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December 22, 2010

Can we know if God still cares? Of course - that assumes that God did exist in the past. And it assumes that God still exists now. And it assumes that at least at some time in the past - God used to care. That's a lot of assumptions. Whether you care to make none of them - some of them - or all of them - please read on and see what you think at the end.

Can We Know If God Still Cares?

I saw a bumper sticker two days ago - it said:

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance

Later in the day, I read this -

Knowledge and wisdom are two different things, and we must come to understand the difference...

A little bit later -

Come now, let us reason together.

After that - I really wanted to write about this sequence of statements.

As it turned out - I didn't have time. I was disappointed - but things happen - and there's always another day (most of the time, anyway).

Then - yesterday - I read yet another piece that went with the others (at least in my mind) -

A story circulated some years ago about Sherlock Holmes and his loyal friend and student Watson, who were together on a camping trip. After a good meal, they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend awake.

“Watson,” he said, “look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions and millions of stars,” Watson replied.

“What does that tell you?” Holmes questioned.

Watson pondered the question and then said, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically. I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?”

Holmes was silent for a minute before speaking. “Watson, you idiot!” he said with a measure of restraint. “Someone has stolen our tent!”

Since I read that yesterday - it's safe to assume that something happened last night as well - since I'm writing tonight and not last night. (Holmes would be proud of that observation.) Again - I was disappointed - but again I have another day. And tonight - it's being written. And, no surprise - I read something else today that should tie it all together.

But - before I go there - let me explain why the 1st four fit together and what they have to do with this site.

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance

I assume that this bumper sticker most likely was a statement about the high cost of education these days. By the time one gets through college - with both books and tuition - maybe student housing as well - it's not cheap. But - as the sticker implies - not having an education at all is most likely even more expensive.

I believe the same is true with Christianity. It is "expensive" - in a sense. Jesus wants us to follow Him - as in His response to a question from a rich young man in Matthew 19:21 -

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

That was an expensive request in the monetary terms that we normally think of.

But sometimes it's not money - as when Jesus sent out the 12 disciples in Matthew 10:37-39 -

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Yes - either way it's expensive.

But try ignorance - see what that gets you. As Jesus says in Luke 13:22-30 -

The Narrow Door

Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Not a position anyone would want to be in - since when this door is closed - it's forever - eternity - a really, really long time.

Now that's expensive!

So if we think the cost of following Jesus - becoming a Christian - is high - look at the cost of remaining ignorant and not following Him.

Knowledge and wisdom are two different things, and we must come to understand the difference...

I read this in a book called Has Christianity Failed You?, by Ravi Zacharias.

I should say here - just in case someone gets the wrong impression - I am not reading this because I feel that Christianity has failed me. It's research I'm doing in preparation for a class.

You may have noticed the "..." at the end of the sentence. The complete sentence in the book is actually -

"Knowledge and wisdom are two different things, and we must come to understand the difference between believing something and knowing why it is believed."

This is a theme that runs throughout what I write here.

I feel it's important for us to know what we believe - and why. Not to mention the consequences of not believing. Some of us believe for reasons of the heart - nothing logical. Some of us because it can be reasoned out. Some because of fear of not believing.

I don't think it matters how we get started on the path to believing - as long as we get there - and stay on it. But at some point - as we grow in our faith - we will pass from knowledge to growing wisdom.

Come now, let us reason together.

I came across this later in the day - also from Has Christianity Failed You?

This statement is from God - yes, God - in Isaiah 1:18-20 -

“Come now, let us reason together,”

says the LORD.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red as crimson,

they shall be like wool.

If you are willing and obedient,

you will eat the best from the land;

but if you resist and rebel,

you will be devoured by the sword.”

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

This is one of many prophecies of the coming Messiah - Jesus.

With neither the knowledge nor the wisdom required to understand the meaning - this sounds crazy.

With the knowledge - it will make some sense - but maybe still sound a bit bizarre.

But with wisdom - it tells us that our sins will be forgiven if we accept Jesus as our Savior and follow Him. It also says that we can either share the best with Him - or be condemned by Him - and it's totally up to us as to which of those two options we want to take.

Now - reasoning it out - with the wisdom that we gain from pursuing God - that we obtained by choosing to not stay ignorant - we can see which is more expensive - follow Jesus or not.

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson

Hopefully you all know about these 2 fictional characters. If not - let me just say that Holmes is the ultimate detective - totally logical and able to come to some amazing conclusions. Watson is his sidekick - sometimes rather bumbling - sometimes rather brilliant - but always trying and failing to measure up to Holmes and his ability to draw the right conclusion.

BTW - since it's one of the more popular pages, I assume many of you have read All dogs go to Heaven - don't they? I first read about Homes and Watson as a kid - always did like them.

So - in this third quote from the same book - you may be thinking I included this because Watson came to the conclusion that God is all-powerful. And you'd be partly right. If you've read other parts of this site - like in the Who Gets The Credit section - you've seen what can happen when we get so deep into the details that we don't even know what we're seeing.

Yes - Watson had the right answer - but it was buried in with 4 other things - and so the part about God being all-powerful easily gets lost.

Holmes, on the other hand - gets the "right" conclusion - given facts that were left out (namely that there even was a tent in the first place). But - he's short sighted - completely focused on the here and now - and misses Watson's brilliant observation about God.

The fictional Sherlock Holmes likely has no time - or room - for God in his life. But that doesn't mean he can escape the reality of his friends observation about God. Whether by ignorance or by conscious choice to ignore God - in the end, we can't.

And that brings me to the final segment of this article - also from the book Has Christianity Failed You?

He has a section about the temptation of Jesus - how Satan tried to tempt Jesus in a different manner than the way he tempted Eve. Part of the example for Jesus was from Matthew 4:1-3 -

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

The more obvious interpretation - the one that Holmes would likely make - is that Jesus was hungry and turning the stones to bread would have solved the immediate problem.

The not so obvious one - that Watson might have made, but also would have probably missed the point entirely - is a reference to Exodus, when God gave the people bread (manna) to eat every day on the journey. The implication that the book draws is this: just as the people followed Moses when the bread divinely appeared each morning - so the people would also follow Jesus if He were to turn the rocks into bread.

The paragraph in the book that I read this morning - that ties it all together - is this -

The seduction of the lie that God makes everything comfortable for us is precisely the reason many have been unable to face the tensions they experience in living the Christian life. Further, because the church has not always lived out the truths it claims to believe, doubt has been cast on the unchanging character of God. It is interesting that Jesus does not challenge the assumption of the appeal that many would have been drawn to him if he had promised to provide for their short-term needs. And it is important to note that he placed what was written (and that which Satan was trying to distort) in the larger context of the truth. In short, sound bites are not the story. If we do injustice to what is written, we end up making an unjust conclusion.

So there we have it -

education (as opposed to ignorance) leading to knowledge

knowledge - leading to wisdom

with that wisdom - the ability to reason

with reason - the ability to see what's truly important

and after realizing what's important t- he ability to see what Jesus actually says.

There are so many times when Jesus tells parables that He talks about eyes and ears. In Matthew 13:10-17, Jesus explains to the Disciples why He speaks in parables -

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;

though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;

you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

For this people’s heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

So - someone with childlike faith - faith that The Father would not lie to them - can accept God at face value. He is what He says - Jesus is what He says - and that's all that's needed.

However - most of us are past the point of childhood. We have been bombarded with all sorts of useless information - half truths - outright lies - all sorts of things to try and convince us that God isn't here and doesn't care. Or maybe that He doesn't exist at all.

Once that doubt starts to come in - we need to go through the processes above to return to that state of faith. And the bombarding isn't going to stop when we return. If Satan has his way - it will get even worse.

So we need to keep going back. Back to God's Word. All of it. Not just the sound bites - but the whole thing - in context - to understand what it really says. Whether we like what it says or not. Whether we temporarily think the cost is too high or not.

God gave us a mind - and as we have probably heard - a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

God also gave us His Grace. And that's a terrible thing to waste as well. Without it - we wouldn't be able to use our mind to "see" and to "hear" what Jesus said.

And speaking of Jesus - He gave His life for us - and that's also a terrible thing to waste. Jesus died for all of our sins - each and every one of us. And yet, in Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus tells us that only a few will actually take advantage of His gift of salvation -

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

If we do injustice to what is written, we end up making an unjust conclusion.

Maybe we don't like what is written.

Maybe we don't want to pay the price that is written.

Maybe we don't even want to take the time to understand what is written.

If that's the case - we will also probably come to the conclusion that God is either gone or doesn't care.

But the reality is that it's simply our version of "god" that never existed and doesn't care - can't care.

But - if we do justice to what is written - we will see that God is still here - He does still care - and we'll see one more thing written - as Jesus says in Revelation 3:1-6 -

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

If we have an ear to hear - if we accept and follow Jesus - our names will be in the book of life - we'll enter through the narrow gate - and we'll realize that admission is worth way more than what we had to pay - because Jesus paid the price for us. Then we will truly know - in every sense of the word - that God has always been here and has always cared.