Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Culture That Is Smarter Than God (Or So We Think)


Whenever I’m driving during the day on my way to and from the building or out visiting people, I enjoy listening to sports talk radio.  I’ve intentionally moved toward becoming a more casual, less emotionally-involved sports fan over the past 5-10 years, which has been good.  I don’t watch sports near as much as I did in college, but it’s enjoyable to me just to listen to the conversation, to stay caught up and hear what’s going on in the sports world.  But this week, there was a conversation that left me a little more emotionally involved than usual, because it had to do more with attitudes toward God than with sports. 

A national sports columnist was giving an interview on a local Memphis sports talk show, and the debate was over Tim Tebow planning to speak at a church in Dallas that was said to be hateful and intolerant.  I frankly know nothing about the church, and for all I know that church may approach sin in an un-Christlike way.  But the columnist turned this discussion into an attack on the biblical Christian faith in general, essentially saying that if you say anyone is going to hell, you are hateful and intolerant.  I missed part of the interview, but a friend later told me the columnist said (I think we’ve got this quote right): “If your God would send someone to hell for being gay, someone needs to go up there and fire Him.”

Wow, was my first thought.  That’s an arrogant attitude toward God that I sure don’t want to have on my resume when my life is over and I stand before God Himself. 

My second thought dug in a little deeper to what lay behind his statement.  How could anyone so confidently affirm that they know what’s right more than God does?  Yet it’s becoming more common, for people to claim that the God of the Bible is actually the bad guy in comparison to the goodness of our own ‘enlightened’ culture. 

Apparently statements like “If your God would send someone to hell for being gay, someone needs to go up there and fire Him” are convincing to many Americans.  Why are they convincing, and what assumptions are underneath statements like that?
(An Addition to This Post: It hit me this morning that i should briefly add this, because some who are not Christians don't really understand where the Bible is on homosexuality.  Yes, it is a sin (1 Cor. 6:9-11, Rom. 1:21-28, 1 Tim. 1:8-11, etc), but it is treated like any other sin.  Homosexual practice is not a 'super-sin' above the others.  Could it cost someone their soul?  Sure, just like any other sin could.    The point of this article is not that God is more against homosexuality than any sins - He's not - the point is that some people question God's justice in sending someone to hell for something the culture thinks is OK.  Hope that makes sense...if not, please contact me.)

Here’s some thoughts:

1)      First of all, our culture has a remarkable arrogant assumption that if there is a God, His value system must completely align with our value system.  Apparently our thinking goes something like this: “We have airplanes and iphones, so we are clearly smarter and wiser than any other culture today or ever.  Therefore, whatever our culture decides is right or wrong could not possibly be incorrect.  If we decide homosexual practice is OK, there is no way we could ever be wrong.”  Um, really?  We’re so convinced that we are the height of everything that’s ever been, that we assume if there is a God, He must believe exactly what we do.  There is nothing He could teach us.  If there is a God, and He disagrees with us, He must be wrong.  Wow.  Not exactly a logical thought process, but it seems to subconsciously be part of our cultural mindset of superiority. 

2)      Second, our culture has a remarkable arrogant assumption that if there is a God, He wouldn’t punish people in hell for living sinfully.  I think we all agree that hell sounds terrible, and I imagine that is the point of its existence in the first place.  It is described as a place of just punishment for those who have used their lives to rebel arrogantly against an all-good God by living sinful (evil) lives.  If we think hell is unfair and therefore makes God evil, we may want to spend a few minutes asking ourselves why.  Perhaps we don’t want to acknowledge the seriousness of sin, and we prefer to act like sinful, self-centered living is really not that bad, that God should just let it go.  Perhaps also we don’t want to acknowledge the greatness of God, whose face we try to laugh in by rebelling in sin.  If we let it soak for awhile, I think we’ll realize that perhaps the punishment fits the crime a little more than our culture wants to admit.  Let’s be honest: our culture prefers that they not face any real responsibility for anything they do wrong, so of course any type of after-life punishment will not be accepted. 

3)      Third, our culture misses that God will be fair, even if hell is the punishment.  Passages like Luke 12:47-48 tell us that eternal punishment will be different based on how much someone knew and how much they responded to what they knew.  And when we stand before God in judgment, we will stand before the one who knows us inside and out more than anyone else, and who made us and loves us even more deeply than a parent could.  If anyone can be fair and just in their judgment, it will be God.  Our culture surely must admit that if the God of the Bible is real, and if He decides that someone deserves hell, they surely must deserve it.  Because He will know them and love them more than any of us ever could. 

4)      Fourth, our culture ignores that the Bible presents hell as a choice.  God has laid out our life options, and He has given us true freedom of choice.  The reality is set, and the choice is ours.  As a parent, I often give our sons the rules, and tell them that if they disobey a certain rule they will be punished.  If they choose to disobey, and I punish them for it, have I done something wrong?  Or have they essentially chosen the punishment by choosing to disobey?  They may be angry at me, but they chose their actions, not me.  If someone chooses to remain in a life of sin (whatever that sin might be), and does not allow God to forgive them and help them change, they have chosen hell for themselves.


If we take some time to think about it, it is astonishing how influenced we are by our cultural assumptions.  But the issue is not “does the Bible agree with my culture.”  The issues should be: is there a God?  Is the Bible from Him?  If so (and I think these two questions can be rather convincingly answered yes), I’d better listen to the eternal truth of God over my cultural assumptions.

One of the best popular-level books I’ve read on de-constructing some of our cultural assumptions against God is “The Reason for God” by Timothy Keller.  I don’t think everything in the book is true to the biblical gospel, but on the whole I think it engages our culture very effectively.  Let me close this post by quoting what he says on pages 74-75:


“In one of my after-service discussions a woman told me that the very idea of a judging God was offensive.  I said, “Why aren’t you offended by the idea of a forgiving God?”  She looked puzzled.  I continued, “I respectfully  urge you to consider your cultural location when you find the Christian teaching about hell offensive.”  I went on to point out that secular Westerners get upset by the Christian doctrines of hell, but they find Biblical teaching about turning the other cheek and forgiving enemies appealing.  I then asked her to consider how someone from a very different culture sees Christianity.  In traditional societies the teaching about “turning the other cheek” makes absolutely no sense.  It offends people’s deepest instincts about what is right.  For them the doctrine of a God of judgment, however, is no problem at all.  That society is repulsed by aspects of Christianity that Western people enjoy, and are attracted by the aspects that secular Westerners can’t stand.
                “Why, I concluded, should Western cultural sensibilities be the final court in which to judge whether Christianity is valid?  I asked the woman gently whether she thought her culture superior to non-Western ones.  She immediately answered “no.”  “Well then,” I asked, “why should your culture’s objections to Christianity trump theirs?”
                “For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Christianity is not the product of any one culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God.  If that were the case we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect.  If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place.  Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgment.” 

Well said, I think.  Maybe we should stop arrogantly saying our culture knows better than God ever could.  And maybe instead we should do some more listening. 



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