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First Reactions September 1, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Belief, Blessings, Nature of God, Trust.
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The other day I met with the two high school girls who I do a biweekly Bible study with. They’re great kids, and we’re making our way through Beth Moore’s Living Free – an excellent short study focusing on breaking free of the strongholds in our lives and learning to know God and believe him.

The chapter we were working was focusing on believing God – and the difference between believing in God (that he exists) and believing God (trusting him and his promises to us). One of the main verses was Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

We all were familiar with the verse, but we spent a lot of time discussing what it meant (and the beautiful thing about Scripture is that it rarely just means one thing). There are lots of ways to look at it, the most common being that God is saying “I know what I’m doing and you don’t, so calm down”. Another is “God works in mysterious ways” or “Things that you think are bad God can work for good”. I think those are all very valid and vital interpretations, but we also came one more takeaway message from this verse.

If God’s thoughts are so much higher and better than ours, does that mean we’re always wrong? Not necessarily – everyone gets it right sometimes! But I think what God is trying to get at is that our first reactions are very often the opposite of his. We may eventually come to the right conclusion, for various reasons. But that gut instinct, that spontaneous first response – that’s the essence of “our way” and it’s usually the wrong way to go.

Here’s an example from my week, last week. Our old car broke down, to the point where it was clear that putting more money into it would be foolish. My first reaction was: “This is terrible. It’s so stressful, and now we have to eat into our savings to get another car, and it takes so much time and effort to find something and then take care of all the paperwork. This week sucks.”

That reaction is neither godly nor constructive. The way I should have (and eventually did) respond to the situation was more like “Well, that old car gave us our money’s worth. I’m so grateful that we live close enough to work that being without a car for a few days isn’t a hardship, and I’m so blessed that God immediately provided us with the perfect car that we were able to pay cash for without going into debt. The whole process of purchasing and paperwork went so easily. God is so good to us!”.

It took awhile to get there, but I believe that is the response that is God’s way, as opposed to “my way” which is ungrateful, pessimistic, and kind of bitchy – and completely unproductive since the situation is not going to change no matter how much I whine about it. I need to learn to check my responses when seemingly-not-so-great things happen and see how they line up with what I know of God’s way.

Not that I can know precisely or fully what he’s doing in a situation, but if I can learn to hold up my initial reactions to what I know of the nature of God, I will gain a more Christ-like attitude in my view of life. And the more I know about the nature of God through spending time with him and studying his Word, the more my first reactions to situations will start to mimic his, and the “higher” my thoughts will be.

Lies I Believe, Part 2: “You’re Too Much” August 1, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Blessings, Flaws, Holy Spirit, Identity, Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Trust, Worry.
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Part of two of my series exploring the lies in my life that Satan uses to keep me from being the person God wants me to be, and my attempt to disentangle them from my heart before they do any more damage.

The lie: You’re too much to handle; you always push things too far.

I always feel like I am just always a little bit too something. Too loud. Too aggressive. Too emotional. Too needy. Too intense. I often feel like my friends and others often just tolerate me to be nice but really wish that I would dial it back a little.

After interactions, phone conversations, emails, particularly serious ones, I usually feel uncertain of myself, wondering about what I’ve said and if I went too far.  Did I insult that person by accident? Was that joke too barbed? Was that the wrong thing to say? I know I talked too long, said too much. I could feel them withdrawing from me. I came on too strong, I knew it. I shouldn’t have been so honest, now they aren’t going to want to be around me anymore.

I’m most susceptible to these feelings with people I don’t know very well yet, but am just starting to form a relationship with. But I still experience it even in my closest friendships. And when I start to feel like that, it’s very hard to convince me otherwise, even I know I rationally they probably haven’t given it a second thought. Even if they have given me tangible proof that our relationship is still as good as ever, I still maintain this little doubt in my mind that they see me differently or don’t trust me as much or love me as much.

The result: I withdraw and hide.

I pull back on nascent friendships before they even get started because of imagined coolness on the other person’s part. I bite my tongue and avoid emotional honesty with all but my closest friends. I am circumspect about my true thoughts and beliefs, and end up agreeing with people just so they will like me. With my closest friends I often don’t challenge them like I should when I feel something is wrong, because I’d rather be supportive than risk their anger.

And when I am honest and really open up about what I think or feel, I then waste time and energy worrying over their reactions. I question everything I said and did, I doubt myself. Even when I get positive feedback from the person, I still feel shyer than before about taking that emotional risk and putting my true feelings out there. And when I get no feedback, I am sure that I have offended them.

So I make fewer friends than I want to, and I put up walls with the ones I have. I am not as bold with my thoughts and ideas as I should be, and when I am I usually regret it. I fear that even my truest friends merely put up with me. I avoid leadership because there’s just too many ways to mess that one up. And I waste time and energy on worry and fear, instead of putting my efforts towards more fruitful things, such as strengthening my friendships and loving others. I become self-obsessed and self-involved, and do not live out the freedom Christ has given me. I become a people pleaser and try to just be nice, instead of being a Christ-pleaser and striving for authenticity.

The truth: I am not too much for God, and he made me how I am for a reason.

The trouble with this lie, the reason it works so well, is that like most effective lies it’s partly true. I can be loud and aggressive. I’ve hurt or lost friendships from taking things too far or being really honest. Sometimes I am thoughtless with my words, or get overly passionate about something and push too hard. I sometimes have bad timing with what I say, or say things the wrong way. Sometimes I just plain open my mouth when I shouldn’t

Another reason it works so well is that my mother is very pushy and needy and loud and intrusive and just too much sometimes. I know I am like her in a lot of ways. And while I love my mother very much, there are a lot times when she is acting a certain ways that my feelings towards her are less affectionate than barely tolerant. I don’t want people to think of me that way.

But the real truth is that it doesn’t matter what other people think of me. It only matters what God thinks of me. He made me and the truth is, no matter what I do, I can never be too much for him to handle.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

Nothing in this earth or heaven or hell can separate me from his love. Certainly nothing I can say or do, however stupid or thoughtless. And he gave me these traits that I so often dislike. He made me exactly the way I am, and has a reason for doing so.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

That doesn’t mean I only do good things and never cross the line, or that I shouldn’t try to be a better listener, or less reactive, or to think before I speak. But it means that there is way that my natural outspokenness and enthusiasm and honesty and passion and humor is meant to be used for his kingdom. And when I try to totally suppress them because I think they just end up causing trouble, I am only cutting myself off from the ways he may want me to use them.

Not everyone will like me. I need to be okay with that. And I will sometimes say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I may even ruin friendships by it. But despite that, I still have true, wonderful friends who love me, who God has placed in my life for a purpose and who are incredibly understanding and forgiving. And I don’t need to be afraid of being myself around them.

Most importantly God loves me no matter what. He has saved me and redeemed me and wants me to live that out for everyone to see. He doesn’t want me to live in fear, or to cut myself off from good relationships or ministry because I am afraid of screwing up. He wants me to bold in my life and in my speech, but bold for him and for the pursuit of the hearts of others and not bold out of my own desires or need for recognition.

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.
2 Corinthians 3:12-13

I do not need to be afraid of what God has given me. I will still screw up, because people screw up. But even if I screw up every single of my relationships to the point where literally no one else wants to be around me, I will still have God and he will still love me. That is the most important relationship, and his plan for me is more important than my self-centered fears and insecurities. And I can always go to him, no matter how badly I mess things up.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

How to fight it: Know my identity in Christ; trust God and trust the people he’s put in my life.

Reading God’s Word and keeping a close relationship with him is the only way to fight this one. It accomplishes two things. When I am living in his love there is no room for fear or doubt; he tells me who I am, not Satan, or my mother, or anyone else.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

And when I am filled with the Spirit I will have more wisdom and discernment about what I say, I will be less needy and attention-seeking and not always looking for validation, and I will bear the fruits of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

That doesn’t mean if I live in the Spirit and walk with God that I will never make a mistake in my relationships, but when I stop focusing on myself and my own insecurities and focus on God and on truly loving others for their sakes, not my own, I become less and less likely to act out of selfishness. Traits that seems like curses when applied by my own judgement become gifts when I use them the way God wants me to.

I have to trust him to put me on the right path in my relationships. If I stick close to him and am really living how he wants me to, I won’t be afraid to speak when I feel led because I will know that it’s really him speaking and not just myself. If there is fallout from it, I have to trust that he is in that, too.

And I have to trust the godly people he’s put in my life to love me ; trust that they will not turn away from me because of a misstep or stupid comment, but that they will love me and forgive me because they are living out of God’s love too.

But in the end, I have to accept the fact that only one thing matters: following Christ. Not my fears. Not what others think of me. Not where it might lead me. Because following Christ will at times bring pain, and loss, and even humiliation for his sake. I may speak the truth out of the most righteous of motives and have stones thrown at me. I could be exactly the person God made me to be and still lose friends or status or anything else; in fact he pretty much promises that will happen. If I truly want live like Christ, that is something that I have to embrace.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:3-8

Because in the end, its not about me. The more I worry about myself, the more I make it about me and the less I make it about Christ. But when I give up my own fears and desires, he can do great things with my life and in my relationships.

Quote of the Day: July 28th July 28, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Church, Sectarianism, The Bible, Truth.
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“I see the Christian world like this: we’ve inherited a divided map of the truth, and each of us has a piece. Our traditions teach us that no one else has a valid map and that our own church’s piece shows us all the terrain and roads that exist. In fact, there is much more terrain, more roads, and more truth for us to see if we can accept and read one another’s maps, fitting them together to give us a clearer picture of the larger Christian tradition.”

Michael Spencer

The Wounded Christian July 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Blessings, Compassion, Death, Pain, Struggles, Suffering, The Bible.
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Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the way that in certain Christian circles admitting sadness, mourning, doubt, or deep emotional pain is almost taboo. Sharing struggles is, of course, encouraged but if you don’t end your story with something on the order of “…but I know God is in control” or “…but  I’m still just really praising God for all He’s done for me” you will get some deeply concerned looks and probably some aggressive encouragement which may or may not be welcome at the moment. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said something, in real life or online that indicated I was going through a bit of a dark patch or having a bad day only to have a well-meaning Christian friend jump in instantly to tell me not to be sad, that God had a plan to work it for good, or that we should just keep thanking God.

And it’s true. God has done so much for us and we should always praise him. He will work it all together for the ultimate good. He is in control. And of course there’s always someone who has it worse than me and I should be thankful for what I have.  The problem is, I may not be there yet. And I don’t think God needs me to be. I’m afraid I am a bit suspicious of relentlessly cheerful Christians – either they really are that unaffected by life’s woes and thus cannot understand what I”m dealing with, or they are in deep denial about their lives. God does not require us to be happy all the time, or instantly be okay when tragedy and pain strikes us. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about sorrow and grief, and almost none of it is that we shouldn’t let ourselves experience it.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

This is not Jesus telling us to “get over it”. For we cannot experience God’s comfort unless we have a need of it. Over and over again, the Bible shows us that God honors our grief, our pain, our suffering. He promises to heal us of it, but we have to admit the pain first, before there can be healing. This is not say that we should seek out pain and hurt, or tell other people how awesome it is that they are suffering. There is enough pain in this world already and plenty of things will wound us without us having to go look for them. And we should do our best to be God’s hands and ease the wounds of others. But we can’t do that by pretending they don’t exist and that they don’t need to time to be felt before they can begin to mend. God never tells us is it wrong to feel a certain way. In fact, he has infinite compassion on those who suffer. He never discounts our experience of pain, whether our problems are objectively large or small, or whether it seems like there are others who are suffering more.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 34:18

There are several books in the Bible that are devoted almost entirely to pain, suffering, loss, and grief and they do not shy away from the raw ugliness of human emotions, nor do they provide total answers to the questions we cry out in our difficult times, other than telling us that God IS. That’s all the answer Job really got, in the end. Yes he got back everything he lost and more but that doesn’t negate what he went through. Lamentations is nothing but grief and sorrow, and the author is just as desolate at the end of the book as at the beginning. Ecclesiastes has an author that is overwhelmed by the wickedness of the world and practically suicidal, and although he realizes we receive many good things from God he is still left with more questions than answers.

None of these books tell us we shouldn’t grieve, we shouldn’t hurt, we shouldn’t question. And yet, even in the darkest times the authors still managed to praise God. And I think today, a lot of people confuse praise with happiness. They think that you cannot praise God if you are sad or hurting or even angry at him. But some of the deepest times of praise spring from our deepest wounds, not just after they are healed but while they are still bleeding.

I can go in my darkest hour to God and say through my tears, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” It doesn’t mean I’m over whatever has happened, or that I’m going to be instantly happy and fine from there on in. It just means I am making a choice to worship him in spite of everything else, in spite of the questions or doubts or fears. It’s the first step toward healing, not the last.

Even Jesus felt emotional pain, and felt it deeply. And he knew for a fact how it would work out in the end. He didn’t have some wavering belief or faint hope – He had certain knowledge. But still, he wept for Lazarus even though he knew he could and would raise him from the dead. He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, grieving more deeply than probably anyone ever has, even though he knew in three days he would rise again and become the salvation of the whole world.

“Then he said to them,
‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow
to the point of death.’ ”
Matthew 26:38

Just because we know things are ultimately going to be all right, just because we are saved and redeemed and know we have a place in heaven, and that one day the whole earth will be made new, doesn’t mean everything is all right now. It doesn’t mean we have to pretend not to feel the wounds that life brings our way. Julian of Norwich said:

“And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well!”

It is a joyful statement, indeed. And a true one. But she is also implicitly recognizing that even though God shall make all things well, they all not well now. This world is fallen, and full of broken people – ourselves especially included. There is cause for grief. There are situations where someone is going to be hurt no matter what choice is made. There is great evil, atrocities, genocides. And there is no escaping the sin in our own lives and the pain it will cause us and others. If we are to love God and love others as he loves them, then we must be willing to accept this and feel it and be changed and purified by it before we can come out the other side.

“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.”
James 4:9-10

For it is in our pain and mourning that God brings us comfort, it is how he draws us to him. And it is how he transforms us. Without it there is no need of him, and he can give us joy even in our greatest darkness. Joy is not the opposite of sadness, but something that shines through despite it and can exist simultaneously with it . And it is also in our suffering that we can minister to others. Someone who has never known real pain can not touch someone who is going through real pain. And in fact, it may take someone who has been deeply hurt to even recognize suffering in another. God uses our wounds to heal each other, to draw others to him. Someone who is truly suffering cannot abide to hear “Don’t worry, it will be okay, God loves you!” from someone who has not experienced (or acknowledged) pain in their own lives. They need to hear “It hurts. I hurt with you. And our Father hurts with both of us.”

These are the gifts that God gives us in our pain: The gift of himself, and the gift being able to reach out to others who are in the same place and help draw them to him. There is healing, there is joy, there is restoration. That comes differently to different people and we cannot expect everyone to experience it in the same way at the same time. There are times for rejoicing and times for grieving – one of the greatest gifts we can give each other is to allow others to experience the season of life they are in and not to try tell them they shouldn’t be where they are. Telling people they shouldn’t be sad, shouldn’t be hurting, shouldn’t doubt only isolates them further from the community and from God, adding extra guilt for not believing hard enough to whatever they are already going through.

“For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.”
Psalm 22:24

Until Christ returns, until the world is fully redeemed and fully healed there will always be new pains and fresh griefs. To deny that would be foolish. To accept it allows us to experience healing and to be agents of healing in others.

Quote of the Day: July 20th July 20, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Compassion, Pain.
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Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.

Frederick Buechner

Taking the Bible seriously – but not necessarily literally. June 15, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Education, Fears, Grace, Heresy, History, Love, Questions, The Bible, Truth.
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I have issues with the Bible. There, I said it. And not just little issues, but big, fat, hairy issues with warts, which sometimes leave me wondering where I actually fit within Christianity. The Bible is a dangerous book. It has the power to bring people to freedom and wholeness in Christ or to completely drive them away. Literal readings of the Bible have led to everything from labeling the idea that earth is not at the center of the universe and Newton’s basic laws of motion as heresy, to the justification for slavery/racism and the oppression of women, to the horrors of the Crusades and the persecution of the Jews. And while we’ve moved past much of that, the same type of literal interpretation is still used today in many mainstream churches to keep women out of pastoral leadership and to condemn homosexuality. I think there is nothing more perilous than a strict, literal, and un-informed reading of the Bible (in fact, while I’m no gnostic, a small part of me wishes sincerely that no one was allowed near the rest of the Bible until they had read all of the words of Christ and burned them into their hearts).

This kind of thinking is a particular problem when you were raised to believe not just that the Bible is the word of God, but that it is the inerrant, infallible Word of God meant to be taken 100% literally (even the stuff that seems to contradict the other stuff), handed down without change through the centuries and that the words mean the exact same thing to an American living in the 21st century as they did to an Israelite wandering in the desert in 1000 BC or a Greek convert in 70 AD. And of course nothing was ever mistranslated or misunderstood, at least not by us. Maybe by some of those other denominations. And well, okay, previous generations got it wrong about some things. But we have it totally right.

Unfortunately I don’t buy it. Even more unfortunately, since I was raised to believe if you didn’t buy it then you weren’t really a Christian and were probably going to hell, every time I start to think like that I feel really, really uncomfortable. As though if I dare whisper that thought to any Christian that I know I will be, if not summarily cast out of the church, then at least given a stern talking to and not allowed to be left alone with the children.

The problem is the Bible was compiled from many documents and sources, written and copied and re-written by many people, over a span of more than a thousand years. Many of the authors were writing about events which took place centuries before they were born, and were relying on oral histories and other records as their source material. The Bible was then compiled over many more decades (in fact is wasn’t until several hundred years after the birth of Christ that the Bible as a document existed in anything like its present form and Christian denominations today still disagree about which books should be included).

These various documents that make up the book we call the Bible all have different purposes and functions. Some are oral histories passed down from time immemorial (and often bear a striking resemblance to the mythology of other nearby cultures) until they were eventually written down and some are basic histories of the Jewish nation. Some are laws given to a specific people at a specific time and some are over-arching principles for God’s people. There are letters, there is parable, there is prophecy, there is allegory, there is poetry, and there is advice.

And frankly there are things that are just downright disturbing. There is a lot of violence, rape, murder, revenge, theft, and worse – many times not condemned in the way that we would condemn those actions today. Some are even apparently ordered by God (with a seeming complete disregard for any people other than His chosen ones), a God who at times seems frighteningly different than Christ in the gospels or the God in the New Testament that Paul and John write of so tenderly.

And yet we tend to treat the Bible as all the same – all equally factual, equally applicable, equally relevant to everything in our modern world. Even though there is no evidence at all that this is how God meant for the Bible to be read. We pick and choose verses from history and poem, from prophecy and epistle helter-skelter and apply them to our lives and to others, often without regard to even the context of the rest of the chapter, much less the cultural and historical context, the type of book it is found in, or who the words were originally addressing. And yet parts of the Bible are so vastly different from each other it is sometimes hard to believe they could possibly belong in the same volume.

In fact the only thread that seems to truly connect all the disparate elements of the Bible is Christ. Whatever else the purpose, every part of it serves a function to point to Him. The Old Testament recounts the history of the human race as a whole, the origin and history the Jewish nation Christ came from, the stories of the members of His genealogy, the reasons His coming was needed, the ways in which this coming was prefigured, and the relationship of man with God before He came. The Gospels recount His time on Earth, what He said and did. And the rest of the New Testament is our attempt to figure out how we should live in light of his coming and what will happen when He comes again.

Christ is at the center of it. Without Christ the Bible has no purpose and no meaning, and there is no way to make sense of it  without Him. The Bible as a whole may contain the words of God, but Jesus is the Word of God. That is made very clear; He is the Word of God made flesh and made whole. And Jesus says that if we know Him, then we know the Father. Therefore any teaching in the Bible that does not make sense in light of Christ, His actions and his words, is not something we should be following – either it is not meant for us to take as a rule, or it has been mistranslated/misinterpreted, or we do not have the tools to fully understand the original meaning.

But then how to we know what is what? This is where study comes in. Now I am not saying at all that one can’t sit down and read the Bible in English in the present day and get the basic message of God’s love and salvation out of it. I am simply saying that in order to fully grasp the significance and proper meaning of many parts of it, knowledge of the prevailing culture, the history of the people it is addressed to, the original language, and the intent of the writer is vital.

For those just beginning, start with the words, actions, and attitudes of Christ and be aware that anything that seems to contradict these may require further investigation. Because the danger comes when a person reads a verse that may or may not be meant to apply to us after the coming of Christ or may or may not be translated in a way that preserves the original meaning and uses it as a basis for action or legalism while disregarding completely whether this literalistic interpretation makes sense in light of Jesus’ ministry or commands. That has happened all too often in the past and continues to happen today, many times with tragic results.

Many people do not like this idea, they feel that we should be able to crack open our NIVs, read straight through, and understand everything. I get that. The idea that some knowledge is reserved for special people is something that goes against the very fabric of Christianity and has been rejected since its inception. And in fact, the essential Gospel itself is easy to understand, applicable and relevant to anyone, anywhere, at any time. But the Bible as a whole is a deeply complex and varied book. Different parts are directed to different people groups at different times, and thus have different bearings upon us today.

I am also not saying only certain people are privileged to have this knowledge and I certainly don’t think that proficiency in ancient Jewish culture or the Hebrew language is required either for salvation, acceptance, or communion with God. But if you want to understand and properly apply the rest of Bible and the context of Christ’s coming more fully then study is required.

Asserting that you can read an English translation of a document written in a different culture, using several different languages and immediately understand all the implications is like someone from ancient Israel learning English, with no knowledge of American culture or history, and thinking they would be able to understand all the jokes in the Simpsons. They might be able to grasp the basic plot line, but it wouldn’t be funny and probably would end up leading to a lot of very serious misunderstandings.

I am just starting to fully grasp this myself, and truly beginning to study the Bible and its history and context. I am only now really starting to look critically at the interpretations that others have given me over the years and that I, too often, have just accepted without any kind of deep thought or research. When I come to something that doesn’t seem to make sense to me with what I know about the nature of God, I tend to just kind of push it aside and move on,  instead of trying to learn more about why it is there and what it is supposed to mean to me.

For example: although many of the offenses listed for the people of Israel in the book of Leviticus are referred to as “abominations”, we do not consider them to be wrong for us as Christians or things we have to worry about (particularly the ones regarding food and wearing certain clothes). But why? I have been told Leviticus is considered to be a Holiness Code, something which is given to a certain group of people at a certain time and applicable only to them, for the purposes of setting them apart from others around them. Okay, but how do we know this? Abomination sounds pretty bad. Like the worst thing I can think of, will land you in hell kind of bad. We think of that word as interchangeable with words like “sin”, “wickedness”, and “evil”.

But the Hebrew (and later the Greek) word that is translated as “abomination” and used for many of the laws in Leviticus actually is closer to meaning a religious taboo. It is not something that no one ever should do because it is inherently wrong; it is something that these people at this time should not do – culturally unacceptable, in a similar way to a woman wearing trousers in the 18th century. There is another Hebrew word (and a correlating one in Greek) that translates as sin or wickedness which refers to something which is always bad no matter who is doing it when, and this word is consciously not used in this part of the law, although it is used for other things. But reading the Bible without knowing this – well, abomination and sinful and wicked all sound like the same things to me!

Just this little bit of knowledge, of two words of Hebrew and two words of Greek, completely transformed how I understand large sections of the Old Testament that I previously didn’t know what to do with and honestly preferred to avoid. And building on this knowledge with more knowledge of words and culture and history, I will be able to better understand sections of the New Testament that refer to similar things, and thus better understand how I am to live and act, what is important and what is not. Our understanding can only be as good as the words we have to describe it with. If the words aren’t adequate, then the understanding will be lacking.

And of course, if we are really honest then we know that hardly anyone, even the most conservative American Christian, reads the Bible 100% literally. Only a few people cling to the idea that the Earth is physically only 6000 years old. Most realize the laws about religious purity given to the ancient Jews are not needful for us today (although that is made pretty clear in the New Testament anyway). It’s a very fringe belief to preach biblical support for racism or slavery, and only a tiny percentage of Christians would make a fuss about women wearing pants or cutting their hair. We all pick and choose, to some extent are all realists about what Jesus said was important and what is not. But we also all get hung up on issues where we have picked a specific verse which seems to forbid or require something, and then try to apply it to the whole of our lives and everyone else’s without perhaps putting it in proper perspective.

I cannot believe that every bit of the Bible (and which version of the Bible?) was literally dictated word for word by God as something we should follow to the letter, believe literally and absolutely without room for interpretation or change. The authors of the Bible were human. They had prejudices, they had limitations, they were only able to understand things within the limits of their cultural background and only able to express them within the limits of their language. We are no different ourselves. This doesn’t mean God wasn’t able to use them, to allow them to express and record deeper truths than they themselves may have realized. But at the same time we need to remember that they were also writing very human histories and records and prayers and rules for themselves and for the people of the time.

I do believe the Bible as a whole is a holy book and that every part of it is useful for teaching and instruction, and that God has given it to us for a reason. We can learn something from every part of it – the only question is what God wants us to learn as opposed to what we think we are to learn or what we might think other people need to learn. Some people try to use the Bible as all things, the only book anyone ever needs – religious scripture, law, textbook, sex manual, prophetic verse, inspiration, and financial guide. But I believe it is something greater: it is the story of His love affair with the human race and His redemptive plan for all of creation. And while the Bible may have a lot (some brilliantly applicable, maybe some not) to say on those other topics, that story is the only thing that cannot be found in any other book.

I am a scientist. I do not believe in a literal 6-day creation, or the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis, or even that we were literally hand-molded out of dust into the physical image of God. But I love and treasure the creation account in the Bible because it teaches me the greater truth. That God made the world, that He made us, that He made all things and is the Creator-God. That He created the universe and the world with an order to it. That He created us to be like Him and to be one with Him, and that we fell into sin and will never be able to reach a perfect state of union with Him without His grace. And that He loves us enough to continue to relentlessly pursue us across the centuries, despite all the horrible things we’ve done and ways we’ve rejected His love, as a species and individually. This is the story of our creation and salvation plan, however you read the actual timeline.

Science can give me answers about the physical processes involved, the timespan, the laws of nature. But nothing else can give me the core truth of His creation of us and love for us. And that truth is so much more precious to me this way than if I were forced to deny all my God-given senses and intelligence, and all the historical and physical evidence that exists in order to align my brain with the word-for-word account. For me that way lies only fear and resentment, and a small, rigid faith that can be easily broken by the discovery of anything that goes against the most literal of readings.

We should revere the Bible, but we should also work to understand what it is and what it isn’t. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with my point of view on this. If so, I do hope that there are at least a few things we can agree on: That God is Love. That the blood of Jesus offers redemption to us all. That, as Jesus said, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” is the whole of of the law and the prophets and everything else is just details. That the good news of God’s love and Christ’s death and resurrection is equally available and understandable to everyone no matter their education or age or intelligence or background. And that the words, actions, and attitudes of Christ should be our ultimate test of what we should follow and how we should live. Because at the end of the day, whether you’re a liberal scholar or a Biblical literalist, that is all that matters.

Quote of the Day: June 15th June 15, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Nature of God.
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Believing in him is not the same as believing things about him such as that he was born of a virgin and raised Lazarus from the dead. Instead, it is a matter of giving our hearts to him, of come hell or high water putting our money on him, the way a child believes in a mother or a father, the way a mother or a father believes in a child.

-Frederick Buechner

On keeping a soft heart June 13, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Fears, Heart Condition, Struggles, Trust.
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Some weeks back at church the speaker talked about not allowing one’s heart to be hardened. Honestly, that is all I remember about the sermon that week because God spoke to me so loudly and forcefully when he said that that I was deafened to anything that came after.

Hardening my heart is something that I struggle with to an incredible degree. Or rather, too often, I don’t struggle with it  – I allow myself to to take the easy way out, to put up the walls, to disengage when things start to get difficult or intense. I often regret this, feeling the wash of emotion and remorse much later when I realize how callous my immediate reaction may have been. Sometimes I am able to remedy this and clarify what I really meant to say or do; often I just feel bad and guilty and this makes me more resistant to allowing myself to be effected in the future.

Not that I am a cold person by nature, or even in most of my daily interactions. I am usually friendly and outgoing. But I grew up with an extremely emotional parent who had a distinct lack of boundaries so I learned to put my own up hard and fast. My sense of humor is sarcastic and teasing. And I’ve felt the injury many times in the past when I put my heart out there for all to see and faced rejection or ridicule.

The Bible mentions various times people’s hearts were hardened and the results are never good. Death, destruction, turning away from God. The author of Hebrews alone begs the readers four times to not harden their hearts to God. When we do this we leave no room for God to work on us, to change us. We have no pity, compassion, or empathy for other people around us. We close ourselves off to grace and to love, which is the currency of God’s relationship with us.

It’s a scary thing if you think about it. God will continue to love us, continue to call us, continue to send us events and people in our lives to soften our hearts and bring us back to Him. But He also gave us free will. He does not force us to love Him. And if we truly, obstinately close ourselves off from Him, He will let us go our own way. Not that He ever abandons us, but we may find that our hearts have becomes so hard that we no longer know how to get back to Him, that we can not even bring ourselves to call out to Him anymore.

That is an extreme case of course, but it helps to remind myself how dangerous it is to just automatically throw up those walls when I am confronted with a painful topic, a negative interaction, or a frightening truth about what God might want from my life. My heart is not dead; I still feel things very deeply. But am an expert at dodging those unpleasant feelings, deflecting them, and skirting subjects I know are likely to make me feel too poignantly. And I’ve noticed over the past few years I do it more and more often. My fear is that one day I will discover that I am incapable of dealing with any of those thoughts and feelings at all anymore.

So what does it mean to keep my heart soft?  I think right now it means heading towards the pain and towards the joy. I am often embarrassed by outward displays of extreme emotion – I don’t like other people to see when I am deeply moved by things. I’m far more comfortable in writing, telling how I feel with words rather than showing it in person. And even then I often underplay the depth of what I am feeling, or, often, trying not too feel too strongly.

When I find myself turning away from something, be it a thought or a feeling or a prayer or an interaction, I need to stop myself and analyze why. Why don’t I want to talk to God about this area in my life that I’m struggling with? Is it because I know I need to change something? Am I avoiding this person because I know we have unresolved issues and I’m afraid we start talking I will find out how much I hurt her? Do I not want to talk about that topic because I know it will force me to think about my faith and my life in a way I’m not comfortable with? Do I not want to listen to that music that I know I love because it fills me with such joy and such longing that I don’t know how to handle or express it, and fear that I will never truly be that happy in this life?

Every time I harden my heart like that, I lose a chance for God to do something in my life. Not that He can’t still ever use me, but when He gives me an open door and I turn and walk the other way something is still lost there. Sometimes I may have another chance, but sometimes that particularly opportunity is lost forever. And each time it gets a little more difficult to keep myself open to the next set of chances. The hardness gets a little more ingrained because, frankly, it’s so much easier than the risk and the pain and the longing.

But the only chance I have is to fight when my heart wants to shut down. To run towards whatever it is that I am avoiding, whatever I think is too difficult or painful or scary and pray for God to help me to keep my heart open even if it is going to be pierced. To feel the empathy with a friend who is going through a hard time so that I can cry with her, to be convicted in my life so I can change the things that are wrong, to feel the joy or the sadness or the longing and let it draw me closer to the heart of Christ, to face the difficult questions even if they move me away from my comfort zone.

It is natural to want to protect ourselves from that which is hurtful. But sometimes the instinct of self-preservation really just prevents us from growing and receiving what is good in the long run. So I will be praying for a soft heart, an open heart. And when the slings and arrows come, as they do, I pray that I will have the courage to trust God to turn them to good, to use them for my betterment and for His glory.

Quote of the Day: June 10th June 10, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Quote of the Day.
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The self-assured believer is a greater sinner in the eyes of God than the troubled disbeliever.

– Søren Kierkegaard