Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An Accurate Map

Years ago I had a conversation with another mom who told me, "I think it's really healthy for kids to grow up believing in Santa Claus and God and stuff." She probably wasn't an Evangelical Christian (we would never utter the words "God" and "Santa Claus" in the same breath), but we can easily fall prey to the same attitude--that faith is good in and of itself, whether or not we have faith in something real. But God's word purports to be the truth. It is the ultimate reality--a rock under our feet. And when the fog that fills our minds in this life finally lifts, that truth will be as real to us as the natural laws that govern now.

Do you believe that? That God's word is like a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in our hearts? (2 Peter 1:19) If so, how well do you know--not just know, but understand--the Bible? Would a lawyer go to trial without knowing the facts, the law, the arguments on the other side, and how it all fits together? Of course not. So why, if we believe in eternal life, are we less prepared for it than that?

In Luke 16:1-10, a rich man found out that his manager had been squandering his possessions, and he fired him. The manager said to himself, "I'm too weak to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg! What should I do?" He finally decided to contact all of his master's debtors and write off part of their debt, hoping that one of them would hire him or help him out. How did the master react to that? Luke 16: 8 tells us: "And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light." Huh? Was Jesus checking to see if his listeners were still awake?

What Jesus is saying is this: "Stop thinking about conduct as good or bad for a moment. Think of it as wise or unwise." He wants the children of light to act as shrewdly with eternal treasure as the "sons of this age" do with worldly wealth. Why invest most of our time and money improving our lot in this world if we believe that we'll spend eternity in God's kingdom? That may be well and good for unbelievers, but it's foolish for us. If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, "a lamp shining in a dark place," wouldn't it be wise to know it intimately and live accordingly? 

But in addition to knowing God's word, we have to understand it. Proverbs 3:5, says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding." This is a wonderful, oft-quoted verse. But it only means that we shouldn't lean on our understanding, not that it offends God when we use the gray matter. I checked my concordance to see how many times the book of Proverbs tells us to acquire understanding. After counting to twenty, I lost count, and I was only about halfway down the list. Not once does Jesus tell his disciples to stop asking questions, but he repeatedly laments their lack of understanding. Taking in God's word without understanding it is like trying to swallow without chewing. And if we don't take it in, it doesn't have the power to save us. Our faith becomes a hollow creed. 

Yes, it's true that we'll never fully understand God's ways, but does that mean it's arrogant to try? Proverbs 25:2 says: "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter." He invites us to come and learn about him. If you have questions or doubts, don't pretend that you believe. Bring them into the light. Asking questions means you have faith enough to believe that there's a spiritual reality out there to be explored, and it means you care. 

Having said all that, there's a risk of thinking so much about theology that we neglect coming to Christ continually for abundant life. Good theology is at best an accurate map. Let's not be so distracted by the map that we forget to walk. 

But at the same time, we'll never get to our destination without the map.

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