Whose Words?

(Originally written 17 May 2020)

Good Sunday morning. As always, I encourage all believers and non-believers alike to read.

Yesterday, I had a discussion with someone on Twitter about the “literal Adam” hypothesis. (Don’t be afraid – that’s just for context. I’m not debating that here).

What I wished I would have asked him is this: “Do you consider yourself to be an expert on your faith?” So I’ll ask you – do you?

Cognitive psychologists have a rule of thumb about expertise. If someone wants to be “expert” in a skill or a discipline, it requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. After this investment, expertise has a number of benefits. For skills, these include accuracy, consistency, and adaptability of performance. For knowledge, the expert has a deep conceptual and synthetic understanding of the field and its applications. To borrow the old proverb about the 5 blind men and the elephant, the expert is able to understand the entire elephant, not just the small piece of it that is currently being studied.

So given that definition, I’ll ask you again – are you an expert in your faith? Is your Bible a deeply-ingrained part of who you are?

Jesus modeled this for us in Matthew. His time with the Evil One in the desert is more than just an uplifting account of triumph. Christ showed us what it would take for us to be in the desert one day. Sometimes I fear we read this story too glibly, not realizing that the challenges offered to Jesus during those moments would probably shatter many Christians today in the same circumstance.

Satan’s challenges to Jesus were not easy – they were positively devious. Turning stones into bread was not against the Law. Psalms 91 does actually say what Satan recited. Jesus’ purpose on earth was to build a Kingdom, and Satan’s offer would have made that easier. Satan didn’t throw softballs – he didn’t ask Jesus to do blatantly evil things or deny God overtly. And he doesn’t do that to us today.

Christ’s answers showed that He understood exactly what Satan was really doing –

First, subtly forcing Jesus to see earthly comfort and faith in God as mutually exclusive…

Second, to confuse literal and figurative language and force Jesus to do something that no matter what the outcome would have weakened God (for you philosophy buffs, this was the original Epicurean challenge to God – if you want to know why, ask)…

And third, to redefine God’s Kingdom in earthly terms and make the crucifixion and the Resurrection unnecessary.Without the expertise He possessed, He would have failed. So Jesus showed us that we must know our faith deeply and intricately in order to stand firm. We must be ready at all times to see the very subtle and clever deceptions and subtexts for what they are, and we can only do that if we understand the Word of God far beyond reciting favorite memory verses or quoting our favorite pastors.

God is not a God of deception. Everything in this world points to Him, even the things that humans have subverted, perverted, and turned into idols. In the same way, everything in the Word is connected – it is all part of the same elephant. Without that understanding, our times in the desert will not turn out well.

Peter reminds us of this: “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Pet 4:11).

The world today is a bit of that desert. We see pain and turmoil all around us. We see people hurting physically, economically, and emotionally. We feel weak, helpless, angry, and sad. The voice then comes: “Where is your God now?”

What will your answer be? Empty platitudes you’ve recited hundreds of times? Or will you see what that voice is really trying to do? Will you see the trap that is carefully being laid for you? Will you stand in your faith because you know it is real, or because you just hope it is?

Whose words are you speaking?

God bless you all.

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