Scripture: Proverbs 29:18
(NET) 18 When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he!
(Amplified Bible - AMP) 18 Where there is no vision [no revelation of God and His word], the people are unrestrained; But happy and blessed is he who keeps the law [of God].
What is it that drives people to define what is right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral or just ethical?
Humanity is designed for higher thinking, designed to investigate and be curious. This instinct is twofold:
To develop as a person and reach our potential.
To seek out truth and in so doing discover the Divine.
Education has always been seen as an important part of a healthy society. From the ancient Athenians and the Greek philosophers to the reformation and modernism it is recognised that a healthy well functioning society is one educated and well balanced.
Martin Luther knew the importance of this, along with the reformers, and they early on in the reformation built and ran free schools for the young and universities for those with the capacity to develop further. He knew that if people were to be able to study the Bible they would need to know how to read, and have some competence to reason.
Humanity does better when its citizens are given the freedom to reach their potential in the field of their choice.
Along with this potential for human improvement in the natural world, there is also within us a drive to ask what we call the existential questions:
Why are why alive?
What is the purpose of life?
Is this reality the only one?
Is there a God?
What kind of God is there?
What is good or evil?
As one atheist said recently it is a if we have a god gene within us that demands to know answers about the great mysteries of life.
In our Christian context one of the “big” questions has to be what the authority for our faith is, and what does that mean?
This question is essential for any Christian community if they are to define themselves, and grow. If we don’t decide this clearly we end up repeating history and societies errors, undermining ourselves and what we are as Christians.
If the church does not define what is their final authority then we fill the gap of authority with other things:
The echoes of fear and failures from our lives.
Cults and mysticism.
Political ideology takes over Divine reality.
Power, position, prestige and passions.
Humans do not do well with “gaps” in their lives so they demand them to be filled. Let me evidence this through several examples.
Point 1 The evidence for the problem.
Church history evidences what happens when people cast of divine inspiration and fill the gap with errors.
On November 18th 1978 over 900 people committed suicide, or were forced to drink or take cyanide poison in the Jonestown settlement in Guyana. Reverend Jimmy Jones, who was originally a Christian minister, decided that the Bible was no longer the final authority but he was a prophet of God and from his mouth came the real truth.
Through his charismatic preaching, misquoting of the Bible and desire to have power over his people he said to his people in his final speech:
“It is my opinion that we be kind to children and kind to seniors and take the push like that did in ancient Greece and step over quietly because we are no committing suicide, it’s a revolutionary act... without me life has no meaning, I am your best friend.”
Through the use of the bible, reincarnation, blending of communism and the desire to control people he over seen the death of his commune and then shoot himself.
The reformers had to deal with a group of people called the radical reformers who pulled in every direction possible. One prophet called Muntzer argued that the person who held the Bible as final authority was listening to a mute god. He believed that only when the inner voice spoke you have not heard from the real God.
Even today we have people saying that God is speaking in new ways through new prophets and apostles as if history has not taught us so much about the dangers of this.
Civil history in the story of opinions, philosophies and ideals battling out on the battlefield of time.
I have spoken in the past about the logical outworking Nietzsche, the atheist philosopher, came to when he realized the conclusion of God being dead. He pointed out that:
“... are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideway, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through infinite nothing?”
He knew that removing God and the authority of the Bible there would no longer truth, no purpose, no point, no hope and therefore no restraint.
In our modern age that is seen in the issue of gender. In 2016 an English newspaper spoke of a list to be used in a census coming up. This list had been made to help people express how they saw themselves in their gender expression – the list they used was as followed:
The choice is do we accept that the world with its fickle definitions has more authority than the word of God?
If we are atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic or any other belief group then we can say the Bible is not our final authority. But if we claim to be Christian then we are obliged to consider the Bible as our final authority of doctrine and how we live.
Society will choose what it does outside of what we believe because it rejects what is dear to us – this is the natural order of things. Why do we lose heart or attack society when it chooses that same sex marriage is morally good, that euthanasia ought to be freely available to those who don’t desire life or are too sick, that cannabis legalized is a good thing and that killing unwanted fetuses is not murder?
Whatever you believe is your moral authority will always define the activity you justify, and what is right or wrong to you. And if you are driven by small thinking, selfish desires and low instincts the more the decay of society and the glue required to hold it together falls aside.
Hitler, Stalin and many other tyrants of the last century rose because the populace wanted the sales pitch they offered.
The individual without an anchor.
Life is like a boat on the ocean. Sometimes it is calm and the skipper merely points the boats nose to the direction they desire to go. Then, at other times it is like a storm ragging upon our souls and we are tossed up and down, left to right in confusion looking for an anchor to settle us in the right direction.
Without an authority that we lean on, a moral compass to guide us, we are driven to respond from instinct and fears. When a community fails to agree upon what is its final authority it starts to decay, and pull away from its core. When morality is defined by individual flavor or the important decisions we have to make are boxed in by our brokenness or other people’s control we end up in very bad storms.
Broken families occur when we are driven by the need to prove ourselves successful and so spend more time working than connecting.
Emotional or mental dysfunction is not far from the person who allows others to take over their lives
Being exploited by mean people happens when our need to be loved become toxic.
Tyrants take over when we fail to be responsible for our choices and decisions.
Morality fades when or need to feel good exceed our desire to do well.
Paul, in Romans 1 states several times that when people rebel against God they are handed over to their desires and passions and as a consequence he states:
(NETFull) 21 For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.
Another way of saying people cast of restraint – go about doing what is right in their own eyes.
Point 2 Where there is no vision the people cast of restraint.
Vision is not to be understood as the current mysticism and experientialism of the modern church. The Hebrew word here simply is “Vision” meaning to see what God has shown or expressed. In the new testament doctrine we would call it inspiration.
The root word for châzôn is to see, perceive, look, behold, prophecy and provide – so we would understand this word to mean what God has imparted through His word, the Scriptures. This has been the battle ground of Christianity for 2,000 years to keep the scriptures central as the châzôn of God – the word of God provided to us to perceive and understand who He is and His will for humanity.
Without a higher influence and a higher perspective we tend towards smaller selfish thinking that exposes us to bad choices and decisions. Think of it on say a philosophical level, or educational level, the more you learn from the masters, the specialist and the inspired the more you understand and that reflects back into better living and thinking – as long as it is good, true and worthy of our consideration.
Point 3 What is the source of our vision and what does it do?
In the Gospel of John we have a section which covers the final teaching Jesus gave to the public before he turned his attention to the disciples, preparing them for their future without him. In this teaching found in John 12:44ff Jesus says the following words:
John 12:44-50 (NETFull) 44 But Jesus shouted out, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, 45 and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not obey them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day. 49 For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Thus the things I say, I say just as the Father has told me.”
If Jesus is the incarnation, the great logos of God, then all he taught is therefore the inspired word of God. If his words contain the mind of God, then our attitude towards His teaching defines our place before God – either his word brings life to us, or it holds us in judgement for our rebellion.
If we reject the scriptures, and the teaching of Jesus, as merely religious thought or nonsense then we must choose something else to be our anchor and our compass in life – such brings a “cast of restraint” to humanity, and as Nietzsche said a plunging in all directions.
As Jesus said in the above scripture his words bring light to us, and light removes chaos and a lack of restraint to our lives.
Paul, reflecting over Jesus teaching and the prophets of old, put it this way:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NETFull) 16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.
God’s word, the scriptures we hold so dare, has the out working of:
Teaching us Gods perspective.
Telling us of when needed.
Pointing us in the right direction and giving insight.
Training us in living right and justly – the ethics of our faith.
The end result of this is that the community we live would be made “capable” which is another way of saying competent in knowing how to think and how to function.
Or as our Proverbs reading says:
Proverbs 29:18 (NETFull) but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he!
What is this “blessed” state?
God’s smile is towards us and our hearts and minds are towards Him – we have both temporal and eternal fellowship with Him. As one commentary puts it:
Proverbs 29:18 (NET Bible Notes - Full Notes) There is a tendency among commentators and English versions to translate אַשְׁרֵהוּ ('ashrehu) as "happy is he!" (cf. KJV, ASV, NAB, NASB, TEV, NLT). But "happy" can be a misleading translation. The Hebrew word refers to a heavenly bliss, an inner joy, that comes from knowing one is right with God and experiencing his blessing. "Happiness," on the other hand, depends on what happens.
Our happiness is not on our “doing” but our “being”, and our being is based upon the smile of God as we study, learn, absorb and live out His word to us from the scriptures.
What is your final authority?
What do you focus on as your anchor?