Sunday I quoted a person I heard several years ago. I struggle to remember who it was, but they said, “If you’ve been a Christian for more than three years, read Jesus’ words to the Scribes and Pharisees with great care. They’re written for you too.” The point this speaker was trying to make (I think) is that the Bible is full of a description of what is a common problem, we come to God in a moment of clarity and then we seem to forget. I like to think of the Pharisees as the elders or officers of the church of Jesus’ day. That is a very analogous position. They were the folks most excited about their faith. Yet these are the very people who clashed most violently with Jesus. That is a caution to you and me.
“God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman returned the favor,” is a quote attributed to Jean Jacques Rousseau, Mark Twain and Voltaire. It does not matter who said it first. It reminds me that I tend to see God like I see myself—through the sin-stained lenses I wear every day. I tend to give God my sinful prejudices and make Him subject to my ignorance.
That became very apparent in a recent reading of The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller. The sub-title of the book is “Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith.” I found myself skimming over the content of the book—after all I have heard a lot about the parable of the prodigal son. But Keller exposed for me some of the dangers of being the older brother and I saw some of the older brother in myself.
I’ll leave it to you to check out Keller’s description of this incredibly dangerous creeping thing that lets familiarity with things spiritual deaden our relationship with God. But I am grateful that God continues to speak even to those, like me, who have been around the faith for a while. He tells us what we need to hear. When He does, we end up with a choice will we hear and learn to live anew or will we, like the Pharisees, seek to put to death what God is doing? That’s a stark contrast, but I think a real one. The sin of the older brother is more deadly than that of the prodigal in many ways. Keller says, “Elder brothers don’t go to God and beg for healing from their condition. They see nothing wrong with their condition, and that can be fatal. If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor; if you don’t know your are sick you won’t—you’ll just die.” (p. 66)
So I want to read the words to the Pharisees with more interest and hear what He might be saying. I don’t want a God in my own image; I want a God who leads me to eternal life!