Thursday, December 21, 2006

Crisis of Faith

Warning: Long and Rambling Entry.

Have lately been reading a book by Max Lucado entitled "It's Not About Me: Rescue from the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy."

The book was a birthday present from a couple whom I've known socially for quite some time, although I guess it would be a bit of a stretch to say that we're close friends. Not that I wouldn't want to be a close friend; it's more a lack of opportunity than anything else.

Anyway, it's a highly readable book, and I agree with most of the things that are in it (I'm only half-way through so there's still a chance that I'll find something really disagreeable before I finish it).

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What I particularly like about the book is that it touches on the one aspect of the Christian faith that's my stumbling block: the fact that God has done and will do everything for His glory.

Below is a passage from pp.40-41. The Chapter Title is "Divine Self-Promotion."

God exists to showcase God.

He told Moses: "By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified (Lev 10:3 NKJV).

Why did he harden Pharoah's heart? "I will harden Pharoah's heart, and he will pursue them [the Israelites]. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharoah and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord (Exo 14:4 NIV).

Why do the heavens exist? The heavens exist to "declare the glory of God" (Psa 19:1 NIV).

Why did God choose the Israelites? Through Isaiah he called out to "everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory" (Isa 43:7 NKJV)

Why do people struggle? God answers, "I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for My own sake, I will act" (Isa 48:10-11). "Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory" (Psa 50:15 NLT).

He spoke of "this people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise" (Isa 43:21 JKJV).

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, "You lead Your people, to make Yourself a glorious name" (Isa 63:14 NKJV).

Christ taught us to make God's reputation our priority in prayer: "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name" (Matt 6:9).

Every act of heaven reveals God's glory. Every act of Jesus did the same. Indeed, "The Son reflects the glory of God" (Heb 1:3 NCV). The night before his cruxifixion, Jesus declared, "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" (John 12:27-28 NIV). Paul explains that "Christ has become a servant of the Jews... so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy" (Rom 15:8-9 NIV).

And Jesus declared his mission a success by saying, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do" (John 17:4 NIV).

God has one goal: God. "I have my reputation to keep up" (Isa 48:11 MSG).

Surprised? Isn't such an attitude, dare we ask, self-centered? Don't we deem this behavior "self-promotion"?
And by golly, that last question encapsulates the biggest struggle I have with my Christian faith.

According to all of the above, God created us for His pleasure and for His glory. Yet by creating us and giving us free will, He surely created the possibility of sin. By virtue of His omniscience, He surely must know that many will choose not to accept His offer of salvation, and consequently, countless millions will be condemned to hell in the process.

Given all this, why did He still do it? Why create man and give man free will if He knows that souls will spend eternity in hell as a result? Is it a good enough answer to say that He simply did this for His pleasure and glory?

Are we nothing more than laboratory rats in a complex puzzle called Earth, placed there for the amusement of a divine being who is indulging Himself in an elaborate experiment?

I find the mental image difficult to accept.

Mr. Lucado does spend some time in the book to explain the virtue of Divine Self-Promotion. And while I am not completely satisfied with his answer, I do greatly appreciate the fact that his book actually raises and addresses the question. It is the first time I've actually encountered a book that tackles this issue head on. I am gratified to know that I'm not the only thinking such potentially sacrilegious thoughts.

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Edited to Add:

I wrote the above entry a couple of days ago, but I didn't quite know how to end this post... until now.

Because tonight, as I was discussing this issue with my cellgroup mates, I came to the realization that I am way too proud and too full of myself and my own worth -- and that my pride is the barrier that prevents me from accepting that I exist primarily to praise and worship God.

I rebel against the idea because I want to believe that my life has more meaning than simply being an instrument of praise. I want to believe that I am important enough in my own right, that I deserve to exist for a purpose beyond just worshipping God. At the core of my angst lies the fact that I can't accept the notion that I'm really nothing.

In stark contrast to my attitude is the worldview of one of my cellgroup mates. I'd have to say that she's probably one of the most humble people I know. She attributes every little success or victory to God's provision. She praises God for every trial she encounters because she perceives every solution as evidence of God's grace. I often find myself marvelling at her child-like faith when she shares her experiences with the rest of the group. She truly believes that she is powerless, helpless, and yes, even worthless when she's without God.

Tonight, I realized that her life embodies the title of the book: "It's Not About Me."

So finally, after months of intermittently wresting with this issue, I find myself feeling better. Because I've come to realize that when the day comes that I have finally learned true humility, everything that was so hard to accept about "Divine Self-Promotion" will suddenly make perfect sense to me.

I just hope that humility will not have to be too painful a lesson to learn.