“All glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT).
Let’s start with good luck in the news: a ticket in Florida won last night’s estimated $1.58 billion Mega Millions jackpot, which is expected to be the largest in the lottery’s history.
Now to the bad luck: a massive storm system killed at least two people and knocked out power to more than one million utility customers from Pennsylvania to Georgia. Hundreds of US flights were canceled or delayed yesterday. Monday saw more than 1,700 cancellations and 8,800 delays as well.
Few stories capture so well the power and impotence of humans at the same time. We have invented machines that can take everyday people more than thirty thousand feet into the air and astronauts to the moon and back. And yet, storms we cannot control and often cannot predict can defeat our most sophisticated technology.
(Personal example: yesterday my smartphone weather app told me there was a 0 percent chance of rain, so I went on my usual morning walk and got rained on.)
Tomorrow, those who know where to look will find the annual Perseid meteor shower in the night sky, along with the planet Uranus and what astronomers call the waning gibbous moon. But be careful—what is in the sky can fall to the earth, as a woman in France who was struck by an apparent meteorite can attest. And the shock waves caused by large meteorites—most of which scientists cannot predict beforehand—can do far more damage than the meteorites themselves.
Four spiritual options
When the storms of life strike us, we have four spiritual options.
One: The deist says God created the universe but has no more dealings with it. In their view, the Creator is like a clockmaker who makes the world and then sets it on the mantle and watches it run down. Thus, the deist does not credit God for good weather, blame him for bad, or appeal for his help with the latter. He agrees with the existentialist Martin Heidegger that “courage is to face life as it is.”
Two: The skeptic blames God for bad weather and thus refuses to seek his help when it strikes. I have known many people over the years like this and understand their logic. If your doctor misdiagnoses your disease, why would you then trust him to treat it?
Three: The self-reliant Christian turns to God only when the storms come, preferring self-sufficiency otherwise. “God helps those who help themselves” is their motto, with the emphasis on the last two words.
Four: The holistic Christian trusts God in good weather and in bad, believing that their omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Father knows best in every circumstance.
Where are you on the spectrum? You know the “right” answer is #4, but is it true for you?
A Christian can be a practical deist, one who seldom if ever considers the lordship of Jesus in their daily life. We can be so disappointed in God that we refuse to trust him with the pain for which we blame him. Or we can agree with our self-reliant culture and turn to God only when all else fails.
Why should we submit every moment of every day to his Spirit? Why should we choose to live biblically in every circumstance we meet? Why should we pay a significant price to serve God and to share him with our antagonistic culture?
Why we “must worship in spirit and truth”
Here’s a simple fact I’d like us to contemplate today: we experience God’s transforming power to the degree that we depend upon him.
If God were a physical being, we could measure and experience him in physical ways. If he were a logical entity like a mathematical theorem, we could evaluate his reality and relevance in logical ways. But Jesus taught us that “God is spirit,” so it is only reasonable that “those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
In other words, just as we use test tubes for chemistry and telescopes for astronomy, we need relational means to evaluate relational truth.
This fact is not unique to our relationship with God. As I have noted over the years, every relationship requires a commitment that transcends the evidence and becomes self-validating. You could not prove you should take a job until you take it—you examine the evidence, but then you step beyond it into a relationship that proves your choice to be right or wrong. It is the same with choosing a school, getting married, having children, and so on.
What makes God different is that we can experience him fully only by depending on him fully. Faith doesn’t earn what grace can only give, but it positions us to receive God’s best. Just as a surgeon can only help the patient who submits to her care, so the Great Physician can only heal those who submit to his touch and trust his providential love.
“You cannot pontificate but can only point”
Wishful Thinking: A Seekers’ ABC has long been one of my favorite books by novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner. In it he writes that it is as impossible to prove God’s existence “as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle.” Think about that for a moment.
Buechner continues: “In the last analysis, you cannot pontificate but can only point. A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands. The way he carries his cross. The way he carries me.”
Would Jesus say he is carrying you today?
If not, why not?