12391341-junction-line-to-the-northern-of-thailandIn preparation for a lecture, I revisited the temptation narrative in Genesis 3 and learned something new. The first thing that Satan did when he approached Eve was to change God from an object to be worshipped to a subject to be discussed. Here is Satan’s opening gambit:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” (Genesis 3:1-3 TNIV)

We often look at the content of the dialogue but miss the more subtle shift that has taken place. Prior to this, Adam and Eve knew God as Creator and Lord. It was a personal relationship. God was a God to be trusted and obeyed. Now Satan and Eve have become theologians discussing about God. Eve falls for the ploy of Satan and allows God to be reduced from an object to be worshipped to a subject to be discussed.

I received this fresh understanding of the mechanics of temptation from something Bruce Waltke, my Old Testament sensei, wrote:

. . . Satan is an outspoken theologian who hates God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls their dialogue “the first conversation about God . . . It is not prayer or calling upon God together, but speaking about God, going beyond him.” (Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007, 261)

Once we “go beyond him,” once we see ourselves as someone in a position to pass judgement on God, we start on a slippery slope and we know what happened to Eve, to Adam, and finally to all of us.

I shared this insight in my lecture, which was part of a seminary course on Christian Spirituality. Many of my students were first year students, just embarking on their journey in formal theological education. I thought the timing was divine. I told my students that if they were not careful, they could end their time in seminary with A’s for their studies but with hearts far from God. Seminary could be a place where one’s faith could be threatened, not because the teaching is not orthodox, but by the very fact that in our studies, we reduce God to a subject to be studied and lose our sense of “the fear of the Lord.”

Of course seminary students are not alone in facing the temptation to reduce God from object to subject. All of us who deal with the Word on a regular basis: seminary professors, bible scholars, preachers, teachers, pastors, lay leaders etc., are exposed to the same danger. Anyone who forgets who God really is and how we should properly relate to Him face the same danger.

What is the answer to this danger? Surely we are not to stop studying the Bible. After all, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 TNIV) Maybe the problem is not in the fact that we study the Scriptures. The problem lies with the attitude we bring to the Word. Many evangelicals can rattle off 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 as proof of the bible’s divine inspiration. But have they been “taught, rebuked, corrected and trained” by the Word?

Proverbs 1:7 reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To ensure that we do not reduce God from an object to be obeyed to a subject to be studied, we must approach the Word in reverence to the God behind the Word. We need to hear God speaking to us from the burning bush, saying: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5 TNIV) before we open the Scriptures. We need to remember who God is and how we must approach Him before we study the Word.

God forgive me, all too often I rush to study the content of your Word before first taking time to prepare my heart. I have so many talks to prepare, so many articles to write, that I often handle the Holy Word before I take time to enter into a stance of the fear of the Lord. And without the fear of the Lord how can I be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained? How can I hear afresh my Father saying “you are my son whom I love” and surrender afresh to that love?

Maybe we need to learn afresh from Ezekiel’s encounter with God when he was called.

Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:26-28 TNIV)

How do we properly approach God’s Word?

Step one: Encounter God in His glory.
Step two: Fall flat on your face.
Step three: Hear His Word.

I have many talks to prepare. I am going to get really acquainted with my floor.