September 4, 2014

Deception and distanciation

I learned a new word yesterday: distanciation. It is not in the dictionary yet, but is used by theologians to describe the need to distance myself so I can properly interpret Scripture. This means leaving my current needs and issues with God, confessing known sin, abandoning all presuppositions and traditions, and putting mental and emotional distance to anything else that might interfere with seeing the text with clear and unbiased eyes.

Even though 100% objectivity is impossible, by being as objective as possible, as those professors warn, can also create an opening for deception. They say that studying this way leaves out an important question: “What does this text have to do with my life, with my relationship with God?” Reading the Bible was never intended to be a purely academic exercise.

There is only one way to prevent distanciation from putting me in spiritual danger; I must apply the teaching as soon as possible. This is not easy under the pressures of assignment deadlines and the to-do lists of ordinary responsibilities, yet learning the things of God is basically useless if I don’t do what He reveals to me. Otherwise, I’m leaving myself open to deception.

Distanciation is not the only issue. Deception can come from a host of sources. One of those is the lies of Satan. Although the Word of God promises that nothing can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8:31-39), this evil liar can work with my situation and emotions to make me feel like God does not love me. I need to be in the Word of God and trusting what He says. I need to remember the Cross and what He has done to prove His love. Staying close to truth keeps me from deception.

Sometimes I’m impatient with God and think I must “do it myself” rather than wait for Him. So in pride, I take life into my own hands and become deceived. The cure is the same — draw near to God, this time humbly confessing my sinful attitudes . . .

“But he gives more grace . . . God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:6–10)

Another deception is misuse of the Word of God. When the devil tempted Jesus, he brazenly used Scripture and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

If I come to the Bible filled with insecurities about my identity, or about God’s power, I might be tempted by verses like that and do something foolish to prove who I am or who God is. But Jesus wasn’t deceived; He knew who He was so didn’t even answer that accusation. Instead, He got right to the heart of what His tempter was doing and answered with Scripture, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Matthew 4:5–7) For me, this deception might be helped by distanciation in that I must always trust what the Bible says about me and about God, not what I want it to say.

Deception can also happen if I listen to others who are deceived. For this, God says, “My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Proverbs 1:10) Christians are supposed to be “nice” and “agreeable” but sometimes we must also say “no” and stand firm in our faith.

The last point is that deception will happen because “Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand.” Interpreting Scripture is not easy, but this passage goes on to say that it happens to those who are “ignorant and unstable.” They interpret Paul by twisting his writing “to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:15–18)

For this, the Bible says to be aware . . . “knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.”

This is the inoculation against deception: Know it can happen; beware of lawless people; remain stable in the truth; grow in grace (freely given from God) and knowledge (study) of Jesus Christ; and glorify Him all the time. God gives me these warnings so that neither distanciation or deception will keep me from knowing and trusting His great love for me.

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