Mary, Joseph, Faith, and Uncertainty

Faith needs uncertainty to thrive.

Faith is based on hearing God’s Word. Many of us have a desire to have things in the Bible explained a little bit more. Can’t we drop one of those chapters about mildew on walls for some more information about foreknowledge?

But alas, we have the Bible we have. Unless you want to become a Mormon, there are no other books of the Bible to fill in the gaps.

What’s fascinating is how many people in the Bible are in the same predicament as us. Although we like to think Abraham, Noah, Moses, Elijah, and others had more information, most of them were acting on very little.

It was enough that God had said a few things to them. That was all they needed.

Mary and Joseph strike me as two perfect representations of this. Mary was told she would have a kid. There was very little explanation of how. The Spirit would come upon her. Well, like, how? What does that mean?

The baby was apparently the Messiah. What about His education? Do we spank Him? Do we feed Him? Can’t we just sit here and let the baby do whatever He wants; we know He’s going to grow up to be the Messiah. Do we do anything?

There had to be a ton of questions. Joseph not only had questions about his son, but also about his wife. What a tumultuous situation they were thrust into. No room at the inn. Wise men from the East drop by. Flight to Egypt comes with Herod killing babies all because of you, and an eventual move back home.

I can’t even imagine the uncertainty. According to the Bible, there was no further revelation given to them other than around Christ’s birth. The few glimpses we get certainly seems to show Mary not quite getting what was really going on. “Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”

Uncertainty. Lack of information. This is where faith is real.

It’s easy to say you have faith when you have no reason to have any! Uncertainty is a requirement for faith. Learn to enjoy uncertainty. This is the proving grounds and strengthening of faith.

Mary and Joseph were thrown into the deep end. We have this great cloud of witnesses who have come before, who moved on uncertain and inadequate information. They were flesh and blood like we are. In many ways, we have more information than any of them ever had.

Take courage from the long list of faithful people in Hebrews 11 who were as uncertain, confused, and questioning as we are. If they could do it, so can you.

Comfortable With Uncertainty

There are many things in life I do not know. There are many things in life you do not know. There are many things in life no one knows.

You would never guess this by listening to people!

Everyone knows everything. The younger you are, the more certain of your all-knowingness you seem to be. “I know” flops out of every kid’s mouth when you tell them how to do something.

We are drawn to certainty. We want to prove things, have no questions, no hesitations, no reservations. We want to speak with authority.

When people heard Jesus, the Son of God, speak, they were amazed because he “taught them as one having authority.” He was not like their normal teachers. People ate this up. Except their teachers, of course!

We all want to be in the shoes of Jesus. We want to know all and speak like we know it all. We crave that power and authority over others. Bow before your master! Sit at my feet and learn of me, for I am awesomeness personified!

The modern atheism/scientism crowd falls for this just as religious folk do. The stated reason most turn to scientism is because it deals with facts, provable, testable conclusions that are right. It feels so secure, so sound, so authoritative. It is amusing that they become what they reportedly despise–religious fundamentalists!

Certainly science can lend a hand in finding truth, any rational human being would admit this. What science has accomplished over the years is stunning, most of it was only possible because of discovering facts and laws. You reading this on a screen right now is a mind-blowing conglomeration of scientific discovery.

At the same time, science can’t answer all questions. Science has a hard time telling us the weather sometimes. Whether eggs are good for you or not. How to cure cancer. Whether you should stretch before or after working out. Science has changed its mind on how old the earth is many, many times.

Adherents to the modern atheism/scientism are religious fundamentalists extraordinaire.

Religious fundamentalists are people who know the truth. They are the authority. Bow, or else! Whether this fundamentalism is Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist, it’s very angry. It’s angry because it can’t figure out why you don’t agree with them! They are so certain, so convinced of their own infallibility, it boggles their mind why you are not equally enamored with their awesomeness!

Can science prove facts that are irrefutable? Yes.

Can Christianity have irrefutable truths? Yes.

Can science explain all things? No.

Can Christianity explain all things? No.

Deal with it!

You can’t know everything. You can’t. The Bible tells us that God knows everything. You are not God. Faith is the word that bridges this gap.

I know I don’t know all things. I believe that God knows all things. Therefore, I listen to Him. I make sure I follow what it is I know from Him. I also rest confidently that if He didn’t say anything about it, I’m not going to worry about it.

He didn’t want me to know all the answers. Faith is the process of becoming cool with that.

You don’t know everything. If you did, you’d be impossible to live with (remember what they did to Christ who did know all things!). Humility, trust, faith. These are large words in Christianity. They are large for a reason. Keep them large. God is the one who knows all things. Keep Him as God.

Confidently listen to The One who knows all. He knows what He’s doing. You don’t!

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Muslims Don’t Worship the Same God as Christians. Even Christians Don’t Worship the Same God.

Wheaton College suspended a professor this week for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, as well as saying and doing some other pro-Muslimesque things.

The argument is that both Christianity and Islam borrow from the Old Testament, both trace themselves back to Abraham. Both hold Jesus Christ as special. But here is where they veer.

Islam sees Jesus as a prophet, like Muhammad was. Christianity says Jesus Christ is God in the flesh (see John 1).

If Jesus is God in the flesh, and Islam says Jesus is a prophet, then clearly we don’t worship the same God.

The same could be asked of Judaism: Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? Because of our common holding of Old Testament Scriptures, many would conclude that we do. However, Judaism rejects Jesus Christ, and Jesus was God in the flesh. So, in one sense, yes we worship the same God, and yet actually, no we don’t.

The question could also then be asked: Do all Christians worship the same God?!

John’s Epistles tell us plainly that anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and is come in the flesh, is not saved. Some who believe they are Christians reject that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, often referred to as Christians because they use some of the Bible, reject the divinity of Christ. Therefore, although some think we worship the same God, we don’t.

You could take it beyond Christ in the flesh as the issue as well. When you examine Calvinist and non-Calvinist opinions of God, it certainly does not appear as though they are worshiping the same God. John Wesley once opined that the God of Calvinism has more in common with the Devil.

Christians who feel they are on earth to tell God what to do, to name it and claim it, clearly have trouble with the revelation of the character of the God of the Bible. Therefore, it seems we do not worship the same God.

Joel Osteen and his ilk don’t think we should talk about sin and that God will honor all attempts, even false attempts, at worshiping Him.

Rob Bell, along with Universalist Christians, don’t think there is a hell and that God will let all comers into heaven. A God who sends some people to hell and a God who doesn’t send anyone to hell seem to be fundamentally different gods.

Many Christians think God exists to help them follow their dreams, to make them self-actualized, and to be a guru leading you to ultimate success, while the God of the Bible tells us to deny self. Clearly these are not the same gods.

A God who needs people to do mindless ritual and repeat prayers to work off sin, and the God of the Bible certainly do not seem to be the same.

Perhaps I shall stop here before stepping on more toes.

All religions worship god in some form. We know there is a God behind it all, it is all an effort to find the One God. In a very loose sense, I suppose it could be maintained that we worship the same God.

But if doctrinal integrity has anything to do with it, which I believe it does, it is very difficult to claim that all Christians worship the same God, let alone Muslims and Christians.

Maturity and Smashing Idols

I read a quote today about iconoclasm that intrigued me. The author was looking back at his atheist teenage years and how he enjoyed his atheism because it was intellectually daring. To which he then said that “iconoclasm is fun.” What is difficult is to supply an adequate alternative.

What is iconoclasm?

Iconoclasts were originally people who hated icons. Back in the 8th and 9th centuries, people began rebelling against the Orthodox church by smashing their icons, the statues in the churches.

Over the years, the term iconoclast has taken on a more general meaning and is now defined as “One who attacks cherished beliefs.”

It is my opinion that everyone should go through an iconoclast stage in life. Many teenagers do already. It’s OK. Let them sprout their wings and test out their ability to fly. When they hit the ground, they will begin to learn.

iconoclastUnfortunately, many people never achieve a point of iconoclasm in their lives. They go on believing what other people have told them without one scrutinizing glimpse into those beliefs. I find this to be very sad. If you still and only believe everything you learned in Sunday School, you have work to do.

Being an iconoclast can be fun, but it can also be pointless if you don’t arrive at an alternative. Once your idols are smashed, you’re left with nothing.

So, which should come first–smashing idols or having a better alternative? It depends.

Certainly it’s good to have a better alternative than unexamined beliefs that may or may not be true. But sometimes it takes the breaking of idols to be at a point where you begin to search for the truth.

Iconoclasm should never be the end though. Simply destroying stuff is no answer. The true point, the actual benefit of iconoclasm, is to get on the right path. This was the author’s disillusionment with atheism: Although it did a fine job bashing and eliminating religion, it provided zero answers to life’s big questions.

Destruction is easy (see: professional wrestling). Anyone can tear apart. The difficult work comes in building up.

Sometimes when you break stuff you were surrounded by all your life, you find you really shouldn’t have broken it. Testing beliefs is fine. Your test will prove the purity of your beliefs. Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, however (throwing out everything simply because of the association with a person, group, object, etc).

In some cases, you don’t even have to smash idols: false ones tend to crack on their own. This can be devastating. Seeing your teachers, your heroes, your beliefs and cherished opinions come crashing down of their own accord, is iconoclasm without the middleman! You have no alternative but to seek truth.

In the end, don’t just be against stuff. Be for something. Being for something will inevitably put you in a position to be against things. But, make sure you’re for something, or else you’re just wasting everyone’s time, and, in the end, no one will take you seriously.

Feelings of Inadequacy and Grace

There are moments I feel completely inadequate as a Christian. I get done with a conversation and think, “It was right there, I could have said something, and I didn’t.” Or someone rams into my leg with a shopping cart and I let the wrong look pop up on my face. I lose my patience with my kids. I make one too many jokes at someone’s expense.

The list could go on.

I blow it. I feel guilty. I feel like a complete waste of space. Worse yet, one false move may turn someone away from the Gospel for eternity.

Good Lord, how do we even breathe with this pressure?

I know two camps in Christianity that attempt to deal with this inadequacy:

Thrive on Inadequacy
These tend to be what we call “legalistic” people. Inadequacy is what drives their entire Christian faith. If you aren’t feeling inadequate, you aren’t doing it right. Feel the pain! Beat yourself up. And, of course, don’t forget to make sure everyone else feels horrible about themselves too. This has at least two unfortunate results: A) This wears people out and they quit Christianity or B) it makes people insensitive to others, entirely consumed on their own performance, and often leads to a hardened conscience, no longer dealing with reality but revels in their own perceived perfections. Pharisees are the poster children of this view.

Ignore Inadequacy
This view goes to the opposite extreme and pretends there is no such thing as inadequacy, guilt, or responsibility. They emphasize grace and love so much, it’s as if there are no expectations at all, no commands, no judgment, no obligation, no nothing except license and living it up. Although people describe coming to this view as “liberating,” I have rarely seen this way of thinking lead to anything approaching Christlikeness, nor does it appear as though they truly are free. This view also leads to an arrogance: everything is about them. They can hurt you, it doesn’t matter, you have to forgive them because Christ already has. They honestly believe they are free to be jerks, the more jerkish they are, the more this proves their dependence on grace. It’s as if the existence of grace nullifies any need for the Bible at all.

Obviously you can see I have problems with both views. I’ve tried both. Neither works.

The bottom line is this:
1) The New Testament is filled with commands. In all honesty, there are more commands given in the NT than in the OT. We are also told that everyone will give an account for the deeds done in the body, for every word that comes out of the mouth. We are told to be salt and light, which is very hard to do if you are darkness. We are to come out and be separate and touch not the unclean thing. The Bible is there for our reproof, correction, and training, which sure seems to imply we will blow it and need discipline.

2) At the same time, true believers are accepted in the beloved, we have been declared righteous. There is grace, there is mercy, there is love, and these are real, honest-to-goodness ways that God deals with His people. We are in Christ and have been made the righteousness of God. There is freedom in Christ and ALL THINGS are lawful for me. We are no longer under law, and where there is no law there is no transgression. Christ has made us free. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

The first paragraph touches on a number of NT passages held up by those who thrive on inadequacy. The second paragraph refers to a number of NT passages upheld by those who ignore inadequacy. They both have a point. They both have verses. They both use the same NT.

I’ve heard the attempts by both groups justifying why it’s OK to ignore the passages that disagree with their extreme positions. I don’t buy the arguments from either camp.

As is the case with many Biblical subjects: there are two sides that must both be held. This is the place where faith thrives.

I do not live up to the high standard of perfection in Christ Jesus. I don’t. Yet this is the standard we are called to.

The fact that I haven’t met it, doesn’t mean the standard should be lowered or ignored. It’s still the standard. I must also acknowledge my failure to meet it and rely upon the mercy and grace available in the Gospel to meet my needs of forgiveness, and also for the edification needed to equip me to every good work.

Grace doesn’t just make past sins OK; grace teaches us to avoid sin in the future and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. In one sense, sin is necessary for grace to do its work. That’s why Paul asked several times, “Should we sin that grace may abound? In no way!”

Without sin, I’d have no idea I needed a Savior. I’d have no idea I needed grace. But now that I know grace is real, I can depend on Christ (the giver of this grace) to equip me to overcome sin in the future.

Inadequacy is a perfectly healthy thing to feel. If you never feel inadequate, trust me, you’re not hearing the word of God, or you at least have a very poor sense of what you are doing. You are no Christ, you continually fall short of the glory of God.

But God knows this. He’s worked that truth into His plan. He knows our frame, He understands that we are dust. But when we see our inadequacy along with the supremely Adequate Christ, this is where growth occurs. This is where faith becomes real. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the Christian life happens.

Hold both sides of the issue because they are both legitimate. This is a battle. Fight the fight.