By Ricky Beckett, GUG Contributor
This article was edited to Geeks Under Grace standards, and the personal opinions of this author are not necessarily that of Geeks Under Grace.
What should you do when you’re confused? You should seek clarification. Go to someone knowledgeable on the subject and ask them questions to help clarify the matter. Ask for help. When I was a kid, my dad worked hard to teach me it’s okay to ask for help. Though we didn’t know it at the time, I have a learning disability. I thoroughly believed I was incapable of learning, so I never asked for help. It wasn’t until early adulthood I learned it really is okay to ask for help when you’re confused about something, or when you don’t understand something, even if you need more help than others. Otherwise, how will you learn?
This article is the first part in the “Clearly Christian” series based on the book with the same title written by my friend and colleague, Rev. A. Trevor Sutton, in the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (I encourage you to read it yourself as well). This series is also the result of a Bible study series I’m taking my college students through in the campus ministry I run at Central Michigan University. In the book, and this series, the goal is to address common misconceptions and accusations made against Christianity – that is, some common confusions. My goal is not to provide a detailed apologetic against certain issues (though there will be some apologetics), but to clear up some confusion as simply as possible. Since fans of Geeks Under Grace come from a variety of Christian denominations, I will be speaking about Christianity mostly in a general sense with some helpful gleanings from my own Lutheran tradition.
Now that I’ve spouted enough exposition, let’s get started with a brief discussion on confusion and its history before we address some specific confusions about Christianity.
We live in an age of confusion. Society is becoming increasingly confused about sex, gender, marriage, childrearing, and other things. It is also extremely confused about Christianity. The word confuse comes from the Latin word confundo, which means “the mingling and mixing of truth and falsehood, information and misinformation, knowledge and ignorance” (Sutton, 4). Although we may currently be experiencing confusion at its apex, the age of confusion began a long time ago: in the Garden of Eden. Four types of confusion occurred at the Fall of Man.
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ …Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-5).
The first confusion is that the devil confused Adam and Eve about the veracity of God’s Word. The first thing we see here is Adam, as the husband and therefore prophet of his house, preached the Word of God to his wife. The second thing is the common interpretation that Eve added to the Word of God by saying God commanded them not even to touch the tree. However, as Rev. Jeff Hemmer puts it, “Whether he or she added the bit about also not even touching the tree doesn’t matter. It’s good advice. The preached Word is still the Word. The problem isn’t any addition. The problem is that no one intervened to send the serpent packing at the first words out of his lips” (Hemmer, 50).
Whether it was right for Eve to essentially supplement the Word preached to her isn’t really the point; the point is Adam abdicated his duty as a husband to protect his wife from the very outset of that crafty, vile serpent putting God’s Word under a microscope and questioning its veracity. Ever since then, human beings have lived in utter confusion about God and His Word, especially as it appears as the devil’s infamous words, “Did God actually say…”
The second pattern of confusion is seen in Genesis 3:7, 12: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths… The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’” As soon as they eat the forbidden fruit, their eyes are no longer focused on one another and God, but downward and unto themselves.
The first thing they do is turn to me-focused navel-gazing — they focus on their own private parts. Rather than taking joy in their spouse’s body, they become obsessed with their own. Sin thus confuses how husband and wife relate to one another: divorce, pornography, adultery, same-sex marriage, what it means that the husband is the head (Ephesians 5:22-33), what it means to be a man/woman, etc. Is it any surprise, then, why so many sexual issues abound today? We have been constantly hyperfocused on navel-gazing since antiquity.
This navel-gazing narcissism is what we call original sin. In the Lutheran tradition, the word we use to describe original sin is concupiscence, coming from the Latin phrase incurvatus in se, which means, “curved inward on oneself.” To put it more crudely, we have our heads stuck up our butts. To quote directly from the Lutheran Confessions (the Book of Concord), this concupiscence includes serious defects “like being ignorant of God, despising God, lacking fear and confidence in God, hating the judgment of God, fleeing this judging God, being angry with God, despairing of His grace, and placing confidence in temporal things, etc.” (Augsburg Confession II, 8). This concupiscence has since confused not only how man and woman relate to one another (especially as husband and wife), but also how we relate to God, as we will see in the next pattern.
“And [Adam] said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:10). The second thing Adam and Eve do when they hear God walking in the Garden is, instead of welcoming His presence and even running to Him for refuge, they hide from Him. This is what sin does now; this is man’s original relationship with God. Sin thus confuses how mankind relates to his Creator. Our natural disposition, before Christ’s saving work comes to us, is to fear God as our judge rather than to love Him as our Father. Even as Christians, we struggle to come to our heavenly Father who loves us for refuge, seeking instead vain, temporal things like various addictions and binge-watching a show on Netflix for comfort.
The last pattern of confusion we shall consider comes from Genesis 4:8-9, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against this brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” Yes, you dingus, you are your brother’s keeper! Here, we see sin confuses relationships within the family. The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Just like his father, God questions Abel (not as if God didn’t already know, but rather to give Abel an opportunity to repent and trust in the mercy of his Creator). This confusion manifests itself in brothers and sisters fighting, parents killing their unborn children, a parent giving up his or her child for adoption rather than taking up the vocation of being a parent or even failing in that vocation, etc.
Notice how each of these confusions falls under the Ten Commandments. The first table of the Commandments (1-3) addresses our relationship to God and His Word, and the second table of the Commandments (4-10) addresses our relationship with our family and neighbors.
Thus, despite the confusion wrought by the devil and man, God continued to provide clarity in this age of confusion. He spoke words of promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), He made His power known to Israel in their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12), He made His presence known throughout their wilderness wandering (Exodus 16:10; Deuteronomy 31:3-6), He spoke His Word clearly through the Prophets (e.g., Isaiah 43; Jeremiah 29:10-14, etc.), and He promised a Savior throughout all the generations (e.g., Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 53: Jeremiah 31:31-34, etc.).
Furthermore, the Word of God itself, the first thing man became confused about, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus, therefore, “is clarity overcoming confusion… Jesus proclaimed the Word of God with power and authority… Jesus came into a world of confusion, falsehood, and darkness to bring clarity, truth, and light [John 8:12]” (Sutton, 6).
How does Jesus continue to provide clarity and truth in 2022 and onwards? In His written and spoken Word. We have good translations of the Scriptures (but beware of poor ones that cause confusion!). You also have your pastor who brings you God’s Word in the liturgy (if you belong to a liturgical tradition), the sermon, and Bible studies. You can also go to your pastor to seek clarity on any issue. In the Lutheran tradition, we teach God also provides clarity in the Sacraments—His means of grace that assure you of your forgiveness and salvation even though you may be confused.
At times, your conscience may become your worst enemy, “Am I really forgiven? Am I really saved?” This is why God has given us His means of grace so when we partake of Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, or when we hear the pastor’s forgiveness in private confession and absolution by the stead and command of Christ (John 20:21-23), all doubt and confusion are brought to naught since you have literally tasted and heard it.
Jesus also sends the Church into a world of confusion. “I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth. As You sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18). This is what the Book of Acts is about — indeed, what the Church has been doing ever since.
On the Day of Pentecost, when people were confused about whether the Apostles were drunk, Peter preached a sermon to clarify what was happening (Acts 2). Peter also preached the Gospel to a crowd who were confused by the healing of a lame man (Acts 3:12, 16). Stephen taught the Gospel to a group of people who were confused by the mingling of truth and falsehood (Acts 6:12-13; 7:2-53). A magician named Simon was confused about the Holy Spirit until Peter spoke God’s Word of truth to him (Acts 8:18, 20-24). An Ethiopian government official was confused about Scripture until Philip clarified it for him in his teaching (Acts 8:35). Paul clarified many confusions in his epistles, such as the issue of circumcision’s role in salvation in Galatians, if there is a resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians, and many other issues.
In extrabiblical writings, from AD 110-112, in their correspondence with one another, two Roman authorities named Governor Pliny and Emperor Trajan had confusions about Christianity that fueled their violence against Christians. There was also confusion about Christians being cannibals (the Lord’s Supper) and committing incest, which an apologist named Athenagoras defended the Christians against. From the 5th to the 15th centuries, confusion abounded regarding the humanity and divinity of Christ (e.g., the heretics Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, and others), and many other things leading to the Lutheran Reformation (aka, Conservative Reformation) in the 16th century and various reformations after that in the 16th and 17th centuries (the Radical Reformation, Reformed Reformation, and Counter-Reformation). (To be fair, these various reformations haven’t helped clarify confusions either.) With the rise of Enlightenment philosophy in the 18th and 19th centuries, confusion rose about the reliability of the Holy Scriptures as education, technology, and science began to cause a rapid change in society, which persisted throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
So, that briefly covers the history of the Age of Confusion we’ve been living in since antiquity. Yet we should be encouraged that God has not left us hanging in this confusion. He has consistently given us His Word in its oral and written forms, which He continues to do today in His Church. He speaks it to you through your pastor, and He even uses simple organizations like Geeks Under Grace to help you appropriately engage with pop culture that is often antithetical to our Christian confession. As we cover each of these topics throughout this series, the constant in our confusion is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who Himself is grace and truth. Keep your eyes on Christ. He will not lead you astray.
About the Author
Rev. Garrick Sinclair Beckett, also known as Pastor Ricky, is Associate Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and is also campus pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Chapel located on the Central Michigan University campus. He is a graduate of Concordia Seminary (M.Div.) and received his bachelor’s degree from Concordia University-Ann Arbor in Christian Thought and Theological Languages. He served three years in the Army prior to seminary and is married to his wife, Emilia, who emigrated from Finland. What makes Pastor Ricky a “geek” is his affinity for video games, literature, and anime.
This article was edited to Geeks Under Grace standards, and the personal opinions of this author are not necessarily that of Geeks Under Grace.
Want to see your work on Geeks Under Grace? Apply to be a contributor today.
Hemmer, Jeffrey. Man Up! The Question for Masculinity. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017.
Sutton, A. Trevor. Clearly Christian: Following Jesus in This Age of Confusion. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018.