Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Submitting to God

I am recently moved in heart and mind to the topic of submission.  Submission necessarily involves the act of submitting; usually surrendering ones power to another.  To submit is to yield to the control of another.  In the case of submitting to God it is then to yield our will, our direction, our belief, our passion, our intellect, and our freedom to the control of God.  To accomplish such we require three things requisite.  First and foremost we must be cognizant to some extent of our own will, our own predetermined direction, our own chosen beliefs, our own passions, our own intellect, and our own favored freedom.  With regard to each, but with particular attention to our will, I do not mean to suggest that a complete and accurate information of our own will is necessary, but rather that we must be familiar with and aware of our own will before it can be submitted to another.  Secondly, in order to submit, we must be cognizant of the will of the one to whom we are to yield our will.

To illustrate, let us examine the case of an enlisted soldier of inferior rank receiving a lawful order from a higher ranking soldier.  In order for the soldier to obey the order and yield his own will to that will expressed within the order the soldier must be aware of the will expressed within the order and his own will.  Further, in order to yield control there must be a dissonance between the soldier's will and the will expressed in the order.  For if there is no disagreement, no dissonance, no lack of harmony, then the soldier will be able to accompany the terms of the order without yielding control.  In this case the inferior soldier will be cooperating with the superior officer.  There is harmony, there is agreement and there is obedience; but there is no submission in that there is no necessary yielding of control.

In review we see that before submission can be effected there is required: a knowledge of our will; an awareness of the will of another; and, a dissonance between the two.  At this point submission requires an act.  The act required is that of yielding and yielding requires change.  Our will and intention has predetermined a course of conduct or non-conduct and to yield is to adopt a different course.  If we are predisposed to sit and we rise in yielding to another, we are said to submit.  If we are running and we stop in deference to the will of another, we are said to submit.  But if we are running and we find ourselves in agreement with the will of another, we are not submitting; rather, instead we are cooperating.  It is no sin to cooperate and agree with the will of God.  But reality and creation teaches us that our wills rarely coincide with the will of God, and our nature is opposed to the will of God without direct intervention by God himself.  While cooperation is possible, submission is rather the norm in the experience of most.

It might be argued in opposition that to yield control does not require dissonance.  It might be suggested that to yield control does not even require information and awareness, but can be the sort of yielding that a soldier exhibits when that soldier enlists in the service in the first place.  I will admit that this is an expression of the intent to yield.  I will admit that when the armed forces had the power and will to enforce orders under penalty of being shot, that the choice to enlist required a much deeper sense of yielding control.  However, the counter argument is that an intention to yield is not yielding until a dissonance arises.  The soldier may be said to have submitted upon enlistment, but the character of that submission will not be seen until such time as the soldier receives instruction and direction which is contrary to that soldier's own will and persuasion.  If the soldier at that time regrets the decision to enlist and chooses not to yield control and follow the order, the initial enlistment can no longer be characterized as submission.  If the soldier serves the entire term of service without having received an order which creates disharmony but rather serves out the term with complete harmony of purpose and direction, can that soldier be said to have submitted?  Rather, I believe the soldier has cooperated in purpose and direction and provided service.  However, there is no reason to believe the soldier has yielded any control.

With regard to the three requisites, the first - an information and awareness of our own will - comes about by intelligent meditation and consideration.  A haphazard life distracted by the diversions of entertainment and society will not allow for such an intelligent meditation and consideration.  For this reason alone it would be wise to spend some time each day soberly with a mind to know our own intention, bias, predisposition and will.  However, as I hope to demonstrate, this is not necessary to the extent one might suppose if one will spend time daily in a sober reflection upon the will of the one to whom we are to yield control.  For the second requisite is that we have an accurate information and awareness of the will of God.  It is a peculiar aspect of humanity that when we learn the will of another, our own spirit will reveal quickly the extent and breadth of our own will's agreement with that being revealed to us.

In order to understand the will of another we must first be aware of that will.  Subsequent to becoming aware of the will, we must understand accurately the content, import, intention and force of that will.  The content of the will is simply that instruction and character of the will.  The import of the will involves that applicability of the will to our own circumstances and direction.  The intention of the will reflects the purpose behind the will or the expression behind will.  The force of will comprehends those elements of direction such as timeliness and energy.  An awareness of the will of another is rarely complete without some appreciation for the character of the one to whose will we are to submit.  When a hospitable man requires an empty room, his will is reasonably seen as quite markedly different than when a covetous man requires an empty room.  For the intention of those two wills is so diverse that while the appearance of the will of each is similar on the surface, knowing the character of the different men makes the intention, import and force of the wills quite different.  For the covetous man we might appease his will by supplying a simple room for another and opulent room for himself.  For the hospitable man we might appease his will by supplying an opulent room for another and a simple room for himself.  It is in the knowledge of the character of the man that we learn the character of the will.

There are generally recognized two reliable sources of the character of God, and one reliable witness to the will of God.  With regard to the will of God, that will is expressed reliably in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  With regard to the character of God, that character is revealed accurately in both the Scriptures and his creation unspoilt by sin.  If we agree with these three sources and admit no others as authoritative, then we will confine ourselves to the study of God's Word (Scriptures) with reflection on his creation as well.  If we admit other sources, such as feelings, emotions, experiences and other writings, then we will find ourselves in doldrums; in irons; or even in a circuitous eddy which throws us round about without direction and assurance.

This last point is critical.  We can hardly be said to accurately understand the will of God if our sources do not admit an objective understanding.  Accuracy is lost as well if the sources of understanding are contradictory in nature.  Accuracy is impossible if the source of understanding is enmeshed in subjective and transient emotion.  Accuracy is meaningless if the source of understanding hides within the contradictory, subjective, transient, and oft-misinterpreted experiences of others or ourselves.  Accordingly, when one sets out to understand and comprehend the will of God, one must reject all sources as authoritative except Scripture and creation.  To the extent that other sources do not disagree with Scripture or creation, that source might be accurate - but it is impossible to know with authority the accuracy of that revelation.

Having defined the source of information of God's will we can look at the nature of divining God's will from Scripture.  This is not as mysterious as some might make it out.  First and foremost we must subject ourselves to the authority of Scripture.  We have not the right to take Scripture piecemeal in order to support our own will.  Scripture is a reflection of the mind of God... indeed it is the very mind of God communicated to men.  To hear only parts of the mind of God, disjointed and taken out of context is to do more than misunderstand God, it is to do violence to the authority of Scripture.  And, it is to disregard the will of God.

I doubt that the will of God can be understood without reading it first in context and in whole.  For God begins a thought, God begins an expression of his will; and we read it in part and stop where we believe appropriate and move on to conclusions that may or may not be accurate.  In doing so we risk misunderstanding God.  In doing so we reject the authority of Scripture.  We reject the authority by determining in and of ourselves when and where we will start reading and when and where we will stop reading.  We determine where God begins to express his will and where God has stopped expressing his will. The authority for this determination is no longer Scripture itself but our mean methods and intents.

When we come to Scripture with the intention of finding an analogy or story to illustrate a sermon, we show the utmost disrespect to Scripture for we presume to take it piecemeal in support of our own ideas and conclusions.  This is quite different from divining different analogies and stories from our independent study of Scripture as scripture - verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, as it was revealed to humanity.

And herein, is the beginning of submission.  God has revealed his will to humanity.  His method of revelation was through the written words of his prophets and apostles.  These words were not given piecemeal and hodgepodge but rather, each was given in the form of a history book, a compilation of songs, a chronological record of genealogies and histories, an oral recitation of civil and religious law, an exhorting epistle, or a revelatory prophecy of future judgments.  While the whole may seem disjointed to the casual observer, one who endeavors to read the whole sees a unity of purpose, a unity of story, a unity of character - indeed a unified message.  This is the will of God.  When we yield control to that will, we study the Word of God as given to us - book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, thought by thought.  We take it as we find it - wholly and completely.  The control we yield is how we read Scripture.

When we study scripture intently on a daily basis without regard to our circumstances, resisting the temptation to use book studies and topical studies, we begin to know the mind of God.  But when we limit ourselves to searching through a concordance finding verses which contain disjointed thoughts about the topic we feel is appropriate in our lives at that moment, we do violence to the will of God.  We presume to know his will by taking parcels of his thoughts and building them into a house of our own making.  We presume to know what the Spirit will say to us when we limit our reading to that which interests us alone.  And in the end, we may very well conclude whatever we like about the will of God.

And in the end, this is what we observe in reality.  Those who reject the teaching of Scripture regarding authority, divination, sexuality, morality, worship or some other teaching do so by limiting their exposure to Scripture.  They begin with the concordance and call it serious bible study.  They incorporate historical writings of other men to interpret the natural reading of Scripture against itself.  They appeal to modern sensibilities to interpret scripture against tradition.  In this sense, those who would do violence to scripture use the same tools as those who submit to the authority of scripture.

For when one submits - yields control - they too will use concordance, historical writings, natural observation and the study of the original languages.  However, these are tools that help them understand what they are already reading and are subject to the natural understanding of the text itself.  They appeal to these extraneous tools when the meaning is unclear, not when they dislike the natural meaning.  To be sure, a study of the original languages assists in understanding any word, sentence, phrase and meaning.  The study of ancient cultures provides context.  The reading of philosophers reveals information that is helpful in applying scripture.  Reading the writings of other theologians challenges us to re-read scripture in a new light, with new understanding.  But in the end, the one who submits and yields control reads scripture and yields to scripture.

A basic illustration is that of the issue of homosexuality.  There are today those who would reject that scripture reveals God's will opposed to that act and lifestyle of homosexuality.  To do so they have to reject many explicit directives in the old and new testaments.  Additionally, they have to reject declarative statements about the judgment of God and the character of saints.  In order to accomplish this they resort to two methods.  First, they take scripture piecemeal.  They appeal to particular verses about the love of God, about the freedom in Christ, about the new covenant.  Secondly, they appeal to ancient writings about culture to limit the import and force of the otherwise declared will of God.  They make the will of God subject to cultural expressions determining beforehand that God's will changes depending upon the culture of the time.  At some times homosexuality is wrong, at other times it is no longer wrong.  With this relativistic view of God's will they interpret scripture in the way that best suits their predetermined conclusions.

While most of those who call themselves Christians will see the obvious violence to scripture and the understanding of God's will with the above illustration, I mean to point out my own failing; a failing I fear is pandemic in today's church culture.  For the meanness of approaching scripture piecemeal, topically with the assistance of a concordance is the norm, not the exception.  I rarely begin with an intent study of scripture as revealed to humanity other than my daily reading of Proverbs.  My own experience affirms the value of studying scripture in a more submissive posture - verse by verse, chapter by chapter.  I have undertaken this endeavor with the books of Romans, 1 John, Hebrews, James, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Revelation, John, Genesis, Proverbs, and a few others.  My understanding of God's will from these books alone have changed from the intent verse by verse study.  As an example, I spent years attempting to understand 1 John 3:9 and found my understanding materially different after a few years of reading the whole book through on an almost nightly basis from that understanding I had upon an initial reading of that one isolated verse.

So today I observe that the beginning of submission to God begins with submission to scripture; in how we read it, and how we study it.  I note that submitting to scripture means comprehending scripture and revelation generally - how it is given and how it is meant to be received.  I note that submitting requires yielding my will to that of another - yielding control.  Indeed, we forfeit all control when we yield to our own temptation to use scripture for our own means rather than approaching scripture humbly with intent to be taught whatever scripture would teach us, whenever scripture would teach us, however scripture would teach us.

In short, to submit to God is to stop using scripture trivially for our own ends, our own messages, our own philosophies, and our own endeavors.  To submit to God is to bend the knee and read scripture, study scripture, meditate upon scripture as it was revealed to us - book by book, chapter by chapter.  We cannot expect to understand the will of God before we are willing to begin here.  And we can hardly submit to the will of God if we are unintentionally, willfully, negligently or recklessly ignorant of that will.

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