The Bible is not in the habit of overstating things. It is sharp, clear, crisp, and pointed. It’s truths are complex, yet easy to understand. It’s demand: that you drop your weapons and repent of your ridiculous rebellion against a holy and righteous God. It’s offer: that you experience the inexpressible joy of life in communion with God. There’s nothing normal about this. There’s nothing commonplace about a bloody God upon the cross and an empty tomb. And there’s nothing safe about submitting yourself daily to an examination before word of God which is sharper than any two-edged sword. The Scriptures are not safe. And yet so often I open and read, blind and deaf to the intensity of its message.
One of the advantages of having lived in a semester/year driven environment for the last four years is that it makes reflection simple. Semesters act like bookmarks as I think back through how the Lord has transformed my thinking year by year. This last year was spent learning many things, but perhaps most important was understanding how vivid Scripture is. The Bible is not Wonderbread. It’s not tasteless filler. It’s a jabanero pepper that shocks me off my feet and blows apart my categories of thinking. It breaks and builds as it confronts my understanding of reality time and again.
Every sentence in the Bible is a claim to objective truth (with the exception of certain passages that deliberately record incorrect thinking of men like Job’s friends, Balaam, Satan, etc). The Bible declares reality as it really is. I know that’s a redundancy. But there must be a definition between reality as I perceive it and true reality. Holding to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture means that everything from cover to cover I am bound to believe, hope in, and rejoice in. And those realities collide in a black and white decision of belief and unbelief.
But sadly the wonder of belief so often fades. There is a tremendous difference between belief and wonder. It’s the difference between thanksgiving and indifference. Between love and familiar neglect. My indwelling sinfulness naturally corrodes the electric nature of the Scriptures applied through the Holy Spirit. It’s here where the danger of practical unbelief creeps in. James calls it being a hearer, but not a doer of the Word. Paul charged Timothy to “guard the good deposit” within him. Guarding is an active pursuit. And you only guard what you consider valuable.
It is my assumption here that every single word of Scripture was specifically authored by God to communicate either something about Himself or mankind in relation to Him. This revelation naturally contradicts our perception of reality. And so every sentence in Scripture is loaded with otherwise unknowable truths about reality as it really is. And there is where excitement is found in the Word: To have our eyes opened by the truth to the truth. As such, the Scriptures are never vague or given to overstatement.
Here are just a few examples of these simple truths that are stunning when thought upon, but can easily become blasé:
1) A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish. (Isaiah 42:3)
2) Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions. (Matt 12:15b)
3) [Y]ou also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:22b)
4) It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. (Ps 118:9)
5) Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee. (1 Sam 8:27b)
It is no overstatement to say that the highest heaven cannot contain God. It is no overstatement to say that hell is a lake of fire whose smoke rises forever and ever. There’s nothing soft about the cross, or ordinary about the resurrection. Take great care not to grow dull from familiarity. It’s a constant fight and battle. And yet the joy of knowing God for who He is makes every ounce of energy spent entirely worth it.
I’ve started digging into my backlog of books that I bought while at school but didn’t have time to read. I’m in the middle of Contending for Our All by John Piper, which was given away at a Don’t Waste Your Life conference I attended last year in San Luis Obispo. This is the fourth book in Piper’s The Swans Are Not Silent series. Focusing on Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen, Piper explores the seemingly ever-present reality of doctrinal controversy.
This is a somewhat lengthy quote, but I think Piper draws out a point very relevant in light of the emergent, post-evangelical mood of today’s church:
There are more immediately crucial tasks than controversy about the truth and meaning of the gospel. For example, it is more immediately crucial that we believe the gospel, and proclaim it to the unreached and pray for power to attend the preaching of the gospel. But this is like saying that flying food to starving people is more immediately crucial than the science of aeronautics. True. But the food will not be flown to the needy if someone is not doing aeronautics. It is like saying that giving penicillin shots to children dying of fever is more immediately crucial than the work of biology and chemistry. True. But there would be no penicillin without such work.
In every age there is a kind of person who tries to minimize the importance of truth-defining and truth-defending controversy by saying that prayer, worship, evangelism, missions, and dependence on the Holy Spirit are more important. Who has not heard such rejoinders to controversy: “Let’s stop arguing about the gospel and get out there and share it with a dying world?” Or: “Prayer is more powerful than argument.” Or: “We should rely on the Holy Spirit and not on our reasoning.” Or: “God wants to be worshiped, not discussed.”
I love the passion for faith and prayer and evangelism and worship behind those statements. But when they are used to belittle gospel-defining, gospel-defending controversy they bite the hand that feeds them. Christ-exalting prayer will not survive in an atmosphere where the preservation and explanation and vindication of the Bible about the prayer-hearing God are devalued. Evangelism and world missions must feed on the solid food of well-grounded, unambiguous, rich gospel truth in order to sustain courage and confidence in the face of afflictions and false religions. And corporate worship will be diluted with cultural substitutes where the deep, clear, biblical contours of God’s glory are not seen and guarded from ever-encroaching error. (pg 18-19)
The law of cause and effect is simple and easy to understand: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This very simple law of nature helps me understand causes that I otherwise could not appreciate. Picking up a scientific journal and reading about the PSI required for a lava flow to lift the gigantic dome of rock off the top of Mt. Saint Helens does not inspire wonder within me. If I want to understand the raw power exhibited by that eruption, I’ll walk over to our family photo albums and stare at the defaced mountain. I may not be able to understand the physics of a tsunami, but I understand a death toll of 225,000 spread across 11 countries. An unappreciated cause suddenly become a worldwide concern because the horrific reality of the effect demonstrates the power of the cause.
I’ve been reading through Ezekiel, which is essentially a book of God proclaiming judgment upon His people. It is not happy. It is not cheerful. Rather it is a plea from God and His prophet to the people, begging them to cast away their empty idols and return to the Lord their God. Ezekiel 9 unfolds an unseen version of God’s destruction of Jerusalem.
The LORD said to [the man], “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.”But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare.
“Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.” So they started with the elders who were before the temple. And He said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” Thus they went out and struck down the people in the city.
As they were striking the people and I alone was left, I fell on my face and cried out saying, “ Alas, Lord GOD! Are You destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Your wrath on Jerusalem?”
Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion; for they say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!’ But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor will I spare, but I will bring their conduct upon their heads.”
Then behold, the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case reported, saying, “I have done just as You have commanded me.”
Unlike other places in Scripture this account doesn’t focus on the town or the land. It focuses on the people. They have faces and names. They have hopes and dreams. They are veterans from Judah’s wars with their neighbors, who enrapture grandchildren with their stories of heroism. They are young men learning how to plant and farm and sell produce under the watchful eye of a father. They are mothers take care of the children and somehow manage to find time to cook and clean and do all the thousand little things that running a household requires. They are little seven year old girls with bright smiles and a love for flowers and helping mommy. Thousands of men and women and children like these fall beneath the hand of the destroyer, mediated by a pitiless Babylonian soldier’s sword.
This is the effect. A city in ruin, filled with the shattered corpses of young men in military uniforms and mothers trying to shield their babies from the thrust of a spear and men cut down while begging for mercy for their families. Horrific effects gather incredible dread for the cause. Magnitude 9.5 earthquakes are feared because of the devastation they bring. If this intentional slaughter of human beings is the effect, then the cause must be horrific beyond belief.
The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion.
Sin is the cause. If it produces such an effect, it is to be shuddered at. We should be horrified at the end result of our wickedness. One sin sent the entire created order into a tailspin and God Himself to the cross. It is a profound lie that we can dabble with sin and not be wrecked by it. It is why we ruthlessly seek to mortify the deeds of the flesh and put on the righteousness of Christ.
Some causes only can be understood by staring at their effects. The truth is that God’s slaughter of the inhabitants of Jerusalem was only the beginning of the effect of sin in their lives. Every day since then, and every day for all eternity they are being burned but never consumed in the lake of fire. There is a very real danger that we cease to realize the horrific nature of sin like a soldier grown used to the atrocities of war. Yet we cannot allow ourselves to grow calloused, for we must loath sin to fight it. Hopefully the grisly effect gives fervor to our fight against the cause.