2 Important Questions

detail from Caravaggio's "Conversion of St Paul" 1600

detail from Caravaggio’s “Conversion of St Paul” 1600

 

Questions are vital for living and growing faith.  We need to understand truth.  We need to wrestle with mystery.  We need to be able to confess what we believe.  For all that asking questions are necessary.

Oftentimes, however, our questions about faith , God, the Bible, etc. become means by which we avoid answers and with them the commitments they require.  To ask God something costs us nothing.   To embrace an answer may cost us everything.

While every question can be valid and most can be beneficial, there are two questions which I have always found to be the most profound.  Perhaps they are the two most important questions we can ever ask.  They certainly are the most costly.

They’re contained in a re-telling of one of the Bible’s greatest stories (certainly one of the most impacting for me).  It is the story of Paul’s conversion from enemy of Christianity to disciple of Jesus.  It’s a story so important it’s told three times in Scripture.

In the second recounting, Paul is speaking a large crowd, presumably full of their own objections to the message of the Gospel.  He tells of how he was struck down by the blinding light, saw the risen Jesus, and was forever changed.  It’s response here that is most compelling, namely, the two questions he asks.

Who are you, Lord?  He needs to make sense of what is happening to him.  He is seeing Jesus for the first time accurately.  The identity of Jesus of Nazareth is a question of the highest importance.  It isn’t of some marginal interest.  If Jesus is the Christ, God in the flesh, the Savior of the world then who He is will be the most important thing you’ll ever learn.  Many people never ask this question.  They never read His words for themselves or seek to understand His claims.  They often assume that He is like _____, or must be ______, and so project on Him their own desires or ideals.  But Jesus is His own man and He is who He is.  To find out who He really is one of the most explosive truths we can ever hope to grasp.  And it is costly because it leads to a further question…

What shall I do, Lord?  Remember that moments ago, Paul (then Saul) was one of early Christianity greatest opponents.  When he realized the identity of Jesus, he knew that if it were true, he must give his entire life to Him and His purposes.  To know the Lord is to seek to serve Him.  Jesus of Nazareth gave up His life and died to save those who will believe.  Salvation is a  free gift but paradoxically it costs us.  If Jesus paid the price for us than there is nothing that He can not ask of us.  What do you want me to do?  That in essence is Paul’s first response to learning who Jesus is.  It is the most appropriate response.  

Who are you, Lord?  What shall I do, Lord?  These are arguable the most important questions that can ever be asked.  Answering them honestly is the gateway to discipleship.

 

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The Ministry of the Word

"St Peter Preaching the Gospel in the Catacombs"  by Jan Styka, 1902

“St Peter Preaching the Gospel in the Catacombs” by Jan Styka, 1902

The ministry of the Word looks laughably weak in comparison to all the armies, nuclear weapons stockpiles, and financial markets of the world.  Yet their combined powers cannot change the human heart.  

Kevin Vanhoozer (KJV), Remythologizing Theology

A God Too Big to Hold

There’s a fallacy afoot that says ‘if I can’t understand it, than it can not be true’.  Many objections and much questioning of the Christian faith find their basis here.  Even those who are Christian sometimes make their own ability to grasp something the measure of it’s value or truthfulness.

How can God be both One and Three?

How can Jesus be both God and Man (not half and half)?

How can a good God allow, permit, ordain suffering and evil?

How can what Adam did way back when have consequences for human nature now?

These are all valid questions but the truth of the answers to them is not dependant on whether we can grasp the immensity.  (They’re also not dependant on whether we like the answers)  But we’re not called first to exhaustively understand but to believe and confess. The truth is that God is too big to hold.  We need lots of words and thought to try and understand but even in our best and most faithful efforts we must find Him as He is.  And the true God is too immense for our knowledge.  This should free us from the “if I can’t get it, it can’t be true” position.  Or using Cornelius Van Til’s analogy “if my net can’t catch it, it must not be fish.”  The truth is that some fish are far too big for our nets.  What we can know of God is immense and so we must be confident to speak of Him in clear ways.  But even then the nets are bursting. fish in net

Horror of the “Same Old Thing”

screwtapeThe real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know — Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing . . .

-Screwtape (C S Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, letter 25)