What If God Were Watching?

April 23, 2013

This past weekend I had the joy and privilege of speaking five times for a church’s family camp at Mount Hermon. The topic was “Hearing the Voice of Jesus,” and my objective was to demystify the mystical, if you will. If God is alive and active, then surely God continues to communicate with his people. Prayer, after all, is not monologue but dialogue. The question is, How does God “speak,” what is he saying, and how do we know it’s God? I relied heavily on two favorite books: The Voice of Jesus by Gordon T. Smith and Hearing God by Dallas Willard. After an invitation on Friday night to take time to listen, on Saturday and Sunday I addressed God’s word of direction, correction, election, resurrection, and affection (and I’m pretty proud of the rhyme, too!—Once a preacher, always a preacher). My overarching framework came from Psalm 139, and it is from this text I make some new observations today, in light of recent national events.

The news is still dominated by the Boston marathon bombings, of course. Such a scary and damaging event for that fine city. And now, locally, the talk turns to how to secure San Francisco against such an attack when the Bay to Breakers race is held here next month. In a newspaper article this morning, San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr publicizes his request for “more security cameras along Market Street.” The purpose for these would be to enhance real-time surveillance, have a record to go back on if anything happens, and, presumably provide a deterrent against crime.

In that context, I am comforted and informed by Psalm 139:1-2:

1          O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2          You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
                       you discern my thoughts from far away.
3          You search out my path and my lying down,
                       and are acquainted with all my ways.

 God always knows what is going on. God can see everything and process it in no time. God can do what humans wish they could: be everywhere at once and know even what people are thinking. God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The problem is that we mere mortals possess none of those attributes, and yet, after Boston we are compelled to erect the Babel-like structure to deters terrorists.

I have no real objection to the installation of surveillance cameras, because I have nothing to hide. There are genuine constitutional concerns, for sure, but this is not my issue. My question revolves around the need to have someone—a person—watching. We are in this sad state because people have lost the sense or the belief that God is watching and they are accountable to him. Where I live, it is estimated that 93% of the population has no regular contact with a religious setting. The generation of young adults now entering society has had no exposure to Christian themes throughout their schooling. Their ethical (not “moral”) training has been based on the concept of mutual respect, but there is nothing to stop them—or the rest of society—from establishing a me-first attitude, attention-grabbing behaviors, even violent “strategies” to accomplish their goals.

Have Presbyterians added to this mindset that has corroded the morals of our society? Yes, indeed, by making or implying the following statements in recent years:

• we do not have reliable moral guidance from the Scriptures or our Confessions

• it is nobody’s business what a church officer does in his private life

• the individual conscience is sacrosanct, whether shaped by Scripture or misguided by worldly principles; nobody can tell me I am wrong

• the Presbyterian-defining church discipline of past generations has lost its teeth, and nothing in a moral or doctrinal category is enforceable now. [I know this reaches a little far, for someone somewhere can make sexual misconduct charges stick, but not because they are violations of biblical law but merely breaches of civil law.]

Unfortunately, some Presbyterians (a minority, who now rule the roost) have even said God blesses what the church has long held as immoral behavior. With such a false claim embedded now in church systems, people are being deceived, bad examples are confusing our children, and society cannot see the difference between a redeemed and obedient life and the moral climate the world now tolerates.

But God is watching. When we are listening to him, we can hear his breath flutter when we entertain a lustful or wayward thought. When we are in tune with his will and ways, we see yellow flags before they become red and steer clear. When we welcome God’s scrutiny, we can confess the wayward thoughts before they become immoral actions. How I pray that our neighbors can experience the joy of that kind of protection! How I desire for people to know God’s love for them and submit to his gracious discipline!

How can the church make an impact that reduces crime, keeps people safe, and unites communities around goodness and non-violence? Food for thought!

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