Start With God, Work To Man, Not The Other Way Around
I’m sure you’ll remember a common question that I’ve asked you: “Are you smart/fast/handsome/pretty?” and so on? And I’m sure you remember the answer that I’ve taught you: “Compared to whom?” The reason for these silly questions is that the answers demand a reference point. All of us are better and worse than all others in a given field. We tend to use ourselves, therefore, as a reference point against which to compare the abilities of others. The problem starts, however, when we begin to measure our righteousness in the same way. As humans, we have a tendency to compare ourselves with people better-off when we are counting our blessings, and we compare ourselves to those we perceive to be worse off when we are measuring our righteousness. But it is my hope that you would always realize the need for a reference point outside of yourself when you are making determinations about yourself, especially when it comes to how good of a person you think you are. In other words, I want you to try to think objectively as much as you are able, and not subjectively.
Objective thinking will be indispensable for you as you form the lens through which you’ll ultimately see and interpret yourself, your world, and your relationships with both. To adopt a subjective view, it’s necessary that you put yourself at the center of the universe and become the measure of all things. That’s like the man who sets sail in a boat with a compass that always points to the bow of his boat. He is always assured that he is on course no matter what direction he’s headed. The right way, in his mind, is the way the compass is pointing, which so happens to always be the way he’s going. That he might need a course correction, or that he might very well be lost, will never occur to this man.
But to think objectively you must look outside of yourself to a standard that has proven itself reliable by withstanding the test of time and assault. That standard is your very creator, God. He has given it to us through His Word, the Bible. So, as we interpret our world and our place in it, we must begin with God and not Man.
With this said, let’s look at two examples of starting with Man. One was written by what appears to be a fine young Christian man, and the other is from a God-hating atheist.
We’ll start with the one written by the Christian. The article 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 attempts to make the case that not all of our righteous deeds are as “filthy rags.” In other words, he is asking a very old question: “Did God say?” You can find that question in Genesis 3:1. The young man does a good job of appealing to the context of the passage and to, as far as I can tell, Bible-believing theologians. I still think he’s wrong. 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.
To start with, he’s right. I actually don’t know of a father who would do such a thing. But that is exactly why these sorts of arguments can be so appealing and at the same time deceptive. We can relate to it. It has a good feeling to it. The problem is that the argument starts with Man and then attempts to project a nonexistent picture of Man onto God. That is a mistake that you’d do very well to 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 by being men I also know that they have sinned. If they are true Christians, then it’s safe to say that their minds are being renewed. But it’s not safe to say that their minds have become renewed to the point that we can use them as a standard by which we can measure God. The bottom line is that no man holds a position to say whether anyone’s righteousness is actually righteous. So do we really want to look at what we think an earthly father would do based on our feelings, and then impose that standard on God? Of course not. Better to start with God, who is holy, righteous, perfect, and 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 way short of that standard. So even though we might not like to think of our righteousness as being no better than filthy rags, our likes are irrelevant. We don’t measure our righteousness against a standard of our own likes because that would be living subjectively.
The other example is from a video made by an atheist who attempts to challenge the Biblical concept of the 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. The story centers around the youngest brother who lives in fear of the horrible punishment he’s going to receive because his older sister had eaten some forbidden chocolate before he was even born. The video goes on to talk about a third brother, symbolizing Jesus, whom the parents punished horribly because of the sister’s disobedience. In short, the video presents a caricature of the Gospel message and then attempts to refute that message 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?”
Again, the narrator is right. The father rightly would be labeled as a psychopath and ought to be locked away. And again, that rightness is what makes it so deceptive. The story appeals to our limited sensibilities when we begin with Man. But can you see the problem? He is also appealing to what Man would do, and then he is judging God based on a fictitious man’s actions. But the father in the video, being Man, is himself a sinful man raising sinful children; they are all in need of redemption. The father is not God. The atheist shows his hand by not attempting to make the father God-like with Godly attributes. For this atheist, imperfect Man is god enough one would be required to suppose.
On the other hand, what if he had started with God? What if he had based his reasoning on the fact that God is holy, righteous, perfect and just, not to mention eternal. In light of these attributes, disobeying him would not be such a small thing. There’s a world of difference between disobeying an earthly, sinful father’s command to not eat some chocolate and disobeying a holy, righteous, perfect, and just God who judges our very motivations. Add to this that, because of Adam’s sin, it is Man’s very nature to rebel against God, to actually be at war with him, and to hate him. Again, that’s a far cry from eating a little bit of forbidden chocolate. When we see things the way they really are, the innocence of Man sinks into an ocean of sin.
Now let’s continue as we work our way to Man. We do this by attempting to see things from God’s perspective. Suppose that a completely righteous, loving, just, and almighty being is surrounded by objects of his own making who hate him with a passion, and who want him dead. Keep in mind here that I’m not symbolizing the made-up, fairytale, Man-worshiping god that most now understand God to be, but rather the God of the Bible. Now suppose that this being could kill all of them in an instant, but instead, he loved them in spite of their hatred of him. And suppose also that to simply forgive them would be unjust and, therefore, wrong according to this being’s own standards, and so, therefore, would be against His nature. But suppose that his love was so great for his creation that he decided to punish his own son, who had never broken even one of His laws, and who loved him more than any of the objects of his creation out there could even imagine, so that he could forgive those objects while maintaining his just nature, and then call them into his own love and protection. This is more like the real Gospel. And think about it, would not those on the outside then hate all the more those whom he had brought into His bosom? Would not those on the outside call him 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 as Man would count insanity.
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 he thinks God ought to, or would, do. It’s 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 attributes. And I pray that you would do just that. I pray that God would give you the discernment to differentiate between Man’s vain wisdom and God’s truth.