner to the Messiah.

Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain?” And he was struck with muteness (until the birth of his son John) for his unbelief.

Each story has elements of both awe and amusement. But the takeaway, for me, was two-fold:

– God comes alongside us perfectly aware of all of our weaknesses, and has realistic expectations accordingly.

– God treats people differently for good and wise reasons that we may not be able to fathom.

Why was Gideon able to seek a sign (twice!) with a fleece, hesitating at the threshold of God’s promises, while Zacharias asked a pretty reasonable question about how such a thing could happen for a semi-geriatric couple? Multiple explanations could be advanced, but the comforting truth is: God puts up with our flaws and sins and weaknesses, and works with us right in the midst of them all.

That’s a good thing. I have a long and entangled relationship with doubt and hesitancy. It’s comforting to know that, like Gideon, I might still be used by God to accomplish something despite the messy condition of my soul…


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Ever started up a conversation with a stranger with a question like that? Didn’t think so.

But if you’ve never asked this question, either silently or aloud, I’d argue that you may be on the wrong side of consciousness! From the greatest philosophers to the humblest of thinkers, this is one of the most profound and universal questions.

And one of the most difficult to answer. One reason being we often talk past each other on questions like this, by using the same words, but with varying meanings attached to them. This Babel-like exchange can be frustrating rather than productive. How many times have you heard people talk about “their truth,” in opposition to someone else’s “truth,” which vacates the term of all objective meaning and leaves us adrift in a sea of subjectivity?

Trying to answer this question will lead to profound philosophical and theological debates – which is welcome, actually, as long the terminology ground rules are spelled out and agreed upon.

So here, in an effort to enable intelligent discussion, is my humble attempt to define a few key terms that will at least get us to the threshold…

Fact – a reality known and established by objective observation. Birds fly by wing motions – this is an actual occurrence, observable, verifiable, indisputable. Something that is factual is (small “t”) true. You are delusional when you cannot recognize or acknowledge what is plainly factual.

Belief/Opinion – confidence in the reality or truthfulness of something that may not be susceptible to the rigorous proofs that establish something as objective fact. You may believe, for instance, that Joseph Smith found golden plates that directed him to found the Mormon religion. But the evidence is strictly testimonial in nature and remains disputable. You may believe that the iPhone is better than the Blackberry. Some of us may “know” it’s a fact, but…OK, well it’s an opinion!

Theory – A proposed explanation devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena. Theories are always tentative and subject to revision, as opposed to the facts themselves. Theories will be colored by first-principle perspectives. For instance, a God-denying naturalist may attempt to explain the intricacies of the human eye through a theory of evolution, while a God-affirming theist may explain the same reality via a theory of intelligent design. The eye and its workings are in the realm of objective facts; the theory of how it got there is not.

Truth (capital “t” Truth) – Universal, high-stakes, first-principle statements of reality that generally shape and color one’s beliefs and theories. The following are examples of Truth statements:

    The cosmos is all there is, was, and ever will be.
    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
    I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no-one comes to the Father, but by Me.
    There is no Truth.
    The is only one God, and Mohammed is his prophet.
    There are many pathways to God.
    All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
    I’m OK, you’re OK.

Major worldview collisions happen at the Truth level. Because these are first principles, upon which entire belief systems, cultures, and individual lives are built, and because competing Truth claims tend to be exclusive and incompatible (e.g., you cannot hold to the idea of a self-existent, creating, active and sovereign deity, while simultaneously holding to pure naturalism as a True explanation of existence), it is here that we find the great dividing lines which lead to the lesser disagreements about opinion and theory.

Why do I call this “high-stakes”? Because at this level, we aren’t dealing merely with right/wrong. We’re talking about Right/Wrong. Here, we touch on the meaning of life, truth and falsehood, good and evil, heaven and hell, life and death. Wars begin on these fields. This is not preference-level stuff (you like Bud Light, I prefer Sam Adams – of course, you’re entitled to your view, but even though you’re wrong, we can joke about it and move along without anything at stake).

As you can readily see, terms matter. A lot of inflammatory and unproductive discussion and argumentation occurs when people conflate opinion with fact, or belief with Truth. And much difficulty arises from a failure to recognize first-principle perspectives that shape all the particulars. Here’s an exercise for you: take a blank piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and put yourself in the center of a street, on each side of which is a demonstration/counter-demonstration regarding abortion. List out the first principles that inform what each side actually believes and says, and you’ll see why this debate can never be resolved. Hint: it’s not about gender selection or sociology or convenience or oppression or whatever. It’s about Truth. Incompatible first-principle perspectives.

So, descending from the hills of abstract thought to the trenches of here-and-now, how does all this play out in day-to-day life?

1. Facts are stubborn things. Best not to argue with them, lest you be locked up somewhere. Gravitational forces are real, they are factual, they are true; and they won’t respect your alternative opinions when you jump off a building to prove your point.

2. Theories are not facts. Scientific theories (such as naturalistic evolution or intelligent design) are attempts to explain observable phenomena through a systematic framework of possible mechanisms and explanations. Under the covers, however, they are infused with beliefs, and founded on (sometimes unacknowledged) Truth claims.

3. There is a tendency to equate “little t” truth with opinion. This is language abuse – reject it! A belief is a belief, an opinion is an opinion – don’t call it “my truth.” Truth is neither subjective, nor does it rest comfortably with a violation of the first principle of logic (a thing cannot be both itself and its opposite at the same time).

4. We can heartily debate opinions and beliefs, and do so with mutual respect and a spirit of humility. However, it is always most productive to drill down as soon as possible to first principles. For instance, if someone embraces the notion that there is no Truth (a bit of stretch, actually, since that is itself a Truth statement…), then to try to persuade him/her to embrace specific statements from, say, the Bible, will be fruitless without first coming to grips with the subjectivistic worldview that will always reject statements of truth/Truth.

5. There will never be peace in this world. Mutually exclusive, high-stakes Truth perspectives ensure this. The answer is not to reject the notion of Truth, nor is it to embrace the frightful tyranny of anarchy that will inevitably result from pure subjectivism joined to acquired power. Truth claims need to be openly aired and debated in a civil manner, without a cowardly retreat into illogic. The collision of worldviews won’t go away, and naivete and wishful thinking won’t change it.

6. The idea of Truth, and the pursuit of it, should profoundly humble us. What an honor to even be able to wrestle with such things! And to have the opportunity to learn from one another! Maybe, if we can just agree on the ground rules of discussion and the meaning of terms, we can exchange ideas more productively. Feel free to join the conversation…

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