The God of Self Must Stand Down

May 19, 2015

The human lust for power is a natural outflow of Adam and Eve’s resistance to God’s authority. When a person, a group, or a nation believes itself to be any equivalent of “the center of the universe,” bad things begin to happen. Adam and Eve’s choice may seem innocent enough to modern eyes, but within a generation, murder had entered human experience. The desire of one to dominate another comes out of the irreconcilable demands of two adjacent egos vying for the center of the universe.

If a culture adopts the philosophy that all people are free to do whatever they wish, to pursue happiness on their own terms, to be in essence the center of their universe, then several things unravel:

  • people get locked into competition mode in order to win the pot of finite resources

  • politics seeks personal power above the common good

  • the basis for law erodes and it becomes impossible to protect individual rights against the libertine advances of others

  • no one can be truly happy as long as an opponent or a rival, exists

  • there will be wars

If this isn’t a picture of hell, I don’t know what is.

But it is rapidly becoming the picture of the world, including American culture, and some of its micro-systems. It would be an interesting exercise simply to read the newspaper through these lenses and count the number of stories that relate to the above list. As a side note, I would observe also that these dynamics exist within the church, including my own tribe the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Disputes over property, doctrine, and inclusivity have their genesis in human resistance to God’s authority and power.

Power in the hands of human beings who are flawed and damaged by sin can turn into exploitation very quickly. This is one reason why Presbyterians, for example, generally exert power through their governing bodies rather than through individuals. But even so, original sin permeates the system because it has infected every person involved.

Power-seeking can also turn violent, as we saw in the Waco meeting of rival motorcycle gangs this week. Power corrupts the human spirit, because people have nothing within themselves to stop its insistent march toward dominance.

This is where God comes in.

The Bible teaches, and I believe, that God is the center of the universe. More than that, the one and only most holy God is bigger than the entire creation. You can get the picture through God’s thunderous objection to Job’s complaints, in Job 38-39. By virtue of his eternal existence, his unmatched might, his complete knowledge of all reality, and his inherent goodness, God holds all authority and possesses all power to rule the universe. His is not an idle interest in the affairs of the world, for he has known and governed every person on earth and through all history. God’s care is active, personal, and effective, and no person is beyond God’s reach, whether one is aware or not.

If it is true that God possesses all power and dominion, then we mere mortals do not. This is a fact that does not depend on our feelings about it. Here is where we find relief, if we want it, for the lust for power. The god of self must stand down. The fundamental transaction requires us to give up, give in, and give to the One who is sovereign over all. A tall order for sure! Who really wants to do this, in their heart of hearts? Nobody! That’s why we’re in this mess to begin with! But if giving up, giving in, and giving to God are required, what is to be done to make this happen?

For now, let’s frame some questions that will direct future thoughts:

  1. Is God worthy of my trust?

  2. Can God help me give up, give in, and give to?

  3. Is the effort to reorient my life going to be worth it?

Stay with me in this discussion, which will unfold slowly for some. I am laying a groundwork for Christian faith.


6 Responses to “The God of Self Must Stand Down”

  1. jackhoch Says:

    Great stuff!

    I have a feeling that you may be interested in blog about God though –

    cheers – Jack

  2. emd5542 Says:

    You’re knocking it out of the park and I’m ready! How will you address those in our “tribe” who contend that God’s will is evolving so that what was abhorrent and an abomination God is conceding? I don’t buy that that it’s argued.

    If you read The Presby Outlook you may have already seen new editor, Jill Duffield’s insightful rejoinder to NYT’s David Brooks’ April 11 piece, “The Moral Bucket List.” Entitled “A PR Problem” The Rev leans on Luke 12. One line is a grabber, “Yes, we are out of touch, but we are seeking to discern the new thing God is doing, badly sometimes, but sincerely.” Perhaps the editorial will be posted on Facebook!

    Anticipating more power slugs, slugger!

  3. Sandi Hartley Says:

    Well said!

  4. Jodie Gallo Says:

    Ah, you got me thinking again. Good job!

    Actually I think the premise that we can worship ourselves is not quite on the mark. We can be self centered and selfish, but I don’t think it is self worship in the sense that it is opposite to God worship.

    In New Testament vernacular, the question of who we worship is most often phrased in the sense of who or what we are enslaved to. There may be an (initial) assumption there that we might have been free to choose whom we enslaved ourselves to at one time, and we chose poorly. Be that as it may, once we enslave ourselves to something or someone, we lose the power and the “choice” to un-enslave ourselves. This is why the vocabulary of the New Testament then invokes the redemption language. We are slaves of a New Master, one who has purchased us from our old master. We are purchased by Christ with His blood and we are now His property. And then He sets us free, not to be his slave or anybody else’s slave, but to be his brothers and sisters, co-inheritors, sons of God. Not slaves at all! There is a trinity there, of sorts, for we are at the same time fully children, slaves, and bride. The unifying theme being that there is now a new bonding relationship that only Christ had the power to create. The language is all there in the New Testament.

    The metaphor of worshiping the self would then require that we be enslaved to ourselves, but it breaks down because the choice to un-enslave ourselves still remains.

    The real question of worship then is to whom or to what are we >enslaved< without the choice to break the yoke. A solid drug addiction is a modern example. Maybe a political cause. Or a job. A person. Power. Money. Sex. Violence. Victory. Country. Ideology. Creed. Hatred. Fear. These all suck our lives away, and when they are done, they spit us out like the seeds of a watermelon. We might think we are free to be and do those things, but actually they own us, and it’s all in vain and unsatisfying. The only master who sets us free, in whom we really live to our full potential, is Jesus Christ. And to the extent that we have the power to choose away from these things, and follow Him, it was Him who gave us that power, and He had set us free to do it all along.

    And again, to find out who our master really is, listen to our vocabulary. It does not usually take long to figure out who or what a person is really enslaved to. And that will be our god(s).

    • revmary Says:

      Hello Jodie! Thanks for your engagement . . . fun to read.
      1. I am serious, have you thought about writing your own blog? You may already and I am unaware, but you have good things to say.
      2. I like your points here, but I want to think more about your objection to the concept that we can worship ourselves, or be enslaved to ourselves, linked with the idea of having a choice in the matter. The confessions describe outcomes of the Fall, among them that A & E (and we) lost or relinquished our true freedom and do not have the capacity to choose right (in the flesh). See 2nd Helvetic (BOC 5.045). I agree with your NT interpretation, and that in the Spirit we are finally and truly set free to choose the proper God.
      3. Your comments reflect the reaction of a believer who has experienced the freedom the Spirit has given. This helps me realize that the reader I have in mind at the moment is one who is still grappling with God, who by definition needs the intervention of God’s redeeming Spirit to break free of spiritual bondage (perhaps without knowing that yet). We Reformed folks recognize that spiritual regeneration is initiated and completed by God—the only work-around to a blind and spiritual powerless soul.
      4. You forgot to mention food. 🙂

      • Jodie Gallo Says:

        I DID forget food (its called “denial”). I don’t write a blog. I do write, often to theologize (it’s in my blood), but I don’t post my writings on a blog.

        Maybe I should keep one if for no other reason just to collect my comments on other people’s blogs in one place. I just got used to interacting with other writers early in the days of chat rooms and such. Had an amazing series of dialogs with Gerald May (“Addiction and Grace”) over a period when I had my first computer. Would have been worth publishing as a book, I think. But it was only saved on the chatroom server who kept the copyright. Kept some copies but even those were lost when my computer died. He was amazing. Very sad when he died. Never met face to face, but we had a great connection.

        I’m not as well versed on the Confessions. I find they do not carry over into modern thinking as well as the Scriptures do. At least not to my taste. I usually don’t like to read any commentary at all until I have immersed myself completely in a Text, long enough to start feeling it speak to me on its own terms. Then I read what other people think it said, and I compare notes. Just a style I picked up because I learned to read by reading the Bible. The Text always comes first.

        But they are very interesting to see what fish they were frying and why.

        Sometimes I think “original sin” is a mistake. Paul was using an already existing doctrine as a metaphor to explain how it was that a single man could heal all of humanity. And we focused on the counter example more than the message.

        He was also going eyeball to eyeball with Plato, and the idea that pure intellect could overcome man’s propensity for chaos and anarchy and evil. Hence Romans 7 and 8. Whether you were Greek or Jew, Paul was laser focused on Jesus being the only answer. In that case he was not just fighting other gods but other cosmologies. I think Paul would have been disappointed to see so much foundational Christian theology depend on Greek philosophical principles. In his mind, Greek Philosophy failed to deliver just as much as the Greco-Roman pantheon. But it took all the way to the mid 20th Century to really show that was the case. You see it now in the rise of distopian and post apocalyptic literature. And the Church is just as rudderless as the rest of the world. Ironic, since it was born in a distopian post-apocalyptic world.

        I think it is time to go back to the drawing board, back to the Text itself, and listen, really listen, to what the authors of the New Testament were trying to say on their own terms. In a way, we are living in the greatest era of theological opportunity since the founding of the Church. Just a feeling I have.

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