Part 2: An Analysis Of Basic Doctrine
2.1 God exists and we can have a personal relationship with a God we know.
Practicing The Presence Of God
Believing in God's very existence of itself affects a man's behaviour. " The living God" is a phrase often used by men in prayer or desperate straits. God is, He is the living One, and He therefore is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov [through the mouth of one of his characters] aptly observed: " If there is no God, everything is permitted" . And the reverse is so true: seeing there is a God, all aspects of life come under this imperative. All religions apart from the Truth place a mask over God. To claim to be able to know the one true God is too much for them. So they have created false doctrines to cover Him up, to turn Him into what they would fain like or wish Him to be. In this sense, as Maxim Gorky said in a terrible phrase, " man created God after his own image" . Gorky's idea is essentially repeated by Sigmund Freud in his book The Future Of An Illusion, where he claimed that the God people have in their minds is essentially a projection of their own father figure. If their father was abusive and angry, then this is how they see God. If their father was kind and loving, then this, they decide, is what God is like. Freud's theory is probably true for most people in this world who claim a belief in God. The false idea that God is an angry old man appeased by the blood and violent punishment of His son seems to me to be rooted in the poor parental experience of theologians. They have no experience of practicing the presence of God as Father. This is not the God revealed by open minded Bible study. For us who know and believe the true God of the Bible, God is God, who He is as revealed in His word, and we must resist this temptation to project onto Him our own perceptions of a father.
One of the greatest false doctrines of all time is the trinity- which claims that there are three " persons" in a Godhead. Trinitarian theologians borrowed a word- persona in Latin, porsopon in Greek- which was used for the mask which actors wore on stage. But for us, God doesn't exist in personas. He exists, as God the Father. And we practice the presence of that God. The real, true God, who isn't acting, projecting Himself through a mask, playing a role to our eyes; the God who is so crucially real and alive, there at the other end of our prayers, pulling at the other end of the cord... What we know of Him in His word is what and who He really is. It may not be all He is, but it is all the same the truth of the real and living God. And this knowledge should be the most arresting thing in the whole of our existence. So often the prophets use the idea of " knowing God" as an idiom for living a life totally dominated by that knowledge. The new covenant which we have entered is all about 'knowing' Yahweh. And Jer. 31:34 comments: " They shall all know me…for I will forgive their iniquity" . The knowledge of God elicits repentance, real repentance; and reveals an equally real forgiveness. It is possible for those in Christ to in practice not know God at all. Thus Paul exhorted the Corinthian ecclesia: " Awake to righteousness and sin not: for some have no knowledge of God" (1 Cor. 15:34 RV). The knowledge and practice of the presence of God ought to keep us back from sin. Ez. 43:8 RV points out how Israel were so wrong to have brought idols into the temple: " in their setting of their threshold by my threshold, and their door post beside my door post, and there was but the wall between me and them" . How close God was ought to have made them quit their idolatry. But their cognizance of the closeness of God was merely theoretical. They didn't feel nor respond to the wonder of it. And truly, He is not far from every one of us.
All first principle doctrines are meshed together, not only by logic and theory and exposition, but by the fact that one aspect of the spiritual life which they elicit leads into another. The existence of God means that there will be a judgment, and therefore our lives must reflect the fact that we believe that we live under judgment. The wicked think: " He will not require it. All [their] thoughts are, There is no God" (Ps. 10:4 RV). They admit there is a God insofar that they think God will not " require" an account of their lives; and thus effectively they act as if they are atheists. Their inward self-talk is that " There is no God" . Thus they say: " God hath forgotten…he will never see it…wherefore doth the wicked contemn God, and say in his heart, Thou wilt not require it?" (Ps. 10:11,13). Note the parallel between their thinking " There is no God" (:4), and thinking that God will not " require" our thoughts and actions of us one day. To believe in God is to believe in His ultimate judgment of us. And thus it would be true that if there were no God, anything would be possible for us.
All too easily we can think that we believe that 'God exists' just because we can reel off 'the watch argument' and other apologetic reasons. But " what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our every-day lives…it is not objective proof of God's existence we want but, whether we use religious language for it or not, the experience of God's presence. That is the miracle we are really after. And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get" (1). To this I for one can say 'Amen'. For it is in the apparent trivia of life that we see Providence the most clearly, hour by hour.
But it can be that we accept God's existence without really believing that He is, therefore, all powerful, and that all His attributes which the Bible reveals are actually functional and real for us today. The unfaithful captain of 2 Kings 7:2 mocked Elisha: " If the Lord should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?" . He forgot that there are windows in Heaven (Gen. 7:11; Mal. 3:10) through which blessing can be given. He believed in God's existence. But he didn't think this God could do much, and he doubted whether He would ever practically intervene in human affairs. We must be aware of this same tendency.
To know God in itself demands a change from us. When Job speaks his words of repentance, God says that Job has spoken about Him the things which are right (Job 42:7). This seems to me to be the correct interpretation of God’s comment here, because Job’s earlier words about God were not always “right”. So to know God, to speak about Him, is to speak repentance. Quite simply, there being a God, and our knowing Him, makes a fundamental difference to our lives.
The Levites had no material inheritance because " the sacrifices of the
Lord God of Israel...are his inheritance...the Lord God of Israel
was their inheritance" (Josh. 13:14,33). Notice how "
the Lord God" is put for what is sacrificed to Him. His very
existence is an imperative to sacrifice to Him, despising all material
advantage in doing so. Job comments that to make gold our hope and
wealth our confidence is to deny “the God that is above” (Job 31:24,28).
To trust in material wealth is effectively to proclaim ourselves
Elisha's Example Of Practicing The Presence Of God
Elisha was accustomed to thinking of himself in terms of a man
who stood before Yahweh, in His presence, before His face (Heb.-
2 Kings 3:14). Naaman and his "company" 'stood before'
Elisha (2 Kings 5:15,16). Remember that this was the Syrian army
General, standing with a "company" in Israelite territory,
at Elisha's house- at a time when 'companies' of Syrian soldiers
carried out raids upon Israel (2 Kings 5:2). Any Israelite would've
been terrified. But Elisha responds that he 'stands before' Yahweh.
Elisha was so aware of how we live in God's presence, before His
very face, that he wasn't the least phased by this. If only we can
share this sense, of standing in God's presence... the most frightening
of human situations will have little effective 'presence' because
we know we are ultimately in God's presence, 24/7. But probing further,
how, concretely and actually, did Elisha come to have this serenity?
A clue is to be found in how in 2 Kings 6:17, Elisha prays that
God will open the eyes of his frightened servant to behold the Angelic
horses and chariots around him. Elisha was so confident
they were there, that he didn't ask to see them himself. He knew
they were there; he simply asked that his servant be enabled
to see the unseen reality which he calmly knew was there. He of
course had had first hand experience of the Angelic horses and chariots
(a kind of cherubim) when he had been parted from Elijah in 2 Kings
2:11. This must have left an abiding impression upon him- he knew
that those Angelic horses and chariots were in fact permanently
encamped around him (cp. Ps. 34:7). And so we are surely to see
significance in the way that Naaman came to Elisha's house with
his horses and chariot- for this is surely a development
of a theme of connection between Elisha, horses and chariots (2
Kings 5:9). Most other Israelites would've been petrified to have
the horses and chariots of Naaman and a company of Syrians pull
up at their door. But Elisha was quite unphased. He didn't even
bother coming out to meet Naaman, knowing this was an insult to
Naaman's pride, and was humanly certain to result in Naaman simply
killing him and burning his house. Surely the horses-chariot-Elisha
connection taught Elisha that in fact there were Angelic horses
and chariots around him- he need not fear any human horse and chariot.
There is no hint that Angelic activity is any less, or operates
in any different way, for us today.
Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat (New York: The
Seabury Press, 1966) p. 23.