This three-part series will outline what I refer to as the Stewardculture Triad. It’s a simple way to organize thoughts about our relationship with God. These are foundational ideas for the notion of Stewardculture itself. The Stewardculture Triad is comprised of:
- Our response to God
- Our response to God’s creation
- Our response to each other
In part one here I will discuss our response to God.
First, let me start out that what I write in this section, and in this entire text, is based on my understanding of what is revealed in the Bible. I believe this understanding comes from guidance of the Holy Spirit and by the teaching of godly men through the decades of my life. The truths therein are the context of this writing and therefore each discussion point needs to be considered from that perspective. For example, it is a truth that God created all things, including humans. It is a truth that He designed us in a particular way and that design implies a relationship. This relationship exists irrespective of any belief system or agnosticism man may raise.
Regardless of catechism, creed, or denomination, there is a human response to encountering God, however that response gets described.
I do not consider denial a response. I term denial (which includes agnosticism) as a reaction. Denial of God serves no purpose in stewardship because with no right relationship with the Owner of creation, we cannot appropriately care for His creation. A right relationship with God is a matter of the heart, not determined by our works. Works follow a restored relationship with God, but they do not determine our restoration. Therefore, we will only deal with the idea of responding to God.
I make a distinction between reaction and response. To some, the difference may seem semantical at first consideration. But, let us dig a bit deeper. I believe that some people categorize something as a reaction because it is an act that follows a cause or force; and this reaction is thought of as being without contemplation. Some think of reactions much like a reflex without much contemplation. These same people view response as being more of a cognitive process of some undetermined time gap between cause and response. However, I do not characterize reactions as being without thought.
Based on my experience, my observation, and my limited understanding of God, I believe people both react to God and His actions and respond to God and His actions. In my mind, the presence or absence of thought does not define the difference between the two. I do not adhere to the tenants of the soft sciences that describe reaction as being only an involuntary action to a cause while a response is a voluntary one. That line of thinking may work with other created things we encounter, but not God. There is no uncontemplated reaction to God because of how and why we were designed. We exist in the context of knowing we are created, and therefore, reactions and responses are both contemplative actions following the first cause, which is God’s creative activity and His prior love toward us.
So, what is a response? Though my own training did not take place in seminary, I have contemplated on this. I freely admit my thoughts could be flawed. I do not believe so, but it is something I have to admit. With what could be viewed as flawed thinking, I will attempt to discuss the right response to God for our purposes of stewardculture.
The Roman church composed its catechism which describes man’s response to God as faith. I understand that, but I think that is ephemeral and challenging to apply in pragmatic ways. Many books of the Bible have faith as their central theme. Often these books give us illustration, parable, and story to help us understand the idea of faith. Yet, one cannot use a dictionary definition of faith and be satisfied. Simply stating that faith is man’s response to God’s revelation has left man open to wide and various interpretation as to what is included in faith and where boundaries may be in our relationship with God.
I prefer the word trust. It is much more tangible and helps to illustrate our need to be protected from the justifiable punishment of death for our sins. Whether we choose the Hebrew word חָסָה (chasah) or בָּטַח (batach) as our translation for the word trust in the Old Testament, they both express protective refuge. The protective refuge we have today through Jesus Christ is from the penalty of our sins justly due each human. Do you believe God will welcome you to heaven and you know that without reservation? That is trust, and a right response to God’s provision. In this case, God’s provision of Jesus Christ. Aided by the Holy Spirit, this is a cognitive realization we come to with a knowable subsequent choice – what I refer to as response. A youth pastor I know preached from the pulpit one Sunday that if one is truly a born-again redeemed Christian, they know the Gospel because they had to understand it in order to be saved. But in one single word, I call it trust.
How do we interpret Abram’s trust in God following God’s command to leave Ur? The Bible tells us that he was counted as righteous by God. Was it his action that justified him? Or was Abram’s action the outward reflection of something deeper, a choice he made? Was Abram’s action the result of a contemplative process that included an awareness of the Creator and who he himself was in that God-man relationship? It was Abram’s trust demonstrated by his obedient choice in God that stood him well with God. Not only did Abram’s trust lead to volitional action, it was followed by worship of the Most High God.
This is starting to scratch at what the difference is between a reaction to God and a response to God. A reaction to God may be to deny Him or even to be indifferent towards Him. But, we were not so created to be indifferent to our Creator. By default, the fact that we are created has built in it an implicit relationship with the Creator.
A Twentieth Century Reformed theologian, Cornelius Van Til, wrote about this idea that we are not created to be indifferent to our Creator, or the rest of creation, for that fact.
Moreover, because man is created in the image of God, we may say that he has the revelation of God’s presence built into his constitution. His knowledge of God is innate, in the sense that his own constitution reflects to himself the presence of God. And this innate knowledge as revelation of God is correlative to the revelation of God in man’s environment. Thus man’s knowledge of God never operates independently of the knowledge he acquires from observation of his environment. Still further, man’s knowledge of God through observation of his own constitution and his knowledge of God through his study of his environment do not function independently of God’s direct person-to-person covenantal communication. Thus the whole of man’s relation to God, and indirectly the whole of man’s relation to his created environment, is a person-to-person, a covenantal affair. Man is he who as God’s image bearer answers to God. He answers to God. He answers to God always and everywhere.
I am still wowed by that quote no matter how many times I read it. Though, for some, the statement of the revelatory nature of man’s constitution and man’s environment may be too strongly worded, there is value in the kernels of Van Til’s comment. We are responsible to God because we simply cannot escape the reality that there is a God which is evident within us and as revealed by His creation. This knowledge, then, demands a response and following a right response, a responsibility because man “answers to God always and everywhere.”
Without diverting ourselves into a debate about Reformed theology, which is not my purpose here, the notion that there is an innate knowledge of God has been present within us since the first Adam, and through the second Adam, we are filled with the Creator’s Spirit.
We are designed to be able to willfully chose to have the right response to God and in so doing be totally fulfilled and provisioned. The account of Genesis 12 is very informative to help make this distinction.
Though there is a shift in narrative moving from Genesis 1-11 to Genesis 12-50 it does not interrupt a continuation of God’s plan waiting for man’s right response and His merciful offering of the restoration of the relationship between humans and their Creator. But, why is a plan of restoration even needed? Because where Adam and Eve failed and where Abram was considered righteous was in the heart condition of their trust or lack of trust in God. The first couple lost their trust in the total provision of God when they thought they still needed something more when all around them was bounty. Abram’s response to God was to trust for His provision while going to an unknown place when all around Abram was human society. A stark contrast in both environment and willful decision.
Worship and trust, in my mind, is a single response to God. I believe man’s single acceptable response to God is simultaneously intellectual and innate. The innate human response to God is worship. The intellectual response to God is trust.
I strongly believe that if man never had the words God preserved in the Bible, we would still feel that God-shaped vacuum that Pascal described so aptly and we would yearn, as man still does, to have it filled. Yet, as Pascal continued, “…in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Amazing awareness to be sure. But, it is awareness felt by every human, though some deny it. The ‘why’ of our response to God is answered in the idea that we were created to willfully respond to Him. I claim that we deny something of ourselves if we suppress the response to God.
Just so it is not missed, let me restate it without embellishment: man’s response to God is worship and trust.