We live in a self-help society. Visit any bookstore these days, and you will find “how to” books on just about every topic – from how to “live your best life now!” to “how to get fit fast!” What all of these books offer are techniques. Of course, step-by-step guides and systems can be helpful, but perhaps we have overlooked something in our frenzy to solve everything this way.
The mindset that all of life’s problems can be solved through scientific knowledge and techniques is called scientism, and it has profoundly affected the way our modern western culture views the world. In 1943, a time in which Christianity was said to be giving way to science, C.S. Lewis noted the critical difference between the two:
“There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating them from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique (The Abolition of Man).”
The Bible in general and the “law of the Lord” in particular can be very frustrating to those who are looking for techniques. How can I get God to do what I want him to do? How can I get results when I pray? How can I conform reality to my wishes? The ancients would tell us that we are asking the wrong questions.
Note: The law of the Lord is traditionally called the Torah in Hebrew and the Pentateuch in Greek – this is the first five books of the Old Testament. From here on out, it will be referred to as the Torah.
In our search for blessedness, we must be careful to set aside our modern habit of looking for techniques when we consider Scripture. Looking instead for wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue may help us finally see what we have been missing.
The Torah begins with the story of creation. We are told that “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).” Those that are looking for techniques could easily overlook a critical point in this passage: Humanity did not begin in a blind, pitiless, indifferent world and work our way up. We began as the appointed rulers of a “very good” world and have worked our way down. Reading further in Genesis 3, we find the explanation for the brokenness in which we find our world today. We are not the victims; we are the perpetrators.
Throughout the Old Testament, we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10; Isaiah 33:6; Micah 6:9). The first mention of fear happens to be in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve hide themselves from God after disobeying him (Genesis 3:10). Those searching for techniques might get stuck on how we are supposed to fear God, but the real issue is what this fear tells us about ourselves. Each of us is accountable, and each of us has failed. I, for one, cannot even keep my personal standards! Wisdom begins when we come to terms with this. Foolishness, by contrast, is the denial of accountability and the ignorance of failure.
While the world claims that your biggest problems are outside of yourself, and the solutions must come from within, God’s law tells you that your biggest problems are inside yourself, and the solutions must come from without.
This is what makes the Gospel unique. Every other worldview, religious or not, is basically advice about what you must do. The Gospel is not advice; it is good news about what God has done on your behalf. No matter how hard we try, we can never restore what we have broken, but God has intervened in our world through the cross to redeem us. We can come out of hiding and rest in his work.