What Can We Know For Sure?

One philosophy popular in the last several years espouses that there is no absolute truth.

This works out conveniently for those who want to follow nontraditional courses. If there are no absolute, inarguable truths, then everyone can define their own truth.

But what happens when individual truths differ, or even clash with each other?

Just spend a little time on social media, and you’ll see. Instead of allowing everyone to have his or her own truth, society “cancels” anyone whose “truth” falls outside current societal values.

This philosophy has even crept into the church, sounding something like this: none of us is God, after all, and none of us knows everything perfectly. Therefore, we can’t be too dogmatic about anything.

It’s true, none of us is God. And it’s true none of us has perfect knowledge of all things. We’ll always be learning, growing, adjusting our philosophy to Bible truth as we understand it.

It’s wise to search out answers to questions. We might (and probably will) end up at the point that God is bigger than we are, and we can’t understand everything He does. But that shouldn’t be the smack-down, conversation-stopping answer to questions. There are many reasons young people have left the faith of their upbringing, but I think one factor is that the church has sometimes treated questions themselves as rebellion instead of invitations to help the person search out answers about the faith

But though all these caveats are true, it does not therefore follow that there’s nothing we can know for sure spiritually. There are some questions theologians will argue over til kingdom come, but there are core truths God has laid out in His Word.

Here are just a few:

There is a Creator.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” Romans 1:19-20). Psalm 19:1-3 tells us: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”

God is the Lord

Isaiah 45:6 says, “that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.” The phrase “that you may know that I am the Lord” appears about 70 times in Ezekiel and several times through the Bible in other places.

I used to sometimes see the saying, “Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.” And I’d smile and shake my head, because God is not in the business of remaining anonymous. He wants people to see and know Him.

Jesus forgives sin

Jesus said he healed a paralyzed man “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26).

Jesus is God

When Jesus forgave the paralytic man’s sin, mentioned above, The Pharisees answered, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They got the point, even if they rejected it.

Jesus told men who were going to try to stone Him, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38).

You can know you have eternal life

I’ve known of people who felt it was arrogant to claim salvation, or at least to claim assurance of going to heaven. But there is no arrogance involved, because it’s “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

John wrote, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:12-13).

A few decades earlier, John wrote, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). See other claims Christ made about Himself here.)

Paul prayed that the “eyes of your hearts” would be “enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:8).

God’s Power

The rest of Paul’s prayer “that you may know” in Ephesians 1, mentioned above, is “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20). God’s power raised Christ from the dead and set Him “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (verses 21-23). Paul prays we might know the greatness of that power. A God who can do that can take care of us as well.

God loves us.

John wrote in 1 John 4:15-16, “If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” Paul prayed that we might “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19) (I wrote more about knowing God’s love for us here.)

We can know God.

Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

David told his son, “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

Israel prayed, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3a).

How to live for God

Peter tells us, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. Through these He has given us His precious and magnificent promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, now that you have escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3-4).

These are just a few of the things we can know with certainty. These are all verses which mention “know” or “knowledge” in some way. Yet the whole Bible is given that we may know God and know certain things about Him: His sovereignty, the truth and reliability of His Word, His anger against sin, His protection of His own, and so much more.

I’ve mentioned before that one former pastor said that the Bible is “divinely brief.” A God whose thoughts are more than we can number picked out these specific things He wanted us to know about Him and His world and will. It behooves us to apply our lives to His Word and then apply His Word to our lives.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Don’t Let Truth Become Cliche

People who write about writing tell us to avoid cliches. I read one article that advised tucking a few cliches into dialogue, if you’re writing fiction, so the conversations sound normal and familiar. Generally, though, cliches are considered trite and unoriginal. There’s nothing modern readers and publishers like so much as an original idea or a twist on an old one.

While I agree with all of the above, one day it dawned on me that the problem with cliches are not the phrases themselves. The problem is us. Most of the definitions and articles I looked up said that a phrase became a cliche through overuse. Why was the phrase overused? Because it aptly or creatively expressed something people identified with. But people heard it so much, they got tired of it. Then the phrase lost its luster, if not its meaning. The phrase still meant what it always did, but we don’t hear it the same any more. We gloss over it or even get irritated by it.

Most of us use cliches thoughtlessly out of habit—thus the admonition to watch for and eliminate them from our writing and speech. But some cliches are used to stop a conversation, according to Wikipedia. For instance, if you’re telling someone your troubles, and they respond, “That’s just the way the cookie crumbles” or “Into each life some rain must fall” (though the latter is from a poem), they’re not really interested in hearing you.

It’s possible to let truth become cliche spiritually as well, isn’t it?

In the church I attended in my teens and college years, we sang “Victory in Jesus” quite a lot. In another church my husband and I attended several years ago, a frequent congregational song was “Til the Storm Passes By.” In another place, it seemed like I heard “Be Thou My Vision” almost every week. For a while, I almost cringed when I heard these songs announced or heard their opening notes.

But was there anything wrong with the songs? No, they are all wonderful expressions of Biblical truth. The fact that they seemed overused was a problem in my own heart.

What about Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Granted, sometimes people use this verse like a band-aid on cancer. They mean well, but they want to “fix” the problem instead of weeping with those who weep, and then the verse becomes a conversation-stopper. But does the frequency with which we hear this verse null its meaning and effectiveness? It shouldn’t.

If someone quotes or refers to Psalm 23, should I glibly think, “Shepherd, sheep, got it,” and move on?

When Israel complained about eating manna, honestly, I can identify with them. But God faulted them for grumbling and murmuring. They forgot the miracle of God’s provision in the wilderness—a wilderness they were wandering in due to their own sin and failure.

In Malachi, Israel was offering to the Lord animals that wouldn’t even be fit for a governor (1:8), much less for a sacrifice for God. Then the people complained, “What a weariness this is” (1:13).

It’s good to be familiar with God’s Word. Throughout the Bible, God expects us to know Scripture enough to be able to think about it in our everyday lives. So if some parts of the Bible seem trite or overly familiar to us, the solution is not to scale back on our Bible reading.

What can we do then?

We can pray with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). We can remember the incredible privilege it is that the Creator of the universe wants to speak to us. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). If God’s Word isn’t feeling so precious and wondrous lately, we can ask God to help us see it that way.

We can pray for revival. “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6). “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:25. Other translations say “quicken,” “revive, “preserve.”) Three times in Psalm 80, the writer asks God to “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”

We can ask God to search our hearts and lead us to repentance if need be. “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite'” (Isaiah 57:15).

We can ask God to restore our delight in Him and His Word.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart (Psalm 40:8).

Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them (Psalm 111:2).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

We can return to our first love. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5). Maybe thinking back through our testimony, God’s dealings with us when we first knew Him, revisiting our “Ebenezers,” those times we saw evidence of God’s working in our lives, will stir up that first love.

Practically, maybe interrupting our regular scheduled Bible reading plan to read through some psalms or passages that have held special meaning for us in the past might help. So might reading the Bible in a different translation than you’re used to. Slowing down to focus on the words, maybe reading them out loud, can keep us from racing through a passage. A college professor years ago advised looking up the definitions of all the words in a verse, especially if the verse was familiar.

There was a young man in my youth group years ago who, whenever he was asked to pray, asked that we’d learn something new from the Bible that day. We’ll continually be learning new things from the Bible; we’ll never exhaust it in this life. But sometimes we need reminders of what we’ve heard and learned before. “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15).

John Newton wrote a lovely hymn called “Waiting for Spring.” First he talks about God’s promise that the seasons will continue, so we have the assurance that “Winter and spring have each their use” and winter will give way to spring. He says, “Believers have their winters too.” “Though like dead trees awhile they seem,” the spiritual life God placed in them will cause them to bloom again. He closes with this prayer:

Dear LORD, afford our souls a spring,
Thou know’st our winter has been long;
Shine forth, and warm our hearts to sing,
And thy rich grace shall be our song.

May God shine in and warm our hearts and renew our love for Him and His Word.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

When Your World Is Shaken

Has your world ever been shaken? Has you ever experienced the rug being pulled from under you and everything going topsy-turvy? An unexpected serious diagnosis, a betrayal, a financial failure, a massive, destructive storm?

My own world was shaken once when I was 15. My parents divorced and we moved from a very small town to a humongous city. On one hand, my parent’s breakup was not a surprise: circumstances had been leading to that conclusion for a long time. But it was still a shock to the system when it happened. On top of family issues, I had to process the loss of friends, familiar neighborhoods, and school and face the culture shock of a totally different area, new school, etc.

Another shaking occurred in my thirties. One morning my left hand felt a little funny, like I had slept on it wrong. Within three hours, my left arm, both legs, and my lower torso were numb, I couldn’t walk on my own, and I was having trouble going to the bathroom. I thought I was having a stroke. After eight days and multitudes of tests, I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis. Would it get better . . . or worse? Would I walk again? How could I live in my split-level house when I couldn’t get up the stairs? How could I take care of my 2-year-old? No one could tell me.

I don’t remember when I first read C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, but his meditation on the evening of June 22. was eye-opening for me. The verse for that evening was Hebrews 12:27: “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” Even though that passage is talking about the ultimate “shaking” at the end of the age, we can apply some its truths to our comparatively smaller shakings.

Spurgeon says:

We have many things in our possession at the present moment which can be shaken, and it ill becomes a Christian man to set much store by them, for there is nothing stable beneath these rolling skies; change is written upon all things. Yet, we have certain “things which cannot be shaken,” and I invite you this evening to think of them, that if the things which can be shaken should all be taken away, you may derive real comfort from the things that cannot be shaken, which will remain.

What are some things that cannot be shaken? These truths are all through Scripture, but I’ll share a representative verse or two for each.

  • God’s sovereignty. Nothing that happens to us is a surprise to God. Well, then, why didn’t He prevent this calamity? That’s a question for another post. But He has a purpose in what He allows.

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

“The LORD is constantly watching everyone, and he gives strength to those who faithfully obey him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a, CEV).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29, NIV).

God’s power, might, and knowledge are all still in force though circumstances are in an upheaval.

  • God’s presence. One of the first things people ask in a crisis is, “Where is God?” He’s there.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

  • God’s love. We might not understand how the turmoil we’re facing fits with God’s love, but we can rest in the fact that His love never leaves us.

 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

  • Our salvation. Tumultuous circumstances do not indicate that my salvation is in question.

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).

  • Our home in heaven. Spurgeon concludes his devotion on this topic this way: “Our country is Immanuel’s land, our hope is above the sky, and therefore, calm as the summer’s ocean; we will see the wreck of everything earthborn, and yet rejoice in the God of our salvation.” Sometimes trials remind us of this very thing: we seek “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” This world is just a temporary dwelling, a tent.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-3).

This is one reason it’s so important that we mine the bedrock truth from the Bible. So often we seek affirmation or warm fuzzy spiritual feelings. But nice feelings will evaporate in hard times. We need to know God’s character and Word are true no matter how we feel and how circumstances seem.

If you’re familiar with Elisabeth Elliot, you know that her world was shaken in a major way a few times. Her first husband was killed by the Indians he was trying to reach with the gospel. Her specialty on the mission field was translation, and years of painstaking work was lost in an instant. Her second husband died of cancer. A recently published book, Suffering Is Never for Nothing, is transcribed from her sessions at a conference. In the third chapter she says:

We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance (p. 43).

Sometimes it’s not the big things that shake us up. It’s the little accumulated everyday frustrations. I never read the book If God Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My Locker Open, so I don’t know if it’s good. But I’ve had similar thoughts! I love God and I am trying to serve Him here, so why am I stuck in traffic/is my computer not working/is what I need unavailable. Elizabeth wrote in another book of the frustration of spending an inordinate amount of time in the jungle on a stove that wasn’t working. Couldn’t God “make” it function so she could get back to the more important translation work? He could, and sometimes He does. But we live in a fallen world, and He doesn’t take away all the effects of that yet. She wrote in A Lamp For My Feet:

Whatever the enemy of our souls can do to instill doubt about the real purpose of the Father of our souls, he will certainly try to do. “Hath God said?” was his question to Eve, and she trusted him, the enemy, and doubted God. Each time the suspicion arises that God is really “out to get us,” that He is bent on making us miserable or thwarting any good we might seek, we are calling Him a liar. His secret purpose has been revealed to us, and it is to bring us finally, not to ruin, but to glory. That is precisely what the Bible tells us: “His secret purpose framed from the very beginning [is] to bring us to our full glory” (1 Cor 2:7 NEB).

I know of no more steadying hope on which to focus my mind when circumstances tempt me to wonder why God doesn’t “do something.” He is always doing something–the very best thing, the thing we ourselves would certainly choose if we knew the end from the beginning. He is at work to bring us to our full glory.

Sufferings and trials have a way of clarifying for us what’s most important. As the things which can be shaken fall away, the things which cannot be shaken come more clearly into focus. Many of the psalmists go through this process: they come to God shaken by a problem: an enemy is after them, they’re troubled by the prospering of the wicked, etc. But as they pray and remind themselves of the truths they know, they’re brought back to a place of peace.

As Samuel Rutherford said, “Believe God’s word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your sea.”

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
    though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:1-5, 10-11

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