(RE)UNION STUDY 3 of 10 – Read Chapter 6 of (re)union
During WWII, the Nazi soldiers had the phrase “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us) inscribed on belt buckles and rings. I used to own one of these belt buckles as a sorrowful reminder of the many ways the idea of God has been hijacked to support the work of Satan.
Throughout history and still today, nations, armies, and terrorists have declared that God, or the gods, are on their side, standing for them, fighting with them, and blessing their violent struggle for what is “right.” The idea that God is with us can be one of the most damaging ideas to ever enter the human psyche – that is, unless the God who really is with us makes it clear that he is partnering with us – all of us – to bring peace and not war, equality and not domination, and unity that is strengthened through our embrace of human diversity.
Because humans routinely project our own agendas onto our idea of “God” thereby making ultimate and absolute our own opinions and values in order to coerce or control others into agreement or submission, I am sympathetic to the reasons why some people choose atheism as the only wise choice that lies ahead for humankind. It seems like just the idea of God is a type of emotional atom bomb that can be used to cause such super-damage among humankind, we might all be better off without it. In the words of Steven Weinberg:
Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
Weinberg nails it. Religion is hurting more than it is helping. But if we jettison the idea of God, we have jumped out of the frying pan of one dilemma and into the fire of another. Without God, there is no objective morality, no absolute right and wrong, no higher power to which we can appeal in our fight for truth, love, compassion, and kindness. The creative process of atheistic evolution that must be given credit for producing us is inherently unkind and devoid of compassion. That is our heritage. Why abandon it now?
In fact, apart from God we lose the moral objectivity to even label naziism as “evil” or the work of Mother Theresa as “good.” After all, “survival of the fittest” is a valid goal without God, and no compelling reason can be offered to interfere with that creative process. And so, to fairly round out our understanding of evil dictators perpetrating massive acts of violence, we should admit that atheism has also produced some doozies.
As an aside – I’m convinced that all morality is actually and absolutely subjective. Now hear me out. Morality is a relational concept. It doesn’t exist “out there” like some sort of hovering thought cloud. Without persons, morality is meaningless. Ethics exist within and between persons, or between persons and their environment. And yet, I’m also convinced that we humans live with a sense, an accurate sense, that morality is more than my own personal whims. We instinctively believe that it is objectively immoral to abuse a child, for instance, and not just a matter of the personal convictions of an individual or the collective personal preference of a society. To me this dichotomy between the subjective, personal, relational matrix of morality and the objective, transcendent good to which we instinctively believe all humans should submit – that dichotomy can only be resolved through the concept of God. God is the ultimate subject within which we all exist. We all live within a Person. Therefore, morality is subjective and purely personal, and we all live within the personal life and love of God, so ethics are objective to us. As the ancient Cretan philosopher Epimenides said:
For in him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)
So where does this leave us? Without God we have lost any moral compass external to our own subjective desires. And with God we open ourselves to a power so deadly that even people with genuinely good impulses can be manipulated to commit the most horrendous evils. I am convinced there is only one way forward that is powerful enough to persuade and loving enough to persuade us toward the good. We need a good God, a God who calls all people to an absolute standard of pure love. And we need convincing evidence that this is the God who is real. Enter Jesus, stage left.
I grow more and more convinced with every passing year that Jesus is the only coherent and compelling answer for the most urgent needs of this world. Whether we know it or not, God has built into our very soul a moral compass to which Jesus is the true north.
I’ve suggested a framework for thinking about the good news of Jesus that I simply call the gospel in thirty words:
Jesus is God with us, come to
1. SHOW US God’s love,
2. SAVE US from sin,
3. SET UP God’s kingdom, and
4. SHUT DOWN religion,
so we can share in God’s life.
I believe that, while sharing in God’s love life is the GOAL of the gospel, which is made possible through the four GIFTS of the gospel, this is all based on the GROUND of the gospel – God with us. And together, this core message and mission of Jesus meets the most fundamental human needs.
Now let’s reflect again on the gospel in thirty words and see how each aspect meets one of the deepest needs of the human heart…
Jesus is God with us, come to –> SAFETY/SECURITY
1. SHOW US God’s love, –> ESTEEM
2. SAVE US from sin, –> ACCEPTANCE/BELONGING
3. SET UP God’s kingdom, and –> PURPOSE
4. SHUT DOWN religion, –> ACTUALIZATION
so we can share in God’s life. –> TRANSCENDENCE
There is a lot here that we won’t unpack in this post. That’s what the rest of this series is for. But for now I’ll make three initial observations.
First, the gospel is the good news of Jesus, not Abraham Maslow or any other psychologist, sociologist, or philosopher. The social sciences can help us understand how the gospel meets our most fundamental human needs, but no one is reverse engineering a gospel that functions like some sort of placating message to sooth our aching felt needs. If there is amazing coherence between the message of Jesus and our human need, that is because the same God who made our minds is the God who comes to us through Jesus. He is the one who came to bring us life, and life to its fullness (John 10:10), which only he can do, since he is the author of life (Acts 3:15).
Second, although the gospel in thirty words doesn’t directly address physiological needs, we should note that a community of people who learn and live the gospel will be a people who work together to serve the poor and provide for their physiological needs and beyond. After all, Jesus referred to his message and mission this way:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Third, the message of “God with us” (Matthew 1:23) is foundational for humans to feel safe and secure in this universe. God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, is really with us. That is, God is for us and not against us. And he has entered our human history to provide us tangible evidence that this is so. When we allow the truth of this message to sink in, it opens us up to being ready to trust all that follows.
God is with you, not against you. Take some time to breathe that truth into your soul. And open your heart to trusting that everything God wants to give you, and every command of Christ about how to live and love, no matter how hard, is for your good. Jesus says so.
EXTRA NOTES FOR CHAPTER 6
Q & EH?
- Have you ever talked with someone who believes there are “many paths up the mountain to God”? (Maybe that’s you?) What do you think about this chapter’s response to that idea?
- “I believe that one of the reasons you’re reading this book right now is because of the activity of the Holy Spirit in your life. You have never been without the Spirit’s influence. He has been with you all along as a voice of conviction and encouragement, patiently moving you toward Jesus.” What do you think about this idea? Reflecting back over your life, or even just how you came to be reading this book, can you sense times when God has been at work?
- The most popular Christian creeds emphasized the person of Jesus without touching on his life and teachings. Talk about the unintended negative influence of this shift in focus throughout church history.
- Read: Hebrews 1:3; 2:14-3:6; 4:14-16.
- Think: One point this text makes is this – Moses is to Jesus like a house is to its builder. What does this say about Jesus in reference to any other prophets or religious leaders (e.g., Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, the Bahaullah, etc.)?
- Meditate: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence…” (Hebrews 4:16)
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