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.

Its Not ‘Distorted Thinking’ – Its Called Using Our Brains

A billion opinions have been given on why the Church is dying in America. None of them are necessarily wrong, but there is really no way to know who is right. Everyone has their theories, and of course I have mine. While the reasons are ultimately very complex, personally I think each prediction probably has some merit in some way. But I an only talk about what I know, so here is my theory based on what I have been told by people that have left the church. People are tired of the arrogance and the “my way or the highway” attitudes over debatable issues. You either fall in line as a clone of what the leader says is the one right way to interpret obscure scriptures in the Bible, or Science, or politics, or all of these (liberally or conservatively) or get out.

I think a recent article called Softening Rhetoric on Homosexuality shows exactly what I am talking about. People that don’t agree with the conservative line on homosexuality are characterized as ignorant of scripture, rebellious, compromising, avoiding the topic, or greedy for numbers.

No where at all is there any consideration for people that have studied the scriptures long and hard, who have carefully and prayerfully weighed the topic from all angles, and have come to a different, intelligent reason for disagreeing with the EvageliRepubliChristian line.

This “my way or the highway” attitude is the reason I always run into for why people are leaving. You don’t agree with me? Then you are deceived. Or you are believing the liberal distortion of Christianity. Because there are no distortions on the conservative side…. right?

Or maybe people are leaving because they see that Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, to not resist evil people, to live at peace with all people, and to love our enemies, but they see you buying guns left and right and fighting tooth and nail for the right get bigger and more powerful guns. Because nothing says love and non-resistance like a big gun.

Maybe they hear you telling them to not lean on their own understanding or strength but to trust God with all of your problems, but then see you packing heat to deal with the problem of crime.

Then when they tell you they think Christians should live at peace and not carry guns, you tell them that is their belief and if they don’t like guns they shouldn’t buy one. You tell them that just because their religious convictions lead them to believe that guns are immoral, this doesn’t mean they should force their religious beliefs on other people. That is not how America works.

They then ask, if this is how you feel, then why you are fighting to keep gay marriage illegal? If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person. This is how America works: just because your religious convictions lead you to believe that being gay is immoral, you shouldn’t force your religious beliefs on other people. After all… didn’t Jesus have something to say about legalism and leaders forcing people to follow religious beliefs that they didn’t truly believe in?

Then you point out to them that gay marriage is not God’s perfect plan for marriage, that He originally intended in the garden of Eden for marriage to be between a man and a woman. We can’t make laws that go against God’s perfect plan.

They point out that in the garden, everyone got along – humans and animals, so there was no need for weapons there. God also says at end of time we will lay down our weapons and our hostility. So God’s perfect plan in the beginning was for their to be no weapons. And we can’t make laws that go against God’s perfect plan.

Then you retort with “the Bible describes homosexuality as an abomination and unnatural” (because you are trying to move away from the gun debate realizing that nagging conviction thing is getting the best of you).

They point out that the Bible describes men with long hair as an abomination and unnatural (using the exact same words in Hebrew and Greek as the scriptures on gay sex that you have probably quoted by now). As well as shellfish, mixed source fabrics, and unisex clothing. So why aren’t you fighting to make those illegal? Oh, and not to mention pre-marital sex, second marriages, and loans with interest – all of which the Bible specifically forbids? Because all the scriptures on gay sex in the Bible are actually about weird temple sex rituals (according to the original languages), but the scriptures on those last three are pretty clear.

You come back with “because some one just can’t be a homosexual and follow Jesus. It just can’t happen.”

They point out that there are many gay Christians out there that do follow Jesus, and also that your use of the word “homosexual” is inappropriate in most contexts.

You then start ranting about liberal distortions of the truth and the war against Christianity and the marginalization of the Church views.

They then give up talking to you because it is not about distorted thinking – it is about using their brains. And you are now starting to look like this:

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metamodern-faith-avatarYou see, you have not been marginalized by society. You have marginalized yourself by not learning how to express your positions in a consistent, non-hypocritical, loving way. The point I am trying to make here really has nothing to do with gun control or gay marriage or divorce even. The point is that if you continue to promote a distorted, contradictory set of beliefs and then condemn others for doing the same (in your eyes), you will cause people to leave the Church, become cynics, and question if your brand of evangelicalism will even last.

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Mission Impossible: Unconditional Love

This week I have been pondering how our words have an effect on others. I received a particularly long and nasty message in my email inbox from someone this last weekend that was… well, not happy with me. The weird thing was, most of their statements on my beliefs and actions were false, but what they had to say about my attitudes were… let’s just say I am changing and growing in those areas. Not fast enough for most, I am sure, but I don’t disagree that I need work. But that is not the big thing that got me pondering. The night after this email came in, my wife and I found ourselves diving for the floor as a gun fight / car chase broke out behind our house.

Now, don’t freak out – we live in a safe neighborhood. There is a major road behind our house that sees a lot of random traffic, so this was probably just something random that will never happen again. But two speeding vehicles were shooting at each other, the last four bullets being shot off 30 feet behind our back door. Other than hurting my arm while hitting the deck so fast, every one was okay.

But what really struck me is that if something had happened to us, this email would have been this person’s last words to us on Earth. If I were that person, I couldn’t live with myself if that were the case – no matter how much I hate someone, no one deserves to hear mean, angry, condemning words about themselves.

“Your mission, if you choose to accept it…” The odd thing about the Mission: Impossible movies is that you always know that ultimately the mission will be possible. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be making the movie. But I guess “extremely difficult mission” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

In the Church, it seems like our “mission: impossible” really is impossible: to love everyone unconditionally. Jesus even told us that it is not that big of a deal if we only love the easy-to-love people or the ones that are just like us. We are to go so far as to love our enemies.

In all honesty, I don’t know if I have any real enemies. I’m not the easiest guy to get a long with, but I don’t think anyone would go so far as to label themselves as my enemy. But on the other hand, it is kind of a cultural no-no to be the “enemy,” so maybe it is just a difference of semantics. But the point is, if I am supposed to go so far as to love someone that would identify themselves as an enemy, everyone else that doesn’t go that far would most definitely fall into the “love one another” list.

A huge problem with our society is that we think it is okay to say harsh things to someone if we think it is true: “insensitive,” “arrogant,” “know-it-all,” “cruel,” “ridiculous,” “demeaning,” “rude,” “mean,” “ignorant,” ‘irritating,” “disappointing” (and those are just the words that I have found used today on Facebook alone… I can’t quote what I have read in blog comments today just because I want to keep this blog G-rated as much as possible).

I used to have a commitment that I have slipped up on a lot recently. Even if it was true that someone was arrogant or mean or a total jerk to me, I wasn’t going to call them that. No one deserves to be called those kinds of things, no matter how much we hate them.

Because, let’s be honest – you can only speak those words out of hate.

“Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

We have all heard this saying (the Bible says the same basic thing: “for as he thinks within himself, so he is“). I would write an additional version of this statement:

“Be careful of your thoughts of others, for your thoughts become the words you say to them.
Be careful of the words you say to others, for your words become their actions.
Be careful of your words to others, for your words can become their destiny.”

Our words have an effect on others. We can speak love or hate, life or death.

So that is why I try to apologize when someone says they were offended by what I said. Even if I think they are wrong to get offended, even if what I said might technically be true. A while back I called someone a few serious names, and several people (including this person’s spouse) agreed with it. But I don’t want to speak hate and death into someone’s life. It is only through encouragement that we can get people to improve. So I apologized.

But I have found that this is a hard stance to take. I have asked people not say certain things to me and was accused of being “too sensitive” or “reading too much into it.”  I have pointed out words that people have said that I find hurtful, and then they just ignored it and never even wanted to discuss it.

Because of this, I have noticed over the past two years that I have been giving up on my commitment to not treat people as if they are bad, but to see the hand of God in everyone’s life no matter who they are. I have slipped up and said honest words that did not match up with the words that God would have used (His “truth in love” is usually so much more encouraging than what we choose to say when we speak “the truth in love”). I gave up on unconditional love and labeled it as a true mission impossible.

“Tough love feels a lot like mean” – Brittany Pierce

Many years ago, I sat through some incredible teachings on communication. The main lesson was that you do not speak your feelings about someone as if they are personality traits for that person. For example, instead of saying “you are mean and rude,” you would say how you feel: “I feel like you are being rude to me.” The idea is to change from saying “you are ___” to saying “I feel ___.” In other words, you take responsibility for how you feel (because God is the only one qualified to accurately describe someone’s personality), instead of pointing accusatory fingers at others.

People are very complex. Saying “you are an annoying person” is too easy to shoot down logically. We all have people that like us and people who don’t, people who find us fun to be around and those that find us annoying. Saying “you are” is an absolutist statement, and they only have to show one case where it is not true and they defeat your entire point. But if you speak of how you feel in an argument, they can’t debate that. They can ignore or dismiss it (which many do), but the big issue is that they can focus on how their actions made you feel rather than descend into defending their character. If there are a lot of people defending their character and actions to you – that is a good sign that you might need to change how you communicate. People don’t want to be around those that make them feel like they have to constantly defend their character.

“But!” you say – “you don’t know how condescending, how annoying, how difficult that guy is!” I can imagine, and it is probably true. They probably know that it is true, also. Do you really want to add to the chorus of condemnation that is ringing in their head all day long? Or do you want to be one of the few that spoke life and peace into that person’s life?

Also, think about this: do you really think that person is like that all the time? I mean, we at best spend an hour or two with any one person per week or even per month. People are complex beings. If we were to be honest, we would never, ever say “you are ____” because we are in no way qualified to say that about anyone. An honest statement would be “you are a complex person that I have no right to say any thing about because I am not around you 24/7.”

metamodern-faith-avatarWhoever we hate, whoever we don’t get a long with, whoever we don’t want to talk to, whoever we don’t want to mess with … Jesus loves them, gets a long with them, wants to talk to them, doesn’t mind the mess. The mission does seem impossible, but we are called to try. Your mission, if you choose to accept Jesus, is to love unconditionally. If you are caught not being loving, Jesus will disavow any connection to those actions. Your message to world with self destruct if you can not choose otherwise.

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.

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