Start With God, Work To Man, Not The Other Way Around *
I’m sure you will remember a common question that I’ve asked you, and the answer that I’ve taught you to give in response to it: “Are you smart/fast/handsome/pretty?”, and so on. I’ve taught you to answer, “Compared to who?” There is a reason for this silliness. Indeed such questions demand a reference point. All of us are better than some in a given field and at the same time worse than others. We tend to use ourselves, therefore, as a reference point to measure others in their abilities. This is all well and good, but the problem is that we also tend to measure our righteousness in the same way. Humans tend to compare themselves with people better off when they’re counting their blessings, and at the same time compare themselves to people who they perceive worse than them when measuring their own righteousness. It is my hope that you would always realize the need of a reference point outside of yourself for making determinations about yourself, especially when it comes to how good of a human being your are. In other words, I want you to try to think objectively, and not subjectively.
Objective thinking will be an indispensable concept for you to grasp as you form the lense through which you will ultimately see and interpret your world. If you become subjective you must put yourself at the center of the universe and be the measure of all things. But to think objectively you must look for a higher standard, a standard outside of yourself, and a standard that has proven itself by withstanding the test of time and assault. That standard is your very creator, God. He has given it to us though His Word, the Bible. So, as we interpret our world, and our place in it, we must begin with God and not Man. So here are two examples of starting with man. One was written by what appears to be a fine young Christian man. And the other example is from a God hating atheist.
The first I found in an article that was addressing an often quoted scripture, Isaiah 64:6., which says: “We all have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” The writer wanted to make the case that not all of our righteous deeds really are as “filthy rags”. In other words, he is asking a very old question. Did God really mean this? He does a good job of appealing to the context of the passage and to good Bible believing theologians. Whether or not his claim has merit is not my point in this letter. What is my point is that he uses one argument that starts with man and then works to God. Here is an excerpt:
“What father do you know looks to his children and says, “Your works are worthless, and they are nothing but complete trash in my eyes?” Hopefully none. Or maybe some earthly fathers are like that, but our heavenly Father isn’t one of them. “
He is correct. I do not know of a father who would do such a thing. And that’s the reason, as it turns out, that this argument has such appeal. It has a good feeling to it. But the argument starts with man, and then attempts to work its way to God, and that is a mistake that I hope you will avoid, and here’s why. While I don’t know a father who would do such a thing, I do know that all fathers are men. And in being men I know that they have sinned horribly. If they are true Christians then it is safe to say that their minds are being renewed. But it is not safe to say that their minds have become renewed. Their view of perfection and righteousness is still tainted. The bottom line is that they are in no position to say whether anyone’s righteousness is actually righteous or not. So do we really want to look at what an earthly father would do and then impose that standard on God? Of course not. Better to start with God, who is holy, righteous, perfect, and oh, by the way, sinless, then work our way to man, who is corrupt and fallen in his nature. God’s holiness and righteousness is the objective standard, and we have all fallen short of that standard.
The second example is from a video which attempts to challenge the Biblical concept of eternal punishment of mankind for the sins of Adam, as well as Jesus’ payment for those sins on the cross. It does so in the context of a make-believe family of five. The story centers around the youngest brother. He lives in fear of the horrible punishment he’s going to receive because his older sister disobeyed her parents before he was even born. She had eaten some chocolate that she was forbidden to eat. The video goes on to talk about a third brother whom the parents punished horribly because of the sister’s disobedience. In short, the video presents a caricature of the Gospel message, and then it attempts to refute that messagel by appealing to man’s sensibilities. The narrator asks, “Can you imagine if this story was true? Wouldn’t the parents be labeled as psychopathic and be locked away somewhere for child abuse?”
Can you see it? He is appealing to what man would do, and then he is judging God by those standards. But what if he were to start with God? What if he started with the fact that God is holy, righteous, perfect and just? All of a sudden disobeying God is not a small thing but a very large thing. Add to this that, because of Adam’s sin, it is the very nature of man to rebel against God, to actually be at war with God, and to hate God. When we see things the way they really are, the innocence of man sinks into an ocean of sin.
But let’s continue our analysis. Imagine that God still loves His creation anyway, and wants to save some of those who hate Him, and who are at war with Him. So He uses a means that allows Himself to remain righteous and just while still foregoing the punishment of those who hate Him and who are at that very moment in rebellion against Him. So He he pours out His justice on His Son, even while the recipients of God’s grace are still warring against Him so that He can make peace with them. Can you see how that is starting with God?
Now let us continue as we work our way to man. We do this by attempting to see things from God’s perspective. Suppose therefore that you are surrounded by people who hate you with a passion, and who want you dead. Now suppose that you could kill all of them in a flash, but instead you loved some of them in spite of their hatred of you. And suppose also that to simply forgive them would be unjust and therefore wrong, and so therefore against your nature. But suppose that your love was so great that you decided to punish your own son, who had never broken even one of your laws, and who loved you more than any of those people out there could even imagine, so that you could forgive them and call them into your own love and protection. This is more like the real Gospel. And think about it, would not those on the outside then also hate those whom you had brought in to be with you? Would not those on the outside call you insane? Yes, they would. But that’s just it, if you are in Christ, God’s love for you is rooted in His love for His Son. It actually is an insane love.
So, dear children, it is my desire for you that you would pick up on it immediately when man makes appeals to what man would do to determine what God would do. It is better to understand the attributes of your Father in Heaven, who He is, and what He’s like, and start there, then look at man in light of those realities. And I pray you would do just that. I pray that God would give you the discernment to differentiate between man’s vain wisdom and the God’s truth.