The inside track

Overstating the truth is dangerous-so is denying it

Issue: "Homeland insecurity," Nov. 10, 2001

Just in case you've been looking for the easiest, quickest way to offend as many people as you possibly can, I have an idea for you:

Let it be known that you think you know what God thinks about any particular issue.

Modern sensibilities get terribly bent out of shape by such an assertion. Saying that you know what God thinks reminds modern people of fundamentalist Muslim radicals. Or maybe of fundamentalist Christians like Jerry Falwell. Either way, folks today tend not to like people who are so arrogant as to suppose they have an inside track on the opinions of their deities.

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I know what I'm talking about partly because of the criticism we receive here at WORLD magazine. "You people write your magazine," one angry fellow e-mailed me last week, "as if you had a direct line to God. Who set you up to tell the rest of the world what He thinks about things?"

Our editor, Marvin Olasky, doesn't help things much when he tells our reporters that their goal should be to provide readers with a "God's-eye perspective" on the stories they write. Nor, to be truthful, am I any more helpful when I agree with my editor on the matter. For if God's perspective on things is the most accurate of all possible perspectives, wouldn't we be foolish not to pursue that perspective with all the energy we can bring to the assignment?

For the record, WORLD magazine's task is exactly that. Daunting as it may seem, we are committed to try to describe for you what is going on throughout the world in the light of God's truth. With all our limitations, our goal is to help you come closer to seeing things the way God sees them.

To be very sure, the fact that Christians (and others) have often taken on that assignment with either arrogance, overconfidence, or naiveté now makes our work just that much harder. Whenever someone is presumptuous about representing God's truth-saying more than God said, or perhaps representing the wrong god-then the skepticism of the cynics grows, allowing them to step back with growing doubts to say: "And who appointed you as God's spokesman?"

So the incredulity of such folks seems to have some basis. Trusting folks who claim to speak for God sometimes involves dangerous risks. That's why moderns are so offended by people like us.

But to such moderns, perhaps we should also pose this question: Have you considered the risks involved in supposing God has not spoken when He really has? Have you weighed what's at stake in the practical conclusion that there is no divine "word" out there when there really is such a word?

In its great care never to be guilty of saying more than God has said (or, if you're not quite sure there's a God, not to say more than the gods have said), our society has engaged in a mad rush to the other end of the issue. Now, rather than naively quoting our God, or the gods, we have become agnostics of the first order. What we mostly agree on is how much we can't really know. We worry about appearing to be fundamentalists-pretending to say more than God has said. But what we really have become are folks who are embarrassed to say anything at all that God has said.

Modern society especially recoils from anything with the thunder of a "Thus saith the Lord!" But even a quiet phrase like Francis Schaeffer's deft assertion that "He is there, and He is not silent"-even a phrase like that raises eyebrows in many circles, for it carries with it the possibility that maybe somebody is going to be so uppity as to argue that God has said something authoritative and true.

Saying more than God says is condemned in the Bible itself. But saying more than God says isn't this era's big problem. Hearing Him say anything at all is much more the challenge of our day.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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