The book of Job & liminal space

What does the book of Job have to teach us about liminal spaces? – A lot!

My last post was an honest, raw confession of where I am at personally.

Several people have contacted me about feeling like they are in a liminal space of their own. I think there are many reasons for being in a space like this (some of it is the time of life, some of it is part of the spiritual journey, but I also think much of it is the shift in consciousness), but there are several things that stand out to me which I would like to explore in the future (stay tuned!), but for now I wanted to share a few thoughts about the book of Job.

BookJob

Last year (about this time actually) I took a seminary class that was focused entirely on Job. Job is a complex book that has become my favorite book in the Hebrew Bible.

That being said one can read Job and leave frustrated and confused – Every time I read it I feel this way, yet for some reason I still find comfort in it (maybe because I find comfort in mystery and uncertainty and not in shallow, pat answers?)

One can read Job and conclude the following:

God caused Job’s pain – if not directly than indirectly by allowing “the accuser” (not the same person as the biblical character Satan which was developed over time and only really become a demonic fallen angel during the inter-testament periods) to inflict suffering. The picture of a heavenly wager is an ancient form of literary genre and should not be read literally for by doing so it paints a pretty horrible picture of God!

It can seem as if God bullies Job into surrendering –  one can walk away with the idea that we shouldn’t question. (Actually I think the opposite is true!)

Because Job is blessed ten-fold in the end all the suffering was worth it.  -Really?  ok if I’m honest that just sucks!

In class we discussed the different ways Job can be interpreted and what kind of story it actually is – is it an actual historical story? Is it a story taken from other cultures who had their own Job story? Is it a sort of fable or play?

However one interprets the book of Job, I was left with more questions than answers which I think is the point of the story. One thing that did stand out was the following;

Job was wrestling through a liminal space, i.e. how does he move forward when he was raised and taught to believe one thing, but has experienced something different?

Ever been there?

I have, many times and often it is a difficult and unclear journey because you don’t have the answers. All you can do is confess, “this old way of thinking, being, or seeing doesn’t work for me anymore” – often these experiences come in the form of pain, heartache, loss, grief, change, or transition.

Job was raised to think that everyone who followed God would be blessed, and those who were cursed clearly did not (retribution principle). This made the world black and white and easy to understand. You could look at someone and if they were poor or suffering it was because they had done something wrong, i.e. it was there own fault.

Now the story makes it very clear that Job was a good man who had done nothing wrong and yet was experiencing some tremendous suffering. Job defends himself while his three friends continue to argue that he must have done something wrong because he was going through such suffering.

Ever feel like people just don’t seem to understand why you can’t believe, see, or think the way they do?

jobc10

Sometimes I feel helpless because I just don’t have the words to articulate why exactly I do not see things the same way.

His friends were stuck in the old way of thinking, but Job’s pain, suffering,  and grief had given him an experience where this old way of thinking just didn’t work – the answers he was taught and the answers those around him were giving just weren’t good enough anymore.

Ever feel like people give you answers to questions for a world that no longer exists? Answers that seem to see things as clearly black and white, only your experience has opened your eyes to see the world in so many different colors?

I think Job can relate to this – I find comfort in this.

As I am writing this I realize that I find comfort in mystery, uncertainty, and in the grey – this seems to be where I find God. I think this is because it is not shallow. I was taught to have all the answers, and then to present them (argue) to others. This causes one to seem superior and often arrogant because they always have all the answers and others need to see the world the way they do.

Like Job, the old way of seeing the world as black and white no longer works for me, and yet I struggle at times to find the words to articulate and explain why.

Next post I plant to share many personal examples and experiences that have lead me through liminal spaces.

 

 

My personal struggle – my liminal space

 

Asphalt road in an autumn fog

Yep…the above picture pretty much sum’s up my life right now.

I am living through a major struggle in my life. At the moment life is foggy and it is difficult to see the future

I am living in a liminal space

I was raised in a religious tradition that is still very much a part of me, but that I do not fit into neatly.

Because of my life experience I see the world differently – I think that’s good because it shows growth (some would call it walking down the slippery slope). I am thankful for this journey, but for the past several years of my life it has led me in and out of liminal spaces. Sometimes they have been short times (a few weeks), but oftentimes they have taken months…right now I feel right smack dab in the middle of a long one!

One website says the following:

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning literally, “threshold.”

A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing…

Seems to be the story of my life.

From my understanding a liminal space is the space where the old doesn’t work and the new is not yet known – it’s sort of an in between space (like dawn – not completely dark, but not light enough to see well). It is a time of uncertainty, unknowing, frustration – where one cannot see clearly what lies ahead and to be honest…

…this is difficult!

As I mentioned, for one reason or another, I seem to be drawn to walk in liminal spaces.  While I’m not sure why, I can say that I cannot stay where I used to be. Something is calling me forward into the unknown and I know deep within I must answer this call.

While it can sound romantic, let me tell you it is not at all.

While I cannot stay where I used to be, when I look around I often find I don’t fit into the openings I see.

I grew up evangelical, but have been involved in mainline churches for the past several years. While I am theologically progressive or mainline, I am culturally evangelical and this seems to be something I cannot shake.

I sense a call to be a spiritual leader, a sense a stirring and passion to be a pastor in the local church, and yet simultaneously I find church very constricting – mostly due to rigid structures and often dogmatic beliefs, but also the subcultures and foreign language patterns they often use.

I chafe against anything that seems dogmatic because it sucks the life and joy out of me – ironic that I want to work in religious institutions that are often the most dogmatic of all places.

86

As my bio also speaks about I have been and continue to be shaped by different traditions, including those outside of Christianity. I love this, but it does at times result in loneliness as I search for a home. Sometimes I am grateful for this journey and sometimes I resent it – sometimes I wish life was so much more simpler like it used to be.

I am very much still a Christian, and yet when most people define or think of a Christian I cannot help but ask why I do not seem to fit this. I am evangelical, progressive, mainline, liturgical, contemplative and yet I am not defined singularly by any one of these labels. In fact, I actually get annoyed when these labels are used because I feel like an obscure hexagon trying to be shoved into a square whole….it almost works…almost.

This has caused me to seek a spiritual director…I will let you know how that goes soon.

But for now I feel this is a process, a frustrating part of the journey I am taking. I know I will likely look back at this time in my life and be thankful for what it produced in me, but for now all I desperately want it to get past it, to have clarity, to have a clear vision and to feel like I have some certainty.

Do you ever feel like this?

 

The Bible Tells Me So – what is the Bible and how do we read it?

ennsreview-1

Confession – I am a huge Peter Enns fanatic! I love his blog, his books, and the bioLogos website were he often writes puts out some fantastic stuff on science and faith!

His book The Evolution of Adam came out in 2012 and gave me a relief from an internal inconsistency, namely, how to read the Adam & Eve story in light of evolution.

Most recently he has come out with a new book titled The Bible Tells Me So…Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It. While I am suppose to be researching and writing an exegetical paper for my Hebrew Bible seminary class, I am distracted as I started to read this book (story of my life!).

When it comes to understanding the Old Testament, there are few scholars who make it more easily accessible than Enns. If you have struggled with science and faith as I have, he is an invaluable resource!

So I was raised in a tradition where the Bible was taken literally – meaning there was an actual garden with a literal Adam and Eve and a talking snake who was actually Satan (an evil fallen angel). Now, I want to be careful because there are many people I know that believe this and I want to be clear it is not my intention to  debate in a way that tries to change their minds (experience tells me this is ineffective and actually harmful to some). My intent is to reflect on this book while I intertwine my personal journey…who knows it may help someone who is going through something similar.

If you have struggled with an understanding that the Bible is to be taken literally, the Bible is inerrant, or everything in the Bible is historical fact, than this is a great book for you.

If you become angry and feel the need to argue the Bible should be taken literally, than you should probably not continue reading because this does not apply to you.

Here’s the intro to his new book.

“The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed.” – C.S. Lewis

To start off Enns makes it clear that he values the Bible and that the Bible is, “the main way for Christians today to learn about God…”.[1] It’s interesting to me that many people who do not read the Bible literally are often accused of not taking it seriously (myself included) and yet this is the dominant way the Bible has been read throughout history. It just seems foolish to argue that because someone does not read the Bible literally they do not take the Bible seriously. In fact, I would argue just the opposite is true.

Enns writes, “Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual…deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force”.[2] This is precisely the way I was taught to read the Bible (Bible – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), but while working my way through undergrad at an Evangelical Liberal Arts College this began to make less and less sense to me. It’s not that I was convinced of something else, it was actually that I became less and less convinced the more I heard the arguments for this view – I found them lacking (I wish I had something else, but that took time).

This may sound all well and great, but let me tell you it was like having the ground ripped out from under you…I didn’t have anything to replace it with and was forced into a free-fall (I know I am not alone in this experience and unfortunately some people never recover).

Enns continues, “this view of the Bible does not come from the Bible but from an anxiety over protecting the Bible and so regulating the faith of those who read it”. [3] In other words, the Bible does not claim to be a rulebook, blueprint, scientific or historical textbook and to think otherwise is to prop the Bible up so high it will fall – therein lies my greatest concern with this view.

Many well meaning people believe the Bible to be without error because it was written by God. The problem with this view is that there are differing perspectives, dialogues and debates within, and it becomes clear that it was written through the eyes of an ancient way of understanding the world (e.g. three tier universe, warrior deity, when science couldn’t explain something people were considered demon possessed). Most modern critical scholars easily admits this.

Here’s the problem if

A – the Bible is presented as perfect because God wrote it

B – since the Bible has inconsistencies, contradictions, and ancient ways of seeing the world then

C – God becomes untrustworthy, barbaric, archaic, irrelevant and outdated (I think many have arrived at this very conclusion)

(A+B=C)

Judgment Of God

Enns talks about the first two books of the Bible (Genesis and Exodus) and writes, “If we read these sorts of episodes outside of the Bible, from another ancient culture, we wouldn’t blink an eye. We’d know right away we were dealing with the kinds of stories people wrote long ago and far away, not things that happened, and certainly nothing to invest too much of ourselves in”.[4] Several years ago, while a Biblical Studies major, this became ever so clear to me.

But, what does that leave us with?

“Other parts of the Bible are shocking to read, even barbaric…God either orders a lot of killing or does it himself” (I only use the exclusive masculine pronoun here because it is a quote). “If we read this anywhere else, we would call it genocide”.[5]

– more on this topic later but I cannot begin to explain how this sent me on a tailspin that took a couple years to recover from. This struggle was one of the darkest times of my life…but that’s for another time.

Enns ends (try saying that three times fast) with a statement and two challenging questions, “The God of the universe often comes across like a tribal warlord”.[6] Yes, interesting how God comes across like other violent deities in the ancient Near Eastern world, almost like they were influenced by other cultures. Has this bothered anyone else?

So I leave you with the two questions Enns left at the end of the first chapter and these are basically the two questions that haunted me for months while I struggled to find answers.

  • “What are we supposed to do with a Bible like this?”
  • “What are we supposed to do with a God like this?”

 

 

[1] Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So (New York: HarperCollins, 2014), 3.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid, 4.

[4] Ibid, 4.

[5] Ibid, 6.

[6] Ibid, 6.

How do we handle historical inaccuracies within the Bible?

The majority of modern critical scholarship openly admits the historical inaccuracies and inconsistencies within the Bible.

In my Hebrew Bible class (which I absolutely love!) we are given a question we are to respond to in an essay form. Several weeks ago we were asked this question and below is my response.

– I plan to do an addendum in the future which deals more specifically with the question of how/if God commands genocide. (That addendum can be found here)

Note – in respect to my Professor who is a Jewish Scholar, I do not spell out the Hebrew name for God  – Yahweh (YHWH).

holy-bible-god

Today’s question is “given the differences between the biblical books of Joshua and Judges and historical account of that period,  how then do we read Joshua or Judges as sacred scripture?”

This week we read through Joshua and Judges which tell of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan under Joshua and Israel’s time in the land until Samuel.[1] Even from the outset, it is clear that the Joshua narrative begins with the Israelite belief that YHWH has given the land of Canaan to the Israelites.[2] As the Israelites cross the Jordan, YHWH miraculously provides a dry path for them to walk across[3] and YHWH divinely intervenes by bringing down the powerful walls of Jericho[4]. Next, Israel defeats the city of Ai[5] and then turns toward the Gibeanites who trick the Israelites into a peace treaty[6], and finally bring the city of Hazor to complete ruin[7]. Repeatedly, the Joshua narrative describes these conquests as a divine mandate in which the Israelites completely annihilate everyone[8]. Joshua 11 best summarizes this conquest by stating:

“There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle. For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”[9]

What is most interesting about the Canaanite conquest in the Joshua narrative is that the following narrative found in Judges opens by stating, “After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the Lord, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’”[10]

Clearly the Canaanites were not completely wiped out as the Joshua narrative suggests.

Not only are there biblical inconsistencies but there are also historical inaccuracies. First, it is now well known that the Israelite nation grew out of the Canaanite population and were greatly influenced by this culture.[11]

Second, the archeological evidence shows that Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon were all uninhabited during the time the Israelites entered into the land of Canaan around 1200 BCE.[12]

BSBA130102120

Concerning this one scholar wrote, “…the observation that the historical portrayal of the complete conquest of the land of Israel and the destruction of the Canaanite population is simply not true”.[13]

Should we throw out this narrative since archeological evidence, as well as biblical inconsistences, show it is historically inaccurate?

If we were to throw this out, as some may suggest, I think we would be falsely assuming that truth can only be found when it is conveyed with perfect historical accuracy. I’m not sure the author of Joshua was all that concerned with perfect historical recollection. One historian writes, “The theological messages that the biblical writers sought to convey are so thoroughly intermeshed with their perceptions of history that it is difficult to separate one from the other”.[14] When it comes to the Joshua narrative in particular, and any part of the Hebrew Bible in general, when the narrative does not align with historical and archeological evidence, we should ask what the main theological message of the narrative was – this is key.

One easy way to help uncover what the theological message concerning the specific narrative in question is to find out when and why this narrative was written. Concerning historical narratives Dr. Sweeney writes, “History was not written simply to provide an account of the past; it is written so that both its writers and readers can reflect on and learn from the past in order to build a better future”.[15]

It seems the Joshua narrative was not written primarily to give a perfect historical account of Canaanite conquest, but was written to answer the question, “why are we, as the nation of Israel and the people of YHWH, in exile?”

Much of the Joshua and Judges narratives were written to show YHWH’s fidelity throughout Israel’s history. The people who were living in exile were certainly wrestling with the question of why – something we consistently wrestle with when we endure hardship today. By reflecting upon their history as shown in the Joshua and Judges narratives, Israel was reminded that YHWH was always faithful and that the nation of Israel prospered when they were faithful to YHWH, but were faced with difficult circumstances when they were unfaithful to YHWH.

How then should we as modern readers understand the Joshua and Judges narratives?

We should read these narratives in light of the theological message which include the questions of why and when they were written. If we get hung up on the historic and archeological inconsistencies (or on arguing against archeology and science) it only encourages us to miss the main message which is still applicable today.

The message suggests that if we face difficult situations it is not because of YHWH’s infidelity. YHWH is always faithful.

 

 

[1] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 179, 193.

[2] Joshua 1:11, 2:9, 2:14 etc.

[3] Joshua 3 & 4.

[4] Joshua 6.

[5] Joshua 7 & 8.

[6] Joshua 9 & 10.

[7] Joshua 11:11-14.

[8] For Jericho see Joshua 6:21; for Ai see Joshua 8:22-24; for Libnah and Lachish see Joshua 10:32, 35, 37, 40; for Hazor see Joshua 11:11-14.

[9] Joshua 11:19-20 NRSV.

[10] Judges 1:1 NRSV.

[11] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 182.

[12] Ibid, 183.

[13] Ibid, 182.

[14] Steven L. McKenzie & Stephen R. Haynes, To Each Its Own Meaning (Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1999), 21.

[15] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 172.

The Good News – part 3

So what is the good news ?

I believe that the good news is an announcement of who you already are; a beloved child of God.

It has everything to do with the last three words Jesus uttered on the cross.

It is finished.

It’s really easy to begin to sense if the good news is what you have to do, say, confess, believe or if it is something that has already been given (grace is always a gift) and you simply receive – it is finished, it has been taken care of. In 1 John 3 it says, “Dear friends, now we are God’s children…” As Richard Rohr puts it, “You are already a child of God, equipped with everything you need to begin resonating with the divine”.[1]

I believe this is true of every person, even those who would never darken the doors of a church and who may not consider themselves a Christian. I think this is true of all people, of all ethnicities, of all religions, of all genders, of all sexual orientations. One doesn’t need to find the right religion, church, or belief system in order for this to be true.

Now, my upbringing would push back at this as say that it makes the death of Jesus pointless and cheap. As a Christian I still see the point, value, and cost of the cross. Some say that Jesus died for my sins, I wonder if it is not more accurate to say that Jesus died because of my sins.

It is clear that the first Christians used language and imagery that made sense – sacrifice, ransom, payment, debt etc because that is how they understood the world to be. I don’t see a God who demands payment for sins while being born into a broken world. I do not see a cigar chopping loan shark who demands a pound of flesh in order to offer forgiveness. I do not see a God who inflicts pain and ultimately kills God’s Son – God’s one and only Son on top of it.

What do I see?

I see a God who is willing to endure hell instead of sending me there. I see a nonviolent, self-sacrificing, unconditionally loving God who was not pounding the nails into the hands of Jesus, but who was hanging on that cross some two thousand years ago because that is who God is – surely the cost was great! God endured hell for us and now we better understand who God is.

Now I heard a friend quote a sentence that I believe originated from Richard Rohr, and it has changed my life since.

Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, he came to change the mind of humanity about God.

The last sentence deserves a second read.

One thing I find so compelling about the Christian tradition is this idea of incarnation – that the divine and human can be found in one place. What is so beautiful about Jesus is that Jesus reflects the image of God…at least that’s what the Christian tradition teaches. So in a world where religion had often become about status, prestige, and control, a Jewish rabbi came along and created a revolution that changed the whole thing. Now people no longer had to enter into that system, no one needed to offer a sacrifice in order to think they were right with God, no one needed to go through a gruesome ritual where they sliced a piece of their foreskin off, no one needed to be bound up in all the laws which benefited the wealthy at the expense of the poor, but instead offered freedom by throwing away any distinctions imposed.

Now there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, (neither heterosexual nor homosexual, neither American nor Iraqi, neither white nor black, neither rich nor poor) for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The distinctions we as humans make are not distinctions God makes. God sees all of humanity as loved, cherished, and accepted exactly as we are and we do not need to change a thing for God to love us – while we were still sinners…

f3767b969e02e2970080120614c7f16c

So where is the hard part? Where is the challenge and the struggle?

The invitation is simple yet so very difficult.

We are invited to receive this gift that we are loved and that there are no distinctions made. Grace is freely given to all (therein lies the offense of the cross ). The challenge then is the invitation that follows –  to enter into this way of being and seeing in the world. We are invited to see that all our loved. We are invited to see that any distinctions we make do not make anyone less loved or accepted. We are invited to look past the outer appearances into a deeper Reality and to be as Jesus – self sacrificial, unconditionally loving, full of grace, mercy, justice, nonviolence, forgiveness, and compassion toward all.

So the good news is really good news for all, but it invites us to see with new eyes and to enter into a new way of being.

If you’re like me, this is an extremely difficult task which is why I have found it necessary to rely on Something greater than myself, namely God.

 

 

[1] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2013), 104.

Reflections after Thanksgiving.

941675_66474867-240x240

Reflections after Thanksgiving.

So I attending small Thanksgiving liturgy yesterday for the first time in my life. When I say small there was about 18 of us gathered in a circle as we reflected on Thanksgiving, read Scripture, prayed, confessed, heard a short but powerful sermon, and partook of the Eucharist.

I learned that the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharsteo (yoo-khar-is-teh’-o) which has deep meaning within the Christian tradition – most clearly this is what we do on a weekly basis in the tradition I am currently a part of.

There is something powerful about the Eucharist, which I have come to know. First, the Eucharist (communion, Lord’s Supper) is a meal that is prepared by God and we bring nothing but are simply invited to partake. This is a simple, yet profound reminder that everything we have, including life itself is a gift.

Now I’m taking a short online course that has been very powerful as it teaches how to find the sacred in the everyday – something I am learning to do as a stay-at-home father. At the root of this class is the understanding and constant reminder that all of life is a gift which is powerfully transformational because when we begin to lose sight of this it is easy to feel entitled and entitlement robs us of joy. When I begin to think I deserve something, it is no longer a joy when I receive it and if I do not receive it…well then I’m offended and angry.

Now back to the Eucharist.

One of the most powerful aspects of the Eucharist for me is that it reminds me that all are invited and it is more about our response than getting all our beliefs right (as if any of us has all our beliefs right!).  I prefer a centered set understanding compared to a bounded set.

What I mean by this is that there is a clear center, but no clear boundaries.

Many religious people do not like this understanding because it becomes quite difficult to tell who is “in” and who is “out”, but in my experience this is true and so much more helpful. It also seems like this is what Jesus taught. How many times did Jesus talk to those (religious gatekeepers?) who thought they had a clear bounded set of who was “in” and who was “out” only to flip the entire thing! Brilliant!

As I experienced this Thanksgiving liturgy it was a reminder that I am invited to simply receive this Thanksgiving meal.

If nothing else, may this be a reminder that –

If you’re here, the universe has given you the gift of life and all you can do is receive.

 

Part 2. Is this good news?

good-news-261x300

Last week I posted what I was taught the good news was growing up. I summarized by saying:

I believed that everyone has sinned and thus was separated from God, yet God sent God’s one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sin so that when I die I can go to heaven instead of being tortured for all eternity. (more about hell in a future post)

Before I begin to talk about what I believe the good news really is, let me share the process I went through as I deconstructed this.

First, this belief has a theological name – penal substitution atonement.

Now I could get all theological, but that’s not my intent. Basically this understand of the good news (more specifically atonement) was not the dominant understand for the first 1,000 years of Christianity!

The dominant view for most church fathers was what has been called the Christus Victor or ransom theory (these may have several nuances between them). This understanding is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christ was victorious over death.

This dominant view began to shift to the ransom theory and later the penal substitutionary theory. (For a list of the different theories click here. If your interested in exploring more of the nuances, especially a more recent understanding using mimetic theory click here.)

Here’s what I’m getting at. I realized that my belief of the gospel had a name, and it was not the dominant view for over 1,000 years of the church. Also I began to realize that there are multiple different ways to interpret the death of Jesus. This opened up a whole new world for me as I began to explore the different theories and understandings of why Jesus came and what His death means.

As a theology student, I quickly realized that one can prove just about anything using the Bible (e.g. slavery, domination, genocide,). I also began to slowly see (and this took a little time) that it isn’t what the Bible says, but about how one interprets the Bible. I personally call these the lenses people use  (more on this in a future post but this is huge!).

Now in the Bible you can find different metaphors that speak about the work of Jesus on the cross. You can find metaphors of sacrifice, ransom, reconciling all things, freeing guilty sinners, a victorious battle, and redemption of something lost. So which one is correct?

“For these first Christians, something massive and universe-changing had happened through the cross, and they set out to communicate the significance and power of it to their audiences in language their audiences would understand. And so they looked at the world around them, identifying examples, pictures, experiences, and metaphors that their listeners and readers would have already been familiar with…”[1]

This makes sense doesn’t it? If you live in a time where the religious sacrificial system is central and you are involved in the process, then an announcement that Jesus was the final sacrifice and you don’t need any more sacrifices is revolutionary and freeing!

If you think that because of sin you are separated from God and a price must be paid in order to set you free, than to say Jesus has paid that price is revolutionary and freeing!

If you think in terms of a cosmic battle between a good divine being (God) and an evil being (Satan) and someone declares that battle is over and good has overcome evil it would be good news!

So the first followers of Jesus were taking images, metaphors, and pictures that were very real and relevant to the people in their day to say that something amazing has happened through Jesus?

Yes!

So the question isn’t which one is right and which one is wrong, but a better question is to ask what images, metaphors, and pictures are real and relevant to people today?

Next post I will share briefly what I think the good news is, but to give you a little taste it has everything to do with the last three words uttered by Jesus on the cross.

 

 

 

[1] Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: Harper One, 2011), 128.

 

Divine Mystery

So, my first post was about what I used to think the good news was. I will continue this post next week, but I wanted to share something a little less theological and more spiritual and recent (the other post was something I wrestled through several years ago but of course I continue to bump up against since many link penal substitutionary atonement as the gospel).

I have been on a faith journey. Actually, I think we are all on faith journeys (even if you’re an atheist or agnostic), but mine has taken some very unexpected twists. Like all exciting journey’s, I have found myself in unfamiliar territory – heck if it’s all familiar it’s not very fun is it?

I am taking several classes through a Hybrid MDiv program and loving them. My favorite class has been about spiritual practices and spiritual formation (i.e. meditation, centering prayer, etc). This has led me to engage in contemplative theology and experience something I cannot fully express in words.

What contemplative spirituality has taught me is that there is a way to be religious and yet remain in a dualistic either/or mindset – in fact most people have! In this lower level religion (as Richard Rohr often puts it) everything is clear because the ego demands this. Everything is easily defined, easily recognized, everything is black and white and it is clear who is “in” and who is “out”. This way of believing, often found within many different religions, only feeds the ego and the need to be right and to try to convince everyone else to think the way you do. In other words, I have the one and only key and if you want it you have to go through me to get it. Within Christianity this is most easily seen with those who feel the need to argue their way every single time they disagree – what an exhausting way to live!

For a while I could not explain why I thought the way I did because I did not have the words to articulate my experience. I knew it had to do with Divine Mystery and how to be a Christian without being exclusive, but I had never witnessed this before. This is difficult because many believe Christianity must be exclusive even if they are not Christians themselves. I am no longer convinced of this, but that does not mean that I do not think Christianity can be a beautiful thing…I still very much do and I am still very much a part of the Christian tradition.

As part of the class we read through a book titled Will and Spirit which was very insightful, and toward the end the author gave words to my experience (when this happens it’s like a release valve).

Much of the book was about surrender and about this topic the author writes, “I would pose that surrender is dangerous whenever there is any known, definable cause, group, person, or other substantive and limited entity that is used as an object of surrender.”[1] Later he continues, “This is true even if the object of surrender is called God, as long as God remains an object that one presumes to know and to understand”.[2]

Now if you were raised in the Christian tradition like myself, you’re probably thinking that of course God can be known and to think otherwise is ridiculous – this is not Christian. I too have thought this.

The author continues, “It is only when one can surrender to the ultimately unknowable Mystery behind the images of God that the act of surrendering can result in less self-definition rather than more”.[3] My focus here is on the ultimately unknowable Mystery part.

This is where I began to understand what I was experiencing. It is easy to remain at a lower level religion (dualistic thinking) where God has been clearly defined, articulated, and packaged. Then all one needs to do is convince others of that specific package – the problem is

God is always bigger than the package we place God in!

This thinking, I believe, is driven by the ego. Those who are “in” are those who agree with me. There is a clear box, but what happens when that box no longer works and you have experienced something bigger? It may be that we all need to begin at this lower level, but to remain here is like, as I recently heard, arguing about the menu instead of experiencing and enjoying the most delicious meal.

Now, the author is not suggesting that God cannot be known, but he is suggesting that God can never be fully known.

There is a difference and it’s big.

“God can become very real, alive, and active in a personal way. The first is through images that are acknowledged to be incomplete, expedient tools”.[4]

In other words, we can experience God, and understand God but it is like peeking through a small crack or hole, you can get a glimpse but it’s incomplete. I think it is important here to acknowledge them to be incomplete, if you do not then we develop a sense of superiority and feel a need to convince others that this is the way to experience God.

I think the author puts it well when he writes, “But in all such cases it is important for me to remember that these ways of seeing God, while real, are never complete”.[5]

Those who believe they have the complete or full picture of God are not really that interesting nor are they fun to be around. Usually they argue and push back against everything and seem extremely dogmatic and defensive. Who wants to live like that?

In the Hebrew Scriptures it talks about God’s ways being so far above our ways…in essence we cannot completely understand God for God is so far beyond, so much greater, so much more inclusive, loving, forgiving, and beautiful than we can possibly imagine!

I think if we begin here, we can enter into a more fruitful dialogue with those we disagree with and with those of other religions because we don’t have the one and only key. As I have experienced this, I have seen God at work in all kinds of beautiful ways. I am more curious than argumentative, engaged in exploration and not defense, and more interested in conversation that dogmatic debates. I have learned from others whom I do not agree with and have become a better person and have seen God in different ways because of this.

  • Is there a way to be Christian without being exclusively so? I say yes, I am an example of this and I know I am not alone.

I invite you to see God, not as easily defined, but as Divine Mystery which can never be fully known. Then we are free to see God in so many ways we never imagined possible.

[1] Gerald, G. May, Will and Spirit (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1982), 304.

[2] Ibid, 304.

[3] Ibid, 304.

[4] Ibid, 305.

[5] Ibid, 305.

Is this good news?

I grew up in a tradition where I was taught and believed that the good news (we called it the gospel) was that everyone has sinned and thus was separated from God, yet God sent God’s one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sin so that when I die I can go to heaven instead of being tortured for all eternity.

Now this is problematic on many levels, but to put it simply it’s not really good news for the following reasons:

1 – It begins with sin management

First, the story of the Bible begins in Genesis 1 where God creates and calls everything good. Where is the action? Here! Notice there is nothing about heaven, an afterlife, and most especially going somewhere else…the action is all here, on earth.

Second, sin (ie anything that is destructive) does not come into the story until Genesis 3.[1] If you start in Genesis 3 it becomes about sin management. Like every story one should begin in the beginning.

2 – It is primarily concerned about the afterlife

Notice the good news (gospel) I was taught is primarily concerned about escaping this world and going somewhere else – this has most definitely led to all kinds of destructive behaviors most recognizably the lack of environmentalism among many Christians. Thankfully the importance of earth care is gaining traction in theology and in faith communities around the world.

Back to the afterlife. As mentioned above the story begins here, on earth, with no mention of anything out there somewhere else.

Where does the story end?

In the book of Revelation (one of the most difficult to interpret and probably the most misinterpreted book of the Bible) we get this beautiful picture of a holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven as a picture of heaven coming to earth.[2]

In what has traditionally been called The Lords Prayer Jesus taught his followers to ask that God’s kingdom and will be done here as it is in heaven.

See a pattern?

The movement of the story is always about heaven coming down here and not us going up there.

3 – It paints a horrific picture of God!

This is one of my biggest struggles and concerns with the way I was taught the good news. This good news paints a picture of God who cannot stand to be around us (God’s good creation?) and needs  blood  in order to forgive. Now the imagery of sacrifice is sprinkled all throughout the Scriptures, but it seems to be the need of the people and not God (more on this topic later).

Now to the main point

God needs to send God’s one and only Son who must be tortured and killed in order for God to forgive? Many have already pointed out the multiple ways this understanding can be destructive, but it does raise many difficult questions and points to a divine child abuser who treats His/Her son in a way no sane parent would deem humane.

I am currently finishing a very good book by Richard Rohr titled The Naked Now where he raises two important points about this topic

  1. “The individual Christian is told to love unconditionally, but the God who commands this is depicted as having a very conditional and quite exclusive love himself or herself! The believer is told to love his enemies, but ‘God’ clearly does not; in fact, God punishes them for all eternity.”[3]
  2. “Even my less-than-saintly friends, the ordinary Joe’s on the block, would usually give a guy a break, overlook some mistakes, and even on their worst days would not imagine torturing people who do not like them, worship them, or believe in them. ‘God’ ends up looking rather petty, needy, narcissistic, and easily offended”.[4]

So what then is the good news?

 

[1] For a great teaching on this subject click here

[2] Revelations 21.

[3] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2013), 80.

[4] Ibid, 81.

the in-between space when the old no longer works and the new is not yet clear