July 5, 2011
I urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord…These men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them…But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit… Jude 4, 10, 20
I find myself thinking of Yellowstone these last couple of days, after hearing the news about the oil spill from an underground pipeline into the Yellowstone River in Montana. Fortunately, the mess occurred 100 miles downriver, near Billings, and so will not seep into the park; unfortunately, the spill is larger than first thought, and people and wildlife who live along the waterway have and will be adversely affected.
(Montana’s governor told CNN, “Everybody in Montana will work hard until this is done. We’ll be on it like a stink on a skunk.” Is that a great analogy or what?!)
Then I read an article from Sunday’s New York Times about Yellowstone, and was reminded of our visit there in 2004 (you can see a photo of my family and me there under the About Me section of this blog). We also went to Grand Teton National Park, since it’s right next to Yellowstone.
What a great trip that was! Even though it was August, the weather was chilly and damp most of the time, but that didn’t stop us!
I think the most memorable part of that vacation was our hike along the Norris Geyser Basin, the park’s biggest hydrothermal area (half of the world’s geothermal features are located in Yellowstone). The cool air mixing with the heat created an eerie fog that swirled around us as we traipsed along the elevated boardwalk, checking out the geysers, hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents) and bubbling mud pots (click here for an online tour; go here to see Old Faithful geyser spout off via live web cam).
The most gorgeous spot in Norris Basin, I think, is Emerald Spring. The blue water—the color reflected back after the other colors of sunlight are absorbed—combines with the 27-foot pool’s yellow sulfur deposits (which explains the basin’s funky smell) to make the spring appear to be a magnificent green (my favorite color!). I’m afraid the online photo just doesn’t do it justice.
These pools of water, though, can be deceptive. The springs especially look so inviting, sort of like Jacuzzis just waiting for you to jump in for a soothing soak. It’s also tempting to poke a finger in to see how hot they really are. But numerous signs caution against it. The water is boiling, the steam scalding. One little dip, and you’d come away with severe burns. Plenty of people have done so anyway, and paid the price, a few with their lives. Animals too—on cold winter days, bison gather near the park’s springs to find warmth, and some slip in. Their bones can be seen in the clear waters.
Danger among beauty—that’s just what Jude, the brother of Jesus, is writing about. As the leader of the church in Jerusalem, he cautioned against a form of Gnosticism seeping in among the Christian believers, which, as Charles Ryrie puts it in his introduction to the book of Jude, “views everything material as evil but everything spiritual as good.” Therefore, they “cultivated their ‘spiritual’ lives and allowed their flesh to do anything it liked.”
This manifested itself as ethical permissiveness, a tendency to think, “Well, I believe in Jesus and am assured a place in heaven, but it’s not really important to follow everything He said to do. After all, the prophet Habakkuk says we live by faith [2:4], and the apostle Paul agrees [Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11], so I’m ‘covered’ no matter what I do.”
But Paul also addresses this very false idea. He spends the first five chapters of Romans explaining our need for a right relationship with God through Christ, how we can receive it, and how God’s grace and mercy does indeed cover all our wrongdoing. But he begins chapter 6 with this absurd, rhetorical question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who have died to sin still live in it?” (vv. 1, 2). Our salvation doesn’t give us license to act any way we want—that’s just plain crazy! A life dominated by flesh (sin) “cannot please God” (vv. 6-8).
No, living to please God is not always easy. Scripture never implies that it is (John 16:33; Ephesians 6:10-12; Hebrews 2:18, 4:15, 16; among others). There will always be temptations, things the world says we should taste and try, ideas and activities that by all outward appearances seem good, but which can be soul and body killers. Like unreasoning animals, Jude cautions, we can wind up getting too cozy with them, with devastating results.
The Bible has posted the warning signs, and given us the intelligence, reason and even the instinct (Romans 1:18-20) to heed them. Will we?