The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Spiritual Maturity in the Bible: Where is it?

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We shouldn’t be trying to tell God what to do. We shouldn’t be bossing Him around. We shouldn’t be instructing Him about how to run His own universe, telling Him when to forgive and help others, or trying to manipulate Him with a bunch of insincere worship. But we all do—especially when we are spiritually young, or in a state of spiritual rebellion.

When it comes to talking to God, there are wrong, okay, better, and best ways to go about it. In the Bible, you won’t find any examples of the best ways. Instead, you’ll find a ton of wrong ways, some okay ways, and a few who do better for very brief moments. But in general, God gets a ton of smack from everyone. Even His best guys have some very mouthy moments. We can certainly understand good guys having bad days—the problem is that we don’t find very many examples of the good guys honoring God with their prayer language. Even David, who we know really cared about God, gets very bossy with God in the psalms. Read through some of David’s works, and you’ll find him talking like Yahweh’s commander quite a bit. David feels free to order Yahweh to mercilessly mow down the people who David doesn’t like. David even goes so far as to give Yahweh specifics as to exactly how He should punish David’s enemies, and when Yahweh doesn’t get it in gear fast enough, David throws quite the tantrum.

The Old Testament prophets are another source of frustration. They sound great when they’re quoting Yahweh in their prophetic messages. But when they share their personal responses to those messages, we are often quite dismayed to find them siding with Yahweh’s enemies against Him. Moses, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos, and Isaiah all complain that Yahweh is being too harsh in His discipline. Jeremiah makes Yahweh out to be a heartless Ogre in the whine fest of Lamentations. Moses says that if Yahweh won’t forgive the Israelites for throwing Him over for their stupid golden calf god, then Moses wants his own name scrubbed from Yahweh’s Book of Life. In other words, “If You’re going to reject them, then reject me as well. I’d rather be with them than You.” Nice. We find the apostle Paul throwing out a similar insult when he declares that he’d rather be cut off from Christ himself in order to see other ethnic Jews saved. What’s with these people who place such a low value on their relationship with our Gods that they’d rather spend eternity with the damned than be forever separated from twerps they’ve known on earth? And in the midst of everyone beefing at Yahweh for being too harsh, there are guys like Jonah and David, who complain that Yahweh is being too merciful. Our Gods just can’t win with us. Whether They are merciful or merciless, we’re always finding reasons to complain. It’s a good thing They don’t revolve around our opinion. It’s a good thing They couldn’t care less about earning our approval. But still, it gets very tiresome to watch Them getting constantly griped at in the Bible.

So why are our sacred Scriptures so polluted with themes of irreverence and immaturity? Why is it so hard to find passages in which God is being treated right? There are two main reasons: maturity of the authors and the types of issues being addressed. Let’s talk about authorship first.

The Bible isn’t some magical book which floated down to us from the sky. It is a collection of historical documents that were written by over 40 different Jewish men. A lot of those men had major spiritual issues. Take Solomon, for example. Solomon started off in the right place: he revered Yahweh and he valued His wisdom. The first part of the book of Proverbs is a compilation of things Solomon said when he had his brain on right. But as he went along, Solomon chose go the route of willful defiance. He turned his back on Yahweh and started worshiping a whole pantheon of demonic gods. He covered his kingdom with temples to these gods, and his personal life became one big lust fest (he had 1000 recorded lovers). The Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes were written by Solomon after his foolishness was well developed. In Song of Songs, you’ll notice he doesn’t make a single reference to the woman’s character. All he cares about is her looks. Now men are more visual than women, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with this. God wired men to get a lot more out of curves, chests and butts than women ever will. That’s all fine and well, but if all you care about is her curves, come on already. To act like the value of a woman can be defined by her hair texture, neck shape, and current scent—well, that’s hardly a mature view of life. Solomon is often referred to as a wise man, but in real life he was one of the biggest idiots of his day. You can’t make a career out of rebelling against Yahweh and still retain true wisdom. In Ecclesiastes, a pompous Solomon goes on and on about how wise he is while he throws out a bunch of bad theology and groans about how meaningless life is.  Well, sure, it’s pretty hard to find meaning in your daily activities when you’ve turned your back on God.  Rather than wax on and on about the futility of it all, Solomon could have taught the world about deeper spiritual truths.  But he doesn’t, because his so-called wisdom is limited to the kind of carnal cunning that makes a man realize how easy people are to manipulate.

The apostle John contributed five books to the Bible. In his Gospel book, John sounds pretty good because he is focused on recording historical events. There are a few arrogant moments—like the way he refers to himself and only himself as “the disciple Jesus loved,” but you brush this aside as some cute code name until you get to John’s epistles. It’s when we stop writing historical reports and start writing letters to our friends that our personal beliefs really come through. The theology John puts out in 1 John is shockingly devoid of spiritual understanding. The man thinks true Christians are sinless. He condemns all who fail to meet his definition of behavioral perfection as “children of the devil.” He makes utterly absurd statements like “no one has ever seen God,” implying that famous events such as Moses speaking to Yahweh face to face never happened. He puts out tests for spiritual discernment which are utterly useless. Then we come to Revelation—a book in which John describes Jesus interacting with him. Yikes, there’s a scary picture. Jesus sells John a picture of Jews being exalted in paradise—even of John himself getting eternally glorified by having his own name chiseled into one of Heaven’s foundation stones. John’s favorite people (sinless Jewish martyrs) are shown as receiving all kinds of extra favors in Heaven (including a special preview of Heaven and a special 1,000 year reign with Christ). The people John hates (those nasty Romans and those Christian compromisers) are shown as being chucked into Hell. Revelation is a picture of Jesus totally snowing a man who has become so righteous in his own eyes that there’s just no reasoning with him. John doesn’t balk at the idea of Yahweh acting like some raging bigot who thinks the ethnicity of our earthsuits determines our spiritual worth. John doesn’t at all mind getting his name chiseled in stone and soaking up a share of God’s glory. When you don’t realize how spiritually blind John is, you end up treating his foolish advice as rock solid truth and completely misunderstanding the point of Revelation (see Applying Revelation: Its Warning for Modern Day Believers).

Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Moses knew nothing about the existence of Christ or the magnificent Holy Spirit, which is why he credits Yahweh for creating everything in Genesis. Moses didn’t have a personal encounter with God until he was about 80 years old.  Notice how when Yahweh introduces Himself to Moses through the burning bush, He has to explain to Moses who He is. So the Moses who goes trooping into the desert with the Israelites hasn’t had much time to mature in his personal walk. He has been effectively humbled by God through the personal hardships God put him through earlier on in his life, and he’s got some very good perseverance and reverence happening. But his loyalties are very divided, and he sides with Yahweh primarily out of fear instead of out of personal love. That love takes a long time to develop, and it isn’t until the very end of Moses’ life that he seems to finally be grasping just how terrible it is for Yahweh’s own people to turn against Him.

Nehemiah wrote Nehemiah, and he’s another one who is much too fixated on the welfare of rebellious Jews. He puts out some rather pompous little prayers in his memoirs—nagging Yahweh to remember all the good things he did when other Jews around him were being slackers and punks. This is a typical sign of spiritual immaturity: we want God to have selective memory about our works on earth—remembering only our really good moments while ignoring our failings. Well, no, we don’t get to guide God’s judgment process like this. Nehemiah shows some good chops as a leader, but we just aren’t loving his prayer life.

Ezra wrote Ezra and 1 & 2 Chronicles. Like Nehemiah, Ezra was a heady little fellow who made a point of detailing his superior devotion to Yahweh by letting us know how he sits in the dirt pouting about his rebellious people, how long he fasts, and the dramatic shows he puts on in public.  He’s better in 1 & 2 Chronicles, when he’s simply trying to record the highlights of Judah’s history. In the Chronicles series, Ezra tells us which kings he felt were winners and losers, and his judgments are based on some reasonable principles. He shows a good grasp of Yahweh’s sovereignty—emphasizing that Israel’s trials were well deserved and Divinely delivered.  Ezra talks a good talk about being loyal to Yahweh, but he’s too much of a glory hog.

As is often the case with human writers, the biblical authors put out better material when they’re not focusing on themselves. But an outward focus also tends to make Christians forget about the reality of human bias in the biblical records. Contrary to what you’ve been taught by the Church, the Holy Spirit really wasn’t sitting there dictating what He wanted these men to write. Certainly no one wrote anything apart from God’s will, but God wills for a lot of stupidity to happen in this world. The fact that something is written in the Bible doesn’t make it right or wise. We find a lot of really stupid statements made in the Bible, along with some blatant lies about how God operates. We find God being grossly disrespected by people in their prayers. Often the biblical writers don’t record God’s response to such prayers because they either don’t know what His response is or they simply don’t care. God’s feelings are really not of concern to most of the biblical writers. There is a far greater interest in how God can be manipulated into blessing and placated when He gets mad. It is because we don’t find mature writing in the Bible that it is of such limited value as a spiritual guide. By far the best passages in the Bible are those in which one of our Gods is being directly quoted, but even those passages end up being of limited help due to the issues God is addressing.

Earlier we noted two main drawbacks to the Bible: the maturity of the writers and the issues being addressed. When God speaks in the Bible, He is almost always speaking to souls who are in a state of spiritual rebellion. If you are not currently in a state of rebellion yourself, there is a limit to how much value you’re going to get out of listening to God lecture those who are. Certainly there is always value in listening when God speaks, regardless of who He is speaking to. When we read through long speeches of God chewing our rebels, we learn volumes about His personal values and priorities. Yahweh and Jesus express a lot of frustration in the Bible. It’s rare to find Them talking at length about how much someone is pleasing Them. Such people did exist, because there have always been obedient souls, but the biblical records are very limited and they tend to focus on major events in Israel’s history.

Think about our own history books today: isn’t it true that we remember the negative more clearly than the positive? We talk about wars, famines, and disasters far more often than we talk about acts of heroism and times when someone really displayed righteous character. It’s the same in the biblical records: the emphasis is on the negative. By the time Yahweh is making guys like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah shout at everyone on street corners, He’s ticked. It isn’t God’s obedient kids who need to be yelled at, it’s His defiant brats.

In the Gospels, we don’t find Jesus smiling in the company of souls who are fully aligned with Him. Instead we find Him exasperated with disciples who are refusing to apply themselves, chewing out the local leaders, and whomping the general rebellious masses on their heads with verbal 2x4s. The Sermon on the Mount is an epic lecture that’s meant to convince self-righteous rebels that they are in a major spiritual crisis. Obedient souls don’t need to get continuously provoked by parables, threatened with damnation, and lectured about spiritual basics. Obedient souls are listening to God in their hearts and they already understand the basics. When Jesus met up with the Samaritan woman at the well, she already cared about pleasing Yahweh, and she was eagerly awaiting His Messiah. She was quite confident that God would provide the spiritual illumination she needed to keep up with Him and she wasn’t letting stupid Jewish bigotry stop her from believing she was wanted by God. When Jesus told her He was the Messiah, she was receptive and swift to get on board. Meanwhile, Jesus’ own disciples continued to operate in a fog bank of spiritual confusion. The difference was soul receptivity.

In the Gospels, the people who please Jesus the most are not the ones who are regularly hanging out with Him, but outsiders who He interacts with for brief moments in time. The Canaanite woman who insists that God wants her even as Jesus refers to her as an inferior “dog”. The Roman centurion who doesn’t even want Jesus to come to his home because he considers himself unworthy. As that centurion expresses faith in Jesus’ ability to heal long distance, Jesus’ own disciples struggle to grasp how He can control the weather. It’s the non-Jews who rake in the greatest compliments from Jesus in the Gospels, and this is likely because to develop strong faith in God in the face of Jewish shunning took some serious soul commitment. The Jews acted like they had the corner market on Yahweh’s favor and they insisted that He considered non-Jews to be spiritually subpar. But there were a handful of non-Jews who heard God telling them a different story in their hearts and they chose to believe Him over His rude followers. It is always the souls who are listening to God on a core level that end up greatly commended by Him.

If you are a serious Christian today, you aren’t going to find very many passages in the Bible where your Gods are addressing souls like you. There are many brief moments where Yahweh or Jesus express pleasure with the devotion of Their faithful followers, but the long speeches are always targeting folks who are either rebelling against God or in the early stages of spiritual development. When believers like Moses, Abraham, and Jeremiah get bossy with Yahweh, He only corrects them some of the time. God doesn’t expect us to act like spiritual adults the moment we align ourselves with Him. Instead, He gives us time to grow and mature, and He decides what principles He wants to emphasize in our spiritual education. David gets much too mouthy with Yahweh in the psalms, but he also expresses buckets of sincere love and admiration. Yahweh was very pleased with David because He saw that David was doing well at the level he was on.

The big mistake you don’t want to make is to look at a guy like David or Paul and say “He’s my ideal spiritual role model.” We don’t find anyone in the Bible who treats our Gods well enough to qualify as the ultimate spiritual standard. You can do far better than Paul, John, Moses, and Jeremiah. You mustn’t set your sights on some flawed mortal, but on the Holy Spirit. Ask God Himself to educate you about His preferences and desires. Ask Him to show you how you can treat Him with the highest honor. Ask Him to help you understand how He wants to be loved. While He will likely use passages from the Bible to give you food for thought, the Holy Spirit is not going to tell you to try and become a clone of any of the people in the Bible. We can do much better. We need to do much better. Our Gods don’t come anywhere close to receiving the respect, honor, love, and cherishing that They deserve from the folks in the Bible.

Greatly pleasing your Makers isn’t at all some distant star that you can never hope to reach. It is well within your grasp, and if you are receptive to His instruction, the Holy Spirit will teach you how to continuously improve the way you interact with your three glorious Creators. Our Gods deserve our best. At the very least, we should be eager to keep learning and growing. It’s not about striving and straining and beating ourselves down for failing. It’s about being so madly in love with our Makers that we simply can’t settle for saying we’re treating Them “good enough.” You might be doing great today, but you can always learn to do better. Maturing is not a guilt-driven chore, it’s an irresistible challenge.

FURTHER READING:
The Mechanics of Spiritual Growth: Four Essential Attitudes
The Bible isn’t perfect. Now what?

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