Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Discerning God's Will

It seems to me that God, being sovereign, will accomplish what He desires whether people are seeking out His will on a specific issue or not. Genesis 50 is proof of that. Even when people intend to do what they know is wrong on the grand scale of Right and Wrong, as well as the specific circumstances they are currently involved in (ergo: Wrong to throw people in pits and sell them to slave traders, in general; and specifically wrong to throw my own brother in a pit and then sell him away; neither of these things could be considered in keeping with God's moral will, or His desire, or His specific will for each of those individuals). God sovereignly works out all human decisions and activity according to what He intends to accomplish.

So from the aerial view, it seems to me that many people are comfortable with having what is currently termed "a personal relationship with God." This personal relationship includes conversation, action and response on both sides, and specific discussion about specific circumstances. The council in Acts 15 seemed to think they could bring a specific issue to God for direction, and they seemed satisfied that God had given them some very specific instructions in response.

It seems uncharitable to dismiss the reality of this form of relating with God as being "unbiblical" when, in fact, scripture does speak of this kind of relationship. So what if the people featured in these passages are "movie greats"? Their stories are given to us anonymous followers of God for our encouragement and for us to learn from.

Continuing with the aerial view there also are clearly many others who do not believe such a personal, individual dialogue exists, or even can exist, between God and a human being. Instead it is believed only general guidance, already published in the Bible, is given. God is no less sovereign, or hampered in any way, in accomplishing His ends with these people, either.

Is it the concept of freedom that seems at stake?

Is it maybe this idea that one group is "right" and the other is "wrong" (and I don't want to be in the "wrong" group)?

Is this truly a question that can be answered with scripture alone? And if the answer to that query is yes, then the next question is: in what way? Are we looking for a definitive verse that will settle this question once and for all (the systematic theology approach, which is admittedly very attractive)?

Or can this question be answered by scripture in the studying of a person's whole life experience with God? We all agree Moses had a unique relationship with God, but what kind of unique? Unique in that God didn't want to hang with anybody else quite like that ever again? In the case of the 70 elders (Numbers 11), God was going to give those men what He had given Moses. Presumably they would also be able to commune with God as Moses did. The high priest had the Urim and Thummim, a method used to get a specific answer from the Lord on a specific matter.

Teleport to the New Testament, and you have God pouring His Spirit out indiscriminately on everyone who would believe, and methods for discerning God's specific will in a specific matter (casting lots was one of them, since Proverbs 16:33 says the decision for every cast of the lot is in His hands; but also prayer, visions, dreams, others' words when spoken in the Spirit and so on).

What's the purpose of God's Spirit, then? Apparently the Holy Spirit not only seals us to God in salvation, He also intercedes through us and testifies to our spirit. Only for salvation? I think the Lord is nonplussed by whatever answer one gives to that. You can either look for His direction, or you can be guided without looking for it or even sensing it. People who nothing of God -- such as the slave traders in Genesis 50, the person who bought Joseph, the jail keeper and other inmates, and so on, and so on -- were all guided by God's will, whether they asked for it, sensed it, knew of it, or even cared.

And still, those who have been given God's Spirit, what a luscious condition.

As to the "dot" that many speak of as representing the center of God's will for an individual. It seems to me, if we are going to believe God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, all-good...then doesn't it seem possible that He can keep track of 6.6 billion people at one time, and make sure they follow His dots? It is simply a more enjoyable experience, and a fuller one, and a more fruitful one, if we can have some sense of cooperating with what God is doing.

Personally, since I am a mother, I believe God is intensely interested in every detail of every aspect of every person He's ever made. What's more, I believe He is available and interested in providing direction for every single thing any of His children bring to Him. I recognize the tension that exists between God's sovereign will, His moral will (as published in the Bible) and His desires, which He has also made plain. And I still believe that God can and does give specific direction when asked.

At the same time, I don't believe there is a "wrong" group and a "right" group, or a more scriptural or a less scriptural way in decision-making. I believe that these are tertiary issues and can comfortably coexist under the great banner of God's love.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What is "legitimate" revelation from God?

Some feel that the Bible is the only way God communicates with people today. There are, of course, a spectrum of opinions that ride in this camp -- from those who feel that God will give some form, or sense, of peace or understanding as one reads the Bible, to those who say that there is no supernatural communication whatsoever with God, now that the Bible has been published.

On the other side of the room are those who feel that the Bible is really only supplementary to God's revelation of Himself to a believer's mind, heart, spirit and even actual eyes and ears. Naturally, there is a spectrum of opinions on this side too, from those who receive an occasional "word" from God to those who have entire visions, hear God's audible voice, and see angels as well as other supernatural manifestations.

What's to be done with such a wide array of opinions on God's revelation? The Bible itself indicates that God has revealed Himself in all these ways, in the past. But what about today?

Can the Bible speak to today concerning the matter of God's revelation to this current generation, and does the Bible inform us on how to understand what seems to be revelation?

The short answer is "sort of."

"Sola Scriptura" is a tough call when theologians weigh in with scripture supporting conflicting theologies.

However, the apostle Paul does say that "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Romans 8:16). That would be parabiblical revelation.

The writer of Hebrews, after attesting to the fact that God testified to the gospel "by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will" in a time previous to the writing of Hebrews,(Hebrews 2:4), brought his testimony to his current time by saying, "The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this." (Hebrews 10:15) More parabiblical revelation.

Finally, a cryptic instruction from the apostle John asks us to "not believe every spirit, but [to] test the spirits to see whether they are from God."(1 John 4:1) Presumably the Spirit Who inspired the scriptures has already been vetted. The apostle John must therefore be referring to other, not-the-Bible forms of revelation that can be counterfeited.

My own earliest memories of the Lord Jesus Christ could be termed parabiblical. How do I integrate this early experience with the teaching of those who say that the Lord does not interact in a supernatural way with His followers?

“I’ll tell you what he is. He’s the devil really...and not a right blacksmith; for the Devil takes the shape of wicked men, and walks about and sets people doing wicked things....” George Eliot, The Mill On The Floss

“It’s the circle of life,” my mother told me. I was puzzled. To me life was a line: birth, life, death. I saw no circle. But I was charmed that my mother wanted to teach me something, so I asked her how the picture she was holding could represent the circle of life. “You see,” she said, “The flower opens up to the sunshine, blossoms, then wilts and dies. But the next year it comes up out of the ground again, alive. This is how Reverend Moon is. He is the Messiah. Jesus died, but True Father is Jesus, alive again.”

I knew this was certainly not true. In the many times that my mother had locked me in the closet for hours (and even a night and a day) to contemplate how bad I was, the real Jesus had come to stay with me. Though the closet was so dark I couldn’t see where my body ended and the floor began, nor where the walls were, nor even see my own hands, when Jesus came the whole closet was filled with sunshine. He was beautiful, his long white robes radiant with a soft, diffused light, and when he held me and talked to me, I could see myself.

“No,” Jesus told me, “that man in the picture is not me. He is pretending, and he is a very bad man.” I agreed.

My mother would often make me hold a fast. Food was the reward for worshiping the picture, so I decided that I did not want to eat. When my father was home, he would give me food every day, and my mother never put me in the closet. But usually my father was gone, far away to Germany, to earn money by singing. He was a singer, but in Italy only Italians can earn their living by singing. He was Italian, but he was really an American, so he had to go away to sing.

After a while Doris, one of the first western Sun Myung Moon disciples, and now a leader in Sun Myung Moon's European campaign, came to live with us. She was my mother’s keeper, making sure she did everything right. My mother pretended that Doris was her friend, but I could see that Doris ruled my mother, never letting her out of sight. Doris felt I was very bad and she punished me often. “Do you want to be bald?” she would scream, holding the scissors in my face. She did not like me.

One day Doris told my mother, “She has to worship True Father. You must make her. This can’t go on.” So my mother took me by one arm, and Doris took me by the other. We walked together to the living room. I could hear our footsteps make loud, hollow sounds on the wood floor. There was no furniture in the living room, only white walls, windows with white curtains, and the picture of the bad man who pretended to be Jesus.

“Look at the picture!” But I turned my head away. Closer and closer we walked, my mother on one side, and Doris on the other. Finally we stopped, right in front of the picture. It was nailed to the wall, closer to the ground, so that if I looked I would see it not far above my head. “Pray to True Father!!” But I pressed my lips together, and kept my eyes tight closed.

My mother began to push down on my shoulder, and Doris on my other shoulder. I stood for as long as I could until they forced me to my knees. But inside my spirit was not kneeling.

When I was made to endure far worse experiences than this, another self emerged who was stronger than me. She would endure for me while I would curl up inside myself and hide. After these very bad times, I would become aware after the worst was over, and I would be alone. Broken, bleeding and hurting, I would creep back to my room, and find Jesus there, on my bed, waiting to take me in His arms. "You are a good girl" He would tell me "And I love you." I believed Him, and not the people who hurt me.

I wished that my other self would come help me now, as she had done before when bad things happened to me. But she did not come, and I was still there, being pressed to the ground. I would have to stay aware and fight, all on my own. Their fingers pried at my eyes, and I could no longer keep them closed, but I did not look at the picture. My seeing was for Jesus. I made no sound when they hit me because I would not let the picture hear my voice. My voice was for Jesus. “We can’t leave a mark on her, John will see it,” my mother said. Maybe my father would come home soon.

My other self never came back. She never came back to me after that day. I guessed I was strong enough, now that I was six. I would need to be strong for these last months in Italy.

“...for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds...” Apostle Paul, The Bible