Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Yes God

I would venture to guess that one of the primary reasons people want nothing to do with religion, and to a larger extent God, is the set of rules that seems to come along with it or him.

Perhaps the most famous passage in the Bible lists ten "Thou shalt not"'s, the so-called Ten Commandments. At one time, schools posted these on walls, and courtrooms displayed them in lobbies. At a time before that, Hollywood made a movie about them. These babies get a lot of press time and thus become a primary association with religion or God. Extrapolating the divine character solely from this famous Scripture passage, we discover God to be a Catholic school teacher, an angry parent, or the police. He tells us what we cannot do and whoops our tails when we do just that.

Not surprisingly, this idea of the "No" God drives people from him, especially in our society of individualism and tolerance. We hate nothing more these days than for someone to tell us what we can and cannot do. We have no need for some fella (who we cannot even prove exists) dropping a list of No-No's on us.

What a shame that we have allowed a Charlton Heston movie to dominate our view of God.

A friend of mine likes to say that God is a "Yes God," and I think Scripture bears this out. God deals in things like joy and hope. He promises to hold back no good thing from his children, that he always says "Yes" to what is good for them. He very actively works for the best interests of his people. He says "Yes" to the promised land, "Yes" to the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scripture, "Yes" to our reconciliation with him and with each other.

But then we come these "Thou shalt not"'s, which are present not only in the Ten Commandments but throughout the Bible. A faithful reading of the text cannot deny that the Bible sets forth life standards for us, including many restrictions and prohiibtions. Rules, as we like to call them. These big No's, supposed to be divinely inspired, stand contrary to a Yes God.

Yet, these "No's" are not "No's" at all, except for the rebellious interpretation we impose on them. The "No's" which we see and complain about are actually powerful examples of the "Yes" which he offers to us. For example, Jesus commands me not to lust. When I lust, I am looking for the intimacy that it promises me. But what do I get? Not intimacy. Guilt, broken relationship, slavery, unfulfillment. But not intimacy. And what do we call something when it does not come through on it's promise? Folks, we call that a lie. 'Tis no wonder Scripture calls the enemy the great deceiver.

When God says "No" to lust, he is actually saying "Yes" to intimacy. In fact, I believe he never said "No" in the first place but that he always wanted me to find the latter gift. 'Tis my rebellious heart projected on the situation that makes me say, "Well, God didn't let me lust" when in actuality God said, "Ben, love and know intimacy."

Even in the garden when, one could argue, God gave the most resounding "No" of all time, he told us to avoid the tree because "in the day that you eat from [the tree] you will surely die." God's words were a "Yes" to life, a "Yes" to the paradise he had already blessed us with.

I believe this is always the case with the Bible's so-called rules. A "No" to murder is a "Yes" to companionship and self-control. A "No" to selfishness is a "Yes" to companionship for others and freedom from unsatisfying stuff. A "No" to pride is a "Yes" to truth.

We have always been meant to live for good things, not from bad ones.

God is not a pain-loving disciplinarian, an angry parent, or the po-po. He wants that which is best for us. He always has. What a shame we have imposed "No" onto his character. May he give us the grace to always, always hear his "Yes."


Jeff said...

outstanding post

Anonymous said...

Hey Ben, you make a very interesting point. I think what you are getting at is what Paul is talking about in Galatians. We have often looked at the Old Testament rules or "law" wrongly. Paul explains in Galatians that the law was given to us to point us to Christ. The law and the fact that we cannot live up to it, points to the fact that we need a redeemer, a savior- which God promised from the beginning. Anyways, read Galatians, it's crazy.

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. -- Galatians 3:23-25

Alex said...

fabulous, ben, great stuff here. i like how you put these pieces together. really thoughtful, clear, crisp. very encouraging! thanks for this post!