Friday, November 18, 2011

Sure as the Tide

"Only fools are absolutely positive."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Absolutely positive!"

We laugh, but most of us do want certainty. Look at modern business contracts, virtually incomprehensible in their determination to cover every possible contingency. Look at all the merchandise marked "Satisfaction Guaranteed." Look at the malpractice lawsuits initiated over doctors' inability to cure the incurable.

And look at all the people, Christian and otherwise, who have worked out detailed maps for the end times and Second Coming--discouraged not a bit by the dismal track record of "prophets" in that area.

When it comes to seeking certainty, some people go far beyond the reasonable. In the most extreme cases, we get the homeowner who can't run to the store without checking twenty times to make sure every faucet is off and turning back halfway to the store to check again, the student who rewrites his class notes twenty times until they're completely typo- and smudge-free, and the person who spends half an hour washing her hands every time she touches anything that might conceivably carry germs. One noted psychology book, Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, carries the subtitle "A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty," acknowledging that the craving to be in control is at the heart of much of our misery--and also acknowledging that real certainty is impossible. If it were possible to prove things beyond a doubt, our society would be free of those who adamantly maintain that the moon landings were faked, the Holocaust was a hoax, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks were ordered by the U. S. government itself.

We can't even be 100 percent positive of God. Blasphemous? Not really. As noted Christian apologist Cliffe Knechtle has said, you can't even prove that your mother hasn't been waiting all these years for the right moment to poison you--and you can't prove, either, that God isn't a sociopath who faked the agony of the Crucifixion and will ultimately betray everyone's trust by casting them into hell. All we have to go on, with Mom or with God, is the word of the other and the evidence of past actions.

Which, given God's record, should be good enough. To date, the sun has risen every morning; and to date, those who trust  God have always received strength to carry on through hardship. Most of us outgrow the childishness of screaming "You don't love me!" when someone refuses to give us everything we want when we want it. We should outgrow this attitude with God also, lest we become like the Israelites in the wilderness who never stopped whining that God should supply everything before the desire even hit.

Those who are determined to doubt will always find an excuse. And ironically, those who are most determined to remove all uncertainty are also the likeliest to fall prey to the most irrational doubts. What we must do is admit that we cannot attain certainty by our own efforts--that only God has the omniscience to remove all uncertainty. Only then are we free to receive from Him the only real assurance there is:

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1).

Sure as the tide rolls to the shore,
God is our Strength forevermore.

Sure as the birds return in spring,
God gives our hearts a song to sing.

Sure as the sun goes down each night,
Jesus will be our lasting Light.

Sure as a river flows downstream,
He, in our hearts, is Hope's bright beam.

Sure as spring leaves sprout on a tree,
God's love will rule eternally.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Spiritual Astigmatism

Most eyeglass wearers can see at least some things reasonably well with the naked eye. Not so those with certain forms of astigmatism. Their eyes are unable to focus properly at any range; the whole world looks consistently blurry. 

Even those with 20/20 physical vision have some degree of spiritual astigmatism--an inability to see clearly what God really wants and what is the best path to take. The worst cases are those who firmly believe that their blurred view of right and wrong is in fact perfect vision, and are sure God is proud of them when they are as far from Him as they can be. The cartoon character Mr. Magoo, who had terrible vision and didn't even suspect it, was hilarious as he strolled along high ledges thinking they were sidewalks and couldn't understand why his soup was so thin when he tried to eat it with a fork he believed was a spoon; but there's nothing funny about "holy warriors" who look at women and children and see enemies of God fit only to be destroyed.

Jesus had similar problems with the respectable religious types of His day; God Incarnate was standing in front of them and they saw a despised heretic who was doing the opposite of what everyone knew God wanted. One can almost hear the sigh of frustration in His words: "In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them'" (Mt. 13:14-15). Once someone has made up his mind he doesn't need glasses, no amount of bumping into things or straining to read will convince him to wear them.

Some eye problems are more serious than astigmatism; people have literally gone blind from causes they never suspected were there until it was too late. That's why we're advised to have regular eye exams whether we "see" anything wrong or not. The spiritual equivalent is to "search the Scriptures" regularly and ask God to show us--ask Him in humble sincerity and total submission--how our lives and especially our attitudes measure up.

Anything less will eventually turn a sincere believer into a blind fool. 

Human hearts are dull of eye,
Lacking in the will to try
For a view beyond earth's things
To the glories Heaven brings.

Human hearts are slow to see
Visions of eternity;
While our Lord is near at hand,
Still we fail to understand.

Lord, my heart is dim in view;
I have failed to look to You
To fulfill my dreams and needs,
And I strive with earthly deeds.

Lord, forgive my faltering ways:
Give me strength to fix my gaze
On Your treasures kept for me:
Lord, please give me eyes to see!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Slowly, Slowly

Hurry is bad for your health. That's one of the few things all health experts agree on.

Everyone is always in a hurry. That's one thing virtually every American citizen agrees on.

If you're not hurrying, you're getting lazy and need to find more to do. That's another thing that modern Westerners agree on. At least our typical behavior says as much. Tell your average professional contact you've been "frantically busy" and chances are the answer will be, "That's great!" Stuffing all the accomplishment one can into life is worn like a badge of honor. We hate it; we acknowledge the health problems it creates; but we'd about as soon die as change.

Accomplishment, and the pride it feeds, is the god of modern America's unofficial state religion.

The real God makes somewhat different demands of us. "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10a). "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me... and you will find rest for your souls" (Mt. 11:29). "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed" (Lk. 10:41b-42a).

Certain traditional cultures have a charming descriptive phrase for periodic rest breaks: "giving your soul a chance to catch up." Your soul--and the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit.

He will only change us when we stop rushing to force change in ourselves.

(For more on modern life's negative health impact, see the recent Newsweek article, "Andrew Weil's Spontaneous Happiness.")

Slowly, slowly, we are growing
Under God's all-knowing care;
Though we may see little progress,
Yet His work is always there.

Slowly, slowly, God is working
As He shapes each heart and soul;
Let us not become impatient;
In His time He makes us whole.

Slowly, slowly, we are moving
Toward the Land of joy and rest;
When we enter, we will clearly
Know God's speed is always best.