Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Bible as God’s Word: A Little Bit of Proof

Many ask me to prove that the Bible is God’s Word. Not wanting to downplay the evidence, I usually say:

  • Well, there many types of proof – fulfilled prophecy, miracles, changed lives and societies, wisdom, internal and external consistency, and the very nature of the Bible.
This usually elicits a burst of invectives. However, if the inquirer seems serious, I might attempt to share with them one family of proofs. One of my favorites is the wisdom of Scripture – how it provides us with the very truths we need to navigate this often exasperating sojourn we call “life.” It’s a wisdom intelligently designed to optimally meet our needs and those of society. Here are just a few of the many examples of how Scripture psychologically gave me exactly what I needed.

I am always second-guessing myself, wondering, “Did I say the right thing? ...Did I say it with the wrong motives? … Could I have said it more effectively?” Although this perfectionistic preoccupation can promote self-improvement, it can also drive us crazy. I needed to lay it aside before it laid me out, and the Holy Spirit did this for me through applying Scripture to my life:

  • I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
What a relief! My failures were no longer my own. They belonged to my Savior who promised that He would work all things for my good (Rom. 8:28), even my worst failures and nightmares, my worst humiliations! I was now free to fail. Not that failures no longer hurt, but I now know who will lift me out of my discouragement (1 Cor. 10:12-13), and He has proved this to me repeatedly. Consequently, Biblical truth allows me to constructively face my challenges without being overwhelmed by them.

We are also self-obsessed with questions of our goodness and worthiness. One of the greatest threats to our psychological well-being is the dread of not being worthy. This might take the form of a deep and abiding sense of shame, insecurity or inadequacy. We might even worry that we are not even worthy of God. Therefore, it is such a relief to realize that none of us are worthy. We are all sinners who need the Savior:

  • "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12) 
This had certainly been true of me. Even though I attempted to suppress this truth of my moral inadequacy before God, it would continue to resurface to my great shame. I tried to beat back the ugly truth with assertions that I was really a good and loving person. I was engaged in a costly war with myself, and the result was desperation and depression.

Instead of deriving my sense of worthiness or adequacy from myself, I needed to find it from another source, and Scripture informed me that Jesus is that source:

  • God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21) 
I could begin to accept the fact that I am entirely unworthy, because, in the eyes of my Savior, I am now entirely righteous. I could now face the once-shaming truths about myself and take responsibility for my behavior, because I have been assured of my ultimate worth before Him!

My wife can now charge me with being insensitive, and I can readily apologize. We’re restored! Others can regard me as unworthy, but that’s okay because I am now defined, not by what others might think, but by what my Savior thinks.

For the longest time, I had been feeling condemned. Even after Christ came into my life, I still had that sense. My feelings were so forceful that everything else – even Scripture – appeared as merely hollow words in comparison. I felt that even God condemned me! Finally, however, Scripture broke through, took hold of my self-contempt and torn it apart, like a lion tearing apart red meat. What a consolation it has been to learn that:

  • Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) 
This taught me conclusively that my feelings of condemnation and rejection had nothing to do with God rejecting me, but just my own aberrant reactions! I could now laugh at these once terrifying feelings, knowing that they have nothing to do with my ultimate status! It’s like receiving a letter saying that there has been a warrant issued for your arrest. However, upon reading it more closely, you find that the letter is actually addressed to someone else.

Many say, “Well, I’m glad Christ worked for you, but many find consolation through psychotherapy.” I didn’t. I had seen five highly recommended psychologists, and each left me worse off that I was before.

Yes, they all affirmed that I was “okay,” but I could never believe them. I knew what my feelings were telling me, and they talked with a greater authority than the psychologists. I just knew I wasn’t “okay.”

Besides, their affirmations rolled off my back as if it was made of Teflon. Perhaps this was because I had been giving myself false affirmations all my life. I told myself I was the greatest but actually felt that I was the least. After a while, these affirmations became no more than an addiction. I needed them but got little out of them. However, having believed them – and this distorted my thinking and perceptions - they alienated me from reality, wisdom, and honest relationship. Because I perceived the world through my distorted self-affirmations, I also regarded others through this grid. They were either superior or inferior to me. If they were seen as “superior,” I resented them. If “inferior,” I disdained them.

However, these affirmations bore little resemblance to reality, while I subsequently found that the Biblical affirmations brought me in touch with a deeper reality. Now, perceiving myself as an object of God’s mercy, I began to regard others with mercy.

Besides, our sense of okay-ness requires more than the affirmation of other people. They all say different things, and every experience - every success and every failure – sings a different song. Which was I to believe? Therefore, to base my worth on either the opinions of others or on my socially approved accomplishments meant that my worth was like the stock market – booming, crashing, and the cause of constant instability and insecurity.

Not only does Scripture tell us what to believe, it tells us what to avoid. It is not simply that certain acts are regarded as “sin.” These acts also destroy. Sin is worse than eating junk food. The latter just destroys the body. Sin destroys everything about us. It contaminates our thinking and passions (Rom. 1:21-32). For one thing, as a result of sin, we carry around unresolved guilt and shame. We even project our shame and self-contempt on others, convinced that others regard us in the same way we feel about ourselves. However, Scripture relieves us of these blinding burdens we carry:

  • If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:9-10) 
Instead, we often try to cover over this problem with a variety of palliatives – successes, sex, drugs, popularity. However, there is nothing that gives the relief and cleansing the way that confession does.

What makes the affirmations of Scripture so powerful – so life transforming? For one thing, they illuminate what had been shadowy and confusing. Once I began to understand myself in its light, I found that I began to understand others. With the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness, I could begin to face myself. As I saw my needs and insecurities – I had previously run from these and denied them – I could also see those of other people. As I began to face my denials and rationalizations, I began to understand the same defensive maneuverings I saw in others. As I received God’s compassion for me, I could more readily extend it to others.

While Scripture is foolishness and contemptible to the one whose eyes haven’t been opened (1 Cor. 2:14), it is the scalpel in the hand of the Holy Spirit. It cuts deeply to remove malignant tumors (Heb. 4:12) – attitudes and ideas that fail to accord with holiness. Such cuts are always painful (Heb. 12:5-11), but they identify and remove cancers that threaten well-being. They expose jealousy. However, they also provide the perfect antidote:

  • All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours. (1 Cor. 3:21-22)
In light of God’s assurances that He wants to eternally give us the world, jealousy had to take a back seat. And I had been jealous, even of the spiritual successes of others, convinced that they would receive heavenly reward and recognition, and I wouldn’t. However, Scripture assures us that all of God’s people are one, and “all things” would be ours. We had become joint heirs with our Savior (Rom. 8:17).

This is just what I needed to know. This truth stomped all the vitality out of my jealousy. I now rejoice as others rejoice!

Westerners have invented a new god, a god who is non-judgmental and non-punitive. Momentarily, this god might feel comfortable. However, once we have suffered victimization, our thoughts turn to justice, even revenge. Therefore, it is so liberating to know that we have a God who cares deeply about justice:

  • If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” [ Proverbs 25]…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21)
It is only because we have the assurance that God will bring justice (also through the legal systems He has ordained – Rom. 13:1-4) that we can devote ourselves to love. It is also because we know the undeserved love of God for us! Without this knowledge, revenge would become a way of life.

When I read about the estimated 170,000 Christians being murdered yearly simply because they are Christians, I want to grab a machine gun or suicide belt and right the wrongs. But my Lord informs me that He has a better way. He’ll deal with it! Instead, I should pray, love my enemies, and address the wrongs with righteous means. How liberating and personally enhancing!

This represents just a small sampling of the ways that God and His truth has infiltrated to bring us new life. Volumes can be written on this subject. Jesus had taught:

  • "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
Not only has He set us free from sin and its various penalties. He has also set us free from so many things that have kept me in prison – fears, lusts, rationalizations, denials, addiction to self-affirmations, and many forms of self-deceptions.

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