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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Distant or Casual with God?

The pendulum of theology swings from transcendence to immanence and back again. We know that God is high and lifted up; in His holy place. We know He is never changing but we also know that He is personal and present with us. Our architecture reveals our theology. The pulpits were lifted up above the people when we emphasized His transcendence. They were brought low and closer to the congregation when we wanted to know God is present. One scenario presents Him as distant and the other as casual. Which is it? Of course, it is both and we must guard that we don't lose one for the other.

The God who is too far away is never personal. He is relegated to the presence of priests who hold the power of salvation. Prayers go through other, more pious individuals. He is respected and truly feared but never really known. His holiness and power are known well. His love is hardly mentioned.

God is too often made casual when His immanence is at the forefront. He is often fallible. People question His motives and whether He knows what He is doing.  His justice is forgotten and replaced with forgiveness without consequences. The fear of the Lord is a completely forgotten topic.

Somehow these two extremes in theology should be merged. The presence of God must be known while the transcendence of God is still in place. There must be awe while there is a personal touch. There must be the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord known at the same time.

I believe that many people who are younger than I have known something was missing in worship. They have searched and returned to more liturgical churches. They want to know the God who is holy, just, immutable and still present. They want to leave behind the casual worship they have formerly experienced. They are tired of health, wealth and "let the good times roll" preachers. They know that their own personal time with God is more than casual. It is reverent. It contains His holiness and they are brought to their knees.

I believe the Psalmist understood this when he said:

Psalm 5:7 (ESV) 7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.

Do you believe this too?


Anthony Chia said...

2 big words for me there - transcendence and immanence. Well, I check, the former is referring to being present throughout the universe; in other words, everywhere, or the more commonly used word, "omnipresence". Here perhaps, Ps Prentis is more emphasizing externally present in contrast with indwelling which is what the word, immanence here, is referring to. Incidentally or NOT, my comment on Ps Prentis' immediately preceding entry, actually touched on this, and the phrases I used there were "outside in" and "inside out".

Although I have stressed for the New Testament believer, it is more of an "inside out" scenario, it is of course, God's presence is everywhere; and so, God is outside of us, can come upon us, and come into us, and indwells us, believers. He is in the universe and we are part of the universe, and part of His creation. Actually, God dwells where He pleases. In the Old Testament times, He chose to move about with His people in tent or the Tabernacle, and then later, in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies; of course, all the times, God was also dwelling in His Heaven. Today, it is the same, God indwells us, men who are believers, by His Spirit, and at the same time, God is present at His throne in Heaven. Well, Scriptures even depicted God has a mobile throne!

Of course, Ps Prentis is also trying to say, by emphasizing transcendence only, that God is out there, somewhere (yah where is Heaven?), we may be holding God out to be remote. However, if we have read our Bible thoroughly enough, and believe that what were written are NOT fictional, then, a reasonable well-read (of the Bible) believer will know that, "remote", if used, can only be referring to spatial or physical remoteness, but NOT remoteness in God's interest and dealings with Man.

By experience, most of us, if NOT all of us, however, do find God somewhat distant, even in His interest and dealings with us, personally. That is because we, men, are creatures who have a tendency or orientation to compare (I believe this negativity became rooted in Man, because of how Satan lured Adam and Eve into The Fall – Satan alluded to comparison of Man to God). But we forget to remind ourselves that there is none like Him, and we cannot compare Him fully with any, NOT even earthly fathers, although metaphors or parables were used by Jesus. Such remain as metaphors or parables, serving to give us a better sense of how God is, but Scripture is very clear that we, presently, cannot fully know God.

If we are honest, there is really a lot, we do NOT know about the creation (the universe, us, and all) of God. God’s will and desires and His scheme of things, we only know, to the extent that He revealed, and I believe there is still much we do NOT know; what He does NOT reveal, for the time-being we know NOT. The other issue with men is that we are reluctant to accept the plain meaning of obedience. I speak for my race, Chinese, and we Chinese know, in the past, in the olden time of “Chinese Kingdom”, where king reigned, when the king wanted his subject or servant (even ministers in the royal court) to die, the person would just give of his life, with no question asked, and so, there is a quote in Chinese that goes like this: “When the King wants me to die, I die.” That is obedience. To obey does NOT require one to understand; one just is to do what is asked.

The Christian faith’s 2 pillars which many men are having great difficulty to subscribe to, or to accept the way it is, are: One, “the Word is it”, and two, God is NOT fully comprehensible by our finite mind. The Christian faith requires it that if the Word says it, it settles it. It used to be, people are more accepting, for example, when the king said it, it settled it. But today, people question even royalty; royalty is not above the law. In fact, today, I think people fear the High(est) Court Judge more than they fear the King or the President. Why? Because the High(est) Court Judge is law personified.

Anthony Chia said...

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In my country, the highest court is the High Court, and we are NOT on the “Jury System”, and in recent years, because of my protracted divorce case (I, the defendant), one “truth” hit me like a rock – “The High Court Judge shall decide”. This phrase of my lawyer shocked me, “He (the High Court Judge) is NOT asking for your view; He is telling you ….” In other words, what he (the High Court Judge) says is all that matters; his words are final! Straightaway, this “thing” came to me: “When you stand before The Judge on Judgment Day, it is also so, what He says is all that counts!” Scripture does talk about God had given the authority to judge, to His Son, Jesus Christ, and Jesus is the Judge, and Scripture also said that Jesus was the Word personified; and so, the Word is law – if the Word says it, it settles it. You see, when I was told by my lawyer what the Judge has said, I was also told I must accept it, despite the initial protests inside of me of “how can the Judge decide this way or that way?”; in other words, I got to obey, regardless, the court order given by the Judge.

Coming back, the thrust of what I am saying is that the Word precedes all, even our experiences, even when our experiences are legitimate. Never form doctrines or theologies from experiences which are inconsistent with the Word. Ultimately, the Word is always right. Accept the Word, and obey the Word, and accept that the Word is Jesus, and Jesus is Word. Accept what it (the Word) says, including its depicting that God is omnipresence, and God also indwells a New Testament believer; including its saying that God is holy, and God is righteous, and God is High and Mighty, and God is also love and God is faithful; above all, accept God is God, foremost, and therefore, sovereignty is His, and His alone. God is like no others, so don’t fully compare God with any. God can come to you as a father, but He is NOT just father. God can come to you in love, but He is NOT just love! One simple line I give, “He cares!” Simplest outlook you can have, is that you just accept what the Word said concerning how He (God) is like, and today, receive it, into your spirit, that God cares.

In order to know what you are to accept, you need to know what the Word said of God; and when you know He cares, you can talk to Him, petition to Him, even though you know NOT, all (the ways) of God. Fear God for who He is (that He is God), and humble yourself before Him. For a start, know that there is just no other way you can ascend His hills or stand in His holy place, for He is foremost (in nature-attribute), holy; unless you allow yourself to be refined by God to have clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24 & Matt 5:8).

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Anthony Chia said...

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Concerning Ps Prentis’ observation, perhaps of his local scenario, that younger believers (than him) are knowing that there is something in worship, and have wanted to return to more liturgical churches, I find it somewhat contrary from my observation that more and more younger believers (than him {Ps Prentis}, and perhaps, me, too {I should be younger than Ps Prentis}) are attracted to the overly grace group of believers, whom are in the habit of attacking the liturgical churches. In fact, the more traditional the church, or the more institutionalized the church, the more regimented church, the more they attack, collectively calling such as “ICs” (institutional churches); saying that such ICs lied and burdened believers. Rather they covet freedom to just bask in grace (or do anything like there is no sin consequence!), and surely promote NOT the need for submission to authority or being accountable to somebody (men) higher up; internet or cyber or “faceless” church is what they would give thumb up. And of those who are gathering physically, such overly grace churches can be mega, and growing, for what are being promoted is easy-believism, like “You were already forgiven of ALL your sins, past, current and FUTURE, AT your born-again” or “When you, a believer sins, you do NOT need to ask for forgiveness; you just tell the devil off!” Or “Forget about your conscience, the Holy Spirit does NOT convict believers of sins, only righteousness!” Or “Just know your identity, like your righteous standing, don’t sweat over right living!” Or “It is all God’s part, no Man’s part!” Or “God does NOT require you to do anything!” OR “When God sees you, He does NOT see you, but see Jesus, instead, literally!” Well, the such setting, only their grace preacher can exhort (well, he better be exhorting the right stuff), all other brothers and sisters who try to exhort with “Maybe you should or ought”, will be accused of “going down the slippery slope of works”; the argument being, if they should or ought to have, they would have, since they are having the full mind of Christ (is it NOT easy-believism; just because immanence {God indwells}, you automatically have the full mind of Christ?)! In short, such preachers/churches are subtly promoting self-delusion to ensnare believers into thinking that they have become Jesus, become God, and so, they cannot be wrong, for God is never wrong! In the extreme, that is how “casual” an overly grace church is being.

Some of Ps Prentis’ saying concerning immanence sounded like alluding to “familiarity breeds contempt”. Is God not getting too familiar with you, because He knows, for your case, “familiarity breeds contempt”? Worth thinking about!