Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The cattle on a thousand hills

Men need to worship something greater than themselves. This is because man is made in the image of God and yet he is not autonomous—he isn’t self-existent. In this, Biblical Christianity stands staunchly against Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”). And yet, a good deal of the world begins the same way Descartes did; they begin with themselves. Man would try to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and elevate himself to the status of God. Of course, if he has any brains at all, he’ll eventually realize that he doesn’t have absolute control over everything that happens. His flesh is weak and he can be killed by a myriad of diseases and other men. Timothy McVeigh expressed this well in his last words from the English poet William Ernest Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstances
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of change
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the year
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Make no mistake Christian brothers and sisters, as my Pastor once wrote this poem “is packed with arrogance and blasphemy.” This is not a free soul, but one that is in bondage to sin. Paul tells us: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” Only the truth sets people free, but these people are looking for a different kind of freedom. They want the freedom to be the master of their own fate, to be the captain of their own soul. This is freedom in the absolute sense; freedom without bounds. Only God has this kind of freedom, as creatures we never will. The sooner we get over this the better. As the creations of God we can enjoy real freedom, but it is not absolute. There is real liberty—it isn’t not total because the liberty to swing ends when it hits another’s face.

Christians on the other hand are called to worship the true and living God who has absolute freedom. We are not the captain of even our own soul; we are not the masters of our own fate—but we know who is! Psalm 50 expresses what the living God requires of us in worship quite well.
9I will not take a bull from your house,
Nor goats out of your folds.
10For every beast of the forest is Mine,
And the cattle on a thousand hills.
11I know all the birds of the mountains,
And the wild beasts of the field are Mine.
12"If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.
13Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
Or drink the blood of goats?
14Offer to God thanksgiving,
And pay your vows to the Most High.
15Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."

As creatures made in the image of God, we are capable and required to give God the worship due to him. This is not an irrational, confusing thing though. We are to be thankful to God in prayer and pay our vows to the Most High. In the next Psalm, we are told that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.” These are things that the animals who are not made in the image of God can never do. We must use our real liberty to worship the true God—not raise our fists against one who owns a cattle on a thousand hills.

With Joshua, I suggest that we worship the living God rather than ourselves. “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”


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