Point of Reference
by Fred Price
I have heard any number of sermons based on the idea that all people everywhere have a “God-spot” deep within their hearts, a place yearning for God – even if we fail to properly recognize it as such or identify it as something entirely different. In fact there is ongoing research to identify just why this is so, seeking to genetically define why the vast majority of people look for the true meaning of life in something beyond themselves. Could it simply be that God created us with a need for him, that we miss the daily walks in the garden our first ancestors had with Him. A.W. Tozer describing it as a, “…yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste (or fully experience) the Unapproachable, arising from the image of God in the nature of man,… Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to it’s source.”1
And yet, Jesus never made himself or his gospel so easily attainable as to indiscriminately reveal his innermost being to people who were merely curious or who didn’t really care. Thus his caution against, “…giv(ing) dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.” Which sounds harsh, but the reality of that situation was borne out in his life and death, for “If you do, they may trample them under their feet (either in disregard or disrespect), and then turn and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7:6
Even if people don’t know what it is they yearn for or what they ultimately end up filling the “gap” in their souls with (Material possessions, the emotional satisfaction of acclaim for business and sporting prowess, relationships of companionship and sex, the addictive fulfillments of drinking and drugs, or an adulterated form of religion), they slavishly work to soothe their consciences and stroke their self-image. Jesus dealing with this problem, manifested particularly in the behavior of the Pharisees of his day but certainly expressed in one form or another throughout his society and rampant throughout our own. Even those within the church tend to stumble when dealing with the gulf between our desire to know more and our inherent laziness in seeking it out; constructing neatly packaged rules and regulations – which tend to box some people in and others out while failing to address the real deep-seated need to know Christ in his fullness. (Ephesians 3:8 & 10)
There has always been an element of mystery to the gospel. For the complacent, self-reliant and self-satisfied – uninformed or misinformed, the mystery remains unsolved. (Matthew 22:29) For those who genuinely seek a deeper, more meaningful understanding and relationship with Christ, some of the mystery is lifted – even as more is revealed. (Which is not a sadistic attempt on God’s part to thwart our efforts to get to know him better but because he is genuinely so “other” than we are.) That’s why, “Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms,…”; or substitute other things in his place. Attempting to, “...get him where we can use him, or at least know where he is when we need him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like.”2 Even if our definition of him is of our own making.
This has led some to conclude that, “All sins are in one sense an attempt to fulfill a genuine righteous longing, but in a way that is inappropriate.”3 (All sin? I’m not certain about that, but the idea is worth consideration.) St. Augustine referring to our tendency to sin as occurring when, “The soul commits fornication when she is turned from thee, and seeks apart from thee what she cannot find pure and untainted until she returns to thee.”4Prime Biblical examples being Adam and Eve, who sought to be “like God” by acquiring knowledge they weren’t ready for or were never intended to have. (Genesis 3:4,5) Another would be Cain, longing for the same divine acceptance that his brother Abel had, solving the problem by removing his competition for God’s heart rather than learning from what God said. (Genesis 4:3-8) From the New Testament, Judas, our Lord’s betrayer (A title somewhat tempered by the fact that none of the disciples – except John – stood by Jesus in his ordeal and that Peter denied even knowing him several times when confronted by those who recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples.), may have been attempting to force Jesus’ hand in asserting himself as the Jews’ long-awaited Messiah; “helping” him usher in his kingdom rule. Or was he just deranged and greedy? (Matthew 26:14-16, Luke 12:6 The debate on this possibility ongoing. Without knowing Judas’ heart, as only God can, there is really no way to know; but it’s an interesting possibility that highlights the tendency that we all have to project something that is wrong – sometimes horribly so – as right.) And then there’s the disciples, the inner circle of men who knew Jesus up close and personal, having the benefit of extended teaching and experience with him; still trying to force him at times to conform to their expectations. Personified in Peter who on one hand excitedly identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God – and being appropriately recognized for doing so; yet almost immediately blundering into a situation where he tried to forcefully persuade Jesus onto a path of action Peter deemed more fitting – and again appropriately “recognized” for his failure to acquiesce to Jesus’ will. (Matthew 16;13-23)
Comprehending God in his totality can be daunting and elusive, his dealings among us so layered with meaning that it takes time – even centuries – to unravel. And yet, in Christ he is engaging, using a number of tactics to prompt humble seekers to take the next seep, ask another question, dig a little deeper.
What we really yearn for is the power of Christ in our lives. An overwhelming, life-altering, priority setting power – that scares us to death! (See Mark 5:1-17) So we try to tone him down just a bit. But to do so is to make of him something he’s not, someone who in the end will disappoint us as has every other substitute we’ve used in his place. For God in Christ is utterly incapable of being manipulated. He is long-suffering and impatient, he is forgiving and exacting; as well as jealous for our time and affection. He is understanding and demanding, exuding mercy and power. He speaks in our defense and convicts us of our offenses. He is strong and meek, harsh and kind. Which is not to say he is fickle but that he does things on his terms!
God identified himself to Moses as, “I AM who I AM.” No other explanation but this assertion of eternal existence. Jesus using the same phrase to explain himself as the incarnate I AM. (John 8:58) Which includes being the bread (or sustainer) of life – John 6:35; the light of the world – John 8:12; the good guide or shepherd – John 10:11; the resurrection and life – John 11:25, the true vine – John 15:1 Notice what he didn’t say: ‘I am whatever you want me to be.’; but rather, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” There is no other! John 14:6,7 That may be hard but in the end, worth an occasional inconvenience or the effort it takes to comprehend and accept.
1 A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy One, Harper and Brothers Pub.
2Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy One
3Mark Galli, Jesus Mean and Wild, Baker Books
4St. Augustine’s Confessions
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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