- Religion and Philosophy»
- Exploring Religious Options
The Vagueness of God
"Uncertain, indefinite or unclear character or meaning." "Thinking or communicating in an unfocused or imprecise way." These are dictionary definitions of the word "vague." Can this be a commendable quality in God? Might it not only be commendable but the quintessential mark of his wisdom and of his respect for us, in whom He has embedded his image?
The contemporary western way is to strive for precision. We pride ourselves in exactness. We exalt scientific thoroughness. To be vague is to be uninformed or, perhaps, deceptive. Witness the public's demand for details from each of our presidential candidates during the recent campaign, now mercifully concluded. When these were not immediately and fully provided they were accused of hiding something. Contemporary society still believes in sin. Vagueness ranks up there with intolerance.
Obsessed by precision
Surely there's a time and place for precision. I'll be seeing a dentist in a few days. I want her to know exactly which tooth needs her attention. Our astronauts' lives depend on precision. A mere hair's breadth off at launch means they shoot off into space, never to be seen again. If you have ever seen "How It's Made", you marvel at the precision with which robots stamp out a design on a steel plate or how conveyor belts deliver products to their destination at just the right time. So, yes, precision is good! When needed.
Precision is needed in child rearing. When my granddaughter was three we led her into the bathroom, pointed to her toothbrush, handed her the toothpaste and watched over her while she brushed thoroughly. Now at seven we remind her, "Did you brush your teeth?" She runs in, without further instructions, and gets the job done.
What was absolutely necessary at age three would be an insult at age seven.
So it is with God
God, who knows us all, far better than I know my granddaughter, knows when to be precise and when to back off. He commands in the Old Testament that his people "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Click the link to see just how precise God is with that command. Later there are more specifications. "You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day." (Exodus 35:3) It was a specificity to be taken with extreme seriousness. Numbers reports that a man was executed for gathering sticks for his fire on the Sabbath.
In the New Testament we read that Jesus himself "broke" the Sabbath and encouraged his disciples to do so as well. That's what got him in trouble with the Pharisees. He healed on the Sabbath and allowed his disciples to gather wheat from the field as they traveled.
Of all the commandments, the Sabbath law is the one most loaded with the gospel. Hebrews 4:9,10 reads, "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his own works as God did from his." The Sabbath required God's OT people to stop all their own productive activity to look exclusively to God for provision. The gospel calls us to stop leaning on our own works to look exclusively to Jesus for eternal life. All who rest on Christ for their salvation have, in fact, kept the fourth commandment. To make the point, after Christ the seventh day Sabbath became the first day Lord's Day. But notice that there are no specific commands associated with the Lord's Day. Those who know their Savior do not need specific instructions for how or when they should worship their Lord. This illustrates why Paul called the OT law a guardian until Christ comes. Specifics were for God's people in their immaturity (read OT), but now that Christ has come a mature faith leads us to loyal service without being micromanaged by God.
Those of us who take seriously the Scripture's teaching on marriage recognize that the only valid reason to leave one's spouse is adultery - the sexual union of that spouse with another. So said Jesus in Matthew 5:31,32. But what if a spouse is heavy into pornography? What if he is violent or engages his daughter in inappropriate behavior? Why isn't God more specific on these matters?
I believe that if Jesus had tried to cover every offense that violates the marriage bond, the folks listening to the Sermon on the Mount might still be there. Jesus gave an obvious instance, expecting his people to use their common sense. Many have concluded that adultery and sins of like gravity are valid reasons for divorce.
God is honored when we use our heads, not to rationalize away his law but to apply it to new and changing circumstances.
Are we better off now than 2000 years ago
Some seem to expect God to give them very specific instructions on every feature of daily life. What would that accomplish? It certainly wouldn't produce the holy lifestyle God calls us to. I suspect the demand for specificity betrays a deep insecurity about one's standing with God, a failure to fully grasp the gospel.
When I'm feeling insecure in my marriage I tend to bug my wife with questions that annoy her. Every husband at some point has asked his wife with a tone of exasperation, "What do you want me to do?" The message? "Just tell me exactly what to do and I'll do it. Then you'll get off my back and I'll feel better." The wife thinks, "You jerk, if you had half an ounce of sensitivity, you'd know what to do."
Asking God to tell us exactly what to do may sound pious but in fact it reveals our unbelief, our insecurity in his presence. If he weren't the infinitely loving God that he is, He'd be saying to himself, "You jerk, if you had half an ounce of trust in me you'd know what to do."
How do you please God then?
I please my wife best when I take the time to know her and understand where she's coming from. In fact I Peter 3:7 tells us to do that. We please God best when we get to know Him through a habit of Bible study, worship, fellowship and prayer. The closer you are to Him the more obvious it will be what pleases him. An interesting turnabout takes place. The closer you are to God the more freedom you have to do your own thing. See, your own thing has morphed into God's thing. He likes that.