I recently reviewed “hip” Lutheran Pastor Jonathan Fisk’s interviews about his new book, Broken on Issues ETC., and then read it over the Christmas break. Fantastic – like LC-MS President Matthew Harrison, I give it my highest recommendation (click on the infographic for more info). Pastor Fisk especially excels at making big ideas accessible to the average modern reader – and has a real gift for speaking so that that non-Lutherans can easily follow him (also: the book does not so much teach Lutheran theology as much as do it – to great effect, I think). Along these lines, he inspired some creative and big thinking on my part (as he tends to do – this man is the host of the video blog Worldview Everlasting after all!) In this series, starting Friday, I am going to talk about three principals that I think are true of all human beings. Based on what I have read and think I know, philosophically speaking, I am quite sure that these are solid – clearly universal and hard to argue against. Following this, I am going to discuss the kind of energy – our energy as fallen human beings – that goes into reaching those three principles and further acting on them.
And what will be the endgame of this discussion? It will be to make clear that it is the highest temptation of human beings – even Christians – to treat God in what amounts to a superstitious way. This comes down to: “if I do this, God *will* do this,” whether it be in crass or more refined and sophisticated forms. In other words, human power looks to treat God as our good-luck-charm or rabbit’s foot – either in rough accordance with the 10 commandments, for instance, or not. This is how (fallen) human energies ultimately seek to control the Divine energies. When we are saved from the devil, death, and sin God also saves us from our lying selves – from our “Did God really say?” and our “pursuit of personal authority” (Gen. 3:5, Fisk, 221)… from our headlong rebellion vs. the Source of all light, life, and love.*
Since the fall, mankind has always labored to make God in his own image, using his own “natural” powers. Yes, many may “seek” the Divine Mind responsible for everything they see – but they are not at all really interested in finding the true one! As “enemies of God”, if fallen man knew what He was like – if he actually did find Him – he would not run to Him, but away from Him. In other words, if man thinks he does find god, he simply finds what he wants to find. On his own, he does not find the true God he needs, but rather suppresses the knowledge of Him.
In our day – especially in this country, with its “cafeteria-style” religion – this tendency to re-make God has been taken to new levels. I suggest that in this era of exceptional technology we can also see ever more clearly the kind of God that we all, apart from His Word which transforms and guides us – want to create. The most recent technology gives man a new opportunity to see that this is always how we are tempted to treat not only *certain* other people – but God himself.
In short, fallen man always wants to make God his slave. And today, who are the best and most cooperative slaves? Robots. Sure, we might not find them at all fulfilling emotionally – at least not yet – (see Turkle’s Alone Together) but with these we actually get to make the rules and they do what we say. We make the rules and are the primary actors and they respond to us – as we like. When God created us, He did not want us to be this way. But we want Him to be this way.**
In other words, dealing with God is like making and programming a computer. In the recent past, most human beings in the West at least had a different kind of temptation. Having been Christianized, they were, as a whole, more tempted to manipulate God by insisting that when they did the stuff that He said was right and good, He was obligated to reciprocate. Even in the Christian church, the concept of “congruous merit” arose, which stated that “on the ground of equity” we could claim a reward – even the reward of eternal life – from God for our works. In other words, were God not to compensate us, He would actually be committing an offense by violating that which is fitting. He would be unfairly discriminating against us (even if, strictly speaking, as God, He was under no obligation and violated none of our rights in doing so)! In short, what this really means is that man perpetually underestimates the depth and seriousness of original sin – and his sins to boot. That a “Great Divorce” on God’s part would actually be justice does not even seem to occur for many modern persons claiming Christ.
Therefore, so much for “we are only unworthy servants”! So much for the parable of the eleventh hour! So much for radical grace and mercy! So much for “what do we have that we have not received?”! It’s well and good to say that God is good and cannot act contrary to His nature – but not if we are going to define “good” or “just” in a way that is at odds with the Scriptural witness. To me, it seems like we are saying that if we can master the “laws of the supernatural” (just like we try and harness the “laws of nature”), we can actually control God (more on this to follow), where his actions are predictable because of our own worthy persons and deeds.
Now again, in recent years this kind of manipulation has become even more brazen and crass – within Christendom but without it as well. The Ten Commandments have largely been left behind as America, in particular, is a “how to” society where we do what “works”. Whether dealing with children, those we’d like to attract to us in a romantic sense, or those holding position of power and influence, we persistently try certain behaviors or techniques that we think will work to help us get what we want (and any real sense of simple duty in service of what is good is less common). We do the same with God, but since many no longer know (or if they do know, care about) His word, we imagine invisible Him to be the easiest Person – Thing? – in the world – in our world – to manipulate and bend to our will. He will submit. Even those who seem to have some real concern for things like the 10 commandments think that He will – or that He had better! – forgive them for their minor “mistakes” and always be there for them whatever they do. The American religious landscape only shows most clearly what all sinful men would do with God if they could, which is, make him not just into our vending machine, but our Apple tablet or whatever gives us the most pleasure and satisfaction. And efficiently and effectively to boot!
“Wait on me” we say, adding a false “please”. “I’ve got the power!” sings fallen man, otherwise known as “Old Adam”, as he struts his stuff on the dance floor. Again, this is usually not made so explicit, and fallen man has a vested interest in suppressing any knowledge of his rebellion vs. God. Usually, these sinful desires to war against the Creator are given cover by three very human, unavoidable, and legitimate desires. In the next couple days, I will talk about these a bit more specifically, before circling back to what we’ve spoken about here.
*-More Fisk on the Fall: “The thing Adam wanted above all was knowledge (Genesis 2:17), and in order to attain it, he was even willing to learn ‘the knowledge of evil’… [the] notion [that ‘personal godhood can be achieved by learning knowledge’]… is a lie…. This is the fall: the theoretical but false knowledge that by worshipping knowledge we shall become ultimately knowledgeable (Fisk, 97)… [Adam and Eve] believed by eating [the fruit] they would themselves become the source of their own newer, better goodness. ‘You will be like God’….It is as if he said, ‘You will be good apart from God… you will identify yourselves as the good you make yourselves to be.’”(Fisk, 244)
**-I think that this would go hand in hand with Fisk’s claim that “If only the right application is discovered, the right system, the right method, then minds will be freed from mental slavery” (Fisk, 98)
Part II coming on Friday