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Anyone who has ever had their identity stolen has lived through the resulting nightmare. Consider Cinderella. We all know the story…”There once was a widower who remarried. His second wife was ill–natured, and she had two daughters who were just as unpleasant as their mother. The man had a beautiful, gentle daughter of his own, and she was soon to becom
e the servant of her evil stepmother and stepsisters. They made her do all the chores around the house, and she was named Cinderella, after the cinders she swept out of the fireplace.”
“The king needed to find a queen for his prince, so he threw a huge ball. The evil stepmother and stepsisters were invited, but Cinderella was not allowed to go. After they left, Cinderella’s fairy godmother appeared and changed her dirty rags into a beautiful gown with glass slippers. Next the fairy godmother changed a pumpkin into a coach and some mice into footmen. Before Cinderella left, the fairy godmother warned her to be home before midnight, because the spell would only last till then.”
“Cinderella was a hit at the ball. The prince fell in love with her and asked her name. Just then the clock struck midnight, and Cinderella ran away. She was in such a hurry, she lost one of her glass slippers. It was the only clue the prince had to find his true love. He went to every home in the kingdom and had every single young girl try on the slipper to see if it fit. The evil stepsisters couldn’t fit the slipper, but Cinderella did. The prince married her and they all lived happily ever after.”[i]
Our Universal Identity Crisis
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Similarly, we—all of us—have fallen victim to the “Cinderella Syndrome” and are completely unaware of the toll it has taken from the day we were born. We are born with an aching hunger for significance and identity. Dumped unceremoniously into this world from a perfectly secure womb, slapped into consciousness, and handed over to seemingly total strangers, our first taste of life can be most unsettling. What follows often adds to that impression—never–ending childhood injuries, voices telling us not to do things, and, though loved, constant reminders that we’ll need a lot of work to become an acceptable member of society. Throw in a few rounds of schoolhouse bullying, critical teachers, and mean friends—is it any wonder that most of us find ourselves in the middle of a three–alarm identity crisis? Who am I? What am I here for? Where am I going?
The first lesson in getting along comes early. It goes like this: be “good,” and people will accept you; be “bad,” and they will reject you. The second lesson, not unlike the first, is: you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. From the start, we are delivered a paradigm that we must struggle to earn the approval of others and thus derive an identity as being either “good” or “bad.” Because everything in life seems to work that way, when we get around to thinking about God, this “earning” mentality comes along for the ride. That is why religions that tell us to do something are so popular—they make sense, and we’re told that we can make it if we just try hard enough.
Identity theft is a modern–day scourge that threatens anyone with a Social Security number, driver’s license, or credit card (so, pretty much everybody). Sadly, the dark shadow of criminal intent seems to follow each successive advance in technology, and the results can be devastating, as one person’s identity becomes another person’s means of enrichment. Spiritual identity theft is no less devastating and occurs when the Devil can convince anyone that they don’t matter, aren’t precious, and have no potential. In his book The Sacred Romance, John Eldredge wrote:
Cinderella lived with her stepsisters, a shrewish pair who made her sleep with the coal in the furnace room and had her convinced she would never be anything more than a maid. I remember thinking as I looked at the pictures of Cinderella in my child’s storybook, “Doesn’t she know how beautiful she is? Can’t she see she is so different from her stepsisters both inside and out? Why doesn’t she just look in the mirror?”
The confusion of a life away from God
An unavoidable consequence of getting older is the need to attend an increasing number of funerals. It reminds us of the fragility and fleeting nature of our lives. One minute a close friend is vital and present, and the next minute he’s gone. Unless you concentrate, it’s hard to even remember what he looked like. The shock and grief of unexpected death fades into a wispy memory, as though the person never existed. This starkly realistic view of life is reflected in James 4:14: “You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.”[ii]
When it comes to the hereafter, most ordinarily responsible people inexplicably morph into hazy–eyed players in a high–stakes game of spiritual roulette that can only be explained as “the triumph of hope over experience.” We plan, analyze, and strive to secure our “futures,” all the way up to our last breath, and—without a thought to its blinding inconsistency—leave the rest to chance. And we do so in the face of the fragility and uncertainty of life all around us.
We seem to be afflicted with a form of spiritual schizophrenia, focusing our days upon comparatively trivial pursuits, while indefinitely deferring those looming thoughts about death, eternity, loss of existence, and “meeting our maker.” We agonize over a job loss or financial reversal, or spend weeks researching what kind of car to buy, while turning a blind eye to the inevitability that our lives will terminate one day—maybe soon—without notice.
Mathematician, physicist, and theologian Blaise Pascal (1623‒1662) wrote of this human paradox with great frustration:
Nothing is so important to man as his own state, nothing is as formidable to him as eternity; and thus it is not natural that there should be men indifferent to the loss of their existence, and to the perils of everlasting suffering. They are quite different with regard to all other things. They are afraid of mere trifles; they foresee them; they feel them. And this same man who spends so many days and nights in rage and despair for the loss of office, or for some imaginary insult to his honor, is the very one who knows without anxiety and without emotion that he will lose all by death. It is a monstrous thing to see in the same heart and at the same time this sensibility to trifles and this strange insensibility to the greatest objects. It is an incomprehensible enchantment, and a supernatural slumber, which indicates as its cause an all–powerful force.[iii]
Strangely, instead of honestly facing these “inconvenient truths,” we tend to retreat into creature comforts, an endless stream of entertainment or, for many, drugs and alcohol, which serve as temporary sedatives. But then the morning after announces, like a jarring gong, that reality has returned.
In their search for meaning, some thoughtful people adopt a secular humanistic world view, relying on science, culture, and/or academia to explain it all, often discarding the notion of a higher creator–power in the process. Others embrace one or another flavor of religion, seeking refuge among the rituals, supposed holy teachings, submission to leaders, and their faith community. Still others abandon the search for meaning and plant their feet firmly in thin air for the remainder of their lives. Dr. John Luca wrote:
We create ourselves by our choices, but our choices take place in a great mysterious world. Søren Kierkegaard said we are here on sealed orders. There is only so much we can know about who we are, why we are and where we are. To some degree, we make our choices in the dark. We are limited in what we can know and imagine. We are surrounded by things greater than we’ll ever be.[iv]
The modern movie series The Matrix “depicts a dystopian future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality or cyberspace called ‘the Matrix,’ created by sentient machines to pacify and subdue the human population. …Computer programmer ‘Neo’ discovers this truth and is drawn into a rebellion against the machines, which involves other people who have been freed from the ‘dream world’ and into reality.”
Similarly, the Bible depicts a multidimensional reality in which the visible spectrum is but a part of a much more pervasive spiritual realm inhabited by angels, demons, principalities, and powers which dwarf in scale and number that which we can see with our eyes. It is in this invisible domain that cosmic battles between good and evil are continuously being played out, with the hearts and minds of human beings hanging in the balance.
Sadly, as in the movie, few humans choose to believe in this unseen dimension and play out their lives according to the simulated reality set forth by the evil powers and thus miss the whole point of their existence. We are purpose–built to be in relationship, first with our God and then with each other, giving our lives purpose and ultimate significance.
Author and cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant once wrote, “I have abandoned my search for truth and am now looking for a good fantasy.”[v] This mindset is like that of people who retreat into the fatalistic view that they are in the hands of unknown powers and are destined to be tossed around by its capricious moods.
But try as we may, deep down inside, the heavenly hounds still bark, albeit off in the distance. Pascal wisely observed, “There is a God–shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator.”[vi]
The most perplexing mystery of all—mankind
Ever since the invention of the telescope, observers of the material universe have been spellbound by its exquisite order, mathematical precision, and endless mystery. But smack dab in the middle of this precise order there is a critical segment of creation that appears to be largely exempt from the governing laws and relative predictability of the rest of the universe. Although physical laws govern the rest of the cosmos, mankind stands out as “the crazy aunt in the attic,” who seems to defy all laws and logic. Nothing, no animal or plant, compares in complexity, contradiction, and propensity for self–destruction—all driven by the apparently ungovernable wilds of our own fatally flawed human nature.
Here is how scripture summarizes the settled state of this enigmatic segment of God’s otherwise orderly universe:
There’s nobody living right, not even one,
nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
They’ve all taken the wrong turn;
they’ve all wandered down blind alleys.
No one’s living right;
I can’t find a single one.
Their throats are gaping graves,
their tongues slick as mudslides.
Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
They open their mouths and pollute the air.
They race for the honor of sinner–of–the–year,
litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
They never give God the time of day.[vii]
This scriptural diatribe includes the religious and the irreligious among us. Evangelist and teacher Oswald Chambers once commented that our fallen human nature is as comfortable performing in settings of “decorous morality” as it is in displays of “indecorous immorality.” Whether it is wrapped in a slinky costume in a Mardi Gras parade or draped in the ceremonial robes of an official in a towering cathedral, humans are capable of the most egregious offenses without the slightest inkling of what that says about the true condition of their hearts.
Judging by the exquisite order of the universe, it’s hard to imagine that, from the start, its creator intended that this vital portion of his handiwork should be in such disarray. To explain what went wrong, it would seem, as they say, that there is more to the story. More on that later in the book.
That Pesky Homing Instinct
Despite modern man’s efforts to eradicate any notion of a superior being, many still harbor a sneaking hunch that those extremely vocal God–deniers are, as Shakespeare would say, protesting too much. Their strident denials betray a tentative note as they explain away their internal sense of the eternal; the substance may be gone, but its haunting echo remains. Scripture reminds us, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”[viii]
To be sure, that inborn sense that we are made of more than meets the eye may be systematically eroded or even brainwashed into silence, but it is rarely eradicated. This explains why even the most confirmed atheist, when suddenly placed in a life–threatening crisis, can be found crying out to the very God he has denied. Although perhaps just covering his bases, our atheist is displaying a hard–wired homing instinct that seems to have been placed there by “Someone” on the outside. We know of no such eternal instinct in any members of the animal or plant kingdom.
This homing instinct was observed in the life of one of the world’s most prominent atheists, none other than Christopher Hitchens. Reviewing the book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, for The Wall Street Journal, Eric Metaxas comments:
That book is “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens,” by Christian apologist Larry Alex Taunton, who tells the story of his remarkable friendship with Hitchens, the writer and ardent atheist who died in 2011. The book focuses on two long road trips during which they actually studied the Gospel of John together…The idea that Hitchens was curious about faith and engaged with it intellectually apparently would amount to an intolerable betrayal in the minds of some atheists, so they simply pretend that it never happened, despite the clear evidence to the contrary. [ix]
In kicking against the goads, these atheists and humanists are not above Ad Hominem attacks, shaming, banishing, outright denial, and hysterical rants to silence the opposition—reminds one of the “Taliban.” But most people are suspicious of such vitriolic protests—could there be more to the story? What explains the universal hunger for the transcendent?
In his book No Small Snakes, Gordon Dalbey observed:
Because today God has been revealing Himself powerfully through the work of His spirit, the enemy has been working overtime to stage such a counterfeit revival. Fascinated by spiritual power and psychic phenomena, people have been flocking to movies dealing with dark occult powers, from The Exorcist to Harry Potter. This signals that the body of Christ has abandoned its calling to reveal true and authentic spirituality.
The truth…so well hidden by our many material comforts…is that this physical, material world is not our home. We do not originate here, nor do we end up here. On earth we just “sojourn,” as the psalmist wrote, (Ps. 119.19 NRSV), as “foreigners and refugees,” (Heb. 11:13). “So as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord’s home” (2 Cor. 5:6). We are creatures of a God who “is Spirit” as John wrote, and only by the power of his spirit can people worship him as he really is (John 4:24).
As creatures of a spiritual God, we are primarily not bodies who occasionally enter or glimpse the world of the spirit. First and foremost, we’re spirits who have been commissioned out of the spirit realm to take on bodies. Because we are fundamentally spiritual creatures, spiritual power will always be attractive, engaging, even fascinating to us, because it reminds us of our true home beyond this world. We’re homesick for God. Our hearts long to reconnect with our authentic spiritual home in Him.[x]
The Apostle Paul poetically paints the future for every true believer in Christ:
We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God–made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.[xi]
Deep down inside, man senses a nagging, haunting metaphysical sense that there is more to this material world than meets the eye. He finds himself repulsed by postmodern notions that we’re mere evolutionary accidents, coming from nowhere, being swept toward oblivion. We can’t resist the impulse to connect with our true spiritual home, even though we can only “see it through a glass darkly.” In the meantime, right under our noses, the most remarkable communication in human history calls out from the realm of the supernatural and beckons us upward into the very mind of God.
Everything in the Bible points to a Creator–God who “alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” Such a God is possessed of a nature that is perfectly pure, holy, just, and righteous—he is the exact opposite of evil. In his kingdom, there is order and intentionality; outside of his direct influence, there is chaos, unpredictability, and randomness. He never wavers in his judgments, bends the rules, or grades on the curve. His minimum requirement is absolute perfection, which strangely draws us and terrifies us at the same time.
Playing Hide–and–Seek with the divine
It seems almost silly to say that before a person can find God, he must first seek him, and just as importantly, he must want him be there in the first place. The childhood game of Hide–and–Seek would lose its appeal if the seeker simply sat there and made no attempt to find the hider. Modern man has largely positioned himself in a similar way, having decided to just “sit there” and leave the seeking to God, if he exists at all. We are surrounded by a society of such people, and when any individual breaks out and actively seeks for transcendent meaning, he is viewed as a “religious nut” or is politely placed in social quarantine.
Yet scripture calls us to seek him because, just beyond and out of sight, is a being who wants to be found. It’s not that he hasn’t left us with abundant evidence of his presence. We are reminded, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”[xii]
In fact, the scripture sounds a distinct note of personal responsibility when it points out that “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”[xiii]
Although we may consider such a spiritual quest optional, be assured that God does not.
Dallas Willard challenged us with this:
One should seriously inquire if to live in a world permeated with God and the knowledge of God is something they themselves truly desire. If not, they can be assured that God will excuse them from his presence…they have become people so locked into their own self–worship and denial of God that they cannot want God.[xiv]
God always goes before
Herein lies a paradox, which is addressed eloquently by A. W. Tozer, in his book The Pursuit of God:
Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man. Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.
We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the out working of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: “Thy right hand upholds me.”
In this divine “upholding” and human “following” there is no contradiction. All is of God, for as von Hügel teaches, God is always previous. In practice, however, (that is, where God’s previous working meets man’s present response) man must pursue God. On our part there must be positive reciprocation if this secret drawing of God is to eventuate in identifiable experience of the Divine. In the warm language of personal feeling this is stated in the Forty–second Psalm: “As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” This is deep calling unto deep, and the longing heart will understand it.[xv]
From this we can deduce that no one really pursues God by themselves—if the urge exists at all, it has been placed there, in advance, by God. And finding out how I fit in God’s universe requires an answer to one of the most important questions I can ever ask: “Who am I?”—not in the opinion of my “evil stepmother,” my siblings, or even in my own eyes. What I need to know is who I am in the opinion of the God who made me. After all, he’s the only one who has my original “blueprints.” The right answers there could change everything. Stay tuned.
So, Who Am I? No, Really.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning–
though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.[xvi]
The eminent physicist Carl Sagan took the wind out of a lot of sails when he declared, “Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”[xvii] One could legitimately ask, so where does that leave me? What am I to do with that information?
Is this all there is?
A popular song from yesteryear captures the gnawing emptiness of human life detached from ultimate meaning:
I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
“If that’s the way she feels about it [her disappointing life] why doesn’t she just end it all?”
Oh, no, not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.
‘Cause I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
That when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself–
Is that all there is? [xviii]
It usually takes thirty or forty years of living for people to realize that this life offers limited satisfaction and almost no hope of an afterlife. As the song implies, when I am too young to know better, all I think I need is a circus, love, and parties, and life will be full. We’ve all heard of the overindulged children of movie stars or music moguls dying of drug overdoses while still in their teens or early twenties. All that potential, all that vitality snuffed out because of sheer boredom, lack of meaning, and the desperate need to mask the pain.
Denial works…for a while
In a world apart from God, one of the most powerful spiritual anesthetics employed by secular man is that of steadfast denial that there is a God—a higher power—other than oneself. At its root is the delusion that we can be our own god. As Dallas Willard put it, “The human capacity for self–deception is as boundless as it is fathomless.”[xix]
Now and then, a few courageous souls articulate what is truly going on inside them. Consider this bleak assessment of life by celebrity Woody Allen:
My relationship with death remains the same. I am very strongly against it. …Everyone needs their own little fictions to cope with the harshness of life. I do feel that it’s a grim, pitiful, nightmarish, meaningless experience. The only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself, and I’m not the first person to say this or the most articulate person on it. It was said by Nietzsche, it was said by Freud, and it was said by Eugene O’Neill. One must have one’s delusions to live. You look at life too honestly and clearly, life does become unbearable, because it’s a pretty grim enterprise, you must admit.[xx]
Who am I?
Suppose you were to conduct a street interview and to randomly ask people the following questions: Who are you? What are you? Where are you from? Why are you here? Where are you going? How will you get there?
It is very likely that the conversation would go something like this: Who am I? I’m Don. What am I? I’m a plumber. Where am I from? I’m from Cleveland. Why am I here? I’m here because Joe invited me. Where am I going? To get a drink. How will I get there? Through the living room.
Sounds silly, but bear with me.
Suppose you then said, “No, no, I mean in the bigger picture of things, beyond the day–to–day routines of your life, what would you say?” More than likely, the conversation would end right there. Most people wouldn’t have a clue about how to answer such questions, mostly because they haven’t given the matter much thought.
Does having answers to these questions even matter? Who cares? What possible difference does it make?
Our beliefs literally define us
It is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil.
—Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics
Ask most people what they believe about the greater issues of life and, if they express an opinion at all, they tend to view their beliefs as somewhat theoretical and separate from their day–to–day existence. Beliefs are often treated as intellectual pets which occasionally get a pat on the head but are rarely taken seriously. We tend to think of our beliefs and our actual lives in two distinct spheres, hardly ever intersecting. The trouble is that such a view is entirely incorrect.
I can say that I “believe” all sorts of things and then go off and live my life as though nothing I claimed to believe exists. It happens all the time. If you had asked most of the top executives of the companies embroiled in large–scale corporate fraud in 2007 whether they believed in good business ethics, they would have unhesitatingly affirmed that these values are important. But in practice, under competitive pressure and driven by the need to succeed and to “make the numbers,” their real beliefs were expressed and the results shocked a nation. A.W. Tozer, in his book The Pursuit of God, wrote:
Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who is above, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choices he makes day after day throughout his life.
The way I live my life “tells” exactly what I truly believe. My beliefs are literally the rails my life runs on. It could be said that our beliefs constitute our reality. They provide the means of making sense of the world around us. To live apart from these real beliefs would be to part with our reality, which, as it turns out, is the definition of insanity.
So the real question is not, “What do you believe?” Instead it is, “What does the way you live your life tell me about what you really believe?” Your attitudes and behavior, which lead to your choices, flow directly from your beliefs. This explains why discipline that is directed only at behavior may yield a temporary response but produces no lasting change, as long as underlying beliefs remain unaddressed. How many dieters, addicts, convicts, and frustrated parents have learned this lesson the hard way? To affect lasting change, beliefs must be addressed first and behavior will follow—not the other way around.
So if beliefs are so crucial, so defining, one would think we would nourish and guard them as the most precious possessions that we have. Alas, in our mad rush to survive and succeed in life, most of us have picked up our beliefs on the fly, in the “school of hard knocks,” and have welcomed them unfiltered into the inner sanctum of our lives—without questioning whether they are harmful and are leading us in self–defeating circles. In his book Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud commented that insanity could be defined as “doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result each time.”
Where our beliefs “live”
When God looks at a person to evaluate his or her character, what “window” do you suppose he looks through? “For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[xxi] The heart can be compared to our “spiritual dashboard,” constantly monitoring our values, attitudes, decisions, and motivations. Our beliefs live in the heart, and they are our most important treasure. Time and again, the scriptures declare that faith is a conscious choice—not some gossamer cloud that descends upon us from on high. We make the choices about what to believe, and God holds us responsible for the results. But since Adam and Eve’s first encounter with Satan in the Garden of Eden, there has been an ongoing contest for our minds and hearts.
The stakes are higher than you think
Here is one example of the effects of a vacuous belief system on an entire life—in this case, a famous personality speaking to a Fox News reporter:
“There are some laughs that you have in life, provided by comedians and provided by fortuitous moments with your family or friends or something,” he said. “But most of life is tragic. You’re born, you don’t know why. You’re here, you don’t know why. You go, you die. Your family dies. Your friends die. People suffer. People live in constant terror. The world is full of poverty and corruption and war and Nazis and tsunamis. …The net result, the final count is, you lose—you don’t beat the house.”
Can you guess who might have said this? Woody Allen.
Reading between the lines, he seems to be saying that he is powerless in the face of forces greater than himself and that he has nothing to do but fatalistically “go with the flow.” Is that true?
Where can this lead?
To begin with, on a macro scale, a twisted, wrong–headed view of the basic nature of man can lead to global movements like eugenics (which literally means well born). In an article called “Unwanted,” author Jamie Dean explained:
The plan behind eugenics—driven by Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection (also known as survival of the fittest)—was simple and chilling: Eliminate certain future problems by eliminating certain future people. Germany adopted similar sterilization laws in the 1930s, and the American movement in part inspired Adolf Hitler in his genocidal campaign to exterminate millions of victims based on his notions of racial superiority.
In the early 20th century, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger—an ardent eugenicist—infamously referred to lower classes and those she deemed unfit as “human waste,” and she championed mass sterilization of so–called defective classes of people. Steven Mosher of the pro–life Population Research Institute says he hopes the graphic videos [of aborted fetuses] will revolt viewers with the reality of what happens when abortionists eliminate unborn children. Mosher learned the reality when he witnessed late–term abortions in China while studying the country’s one–child policy in 1981. The experience transformed him into a pro–life advocate and led to his Christian conversion.
Mosher hopes the grisly images in the CMP videos also lead many to embrace the reality of man as created in the image of God, instead of the theory of man as organic material evolved from animals. “There are only two views of man,” said Mosher. “One is that we are a little lower than the angels. The other is that we are a little higher than the apes. I’m firmly on the side of the angels.”[xxii]
And then, on a more individual level, my notions of who I am profoundly affect how I value myself and how I behave toward others. In his book What’s So Great About Christianity? Dinesh D’Souza wrote:
The Reverend Randy Alcorn, founder of Eternal Perspective Ministries in Oregon, sometimes presents his audiences with two creation stories and asks them whether it matters which one is true. In the secular account, “You are the descendant of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm washed up on an empty beach three and a half billion years ago. You are the blind and arbitrary product of time, chance, and natural forces. You are a mere grab bag of atomic particles, a conglomeration of genetic substance. You exist on a tiny planet in a minute solar system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe. You are a purely biological entity, different only in degree but not in kind from a microbe, virus, or amoeba. You have no essence beyond your body, and at death you will cease to exist entirely. In short you came from nothing and are going nowhere.”
In the Christian view by contrast, “You are the special creation of a good and all–powerful God. You are created in His image, with capacities to think, feel, and worship that set you above all other life forms. You differ from the animals not simply in degree but in kind. Not only is your kind unique, but you are unique among your kind. Your Creator loves you so much and so intensely desires your companionship and affection that He has a perfect plan for your life. In addition, God gave the life of His only son that you might spend eternity with Him. If you are willing to accept the gift of salvation, you can become a child of God.”[xxiii]
If, as evolution suggests, our sole purpose is to survive and multiply, what explains the following story and the hundreds of others just like it?
On December 6, 1942, ten German soldiers marched into Rekówka, a Polish village ninety miles south of Warsaw. They’d received a tip from some locals that two families, the Skoczylas and Kosioróws, were sheltering Jews. When the Germans apprehended the families in their shared house, all but four of its inhabitants were at home. The soldiers spotted a trap door in the kitchen, which opened to a small, but empty, hiding place. They demanded that the families reveal the whereabouts of the stowaways, but nobody would talk. The soldiers took them to the barn behind the house, locked them inside and burned them alive. [xxiv]
Where, pray tell, is the so–called “Darwinian survival value” in doing such things? Surely there is more—much more—to us than meets the eye.
The Bible declares that we humans are the crowning achievement of God’s creative plan and, quite literally, the reason for it. We are created in His very image and likeness, however marred by sin we may be. In honor of our dignity as humans, God forces nothing upon us. He wants us to come to Him voluntarily, willingly—indeed, “seekingly.” He leaves the choice to us, just as He did in the Garden of Eden those many millennia ago. But in these matters, there is no room for complacency or for ignorance.
Grasping the Bigger Picture
Let’s take a minute and consider these questions from a biblical perspective to see what a difference it might make in understanding yourself as God sees you.
What am I?
Dallas Willard summarized it brilliantly when he said, “You are a never–ceasing spiritual being…housed temporarily in a physical body.”
And Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”[xxv] How different that is from the prevailing postmodern worldview that we are no more than the sum of our parts and that when our parts run out, so do we. Forever.
More than the sum of your parts
Today’s seemingly insatiable hunger for the transcendent is being satisfied by a steady stream of movies and books about UFOs, alien civilizations, spiritual powers, magic, the occult, and interstellar time travel. Could this reflect an innate yearning for meaning, value, and purpose in the face of postmodernism’s smothering insistence that human beings have no more ultimate meaning than mold in a shower stall?
Are we to believe that our universe, all 1024 stars and 170 billion galaxies that stretch out 46 billion light–years[xxvi] in all directions, is a mindless accident?[xxvii] Are human beings the product of arbitrary chance and blind biochemical reactions? As author Lee Strobel observed, it requires that we believe that “nothing produces everything, that non–life produces life, randomness produces fine–tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, non–reason produces reason.”[xxviii] Quite a stretch.
Something deep within screams no! Thinking people the world over react with indignation and outrage at the notion of ultimate meaninglessness. The effects of this deceit have been profound and far–reaching, especially among the young and impressionable.
Writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Professor Roger W. Sperry, a psychologist at the California Institute of Technology, observed that before modern science, it was simply assumed that man was morally responsible and free to make choices for which he would be held personally responsible. Then along came the popular “materialist–reductionist” notion which boiled humans down into nothing more than biochemical machines just obeying the universal laws of physics and chemistry. So much for free will—no purpose, no meaning, just “programmed” function. Sperry wondered, as we all should, whether we have been sold a questionable bill of goods. The implications are incalculable.
Monistic vs dualistic world view
Some schools of thought reduce you and me down to an assembly of parts, emerging ever so briefly from the biological chain of the teeming human swamp, only to disappear forever back into the decaying matter from which we came. Bleak.
The majority of modern physicians and psychologists assume that we humans are no more than the sum of our parts—reducible to physics and chemistry—nothing left over. However, the personal experience of most ordinary people runs counter to that assumption. They are aware of an immaterial conscious mind that remains independent of their bodies, even after losing many of their “parts” through illness or accident. Although their brains are used by their minds, the two are separate and remain so until death, at which time the mind continues on in another spiritual dimension and the now–nonfunctional brain returns to dust.
Pioneering psychologist Lee Edward Travis, in a book called The Mysterious Matter of Mind, elaborates on this duality of existence:
One could say either that the brain produces the mind as an epiphenomenon, the melody that floats from the harp, or that the mind programs the brain, using it as a faithful servant in the complicated job of living…such double–consciousness experiences are an argument for independent mind action, for a dualism of object and subject and for a separateness of brain and mind.
Dr. Custance draws attention to the congruity between the revelation of Scripture and the conclusions of most modern scientists:
Both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim the union of the mind and the body as essential to the existence of the whole person. The Bible sees a form of severance between the mind and the body at death that will be neither undone nor remedied until the body is resurrected and united with the mind. For the whole person as portrayed in the Bible the mind and the body belong together, always with the former as master and the latter as servant. Behaviorism is not a psychology of man but only of man’s object self. Man has a computer, not is a computer.[xxix]
With as much time, treasure, and talent that has been expended over the centuries by mankind in exploring and analyzing the origins of our universe, it is astounding how little effort we’ve spent to understand the more up–close and personal aspect of our own existence, the origin of consciousness. We know that at a macro level, we only “see” a mere 5% of the universe, with the balance being a combination of dark energy and dark matter. Could it be that on a micro level, the mysterious domain of mind and matter within ourselves, that we are also “peering through a glass darkly”?
Where do I come from?
We tend to think of our origins in geographic terms—the place where you were born. But is that actually where I came from? How random, how capricious that seems. Such views have driven world wars, racial discrimination, class distinctions, and a host of other evils—all based on where we were born and the identity of our parents. The Bible leaves no room for such parochial discriminations:
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.[xxx]
Every human being, regardless of their place of birth, social status, race, religion, or creed, has been personally formed by the hands of God in their mother’s womb. Your bones are inventoried, the number of hairs on your head are numbered, your history is laid out, your future is already complete to God. In another scripture, God says, “He chose us in him before the creation of the world.”[xxxi] It could be said that you are old friends!
Meister Eckhart, German theologian, philosopher, and mystic, wrote, “The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.” So, where am I from? From the laughter of the Trinity, conceived in the mind of God before the earth was created, formed by the hands of God in my mother’s womb, and placed on earth to fulfill my ultimate destiny.
And what destiny is that?
Why am I here?
At the heart of our universe, each soul exists for God, in our Lord.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren wrote:
It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose. …Your relationship to God on earth will determine your relationship to him in eternity. …This life is preparation for the next.[xxxii]
If the Bible is anything, it is about a conflict of intentions—first between God and Satan, and then between Satan and man, and finally between man and God. We are faced with the tragic specter of the all–powerful God, who flung the planets into orbit with the simple statement of intent, “Let there be…,” in a head–on collision with creatures that He deeply loved. It wasn’t until Jesus Christ appeared on the scene that the words “Thy will be done” ushered in a new era of realignment between man’s intentions and God’s intentions. As C. S. Lewis put it so effectively, in The Great Divorce:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in hell choose the latter. Without that self–choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and consciously desires joy will ever miss it.
The issue between God and man is an old one. In creating man in his image and likeness, God imparted many of his own characteristics to this new creation, giving Adam dominion over the world and allowing him the authority to exercise his free will. In effect, Adam, Eve, and their eventual offspring came into possession of little kingdoms of their own. Regrettably, both Adam and Eve eventually set the intentions of those little kingdoms against the intentions of God. The story of the Bible is how God set about dealing with the resulting global catastrophe at great personal cost.
Reconciling God’s will vs my “free will”
A common objection to Christianity is the fear that God will somehow remove our free will and turn us into slaves or automatons if we yield ourselves to his authority. We moderns place a big premium on freedom and self–determination. Like Frank Sinatra’s song My Way, most people choose to do it their own way and have no idea what they are missing. Although God never intended for us to become preprogrammed “yes men,” he also never intended that we live our lives independently of him. He created us each to reach our full potential within an intimate and interactive bond of trust that begins on earth and extends into eternity. Our only active part is to seek him:
He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide–and–seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him![xxxiii]
Had God denied us of the free choice to choose for or against him, he would have also eliminated the possibility of real love to exist between us. Love at its heart involves choice, free of intimidation or coercion. If you hold a gun to someone’s head, you may be able to get them to say that they love you, but as soon as the threat is gone, so are they.
So how does it work? God has his will, we have ours. I read an article in The Wall Street Journal that seemed a perfect illustration of the way God works with us—that is, completely respecting our free will but at the same time accomplishing his sovereign control over the universe. About his interview with the great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock regarding the genius of his jazz mentor, Miles Davis, the reporter wrote:
Mr. Hancock recounted one extraordinary moment in Stockholm in 1967, during a performance by the quintet. “This night was magical,” he remembered. “We were communicating almost telepathically…and then I played the wrong chord. It was so, so wrong. In an instant, time stood still and I felt totally shattered. Miles took a breath. And then he played this phrase that made my chord right. It didn’t seem possible. I still don’t know how he did it. But Miles hadn’t heard it as a wrong chord—he took it as an unexpected chord. He didn’t judge what I played…he turned poison into medicine.”[xxxiv]
Now for just a moment, suppose you were to think of your life as that of a musician who is given an opportunity to play professionally in the greatest orchestra ever assembled, led by a world–renowned conductor. Up to that point you were only able to play your music at home, on street corners, in small family gatherings, or at an occasional wedding. So rather than settle for performing your music in obscurity for the rest of your life, you accept the offer to join the great orchestra.
After a few rehearsals, it’s time for your first concert. The night of the concert, the hall is full, the atmosphere is magic, and you take your place in the string section. But, to your utter surprise, there is no music on your music stand—nor on anyone else’s. The conductor arrives to great fanfare and takes his place at the rostrum. You are petrified. How are you going to know what to play? The conductor quietly addresses the orchestra, telling everyone to just watch him and play accordingly. The hall quiets down, and the conductor taps the rostrum. He raises his baton, and all the members of the orchestra start playing their individual instruments with only the conductor’s baton to guide them. The resulting music is rapturous, accompanied by ethereal lighting that fills the air and changes with the music, filling the hall with a fluctuating heavenly glow.
Yet, at your level, that of an individual musician, among your many good notes, you find yourself making plenty of “mistakes,” hitting wrong notes every time you lose focus and stop following the conductor’s baton, even for a moment. But somehow, inexplicably, the conductor takes your supposedly–wrong discordant notes and incorporates them into the music flowing through his baton to all of the members of the orchestra. Your “mistakes” are never noticed—the conductor simply uses them to make even more beautiful melodies that would never have been created apart from your presence in the orchestra. The same thing is happening with all other orchestra members. The music is continuously adapting, evolving, and changing to the delight and amazement of the audience. You are contributing to the most beautiful music ever heard—all transformed by the genius of the conductor. This is improvisational music on steroids!
We are reminded of a verse in scripture that those who belong to God are drawn up into a similar transformational ecosystem, where everything related to their lives is given eternal meaning and purpose:
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.[xxxv]
For most of us, truth be known, the notion of our lives being a thing of beauty is too much of a stretch. In my work at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s addiction recovery program, I constantly encounter men who have made a lifetime (however short) of horrible decisions, have reaped devastating consequences, and have dug themselves into a “deep hole with steep sides.” They are often discouraged, ashamed, and unable to see any way out. They ask how God can possibly fix their mess. It seems so impossible, especially if you’re standing in the middle of a smoking crater that used to be your life. It is to just such people that Jesus spoke most earnestly:
Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know–it–all’s, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.”
Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father–Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill–fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”[xxxvi]
Jesus is offering an opportunity to join his orchestra, to follow his direction and make beautiful music rather than the dissonant cacophony that characterized life on your own. God’s “music” of transformation and redemption will be his played through you, with all your imperfections and “errors,” and the audience of every creature in Heaven and earth, in the underworld and sea, angels, saints, principalities, and powers will cheer you on from the stands:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.[xxxvii]
What kind of person am I becoming?
At its heart, the Bible is a love story of a great, good, and loving God rescuing his red–handed rebel children from self–induced calamity. But they still have a choice, and they need their “owner’s manual”—the Word of God—to make the right one. Otherwise, how can they know they’re on the right track?
Like it or not, we are all in a spiritual formation program. Either we are moving toward becoming “a creature which, if you see it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…” or, alternatively, “a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” There are no other choices for man before God. Yet many insist there is a third way, which they feel ought to also count: the “nice” option.
“Nice” won’t cut it. Sorry.
Who wouldn’t agree that being nice is a good thing? But is being nice, really nice your whole life enough to reap a spiritual harvest in the afterlife? This seems to be a highly reasonable and logical path that smooths relationships and makes everything more tolerable. Right? Several problems immediately present themselves.
How do you define nice? First, the qualitative side. One person’s nice may not be another’s, especially when considering widely disparate cultures, creeds, and religions. There is no universal “nice code” that applies to everyone. Nice is a highly subjective concept that is impossible to measure objectively if you wanted to rank people and grant a final score to determine winners and losers.
Then there is the quantitative issue of how much nice is enough to achieve the desired goal of satisfying some objective standard. The trouble is that there is no achievable objective standard by which all human behavior can be ranked and scored. Oh, sure, we have the Ten Commandments. But then, have you ever met anyone who has perfectly met those requirements for their entire lives? How about for one year? One week? One day? One hour? One minute?
And even if they could obey the “Big Ten” to the letter but stumbled just once, what do they do with the disturbing verse in scripture that hangs like a Sword of Damocles over their head, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”[xxxviii] Now that’s a problem even for the nicest of the nice. Remember, Jesus raised the bar even for the religious leaders of his day when he declared the intent to sin to be as serious as the act of sin, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[xxxix]
How could I be sure that I’m “nice” enough to get into heaven? Imagine if you sent twenty–two perfectly sane men onto a field of grass with no lines, no goal posts, no rules, no referees, and no scoreboard and then told them to play football. Isn’t trying to behave nicely to gain eternal credit the same thing? Talk about a moving target. To make any sense, a game needs objective standards—how much more so for a system that would determine the eternal destinies of tens of billions of people.
So, what happens if I stop being nice—even for a short while? Will that mean I’m done for? Can anyone be nice all the time? What about lapses? Do I lose all previous credits and start over? What if I remain not nice for a while and then die? What then? The uncertainties here are simply untenable. Yet millions try to meet these demands every day.
God is gently urging us to move on from settling for nice, as a means of getting by in life, and to graduate to our ultimate calling as members of God’s kingdom based on Christ’s merits—not on ours. This calls for a painfully challenging paradigm shift in our thinking. C. S. Lewis put it this way,
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
Finally, at the heart of the “nice” system lies the false presumption that human merit or demerit counts at all in God’s salvation program. It calls for him to grade “on the curve,” knowing that all men are imperfect. That implies that he must fill his heaven with people who are, to one degree or another, unholy. But didn’t Jesus say, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[xl] Ultimately, if the requirement for us to reach heaven has anything to do with our deeds, heaven will be a lonely place indeed.
Fortunately for us, God has a much better idea than deeds (works of the Old Testament Law), otherwise known as personal merit or demerit. All the Law does is tell us how far short of God’s perfection we have come. “Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”[xli]
Be grateful for the “But now” part of that verse. It contains cosmic dynamite. More on that later in this book.
Two “species,” two destinies
Scripture boils it down to two types or species of man, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”[xlii]
Is my life largely (not perfectly, of course) reflecting the positive attributes of living God’s way? These include depending on the life of the Spirit, having affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity, compassion in the heart, basic holiness, loyal commitments, not needing to force my way in life, and more. Or, alternatively, am I selfish, self–interested, emotions–driven, erratic, compulsive, focused on getting my own way?
Bottom line: am I living in the Spirit and therefore exhibiting the “fruits of the Spirit” or living by the flesh and exhibiting its fruits? It is a direct reflection of the nature within and can’t be faked, although people try to do so all the time. Living God’s way is never about you but is always about the Holy Spirit, who is (or is not) having his way in your life.
The kind of person I am becoming is a direct reflection of my belief system about God. Many of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day saw a vengeful, demanding, critical God—a God who wasn’t good. Jesus saw the exact opposite. This dichotomy formed the basis for all the conflict Jesus experienced with the religious people of his day. It has been going on for millennia—all the way back to Cain and Abel, just one generation after man’s creation, and their conflict resulted in the first murder. It’s an old war, and it is still raging. It began with Satan’s accusation of God to Adam and Eve that God’s intentions are not good, that He doesn’t have a good heart. They bought that lie—hook, line, and sinker—and the cosmos has not been the same since.
Here is what James Richards, in his book Grace, the Power to Change, had to say about this:
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.” This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: “Love others as well as you love yourself.”[xliii] These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.
Everything I believe must be interpreted in light of these two commandments. In other words, if what I believe does not make me love God and people more, it is not true. Likewise, if I just did these two things, I would fulfill every expectation that God has ever had for me. Look at your belief system. Does everything you believe make you love God and love people? If what you believe makes you afraid of God or critical and fault–finding with others, it is not true. If you can interpret any scripture in a way that violates this principle, then you can never see God as Jesus did.[xliv]
Why am I here? Quite simply to connect with my spiritual origin—God himself—and to surrender to his plan, purpose, and formation program for me. And where might his plan be taking me?
Where am I going?
The simple answer: It depends. That is, your destiny is contingent upon choices you make in the here and now. We take this up in detail in the chapters that follow, but suffice it to say that you are one hundred percent in charge of the selection of your destination in the afterlife. One of the most comforting passages in the Bible goes like this: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”[xlv]
God does not want to leave us hanging on this supremely important matter, but he points out that his assurance is contingent. He says, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”[xlvi]
If I make the right choice now, these words of Jesus can assure me: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”[xlvii] The meaning is plain. If we believe in Jesus, he promises to pick us up and take us to where he is—with God the Father.
There is another choice—or series of choices—that leads to a very different result: outer darkness. Dallas Willard warns in his book Renovation of the Heart:
Outer darkness is for one who, everything said, wants it, whose entire orientation has slowly and firmly set itself against God and therefore against how the universe actually is. It is for those who are disastrously in error about their own life and their place before God and man.
So how do I get to the “there” I choose?
How will I get there?
As to the “not–God” choice that leads to outer darkness, nothing at all needs to be done. It is, sadly, mankind’s default position. It has been said that coasting is a downhill process. In matters of spiritual destinations, most people prefer to drift into the next life as though floating lazily down a river. Not advisable. Trusting in “fate” is quite simply, spiritual malpractice.
Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be…
Turns out that catchy little ballad, first made famous by Doris Day, is very bad advice indeed for those who are averse to wagering their eternal lives on hopeful speculation. You wouldn’t buy a refrigerator or make a financial investment on that basis, so why bet your spiritual future by riding the knife edge of lifelong indecision and daydreams? Jesus minced no words when it came to such wishful thinking: “This [life] is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.”[xlviii]
And, again, he said:
Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you? Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife–cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother–in–law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well–meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me. If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.[xlix]
This is no time for passive resignation but for active searching, finding, hoping. Neither are we talking about “blind faith,” a common misconception. Eugene Peterson wisely observed:
Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time.[l]
Jesus Christ put it rather bluntly when he challenged, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”[li] The ultimate reason for your life on earth? To choose up sides. Period. Whose kingdom do you want—your own or God’s? Everything else is superfluous. But then, all of this assumes there is a God in the first place. Read on.
NOTES: Chapter 3. Mans “Cinderella Syndrome”
[ii] James 4:14–15 The Message (MSG)
[iii] Blaise Pascal, PENSEES, (Paris, France, 1660), translated by W. F. Trotter.
[vii] Romans 3:10–18 MSG
[viii] Ecclesiastes 3:11 New International Version (NIV)
[x] Dalbey, Gordon. No Small Snakes: A Journey into Spiritual Warfare. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 2008. Print.
[xi] 2 Corinthians 5:1–5 MSG
[xii] Psalm 19:1 NIV
[xiii] Romans 1:19–20 NIV
[xiv] Willard, Dallas. “Radical Evil in the Ruined Soul.” Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002. N. pag. Print.
[xv] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948), 11–12.
[xvi] Psalm 90:2–6 and 9–10 New International Version (NIV)
[xviii] Peggy Lee, Capital Records 1969 Is That All There Is?
[xix] Willard, Dallas. “Radical Evil in the Ruined Soul.” Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002. N. pag. Print.
[xxi] 1 Samuel 16:7 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
[xxii] “WORLD | Unwanted | Jamie Dean | Sept. 19, 2015.” WORLD. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2015.
[xxiii] D’Souza, Dinesh. “Survival of the Sacred: Why Religion Is Winning.” What’s so Great about Christianity. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2007. N. pag. Print.
[xxiv] “A Trapdoor to a Tale of Nazi–Era Sacrifice.” WSJ. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 2015.
[xxv] “Pierre Teilhard De Chardin Quotes.” BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 21 June 2015.
[xxvi] Scientists know that the universe is expanding. Thus, while scientists might see a spot that lay 13.8 billion light–years from Earth at the time of the Big Bang, the universe has continued to expand over its lifetime. Today, that same spot is 46 billion light–years away, making the diameter of the observable universe a sphere around 92 billion light–years. Source: http://www.space.com/24073–how–big–is–the–universe.html#sthash.tkPAI2pR.dpuf
[xxvii] “How Many Stars Are There in the Universe?” How Many Stars Are There in the Universe? N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.
[xxviii] Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points toward God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print.
[xxix] Custance, Arthur C. “The mysterious matter of mind: a scientific and biblical perspective on the difference between brain and mind.” 2nd Ed. 2014. Edited by E.M. White, R.G. Chiang. Doorway Publications, Canada. “Response” by Lee Edward Travis, p.91–93. “For further reading” p.94–97.
[xxx] Psalm 139:13–16 The Message (MSG)
[xxxi] Ephesians 1:4 NIV
[xxxii] Warren, Richard. The Purpose–driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.
[xxxiii] Acts 17:25–28 MSG
[xxxiv] “The Genius of Miles.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2015.
[xxxv] Romans 8:26–30 MSG
[xxxvi] Matthew 11:25–30 MSG
[xxxvii] Hebrews 12:1–2 NASB
[xxxviii] James 2:10 NASB
[xxxix] Matthew 5:27–28 NASB
[xl] Matthew 5:48 NASB
[xli] Romans 3:20–22 NASB
[xlii] Matthew 12:34–35 NIV
[xliii] Matthew 22:37–39 MSG
[xliv] Richards, James B. Grace: The Power to Change. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1993. Print.
[xlv] 1 John 5:13 NIV
[xlvi] 1 John 5:11–12 NIV
[xlvii] John 14:1–4 NIV
[xlviii] Matthew 12:30 MSG
[xlix] Matthew 10:32–39 MSG
[l] Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
[li] Matthew 12:30 NIV
Chapter 4. God, hiding in Plain Sight