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Is Belief in God Meritorious?

The Gospel message in the Bible assumes the existence of God. So, is belief in God, in and of itself, meritorious?

candle-tipBelief in God is basic to Christianity. The Bible never sets out to prove the existence of God — it assumes God’s existence. Yes, the apostle Paul in the book of Romans say that God’s existence can be seen from created things — but in a day and age when people talk and write (quite seriously) about self-organization in the universe, and the development of life from natural processes, this observation seems a bit less obvious than it did at the time it was written. The Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ has a lot of backstory to it. The Old Testament story of Israel is an assumption for the New Testament. The story of Jesus is understood against the backdrop of the previous story of Israel. And, what we have in the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s relationship with God. This growing and changing portrait of God lies behind all that Jesus says about his “heavenly Father.”

So, if belief in God is considered a disputed point, can the Gospel still be heard?

Or, looking at it another way: if faith in Christ is the basis of human salvation from sin and divine judgement (as generally regarded by Christians), and faith in Christ presupposes belief in God, then is belief in God itself meritorious?

Some people already believe that the issue of faith versus unbelief is the existence of God. They seem to think belief in the existence of God, per se, is the essence of Christianity — and that it somehow helps to make one a “good person.” I don’t know how many people really think like that — but it appears that some do. Yet, for Christians, the issue of faith is trust in Christ. We see Christ as being our way to understanding God.

Is belief in [a] God meritorious? I think the answer is No. My reasons follow. (more…)

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Praying With A Sincere Heart – Psalm 17:1-5

Wesley Study BibleThe Wesley Study Bible contains this little overview of the themes of Psalm 17:

Has anyone ever said to you, “Life is not fair,” and you thought, “Well, it should be!”? Life is filled with ups and downs, times when what seems fair to you is not fair to another. Psalm 17 begins with “Listen to what’s right, LORD; pay attention to my cry!” (17:1a). This is a prayer for deliverance from the wicked and for the freedom to live in God’s righteousness. While life is not fair all the time, it is right at all times to pray to God for deliverance from wrongdoing and for justice for all the children of God.

The Psalmist (David, we are told) begins by declaring his own faithfulness. Why would God want to listen to those who are not faithful to God’s purposes? Why would God listen to the deceitful? Surely God hears the prayers of the repentant and remorseful, but sincerity of heart is always a precondition of effective prayer. (more…)

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The Prophecy Comes Home – Amos 2:1-5

Amos0615Amos continues his prophecies against the nations (which I discussed last week) in this chapter.

Review: You don’t see what the prophet is doing here until you see that Amos 1-2 is a unit. And, it is carefully structured. Verse 2 pictures the LORD (YHWH) roaring like a lion. Then a series or oracles of judgement follow. Each is for a different nation. They are introduced with this repeated formula:

עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי
“For three transgressions of _____________,
וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ
and for four, I will not turn back….”

There is a certain rhetorical power in this repeated formula. But, this whole poetic prophecy is going somewhere. It’s building. It is going to end in an extended prophecy of judgement at the end (in our chapter 2). And, the weight of this prophecy of judgement is going to fall on Israel. (more…)

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Remembrance Inspires Praise – Psalm 135:13-21

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsThis is essentially a Psalm of praise. We are called into praise from the very opening “Hallelujah” (praise Yah). So, it is a song of worship and it calls us into an attitude of worship. As Adam Clarke says: “It is an exhortation addressed to the priests and Levites, and to all Israel, to publish the praises of the Lord.”

The opening verses are an exhortation to worship.

Verses 3-5, and 6, 7 extol God’s greatness.

Verses 8-12 remind the people of Israel of God’s saving acts in their history: their deliverance from Egypt and the defeat of legendary kings. Then, they are called again to praise.

Remembrance has a significance for our faith. it is good to recount for ourselves the answered prayers we have experienced — and the unexpected blessing of God on our lives. The Bible is a book of remembrance: recounting the deeds of the Lord God in times past, as a way of illuminating our lives in the present. We know God through what God has done. For Christians, it is the story of Jesus — before any other — that calls forth our praise.

And, so it is that in this psalm, the remembrance of God’s deliverance in the past, calls forth praise. (more…)

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To Whom Does God Speak? – Amos 1:2

lion22There is a lion roaring, but only the prophet can hear.

I said that the opening editorial note in the book of Amos (1:1) already raises an issue for me. The issue is: Who speaks for God? It may not be the person we thought was authorized to do so.

Which also brings to mind another question: ‘To Whom (if anyone) does God speak?'”

The prophet is the one who sees what others do not. There is an interesting detail in the way Amos 1:1 tells us about this prophecy: Amos spoke what he saw. “The words of Amos… which he saw….” Amos conveyed the sense of what he saw.

But, in Amos 1:2 it is more a matter of what he heard: (more…)

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The Power of the Redeemer God – Psalm 135:8-12

Psalm 135 begins with praise to God. God is described in His role as Creator — who has power over everything. But, now, in verses 8-12, attention turns to the particular grace shown to the nation of Israel. The great God of Creation has shown particular favor on the nation of Israel.

hebrew-scrollThis is part of the essential message of the Bible: God has made God’s very self known to us through a particular people — through particular events in history — and especially through Jesus Christ. Theologians sometimes refer to the scandal of particularity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ — that a particular person at a particular place and time has become the hope and salvation for all people. (more…)

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Who Speaks for God? – Amos 1:1

Amos0615The very opening words of the book of the prophet Amos raise a question for us. The question is this: Who Speaks for God?

The scholars often remind us that the prophets were people who spoke for God. Thus, they were primarily forth-tellers, not primarily fore-tellers. It is a point that needs to be repeated often. The word prophet does not mean “someone who predicts things.” It really means “someone who speaks the Word of God.” The prophets enabled the people to hear what God was saying to them at their own particular place and time in history.

For some reason, in the popular mind, prophesy has become connected with prediction. When popular preachers speak of what they call “Bible Prophesy” they are most often referring to Bible Apocalyptic: like the highly symbolic material in the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation. But, this is not the heart of prophesy.

The heart of prophesy is: “Thus says the LORD.” (more…)

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Steadfast Love and Faithfulness – Psalm 57:3

יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה יִשְׁלַח אֱלֹהִים חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ
“He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me [Selah] God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” (NRSV)

Hebrew_bible_4God’s deliverance is signified here by these two words:

•    steadfast love חֶסֶד
•    faithfulness אֱמֶת

And, what can be said? There is a great depth of meaning here. These words are deep and beautiful because of the meaning they gain through their frequent use in the Scriptures. The nature of God’s deliverance may not be known in detail. It never is. But, we know how God acts. We know something of God’s character. “God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” That’s all we need to know. (more…)

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Brueggemann: To the Forsaken – Isaiah 42:15,16

“I will lay waste mountains and hills,
and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
and dry up the pools.

“I will lead the blind
by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42: 15, 16 NRSV)

Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann

This is a powerful, irresistible, transformative resolve, to be undertaken with a high level of emotional intensity. It is a burst of generativity that is going to change everything and create a newness. This is a God who will not forsake: “I will not forsake them” (42:16); “You shall no more be termed Forsaken” (62:4). In this resolve to new creation, YHWH promises to overcome all forsakenness and abandonment known in Israel and in the world. When creation is abandoned by YHWH, it readily reverts to chaos. Here it is in YHWH’s resolve, and in YHWH’s very character, not to abandon, but to embrace. The very future of the world, so Israel attests, depends on this resolve of YHWH. It is a resolve that is powerful. More than that, it is a resolve that wells up precisely in tohu wabohu and permits the reality of the world to begin again, in blessedness.

— Walter Brueggemann, An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible.

Note: The phrase “tohu wabohu” is a reference to the Hebrew phase used in Genesis 1:2, where before God’s creative action, the world is spoken of as being “formless and empty” (NIV). I have highlighted the phase in bold in the text below:

וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם

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God Will Send From Heaven – Psalm 57:3

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsHow removed is heaven from us? How far does God have to come to help us?

יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה יִשְׁלַח אֱלֹהִים חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ
He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. Selah. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” (NRSV)

My first reading of this is: “God will send help from far away.” And, there is some basis for this reading. But, that’s not the whole story.

In the Jenni-Westermann Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament we read:

Heaven often appears as the dwelling place of Yahweh and his hosts…, so that he also acts from heaven (e.g., Deut 4:39; 10:14; 26:15; 1 Kgs 8:23, 30, etc.; Isa 63:15; 66:1; Psa 2:4; 11:4; 20:7; 89:12; 102:20; 115:3, 16; Lam 3:41, etc….).” The Lexicon quickly adds that even Heaven itself is, of course, not adequate to either contain or constrain God. “As God’s resting place, heaven naturally belongs to the cultically pure realm (cf. Exod 24:10; …). Heaven is not able to contain God, however, because he stands beyond any cosmic boundary (1 Kgs 8:27; 2 Chron 2:5; 6:18; cf. Jer 23:24).

(more…)

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