Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Did God Get Rid Of All That Good Stuff?

(Once the magician has pulled the rabbit from the hat, he quickly gets it out of sight. If it were left to hop around the stage, no one would be watching the magician’s next “miracle”.)

Ever wonder what happened to the Garden of Eden with its locked gate, guarded by a flaming Angel? To the ruins of the Tower of Babel? To Noah’s Ark? To Goliath’s spear and sword? To the Ark of the Covenant and its contents? Or did you ever wonder what life was like for all those Bible men and women who suddenly disappear from the Biblical record after Jesus or the Apostles healed them?

If some Christians had the power to accomplish it, the relics of those early days would be gathered into Museums for the curious to look at, or maintained as holy relics to which pilgrims could travel in hopes of having a special encounter with God. And, in our day, anyone healed, delivered, or raised from death to life is, at the least, featured on Television shows; some start ministries, write books, or become traveling experts, lecturing on ways to receive a blessing identical to theirs.

God knew better than to leave the world strewn with artifacts of the ancient Hebrew and Christian religion. Given the choice between an object that can be seen and felt, perhaps held in the hand, and an idea which must be maintained only in thought, mankind consistently chooses that which is tangible. So God, in his wisdom allowed almost all artifacts of ancient Israel and first century Christianity to be irretrievably scattered to the four winds. And he wisely allowed most of those whom he blessed with healing and other miracles to vanish, almost instantly, from the Biblical narrative.

True to form, later generations have tried to retrieve those artifacts, some for the purpose of venerating them (the Shroud of Turin and the “holy places” in Israel).  Some exploit them for profit. Others seek to find and identify them believing their retrieval will add credibility to the claims of the Bible. Millions of dollars and thousands of man hours have been invested in these endeavors though there is not a shred of evidence in Scripture that such activity is pleasing to God or profitable for the faith. In fact, the record of God’s active neglect of “holy sites” and “holy artifacts” cited above, would seem to indicate God has done all that he can do to erase the distraction of such things, desiring instead that his people worship him and him alone. When he wanted an event memorialized, he enfolded it in a sacred and symbolic sacrament like the Passover or the Lord’s Supper. At the very most, he allowed those who wished to remember an encounter with Him to leave a pile of stones or “imprint” the location with a sacred name, i.e. Ebenezer (this far has God helped us).

It is immensely difficult to focus on a pure idea. There are rare individuals who seem capable of doing just that; the Buckminster Fullers and the Einsteins of the world. They need few if any analogies upon which to hang their thoughts. Most of us need an object lesson of some kind to make concrete that which is thinner than air – pure math, pure science, pure philosophy, pure theology. Left to ourselves we gravitate to objects that we can see and hold and even shape to match our concept of the thing we desire to know. The apostle Paul described the process as one of devolution, in which mankind has ultimately reduced his concept of God to the very lowest creatures, and to the “work of his own hand.” One very well-known organization encourages addicts to seek help from a “higher power” in breaking free from their addiction. Sadly many have, for their “higher power”, things as ineffectual as a tree, or an animal, or an object of man’s invention.

The concept of a transcendental, monotheistic, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent deity is too difficult for many to wrap their mind around. Human language struggles to encompass such an idea. When Moses asked Yahweh whom he should tell the Hebrews it was that sent him to them, Yahweh seemed to struggle to describe Himself in terms that humans could understand. “Tell them ‘I Am’ sent you,” he told Moses. Moses must have left saying, “Yeah? Well, okay, I’ll try that.”

The apostle Paul tells us that the heavens and the earth are invested with all the evidence man should require to know that God exists as a transcendent Creator. And further, at the appropriate time in man’s history, God revealed His power, and purpose, and holiness in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said of his relationship with his heavenly Father, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”

So we need no icons, no relics, no sacred places, no artifacts of earlier eras, not even revered Saints, upon which to focus our devotion. We have Jesus, the image of the Father to whom we look, the author and finisher of our faith. Faith placed in anything else, or devotion directed to anything other than God the Father and Jesus Christ, is worse than worthless; it is idolatry and anti-Christ.

Jesus warning about chasing false prophets is an appropriate warning, as well, to not be distracted from the true worship of God by running here and there to see, and touch, and genuflect before some “holy” thing:

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. "So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matt. 24:24-27)

So God has been busy through the centuries, sweeping away the physical evidences of his encounters with mankind so that man will not make of them, gods, to be revered instead of the one true God. But He has not left us without a record of those encounters. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, records the acts of God, for, with, and unto mankind. Some foolishly make the book itself an object of worship but the wise worship the God revealed in its pages.

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