It appears the mask of love and tolerance has slipped off the faces of many at the prop 8 protests.
A short video reminder to stand for the persecuted church in any way you can.
The song is “I Will Sing” by Rich Mullins
I have not a few things on my heart and mind these last few days: First, there is life in all its complexities. Within these complexities arises persecution. No, I’m not going hungry (as the padding on my tummy will show). No, I’m not without clothes or shelter. I do not have to wonder if I’ll have enough money for this or that. Nor am I being asked, told, or demanded to renounce or recant my faith in Christ. None of the above.
This persecution is a very subtle thorn indeed. Only I (and the Lord) can know it or see it presently, while others must just trust my word when given. From the outside, it looks so innocent and unharmful…but it’s not. It brings sadness to my life, not ultimately because it hurts me personally (and it does, no doubt), but because it hurts those whom I love and adore. It is just life.
So, this life and the persecution wrought therein often drives me to see myself for what I am: a worm. I serve the God of peace, and of Whom I am most grateful. The God of the Scriptures Who grants mercy and Who exacts justice on the guilty. The God Who keeps covenant with men – The God of Promise. I serve the Almighty God…that is, when I’m not serving the god of self. :(
O, the sorrow that ensues when I do not fix my eyes upon the Author and Finisher of my faith, King Jesus. The sin which so easily entangles does just that – and I get twisted in its snare. A quote from the good Dr. Owen is most applicable:
Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes. He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so will he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to the death.
And this awful reminder of what I am (a sinner) lowers me into that blessed, yet lowered state called humility (of which I do not possess enough). This is a blessed condition that shows me God has not left me alone to die in my sins. No He’s still chiselling away the once soft clay that’s been a bit hardened by neglecting spiritual graces. Ah what a great thing it is to know the chastening of the Lord. In this all, I’m reminded that its God’s kindness which leads to repentance. In granting me this repentance He has shown me His great mercy.
With His mercy placing me back within the sweet realm of a pure conscience before God, I may rest in His grace and feast upon His Word again with clarity and discernment. As I look at Biblical history, I see His justice always prevailing. Then, as I recall this previously mentioned persecution I’m then reminded that God will let no sin go unpunished. He demands justice. So this sorrow that pervades my heart can be greatly diminished even while in this body of flesh. Yes, I can take solace even in pain my loved ones and I experience because of God’s perfect and holy justice- knowing that those who bring persecution, no matter how smooth, subtle, or covert, will one day be brought to account before a thrice holy God.
And, good people, what does this confidence in God’s justice produce? Comfort from the God of all comfort. Even in my faithlessness, He is faithful. Thus, he works all my life, persecution, and sin to bring me humility, that He might show His mercy, justice, and comfort for my good and to His glory – so that I may say with sincere and true heart, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Amen.
God owes no man explanation of any sort, for anything. Sometimes He graciously gives it, but he owes it to none.
Many times in my life, when afflictions, trials, or temptations were sent my direction, the book of Job was one of my most comforting reads. The onslaught of his perceived misfortunes seems almost incomprehensible…especially to me, an untouched, unpersecuted American Christian, nestled deep within the safe, suburban neighborhoods of the so-called “Bible Belt.” Also worthy of note is Job’s faithful (but not perfect) perseverance beneath seemingly insurmountable odds.
His suffering was immense, no doubt. And yet, that’s not the primary theme of this holy account, nor is Job the star protagonist of this intriguing biography (from his perspective, anyway). No, the highlight of this book, the glory displayed from these scriptures, the majesty, splendor, and awe-inspiring focus of this portion of the Holy Writ is that of the Almighty Sovereign God, the Lord Himself, Who alone is worthy of praise.
The pious and venerable Matthew Henry writes:
Were ever the being of God, his glorious attributes and perfections, his unsearchable wisdom, his irresistible power, his inconceivable glory, his inflexible justice, and his incontestable sovereignty, discoursed of with more clearness, fulness, reverence, and divine eloquence, than in this book? The creation of the world, and the government of it, are here admirably described, not as matters of nice speculation, but as laying most powerful obligations upon us to fear and serve, to submit to and trust in, our Creator, owner, Lord, and ruler. Moral good and evil, virtue and vice, were never drawn more to the life (the beauty of the one and the deformity of the other) than in this book; nor the inviolable rule of God’s judgment more plainly laid down, That happy are the righteous, it shall be well with them; and Woe to the wicked, it shall be ill with them.
God Sovereignly Initiates Affliction
Job 1:1, 5 (my emphasis and parentheses added):
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil…and it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.
I told you I wanted to address the subject of the sovereignty of God in the context of this book of Job, so let us begin. Here we read of this “blameless and upright” man of God. Not only do we see his personal holiness via its proclamation thereof in Scripture, we see the effects of his holiness making waves in his family dealings. As an aside, we see Job’s actions here being a far cry from the ways in which the majority of fathers in this day and age have utterly failed to exercise headship, culpability, and responsibility for their families.
Moreover, we see that the text immediately notes the godliness of Job, and his concern for his family. Mixed in amongst these mentions is that of his great wealth. It’s funny, though, how his wealth does not give Job the security to live in sin and licentiousness. No, he is “blameless” and is much concerned with the holiness of not only himself, but his family. Thus, it is established…Job’s a man of God, not harboring sin, or pride, or greed, or envy, etc. Now we read this (Job 1:6-12, my emphasis added):
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
We may deduce several thoughts from this passage. I will consider a few. Number 1, this book, as shown in this passage, is not primarily about suffering, or even Job’s suffering. This book is about God’s sovereignty over all things. Secondly, Satan is not equal in power, stature, or grandeur with God Almighty. There are folks in this world who go for the idea of a balance between good and evil, and these are in perpetual warfare against one another. I believe it’s the ying yang that tries to symbolize this foolish concept. No, it is plain that Satan is subject to God just like any other creature. Consider the fact that Satan does not address the Lord, until he himself is called to do so. You will also note that Satan doesn’t ignore God’s spoken word, nor does he lie (for he knows the futility therein) to Him as to treat the Lord’s question with indignity. So it is as it has always been…God-Almighty, Satan-not even close.
Thirdly, though Satan is the accuser of the brethren, in this particular case, it is not Satan who brings up God’s loyal subject, Job. Rather, it is the Lord Himself who initiates the conversation and its subject matter. Next, Satan acknowledges God’s goodness by proclaiming what God has done for and given to Job. Herein we see that demons and devils do not deny God or Jesus’ existence, they do not even deny His goodness, holiness, sovereignty, etc. They believe these things about God (as they should), but they do not make proper use of such knowledge. This would be why James notes that mere faith that God is true is not saving faith.
Lastly, Satan shows his absolute powerlessness apart from God’s granting. In somewhat understanding the natural heart of man, he says that Job doesn’t fear God for no reason. He then, as I have already noted, talks about the kindness God has shown Job, and implies that this is why he serves so faithfully. But Satan has failed to recognize the reborn heart of man, one regenerated by the Holy Spirit, so he continues with his foolishness and asserts that if God takes all these materialistic things, and family, away, then Job will surely curse Him. But it’s important to note that Satan, by saying “put forth thine hand,” is admitting that God is the One Who ordains, has power over, and permits affliction in Job’s life. This is further recognized when God gives Satan the authority to take away Job’s things, but limits it when it comes to Job’s life.
And so, we see that God is sovereign in not only the giving of gifts, riches, and family, but He’s also sovereign in the initiation, planning, and execution of affliction in the lives of men. In light of this, we ought to remember the first chapter of James’ epistle. James spends the first several verses speaking of trials, afflictions, and temptations. Then, in verse 17 he notes that every good and perfect gift is given by our Father in heaven. The sentence before that starts with “Do not err, my beloved brethren,” noting that these folks, because of their current trials and hardships, begin to question the goodness of God. But he reminds them that these afflictions, though they don’t appear to be so, are really perfect and good gifts from God above, he is molding us according to the good pleasure of His will.
So, then, let us echo Job while facing trial, hardship, temptation, or affliction and proclaim that the Lord gives and He takes away, BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD!
22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” 25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. 31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
We all know that the words we choose to speak are significant. They can heal, hurt, comfort, or destroy. They can also proclaim Christ or curse Him. Scripture is clear that we are to take heed to the words we speak. One of the reasons they are so important is because reveal our hearts.
This passage in Matthew covers quite a bit, but for the sake of our discussion we will break it down into three different parts. First we will look at blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, Second we will look at idle words, and third we will look at our positive confession of Christ.
In this situation we have Jesus who has just healed a man who was blind and mute. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ, the man is healed and the truth that Jesus is the Messiah was being revealed. Many in the crowd even began to ask if this Jesus is the son of David. Understanding this truth themselves, the Pharisees say that the work that is being done by the Spirit of God is actually being done by the Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. With this in mind Jesus goes on to give a few arguments as to why this could not be the case, and then lays on them some of the most terrifying words in scripture. He tells them that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this life or the life to come.
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
What exactly is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? There are a few basic views. The first one is that it could only be done while Christ was on the earth. This sin was to see what Christ was doing through the Holy Spirit and call it evil, but since Christ is no longer on the earth this sin can no longer be committed. Many great men and women of the faith have held this position. But the problem as I see it stems from the fact that the sin in this case is not against Christ, it is against the Holy Spirit. One of the greatest works of the Spirit is to reveal that Jesus is the Son of God. He has not ceased in doing this work and this work can still be called evil. Mark 3:29 says, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness.” The use of the word “whoever” does not seem to limit this sin to the time of Christ being on the earth. Much like when Jesus says, whosoever believes in me shall have eternal life. The “whosoever” in this passage is clearly not limited to the time Christ was on the earth.
The second view is held by many and it is considered rejecting the Holy Spirit’s work until death. And I believe this is ultimately true. But it seems leave out the fact that blasphemy is a sin of the tongue.
A Third view holds that it is actually a sin of the tongue. It is a known, malicious, calling of the working of the Holy Spirit evil, and can still happen today, but it cannot be committed ignorantly. What this means is that there is some sort of mental assent or knowing that the Holy Spirit is actually the one doing the work, but in an attempt to suppress that truth in unrighteousness the person blasphemes against it.
One of the reasons some hold to this being a sin that involves a knowing or mental assent is because it is often linked with the sin found in Hebrews 6. In this passage, the person has been enlightened to the truth, and has even partaken in the Holy Spirit’s work in the fact that they understand the truths, and still reject Christ. In rejecting Christ they are rejecting the Holy Spirit. The person who does such a thing is said to have crucified Christ afresh, and that it is impossible to renew such a one to repentance. Since the scripture tells us that all sin is forgiven of men except blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and the sin committed in Hebrews 6 also seems to be unforgivable, there seems to be a good reason to link the two together.
So how do Bible expositors link this specific sin to being a continuous denial of the grace of God? They do this by looking at Jesus’ words which shows us that this blasphemy is ultimately a sin that flows from the heart. Jesus says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” This sin comes from a heart that is so hard toward the things of God that it will never repent, and God in his purposes has refused to bring it to repentance.
This passage has undoubtedly caused many people trouble and fear. They wonder after reading it if they have committed this sin. If this concern stems from a heart that desires to be right with the Lord then this person has not committed it. If a person’s heart is sensitive to the truths of God, then they are not guilty of it. The person who’s heart is as hard as those in this scripture would not be concerned about being right with the Lord. They would despise Him.
Another aspect of this sin is that those who have been saved cannot commit this sin. In Hebrews 6 the author says, to his audience of believers that he didn’t expect them to fall away and crucify Christ afresh. Instead he expected to see from them things that accompany salvation. From the context perseverance seems is one of those things that will accompany salvation. So a Christian is unable to commit this sin.
So what does this passage teach us as Christians who have not and cannot blaspheme of the Holy Spirit? First what this shows us is that our words reveal a lot about the state of our hearts toward Christ. What do your words say about your heart towards Christ? Maybe you say, Well I definitely do not blaspheme Him, but Jesus goes on in verse 36 to say, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgment.”
We may not be saying anything negative about Christ, but that does not mean we are not saying anything at all. Our idle words speak volumes about our hearts condition toward Christ. If all we speak about are the things of this world and trivial matters. Constantly engaging in gossip, slander, course jesting, using His name in vain, and other vanities of speech, we have failed to see that the words we speak are extremely important. Const
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “he who is not with me is against me.” Scripture also asks us, “How long will you halt between two positions, if God be God then serve Him.” One of the ways we serve him is by speaking about him, praising Him, and praying to him. Be not idle in your words.
Our Confession of Christ
We have seen here two negative commands from the lips of Christ. We are to neither blaspheme the Holy Spirit, nor are we to be idle in our words. As with every negative command of scripture there is a corresponding positive command. In this case we are to be purposeful in our words and we are to positively confess him.
How often do you confess Christ? To understand the importance of this we must realize that to be able to confess him is a gift from God. This is because without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to receive the things of the God. 1 Cor. 2:14 tells us, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: For they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” We cannot confess what we cannot receive because it is foolishness to us, but through the work of the Holy Spirit He opens our blind eyes to see the truth.
Scripture then goes further by telling us that we cannot even say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. 1 Cor. 12:3 says, “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” When we confess Christ as Lord and mean it, and speak His truths, this is due directly to the Holy Spirit’s work in our life. It is truly a gift of grace.
This is expressed in the miracle that Jesus did which caused the Pharisees to blaspheme. It is no coincidence that the man who was healed was blind and mute. Like him, we were blind to the things of God, unable to receive them in their truthfulness, and because of this we were also mute in our ability to confess Him as Lord. But through the work of the Spirit we were healed of both infirmities.
Our confessions stems from a heart of flesh that is now sensitive to the things of God, but used to be a heart of stone. Paul in Roman’s 3 tells us that the true child of God has always been the one who has been circumcised of the heart. And Deut. 30:6 tells us that this is the work of God, as it says He is the one who does this. Most people know this as being regenerated or born again. This is another reason why we cannot commit blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Our new hearts won’t let us.
Make your confession of Christ and speak His truths. It can never disgrace you. Jesus in Luke 12:8 says, “Also I say unto you, whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.” When we confess Christ, our name is being confessed in the heavens. More importantly Jesus says in Matt. 10:32-33, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heave. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.” When we confess Christ He confesses us before His Father. The world may marginalize you, laugh at you, and my even put you to death, but your confession of Christ cannot disgrace you. In fact, God is exalted because He is the one who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure.
Paul said of his confession, that it was for the Glorification of God and to lead men to salvation. He says this in Rom. 15:9 which says, “And that the gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, for this cause I will confess thee among the gentile, and sing unto thy name.”
Jesus then goes on to make an extremely interesting statement. He says, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” What does this mean? Are we not justified by faith alone? In order to answer this many have said that Jesus was not speaking of Justification before God, but justification before other men. People will know you’re a Christian by the words you speak, and your speech should set you apart. There is a lot of merit in this understanding, but the context seems to be going deeper than that. He seems to actually be making a comment about our justification before Him. Ultimately the answer is yes, we are saved by faith alone, but true faith produces works. Our confession is one of those works, and even the thief on the cross had time to do this. When he asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, he was saying I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God.
This is why our confession is often linked to our salvation. Romans 10:9 says, “That if thou shalt confess with they mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” We do not make our confession to be saved, but we make our confession because we are saved. Just to clarify, this does not mean that if a man was to die alone and come to faith right before death that he would not inherit the kingdom of God because he didn’t confess it to anyone. His confession would be in his heart toward God.
Make your confession now, because eventually everyone will make this confession. Phil. 2:10-11 says, “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Let the world reject you. Let the authorities of this world laugh. They too will one day make the same confession as you, but if it is not in this life it will be too late. There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved.
Christian, your confession of Christ is evidence that you have been justified before God by Christ’s death on the cross. It brings glory to God, and leads others to Him. Non-Christian, by your words you will be condemned. Do you not confess that Jesus is Lord? Do you put down a message such as this as foolishness, or are you completely idle toward the truths of Christ? All three of these things condemn you, and you will bear the weight of them at the final judgment if you will not confess Him as Lord.
Make your confession. Make it now and make it often, whatever the cost in this life may be. Be careful of the words you speak, by avoiding negative and idle talk. You have been given a gift to speak His word and confess His name. You are no longer blind and mute. Use this gift, and be a witness. Contend for the faith. Make your words purposeful and true, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. May God give us the grace to do this.
I am fascinated by Peter’s simple statement to Christ after Jesus finished telling people that they must drink His blood and eat His flesh. Many left:
John 6:66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
Be encouraged brothers and sisters: When all seems lost, we are the Lord’s. When you’re going through the fiery trials and fighting off the darts of the devil, remember our Lord Jesus Christ. “To whom shall we go?”
Psalm 27:1The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
I think about Joseph, hated by his brothers, but not because of anything Joseph had done, initially; rather, because of Jacob’s apparent favoritism which struck jealousy and rage in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers. This fire became even more enflamed when Joseph told them of his dreams.
After some time, they conspire to kill Joseph. He’s “saved” by Reuben. He’s thrown in to a pit, and enslaved by Ishmaelites. He goes to serve Potiphar. There’s no implication that Joseph responded bitterly or with resentment. In fact, during his time under Potiphar he was blessed with favor. However, trials come again with Potiphar’s wife’s accusation of Joseph’s wrongdoing. Such was not true. He remained faithful to God. He was the imprisoned on false charges. Yet…no bitterness.
Well, we all know how it ends. Joseph wins! But it was not without hardship. It repeatedly says, “The Lord was with him…” I’m sure, at times, Joseph didn’t feel like the Lord was with him. But he did believe, according to God’s promise and character, that He was with him. He told his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”. Oh that we would take comfort in the life of Joseph when all around us seems to crumble.
Let us think of Job. Phew…aren’t we glad we didn’t have to go through what Job went through. Satan didn’t initiate this in Job’s life. God did. Satan didn’t speak until spoken to. “Have you considered my servant Job?”, He asked the old serpent. Did God intend harm on Job? By no means! He intended for His glory to be shown through the suffering of His servant, Job.
Job was “innocent”, comparatively speaking. In spite of such, he lost everything! Even a bit of his very own flesh…His own wife, obviously hating to see him in such pain, tried to turn his thoughts from submission to God. He lost riches, family, and his own health. He even had to sit through the false scathing rebukes of his ignorant friends. Yet…in the end, it worked out for him twofold.
To God be the Glory. What was his response? “The Lord gives. The Lord takes. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” What a testimony to the grace and sovereignty of God during our times of utmost relentless testing. May we be reminded of Job during our times of hardship.
David: Wow. David went through some tough times himself. He had to flee from Saul for his life. It was not that he was guilty of treason; rather, again, it was that wretched vile thing called jealousy. Saul was jealous of David’s popularity with the people. He was forced to flee for his very life, after being one of the favorites in the King’s court. Yet, he lived obediently to God. Even to the point of not harming “the Lord’s anointed.” He refused to practice the way the world would’ve practiced. Even when the “religious” would deem it ok or necessary. May we learn from this earlier aspect of David’s life.
Let us look at Hosea. Called by God to marry an unfaithful Gomer. The shame and scorn and reproach he must have felt. There was no room for foolish pride in this man’s life. His wife was a whore, and God commanded such. Hosea was obedient. What a testimony of God’s faithfulness to us, is Hosea’s faithfulness to Gomer. May we always remember such when we’re called to do the difficult things that seem impossible.
There are so many examples of such things. Let us look at the Master and His example. Jesus Christ, King of kings, Lord of lords, Exalted, Glorious, God. What did He do? He humbled Himself, came to earth as a man, endured the sin of His elect. OH WHAT A BURDEN!!! The greatest burden of all. Much more than slavery, prison, marriage to a whoring wife. Rather, it was multitudes upon multitudes of sinful men’s transgressions against the Most Holy God. What a WEIGHT TO BEAR! Yet…He was obedient to His Father. Praise be to God for such! Forgive us, O, Lord for forgetting you in times of trouble. Trouble that is so petty compared to the hardship of the Cross, which You endured. Have mercy on us, Father. You are to be praised!
We are His. Be encouraged, His Elect. He is ruling and reigning with His right arm. He is breaking and redeeming with His Spirit. He shall never leave us, nor forsake us. Behold, He is with us always…even to the end. Be encouraged, if the world hates you, remember, it hated Him first. Blessed are we if we’re reviled for His sake. No matter what you’re going through, do not despair. God is working and orchestrating His flawless, perfect plan. O, Father, what is man that you are mindful of him?
2 Cor. 12:9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
O, God. I pray that we, Your people, when under affliction, would fix our eyes on You. Let us boast in our weaknesses, infirmities, trials, and hardships. Let us see that what others mean for evil, you mean for God. Let us worship you all the more in such times.
On Religious Experience: The use of it as proof for the existence of God.
Religious experience is, I think, the basis for a very powerful argument, but only powerful upon people that have had such an experience. (This is a complicated claim that I will expand upon a little later.) With my theological background flowing from the Reformed tradition, I would say that all people have such an experience whether or not they are willing to admit it. I’m taking “religious experience” here, which could mean almost anything, to include almost anything that anyone would want to throw into it.
It’s become strangely common for people to think that when they talk about religion, it’s ok to call a foul when someone wants to bring in their religious experience as a source of their religious understanding. As if there were some kind of cheating involved in drawing personal experience into the debate on God, the world, and everything. In fact, the Christian should not have the slightest caution in using their experiences as part of the content to be considered, and more than this, useful in expressing to other people what they think and why they think it. It’s doubtful that we can even talk about these things intelligibly without doing so. But as popular as the tactic of making an artificial rule against it is, and as beneficial for those that take a negative position on the existence of God, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious rational problem with using religious experience as a proof for the existence of God.
Modern theologies might want to narrow it down to some kind of direct existential euphoria, or an outbreak of tongue speaking, or a vision of angels but none of this kind of thing seems essential to claims of religious experience. First, because the vast majority of religious peoples have never claimed to have those kinds of experiences. Second, because the traditional theologies tend to hold the innate knowledge of God as primary and the ground of any subsequent experience. It’s not the flavor of religious experience itself that implies the existence of God but the mere fact of it’s presence in the experiencing person.
Counter to many, I would say that not only do all people have some such experience but that for some the level of knowing can rise to the level of certainty. “Certainty” is considered a dirty word in current theological and philosophical circles. Any claim of certainty is accompanied by that accusation of Cartesian rationalism, Foundationalism, Modernism and any number of other crimes against humanity. To say “I know”, is immediately followed by the question of “How so?” And answering the ‘how so’ for the ‘I know’ is notoriously difficult.
But this is a necessary Christian claim that I’m not willing to part with, even in light of the arguments raised against it by well meaning Christians and obnoxious aggressors. Christian theology by its very nature, and as an implication of the Christian claims of having received Special Revelation, includes the possibility of certainty (as opposed to only probability or mere psychological persuasion). It also includes what the theologians have called “assurance” as the normal state of a person’s faith, but that’s a different subject. For the Christian to say that it is impossible to know with certainty that God exists or to know with certainty that they are reconciled to a loving relationship with Him, instead of it simply being rare or un-provable to others seems to import some limitations and definitions of “knowing” that are irreconcilable with a solidly Christian understanding of these things.
That “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free”, seems by all reasonable accounts to presume the idea of really, and not just probably or possibly, knowing the Truth. To take it as saying that “The truth will probably set you free” or “what is probably true could possibly set you free” just doesn’t carry the same desperate magnitude of importance implied by the statement. The tragic attempts to dismiss the idea of really knowing the truth as the effect of a Modernist or “Cartesian” influence in theology are not only weakly argued in the studies on the subject but also against the grain of historical theology (Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc). Something being un-provable to others does not imply that it is not known, and does not imply that it is not known with certainty. It simply means that it is un-provable in a way that is philosophically justifiable for others who do not know it. But theology is not dependant upon philosophy; philosophy is dependant upon theology.
The confusion seems to come in when religious experience is used as a Public instead of a Private claim. The distinction between Public and Private claims to knowledge is sometimes insufferably difficult, but there is no avoiding the fact that if one person has had an experience that they cannot communicate publicly, it does nothing to undermine their personal use of said experience as a source of their own knowledge and understanding of themselves and their place in the world. Public examination is not only unnecessary to such knowing but in some cases might be practically impossible.
I can imagine Einstein telling me, “I just had the experience of thinking the equation E=mc2. I’ve solved the general problem of relativity in time/space relationships.” And I would say, “Yeah… sure.” And he would say, “No, really… Just look at these equations.” And as he sprawled out page after page of calculations my comprehension would grow increasingly dim until I would need to decide that he were either 1) insane, 2) a genius, or 3) just saying things that I have no ability to understand within the limited purview of my own experience.
Now I, of course, might have my own experiential content that Einstein could never understand, but without more insight into his personal experience that depending upon many factors, like the fact that I failed calculus, might bar me from such an understanding, his lack of insight into my human experience should in no way be viewed by me as an argument against my experience.
It might sound like this kind of argument could justify almost any absurd claim but it is really not meant to have that kind of broad an applicability. There are many things that should be counted by me as an argument against the veracity and intelligibility of my own experience against myself. But self interpretation being the most needful kind, and the logic and philosophy books being stuffed with information on this kind of thing, I’ll bypass the subject to stay in focus.
But if I know that I have had a religious experience, and I have no rational basis for doubting such an experience, then I would actually be irrational to not believe that I’ve had such an experience. It is an act against myself. It would be an act against interest. It would be a crime against reason. This seems easier than it is because I am not really defining said experience, but in general, this applies to most of our everyday experiences and is not amazingly different. People that doubt their own personal experiences should need very persuasive evidence to the contrary in order to be considered reasonable people. How could someone intelligibly live that way? Doubting themselves at every turn? It’s one thing to say that we have not experienced something so we don’t accept it but entirely another to say that we have experienced something in which we do not believe. The world needs to be something like what we experience it to be or everything becomes incoherent. The strange thing is not when people understand that having a religious experience entails something real that must be correspondent to the experience, but when against sound reason they convince themselves to accept an understanding of the world that makes the experience they had impossible to have had.
To simply presuppose that people really don’t have such experiences seems to be begging the question. How do you know that they don’t? By having had experiences of people not having such experiences? We could ask which one seems more likely… that someone would have an experience of God or that they would be crazy? Well, if we aren’t being irrational by guessing before we begin thinking about the issue that people don’t have such experiences, it would seem they are equally likely. Let me explain. There are not really any a priori (prior to experience) odds on people being crazy. It’s an empirically observable phenomena that we measure by certain chosen criteria. If the basic criteria include a measurement of some standard that we will call “normal” then anything outside of normal could be considered crazy.
So then you need to decide whether or not you are crazy, which is very difficult. First because crazy people are rarely coherent enough to understand that they are crazy. And second, because there doesn’t seem to be any rational basis for saying that crazy people can’t have experiences of God (maybe they are better at it?). You could be crazy as a loon and really have a religious experience. They don’t seem to be mutually exclusive and this makes the distinction unhelpful.
Someone could say that anyone that has a religious experience is crazy and so simply define it into the abnormal category, but since most of the people that have ever lived seem to have had one (on an almost universal scale and this includes the claims of many current atheists), and since crazy seems to be judged by normal and abnormal psychological functioning based loosely upon what the majority judges the abnormal case to be, this would seem to imply that anyone that hasn’t, or at least claims to have not had a religious experience is crazy. And we wouldn’t want to say that. I don’t really think that those who say they have never had any kind of religious experience are crazy, and not only that but I would be glad to say that many of them are stable productive members of society in spite of their deficiency. But if you rule out crazy and have no overwhelming reason to doubt your own personal experience, then you seem to be stuck with the fact that you have had a religious experience, whether you like it or not.
So one either needs to show why there is religious experience without religion, which seems incoherent, or why we should be inclined to deny what for some of us includes the vast majority of our experiences, or why they should be taken as false in the light of some one else’s claimed non-experience? Atheists commonly claim their only problem with Theism is a lack of perceived evidence that shows that we should not believe in God. But it is very confusing to say that someone else’s Private absence of experience, without any Public proof to the contrary that would cause us to doubt our Private experience, should be taken as proof of the falsehood our own experience. In a court room, for example, the first hand testimony is always preferred to the testimony of someone who didn’t see anything. This would be like having a murder trial and allowing the defense to bring in witnesses that weren’t there to give testimony that they didn’t see anything. The courts don’t even allow that kind of testimony; they call it “irrelevant” and ban it from the proceedings. An experience outweighs a non-experience in the measurement of evidences. What someone does not see is simply not as persuasive as what someone does.
This is a proof of the truth of the Christian religion, but a Private proof. I’m not saying that there might not be many kinds of observable public effects from such a thing happening, but the thing itself, is not publicly producible. You can’t show it to somebody or take it into a laboratory for testing. That doesn’t mean that you can’t tell people about it, and for some people, depending upon many factors about you, the kind of person you are, and the kind of experience that you claim to have had, some people might actually take your testimony as evidence for the truth of your claim. But it in itself is not Public.
Now, Christians make a great deal of their Publicly producible evidences. There are the historical manuscripts, the witnesses, testimony of the kind we still use in courts today, distinguished and time honored philosophical arguments, the shown self-contradictions and incoherence of worldviews contrary to the Christian one, the verification and falsifications from the hard sciences in the light of current evidence (as changeable as scientific theories might be), the necessity of beginning with certain apparently theistic axioms in order to escape skepticism and nonsense, the unintelligibility of non-theistic moral systems and the claims rooted in them, the unthinkable consequences of materialism and nihilism as ways of being, the existential necessity and psychological need as indicative of theism being most obvious to the kind of thing we find ourselves to be, and whatever other things philosophers and theologians have used as public evidence for and refutation of the denial of Christian claims. And all of these have their place but without specifically Christian religious experience they might rise to the level of making it more probable than not that Christianity is true, which is sufficient for belief and rationally persuasive, but religious experience is what brings all of these facts into focus in the category of “knowing”. In fact, the work of faith in the heart of the Christian by the Spirit of God seems to be the reason that we spend so much time producing evidences in defense of the faith. We already know; now what we know needs to be protected from the belligerent and the confused.
I’ve had a conversation with a professional Christian philosopher who is known for giving arguments for the existence of God. I asked him if he was certain that God exists. He said that we can’t have apodictic certainty about anything but that he is quite persuaded that it is so. So I of course asked if that was because he thought it was impossible to be certain because of some problem inherent in the process of knowing or because he thought that the Christian religion taught this. He said that he didn’t understand the question. So we went over all of the places in the Scriptures where people seemed to be much more than rationally persuaded or that their understanding did not seem to be that it was just more probable than not that God existed: Adam in the Garden, Job in conversation with God, Moses who spoke with God face to face, Elisha with the resurrections of the dead, Paul who was taken up into Heaven, Jesus in his perfect humanity, and this implies certain things about our final state, of how we will be in the communal presence of God Himself. This doesn’t seem to imply that we can by nature only have a very probable belief that God exists, and leaves open the door for God Himself to bring our knowledge to the level of Certainty.
He said that while that might be so, we can’t presume the theological data as a ground for the interpretation of the philosophical data. We would need to prove such from philosophy alone and then if the answer is more probable than not, we can use the Bible from there. So I explained that even if he only believed the Scriptures were true by the rational obligation flowing from it being more probable than not (which I consider to be a poor position to take), then if the Scriptures are taken as true and they teach that God can give someone certainty, then to tell people that they can’t be certain that there is a God stands against what he had just said as to the rational necessity of believing what is most probable. To use a shorthanded argument, if we are compelled to believe there is a God, and belief in God compels one to believe that the Scriptures are true, and the Scriptures teach that it is possible to know that God exists with certainty, then we are rationally compelled to believe that it is possible to be certain that there is a God. Which implies that the beginning premise that we cannot know anything beyond the level of probability is incoherent when applied to Christian theology, because if it is true, it is probably false, and according to his own criteria, what is probably false cannot be reasonably believed.
It is really the method that holds all of the problems. The exclusion of one aspect of human experience in favor of another lesser aspect instead of taking religious experience as just as reasonably part of the whole is an exclusion that lacks a rational basis. In adopting insufficient principles for the interpretation of human experience, be they scientific, or philosophical, or even theological, we can easily bind ourselves in epistemological or metaphysical confusions that in order to reconcile our understanding of ourselves and the world in a coherent way, we are trapped saying things that in a further analysis don’t make any sense. We simply have no compelling reasons to deny the possibility that an all-powerful, infinitely wise God, cannot bring our recognition of His existence to the level of Certainty if He chooses to do so.
This leads us to the most powerful refutation for religious experience that the Christian contends with, as it is a refutation not of the religious experience itself, which we claim as universal, but as to the veracity of the Content. There is no religious experience without content, of course, because an experience without content is self contradiction. An experience must by definition be an experience of something. Which is proven by the fact that if we say that we had an experience of nothing it doesn’t seem to mean anything. For any claimed religious experience the Christian has certain external controls on what might be claimed and what is to be forcefully denied to be true content. In other words, it is not all reducible to personal experience and claimed to be true simply because it has been experienced. Christian religious experience is measured carefully by a common Special Revelation (the Bible; the Holy Scriptures) which is held out as an objective source of measurement for claims of religious experience.
The Apostle Paul wrote this on the universality of religious experience…
“Since 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 men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” Romans chapter 1:19-22
And so, though we take a bare religious experience to be universal, we do not at all take all religious experience to imply either a good nature in the person having the experience or a good effect arising from the experience. At least within the context of historic Christian theology, universality of religious experience, here spoken of as a universal knowledge of God’s existence and His attributes, doesn’t work out as always bringing a great deal of benefit. There is no 1:1 correlation between the experience and a positive response from those who have the experience. As a matter of fact, some seem even worse off for the fact of their religious experience.
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” Romans 1:28-29.
Paul even goes so far as to warn the Christians in ancient Galatia, that if an “Angel from Heaven” seems to be bringing them a different message that the one that they first heard, that they have a duty to disregard the message…
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8.
In the histories of Israel found in the scriptures the common theme was for the nations around them to be flush with religious experience, and with a variety of gods as the distorted consequence of the fact, and in this to express a remarkable capacity for doing evil, including even the sacrifice of their own children to their gods in exchange for power and favor. The way these things are measured within historic Christian orthodoxy is that the fact of religious experience is not equatable with the truthfulness of religious claims framed within the context of that religious experience. Christian theology validates the fact of religious experience but not the truthfulness or goodness of the religious experience itself, nor the effect that seems to be caused by the experience.
And so, Christians are slow to deny religious experience to the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and whoever else we might have in mind, but that shouldn’t be misunderstood as a validation of either their faith or practice following from the given experience.
Religious experiences, it seems, are not created equal, and neither are the reactions that a person might have to them. Is this in concession to the common claim that religion produces many of the world’s greatest evils? No, the evil is already there. Religion in general can be an obvious vehicle for the expression of such evils because bad men will find ways to do bad things even through the very best of things. Religion is the greatest opportunity for good, and so when corrupted, or twisted, or used for power and selfish gain, carries within itself the greatest opportunities for evil. So I guess I do and do not agree. If it is accepted that True religion is the greatest source of good then I also accept that bad religion is the greatest source of evil.
On whether or not accepting the prima facie acceptability of religious experience as a Private proof of the existence of God is submitting to irrationality, it should be said that there is nothing irrational about taking religious experience as it is. Rational, does not mean “provable” by deduction from some pre-existing of premises ala Sherlock Holmes. That’s a common misunderstanding. The person that says “I don’t believe in anything I can’t prove” is ultimately immune to believing anything. You need to believe things before you can prove other things (Augustine). Otherwise the laws of logic and deduction itself would be called irrational, because we cannot prove them to be logical without using them as the measurement of what is rational. Basic human experiences are the resistant to any kind of measurement and among the least provable, if for no other reason than that we need to be having experiences before we can analyze them, which is kind of circular in a way. And yet it is universally considered unreasonable to disregard them as untrue even though they cannot be proven from some pre-existing platform of previous truths so that we can say with authority that we are having experiences.
How do we usually use these in an argument? We simply appeal to the assumption that everyone else is having the same kind of experiences of the same kind of a world that we are, and hold each other accountable for attempted variations with stiff social penalties. Mocking is the usual answer followed dutifully by the exclusion from the conversation of anyone with the gall to question the accepted universe as the one that exists. We demand, in order to begin the discussion, that everyone involved will take as a “given” the things that none of us can even come close to proving but that all of us need to assent to “knowing” with little if any evidence other than social consensus. And this is never viewed as being irrational, because it is basic personal experience and we don’t have any other way to do this thing.
And back to the point…
There is no necessity in a religious experience being Publicly verifiable in order for it to be a clearly reasonable Proof for those to whom it has been given as a Proof. Others might doubt it, but they can’t really say. What the Christian needs to do is be firm in their own mind as to what they know, and Whom they have known. The Christian can have a great confidence in this, unassailable by the tricks and philosophical trinkets that the world offers to replace a much firmer foundation found in Christ. As for Publicly available “proofs”, and arguments, and debates, and experiences, there seems to be more than enough of those to go around. But the combination of Public evidences and Private religious experience? That seems to be a lock that only irrational people can deny.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1.
IV. The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.