Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Love Problem

It's popular these days to bolster the current conception of God's all-inclusive love from the life and ministry of Jesus. We know that God is perfectly revealed in Jesus and if we want to know what God is like, we can look at Jesus' life and glimpse his Father's character. And what Jesus reveals is Love pure and simple. He is loving, healing, never judging, etc. etc. Love. Love. Love. Sounds so soothing. Yeah, it's been bugging me. I seem to react to being soothed. So I looked for this loving inclusive Jesus and I can't find him. Parable after parable, teaching after teaching, Jesus emphasizes the haves and the have-nots, the ones who obey and the ones who don't, the sheep and the goats. His message is not the kind of thing I think of when I think of all-inclusive mercy and love. He seems so often instead to be giving a warning, if not of righteous judgement, then of a simple cause and effect situation in which if you don't take God's hand offered you, there is no other hope.

And I find it makes sense to me. You see, I'm very impressed with the problem of Sin. Mind you, it's a past tense problem. God has already dealt with it. But what a solution! If the only way to deal with sin was this all-in approach where the GOD OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE AND ALL POSSIBLE UNIVERSES has to become one of his creation and die, then sin itself must represent an unfathomable rift, something God can't fix merely with his loving merciful character, but through the means of the cross and all that comes with it, that is, the life, death, resurrection and return of his Son. And from everything Jesus and the other New Testament writers seem to say we have some part in appropriating that solution. It's not merely thrust upon us. We are called to repent and believe (act out?) the good news. Otherwise we are on the outside, whatever that looks like.

Two different "use the offered solution" scenarios come to mind. The first is my health. I would like to live healthy to a full age and still be running in my eighties. But I have no hope of getting there then without eating healthy and engaging in daily exercise now. The second is patching software on a computer. If a program has a specific vulnerability to attack and the developers of that software have published a fix for it, there is no hope that your copy of the software is safe from the specified attack unless you actually install their fix.

So the problem these days seems to be God's love measured against the fate of all those who won't "exercise," who won't "install the fix," who won't turn and follow him, who look at his absolutely gob-smacking-ly appalling sacrifice and find it just isn't to their taste. I think it's not actually fair. What do you call an act of spending everything he had to redeem us? Well, that's got to be Love, I'd say. Having accomplished this great salvation, what about those who reject the offered life ring? What is he supposed to do with them? It's simply unfair to make it his fault if they refuse to be helped. I'm not saying that some of the current rethinking of our ideas of hell and damnation isn't healthy. We need to rethink our stuff all the time. But I am saying that some of the current "God is all love" thinking, where he manages to save even those who don't want him anyways is a little like the nonsense about him making a stone that is too big for him to lift.

And generally speaking, barring nonsense poetry, which I admit I do enjoy, I'm opposed to nonsense.

Friday, August 2, 2013


I'm noticing an uptick of a certain type of marketing of our faith, a new emphasis, ironically, a new emphasis on the word "ancient." Signage, websites, and whatnot proclaim an offering of "ancient" faith. People are exploring "ancient" faith in online blogs and communities. Interest is growing in old writings, old liturgy, etc. Older cultures in the Christian stream, the Orthodox and Catholics delight in this because of course to them belongs the largest aggregation of years, the greatest seniority, the most ancientry.

It's all tosh. We are bowing down before numbers. 'Many' years, 'many' lives of men are not long in comparison to, for instance the lifespan of an angel, or God himself. God is the Ancient of Days. All of man's past is as the grass... And is two thousand years ago really ancient times? Is this not the new age of the Spirit? Is this not the promised time of the kingdom of God? The time that all the (actually) ancient prophecies were pointing to? ..

What's at stake here? Three things. First is the equality of all believers, those long ago and those present. If God is the same God as revealed by Jesus, then our access to him is or ought to be the same as for all our past brothers and sisters. If we venerate the past, we can never attain or even surpass it.

Secondly it is not normal or right to treat the past church as the glorious time that we must get back to. That verse in Proverbs about the path of righteous growing brighter and brighter must surely be God's ideal for the church. That glow has to be on the future, not the past. Somehow we have to believe that the best is yet to be, that we "ain't seen nothing yet!" If not, we're doomed. And besides, any such attempt to return to the first church is doomed to failure. We are not of the same culture and never can be.

Thirdly, if we can divest ourselves of this idea of ancientry, if can see ourselves as being in the same moment, the same new day, as the first century church we might be free as necessary to undo prior mistakes or make new choices in the church without feeling any guilt. We might be able to rethink stuff. It might be as simple as turning around to get the (oops!) forgotten camera before a holiday trip. But if we cling to our ancientry we're locked into whatever came before. All the historic responses to bygone cultures are immutable decisions that handcuff us against actually dealing rightly with today.