“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
I have met many believers passionate about evangelism. I have met many others who have been ministered to by them, have adopted Christian practices, but have no real change of heart. There is no surrender to Christ, just a reaping of the benefits, and when asked, there is a lot of confusion as to why they should be following Christ in their soul. There’s no evidence that He is in fact worthy of worship, if following external behaviors is sufficient for a fulfilled life by they world’s standards.
Jesus is a good man, a good teacher, and a good therapist. He’s approachable and His teachings are worth following, but he in Himself is not needed for “a life to the full.” (John 10:10)
Sometimes I walk with my dog in the mornings, when I feel well and can dedicate the time. The route is about an hour to walk. And recently, God has graciously revealed it as a perfect time to pray. This morning, I lifted these souls that I knew had met the followers of Christ, but had not yet met Christ Himself.
The thing that stood out to me when thinking about them was the confusion they experienced. They felt pain. They felt temptation and the temporal reward of sin. They then felt the guilt after, knowing that it is sin in these circles, and found guilt was a bad feeling to experience. They had heard the case presented by the world, mocking Christianity, “disproving” its validity, and didn’t know what to believe. The tangible, they found, although not satisfying, was far more reliable, even in its unreliability for real hope and answers. Why was Christianity proposed to be the only way when they found it lacking? What made the most sense, then, was to adopt a marriage of Christian values with worldly philosophies.
Where did this confusion stem from?
This is not merely an issue in the unbeliever’s life, but in the believer’s as well. If God is good, if He is loving, and if I am following His commands, where is this pain and strife coming from? Why is it that God’s ways look pretty obviously unfair, distant, even cold and selfish? Why do the ideologies and lifestyles of the world seem so much more fruitful and even logical? Is God ignorant, outdated?
I have seen believers, myself included, walk a shallow Christianity because the depths are too complex or difficult to face. We’re afraid of the answers we may find when we ask questions of doubt and hurt, because what if God is in fact not fully gracious as He claims to be? What if, like we’ve seen in humanity, there are things He simply will not understand or cannot address in His two-thousand-year-old Scriptures? And what if the answers given just simply do not satisfy us?
This is a very valid concern. Because if the claims of God are untrue, then He is not a God worth giving our lives to. If Christ is how our doubts and experiences portray Him, He’s not worth following.
Christ is not worth resting in if He does not give us what is absolutely best for us.
Christ is not worth hoping in if He is not fully sovereign over tragedy and, ultimately, death.
Christ is not worth trusting in if His stance on what is sin and what isn’t, and how He responds to us in our sinful state, changes with evolving culture or our preferences.
Christ is not worth worshiping if He is not fully God.
Like the other gods of the world, He would simply be someone to observe and credit for some wisdom and world events.
We Are Reflections
A common ground in these expressions of doubt, fear, and pride is the unbelief that God is fully God. When approached about Christianity, the unbelievers will narrow the discussions down to specifics of day-to-day struggles. Questions of science and human tragedy will come up. It’s for those same reasons why many Christians won’t go deeper. The answers are difficult – they aren’t immediate. They take time to dwell on and understand. When not answered correctly or sufficiently, they seem to reveal God to be lacking in His divinity. You could say the unbeliever jumps into the depths without a source of light guiding them, and the Christian floats on the surface without exploring its rich treasures beneath.
“So God created man in His own image.” This is where we started in our existence, so it is where we must start today when faced with these questions. Unlike any other god, God made us. He came first. He exists outside of our limited understanding. And we are not made as clones, but images. Not the creators, but the created. We are not the source of light, but reflections of it.
This means we cannot base our idea of God on what we see in mankind. We need to base our idea of God on God Himself. Not hearsay, not interpretation, and definitely not our assessment. If we have experienced selfishness or deception from mankind, we cannot assume God is selfish or deceptive, because we are seeing a distorted view and basing our view of the light on its reflection. Likewise, we cannot assume God looks over a sin we commit because someone else looked it over without offense. (I am not saying that God is not forgiving, but even traits we in our limited human knowledge deem as good, we cannot assume they are traits of God unless we find them there in His word. We must return to the source.)
And when we start here? This will change every result, it will silence questions, it will calm the soul.
The Source of Light
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 131. It’s one of the shortest psalms (if not the shortest) and is a perfect one to start prayer with. It expresses a quiet, humble heart in the face of chaos and potential despair. It surrenders the unknowns because it recognizes the basis of faith.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
The basis of faith is not a blind following, but the acceptance of limited sight as we follow. It is the understanding that we are not capable of the complete understanding of God.
I think this is something we forget to address in evangelism and within the body. Forgetting this leaves two conclusions:
- God doesn’t want us to know Him, leaving us fearful and even angry.
- We can fully decipher God, which then removes the fullness of His divinity. It makes Him a god we created and can morph.
Both of these are severely dangerous and simply wrong. God does want us to know Him (Jeremiah 33:2-3; Isaiah 1:18; Philippians 2:12-13; John 20:27-29), and He is not One that can be fully understood or defined by man (Job 40-42; Romans 11:33; Psalm 145:3).
We must adopt the attitude of the Psalmist – we seek to dwell in His presence and know Him more, and we accept that He is the God above all, whose ways we will not fully comprehend. And that’s okay.
What This Means to the Unbeliever
I do not approach you with a small god. I come to you with the unfathomable, unsearchable, omnipotent, holy, omnipresent, transcendent God who is worthy of worship. Who created you in love, hates your sin, and provides a way to draw you to Himself. The good practices of the Christian life are merely fruits of a living tree that is rooted in the source of all life and a joy that cannot be replicated by fallible, finite human ways.
You see Christians sin. You see the church fail at its calling. You see difficult things to swallow in our modern culture. You may even see the death in yourself and can’t see how there can be eternal life.
Remember – we are images. If you are put off by the followers of Christ, look past them to Christ Himself. The fallenness of even the believer simply shows by contrast how great a God we worship. Your fallenness, your questions, your fear – it shows your need of Christ.
[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.
Jesus Christ is worthy of your worship.
What This Means to the Believer
Believer, when you share the love of Christ with others, start by introducing God as He is. He speaks for Himself (Hosea 11:10). You have seen in your own walk how questions fall away in His presence and are answered over time. Decide “to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (I Corinthians 2:2.) (See also all the examples in Acts as the Apostles approached people with the gospel – they wasted no time in revealing the nature of God.) Answer the specifics the best you can, but do not forget that God is God and you’re here to help them know Him, not to solve the mysteries of His vastness or the doubts of the world.
God does not shrug His shoulders at difficult questions. God did not leave us without answers, He does not turn away doubts and fears, He generously comes close and speaks to your uncertainties. Jesus held out His hands to Thomas when he so famously doubted. He held out His hands. More than just sight, Jesus welcomed investigation. Open His letter to you, and investigate.
Even the initially hard-to-swallow answers you may receive will reveal themselves as beautiful over time. Seek then His wisdom and rejoice that this all-powerful God welcomes you as His child.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.