Understanding the Battlefield Landscape
History plays a primary role in our understanding of God’s revelation. In the previous reflection I considered, briefly, the role creation plays in revealing the invisible attributes of God. In this reflection, I want to consider how God has revealed his character as the basis for moral behaviors and judgments. I also want to consider, very briefly, how God has revealed the human condition through and within the historical narratives we find in the Bible.
Let’s define them one at a time. First, God has revealed his character using several different approaches. These include character contrasts between God and a fallen humanity, God’s approval of human behavior when it is congruent with his moral character, and God’s direct commandments regarding his standard for moral conduct.
I think a clarification here is necessary. When I speak about morality I am not making reference to some social code or man-made rules established between people to organize a civil society. Morality in this context, and I think in the context of biblical revelation, is directly connected to God’s personhood qualities. Anything people do that contradicts or opposes God’s design for human behavior is immoral. Anything that conforms to God’s character is moral. For instance. God designed the family around the relationship between one man and one woman. Jesus affirmed this principle when answering a question about divorce. He answered the Pharisees' question with another question. “He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5). If a man or a woman decided to be emotionally and sexually involved or married to several partners, that would be an immoral arrangement because polygamy contradicts God’s design for the family. Therefore, immoral behavior is only the conduct that breaks God’s intended purpose for human design. For example. Women wearing pants or make-up, or men playing cards or wearing shorts, do not violate God's design for women conduct. Any church or religious group that forbids these activities is indulging in legalistic fear mongering. Let me present three illustrations regarding God's character.
First, in the book of Numbers we read the following: “God is not man, that he should lie, not a son of man, that he should repent” (Number 23:19). This passage provides a simple contrast between God and man. God, unlike men, does not repent because he does not make mistakes that require him to reverse course. Additionally, God, unlike men, does not lie. The implication of this statement is that men lie for a variety of reasons, but God does not have any reasons to cover things up or to make himself look better than he is to impress other people.
Second, God has praised men who have acted according to God’s design for their lives. Most of you have read the story of Job, the patriarch. The writer declared that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). And the LORD also declared that “there was none like [Job] on earth” (Job 1:8). One thing was clear, God definitely approved of Job’s conduct for being congruent with the LORD's character. Job was not only righteous. There was none like him.
Third, the best methodology to know God’s personhood qualities is direct revelation. The Ten Commandments are the best-known set of divine rules that condition human behavior. When the Commandment stated that “thou shall not steal,” it implies that God created each individual with the inherent right to own his own life as well as his properties. Anything a man has acquired legally and with the labor of his hands, belongs to him, and no one has the right to take it from him. Every theft, regardless of the motivation behind it, is an immoral act because it violates the fundamental principle self-ownership.
As we explore the landscape for the spiritual battlefield, we find the devil contradicting every aspect of God’s revelation. Let me just mention one. All of us have seen movies in which a thief is the main character, and at the end of the movie, he keeps the stolen goods. Not only does the thief keeps the stolen property, but those watching the movie, actually want the thief to keep the fruit of his criminal behavior. These types of movies usually present the thief as a likable character who is dedicated to his "craft" and has a high "honor" code. He is charming and funny, or better yet, he is stealing from an evil rich mogul who was a ruthless tyrant in gaining his wealth. The thief thinks to himself, and the movie helps us empathize with his rationale, that since the rightful owner of the property is a slime-ball, it is okay to deprive him of his property.
This false morality is fun and games in the movies, but God does not make excuses for the thieves of the world. The devil has perfected the Robin Hood syndrome to the point that Christians have made excuses to defend a father who robs a convenience store to get food for his family. I know how difficult it could be to be poor or the be unemployed. Times could get very desperate, and in desperate times people do desperate things. I understand that. However, it is not the Church’s role to excuse immoral or criminal behavior. What would the false moralists would say if one day the desperate father encounters a store owner with a gun, and the fun and games end in the violent death of the store owner or the father? On the landscape of the spiritual warfare, the serpent keeps lowering the moral standard so that behavior that contradicts God’s character becomes more acceptable until even those who preach the gospel become sympathetic with a thief.
When it comes to morality, God’s character is the Church’s primary and last line of defense. We do not have the liberty, authority or discretion to compromise God’s commandments. This statement does not mean that we do not show empathy to those who are suffering, or that we take a callous approach to people’s struggles with their own moral conduct. Many of the people who have a confused moral compass have experienced traumatic spiritual injuries that have distorted their ability to distinguish between right and wrong. It is up to the Church to preach the gospel of grace, but it is not up to the Church to adjust God’s character to make sinners feel better about themselves. If we want to make sinners feel better about themselves, we must proclaim the good news that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, came to pay the debt we could not pay. We should focus on God’s grace and forgiveness, and not on whether sinners can continue to live as if Jesus had not come to earth. We should tell the world about Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection.
But the serpent wants us to compromise on the moral imperatives that rest upon God’s character. The devil wants us to view morality as a continuum of shades of gray. He does not want us to have the clarity that comes from the light of living in God's presence. Every Christian ought to know that the closer we are to God, the clearer, and the less confusing the battlefield will look. These differences define the moral landscape of the battlefield from the perspective of God’s character. (NEXT: The role the human condition plays on the battlefield landscape)