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Dichotomy: Rigidity and Flexibility January 27, 2011

Posted by orualundone in Church, Fitness, Grace, Infinite, Lessons, Questions.
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Our God is a God that is comfortable with contradiction. Or at least what may appear to be contradiction from our earthly, 3-dimensional perspective. He is 100% just and 100% merciful. He is love but he hates sin. Christ told his disciples he would not be always with them, but he promised to always be with them.

Some of these dichotomies arise from the limits of the language and some from the limits of our human understanding. For some of them, we understand what is meant even if words fail us, but others remain a greater mystery. Rather than finding these contradictions of my faith frustrating, I find them reassuring. If it were easy and logical and completely comprehensible, it would be something a person could have made up, because we like things to be simple and plausible and easily explainable. The paradoxes and implausibilities that stretch my understanding as far as it can go and beyond are where I find the Divine in the religion that so often has a man-made structure around it.

God built a lot of paradoxes into this life, and we ourselves are paradoxes. We are God’s good creation, made to be like him but we are fallen sinners. We can be redeemed and restored and forgiven but we still will always sin.  Many of the problems in our lives occur from us partaking in things that God made to be good, but applying them in the wrong way or to the wrong extent.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the need to be both rigid and flexible. I’ve been trying to develop better habits as I look for a job, get in shape, and be more intentional about my relationship with God. I’ve noticed that when trying to form a new habit, particularly at the very beginning, you have to be very rigid in your application of it or it’s far too easy to let it go “just once” and then end up not doing it at all.

Exercise x amount every day, at the same time. Eat no desserts whatsoever. Clean one room of the house thoroughly every day. Once the habit is ingrained you can be a little more flexible – if you skip a day or have one cookie it’s fine because you know you will go right back to the good habit. In fact not only is flexibility okay, it’s vital for maintaining a good habit in anything and a good relationship with God.

You can pledge to read your Bible every day as soon as you as get up, just as you can make a promise to go to the gym every day after work. You can apply that rule without fail to your life and really see the results you want to see. But here’s the thing: it’s not going to happen every day. No matter how much of a priority you make reading the Bible every single morning at six am, there will be some days that it just will not work. The alarm won’t go off, you’ll have a sick kid, you’ll be travelling and have to catch a plane.

If your time with God (or any other habit you want to develop) is unbendingly fixed to a single set of parameters, it’s going to hit a circumstance that will make it break if it can’t bend. If you have such a rigid mindset that if you miss that appointment you miss your window for the day, then you will end up missing out on that time with him entirely. It’s better for me to work out at home in the evening if I can’t make it to the gym after work than to just give up on getting exercise all together. And it’s far better to make time with God later in the day than to just forget about it entirely, especially on a day where your routine has been broken – you probably need that time with with him even more than on a day where all is going normally.

So too, our faith itself requires rigidity and flexibility. We need to be firm and unyielding when it comes to believing that God loves us and will take care of us. But if our belief is tied to a specific set of circumstances, any change in those circumstances can lead us to doubt him. We need to be unwavering about following God’s will for our lives, but soft and malleable regarding what that looks like at different points of our life or we may find ourselves forcing our way down a path that we should have turned off long ago. We need to strong about what we believe about our faith (and about right and wrong), but give grace to others and be flexible (to a point) with them and allow for the fact that they may not interpret God’s Word the same way we do, as well allowing God room to change our minds and hearts if we are in the wrong about how we are seeing things.

It makes me think of yoga. To do yoga you need a certain amount of flexibility, and much of the point of yoga is to develop even more flexibility. But it also develops strength, and many of the positions require you to be very strong and to keep your muscles quite rigid in order to hold them. Following Christ is like that. We have to be strong in our faith, we have to be strict and disciplined about pursuing him. But we also need to be flexible about where he is leading us and allow him to change and grow our faith, otherwise we can end up following a Christ of our own making and going by our own wisdom, instead of his. If we are not flexible, we may miss the opportunities he has for us or the ways in which  he wants us to grow because we are so firmly set on what we think he wants from us.

Speculations on the Afterlife August 3, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Church, Heaven, Marriage, Peace, Questions, Trust, Uncategorized.
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I know things have been a bit intense around here lately, and given where I’m at spiritually they will probably continue to be intense for some time to come. So I thought I’d take a break from the heavy introspection and talk about something a little cheerier: Heaven. Okay, who am I kidding? This involves heavy introspection too.

I don’t really know what to think about heaven. As a young child my mother told me it would be like an endless church service, which was not remotely appealing (particular since our highly-unstructured Pentecostal church services already seemed endless to me). In middle school an overly-cool youth pastor said heaven would just be this awesome place full of extreme sports where we could go “snowboarding with Jesus”. Somewhat more appealing, but seemed rather unlikely. The culture presented a notion of clouds, angels, and white robes which I found silly and insipid. And some people are apparently really attached to the idea of heaven having literal streets paved in literal gold, which just feels like missing the point.

A lot of the things I hear about heaven from mainstream churches seem to indicate many Evangelicals think of it as like earth; only nicer, cleaner, and Jesus lives in your town. But that vision of heaven isn’t really about God, it’s about us and our “reward”. It doesn’t really involve a change; just an upgrade. Derek Webb satirizes this idea of the white, suburban, middle-class heaven in a song imagining what it would be like if a homeless person made it into that version of heaven:

Paradise is a parking lot
A spot up front is your reward
And all the rest walk down streets of gold
To the house they could afford
I got lost in the swelling crowd
I could not afford to eat
You only have what you came in with
So I’m living on the street

Oh I have been to heaven
And I found no relief
‘Cause I couldn’t find a hand to hold
To keep me on my feet

I heard Jesus Christ was there
He had a car that’s bulletproof
That way everyone is safe
From the man who tells the truth

Christians can’t even seem to agree on whether we go straight to heaven when we die, or just wake up at the Resurrection to the “new earth”. Frankly I’m not sure that’s something we can answer and I don’t know that I care – I’ll find out when I get there, I suppose. Although since I don’t believe in the Rapture and am a little sketchy on the whole “new earth”/bodily resurrection thing altogether, I definitely lean towards the “going straight to heaven” camp.

In short, heaven was never a “hook” for me to be a Christian. I’m a Christian because I really don’t know any other way to live my life in the face of an omnipotent God and the sacrifice of Christ that could possibly work out for me. And I’ve never liked the mentality the this whole world is just some kind of test, or that we’re just waiting out our time here until we can leave. I feel like that leads to a really bad attitude about this life and how we should act and treat other people and the planet, a kind of irresponsibility about the world. It matters what we do here. It may not be all we’ve got, but it’s all we’ve got right now. Yes, there’s more to life beyond beyond this world, probably more than we can ever imagine. But we’re here now, and God put us here for a reason, so obviously we’re not meant to just sit back and wait for it to be over.

And as a scientist, when I think about heaven too long I get overly-analytical about things. Where is it? What is it? A physical place? An alternate dimension? How does it work? What are the physics involved? Does heaven have mass and location? Not particularly helpful questions, nor ones likely to get an answer any time soon.

Although the Bible talks a fair amount about heaven, it is notoriously short on details. And unfortunately the book that mentions what appears to be heaven/the afterlife in the most detail is the one that I trust our modern interpretation of the least – Revelation. So in terms of what I feel we can be certain of about heaven, it pretty much comes down to: we will be with God, we will be with other believers, and it will be “paradise”. We can argue for ages about the return of Christ, the resurrection, the rapture, whether there is anything beyond heaven, what it will look like, etc. But it wouldn’t be productive because we just can’t know.

And I feel like we aren’t meant to. Not that it doesn’t matter at all, but that God doesn’t give us details on purpose. Perhaps for several reasons. I think one of them is that, by definition, we couldn’t really understand what heaven is like while we’re still here on earth now matte how much description we had. Words are not adequate, our human language fails. If we could really imagine it, really comprehend it, then it wouldn’t be anything we couldn’t create ourselves. The more that was said, the more misinterpretation and confusion there would be. True understanding of heaven is just not attainable for us right now.

I think another reason God keeps the exact nature of the afterlife kind of vague is that it is not the story we are living in now. We humans have a hard enough time focusing on what we should be doing now, instead of living in the past or trying to create a particularly future. The more we know about the afterlife, the more likely we are to fixate on it to the detriment of our purpose here, now, on earth. We still have things to do and lessons to learn.

Finally, I think we don’t get a lot of details about heaven because God wants us to trust him. He has promised us a place. He has promised he will dwell there with us. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t he enough for us? Now, I personally don’t think that after we die we spend all eternity sitting around with God doing literally nothing else. But I think he wants us to be able to believe that whatever he has planned for us, it will be perfect because he will be with us there.

And yet, when things down here get so hard and so complicated, and when our problems seems so big and insurmountable, I feel like it does help to be able to think of the promise of an eternal life with God and remember “This isn’t all there is. No matter how bad it gets, there’s still something more coming.” I don’t want to use that as a way of avoiding dealing with things in life, but just as an encouragement that one day it will be okay, one day we will understand all of things that happened to us and all our wounds will be healed. It’s a reason to keep on going, not a reason to give up on life.

Of all the authors who have tried to capture the idea of heaven, for me at least, C.S. Lewis has done the best job. Through his Narnia books and other writings he talks of our longing for heaven, our lack of ability to truly understand it, and a little bit about what he thinks it will be like. In “The Last Battle” one of the characters, upon reaching the afterlife and finding it be a world realer and more wonderful than the one they had come from, remarks that all of the things they had loved about the old Narnia they must have loved because they reminded them, a little, of how it was in this place. Lewis describes worlds within worlds, each more real and more beautiful than the last, calling them perpetually further up and further in (presumably to more closeness and joy and knowledge of God).

That is how I like to think of it. That heaven isn’t just a place you get to and then is always the same, but that it’s the beginning of a never-ending journey leading to ever-increasing knowledge and love and closeness to our Creator and more and more understanding of him and the universe and each other. And when I feel a sense of longing for something, or when I have to leave a place or person that I truly love, I try to remember that the reason I feel that way is because that place or person or thing reminds me of something about heaven. Not necessarily that I love the mountains because there’s a physical, Platonic ideal of mountains in heaven that I’m longing for, but that all the good things here are echos of something better yet to come there.

Even if I never live in that place or see that person again, I will someday receive that something better, which is so much more that I cannot even comprehend it except through my longing for the shadow of it on earth. And even if I do get to live in my favorite place on earth and have a perfect, close relationship with that person I love, I will still be longing for something more after that. Because what God has given us here is good, but there is still something more excellent.

I think my biggest stumbling block about the afterlife though, is the verse in Mark about marriage:

When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Mark 12:25

This has always bothered me. Will I not get to be with my husband in the afterlife? Of course being with God is more important, but why should it have to be a choice? That just seems cruel.

But I think (and all this is just my own personal speculation) that what Jesus is trying to say is not that marriage will be abolished, but that marriage will be obsolete. The kind of deep connection and emotional intimacy and knowledge that we can right now really only have with our spouse, we will be able to have with God in person and with all other people. Marriage now, on earth, is a promise of that kind of deep and universal intimacy to come, only more so because there will be none of the walls we put up or unhealed hurts that exist in even the best of marriages. The kind of deep and (ideally) unconditional love we have with our spouse here, as a reminder of how God loves us and how we are all to love one another, will be perfected and put into practice in heaven.

And whatever else is there, I view heaven as a place of joy and of laughter. I think we will be able to at last see everything in perspective, and look at all the things we’ve done, and the ways we tried to control our own lives, or tried to make God love us more, and see how foolish we were and laugh at them. In the same way that we can now look back on things we said or did or believed as very small children and are able to see how funny it all was and how silly we were at the time. We will realize so many of the things we put great importance on now were not really important at all, but we will not feel guilt or shame because we will know how completely loved and accepted we are and we’ll just be able to laugh at ourselves.

The same for when we meet each other in heaven. I think we will be able to look at each other and for the first time, really and truly understand each other. We’ll be able to see past all the hurts, the misunderstandings and miscommunications, the broken relationships, and be able to finally see each other as we really are and love each other as we really are. And we will laugh together at how ridiculous we were to take offense at such small things, or to not be able to say what was really on our hearts, or that we let anything at all get in the way of loving each other. We won’t condemn each other for the things that happened or the ways we wounded each other, but we will at last be able to have perfect joy in being together in the presence of God.

That’s just how I imagine it. And if it’s nothing like that then it will so much better the difference will be, as Lewis (again) said, like a child making mud-pies in the gutter who cannot understand the offer of a holiday at the shore. But I know we will be together, we will be with God, and it will be paradise.

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.

Around the Internet: Links of Interest June 14, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Gay rights, Human rights, Links, Questions, Social Justice.
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Appalling: Article on the surprisingly widespread practice of gay exorcism in pentecostal/evangelical churches. I’m not sure which is more frightening – the prospect of this being done to gay youth or the fact that several of the churches I attended as a child probably would have tried this on me had I turned out to be batting for the other team (Details magazine).

Debatable: The demise of the TNIV Bible translation and the kerfuffle over the use of gender neutral language (Tony Jones)

Thought-provoking: What do questions mean for faith? A topic I am extremely devoted to. (Randy Elrod)

Touching: How do we represent God? Can we ever get it right, and what does God think when we get it wrong? (Shaun Groves)

Tragic: Child-soldiers in Somalia, used not by terrorist but by the legitimate government the U.S. supports politically and financially. The worst part is that compared to the life they can expect as civilians, many of them are better off in the military (NY Times).

To live in the questions May 19, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Nature of God, Personal, Questions.
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In church this past Sunday I took some time to pray during the final worship song, to try and shake off some strong reactions I felt at words the pastor had spoken which I had misinterpreted. As I bowed my head and tried to let go of my anger, I felt God speak to me: “Live in the questions”.

There are so many questions and the more I pursue God the more questions I find and the more heart-rending they become. I question the prevailing Christian culture, I question our interpretation of the Bible, I question evangelical doctrine. Some questions run too deep for me to even express them, taking only the form of a nagging, unsettled feeling. Others are all too well framed in my mind:

Why did God heal this person and not that person?

What is the place of evolution in God’s creation plan?

Does hell exist?

How much of the Bible is literal and how much is myth, allegory, or parable?

How should the church treat homosexuality?

Am I in the right job? The right state? What am I doing with my life?

And on and on in a never-ending torrent. Some of these questions I have very strong opinions about, but I would not dare to claim that I possess knowledge of God’s will on the matter. Some of them shake me to the core even to consider and lead to more questions, such as “Would I still be a Christian if I didn’t believe in hell?”.

So what does it mean to live in the questions? I’m not sure I know. I think it means that when I come to a place where there isn’t a clear answer that instead of striving so desperately against the uncertainty of it all, instead of allowing it to become a stumbling block which may batter and eventually break my faith, to simple remain in that uncertainty for awhile. Allow it to increase my faith and reliance on God. To remind me that God has the answers and that’s enough.

Because of all the questions I have and all the things I doubt, there are a few things I am sure of. That God is love. That His grace is enough to cover anything and everything. That He is strong enough to handle my questions and my doubts and my fears. And that He knows my questions before I ask and knows my heart even better than I do. And with those things in mind, the only conclusion I can come to is that my questions are as precious to Him as my faith.

For some questions I may just not be ready to hear the answer. For others, it may not be my answer to hear. The answer to some may be different for each person. And sometimes the answer may not be one thing or the other, but both together at the same time, because He is big enough for that. And some questions I may just have to live with my entire life.  But I cannot hurt God with my questions. Abiding in them, exploring them, wrestling with them, and offering them up can only draw me closer to God.

Because there is no need for faith when all is certain. If I think I know His will already then I have no reason to seek His face. And there is no room for courage to grow if there are no challenges or unknowns.  So I will try to learn to live in the questions, to treasure the ambiguity I have often feared and trust that if I truly need to know the answer to something I will have it at the right time.

This blog is about all those questions, especially the dangerous ones. It’s about my journey to find out who this God is for myself, not who other people or the church or the culture tell me He is.  And its about learning to treat the least among us, the abused and persecuted and neglected and oppressed, the way He would have us treat them.