So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the tag “faith”

Hey Bub! Whaddaya Looking At?- Part 3

an old man looking at something

2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (NKJV)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Luke 11:34–36 (NKJV)

34 The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”

 

There are many ways of looking at something, or someone. just as there are different ways of ‘seeing’. The English language has terms like “gaze, stare, peep, glance, peek, gape, gawk” to describe some of these differences. Greek also has different terms for ‘looking and seeing” that to one degree or another parallel English counterparts

The word ‘look’ Paul uses in his Corinthian letter (2 Cor. 4:18) is from the same root word spoken by Jesus in Luke 11:35, one of the verses upon which this series is based. The NKJV translates σκοπέω  “Therefore take heed…” but the NASB has a better rendering: “Then watch out…” (or, put another way, “look out”) which more closely corresponds to σκοπέω used here as a warning.

The verses quoted above show a connection between ‘seeing’ and ‘looking’ and Paul gives us one answer to the question posed in the first blog, namely what sort of things we are to be looking at. Being filled with light is accomplished by “not looking at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen…” because the “the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”. (2 Cor. 4:18 NASB)

So, we are to look at what can’t be seen and the more we look the more we see. This apparent contradiction is in fact the way things really are and to those outside the faith appear as sheer lunacy. But all Christians know it’s true: we really can see unseen things when we look at things properly.

Now, some ideas to note about this. First, from Paul and Peter we learn that this sort of looking and seeing has to do with living the Christian life in the midst of adversity and preaching the Gospel to the unsaved. Second, this kind of looking is a fixation, a staring at, and not just a casual or occasional glance; i.e. what  ‘catches our eye’ remains the focal point. Third, this sort of looking is possible only by means of faith. (Heb. 11:3) Fourth, we must become convinced that what we look at in the natural course of life will pass away and, even now, is being replaced by “an eternal weight of glory”.

This phrase “eternal weight of glory” is at the very least profound and is meant to awaken our consciousness to what IS the case about the temporal/temporary Christian life, not what we might suppose it to be. The phrase “eternal weight of glory” is meant to show the sheer substantiality of what is really real as opposed to what is only fleeting; in Paul’s case suffering for the Gospel, and with Peter, a “proof” of our faith accompanied by inexpressible joy in the midst of temporary adversity that comes with living an authentic Christian life. (1 Peter 1:7-8)

In short, when we look at the right things and thereby see clearly we are changed, illuminated, ‘filled with light’ and become light shining in the spiritual darkness that is the kosmos under the dominion of sin and Satan. This is at least part of what Jesus meant in Luke 11:33. Furthermore, when we look properly (in this case, at the unseen) and see things the way they really are the more substantial and ‘weighty’ we become. While our natural condition is fleeting, fragile, almost ghostlike, here today gone and tomorrow, Paul says we are being renewed day by day gaining spiritual weight (which he says is glorious) over and against our inherent weakness as fleshly beings.

These words of Paul call for further attention and will be the subject of our next installment.

© W.G. Ryzek 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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Running into Trees

There is an opinion circulating in our culture that ‘perception is reality’. This means that your perception of and interpretation of the sense-data you receive creates the reality within which you exist. In other words, there is no such thing as an objective point-of-view; existence and experience is purely subjective. It is as though we live in a dream world because the ‘out there’, or that which stimulates the senses in the first place, can never be directly known; it’s real but not ‘really real’. So, if you run into a tree, you will have an interpreted perception of “hardness” (among other things, like pain) but even then it is purely subjective (some might perceive it as harder, or softer, and have more or less pain than you); the hardness is in our head, not ‘out there’ where the tree is, or where we think it is but can’t know for sure.

This opinion, and others like it, stands or falls on the presupposition that nothing from the ‘outside’ can enter our subjectively constructed worlds because we have no means by which to perceive it. We only have our senses and they alone provide the material of experience. This is the triumph of empiricism and materialism over all other contenders while also a very convenient doctrine for those trying to get us to think a certain way. Since there is no direct experience of an ‘out there’ but only our perceptions, the interpreting of these perceptions can be done for us by those in positions of political power via the manipulation of available media, or, worse, with brute force and military power; North Korea is a prime example. Once enough people buy into the ‘official’ interpretation it becomes the societal ‘norm’.

A significant consequence of all this is moral relativism. The fallacy of this misguided social and political doctrine is the untenable position that when two sets of perceptions (moral or otherwise) are opposite yet both claim to be true, there is no way to decide which one is the most accurate nor what the best course of action is. Everyone’s moral point of view is as good or true as everyone else’s. Again, the greater the number of people who subscribe to a particular interpretation the more likely it will be the ‘norm’.  So the mayhem that characterizes world politics and the numerous moral policies set forth by nations is explained. And, closer to home, it explains why our society is in political and moral shambles.

On the other hand, Christianity claims, among other things, that there is such a thing as objective knowledge and that we can know it, experience it, and govern our lives by it. The hardness of that tree we ran into earlier really is hard not just because we perceive it to be but because the Source who made the tree gave it ‘hardness’ and made sure our perceptions, though truly limited, are nevertheless accurate and dependable (some of you will hear echoes of Descartes here). But for this to work we have to invoke the concept of faith, accept that it allows us to know objectively and that it is not just a perception gone bad. This will probably seem like a stretch especially to our worldly associates who lump any appeal to faith along with our using the term ‘mystery’ when explaining the unexplainable (like the Trinity, for example).

But consider the fact that all of us depend on faith everyday. For example, we conduct our lives today as though tomorrow will come, yet we have absolutely no perception of tomorrows sun rising. We must, then, base our conviction on past instances of the sun rising in a regular and predictable manner. Yet, we have no justification that it will once again repeat its usual behavior but we act as if it will. This faith is built-in so to speak, just like our sensory organs are built-in. The difference, of course, is the experience of faith is immediate; i.e. not dependent on a mediated sensory perception.

Because of the immediate perception of faith Christians maintain that the reality we experience is a created one not by our interpreted perceptions but by a Creator and we who occupy this reality have been given the means to live and thrive in it. Even though we to not have the physical means to experience this Creator empirically (like the tree), we do experience the effects of His presence in our world through the mediation of the senses and the immediacy of faith. The upshot is that, of all people in the world, Christians have the wherewithal to experience both mediated (empirical) reality and immediate (non empirical) reality and therefore make claims about all of reality that others just can’t.

One thing Christian’s know is that the unseen part of reality is more real than the seen part (Heb. 11:3) because the visible was made by the invisible.  So, we know Who made the tree and that there is a meaning and a purpose behind the collision that no amount of empirical interpretation alone could ever discover. And it’s this way with all our experiences, good or bad.

However, if people deny or ignore God, then they remain trapped in their own subjectivity (the aforementioned ‘opinion’ is right after all) and are wrong-headed to think they’re doing their own independent thinking; someone, or something, else wants them to experience and interpret reality the way they, or it, does while hiding the truth that there is much more going on than meets the eye.

Faith and Magic

 

I’m assuming everyone that’s reading this wants to please God and knows that without faith it is impossible to do that . (Heb. 11:6)   All of us, then, must learn as much as we can about faith so we can please Him.  This, of course, is a huge topic and the space of this article is far too short to discuss all the nuances of what faith means.  But what we can do is consider one thing that faith is not: faith is not magic.

Now, on the face of it, this claim that ‘faith is not magic’ seems obvious, almost not worth mentioning.  But in fact a rather large number of Christians in many different traditions treat faith more like a magical spell than the key to understanding the true nature of all creation, our purpose in it and discerning what pleases God.  I’ve known some who conduct their affairs as though God’s Word holds magical power over objects, people or circumstances and frequently quote “ask whatever you will in my Name…” as an example.  The condition is “if you have faith…” and, assuming you have it, ask away and ‘poof’ whatever your heart desires comes to pass, so they say.  Of course, if it doesn’t, that means you have no faith, or at least not enough of it, and must try harder to get more.  It is as if the promise is greater than the Promise-Maker, and He is bound, or obligated, by the “ask whatever you will in my Name” as though He is a genie in a bottle.  And that’s the whole appeal of magic: it is something we control.

Confusing faith with magic is due in part to the common error of thinking faith is a possession, like a car or a home or that it is something that can be weighed, like a pot roast at the market.  Not only does this mistake of quantifying faith make it like a magical charm to be used as needed ( it is ours, after all) but it also creates a great deal of anxiety about whether we ‘have enough’ faith, how to decide when enough is enough and whether our faith is ‘bigger’ than someone else’s.  I think this is why Jesus used the example of a mustard seed to encourage us all by suggesting that ‘size’ (read quantity) doesn’t matter as much as using what we have.

Another way turning faith into some kind of perverted magic is making it a matter of propositions rather than a way of living.  By this I mean reducing faith to a list of  “I believe such and such”, then going merrily along life’s way and never allowing the ‘such and such’ to actually change the way we live and think in our day-to-day affairs.  Consequently, we can be quite orthodox in our faith and be very clear on our doctrine and then think that, since we have the formula’s right, God should respond favorably to our requests.  Again, this is like magic; just learn the right formulas, say them in the right order and God will, or must, act.

Given this propensity to turn faith into magic at least one important thing about faith can be learned: spiritual faith, the faith that really counts, is always submissive to God and is concerned only with pleasing Him.  Anything else, including faith so-called, is an attempt to manipulate God and reflects the ages old tactic of bringing God down to size so He can be tamed and then used for our own ends.

So much more needs to be said, but we can at least take this with us: the moment we want nothing else than to do His will and please Him, then we can, and should, ask for whatever it is in His Name and it will be done.  Then, not only will our faith in God be pleasing to Him but will take on the character of something so wonderful it might seem almost ‘magical’!

 

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