I was reflecting before God this morning and praying when the following question arose in my head: whether it is more important to believe the historical fact of the biblical stories or to believe the stories themselves.
For whatever reason, the story that occurred to me as I was thinking about this is the story of Lot’s wife. After they left Sodom, a place that was known for its wickedness and sin, a place in which God could not identify even 10 good men, she turned back (against the orders of God’s angels that led them (delivered) them out of Sodom), and she turned into a pillar of salt.
Is there really a pillar of salt somewhere in the vicinity of Sodom where lot’s wife turned back? Does it matter?
As I was thinking about the question, it occurred to me that the story is what matters. Sodom is representative of depravity, wickedness and sin, the nature of the world around us in which we live, the state of a person who has not given himself or herself over in loving submission to the God who made us. God calls us out of that sinful state to follow Him. this is true whether Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt or not.
In the Midrash, Lot’s wife is identified as a Sodomite. Sodom was her hometown. We read in Genesis that Lot was slow in leaving when the angels warned him to get out. The Midrash suggests that Lot’s wife didn’t want to leave, and she left only reluctantly. The Hebrew word translated “looked back” implies a “wistful regard”. (See the Pulpit Commentary on Genesis 19:26 in BibleHub)
It seems that Lot’s wife really didn’t want to leave Sodom and looking back was as much an act of the heart (desiring to be back in Sodom) as a physical one. The application to us is that we should not be tempted to look back wistfully on the sinful lives we once lived. It’s like a dog returning to its own vomit. (Proverbs 26:11 and 2 Peter 2:22) Why would we turn back to the sin from which we escaped? And yet we tend to do that.
Returning to the point of the question that arose in my mind this morning, I am reminded that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness….” (2 Timothy 3:16) The Scripture is what is useful, not necessarily that the stories are true. The critical truth of most stories is contained within the story itself.
A very close friend of mine was expressing concern about the state of the world recently. Specifically, Donald Trump seems to be provoking the Korean dictator, like a bully provokes a mass murderer. I was not prepared for such an existential discussion, and I did not respond very well.
The concerns are real. I was haunted by the specter of nuclear war as a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. I even bought a poster of a mushroom cloud to hang on my wall, not because I wanted the world to end in a ball of fire, but because it was the reality I couldn’t ignore.
But we do learn to ignore realities likes that. Maybe because it’s hard to live with them, we learn to push them back into the recesses of our consciousness. We displace the angst with busyness, entertainment and other distractions.
The fact is that life is short and tenuous. Whether we live to be a hundred or 80 or only 8, life will end. This is also a harsh but true reality, but I’m afraid it isn’t very helpful for someone who is laboring under the burden of the weight of the world. I wish I had said something more.
I firmly believe this world is not all there is. We thirst, and water exists to quench our thirst. We hunger, and food exists to sate our hunger. It makes sense that, if we yearn for something transcendent, something transcendental exists to satisfy our existential longing.
We all seem to “know” this, but the world is so full of a thousand flim flam answers to the ultimate existential question that we hardly have any idea where to start looking. We might be tempted to seize on the first or closest one, like responding to that Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes mailer declaring you might be the winner, or we abandon any hope of an existential answer and resign ourselves to the material world.
Is there proof of something transcendent? How can we know? These are serious and heartfelt questions.
I have reflected and written about the fact that I was enamored by Buddhism in college, especially after a world religion class my freshman year but Buddhism is not where I found my enlightenment. I found enlightenment in reading the Bible.
I didn’t find enlightenment in reading what other people said about the Bible. I found enlightenment in reading the Bible myself.
I have written about the facial similarities of Christianity, Buddhism and oneness. They both place some emphasis on losing or denying one’s self and achieving oneness, but that is where the similarities end. In Buddhism, oneness with the cosmic essence of the universe is something we achieve. In Christianity, oneness with God is achieved in us as we submit to God and allow Him to take His rightful place in the center of our lives.
Whereas, Buddhism encouraged me to ignore myself, look past myself and to escape myself and all of my feeling, ambitions and ego into a cosmic forgetfulness of self, the Bible confronted me with myself. Reading the Bible was like having a one-on-one soul-searching conversation with a stern but loving Father who knew me more intimately and fully than I knew myself.
And then I met Jesus in the Gospels. I can only describe him as divine love incarnate. He is a figure like no other. Bold, daring, fearless, loving, brotherly, piercing, healing. He is everything we would expect a God, a father, a brother, a friend to be. (It wasn’t right away that I was introduced to and experienced the person of the Holy Spirit.) Continue reading “Lured by Buddha but Taken by Christ”→
I have written about the central importance of the resurrection of Jesus many times, but I come back to it again. Nothing could be more important. Of this Paul, was crystal clear in his writing.
If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain;
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins;
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are evolved people most to be pitied;
If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”;
What you sow does not come to life until you die.
These are all statements made by Paul in his first letter to the people in Corinth. These statements underscore and highlight the importance of the resurrection in Christian thought.
Jesus is the center of the Christian faith, and the gospel is at the center of Christianity and the resurrection is at the center of the Gospel. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, everything falls apart. The claims of Christianity are bankrupt because they rise or fall on this one point.
If Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus is who he said he was and no other event in human history is more significant; no religion or philosophy lays a claim to hope in the present and the future like words of Jesus. Jesus truly is the “light of men” and the “bread of life”.
I listened to a Tim Keller sermon about John 1 in which he focused on the revelation that “the Word was in the beginning; the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. You can follow the link in the last sentence to read a summary of the beginning of the message.
Keller made the following statement that is the subject of this piece:
“Jesus is the supreme revelation. If we are to know God, neither rationalism nor mysticism will suffice. For God chose to make Himself known finally and ultimately in a real historical human being.”
Keller doesn’t break that statement down, but he provides an illustration of how rationalism is insufficient to know God. I will summarize Keller’s illustration and provide one of my own for why mysticism can’t be relied upon for knowing God. Neither rationalism nor mysticism are sufficient, alone, to enable us to know God, and the reason why is that God revealed Himself in the person of Jesus.
How many people have claimed to be God and have people wondering for centuries whether the claim is true? The list is short! While many people have claimed to be God or a god, most of them have only left people wondering what they were smoking or what the diagnosis is!
I often recall the World Religion class I took in college and the fact that Buddhism was particularly attractive to me at that time. I entered that class thinking that truth could be found in many places, all around the world, in all the religions, philosophies and cultures. I still think there is truth to that. After all, truth is truth wherever it is found.
At the same time, I hear people say that all religions are essentially the same or that they are all the same in the essence. I didn’t find that to be true when I studied the word religions in college (though my professor suggested the same sentiment), and I don’t find it to be true now. While there are some similarities and themes that run through many if not most of the world religions, the differences significant and fundamental.
A comparison between Buddhism and Christianity is one example.
The prophet Isaiah, spoke the word of God and foretold of the coming of the Christ child over 700 years before Jesus was born into the history of mankind in a humble manger.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
As Peter said, “the Lord is not slow about His promise, … but is patient toward you.” (2 Peter 3:9). In the fullness of time, God emptied Himself and entered into the history of His own creation. (Phil. 2:6-7)
The angel appeared to Mary and gave her the news that Isaiah foresaw:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)