Friday, October 1, 2010

Taking a step back

The inspiration for this post comes from a friend who commented on Facebook:
I can be "mean" by keying your car. But to bring down fire and brimstone to wipe out entire villages, killing the first born of an entire nation, ordering followers to forced marriages of conquest, now that is past "mean".
I want to look at each of these cases, and take a step back. I want to ask the question: Is God's wrath really beyond justification in each of these cases? Or is there a bigger picture here?

Let's start with the Sodom and Gomorrah story. We start learning back in Genesis chapters 13 and 14 that the people in this region were really, really bad news. In chapter 18, we learn that "the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave". Things are so bad that the Lord goes down to Sodom himself to investigate. What does He find? A town full of ruffians who were into gang-raping travelers. The only halfway decent guy in the town was Lot, who was himself a foreigner, and the main thing he had going for him was that he was the brother of Abraham, the Man of Faith.

So, there's justice. Where's the mercy? Let's look at the story. First, the Lord gave Lot a "don't look back" chance to escape. (One little condition to that mercy, and his wife failed.) Next, while He had originally declared judgement on the whole valley, he spared the small town of Zoar because Lot asked to keep it as a refuge. (Later on, Lot decided it wasn't worth staying in Zoar, and fled up into the hills, which was what the Lord told him to do in the first place.)

Let's move on to Egypt. What was their crime? Exodus 1 lays it out: Imposing forced labor on guests in their land, and infanticide. That last one is important: It seems God's judgement on Egypt paralleled what Egypt had done to deserve that judgement. Pharoh was even warned from the beginning how far it would go. Pharoh was warned of coming judgement, and given a simple way out: "Let my people go." He not only did not let Israel go, he heaped up the punishments on them. In other words, he was asking for it. Even then, the Lord didn't kill all male children, as Pharoh did, but only the firstborns.

Incidentally, this incident leads straight into the Passover, which is another big pointer to God's methodology of sacrifice, forgiveness, and covenant, acted out in each of these scenarios, and actually fulfilled in Christ. But that's another story.

Finally, on to the "conquest marriages". This refers to certain rules in Deuteronomy concerning how the nation of Israel was to conduct warfare. In a nutshell: If you go to war, and the Lord gives you a victory, and you take slaves, and you want to take one of the slaves as your wife, here's how you have to treat her. You have to give her time to mourn, and if it doesn't work out, she's a free woman, you can't re-enslave her. Now consider the time and the place where this rule was given. In those days, wars were fought, and slaves were taken. What made Israel different? For one thing, there were rules like this one requiring decent treatment of slaves, particularly of female slaves elevated from "slave" to "wife". For another, Hebrew culture pushed for the taming of sexual desires in men and the elevation of women in society. Not to modern levels, to be sure, but far above any of the surrounding nations. But consider: in Hebrew culture, a wife could legally demand sexual satisfaction from her husband, and even his family, but husbands had no place to make such a demand on their wives! I'd say wives in Hebrew culture had it pretty good, even compared to modern sexual relationships. Finally, I personally think that Hebrew rules concerning slave ownership and polygamy virtually guaranteed that one day, both practices would be obsolete. The Hebrews of Moses's time weren't ready for it, but a timeless God can afford to be patient.

Now, how do we move from there to God's bigger story? Well, the relationship between husband and wife is very important in Jewish (and Christian) theology. In Psalms and in the Song of Songs, the relationship between man and wife or groom and bridesmaid is used for the relationship between God and His people. The metaphor goes further: Israel abandoned their Lord and chased after idols, like an unfaithful wife. Nevertheless, the Lord promised to one day woo her back to him, and redeem her.

Anyhow, that's just my few thoughts on this.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fatherhood truth

So I've been a father now for two weeks, four days. Fracena and I love our baby. We do our best to meet her needs. Food, cleaning, and love.

Here's one thing that's caught my attention, though: She wants to eat. We want to feed her. But in the midst of our trying to feed her, she's so worked up that she fights us, swatting at the bottle and tossing her head around, until we finally get the bottle in her mouth, and it takes her a couple of seconds to realize what it is.

Heavenly Father: How often do I fight You when You are trying to give me something I need? Please forgive me.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thoughts on 9/11

I've been reading a lot of headlines lately. These fools in Florida and elsewhere that want to burn Korans. Riot crowds in Islamic countries burning Bibles and crosses in retaliation. Everyone's a victim, everyone's lashing out.

A few thoughts in return:


"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matt. 5:38-39) In other words, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth eventually leaves everyone blind and eating oatmeal.


Also, a quote from M. Scott Peck that was in a recent sermon I heard:
"There are dozens of ways to deal with evil and several ways to conquer it. All of them are facets of the truth that the only ultimate way to conquer evil is to let it be smothered within a willing, living human being. When it is absorbed there like blood in a sponge or a spear into one’s heart, it loses its power and goes no further. The healing of evil...can be accomplished only by the love of individuals. A willing sacrifice is required."

Next, listening to a recent audio clip from Ravi Zacharias, he recounts a visit with a Sheik wherein he observed that on one mountain, Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, and God told him to hold back, that He would provide the sacrifice. On another mountain, God's own Son was sacrificed, and not held back. Until we accept the sacrifice God made for us, we will continually be sacrificing our own sons.

Finally, my own thought: It's one thing to accept Christ's blood as atonement for my own sins. But then, I have to accept His blood as atonement for the sins of "that other guy", the one who offends me, who insults me, who injures me. That's the tough part. We're told that we find forgiveness when we forgive. Easy words. But the only way to know the truth of them is to live by them. That's the hard part.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's going on here?

God, what are you doing in my life? I'd really like to understand.

First, last weekend, there were the Jehovah's Witnesses you brought to my door. That was interesting. But okay.

Then, there was the lunch where we stumbled onto friends, and joined them, only to find out that the guest of honor at the meal was a Buddhist monk and writer. The "dedication" for the meal was... interesting. But okay.

And then there was last night.

Dinner with family, friend, and friends of friend. Half the folks there were new to me. Fun, eclectic, widely varied conversation. Loved it.

So then I got to asking my brother about the church he's recently been going to. Sounds like a great place. Anglican with a very contemporary styling, from what I understand.

Then we heard a chime in. "Oh, that isn't one of those Anglican churches, is it? The ones with the gay-hating African bishops who think all gay people should be killed?"

Umm... I know the Anglican churches you're talking about. I'm with one. But the African Anglican bishops have never said that. The only bishop I know of who has said that is Kunonga, the bosom buddy of Zimbabwe's dictator Mugabe, and he was defrocked by the other African bishops.

I then got a passionate earful on how hateful and angry my church is, my church leaders are, and I am, for believing that a relationship between two people of the same gender simply can't fit a Biblical definition of the word "marriage".

I was also told that only western culture has the view of masculinity and femininity where a man ought to be a man and a woman ought to be a woman, that "the rest of the world" has a more enlightened view of human nature. (Oh, really? As I recall, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese traditions have very distinct gender roles. And of those cultures, only Korea, which is I think the most western-influenced, has a stellar record on gender equality.)

I was also told that the Bible-based argument against gay marriage is the same as the argument against interracial marriage from a few generations ago. (Umm... No, it's not. I should know. I married a black woman. The arguments against interracial marriage were made by twisting a few verses, and they fell apart under a broader examination of Scripture. Conversely, the arguments for gay marriage are made by twisting a few verses, and they fall apart under a broader examination of Scripture.)

It blew her mind when I asserted that my views are not based on just "my feelings towards gay people", or just my own view of scripture, but that I have made observations of people, and human nature. "You make it sound scientific." Well, yeah, I went to an engineering school. I think that I usually at least try to reason things out in a somewhat scientific way.

It wasn't a discussion I could "win", that much was obvious. Lord, I just hope that I was a decent witness. I hope that I kept my cool. But should I stand quiet when Your servants are maligned for things they never said? How else should I react when I'm told something about Your Word that I know to be untrue?

What do you want me to do, Lord? What do you want me to say? Are You trying to tell me something that I'm missing here? I have only my trust in You.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sadness

I encountered two very sad things this week.

First, there was a woman at the church pot luck (I've seen her there many times) who said that she doesn't believe God has a plan for her life. She has nothing in this life but a litany of sorrows.

I didn't know what to say!How do you answer that?

How sad, to believe that God's love for you is less than perfect! How sad, to believe that God doesn't want you to have life and joy, or to think that somehow His power isn't enough to care for you!

The other sad thing was just a few minutes ago. A trio of Jehovah's Witnesses came to the door, with an invitation to their Easter day service (though JWs aren't allowed to celebrate Easter). I politely told them that we would be quite busy at our own church. But one thing struck me after I had closed the door... They said that they wanted to invite me to a "celebration of the death of Jesus". Now, I will be celebrating Jesus's death... on Good Friday. Easter is for celebrating his resurrection, and the hope and promise of resurrection that is shared by all believers. But a quick search confirmed what I suspected, from an official description of JW beliefs: The Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ.

How sad, again! To believe that Christ did not rise from the dead!
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:14-17)
Lord, heavenly Father, you are the Living God. You are not the God of the dead, but of the living. Lord, call out to your sheep who are lost and wandering. Lord, put words in the lips of your followers, that they may answer the lies and deceptions of the world that steal hope and give sorrow.

Lord, thank you for your Son Jesus Christ, that he died on the cross for our redemption, and that he lives now. Thank you for your Holy Spirit, to guide us and comfort us.

Amen.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"The same idea"

Yes, I heard Tiger’s “apology” press conference. At least, I heard part of it. More interesting to me than the conference were some of the remarks of WSB Radio listeners after. The question came up, why did he need to do this? One caller answered: This could be the beginning of Tiger’s own spiritual recovery. The first step, in many recovery programs, from infidelity to alcoholism, is to admit personal failure.

This got me to thinking. This was a Buddhist confession, not a Christian one. How are the theologies different? What does Buddhist theology say about marriage and fidelity?

The Dalai Lama was asked about this recently:

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader told The Associated Press during a brief interview in his hotel suite in Beverly Hills that he had not heard of Woods, but when the circumstances were explained to him he said that when it comes to adultery, “all religions have the same idea.”

“Whether you call it Buddhism or another religion, self-discipline, that’s important,” he said. “Self-discipline with awareness of consequences.”
Buddhists take it as a point of faith that all religions are basically the same, codes of ethics. This is a view that politically-correct Western Liberalism has also adopted. But does it really measure up, if tested?

Christian theology teaches that marriage exists to teach us about God’s triune nature. Just as God is Three-in-One, three distinct Persons in eternal Unity, with Love as an essential characteristic of that unity, a marriage consists of two people united to be “one flesh” [Genesis 2:24]. The love of the Father for the Son was so great that a life-filled Creation was the result; the love between a husband and wife leads to the creation of a family, and new life. In Christian teaching, God loved His people so much, even through our spiritual infidelity, that the Son shed all his glory, lived a humble life, suffered, and died in order to redeem us. No amount of self-discipline can overcome our fallen nature. Only Christ can heal our brokenness, if we enter into a loving personal relationship with Him. Heaven is eternal loving communion with God.

Let’s get back to the statement that “all religions have the same idea”. Do any religions out there have “the same idea” as Christianity does? Sure, the basic idea that “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is common. What about the consequences? What about love, and life? In Buddhist theology, life is suffering, and the purpose of religious discipline is to reduce the amount of suffering one creates. Suffering is to be avoided, not embraced, as Christ embraced suffering for us. Infidelity is bad because it causes suffering. The “two-become-one-flesh” of Christianity has no context here.

Nor does the Christian view of marriage have any context in Islam. While love is essential to the character of Christianity’s triune, personal, loving God, Islam’s God is distant. Paradise in Islam is still a paradise where Allah is distant. Christ commands love; Allah demands submission and obedience. A Christian husband is called to love his wife, cherish her, and if she is unfaithful, forgive her and take her back, though he may suffer for it. What about Islam? Rape is only punishable under Sharia law under the testimony of four male witnesses; Evidence is irrelevant. On the other hand, evidence can be used to convict a woman of sex outside of marriage. The punishment for this crime is non-negotiable: Death. There is no room here for forgiveness or redemption.

So much for the idea that all religions have the same idea.