Through the Redefinition of Christ
Growing up in a family that regularly attended church, I was familiarized with all of the “classic” Old Testament Bible stories at a young age. I knew all about Joshua’s epic march around the walls of Jericho. I could tell the story of Noah’s Ark in my sleep. I knew about Jacob wrestling with God, Adam and Eve, Jonah and the whale, and the plagues of Egypt.
Thus, at a young age, I was inundated by stories of a people who repeatedly acted out of unbelief and lack of trust towards their God. However, at a young age, I was also inundated stories of a God Who, in spite of the unbelief and lack of trust repeatedly demonstrated by His people, relentlessly pursued them and came through for them – again and again and again and again.
And (you guessed it) again.
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful,
For He cannot disown Himself.”
2 Timothy 2:13
As a child, I scoffed at the foolishness of the Israelites. Would they ever learn? Didn’t they understand Who their God was yet? How could any one group of people be so entirely dense? It boggled my mind.
I made a promise to myself: I would never be like that. Unfortunately, what I failed to realize in my innocent (albeit severely misguided) pridefulness was that I already was like that. The option for me not to be like that didn’t exist. It wasn’t accessible to me. Unbelief ran as deep as my blood and as sure as my bones.
Oh, sweet irony.
Now when I read the stories of the Israelites, I find caricatures of myself in the pages. Sometimes I have to stop and reassure myself that, yes, I am in fact still reading my Bible, I didn’t somehow just accidentally start looking into a mirror.
It’s quite humbling.
I guess that’s what the Bible means when it says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23)
The unbelief and lack of faith of the Israelites doesn’t end upon the conclusion of the Old Testament – it continues seamlessly into the New Testament. It seems faithlessness is the norm. Even the disciples, the twelve men that Jesus called, demonstrated faithlessness more often than not. These men were Jesus’ closest confidants and the men who literally walked alongside Him, God in flesh, on earth.
Let me repeat to drive this point home: The men that had the privilege of spending the most time with God in the flesh, who witnessed miracle after miracle, who did even the most mundane, human tasks with him, such as eating and sleeping, found it difficult to trust Him.
So the struggle of trusting God? It’s not a new one, nor it is a unique one.
“What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
‘See, this is new?’
It has been already
in the ages before us.”
In fact, this struggle with faith is practically as old as time itself. It was introduced in the Garden of Eden – a place which was the physical epitome of perfection and beauty – by Adam and Eve – the first humans ever created. Choosing to trust God couldn’t have possibly been made easier for them. They lived in paradise. They had the opportunity to daily walk with God in the Garden. And yet, they still ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – the only thing God had explicitly commanded them not to do. Adam and Eve are the original “you had one job” meme.*
* Bible scholars predominantly agree that Adam and Eve made this choice within a matter of a few days of inhabiting the Garden of Eden (if not the very first day). It did not take long for sin to enter the world and mar God’s perfect creation.
Got a grievance with God? Finding yourself paralyzed with doubt? Honey please, you’re not that special. With all due respect, join the club.
To know this struggle is commonplace is simultaneously immensely discouraging and immensely encouraging.
Discouragement: We are prone to be skeptical of God. We are prone to repeatedly make idols of ourselves – the created – and assume that we know better than our Creator (Romans 1:25). Idolatry leads to our own undoing and places us back into bondage. Apart from Christ, we are hopelessly depraved and endlessly flawed.
Encouragement: We cannot save ourselves! Nor does God ask us to! “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis mine.) We are not alone in our struggle, nor was it ever ours to fix. Our struggle is not unique or new. Even though the Bible assures us repeatedly that in this world we will** have trouble, we are also invited to take heart, for our God has overcome the world! (John 16:33). The gospel is the beginning and end of everything.
** “Will” is the word that the Bible specifically uses, it is not my word of choice. We will have trouble. We can depend on that, and are called to anticipate it. However this doesn’t mean we have to live in fear. It means we should expect it, and equip ourselves for the trouble that will inevitably come through “putting on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Recently, God has been teaching me how pathetically small my view of Him is. It’s embarrassing, really.
“To admit that there is One who lies beyond us, who exists outside of all our categories, who will not be dismissed with a name, who will not appear before the bar of our reason, nor submit to our curious inquiries: this requires a great deal of humility, more than most of us possess, so we save face by thinking God down to our level, or at least down to where we can manage Him.”
– A. W. Tozer
I am majoring in public relations. I am literally investing thousands of dollars studying the art of knowing how to save face. As a person, I am naturally disposed to doing so. I am currently in the process of honing every necessary skillset that will allow me to be an effective liaison between a company and its various “publics.”
But God does His own public relations. I do both myself and Him a disservice when I decide Who He is (or rather, more accurately, Who I think He should be) rather than accepting Him for Who He actually is. In deciding Who I think God should be and how He should work, I am trying to manipulate a God that can’t be manipulated. I’m trying to manipulate a situation that’s not mine to handle. It’s idolatry. I’m essentially deciding that I know how to be God better than God does.
(Did everyone else just have a déjà vu moment of reading about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden earlier, or was that just me?)
The apple doesn’t fall too far from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, folks.
As a girl who is equally enthusiastic about fashion and make-up as she is about mudding and camping, I have struggled with how to identify myself. I’m not quite high maintenance enough to be considered the classic girly-girl, yet I don’t quite fulfill the stereotypical tomboy definition either. One night, sitting on a rock underneath the Adirondack stars, I voiced this frustration to my friend Emily:
“People don’t know how to define me. I don’t even know how to define me. I apparently encompass too many of all the things, but not quite enough of any of them, and it confuses and intimidates people. I can’t be stuffed into a box, so people don’t really know what to do with me. It makes it hard for me to know where I fit.”
I will never forget Emily’s response to my jumbled lament.
“Amy,” Emily said quietly, turning and looking me directly in the eye, “It doesn’t matter whether people can put you in a box or not. You don’t need to be defined.”
Emily paused thoughtfully, glancing at the night sky while grabbing my knee reassuringly.
“But, Amy, even when someone tries to put you in a box – even if that someone is you – remember that boxes are made to be open.”
The beauty surrounding us in that moment echoed her words. Everything around me – the wonderful mystery that is night sky, the depth and stillness of a lake asleep, the silent stolid elegance of ancient trees – these all defied boxes. When placed against the backdrop of infinity, my question seemed simple…even childish.
God does not belong in a box. When we attempt to put Him in one, it demonstrates both our lack of faith and how terribly shallow our understanding of Him is. Not to mention, that we fail to actually learn Who He is once we’ve decided Who we think He should be, and this does violence to our soul.
The Judas Complex
Judas missed out on Who Jesus actually was, and Judas was one of Jesus’ chosen twelve disciples.
What a grave misfortune. I can think of few things worse than having known Jesus on earth, and yet having never actually known Him. Granted, Judas wasn’t the first person who claimed to know Jesus without truly knowing Him, and he certainly isn’t the last. However, he is probably one of the most famous, if not the most famous of those people. Thus, I’ve affectionally dubbed the act of deciding Who God should be and that He owes you something as the Judas Complex (a complex I believe we all have to varying degrees – I know I do.)
Judas Iscariot is the disciple made notorious by his betrayal of Jesus Christ to the authorities with a kiss. Besides that, not too much is known about him. It is evident that even prior to the betrayal of Jesus, he was not exactly a paragon of virtue. Judas was the keeper of the money box for the disciples, and evidently used his trusted position to repeatedly embezzle money from it (John 12:6.)
Still, most of us have a hard time imagining being the person that betrayed Jesus – even if Judas didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God as He claimed, wasn’t it self-evident that He was, at the very least, a good man? So how could Judas betray him?
I think that Judas maybe did believe that Jesus was Who He said He was, but Judas disagreed with how Jesus, in His omniscience and omnipotence, was handling things. The Jews had been waiting for their Messiah, their Savior, for a long time – since their establishment as a nation. Since the Israelites had been anticipating their Messiah for centuries, as a nation they had decided what their deliverance should and would look like. It was a common belief that their Messiah – their “Savior” – would deliver the Israelites from whatever nation was currently oppressing them – in Jesus’ time, that nation happened to be the Romans. So you can imagine Judas’ bitter disappointment when it slowly became evident through Jesus’ ministry years that due to Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, overthrowing the Romans wasn’t on the agenda. Obviously, we can only speculate what drove Judas to betray Jesus, but I imagine that it was – at least partially – Judas’ last desperate attempt to force Jesus’ hand. Perhaps Judas thought that if faced with the consequence of death by the authorities, Jesus would rise up and finally overthrow the Romans as he, and so many others, had been wanting and anticipating from the Messiah.
Too bad Jesus was only concerned about people’s souls.
Poor Judas. If he had only taken the time to actually see and get to know Jesus, he would have realized that Jesus, Who was God in flesh, cannot be manipulated. But rather than being terrified by his lack of control over Jesus and his circumstances, Judas would have found peace in the abiding goodness of God. He would have found assurance in God’s sovereignty. He would have rested in God’s promises.
If only Judas had known that boxes are made to be open.
Instead, he essentially sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver, and ended his own life in bitter regret.
“Up until that moment of betrayal, Judas seems no better or worse than any of the other disciples.
But he has been defined by the worst thing he did. What Judas did is not okay, but I think he holds up a very important mirror to our own human condition.”
– Rev. Kate Bottley, Church of England cleric
As an adult, I empathize with the Israelites and Judas, and I weep at my own perpetual foolishness. Will I ever learn? Don’t I understand Who my God is yet? How can any one person be so entirely dense? It boggles my mind.
Ironically, most people think that “ability to spin” a situation is what makes a public relations agent successful, when the opposite is true. To be a successful public relations agent, telling the truth and learning to work within what the truth of a situation – even when the truth is ugly or atrocious – is paramount. This is what we need to do with our faith. We need to take God as He is (John 14:6), and stop trying to “spin” Him into what we want Him to be or what would be more convenient for us.
God simply is (Exodus 3:14.) And unfortunately*** for us, He seems to be much more concerned with our salvation and progressive sanctification than eliminating every Roman Empire that oppresses us.
Sometimes, revolution is as simple as relationship.