MESSING AND MISSING GOD’S TRUTH
By Dr. Ben S. Malayang III, President
(Sermon delivered during the Faculty-Staff Convocation, University Christian Life Emphasis Month, on January 12, 2015 at the Silliman University Church.)
Teach me Your Way, O Lord; I will walk in Your Truth; Unite my heart to fear Your Name.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Pastor Nathaniel Orteza recently shared on Facebook a conversation between an Eskimo and a priest. The Eskimo asked the priest, “If I didn’t know about God and sin, would I go to hell?” The priest replied: “No, not if you didn’t know!” “Then,” asked the Eskimo, “why did you tell me?”
This is cute. Let us please pray:
Lord, may what we say be as you will want us to say, and what we hear be only as you will want us to hear. We pray in the Name of Christ, Amen.
We have one God, but many ofus have many things to say about God. Many of what we say can be helpful. They help us see and understand God better than we are able to, by ourselves. They explain what is true about God and help us appreciate God’s truth as God wants us to know it .
But as many things that are said about God that are helpful, many others are not. They confuse than enlighten. They offer divergent views of God so that they obscure, rather than clarify, God’s truth. They make us question if we actually know God’s truth as God intends us to know it.
- God says He created the heavens and earth. But many of us has much to say what God means by this. Some of what we say help us see God’s creative power. Others make us question if God is true.
- God says that He requires of us is to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. But hordes have much to say about justice, mercy, and how to walk humbly with God. Many of what’s said could make us better appreciate God. But others could muddle how we are to be children of God.
- God says He loves the world that He sent His only begotten Son and whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life. But there’ll be many who’ll tell us what God’s love is, how to believe in God’s Son, and what it means to not perish and have everlasting life. Some help us see the far reach of God’s love, but others confuse us on whether or not God’s love is real.
In the din and confusion of many things being said about God, God’s truth can get lost in the far background of the babble. Our endless arguing about what God has to say, and who’s view shall prevail, quickly drown the quiet truth of God.
Let us consider for the moment how God’s truth might be sorted out like grain from chaff in a world of many truths. Let us consider possible ways to pick out nuggets of God’s truth among confusing views about God. Then let’s look into how God’s truth might transform us into becoming better children of God.
I propose three ways to discern God’s truth.
First, God’s truth is really about God. Many might say a lot of things about God. But if what’s being said is eventually about ourselves or about others and not about God, it is eventually not about God but about ourselves. God’s truth is about God. Not about ourselves.
Throughout history, people have been filtering and screening what God says. They highlight only those that they prefer to hear. They read holy writings but focus only on those that make them feel good, feel right, or see themselves as righteous. They seek in what God says the justifications for what they want to do and for the aims and intentions of their organizations and groups. They seek in God’s Word reasons to bolster their ego and self-worth, or to distinguish them from those they don’t like. They seek to make God’s Word their word. They reshuffle God’s truth into their own. They dismantle and reconstruct God’s truth into preferred beliefs. They obscure what is about God and warp it into what is about them.
But God’s truth is first about God and only then about us. It is about God and how God is to us. It is not the other way around. It is not about us and what we like God to be to us. God’s truth is about what God thinks of us and not how we think of God. It is not about our thoughts of God, but God’s thoughts of us. And so, God’s truth can be distinguished from all other truths by the simple test of who the truth is about. If it is about God, then it is likely to be God’s truth. If it is about any other but God, then it probably is not.
Second, God’s truth glorifies God. Many truths said of God begin with recognizing that God is holy. But then they suddenly veer toward dwelling on what sinful and unholy humans need to do to regain our fellowship and intimacy with God. While these truths are purported to be about God, they actually focus on what we must do to please God. They end up glorifying us and what we are able to do to please God. But the God of Abraham and Jacob, the God of the Gospels, the God of many names who is above any name, is always about a God who cares for us, a God who did all that’s needed to redeem us from our unrighteous ways. It is about what God did to save us, not what we can do to save ourselves. It is about a God of impossibilities, who can be born from a virgin, gain life in a tomb, and who embraces us tightly by stretching wide His arms in a cross. God’s truth is easily distinguishable from other truths because God’s truth glorifies God. It is not about glorifying anyone or anything over God.
Third, God’s truth assures us about God. Many truths claimed to be about God are really about how we can convince and assure God that we are good and righteous. These truths peddle dogmas about what it takes so that we might convince God of our dedication and faith. They insist that we do this, or do that, so that God can be assured of our loyalty. Some would say we need to pray five times a day, give alms to the poor, go to church, be active in church work. These are good things to do, but only when actually motivated by faith rather than mere habits of pretentious piety. Worse, when our outward and visible works become our proxy to our faith, they can be stretched to include kill for God or be killed for God. God’s truth can’t be about us assuring God. It is about God assuring us. It is not about who we are and what we can do to assure our salvation and spiritual standing, but about God and how God assures us that however wayward our ways, whatever our pains or victories, God is with us. God’s truth is about God who, like the father in the story of the prodigal son, will be there looking out for us and ready to have us back. It is about a shepherd God who will go out of the way, even die in the cross, to assure us salvation and eternal life, to assure us love, to assure us justice, to assure us refuge, to assure us peace and presence. It is about Giod that alone can give us shalom. Any claim otherwise is probably not from God.
My friends, it is extremely crucial that we always be thinking about our faith, that we properly teach and preach what God says. Our faith is a thinking faith, not dogma-receiving habit. Our texts implore us to be open to “God teaching us His way” so that we might “renew our minds”. It would be helpful that we keep discussing and studying God’s truth in the caring fellowship of church and community, in our university, so that it be rightly distinguished from truths that are not of God. It is definitely crucial that we not mess up God’s truth but instead – to not miss it – prayerfully combine good-intentioned reason and spirit-filled inspiration to avoid dogmas and compulsions, to tell apart God’s truth (and its inconveniences) from untruths that seem convenient.
Isaiah reminds us what God says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9).
In sum, God’s truth is about God. It is about God glorifying God. It is about God assuring us refuge, justice, peace and salvation. Against these, we distinguish a truth being from God, or not from God.
This, I believe, is how God’s truth transforms us: Once we believe in God and in God’s truth, once we renew our minds to hold firm on our faith in Jesus as the Way, Truth and Life, we inevitably shift our sense of self from being centered on us to being centered on God. When we see the glory and majesty of God being much larger than ourselves, learn to place our faith that in day or night, in low valleys or high mountains, in plenty or want, alone or surrounded by enemies, we are never beyond the reach of God’s love, nor beyond the shadow of Christ’s cross, our sense of presence shifts from our sense of ourselves to a sense of God.
When we realize – and believe – that God has fully covered, that our value as a person is not in what we create for ourselves but in that God created us and loves us, the power of this reality can hit us, move us, and change us, like no other could. Believing in God changes lives. When we accept the truth that Jesus is Lord and Savior, that Jesus is the Son in whom the fullness of God’s love, mercy and justice is revealed in history, it will be an encounter that will change our life forever.
- Moses met God in a burning bush. It changed him. He proceeded to lead a people to freedom.
- Zaccheus, a cheating tax collector, met Jesus. It changed him.
- Paul was blinded and heard Jesus. He was transformed from persecutor of Christians to a powerful witness and proclaimer of Christ’s salvation, love and justice.
- Pilate, the Pharisees and High Priests, they, too, encountered Jesus. But they missed God’s truth because they insisted on their own truths.
Only a sincere and humble submission to God’s truth can lead to victory. This can happen to you. It can happen to anyone. Submission to God’s truth is a game-changer in anyone’s life. Submission to Jesus as Via, Veritas, Vita will change and transform us into becoming a better child of God.
The Eskimo asked if he will go to hell if he did not know God and sin. The Eskimo asked the wrong question. He should have asked if he will ever know love and a peace beyond human understanding, if he did not know God?
Know God. Know God well. Know what God did for you on a tree, in a hill, in a far place, a long time ago. Then pray. Believe. Accept the truth of Jesus and be changed. Forever.
Peace to all. Amen