In the last week or so I happened to mention the Woman at the Well story in John 4. And something inside it has opened a double edged lesson for me.
As you know, I have often jousted with atheists. Unfortunately, it is hard to score points in matters of faith with those to whom faith is anathema. For, according to Logic, "Why would a God who requires worship not reveal Himself?" Sound logic, I guess, but the problem becomes that, while I will put myself in their shoes to understand their point, they will never afford me that same courtesy. Or, in doing so, they just can't take it far enough to make sense to them. But I was thinking in listening to a couple of preachers tonight (Yes, this one is written ahead.)
Say that you are God. Your purpose in creating man is to make a people peculiar to You, that is tried in the fire, winnowed from the chaff, and completely loyal, which is what You as Creator deserve.
To do that, these people have to be presented with choices so they can choose You. And the one attribute more than any others that is the opposite of the Love You wish to share with them is pride. Pride tells them that they are more than You, that they don't need You, that the Universe doesn't need You. So Pride has to be the main thing winnowed away. But how to do that?
That is why You choose faith to be Your winnowing staff. Not faith as in, "I have faith the sun will come up tomorrow," but spiritual Faith, described in Hebrews 11:1 as " Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The belief in a reality beyond our own, and yet very much our own.
Here's where logic can help. If you wanted to trip up those who believe that man is the pinnacle of evolution, of existance, how better to do so than with faith? For it is a concept that they can never accept without tearing down the temple of their self-perception and thinking in an entirely new, non-logical way. Or to put it another way- if God wanted to winnow out those who would never truly believe on Him, what better way than requiring faith?
But it goes deeper than that. Now suppose your brand of logic brings you to the point where you believe that there is a God. Whether as a "Hairy Thunderer" or a disembodied "force" or even a disinterested experimentor- or even Jesus Christ after some fashion-you accept that a divine being exists. History shows us that the natural reaction at this point is to find a way to please that God. Sacrifices, rituals, laws and regulations. Somewhere, somehow, there is a way that you can make yourself acceptable to this God. And this is pride as well- the "I can do it" complex that we all have. But God wants to shave this away from His peculiar people, too. What better way to do so than to require, as Luther termed it, "Justification by faith alone"? Because the whole of the Old Testament is about showing man that, first, he cannot make himself acceptable, and then, that the Law cannot make him acceptable. And the whole of the New Testament is the hope that comes from Christ having made us acceptable when we could not.
But it goes another step deeper, and this is where we have to refer, if but for a moment to the Woman's story.
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
So, what does "In spirit and in truth" mean? Read the context. True worship is not about the building you worship in, nor even the denomination you worship with. Romans 10:9 lays the groundwork for heaven: "That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in
your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved." That is the Spirit end of things, because it is the Spirit that leads you to this point. But what then? One of the pastors I listened to tonight was speaking on the story of the prophetess Deborah in Judges 4. His point being that Deborah's job was to proclaim to the Israelite general Barak (which is going to seem highly ironic in a second) that God was going to put the enemy general Sisera the Canaanite into his hands- all Barak had to do was obey. But Barak was afraid, didn't have enough faith of his own, and would only lead the troops against Sisera if Deborah came along. Thus Deborah told him,
9 “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” ( I think I know another Barack who may someday learn that lesson.)
The point the pastor was making is that if God gives us a task, faith should compell us to act without requiring just the right conditions. That many people who go all the way to Spirit then just sit there in their pew and let someone else take care of the Truth. Doesn't mean they have to evangelize or teach or be a missionary, just do what you can in your everyday life, according to the gifts you were given, to act on the FAITH you supposedly have. In other words, what better way to winnow out those who have faith from those who don't than requiring them to then act on that faith?
In summary of this last part, Spirit is the part of worship where we let the spirit guide us into faith; and truth is acting based on that faith in our lives. Dear Lord, help me to worship in truth as well as spirit.
And summing up the rest, you can see that far from being "illogical", my dear Sarek, Faith is the most logical way for God to build the people he desires. Because the people He wants must be able to let go of pride and humble themselves to Him.