The God That Slays

Much has been written recently about the trend in Christian circles to focus on the wrath and punishment of God. Probably the best the analysis so far is Matthew Paul Turner’s “Praise God From Whom All Evil and Suffering Flows?” I honestly don’t know much about Turner, but his nuanced examination of the issue (if you read to the end) really reflects the true difficulties that are present in scripture – nuances that many evangelicals frequently gloss over.

I am sure at some point some semi-Calvinist is going to come out in defense of the song saying that the critics are missing the meaning of the word “though”, because it is supposed to mean something more along the lines of “I know ___ will never ever happen, but if it somehow did I still would ____” Fair enough, but I would still direct those responses back to Turner’s post that also deals with the idea of thinking something could happen, even if you are convinced it won’t.

On the flip side, several people have come out and said that Jesus does not preach any kind of violence against humanity – whether slaying, smiting, or raping of any kind. We should be glad that God practices what Jesus preaches, as some say. But to be truthful, if God did practice what Jesus preached, the entire human race would have all of our eyeballs poked out and all of our hands and feet cut off. Jesus had his fair share of problematic, disturbing teachings that we can’t just gloss over so easily.

Ultimately, the Bible is not very clear on whether God causes hurricanes, violence, and strife, or allows them to happen, or just set the world in motion and bad things happen randomly. Different people find comfort in different possibilities because people are all different. I think we should be careful to tell people that they don’t serve a God worth loving if they believe in, say, an ultra-violent John Piper view of God. Personally, I don’t get why people like Piper find comfort in his own views, but he does. Calvinism’s big problem is not where it finds comfort (because we are all wired slightly differently in that respect), but that it does not allow room for others to have an equally valid source of comfort in a different view of God that is just as based on valid interpretations of difficult Biblical concepts as Calvinists feels theirs is.

But to those in the Calvinist persuasion that do want to focus on Job 13:15 and declare “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”… can I point out that God comes to the scene in Job chapters 38-39 and rebukes Job for this attitude? So even if you can put together a string of verse interpretations to prove that God causes disaster and violence, I can show you several places (not only Job) where God disagrees with those that try to prove this line of reasoning. That may not be a strong enough denial from God for some of you, but I think it at least speaks volumes to where our focus should be.

Look, God created death. We will all die. But God does not see death as this bleak ending or horrible separation. It is a transfer from one state of existence to another. And the specifics are vague. But ultimately we will all die. So in a way God is responsible for the largest genocide of all time – the death of the entire human race.

metamodern-faith-avatarOr does it sound “icky” to use genocide in that context? Good – it should. Its applying a human concept to the work of God. That’s part of the problem. Humans came along and invented disaster. We invented rape. We invented murder. We invented unjust systems that lead some to starve and others to murder. We moved to places were natural events like hurricanes could kill us. We made all of these decisions to put ourselves in harms way. As science advances, we even find out more and more about how our decisions lead to cancer. We make these bad decisions as human beings that not only harm ourselves but others, and then we try to figure out if God caused it to happen or allowed it or not? Our logic is seriously flawed.

Advertisements

An Argument In Favor Of Christians Participating in Halloween

Its that time of year again. Nights are getting cooler. A few leaves are changing color. Pumpkin this and that are appearing on menus everywhere. And Christians everywhere are starting to post their “I hate Halloween” rants all over social media.

In a lot of ways, I get that. Many people who aren’t Christians also hate a lot of the dark and scary imagery of Halloween. Personally, I have never been a fan of “horror” films in general – and I’m not going to really get into the aspects of any holiday that resembles an entire genre of entertainment that I’m not a huge fan of.

But I still don’t think that we should go around writing off the entire holiday as an evil orgy that we should avoid like the plague. And here are a few reasons why:

1) We give “the darkness” (however you label that – Devil, Satan, Demons, Dark Forces etc) too much power if we freak out too much. The way some Christians react to Halloween you would think that Yahweh and Satan are two equal forces locked in an eternal yin/yang struggle. That’s not the picture that the Bible paints: God is all-powerful and love overcomes all.

2) God is everywhere, even in the darkness. He is more powerful than the darkness. See Psalm 139:7-8 (“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are.”) and Psalm 139:2 (“even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”)

3) Yes, there are many grotesque things celebrated at Halloween. But the Bible does not hide from these realities. Have you ever thought about what the Valley of Dry Bones vision looked like to Ezekiel? Not exactly good clean family fun. Now, this is different from celebrating the grotesque, but it is also not running and hiding from it and pretending it doesn’t exist.

4) If we are to avoid holidays because some people take it too far and commit “sin”, then there are no holidays that we can celebrate. You do realize that unmarried people have sex on Valentine’s Day? And that people get greedy on Christmas and buy more than they need instead of giving to the poor? Or that people commit gluttony on holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, you name it? And what about the drunkenness and who-knows-what that happens on New Years Eve? “But there are Satanic rituals on Halloween!” you say. Yep. And anything that is sin is just as “Satanic.” Do you really think that performing a specific ritual makes it more powerful? See point #1 then.

5) But then of course, you point out the “pagan” roots of the holiday. Which would also be true for Christmas, but let’s say you exclude that and just focus on the “pagan” aspect of the origin of Halloween. Does that still mean we are stuck celebrating a holiday based solely on the reason it was first created? Do we still go around martyring people on St. Valentines Day? No? Do we go fight in a war on Veterans Day? No? Okay then – maybe we can look at holidays as a way to celebrate something without actually having to do what the people that we are celebrating did back when it started.

This last point brings me to what I think we should focus on as Christians when celebrating Halloween. First of all, we need to realize that the word “Halloween” itself is a Christian term: “Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows (or All Saints) and the day initiating the triduum of Hallowmas.” “Hallowmas, also known as the Triduum of All Hallows (Triduum of All Saints), is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’) and All Soul’s Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually.” If you celebrate Christmas despite all of it’s Pagan roots and modern secular influence, then you have the same reason to celebrate Halloween.

Also, if the rampant materialism of Christmas doesn’t offend you as much as the grotesque imagery of Halloween, you might be getting something wrong.

Halloween is a great time to go and enjoy festivals, community night out events, and friendly celebrations. If someone invites you to a Satanic sacrifice, you might want to politely turn them down. But otherwise, be a part of your community for Christ’s sake! Be creative and dress up in a costume that you find appropriate. If not, then at least don’t go watching Star Wars or the Avengers or any one of a million movies where performers are dressed up in costumes.

Halloween is also a great time to teach kids about how some people are fascinated by darkness and death and how that can be an unhealthy thing if taken to an extreme. Kind of the same way we teach our kids to be thankful at Christmas while not getting sucked into materialism.

metamodern-faith-avatarSo, in other words, just like any other day of the year and any other holiday out there, let’s learn to focus on the positive, avoid extremes, and not let fear rule our lives. Because to be honest, too many Christians make arguments against Halloween based completely on fear – which leads back to point #1 above. Its a tired cliche now, I know – but still true: Love wins, even on Halloween.

Clarity, Uncertainty, and the Truth

The Truth Is Out There

I have always believed this statement, long before the X-Files put it into our shared cultural lexicon. There is Truth out there. Philosophers debate whether it is empirical, constructed, relative, pragmatic, or a hundred combinations and variations of any or all of those.

The biggest problem problem with truth is that we can’t proclaim something the Truth because we feel it is, or because we think something else implies it, or just because we want to. We have to have reasoning and proof to back it up.

Faith comes into the picture when we take the plunge to throw our lot in with the reasoning and proof that we believe points to the Truth. But at the end of the day, it is only by Faith that we can believe anything to be true. Even if you believe in Science, you have to have faith that what you see in the results of your experiment is true and not just some colossal coincidence or even a practical joke by some advanced alien race.

But even though there is always an aspect of faith that goes along with any belief in truth, at the end of the day, if you call something “true” it had better not be false.

Let’s say you work at a certain store that sells self-assembled furniture packages. One day you see your manager putting together a shelving unit for display. He makes it look easy – putting it together in no time without even looking at the directions.

Later that day, a couple comes in to the store and is interested in buying the shelving unit. They are concerned that it looks complex and they wonder if they will be able to handle the installation. You assure them that the instructions are clear and that they can easily handle  it themselves, because if your manager can handle it, anyone can.

When they get home, however, they run into instructions like this:

unsexy

No real directions and all the words are in a foreign language. And on top if that, there are several steps where they basically have to choose what they want to do out of several options. There is no clear path on how to make the shelves even if they could read them.

The problem is that you did not know that the manager can read the language in the instructions. You also did not know that the manager just winged it through the different options and basically created his own version of the shelves based on personal preferences. You just told a lie to the people that asked because you did not know or care to recognize the true complexities of the product. You said it was clear, but that is actually a lie.

You see, the Bible is not a clear set of instructions originally written in English. It is a set of ancient writings in various ancient languages that don’t always translate into English that well (and aren’t always that clear even in the original languages). Many translators have come along and decided to translate certain passages into English in a  way that makes them seem easy and clear, but what you don’t realize is that they may have just picked their translation because it was easiest… or maybe even because it fits their personal feelings on the subject.

This is why understanding the latest research on the translation of Biblical words is so vital and important. You may be believing something that is a lie and not know it. But I hear Christians all the time saying “I will never listen to all these crazy arguments about how words are supposed to be translated. We already know most of what we need to know.”

What this basically means is: “I may be believing a complete lie based on a bad translation, but I don’t care. I like what I believe and I’m going to stick with it no matter what.”

So many of the issues that we see churches fighting over seem to revolve around parts of the Bible that are – to be completely honest – very unclear in the original text. The role of women, the definition of marriage, the age of the earth, and the role of politics are all very vague concepts as written in the Bible. Anyone that says these are “clear” is believing a lie. An honest way of explaining our beliefs on some of these issues would be more like this: “No one is totally sure exactly what the Bible is saying on these issues, but what makes the most sense to me as being the possible truth is ____. But if you disagree, I see where your side could be just as possibly valid, and I respect your right to have a differing conclusion on these issues.”

But I am pretty sure hell will freeze over before we see that become the main way to disagree on Facebook.

metamodern-faith-avatarI get that many people are uncomfortable with the ambiguity that comes with knowing the truth about translation difficulties. But to remain in the dark about these issues is to run the risk of believing a lie about something.

Is that really a risk any of us should take?

Jesus Is Going To Chop My Head Off Like Brave Heart?

Ahh, the dreaded evangelism training. Since God is, well, God (all confusing and cryptic and all that) – apparently we have to come up with special ways to sell Him to other people. We can’t just let whatever comes out naturally do the job for us… we need special skills to get people to buy into this Jesus fellow.

Kind of reminds me of the “Sullivan Nod.” If you ever worked at a restaurant for a decent length of time, you were probably taught this technique. There are many different names for it, but it is usually always some name combined with “nod” (usually the name of the person that sold the video series to your employer for big bucks). The idea was that if you were to slowly move your head up and down while asking “would you like to order some cheese sticks for an appetizer” people would be so mesmerized by the whole show that they would also start shaking their heads up and down. This would lead to the words “yes, I would like some cheese sticks” rolling out of their mouth before they knew what was happening. Just because you were being soooo smooth.

So the idea is that we have to come up with ways to trick people into accepting Jesus. That personal conviction thing is too slow after all, and doesn’t lead to gripping testimonies to be shared in front of the Church. I mean, no one ever sheds a tear for the whole “I lived a consistent life in front of Henry and one day he slipped in the back of Church and has been coming ever since.”

I have been through my fair share of evangelism training sessions, all of which probably made me more afraid to share my faith than anything else. What if I forget where the bridge goes in the drawing? Or what if I forget what the P stands for in that acronym that will blow away all atheists’ objections? What was the acronym that is supposed to be so easy to remember anyways? I forgot it already…

Or for goodness sake what if I use a church-y term that no one understands?

Yes those evil churchy words we are supposed to avoid with non-Christians (even though we still use them all the time with other Christians… because the Holy Spirit also acts like a secret decoder ring?). Those words that I would have never picked up if I had never set foot inside a Church. Except that I knew what they all meant long before ever going to Church.

Here’s a little outsiders tip: Church culture is a little more widely known than most evangelism experts like to let on (they have to have job security after all). Non-Christians just pretend to not know what you are talking about to try and get you to go away. If they really didn’t know what you mean and they actually care to know, they will ask.

I know – shocking. Non-Christians have manners. Go figure. If you earn the right to speak into their life, they will ask you to clarify what you mean.

Anyway, you are probably wondering why Jesus would chop off heads. See, it all started one day in an evangelism training course.

We were asked to write out our witnessing script using “regular words” that non-Church people would understand (fyi – this is not the same as insider cliches that we use inside church – that is a whole other issue). At one point I used a phrase that stated that the poor person listening to me recite this canned script would need to “ask Jesus to come into your heart.” The instructor read over that part and crossed it out in deep, dark red lines. Above it was scribbled “Too churchy – should say ‘ask Him to become your personal Lord and Savior.’”

Personal Lord? Is this term something people regularly use?

I decided to test this question. I worked as a waiter at the time, and tended to talk openly about my faith with many people. One of the people that was most willing to discuss deeper things in life with me was a guy named Carlos, who we all called “Los” for short. So I went and asked Los what he thought it meant to ask Jesus to come into your heart.

“Oh you mean like in chick flicks where one of the main people decide to open up and let someone into their life and fall in love and all that? That person is then with them all the time, even if just in their heart? So like Jesus wants to be like that?”

Then I asked him what he thought of when I told him he needed to accept Jesus as his own personal Lord and Savior.

“Lord? Isn’t that the word they used in Brave Heart? So Jesus is going to chop my head off like Brave Heart? I don’t know about that.”

Well, hopefully not. Unless you’re Mark Driscoll or John Piper and believe in the ever-elusive SuperManlyMan Jesus®©™. But I have always thought it interesting that a big, burly restaurant cook could understand more about the heart of Jesus than… well… others.

Every evangelism class I have been through that attempts to teach me how to avoid using the “wrong” words or create an argue-proof script or whatever have put more fear into my heart than anything else.

Here is what you really need to know to share your faith:

  1. Go with your gut. You’re not MacGyver trying to diffuse a bomb, so making some mistakes will not end up being fatal.
  2. Don’t try to “be real.” Most people trying to “just be real” are the most awkward people in the world. Instead, see point # 1.
  3. Forget the canned scripts. Instead, see point # 1. And Luke 12:12.
  4. If you are afraid that someone will ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, the solution is not to get evangelism training. The solution is study your Bible more and not be afraid to ask the hard questions yourself.
  5. If you get asked a hard question or get stumped, be honest. If you have an answer for everything, then you don’t need faith. But someone without faith needs that faith, and you can’t offer what you don’t have. Oh, and see # 1 if you think you do have a good answer. You just might.
  6. One last point. If you are still not sure what to do, seriously… go with your gut.

metamodern-faith-avatar