What’s the matter?

Anyone with half a brain can check out the world we live in and quickly conclude that something is wrong with us. We’re a mess. All our attempts over the millenniums to establish a harmonious, cooperative civilization have fallen short. Recently it was noted the Hubble Telescope has been in orbit for a quarter of a century. It’s an remarkable symbol of ingenuity we can be proud of but the spectacular pictures of the universe it’s taken have only served to make us more keenly aware of how much we don’t know. Any hopes that it’d provide us a better understanding of the cosmos and thereby improve the human condition have been diminished substantially. Guess what. The answers aren’t “out there” somewhere. A host of people have always insisted the real culprit behind our inability to get it together is lack of communication. Yet just in my lifetime we’ve gone from speaking into bulky, stationary contraptions on a shared party line to watch-sized smart phones that can put us in touch with most anyone with a verbal request. Still rarely do we truly understand one another’s point of view because we have no common ground. We’re all so dang different. Plus there’s the elephant in the room so many tiptoe around. That being the issue of why we’re here in the first place. It’s no secret that for as long as men and women have trod terra firma we’ve searched for answers to the profound moral and spiritual questions that refuse to go away. That’s why our sordid history is bookmarked by the musings of philosophers, psychologists and theologians. A significant portion of the folks in today’s world keep straining to achieve the ultimate in wisdom and fulfillment sans acknowledging there’s an omniscient, all-powerful God behind it all. But, as the Hubble photos have shown us repeatedly, we’ve been staring Him right in the face the whole time. So what the heck’s the matter with us?

For one thing, we’re stubborn as mules. It’s our nature to crave independence. Our basic DNA urges us to seek out a way to make it on our own. We hold in high esteem anyone who’s risen from rags to riches even though the majority of them will admit they find it “lonely at the top” and they’re still yearning to acquire something elusive that’ll fill the empty cavern in their soul. In other words, they’re no different from anyone else in that the fundamental hunger and thirst for meaning and completeness we’re all born with can’t be found in anything molecular. Fact is, we’re spiritual beings that’ll go on existing long after we’re finished living in material bodies and something primal inside won’t let us ignore that intuition. We want to meet the God who made us. In one of the oldest books around we find Job crying out, O that I knew where I might find him, that I could come to his place of residence! (Job 23:3) Could it be we’re looking for a God of our liking instead of the real I AM? This search transcends race, age, economic status, sex and the level of education we’ve completed. Billy Graham wrote, “Either man began nowhere and is looking for some place to go, or he began somewhere and lost his way. In either case, he’s searching. None of us will ever find ‘total satisfaction’ until we find that our roots are in eternity.” The innate desire to discover, know and relate to our Creator is no respecter of persons. An illiterate has the same urge to find the answers to life as a Pulitzer Prize recipient does. The Father in heaven draws all human beings to Him like an irresistible magnet because He loves us. He’s where home is. He’s the answer to everything. As a leader in Celebrate Recovery I’ve met many people who’ve attended a meeting because they didn’t know where else to go to find spiritual relief from their hurts, hang-ups or habits. Once there we do our best to introduce them to the knowable God; the God who heals – Jesus Christ. Often we never see them again but we know for certain that just by saying His name something stirred inside them. A seed was sown.

While the adage “money can’t buy happiness” is as true today as it was in King Solomon’s time there are lots of people who still don’t buy it. They’re dying to get the chance to find out for themselves. Read the biographies of some of the wealthiest who ever lived and most of the time you’ll discover they never felt they had enough because money lies. When Satan tempted our Lord in the wilderness, daring Him to prove His deity by turning rocks into dinner rolls, Jesus calmly quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3. He told the devil, Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In Luke 12:15 Christ preached, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Sadly, many refuse to heed His warning. Therefore we frequently hear of celebrities in the rich and famous club admitting they’ve become, when all’s said and done, jaded and disillusioned. Some of them turn to bizarre cults like Scientology while others delve into eastern religions like Buddhism to find fulfillment. Yet the most basic questions remain: What is man? Where did we come from? Where are we headed? If there’s a God why is He invisible and why doesn’t He fix everything with a snap of His fingers?

Cash is just one of many items we place on a lofty pedestal. I like what Frederick Buechner expressed when he wrote, “Idolatry is the practice of ascribing absolute value to things of relative worth. Under certain circumstances, money, patriotism, sexual freedom, moral principles, family loyalty, physical beauty, social or intellectual preeminence, and so on are fine things to have around; but to make them your masters, to look to them to justify your life and save your soul is sheerest folly. They just aren’t up to it.” And don’t be thinking religious types are immune. They can be among the worst offenders by making idols out of their church’s denomination, of holy images or sites, charismatic evangelists or even the Bible itself. It’s so important to God we understand nothing deserves being worshipped except Him that He put it at the very top of His list of do’s and don’ts. What He commanded in Exodus 20:3 left no room for misinterpretation: You will have no other gods before me.” There are those who’ll proclaim, “I do put God first but mine’s not the same as yours. I just can’t believe Jesus was God’s only begotten Son, sent to atone for our sins.” In so doing they deny the Holy Trinity the Scriptures tell us is the consolidation of the true nature of the living God. John 5:23 states unequivocally, “…The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Jesus made it crystal clear: He and the Father are one and the same. Alistair Begg wrote, “It’s not arrogance that finds Christians making such declarations. Jesus is not simply a prophet standing on the same level as Muhammad. He is the incarnate God, and one day at the name of Jesus every knee, including that of Muhammad, will bow.”

Then there are those who don’t give a flip about money but are convinced their superior brain power will enable them to answer all mankind’s pesky metaphysical questions if they just keep at it long enough. They’d like to save their own souls without God becoming involved. Trouble is, their bulging pride barricades the path to wisdom. They’ve made an idol out of their own mind. The English philosopher Bertrand Russell who was no fan of the Scriptures still managed to efficiently describe those afflicted with the disease of intellectual snobbery when he wrote, “Every man would like to be God, if it were possible; but some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility.” Of course, such misguided aspirations are nothing new. Eons ago Lucifer boldly declared, I will climb up to the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High! (Isaiah 14:14). Today, thanks to the internet, a person can turn on their PC and gain access to more data than is contained in all the libraries combined yet those hard questions will still remain unanswered if they stubbornly insist on rejecting God’s Holy Word out of hand.

However, it’s quite possible to become so enraptured, if you will, with dissecting the Scriptures that a person can get conceited, adopt an offensive holier-than-thou countenance and perhaps even lose touch with reality if they’re not careful. Dr. Larry Crabb wrote, “The gripping message of the Bible will never be fully heard in the library. When we value scholarly precision and doctrinal purity above a personally transforming encounter with the God who reveals himself in His Word, when we fail to see that an academic grasp of Scripture often leads to a proud appreciation of knowledge more than a humble and passionate appreciation of Christ, we develop an orthodoxy that crushes life. We miss the gospel that frees us to live. In order to catch the pulse of Scripture and hear the heartbeat of God, we must be actively grappling with the overwhelming reality of what life is like outside the Garden of Eden. If we numb our souls to the ongoing struggles with sin and disappointment that fallen people living in a fallen world experience, then our time in the Bible will yield puffy knowledge rather than liberating truth.”

See, the truth doesn’t belong to us. We’re not supposed to hoard it. While Jesus told us not to be of this world he insisted we be in it, nonetheless. And if we’re to be in it we must freely give away the truth He revealed to us because there’s a lot of nutty ideas about God swirling around out there creating havoc. H. R. Rookmaaker said, “Man, being human, tries again and again to evade the logic of his own position, and searches for his true self, his humanity, his freedom, even if he can only do so by means of sheer irrationality or completely unfounded mysticism.” I know folks who’d rather believe we’re the result of amoebas sent here on space ships from an alien world than to accept we were created by an omniscient God. And they say Christians have faith! Good grief. Strange as it is, though, it seems like the weirder the theory the more acceptable it becomes.

We search for peace but it’s impossible to find without God. Os Guinness once wrote, “For centuries there has been the search for the attainment of that ideal which the Greeks called ataraxia , the idea of quiet calm, of deep inner contentment, beyond the restlessness, frustrations, and tensions of normal living. Many searched for this via philosophy and religion, but always there has been the parallel search for short cuts.” In other words, too many want to avoid simply trusting, as would a child, that the Father in heaven has everything under control. They think if society just tries hard enough we can bypass relying on God, end all conflict and manufacture a Utopian paradise. That’s not gonna happen. Dr. Graham said, “Men desperately want peace, but the peace of God is not absence from tension or turmoil, but peace in the midst of tension and turmoil.” Because of Jesus we can have peace in our hearts that not only surpasses all understanding but all our misunderstandings, too. Yet one glance at the nightly news will tell you that acts of ruthless terrorism, destructive riots, heartbreaking suicides, senseless drug overdoses and widespread anguish continue to run rampant because billions of people across the globe refuse to surrender their life to Jesus. The Heavenly Father doesn’t ask us to accept the way things are on blind faith alone, He asks us to simply read what His Son, His Apostles and the prophets that preceded them said would transpire. When we do that the insanity going down all around us will cease to be a shock.

I’ve noticed whenever a serious problem develops on an airliner and all indications point to an imminent crash the passengers who get interviewed after the pilot miraculously gets the plane on the ground usually confess that even the non-believers on board were calling out to God for help when all seemed lost. It reminds me of the infamous saying among infantry soldiers, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” When someone finds themselves at the bottom of a well all the wealth they’ve amassed is rendered useless at that moment. They don’t need psychoanalysis or a bunch of smug jerks saying “We told you this would happen.” The last thing they want is for some smart-alecky know-it-all to chart out and explain all the factors that came into play as they plummeted into the dark depths. No, they need a savior. Someone who can pull them up and out of their predicament.

A person’s mind doesn’t become enlightened until they’ve stopped closing it off to the truth of the Good News about Christ and become born again. In my previous essay I opened with the passage from John 3:1-3 wherein Jesus has a chat with Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Mensa society who was holding on to a very rigid philosophical and theological system based on the God whose Son he was conversing with. Jesus saw right through him and basically said, “I’m sorry I can’t explain it to you. What I preach bugs you no end because it doesn’t fit into your comfy little box but something tells you I’m right. Yet your set-in-stone assumptions block the truth from getting in. To you it just ain’t logical and you can’t accept there might be things about God’s plan you don’t know. And nothing’s gonna change until you surrender your pride and become spiritually born again.” As expected, Nicodemus didn’t “get it.” He actually asked Christ how a man could crawl back into his mother’s womb!

This brief encounter was written down for posterity because there will always be people who’ll scratch their noggins and ask, “How can a person be born twice?” That question will forever be an impasse for those of their ilk until they become willing to jettison all their preconceived notions and trust that genuine knowledge comes only by putting their faith in a God they can’t see. Only then will they grasp the possibility of what they previously thought to be impossible. Guinness wrote, “That’s also why only this uniquely ‘impossible’ faith – with a God who is, with an incarnation that is earthly and historical, with a salvation that’s at cross-purposes with human nature, with a resurrection that blasts apart the finality of death – is able to provide an alternative to the sifting, settling dust of death and, through a new birth, open the way to a new life.”

The story’s told of a man raised in an undeveloped rural region of the United States. He was quick to boast he could never get lost in the thick woods and rolling hills that surrounded his town. Yet while hunting deer alone one day he found himself in a place where nothing looked familiar. He forgot all about the game he was tracking and concentrated on getting his bearings but his confusion only intensified to the point where panic started to set in. Finally, to his relief, he came upon a cabin he’d never seen deep inside the forest. An old man lived there and he offered this advice: “When you find yourself lost in the wild never go down – always go up. Only from on top of a ridge can you see where you are and find your way back home.”

Life can be a jagged range of intimidating mountains and sometimes we get lost wandering through them. It’s then we’re presented with two options: we can either go down into the valley of drugs, depression, emptiness, resentment and hopelessness, or we can keep on climbing upward. We’re endowed with free will so the choice is ours. But understand that in the process of finding God we’ll find ourselves. All of us are on a personal quest for truth. All of us have questions about this life and what’s to follow. And God wants us to search for Him because, as Dr. Graham wrote, “…that search will propel us in the only true direction, in only one way, and we’ll be embarked on that journey when we’re born again.”

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