What You Think Matters: Insights into the Enlightenment (Lane)
What You Think Matters: Insights into th Enlightenment
by Lonnie Lane
God and His Word are truth and light! The “word” David was singing about when he sang, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105), and when he was before the Lord with a contrite spirit and prayed, “Thou art God, and Thy words are truth” (2 Sam 7:28) was the Torah (no other writings were deemed as Scriptures at the time). David had what might be the greatest revelation of God — apart from what Moses — than anyone in Israel’s history. The way he led his nation, resulting in forty years of peace, is in direct relation to his understanding of and relationship with God, personally and as a leader. The following verse gives us some insight into the extent to which God was behind what influenced David’s leadership: “What one nation on the earth is like Thy people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for Thee…” (7:23). David functioned as king consistent with what he knew of God personally and what he saw as God’s calling upon his nation. (Oh, for a president who knows God as David did!)
When people don’t know God or their perceptions of God are distorted and untrue, they are, the Bible tells us, “darkened in their understanding” (Eph 4:18). When people live in even partial darkness, they will inevitably project that darkness onto their understanding of God. Many people’s expectations of God, as we know, are based on painful experiences with authority figures in their lives, while others have wonderful expectations of God and find it easy to trust Him. Some who don’t know the goodness of God often have more “faith” in what the devil is doing than in what God is doing and are therefore fear the wrong god. Whatever our own personal paradigm, whatever the color of the lenses through which we “see” God, none of us really has it all right. He is so far beyond what we can fully comprehend. He is so much more of everything good we can conceive of; His power is unlimited and His wisdom is unsearchable. His intelligence is unknowable and His love is inexhaustible. Whatever we think of God, He is better! Words fail to even begin to describe Him.
We are so fortunate that we have His Word to tell us how He thinks, what He expects of us and what we can expect of Him. Although we may differ on some points, most of us who are believers in Yeshua are in agreement that His death provided the way to our salvation and that we are to love God, and love each other as we love ourselves. Most of us who count ourselves as Believers that the Bible is true see God as just, loving and merciful, yes?
The ways and thoughts, the paradigms of life and the destinies of individuals, of people groups and even of whole nations, are largely determined by how they see God. If you give that some thought, you will see that it applies. To name just a few, the great work that one person, Mother Theresa, was able to affect among the destitute in India could not be more influenced by God. The Crusades, which cost the lives of thousands upon thousands over a period of a thousand years, was initiated by a pope whose motivation was directly related to his (mis)perception of God. It was erroneous, but it was motivated by what he, and the many “knights” and “pilgrims” who took the “holy journey” understood about God and what they thought He expected the church to be doing.
Even atheistic nations function on the basis that God does not exist. Interestingly, any atheist will tell you what it is about God they don’t believe in; no one is without some concept of God. The social and civil orders of atheistic nations are based upon their suppositions about the non-existence of God. Both the Russian and Chinese revolutions were cultural shifts into atheism which made the State the god that must be obeyed and looked to for “salvation” and to which all things belonged. The State was now the hope of the people who no longer had God to look to. In Iran today, the radical fundamentalist belief is that Allah wants the world to be subject to his laws so that anyone thinking differently is to be considered as an infidel who must eventually be killed in order to bring about world domination of the Islamic concept of God. (We must be fair in saying that not all Muslims carry such radical beliefs, nor are all Muslims militant.)
On the other hand, America’s greatest strengths have been based on our Judeo-Christian understanding of God and the Biblical values that implies. As a result this land has been a “land of the free,” a country where people can live out their dreams. It’s been a safe harbor for the persecuted, and a protector for those people which other countries disposed of, including but not by any means limited to, the Jews. America has cared for other nations around the world because we believe God would “save the world” (John 12:47) rather than subjugate it. As we can see, each country’s philosophical foundation determines their internal and foreign policies.
The era in which George Washington was president in the late 1700s, following the Revolutionary War, was a time in which the prevailing views of life were being challenged, including by the Colonists whose determination was to be free from an oppressive English government. As perceptions about life and liberty were changing, so the world was changing with them.
During the Middle or Dark Ages the church had pretty much dominated people’s lives. God was the center of life, even if their understanding of God was limited and distorted as a result of not having the Scriptures available to them. Then came the Renaissance with its emphasis on art and music, which concurrently turned the focus from God to a focus on humanity. With the mid-1700’s came the end of the Renaissance in which new ideas furthered the focus on humankind and the mind of man, rather than God, became that which determined all that was valued.
Reason, or rational thought, coupled with “empirical science” was the determining factor of what was to be sought after or believed in. Empirical science postulates that for anything to be real we must be able to understand it; what is outside of man’s understanding isn’t real. You can see how God would not have fit into that box. Many still subscribe to that philosophy today. Personally, I’m thinking that if all there is in life is limited to what our (Fallen) minds can conceive of, we’re in big trouble. No longer did the church provide the major input into what people held as values and morals, or even the ways of nature. No longer did it hold the power and sway over the people politically and financially. New assumptions moved the world away from the religious concepts upon which it had been functioning in one way or another since the fourth century, to a more secular, humanistic, individualistic and rational mind set. These ideas, which came to be called The Enlightenment or the Age of Reason, flourished during the period between 1650 and 1850 and still affect our thinking today.
Many good things emerged as a result of this thinking, democracy being one of them along with a new sense of nationalism. The scientific and industrial revolutions were products of the Enlightenment. For the first time, the world took a new turn into a secular culture that was an alternative to the religious foundation upon which all cultures had always functioned in one way or another. The Hebrews may have been the first to hold the concept of One God, but mankind in every culture had always looked to their gods as the basis of their lifestyle and the cause of their experiences. So the Enlightenment was a radical departure from god-centered society, no matter what their concepts of god was. As for the Western World, which was primarily Christian in foundation, no longer was it assumed that God was there to be obeyed and revered as previously believed.
It began with taking a realistic look at the human condition and what the (western) world had just come through and determining that changes were indeed needed. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europe had experienced terrible and destructive religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. And in the colonies, in Protestant New England things were not always better. In the late 1600’s, for instance, “witch hunts,” motivated by fear and a preoccupation with the devil took place. Certain “afflictions” were thought to come upon people after they had seen an “apparition” of the “shape” of the alleged witch. It was believed that the devil could only use their “shape” if that person was in cahoots with him and had agreed to allow him to use it to do his work of affliction. Preposterous superstitious means were used to determine the culprit. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned and nineteen (14 women and 5 men) were hanged. One man who refused to plead guilty was crushed to death under a heavy stone in an attempt to get him to admit to participating in witch craft.
All this was able to take place within the church which was still steeped in fear, mysticism, and superstition derived from a grave misinterpretation of the Gospel. If they had only known that “mercy will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). By attempting to rid the church of heresy by merciless means, they may have exempted themselves from God’s mercy toward themselves! I’m so grateful to be aware of that there is available to us “grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Yeshua haMeshiach, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 John 1:3). Amen.
As things sorted out into more political stability, particularly in Germany, France and England, people began to reconsider what had brought about the condition of humankind they found themselves in. The effect of the Reformation, of course, had brought about a fresh look at God. This resulted in quite a social change. Thousands of Protestants, that is to say “protest-ants” against the status quo, left what had been the only church until then, so that much of Europe was taken out from under the political, financial and mental grip of the medieval church leadership.
This change necessarily included a change in their view of the church itself, for how we feel about the church or see its role in the lives of individuals and in society, speaks loudly about what we understand of God. The two are inseparable. Like being an atheist, even if you don’t like the church for some reason, your reasons are connected to your understanding of God and what you believe He wants for those who follow Him.
What did dominate the thinking in the European Protestant church at the time was the foundational belief that revelation, which was shot through with mysticism (which was left over from the middle ages) was the primary source of knowledge.
Without the Bible being available to all, or seasoned and mature leadership to judge what was being put forth as “from God,” we can only imagine what subjective and unbiblical “stuff” was bandied about as a “word from the Lord.” This kind of “knowledge” could not help but have the effect of keeping the people in intimidation and fear, along with much confusion about God and what He expects of them and what they could expect from Him. How can you trust in God when superstition pollutes your picture of Him? The new thinking in this “Age of Reason” wanted out of such mystical thinking and into a sound rational way for life and society.
What was emerging was philosophical reform which opposed what had been the prevailing view of religion, seeing it as irrational and tyrannical. The reform was a counter-balance to the fear and superstition that still remained in the church even after the Reformation. While the Protestants could now live by faith, no longer having to buy penance or absolutions from a corrupt (Catholic) church leadership in order to try and secure a place in heaven, God had to be learned anew. For those who chose to follow the Lord, they had to learn a whole new way of seeing Him. A radical change took place for the committed believer to come to know and “worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
One’s faith in God, after all, can only be as good as your understanding of Him. You can’t believe in what you have no concept of. Today in America our national concept of God has been changing for several decades. Because of technology, at no time in the history of mankind have we had so much input from so many varied ideas of what is to be valued and what to be sought after, or believed. We learn so much in this “information generation” of the opinions of mankind from every “tongue and nation” but how much of it is God-inspired or Biblically defined?
America is in the midst of a radical change in our thinking about God today. Our children, for the most part, do not know God as our grandparents and previous generations did. The younger generation today (perhaps even you who might be reading this) is more informed about mysticism and magic than about the Bible. Can superstition, fear and spiritual oppression be far behind? I suggest that this is a time when we who count ourselves as committed Believers in Yeshua, must be aware of what changes in thinking are happening around us and decide what we think about them. We must be diligent to know what God’s Word says and line our thinking up accordingly, even if it means we must take a stand against the prevailing thoughts of the day. Some might be stirred to take on the challenge, and reading this makes them want to stand tall for the Lord. But for others of us, it might be intimidating.
As I was finishing this article, I received a phone call from a precious friend who had had some trouble standing up for what she believed was right and was suffering terrible guilt because she felt she gave in to someone’s intimidation and agreed with them when she knew it wasn’t God’s will or His way. It seemed like God was supplying an exclamation point to what I was writing. We prayed together and she felt great release as she asked the Lord to forgive her for fearing a person’s disapproval more than she honored Him and His Word. I believe God will use that in her life to make her a stronger testimony for what is right in God!
Another friend once said to me, “We must live according to what the Word says, not how we feel about what the Word says.” That has often stabilized my emotions when I was faced with conflict between what the Word said and what I was feeling. I choose to line up my thoughts with God’s thoughts. Only His are truth! What we think does matters. What you think matters!
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2008.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.