Friday, November 26, 2010

Theologians Need Good Anthropology

     Here at IHOP it seems that everyone loves theology, a blessing of blessings, as what one thinks and feels about God is more vital than anything else.  However, what I have noticed lacking is understanding the value of  anthropology (understanding or study of the nature of man) and sociology (the understanding or study of human interaction), from a biblical viewpoint of course.  What this seems to lead to is people with great ideas that are difficult for the intended recipients of those ideas to acquire.
     So, you've got a smart guy with all sorts of understanding on the knowledge of the cross, but He has almost no idea what the purpose of that knowledge is for the human soul.  Why is the knowledge of Jesus' resurrection vital for the human soul to have?  What freedoms are granted to it by this knowledge?  How will a human being interact poorly with other people without this specific knowledge?  How will a human being interact poorly with himself if he doesn't have this specific understanding?  How will a human being interact poorly with God if she doesn't have this specific understanding? Many of us are familiar with the verse, "...the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32), which, like all verses, is brimming with verity. And yet, what does this verse mean?
     I would assert that the meaning of this verse is more clearly: every specific truth sets a person free in a specific way that, without that truth, they would not be free.  Human beings are like diamond-shaped crystals.  They light up in a different way based on the angle light shines into them, and they light up most brilliantly when hit from every angle.  Truth and the human soul relate in the same way.  Someone may be struggling with trying to not feel scared of being killed. But what truth or combination of truths are necessary to free them from this malady and into communion with God in that area? Only a theologian with good anthropology will know the answer.
     Furthermore, someone might be talking to you about problems they are feeling with respect to not feeling loved by God.  But what is their real problem and what do they actually need to know?  What revelation are they actually lacking. Again, deducing what someone is actually talking about substantively and knowing the truths that will release the glory of God in them is something only a theologian with good anthropology will know the answer to.
     Finally, even if someone knows both the anthropological relevance of doctrine in general and is able to see how an individual needs a specific increase of the knowledge of God, there is still the challenge of understanding how human beings work enough to be able to help them receive that revelation.  We could talk for hundreds of hours, speaking of revelation after revelation, and the means by which the Holy Spirit imparts it, what understanding comes first, how the building blocks mesh together, what paths are taken or practicals employed to arrive at such revelation. Without understanding human beings very well, and laboring to do so, we will not arrive at understanding the means of imparting revelation.
     And the truth of the matter is that getting to a place where we understand these mechanisms takes time and, frankly, lots of work. I once heard Shelly Hundley talk about Jill Austin, referring to a question Jill once asked her that really affected her: "When you receive revelation, do you aim to be able to give it away to others?  When you receive revelation, do you labor so that you can impart it to others?"   What a question!
     When you receive revelation, are you simply content with the fact that it somehow just affected you?  Or do you labor in prayer and in the Word, to understand what has actually happened to you and how it is intended to affect others?  Do labor to see how you arrived at it and what it actually is?  Do you aim to understand only theology or do you aim to also comprehend the vessels of theology?  Are you living in a way that will give you relational understanding of God? Are you living in a way so that you can  impart truth to others?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What is the Relationship Between The Fear of God and the Love of God? (Part 1)

I will write two blogs, one on the need for separation between the Fear of God and the Love of God in its pragmatic application to our relationship with God.  The other blog will be on the necessity of their marriage.  

A Dangerous Lack of Distinction
    The fear of God is meant to produce in us certain realities that lead to other Godly realities.  The same is true with the love of God.  In the Lord's increase of the fear of the Lord in my life recently, this has become pointedly clear. 

     In the Lord's increase of the fear of the Lord in my life, the primary role I feel God has given me to do is to not permit myself to stand on shakable (unbiblical) props. Specifically, I have realized how futile attempts at learning the fear of God are if a person applies the love of God to his or her life wrongly, unbiblically.  This false application will keep a person suspended above the places of true, righteous agony and terror that are to be experienced. This false application will cause them to feel saved because of love instead of because of the power of God in Jesus Christ to save (of course motivated by love). "For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, yet also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!  At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter...For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others." (2 Cor. 7:10-11, 2 Cor 5:10-11a).  

     I have seen in my own heart the strong propensity to avoid certain pain/grief/fear through wrong application of the love of God.  Let me give you an example.  I will be planning on fasting for a certain period of time, but before that time arrives, I will end up eating something.  Then, instead of repenting before the Lord (not for not fasting but for not doing what I originally intended), I will say, "Well, the Lord loves me" and then will feel better.  Now, it is important to say that the Lord absolutely and indescribably does love us all the time, and that those emotions we tap into with respect to how He feels about us even though we failed to fast, are accurate, real emotions.  Me sinning right now and not repenting for it, contrary to the opinions of some, does not avert the unconditional love of God towards me until I repent.  While I was yet a sinner, Christ loved me (had positive emotions towards me).  So, I have no doubt at all that He does now when I sin and fail to repent.  What I am saying is that just feeling God's love for you when you stumble is, in some real way, an unbiblical and destructive application of those emotions that will hinder you from experiencing real freedom through the fear of the Lord.  

(Something this begins to touch is which you learn first, the fear of God or the love of God. Should a person who doesn't know that God loves them even though they didn't fast well try and do what I am about to tell you?  I will leave that for you to decide.)  

     Let's take another example, 2 Cor 5:10-11a.  Many individuals when envisioning themselves before the throne of Christ giving account for what they  have done are so filled with fear and condemnation that they never approach this place truly.  They simply cover it with the emotions of God's love for them.  Just as with when you are fasting and fail to do it as you intended and then cover it simply with a "well, God loves me", I would ask the same question: what emotions are you running from and should you run from them with the 'love of God'?  Or does the Lord have another means of dealing with your emotions?  Most would say they feel feelings of failure and condemnation, of worthlessness, and then would say one of two things: either that these emotions aren't true because they are saved or that 'God loves them'. Let's take both of these responses.  

These Emotions Aren't True Because I am Saved 
     Is it true that you are condemned before God (in the legal sense)?  If you are saved by Jesus, the answer is no. So maybe this response is correct.  But, do you think you are making progress away from those feelings of condemnation before God by just saying so?  Furthermore, where do you think those emotions are from?  Is Satan the one telling you you are condemned before God?  Contrary to the opinions of many, in a certain very real sense, it is not Satan. Why would Satan inform anyone of this?  Why would he ever tell anyone that they can never save themselves, that they are bankrupt in their natural state, that they can never work hard enough to produce salvation? This awareness is precisely what is meant to lead us to knowledge of salvation! That voice telling you how absolutely inept you are, how absolutely failed you are, how completely guilty and beyond any self-saving you are, is the voice of God in all people, also known as the conscience (Rom 2:12-16).

IMPORTANT Note: I am describing here how the feelings of 'condemnation or worthlessness or ineptness' are actually from God and not Satan.  However, it is HIGHLY important to realize that words like, 'worthlessness', 'inability', or 'condemnation', can suggest two sets of emotions (to simplify).  One set is precisely as I am saying: it is emotions from God that are meant not to be ignored or evaded  but faced, emotions that cause God to delightfully respond by thrusting into our soul profound knowledge of salvation that keeps us in our biblical place.  The other set of emotions are actually emotions stemming from not knowing the unconditional love of God.  These emotions ARE from Satan and should be combated with a knowledge of the love of God.  An example:  A person says they feel condemned and a failure.  You must look into it and see what they are saying.  Are they saying they feel condemned and a failure because no matter how hard they try, God will never have positive emotions towards them, will never love them?  Or, are they saying that they feel condemned and a failure because they cannot produce goodness, cannot be righteous?  Even with this language you still have to be careful, because many people, when saying, "I just can't be righteous" are actually meaning, "I can't be loved."  It is crucial to understand what you are actually saying in your own life and towards those who are in your life.  If you just keep telling a person that the reason they aren't condemned is the blood of Jesus when the real emotion they feel is that they are unloved, then you are trying to tell them they are loved unconditioanlly because of something that happened, a contradiction the heart will never receive.  Conversely, if you tell a person they are not condemned because God loves them when the emotion they are feeling is actually their profound own inability to save anyone, you will rob them of an encounter with God's holiness their life requires to continue. To put it entirely, we must know both what we receive unconditionally from God (His love) and that which we receive conditionally from God (salvation) to have every facet of our emotions affected biblically and gloriously, and when we misapply truths we can greatly harm our or our friends' relationship with God. 

     So, in this case, the emotion being felt by the person when I say 'condemnation and worthlessness and ineptness' is a profound awareness of their inability to be good, to produce what is worthy before God.  These emotions should not be called demonic and untrue.  These emotions contain incredible truths in them of poverty of spirit and the fear of God, and are in fact the voice of God seeking to lead you to greater truth.  The fear of God that is poverty of spirit, leads to the fear of God that recognizes His power to save us.  Coupled with a knowledge of His love, which tells us He deeply wants to save us, and you arrive at a pure bliss, under-girded not by shakable heresy but by the unmovable fear of the Lord and the heart-rending love of God.  The mere condemnation of these feelings is ineffective because they are from God! We should not simply say, "No, I am not condemned in the name of Jesus because I am saved" and be done with it in avoidance.  The emotions of worthlessness and ineptness, in this sense, are ONLY to be combated with a knowledge of salvation in God.  They are painful, grief-filled, shaking emotions that make the soul tremble.  But I believe it is extremely valuable to let these be answered by the knowledge of God's salvation, and that even 'after that', maintaining them in some real sense is crucial to both ministry and relationship with God.   

The Emotions Aren't True Because I'm Loved
     Now the second response: Someone says they are don't have to feel these emotions of condemnation and worthlessness because they are loved by God.  Again, this is absolutely true if what they mean by those two words is that they don't have to feel unloved.  However, given that these emotions are the real emotions all humans possess involving a sense of utter inability and need, terrifying and breaking, the idea that they should not be felt because God loves us (though common) is absolutely absurd.  I have a rather radical belief in the love of God, more radical than most.  I believe that God has positive emotions of ecstatic delight and wondrous, passionate, desire towards all human beings that caused Him to die for us all and now causes Him to do everything He can to bring them to salvation .I also believe God has guttural pain over the state of rebellion that His creation is in because of that love.  And yet, the idea that these emotions He has for us that impel Him with every part of His being to give Himself to us are enough to remove our guilt is, in a frighteningly real sense, false.  God's love impelled and impels Him to do everything He can to be with us, but it is not enough.  We must gain something that only comes with our surrender: salvation.

     No matter how much Jesus loves a person, if that person does not fully and perseveringly surrender to Him as Lord, that person will be tormented for all eternity in everlasting fire (Rev. 14:11).  That person will be ever-crushed underneath the weight of the wrath of God, ever screaming underneath the futility of their attempts to be righteous alone.  As has been said, there is an extent to which you are to feel positive because of God's love with respect to your attempts to be righteous, that being that you do not have to do anything and in fact cannot do anything to cause God to have any greater love for you.  And yet, you are to feel intensely miserable to the extent that you  have not humbled yourself and felt the salvation God has given you freely.  In fact, when we permit this humbling to occur in our lives, when we actually experience awareness of our own ineptness, the love of God often only becomes a sharper blow, that makes us cry out to God more.  
Oh, I encourage you, stay in that cry.  Stay in it until God answers it with an overwhelming surge of the knowledge of His salvation. And then after He answers, let yourself go even deeper.  Determine to know that you are not condemned ONLY because of God's salvation, where condemnation does not mean unloved. 

What to Do
     Once again I do not mean that you should force yourself to feel this stuff.  You must simply not use false, unbiblical props as just discussed. This does not mean you never feel joy or love.  It means that you don't feel them unbiblicaly. In my own life, as this has been occurring, the fear element has remained rather constant, but I can also feel other emotions, and the Holy Spirit tends to move me through them very well, as a great Teacher and Helper. The important thing is to not do feel unbiblically.  

     Something to not do: Even with trying to feel condemnation righteously you may make fall into something that is just as unbiblical as misapplying the emotions of God's love. I am very aware that often feeling condemnation and worthlessness has nothing to do with the fear of God or poverty of spirit but is actually a religious parade we perform to make us feel better about ourselves ('if I hit myself now because I sinned, then I am actually making up for it and am therefore worthy and good').  This is not what I'm talking about.  That is actually prideful. Fear of God that leads to striving is not actually fear of God. And this actually stems from a lack of knowing that God loves you unconditionally (this person is normally trying to be loved and thinks that they are accomplishing it by what they are doing). I am talking about a true crushing inside of you, a breaking at your awareness of how you stand before God's holiness, absolutely loved but absolutely unable to save yourself.  Please do not try to force yourself to feel condemned in some religious way as you will probably end up doing just this religious, trying-to-be-loved, gig.  

     So, what do I think you should do?  Part of that is up to you following the Holy Spirit as He might want to really teach you about the love of God first.  I honestly don't know His syllabus for you.  =) And part of this I have already explained in another blog.  But here I will say that I think you should let yourself feel your failure before God and that from that place of actually feeling the failure, God will show you the knowledge of salvation (the other side of the fear of God).  I believe that that condemnation we often feel is actually the places inside of us that do not yet know we are saved.  One day when the pressures of life have increased, if we have not let the Lord give us a solid foundation, we will have a real problem.  My goal now is to not hide from the fear of God through an unbiblical application of love.  It is to face the way His fear-worthiness destroys me so that I will realize how He has saved me from that destruction.  Knock out the shakable props from your life.  If you feel like you are good because of the way you minister, then be careful with those moments.  If you feel like you are good because of certain prayers you pray, then you might consider lessening those prayers and sitting in the feelings that those prayers conceal. If reading this list of things to do right now, causes you to feel ways that you are going to fix yourself, then stop reading it and sit in that emotion. If you feel like you are good because God loves you, then get a new definition of love (an unconditional one), and know that being absolutely loved does not cause you to be saved.  

     The primary purpose of this blog is to show how the love of God and the fear of God should be separated.  The primary purpose of the next blog is to show how the love of God and the fear of God must be married. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Most Fundamental Understanding

Everything is Relational.  Everything is Theological.  So Everything is Relationally Theological.

Before going on any further in a blog, I realized that it is rather crucial for me to explain what is probably my most fundamental belief of God and us, and well, everything really.

God is Relational
     God is relational, meaning that God exists and functions relationally always; it is His nature, His heart-pulse.  Whether it is relationship to Himself or to creation, this is what most fundamentally defines Him.  Nothing else makes sense without this understanding.  For instance, calling God holy is confusing without understanding that He (and everything) is first and foremost relational, because holiness is relational. As John Wesley said, "There is no holiness that is not social."  Holiness, whether defined as being loving or defined as being worthy or perfect, or even other-than is something that does not make sense without a relational basis.  Trying to understand God's motivation for interacting with humanity, the way He saves us, His eternal purposes, His character, the reasons He is worthy, is insensible without understanding God as relational.  Every dimension of holiness is about relationship/relation.  Even God in His preexistent splendor maintained holiness via His relationship with Himself in Triune glory. God's inherent Triune nature is evidence that God is quite fundamentally relational.

So We Are Relational
     So what does that make us, those who are made in His image?  And what does that make creation, when its creator is a relationally-obsessed Being?  It makes everything about us relational too and everything about creation relational too.  And though we are fundamentally relational in general, we are gloriously most relational with respect to God, meaning that everything we are and do is actually subsumed in relationship with Him, whether we realize it or not. If you get that everything is relational because God is relational, you're on the right track.

Everything is Theological
     But then you must add to this that everything is theological.  God is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8, 21:6), the source of everything and the end of everything.  All things were made for Him, through Him, and to Him (Rom. 11:36).  By Him all thing exist and in Him everything has its movement and being (Heb. 2:10, Acts 17:28). Creation lives to praise Him and cries over what makes Him cry (Isa. 55:12, Psalm 19, Rom 8:19-22). Everything is about Him, whether we realize it or not, though one day everyone will (Rom. 14:11, Phil. 2:11).

So Everything is Relationally Theological
     When you add these two realities together (that God and therefore everything is relational and that everything is about God), you get the truth that everything is about relating to God. I mean this most literally.  From the big to the small.  Look at all anthropology, sociology, and hamartiology (nature of sin).  The reason you get angry at your roommate when he turns the light on while you're asleep is actually about a way that you are currently relating to God.  The reason you like certain colors is actually about a way that you know (or don't know) God.  The reason you struggle with that addiction is not because of some arbitrarily existent desire inside of you that you 'just can't seem to stop.'  It is about something substantive and relational in your being that does not know some part of God. The reason you are able to be full of delight and love (righteously) for a person is because of something you are experiencing or know of God.  The reason you enjoy your job or feel stressed in it is because of something about God that you do know or don't know.  The reason certain people are attracted to certain people is actually about how we are relating to God.  The reason cultures develop with certain norms is about a corporate acceptance or rejection of a truth about God. Everything in these categories is actually about relating to God. If you want a fun challenge, read through the New Testament and see how clear it is that sin flows out of not being in right relationship with God (meaning how each sin is inherent disconnection with a specific part of God) and righteousness flows out of loving God as He is and fearing Him as He is (meaning righteousness is inherent right connection with God).

     Even if we move to 'grander' more obviously philosophical topics, such as cosmology (the reason all things exist/the nature of the beginning) or eschatology (the end/purpose of all things), the same absolute truth remains.  It's all about God desiring to relate to us and whether or not we are doing so in a variety of specific ways.  In the more 'obviously religious' topics of soteriology (how humans are saved), missiology (the purpose of God's people in this age), ecclsiology (nature of the church), or theology (the study of God), the same is blindingly true: it is all about relation to God, to knowing this Father, Friend, Lord, Lover, King, Savior, Brother.

Do You See it This Way Really?
     To some this might seem absurd and to some this might seem obvious, but whatever camp you are in, I would challenge you to see how often you don't perceive your life this way.  How often you think things are some way 'just because they are that way' or how often do you talk to a friend about a problem in their life, maybe even a problem they have with you, without knowing that the reason those emotions are there has something to do with they way they view and are relating to God.  How often do you work to change something in your life by your own force of will, by just trying not to do it, instead of by understanding how that problem is actually flowing out of a lack of knowing God and therefore seeking to know and be with God in that way you lack!  How often do you see a problem in society, big or small, and attribute it to something other than a specific lack of a relation to God?  How often do you view salvation as the waving of a magic wand over your life instead of as relation with a Person?  How often do you view your purpose in life as task-oriented instead of love-oriented?  How often do you view the church as a machine instead of a Bride?  How often do you view eternity as vague and ethereal instead of fabulously real in everlasting, tangible relationship?  And mostly, what are your thoughts of God?  What is He like?  Who is He?