Sunday, March 25, 2007

Don't instantiate this!

One of the things I learned, maybe in algebra class, was the idea of taking a "law" (something like ∀xx+1=1+x), and instantiating it — taking the universal and applying it to a particular instance (say, 3+1=1+3). Now it would be a mistake to say that the commutative property of addition (or worse, any operation on an Abelian group) is exactly 3+1=1+3, and yet that is what people apparently tend to do with God. Today's Old Testament reading, from Deuteronomy, talks about trying to make God concrete. It's not exactly about instantiation, but more about reducing God All-Powerful to, well, the form of a calf or something.
15You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.
Deuteronomy 4:15-18
I think there's something important in this passage, because I know that we humans like to make the invisible visible, or the abstract concrete. How does it apply today? That is, if I'm doing the equivalent thing today, how could I tell? How could anyone?

Back in Moses’ day, you could tell because people burned incense in front of an altar. I mean you could see it. But I don't burn incense to anything today, and I don't have an altar. Somehow I don't think that means I'm off the hook though.

In "The Devil Wears Prada," the protagonist is told (by her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend) that her primary relationship is with the person "whose calls you always take." But since God doesn't usually call me on the phone, I can't apply that test to my life either.

Here are two possible tests, maybe two forms of the same one. Where do I think meaning and safety come from? Well, I hope ultimately that I think they come from God, but it would be easy -- it is easy -- to confuse the gift with the giver. Safety, security, provision -- all comes from God, but the way he has given it to me is largely by giving me skills that I exchange in the marketplace for money... which we have saved and invested over the years. To make sure that I'm not confusing the gift and the giver, I tithe. Actually we give more than 10% of our gross income away -- that's the ticket to breaking the power of money.

How about meaning? How do I know that my life has meaning? I hope I think that it all comes from God, but I think of two things when I think of meaning. One is the set of opportunities and abilities God has given me to encourage people, usually men, to walk more closely with him. The other is less concrete -- it's the knowledge, the faith if you will, in God's promises.

And how can I tell if I'm elevating those over God himself? Well, when something happens that interferes with a small group meeting, how do I react? Of course I'm disappointed, but unduly so? Do I believe God is in control of these? If a meeting doesn't go well, if I say something wrong or stooopid, do I castigate myself for blowing it, or do I confess and trust that God has forgiven, and that he can use me as he will?

May the Lord help us to trust him, to walk humbly with him, and never to confuse him with his creation or his gifts.

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