From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor’s Study
Jan 25, 2023
We live in a world of assumptions. We assume, for example, that the person we call to fix our furnace knows what he is doing and that he will ask for payment when it is finished. We also assume that he will make a profit on the job so that he can support himself and his family. We further assume that when he comes into our home, he is not scoping it out to see if there is anything valuable to steal. We operate with many assumptions, and mostly we are right.
Sometimes, however, we are wrong. If we assume that everything that is for sale online (e.g. Facebook Marketplace of Kijiji) is legitimately owned by the seller, we might find ourselves in possession of stolen goods. It has happened many times that the owner of a tool or a car or a piece of jewelry finds it for sale on the online market after it was stolen from his shop or yard or house. While most of the things sold online are owned by the one selling them, it is not always the case, and it is best that we don’t make the assumption that what we buy is legitimately for sale.
We operate on assumptions, but we must be careful about the assumptions that we make. We must test our assumptions from time to time to make sure they are right.
We make assumptions about others, but we also find people making assumptions about God. They may have developed a particular view of who God is, and they operate on the assumption that that view is correct. Sometimes they might be right, but, as we know, they could also be very wrong. It is imperative that we test our assumptions about God or else we could find ourselves misunderstanding God.
One of the assumptions we tend to make is that God thinks like we do. This is not only true today, but it has been true over the centuries. Recently I was reading portions of a sermon written and preached by an early 18th century pastor in the United States, Jonathon Edwards. He was one of the pastors who led a great revival in which many came back to the church and became faithful to God again. The sermon, entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, is nothing like I have ever heard preached, and, to be honest, I don’t want to hear preached. (The sermon is available online and is easy to find.) Jonathon Edwards pictures God to be very angry with sin and it is only by his mercy that we are not cast immediately into the fires of hell. While Edwards does base his sermon on Scripture, it seems to me that the very angry tone of his sermon might well reflect his own tone more than it reflects God’s tone. Edwards, perhaps rightly so, appears to be very angry with those who were abandoning God to live for themselves. Edwards, as I read him, is assuming that God was as angry as he was, and although there is a message of grace at the end of the sermon, even that grace is given in anger against sin and the sinner. Many would disagree with me, but it does appear that Edwards is assuming that God thinks like him, to one extent or another.
Edwards’ sermon would not preach well today, I am fairly certain. Most of us do not think about God’s wrath against sin, and, to be honest, few of us are very angry about sin, at least not as bitterly angry as Edwards appears to have been. Today our assumptions about God tend toward seeing him as being tolerant of us. While we know that God might not approve of some of the things we do, we perceive him as not greatly disapproving either. We tend to assume that God thinks like us. We all do it, but we should not.
Always we need to test our assumptions to determine if they are correct. The way we do that, of course, is through a deep reading of Scripture. But even in that we need to be careful. Like Edwards who based his sermon on Scripture but seems to be assuming that God thinks like him, we tend to allow our assumptions about God shape how we read Scripture. So, what do we do?
It helps to be humble about ourselves. The first step on dealing with a problem is recognizing it. If I know that it is our tendency to assume that God thinks like us, we are going to be more careful about what we assume about God. We will be more likely to evaluate ourselves carefully. And, when we begin to do that, we become more open to allowing our understanding of God to be reshaped. We do not want to assume that God thinks like us, nor should we assume that we think like God.
Perhaps it is best that we test our assumptions by experience. When we experience the work of the guy fixing our furnace, we can quickly determine if he is qualified and fair in his pricing and work. But we do not need to depend on our experience alone; we can ask others.
Over the centuries God’s people, the followers of Jesus Christ, have said many things about God. Often times what is said carries with it some of the assumptions of the time as people perceive God to be like them. As time passes, however, and as we talk about God together and as we share what we understand, we can begin to pick out what is right and true and what is a result of our own assumptions.
Churches, over the centuries, have developed a body of teaching that has been tested and retested time and again. Our denomination has several documents which summarize the teachings of Scripture and which, because they have withstood the tests of time and have been tested against assumptions, can be considered quite dependable with regard to their teaching about God. We call these documents the creeds and confessions.
We don’t elevate them to the level of Scripture, and we admit that they are imperfect documents. But they do help us test our assumptions about God, for they have stood strong both in the time of Jonathon Edwards and in our time as well. We can assume, therefore, that because they have stood the test of time and have resonated with people from many places in the world, that they do help us understand who God truly is and what he is doing for us and this world.