by ProfDave, ©2023

(Mar. 16, 2023) — “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?  This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  Hebrews 2:1-4.  What would happen if we paid attention?

What happened at Asbury College and Seminary last month made me ask a lot of questions.  I am a historian of religion, European mostly, but I have taught church history from time to time since the 70’s.  First question: is this a genuine work of God?  My skepticism has largely dissolved.  Second question: is this going to become a life-transforming movement among our spiritually impoverished youth, like the Jesus Revolution of the late 60’s?  How I pray that it might!  Third question: is this the beginnings of a national “Great Awakening” that will change our history?  I cannot voice that hope out loud without bursting into tears with longing.

When the pollsters ask Americans (or Canadians) if they believe in God, the vast majority say yes.  But what would happen if we took God seriously?  What would we do?  What would He do?!!  A minority of us show up in a place of worship regularly – or since Covid, on screen with our local faith community.  In any given sanctuary, brick and mortar or virtual, there are those who are doing business with the Living God but too many who are just going through the motions.  But do we know Who is there?

What if we took God seriously?  While most of us would say we believed in God and half of us would check the “Christian” box, do we take the Almighty seriously?  More of us identify with a particular church, synagogue or mosque than actually go there.  But do we take God seriously?  You may have been baptized as an infant, circumcised or whatever; you are “good people.” But do you take God seriously?  Drill down another layer.  A minority of us are actually observant, practicing.  We attend services weekly, pray at meals, support the church/temple, try to keep the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule (or the Law of Moses or Shari’a), but that is just being religious.  Do we take God seriously?

Is God real in your life?  Is He an idea, somewhere in the constellation of your mind, that you design for yourself to make you feel righteous?  Is He a far-off entity, out of range?  An impersonal force (Star Wars)?  A cosmic 911 number?  For many years He was to me a fearsome Judge, who made me feel superior when I kept the rules but threatened to cast me into the pit when I misbehaved.  So far, so good, but still not who He is.  What if I took Him seriously?

What if we took God seriously? One 19th century thinker (Ludwig Feuerbach) accused Christians of making God in their own image. Do we? Public policy assumes that when political correctness clashes with religious belief, it is the responsibility of believers to adapt. Is God a figment of the imagination of believers, who changes with the times? “Am I a man that I should change?” Does God live outside our skulls?

An ideal deity is nice, of course.  He/she/it can represent all that is best in a civilization almost as well as a real one, with none of the inconveniences.  There is little danger of confrontation for our sins – power never has to hear truth – much less divine judgment.  He/she/it adjusts to the times and to our own personal interests.  On an individual level we can justify ourselves – he/she/it accepts all our excuses.  On the other hand, a deity who is only an idea cannot actually do anything in the real world – no miracles of healing or deliverance, no forgiveness when we really need it.  Sometimes we need a God who answers by fire. 

Eighteenth century Philosophes saw the Creator as a cosmic watchmaker who made the vast world-machine, wound it up and walked away. He gave the laws of nature and logic that made science possible and the moral law – the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, which made human society possible – but He Himself could safely be ignored. Darwinism made it possible to dispense with the Creator entirely. But what if there was a Being in the beginning – before the beginning? What if He did not walk away? What if He enforced those laws, actively sustaining the cosmos (and incidentally our lives)? What if we took God seriously? Maybe we should.

But there is more.  What if God were a real person – not a stone face out there somewhere or an absentee landlord?  What if He had feelings, desires and opinions of His own – a mind, a heart and a will?  What if He cared about all the creatures He has made?  The Bible says so. It tells us that His most fundamental character trait is love – infinite, unilateral, unconditional, holy love – and He is loving toward all He has made.  God doesn’t just create, He loves.  He loves you!  What if we took God seriously?

What if God wanted to be friends? On the basis of the New Testament I can affirm we are called to a “personal relationship with God.” We actually have been invited through Jesus (God the Son) to call God (God the Father) our father and have God the Spirit living in us – the whole Trinity can become involved in relationship with little old you. Astonishing, eh? Sins can be forgiven, spiritual life restored from the dead, and one-on-One friendship begun with the Lord of all.

Spiritual life, thanks to Adam, is not something we are born with. The new birth can be a dazzling moment of revelation, like the prophet Isaiah, a spiritual and emotional crisis in the temple or kneeling by our bedside, a sober leap of faith (in the evidence of things unseen), or a dawning awareness of Him who has been there waiting all along.  Often there is a profound sense of relief and a desire to know more.  And there is infinitely more.  What if we took God seriously?

God is infinite, right? God is omnipresent, among other things. That means He is everywhere all the time, including right here, right now. Most of the time we ignore Him because He is invisible but He is present. But He can see and hear us. He hears when we pray – and we cuss out the paper boy. [He sees what is on our screens, but let’s not go there.] God is present, but are we? We go through most of our day without thinking of Him. Prayer can be a conversation. What would happen if we paid attention – if we practiced the presence of God?

God is there, but am I?  Most of us only listen when we are hit over the head.  C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasure but shouts to us in our pain.”  Sometimes the Presence is ecstasy to the limits of mortal endurance – like Adam and Eve in the Garden; sometimes it is as terrifying as fire and brimstone – like Isaiah in the Temple.  Thanks to Jesus, even the terror is for our good.  In Christ, we know that God is for us.  God hasn’t had to scare me straight in a long time – His frown and the world goes dark for me – but I cannot get enough of His love. Can you? What would happen if we made it our highest endeavor to walk with Him all day long?  Is it possible in this life?  I’m not sure, but the moments when I am aware make me look forward to an eternity with my Savior.   What if we walked with God every day, all day, until, like Enoch, we went home to His house instead of ours?  And found it Home!

David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College.  He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota.  He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020).  He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.

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