Monday, June 08, 2015

Faith is not Gullible

Isaiah 30:1-11
2 Timothy 4:1-5
Matthew 18:15-20

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end.  If you look for comfort, you will not get comfort or truth; only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin - and in the end, despair.”  C.S. Lewis

Mr. Lewis was not suggesting comfort can never be found.  What he was saying is that while whatever comfort we may find might give us some sense of gratification, it will not last because what we should have been looking for first has been pushed to the last.  As with the virtues, it is knowing the difference between genuine need and personal desire.  And it must be said our desires do not always serve us well.

We see the confusion in our daily living.  We see it in the news.  We see it in the colossal consumer debt in this nation.  If we are willing to look closely enough, we also see it in the empty pews and collection plates in every church across America.  And we see it especially when we read a story in the mainstream media and immediately believe it – IF it is something we already believe or want to believe.

Junk science.  Junk journalism.  Junk theology.  Each of these can have some measure of credibility, but that credibility largely depends on the subject matter, who is talking, and who is listening.  “Junk” implies a lack of tangible worth, but the measure of worth depends on relative need or desire.  One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and all that. 

Junk science is much more difficult to spot for the average lay person because there are scientific factors involved that only scientists can really understand.  For instance it was reported last year that dark chocolate can actually accelerate weight loss! 

Who does not want to believe this??  Now, however, that finding has been shown to be less-than-true – BY THE GUY WHO HAD INITIALLY REPORTED IT!  Here’s the thing, though.  He was not trying to prove anything about weight loss OR the benefits of chocolate.  He set out to prove how gullible the public is.  And even he was apparently pretty surprised that his findings were not seriously challenged – by anyone!

There have been other social studies done recently not to prove how easily the public can be swayed or outright duped – but to use that presumed gullibility to further a particular cause.  There proved to be a lot of junk science involved in both studies, the junk being the small number of subjects used in the study.  The bottom line is that if there is to be shown a cultural shift or any measure of truth, the numbers must be much greater than those actually used.

Junk journalism jumped on these “scientific studies” and propagated their findings in their quest to make headlines, to be the first with the “scoop”, without checking the sources or the science.  Worse than this is readers ate it up because each “finding” was something many wanted to believe.  Even now, after both studies have been largely dismissed, there are some who are hanging on to any measure of satisfaction they can find – however small – as long as that relative satisfaction will affirm what they already want to believe. 

Seeking comfort – not truth.

Junk theology is equally as subjective to personal desire, but it is even more insidious and diabolical because it has led too many down a very dark path and has given them the comfort they seek and the affirmation they desire to continue on that dark path – even if by our knowledge of the Scripture, our ability to reason, and 2000 years of tradition have pointed out that death awaits them on this dark path ... if they are not already dead.  G.K. Chesterton once observed that “a dead thing can flow with the stream, but only the living can go against it”.

We don’t always get to hear what we want to hear, and it is even more rare today that we hear what we need to hear because too many churches are afraid of losing more members, afraid of offending someone.  Churches have largely turned to consumer marketing ploys to give the people what they want, neglecting scriptural wisdom: “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:5). 

When we think of friendship, we think of persons who will back us up no matter how wrong or misguided we prove ourselves to be.  When we think of love, we think of tolerance and lack of judgment and giving us what we want; but these notions are what the world has created for itself.

JUNK THEOLOGY has tried to make these incomplete or outright false notions somehow fit into the Gospel narrative.  Like C.S. Lewis observed, we’re not looking for truth.  We demand affirmation for the careless choices we make; and when our choices blow up in our faces, we demand someone else to be blamed.  We do not want to be held accountable – we want to be told, “It’s ok.”  We are willing for fall for anything as long as it fits our personally chosen narrative.

As the prophets faced ancient Israel with Divine Truth and a call to repentance (The Lord’s real love), they heard from the people of Israel: “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions … let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 30:10-11). 

It is disturbing how history repeats itself.  Yet we have bought into such junk theology that a person like Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt can be convinced he is “born again” in Christ but never repented of his exploitation of women in the publication of pornography – and never had intentions to do so.  While he may be an extreme example, there are many other, more subtle nuances of some of the most vile and hateful people we can imagine who insist they are baptized, confirmed, saved, justified – whatever word chosen that provides them comfort – but are no closer to the Truth than before.  And God help a “friend” or a church that would dare to confront these persons and tell them the Truth!

The sad thing is we are all guilty to one degree or another - not of loving our own children too much but of caring, truly caring for our neighbors too little.  And we have allowed a rebellious world to use The Scripture against us, as the evil one tried (and failed) with Jesus in the wilderness!  “Judge not”, we hear most often.  But because of our own shallow understanding of anything that cannot fit on a bumper sticker, we allow ourselves to be intimidated and silenced!  Or … we just don’t know any better ourselves.

Jesus does not allow us the luxury of “to each his own” – not without first pulling out all the stops to restore our neighbors, our family members, our church members to the fellowship of the Covenant Community in which we are to love and care for and look out for one another.  Our Lord demands that we hold one another accountable, and our Methodist heritage demands no less!  Not to be overbearing or judgmental or proved right, but to be loving and supportive and nurturing in the Faith and the Truth. 

Before we can demand repentance, however, we must first repent ourselves and choose the more righteous and spiritually responsible path of discipleship, that life which transcends “personal salvation”.  To grow beyond our own gullibility and embrace the faith that knows only the Truth and does not fall for the “song of fools”.  Our neighbors our friends, our children, our grandchildren have fallen for, or are in danger of falling for the world’s lies – and so have we if we allow those lies to reproduce unchallenged.  Even too many within the Church universal have fallen for the false promises of comfort in junk theology that only gives but asks nothing of us.

What must we do to inherit Eternal Life?  Jesus was asked this very question (Mark 10:17), but the answer our Lord gave did not offer this man who was asking very much comfort at all – only The Truth.  In that Truth, however, had the man had the patience and the faith to persevere, he would have found the spiritual comfort he sought.  Yes, there are other passages in the Acts of the Apostles and in the epistles that tell us to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” to inherit Eternal Life – but to believe in Jesus is to believe all Jesus taught, not to merely believe He existed.  “For even demons believe”.

Discipleship is the never-ending quest for Truth, not only to learn for ourselves but so we may also teach others – as the Great Commission requires.  As to junk theology that has convinced us we don’t “have to” do anything, let me be the first to offend – yes, we do “have to”.  More important than the perceived burden, however, are the very real possibilities and opportunities undiscovered in believing in Jesus enough to obey Him.  But first we must be willing to trust Him.

Only then will we find Truth – and only then shall we be truly comforted.  Amen.

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