Bishop's Message

It and Thou

Beware of Satan’s great distortion

THE FIRST GREAT DISTORTION Satan introduced into the mind of the human race is that the most important human quest is to know something as opposed to knowing Someone.

God placed the first couple in His paradise, giving them all they needed and inviting them to know Him as their loving, caring Creator God. Everything went well until the deceptive Satan turned up. It appears that God habitually turned up at the Garden to have fellowship with the human beings (Gen. 3:8). But Satan turned up in the in-between hours to tempt the humans.

Satan began by creating doubt on what God had told Adam and Eve. Once he saw the unsteady human heart faltering and embracing doubt, he pushed for outright disobedience by introducing the great distortion – that the meaning of life was to know something. He told Eve that if she ate the forbidden fruit, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” and assured her that she will come “to know good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

Therein was the dangerous distortion. Satan turned the human quest from knowing Someone (God) to knowing something (the knowledge of good and evil). Since that moment, we have been living in that appalling distortion. Instead of seeking God, we have been seeking to be almighty like Him, and in our pride we have sought to take His place through all the self-centred schemes so common in the human DNA.

To know God is to come to the core of who we are as human beings. It roots our being and well-being in the relationship that God wants to have with us. Instead, our lives are wrongly focused on lesser forms of knowledge that cannot ultimately make us human.

The Lord Jesus warned His listeners of the peril of living in the great distortion that has infected the human soul. The Pharisees specialised in knowing all the details of the Law (though Jesus also demonstrated that their knowledge was seriously flawed) without seeking to actually know the Lawmaker personally. eir focus was on the somethings of life rather than the Someone who is at the heart of all reality.

It is possible that even in religious piety, we can be thrown off-guard and offline. e parable of the prodigal son is an illustration of the risk of staking our entire life on the pursuit of Something rather than Someone. Both the sons were infected by the great distortion of Satan. e way the elder son addressed his father disrespectfully (“Look”, Lk. 15:29) and refused to enter his father’s house demonstrated that he did not really care for his father (or his brother). He was dutiful only for reasons of self-interest and self-protection.

The younger son also was more concerned about his share of his father’s possessions and what he could enjoy with that windfall. Only after he lost everything and was reduced to penury and hunger did he think of his father. When he was received by his forgiving father, perhaps he had a good look at his father’s face for the first time, and saw in that tearfully joyful face (and feeling his father’s wet beard)a living person who truly loved him. Until then, his father was an “It” in his self-centred universe. But it took serious adversity, humiliation and the desperate need for forgiveness and reconciliation to help him see his father as a “Thou”.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote I-Thou in 1923. In it, Buber divided human reality into two sets of perspectives: “I-It” and I-Thou”. In the “I-It” perspective we consider others (both living and non-living) as objects. A table is an “it” and we use it as an object. But it is possible to have similar perspectives with regard to other persons. We can reduce them to objects, in which case our primary approach is to use them rather than to love them. Similarly, we can reduce God to an “It” that can be manipulated and recruited for our own well-being and agendas.

Buber’s point is that at the heart of human life is “I- ou” relationships; we have been created for relationships, firstly and centrally with God, and then with others. is is in line with what Scripture says. Jesus summarised the Law into two commandments that tell us to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbours (Mt. 22:37-40). As we must note in the two sections of the Ten Commandments, we must treat God as God and other human beings as persons. Anything less would destroy our humanness.

Satan tempted the first humans to throw away relationships for the pursuit of knowledge and power. We are tempted to pursue Something rather than Someone, to fill our lives with “Its” rather than “ ous”. In this sinful pursuit, people are reduced to “Its” over whom we can exercise power and knowledge so that we can use them for our own purposes. But true knowledge (as depicted in the Bible) is relational in nature, and it begins with our relationship with God.

GOD TREATS US as “ ous” and it is from Him that we learn the rudiments of the “I- ou” relationship. is means that when we read the Bible, we must ask God to speak to us. We must seek to hear His voice in His Word more than merely learning facts and biblical trivia. When we pray, we must stop treating God as a divine “It” at our beck and call, but as God who loves us and seeks our love in our conversations with Him and conduct. We must avoid all temptations to reduce God to an “It” – to a dry doctrine, institution, programme or method.

We should not domesticate God whom we seek to control using knowledge and power.

We know we are on the right path when we learn to relate to God as the divine “Thou” and as a result begin to treat others as “Thous” created by God. Self-examination and reflection over what we actually do in our daily lives, and how we relate to God and others will show whether we are still living in Satan’s old lie or living in the Kingdom of God where, as Paul says (1 Cor. 8:1), love (knowing God and others) is more important than non-relational knowledge (knowing something).