When I was a kid I would often go fishing with my dad. Our fishing trips usually started at the tackle shop. For a little boy, a tackle shop is a nearly magical place filled with colorful lures, live bait, and trophy fish mounted on the wall. Everything in the store had the ability to send me into daydreams of landing a monster bass or record catfish. As a child I thought the heights of fame included having one’s picture on the wall at Randy’s Bait & Tackle. When we went fishing, we usually used live bait, specifically minnows. We had this round Styrofoam bucket that would get filled at the tackle shop with bait. The way these little fish darted to and fro was captivating. I would scoop one out with the dip net, hook it to my line, and then cast it into the lake with all my hopes and dreams of impending Bait & Tackle shop fame.
One the earliest times that we went fishing together, I thought I’d be extra helpful. My dad was putting together a few things and told me to keep an eye on the bait. I got to thinking (a dangerous endeavor, I assure you), if one minnow was bait for a big fish, then a lot of minnows would be bait for a lot of big fish. So, while my dad was rigging up the other rods, I began scooping up the minnows and tossing them into the lake. I was nearly done with emptying the bucket when my dad realized what I had done. He was, well, less than enthusiastic and supportive toward my innovative strategy.
What was the problem? Primarily, I was trying to be more helpful than required. I was told to keep an eye on the bait. I thought I’d be more helpful than instructed and I ended up making our fishing trip very short. It was a well-intended error; but, it was an error nonetheless.
Sometimes we can try to be more than instructed. We can try to be more gracious than God. We can try to be more loving than God. We can try to be wiser than God. I believe this is an error that I, and many others in the church, continue to make. Our reasoning why may seem like common-sense. But is that common-sense more informed by our culture than by the Word of God? Is it prompted by social pressures and issues more than God’s Word? Even if it comes from a place of good intentions, trying to be more than God is a sign that we believe God is insufficient. In the church, we’d seldom ever admit to this because we know better than to actually say God is insufficient. But frequently, our actions betray our confession.
How do we attempt to be more gracious than God? We’ve all read those parts of Scripture that run very counter to today’s popularly received wisdom. “Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). Surely Paul didn’t really mean that. Surely God doesn’t actually instruct wives to literally submit to their husbands. Our modern conceptions of gender equality (which has less to do with “equality,” per se, and more to do with a sameness of identity, purpose, and roles) bristle at this thought. And in this conflict, we are tempted to re-interpret the passage or apply it in such a way as to make God seem more gracious than he appears to our modern eyes. We have taken the plain and received meaning of the text and made God more gracious than he is because we have determined that God’s grace is insufficient.
Sometimes we attempt to be more loving than God. Grasping the modern definition of “love” is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. It seems that love to the modern person is simply desiring and facilitating the doing of whatever is pleasing or pleasurable at the moment. Love means celebrating and applauding anyone’s method or pursuit of pleasure. It is not loving, therefore, to ever imply that someone’s pursuit of pleasure is wrong. Don’t be a buzzkill or a hater. But God’s Word instructs us that there are many ways that seem pleasurable to us but are, in fact, destructive. In this tension, we are tempted to minimize or ignore some passages. Surely God didn’t really mean that this lifestyle or desire is sinful. God is a God of love. And love is love. So he must have actually meant the opposite. We have tried to be more loving than God because God’s love is insufficient.
A perception of God’s insufficiency is most pronounced in the church today when we think that we are wiser than God. God has provided us with the ordinary means of grace. Prayer, the Word, and the Sacraments are the primary tools given to the church to do the work of ministry. And yet, we’ve continually minimized these tools in order to focus on “more effective” means. The church growth movement sought to leverage modern principles of business management. Churches that mesh entertainment with their worship frequently fall into CH Spurgeon’s critique that such churches are more likely to “amuse the goats than to feed the sheep.” Churches on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum have attempted to redeem the culture, fight for justice, or take back their country through primarily political means. Churches that get in line with cultural pressure to participate in their political endeavors are applauded. And churches that fail to get in line with their methods are criticized. But are we attempting to be wiser than God? Are we substituting God’s provision of the ordinary means of grace with some other worldly method? Is God’s way insufficient?
Rev. David Strain recently spoke to his congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS on the events that unfolded in Charlottesville, VA. He mentioned the truths and the tools that are necessary for the church to respond to such events. I was struck and convicted by what he had to say about the tools of the church: “The tools which Jesus Christ has given to the church to respond to sin, human brokenness, and human needs look, at least by the world’s standards, to be pathetic and weak…. But the good news about Jesus is attended with supernatural power to change lives and renovate hearts and make us new.” I am often tempted to try and be wiser than God. Instead of latching onto the latest fad or the social cause of the day, I need to remember that God’s wisdom is sufficient. His means are sufficient.
When we attempt to be more than God, we inevitably fail. We must rest content in the fact that God appointed His means of grace and attends them with His power. When we trust in God as He reveals Himself in His word, then He will bless us. But when we try to be more than God, we are declaring with our lives that God is insufficient.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.