Day Fourteen - When God Seems Distant

With this chapter Mr. Warren concludes his discussion of the first of his five purposes of Man. Surely worship, biblically understood, is a basic purpose of human life. But, what Mr. Warren has presented to us lacks biblical rigor. He has defined worship as “bringing enjoyment to God,” (p.63) and “falling in love with Jesus.” (p.67) His case for these things misses the biblical idea of the “pleasure” of God, as explained above. Similarly, he has misconstrued the biblical ideas of the “smile” of God, “surrendering” to God, and “friendship” with God. The concluding chapter now under consideration enlarges his discussion of “friendship” with God and “relationship” to God. He considers the human psychological experience of God seeming distant to Man.

Mr. Warren suggests that, “The deepest level of worship is praising God in spite of pain…” (p.107) Toward the end of the Book of Revelation we read of the summation of human life in the final judgment. The Redeemed are brought into a new fellowship with God, as it is written, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.” (Rev. 21:3-4) Mr. Warren’s view does not integrate with a fully biblical doctrine of worship, for the notion that the “deepest level of worship” requires conditions that are absent in heaven clearly implies that our worship upon the Earth may achieve depths that are not possible to achieve in heaven. Yet, who seriously will claim that the worship of his church glorifies God to a degree that surpasses what is described in Revelation Chapter 4?

How may we account for such a great divergence between a biblical doctrine of worship and the message of a book that purports to speak of a biblical doctrine of worship? We may account for this by noting that the Bible speaks of the ontology of worship while Mr. Warren speaks of the psychology of worship. Everything God reveals in His Word is couched in the truth of who God is, who Man is, and what God is doing in the world of His own creation. Mr. Warren’s discussions are couched in the psychology of the way things “seem” to Man. He acknowledges that the distance of God is only a “seeming separation.” (p.108) He assures us, citing our Lord’s own promise, that He will never leave us or forsake us. (p.108) Yet instead of appealing finally to this truth, Mr. Warren appeals instead finally to human psychology.

Surely, God speaks to us on occasion in terms of the psychology of human experience. For example, in James 4:8 we read, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” We are human and cannot help but to interpret our experiences within a context of human psychology. But the final word on the definition of humanity and the truth of human psychology must be Scripture and not human experience. Scripture explains human experience; human experience does not explain Scripture. James 4:8 goes on to say, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” This speaks of a desire within the human heart to seek God and His righteousness. But the truth of the psychology of this is explained more fully in didactic texts such as Ephesians 2:12-13, “…you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Finally, it is the blood of Christ that brings us near, cleanses our hands, and purifies our hearts, “…for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5)

Any appeal to human psychology that is not grounded firmly in the ontology of Scripture must, of necessity, spawn its own ontology. This results in unbiblical ideas of God and of Man and, indeed, of all reality. The clearest indication that pious talk of God is not rooted in the truth of God revealed in Scripture is the irresolvable tensions that plague such talk. Any attempt to understand and to explain reality that begins with human psychology rather than with the truth of Scripture necessarily fails to grasp a fully consistent idea of the nature of reality. This gives rise to the tension of opposing concepts that cannot be resolved in terms of human psychology alone. We have had occasion to note several examples of this already in Mr. Warren’s treatise, and the present discussion includes yet another example. In Chapter 12, only two chapters prior to the present Chapter, Mr. Warren repeatedly assured his readers that, “You are as close to God as you choose to be.” (p.92, 98, 99). In the present discussion he now assures his readers that, “You won’t always feel close to him.” (p.107) The entirety of the present Chapter attempts to compensate for the unbiblical idea of power and authority ascribed to human choice in Chapter 12. Mr. Warren confidently states on page 99, “Remember, it’s your choice. You are as close to God as you choose to be.” This untruth requires compensation. So now, only 8 pages later, he raises the question, “What do you do when God seems a million miles away?” (p. 107) The answer he gives is not, “It’s your choice. You are as close to God as you choose to be.” Rather, he now says that nothing can be done about such experiences because God is playing cat-and-mouse to test our faith, and that really it is “vital” to our faith for God to seem a million miles away. In a Humanistic outlook that begins with human psychology rather than with the truth of Scripture, one untruth must be compensated by another untruth.

In support of the tension of “I choose to be close to God” vs. “God seems a million miles away,” Mr. Warren cites Philip Yancey, “Any relationship involves times of closeness and times of distance, and in relationship with God, no matter how intimate, the pendulum will swing from one side to the other.” (p.107-108) The imagery of the pendulum refers to nothing that is true in the biblical ontology of God, Man, and Creation. There is no pendulum in reality. Such a metaphor is wholly descriptive of human psychology. It is not descriptive of any perception of reality and thus is not an “experience” of reality. We may refer to this as human experience only in the sense of the reality of the inner space of the human heart. The Heart of Man is the seat of the Image of God, but has become corrupted by sin and unbelief. It has become the domain of the firm conviction of that which is not true. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin and unbelief (Jn. 16:8) and to make the Heart once again a domain of truth and godliness (Jn. 17:17). But Mr. Warren instead would incorporate the corruption of the inner space of human psychology and fantasies of swinging pendulums into a concept of Christian maturity. He quotes at length a passage from Floyd McClung as he agonizes over the loss of “spiritual feeling,” which culminates thus, “In utter desperation you cry out, ‘What’s the matter with me?’” (p.108) What is good, Christian counsel for such a fellow? Shall we tell him, “It’s not about you?” Here is Mr. Warren’s assessment, “The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with you! This is a normal part of the testing and maturing of your friendship with God. Every Christian goes through it at least once, and usually several times. It is painful and disconcerting, but it is absolutely vital for the development of your faith.” (p.109) This hyperbole of Mr. Warren is quite ironic, for the term vital derives from the Latin viva, meaning life. That which is vital is that which is necessary for the occurrence and maintenance of life. But, separation from God is death. Revelation 20:7-15 describes the Judgment in which the Devil and all of the ungodly are cast away from God’s presence into the Lake of Fire. This is called, “the second death.” (v.14; see also Rev. 21:8). The ardent desire of the godly is to draw near unto God and to abhor sin and the consequence of separation from God. Yet, Mr. Warren suggests that separation from God, the path toward death, is vital, or necessary for life.

Mr. Warren gives lip service to the idea that sin is what separates us from God, but rather than appealing finally to this truth, he appeals finally to human psychology. Says he, “But often this feeling of abandonment or estrangement from God has nothing to do with sin. It is a test of faith - one we all must face.” (p.109) In response to one suffering the psychological experience of God’s absence, Mr. Warren does not say, “It’s not about you.” Instead he caters to, and indeed elevates, human experience. The biblical remedy for the feeling that God is distant is instruction in the biblical truth that He will never leave us or forsake us (Matt. 28:20) and that it is our own sin that has made a separation between us and our God (Is. 59:1-2). The proper response to feelings of distance from God is repentance. One must repent of his sin that would account for separation from God, and/or one must repent of the unbiblical belief that God has left him. Instead of so instructing his readers, Mr. Warren assures them that experience of separation from God is natural, normal, and often has nothing to do with sin.

Mr. Warren draws upon a number of Scripture texts in support of his view. A whole book could be written on Mr. Warren’s handling of Scripture from various versions. The present forum affords space to treat only a few examples. He heads the present Chapter with Isaiah 8:17, “The Lord has hidden himself from his people, but I trust him and place my hope in him.” This is meant to suggest that Isaiah is saying basically the same thing that Mr. Warren is saying in this Chapter, that even though God is hiding Himself, I still will trust Him. However, in reality this text says nothing of the kind. Mr. Warren has pulled it completely out of context. Isaiah was a prophet whom God called to be His witness of judgment to the rebellious Kings and people of Judah. God did not hide Himself from Isaiah. It was quite the contrary; God revealed Himself and His Word to Isaiah and charged him with bringing this Word to a nation of sinners. It was this sinful people from whom He hid Himself. He did so not because this was a “vital” pendulum swing in their “relationship.” His turning away from them was an act of judgment and wrath. What Isaiah 8:17 actually is saying may be summarized in this way: The Lord hides Himself, i.e. removes His favor from, the house of Jacob because of their sin, but He has spoken to Isaiah and he will wait for Him.

Mr. Warren also cites a number of the Psalms of David, in which David despairs of the help and favor of God. For example, he appeals to Psalm 22, wherein David cries out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (v.1) In order rightly to understand this and many similar Psalms of David it is necessary to appreciate first the uniqueness of David in the history of God’s people. His experiences must not automatically be taken as typical of every Christian life. Many readers find great affinity with the grandeur of the comfort expressed in Psalm 23, and also identify with the anguish expressed in Psalm 22, but few readers are called to walk in steps so high nor so low as those which David trod. Secondly, it is necessary to bear in mind the prophetic nature of David’s anguish. Mr. Warren cites verse one of this Psalm, “Why have you forsaken me?” as just another example of how “David frequently complained of God’s apparent absence.” (p.108) Jesus Christ cited this same verse as He hung on a cross and died to take away the sins of God’s people. Much of this Psalm is prophetic of the crucifixion of Christ. Verses 11 through 18 virtually describe the crucifixion in great detail. The Gospels quote this Psalm in numerous places in their telling of this story, and John 19:24 cites Psalm 22:18 with the preface, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Also, John 19:28 similarly declares Psalm 69:21 as fulfilled in the death of Christ. Mr. Warren woefully cheapens the deep richness of what is expressed in these Psalms by utilizing them only as a means of advancing the view that such darkness is “absolutely vital for the development of your faith” and that it “has nothing to do with sin.” It has everything to do with sin. Sin is at the very root of such darkness, and the darkest of all separation from God was fulfilled in the death of Christ for the propitiation of sin.

Ironically, Mr. Warren closes this Chapter and his discussion of the worship of God with one of his few ventures into the subject of the death of Christ. Having just told us on the previous page that our separation from God has nothing to do with sin, but is absolutely vital for the development of our faith, he now says that “the greatest reason for worship” is that “God’s Son died for you!” (p.112) In his previous references to the death of Christ, the reader was left to wonder how this can be a death “for” anyone. Here he elaborates in a manner that is more clear than at any previous point, “…Jesus took all of mankind’s sin and guilt on himself.” (p. 112) This book misses the biblical truth of God, Man, Sin, and Redemption on such a grand scale that it is difficult to see how the few elements of truth encountered here and there fit into the whole. It is admirable that Mr. Warren wishes to bring the focus of worship onto what God has done in Christ for us. But even in this there is an attempt to round off the sharp edges of truly Christian orthodoxy. He speaks of the death of Christ not as what God has done, but what God as “allowed,” as he says, “Why did God allow and endure such ghastly, evil mistreatment?” (p. 112) The biblical truth is that no one takes away Christ’s life from Him, but He lays it down on His own initiative (Jn. 10:18), and that this was planned and intended by God before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23, Eph. 1:4, etc.) Also, he speaks of the death of Christ as taking away the sin and guilt of “all mankind.” Earlier, on page 97, Mr. Warren said that what God cares about the most is, “The redemption of his people. He wants all his lost children found! That’s the whole reason Jesus came to earth.” Now Mr. Warren, and his readers, will have to decide whether or not “his people” and “all his lost children” consists of “all mankind.” A popular Evangelical view is that Christ died for “all mankind” but that only those who choose to believe thereby become “his people.” It is this unbiblical notion of popular Evangelicalism that requires the correlativity of a finite “god” and a sovereign “man.” It is this metaphysics of correlativity that lies at the heart of Mr. Warren’s message. Though such a question requires much more elaboration, we shall have occasion to enlarge this discussion in the coming Days of this book.


Anonymous EW from Ohio said...

I've read parts of "Purpose Driven Life" but, as you have noted, it didn't settle well with me. I'm very encouraged that you are taking the time to comment on specific passages--I pray the Lord will bless your ministry here.

I found your post by searching for "distance from God" on GOOGLE as I was trying to find Scripture to give to a friend. God is using you! Thanks again!

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am leading a small group through PDL. I have become very suspicious of Mr Warren's usage of different bible versions, and even more suspicious that he does not quote the reference alongside biblical text. I am beginning to believe he does not want me to look up a passage in my own bible because it does not give the slant his paraphrase does. If I take the trouble to look up his scripture references I find mostly he's quoting out of context or gone to an obscure version to find a word that justifies his argument. I am quite happy to take the good bits from PDL and those bits I'm not so sure of get me to explore what I really do believe. We should not be afraid to challenge opinions especially when they are not biblically based.

11:47 AM  
Blogger S. C. Mooney said...

Of course, it is impossible to prove outside of Mr. Warren's own admission, but to the reader it surely seems as though Warren did a lot of computerized searches for key words in order to find a text somewhere - anywhere - that offered the wording he desired. There is very little about his presentation that is even remotely "bible study," so this is the only explanation remaining. Let the reader beware!!

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with the comment about Scripture references. I take some ideas form this book and explore them through Scripture and commentaries.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is unfortuniate when some can't appreciate the good of others. PDL has been a blessing and tool to evangelize many.
If I remember correctly didn't Christ say that if there are only 2 sides...His and Satan's. I think it is very obvious which side Pastor Rick Warren is on...
Scipture speaks to us in many ways, depths and should be used in various formats...Paul to Timothy states...Study to show thyself approved...Of course we should read and study our Bibles personally...Pastor Warren is simply providing a springboard for us to dig deeper into the treasures that Christ has for us.
But from what I can tell, his book worked...because you are studying God's Word...mission accomplished.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm using the PDL in our sunday school. i think it is a good book and has helped me a lot. i can see that most of your comments are negative. nevertheless, i appreciate your effort in digging deeper into God's Word & not just believe everything written on it. that's a nice practice.

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grace and Peace be unto you.

Thanks for taking the time to write a comment on the topics of a "Purpose Driven Life."

I received a copy of the book as a present several years ago and upon reading it, was not impresses with the misuse of the scriptures.

May God continue to bless you richly as you lead others to the truth.

6:33 AM  

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