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Just some thoughts

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The more I get into scripture and the more time I spend on this walk, I have come to realize that our salvation, Christianity as a whole, is so much more about this life here than it is about the life to come. Yes we have the promise of something more, but that should not be our main focus…ever. If our main focus is the thing to come (heaven), then we will start to lose sight of what has been placed in front of us.

The problem of evil is a tough one. There is no sure answer to why there is genuine evil in this world. Many trace it back to Adam and Eve, but I do not subscribe to a literal reading of Genesis 1-11, and the facts and evidence found in nature, archeology, biology, geology, and evidence within scripture seems to state other wise. So why is there evil in this world? Why do bad things happen? Who is to blame? These are questions I often ponder. This summer I have spent time reading, writing, and meditating on who God is to me and who Christ was and is today. I have come to one conclusion that will stick with me until the end of my days; God is a mystery.

There is genuine evil in this world, but there is also genuine good. I do not believe God is the causation for what is evil, but God is the only causation for the good that can come out of it. I believe the way of Christ, non-violence, love of neighbor, love for the other, living against the grain, is the way this world will be turned right side up. The way of Christ, as well of coming to a place where we can call Him our Lord is how evil can be pushed back. The way of Christ seeks out those in poverty, and helps raise them up. The way of Christ goes across the street to bring friendship to someone who has never known a friend. The way of Christ goes beyond our borders to bring justice and love to those who have never known either. The way of Christ is about bring hope, peace, love, and joy to everyone we meet. The way of Christ, is God’s people partnering with God to bring about the kingdom in the here and now.

Heaven is a good thought, it is a hope, and a promise; but building God’s kingdom now is our work. Spreading the love of Christ and the Way of Christ is our commission. Jesus was all about relationships with everyone he met; I think it is a safe model to adopt. Communion, grace, forgiveness and seeing people for the Image bearers of the most high is how this world will come to understand who God is.

This has been my hope. Evil is out there, but God has created a creation that can respond to Him and push back against the darkness that is out there. We are a creation filled with the Holy Spirit that can make a difference. God’s purposes will win out, and we are an avenue for God’s grace in a world that so desperately needs it. These were just a few of my thoughts this evening. My heart is overwhelmed at the brokenness throughout the world. But I know that a life sold out to Jesus Christ can make a difference and broken situations and lives can be transformed into something beautiful. My hope is built on nothing less.

The Dark Side of Destiny: Hell Re-Examined review

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We all have presuppositions when we come to God, when we come to scripture, and when we come to living out our walk. One presupposition that I work from is that God is at all times in all places drawing creation to God. In my tradition, this is called prevenient grace. Before we come to know who God is, God is already there wooing, compelling or persuading us to come to know God. I also believe that God is love. God would not do anything outside the character of who God is. This informs my interpretation of scripture as I also use scripture to interpret scripture, and for myself; tradition, reason, and experience. Most of how I view scripture is done through the view of the incarnation and the work of Christ on the Cross. God in the flesh. Victory over Sin and Death. These are what inform my understanding of scripture as I read through it and assess and re-assess my understanding. But these interpretations are not done in isolation; they are done within community. Current voices and also voices of old hold a place in the conversation of how to understand God and the Bible. With that said, here we go.

Dr. Crofford, a Nazarene Theologian, takes a very hot button topic and does a wonderful job of taking us on a journey through the hopes and promises of conditional immortality. In the Dark-side of Destiny: Hell Re-Examined, Dr. Crofford works from a basis of three qualifiers for how we should understand judgment at the end of days. Lex Talionis is the 1st testament or Old Testament understanding of proportionate judgment. Someone who killed a person and someone who merely stole a piece of fruit would not be punished the same. The punishment has to fit the crime. Dr. Crofford argues that eternal punishment for a finite life of sin is outside the character of a fair God. I would agree with Him. Next, Dr. Crofford uses a term from Kenneth Collins as describing God as Holy and Loving. These two characteristics are the different sides of a coin. If we find ourselves on one side we are Universalist only accepting the loving side, if we find ourselves focusing solely on the holy we will find a God who ultimate goal is to find out our sin and punish us. There has to be a fine line we walk between the two and work not to focus on one without the other. For Dr. Crofford, conditional immortality answers this dilemma. The righteous gain eternal life and the unrighteous cease to be. Our three qualifiers are a God who is fair, a God who is loving, and a God who is Holy.

After reading this book I was left mainly with one concern. The conditional immortality view lacks historical ground. It is not the traditional view of how the church for over 1500 years has understood judgment. But also in the culture we find ourselves in, we have been freed from the fear of questioning and we are allowed to give all things a new look, with fresh scrutiny. Dr. Crofford does just that. He is one of many who have taken a hard look at Hell and has come to see it as outside the character of who God is.

This book was a great read and is laid out for anyone to come to and critically think about. Each chapter has study questions at the end so it would be good for a small group who is looking to go deeper into the word of God. There are other sections that help hit home his points and his arguments but I don’t want to spoil the whole book. I would definitely recommend this book if you want a fresh perspective or a new perspective on what hell and judgment could be.

Wait, what did you say?

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Is that what it says?

I absolutely love history! History is something that I always enjoyed as a young kid and is something that I still enjoy today. As a youngster I can remember my grandpa sitting me on his knee and telling me stories of Vietnam and the Korean War. Stories that were filled with mystery, violence, despair, and stories that were filled with hope, courage, and even some romance here and there. This type of storytelling was what I grew up on. Story telling is one of our primary modes of retelling the past. My dad is one of those people who I can sit down for hours and listen to the stories that have shaped him. From the time he was cut from the basketball team his senior year and returned and played each and every member on the team and beat them to prove a point to the basketball coach, to the time where he met my mother and gave up playing college baseball to be with her. Stories shape us, and they form us. But every story has its own unique spin sometimes. Even if the details did not happen exactly as what is being told, that okay; it’s really not the intention of stories. But history is different.

History in our modern usage of the words means the study of past events. History in today’s society and especially in the west is concerned with an accurate retelling of what had taken place. We want every detail to be smoothed out, every number to be in check. That is what we expect when we read a history book or when we ask someone about an event. But one thing we need to take into consideration is that maybe this is a very modern understanding of what history is. What I think we should also take into consideration, is that the authors of the Old Testament did not have this word in mind when they were compiling a retelling of their “history”

Ouch. Many of you may be very concerned for me right now and maybe even are ready to write me off as a heretic, but labor with me and listen to a little more of what I have to say. Just as every story is told by the perspective of the story teller, this is the same with the Old Testament or the Hebrew scriptures. So if we take this into consideration along with the idea they had a different understanding of history, we receive a new insight into what the Old Testament means for us today and meant for Israel in their own context.

Historiography. What? Historiography is a discipline that seeks to explore the past in order to influence the present. This is what we need to keep in mind when we read scripture. This is the main focus of the biblical writers in the Old Testament. They were not concerned with exact detail, and they used different sources to get across a point or a concern to the audience they were wanting to reach. Much of what we read is kerygmatic history or preached history. Their concern was who is God, what is God’s nature and character, and what the purpose of this God for humanity is. When we allow the Bible to be free of our “history” mind set, we allow it to speak volumes and its witness can reach anyone. But this leads us to the Old Testament and some issues that modern readers bring to the table.

In my last blog I mentioned that an inerrancy view of scripture will be upset by what I write. This in is no different. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are not historical accounts. They are a retelling of history in the biblical sense of the word to explain why the world, humanity, and life is the way it currently is. According to the Oxford companion to the Bible the creation accounts, “Are religious statements, designed to show God’s glory and greatness, the result of theological reflection by which the older mythology was radically transformed to express Israel’s distinctive beliefs.”

Some Hebrew Terminology

The Hebrew scribes and writers who wrote the two creation accounts had different emphases and also piggybacked off of other material, more ancient material in the area. Genesis 1-2.4a uses the name of God as Elohim. Genesis 2.4b-25 use the tetra gram Yahweh. Each account seems very unique. The first name of God describes power, a God who by the spoken word brings the watery chaos (Tehom) into order. The second account shows a God who is more anthropomorphic. “The first creation account, with its cultic background, ends with the religious institution of the Sabbath; the second, which is directed to humankind in community, with the social institution of marriage.” Each account has a different directive, but the final editors brought them together because they saw them as holding truth. A God who created all by the spoken word, who overcame the chaos with ease, who ordered creation, who is indeed worthy of worship, and a God who is close and personal who breathes life into creation. Each account was needed and that’s why the editors of scripture brought both into what we know today as Genesis.

The early writers had a worldview, a way how they saw the things around them and we can see this in the creation accounts. They did not have the understanding of a world that orbits the sun that is round; they knew of something much different. The land was flat, there were waters below the land then a separation of visible sky and then there was another separation that kept out the waters above. We see this in the account of Noah as the waters of the deep and waters of the heavens were opened up. Next let’s go over some simple Hebrew terms used in the accounts of Genesis 1. To follow along a dynamic equivalent translation would be preferred, NRSV or ESV. In verse 6 God said let there be a firmament or dome…Hebrew word (raqia) this was to separate the waters of chaos…what was over the formless void before God even began creating. . In verse 8 God calls this dome (raqia) sky or in Hebrew (ha-shamayim). Many also translate it heavens…but either way it is synonymous with raqia. V 9, now the water are being gathered together into one place and dry land appeared… (Ha-yabbashah). V 10 God calls it earth (aretz) in Hebrew. Now 11, (ha-aretz) is called to bring forth vegetation. Ha aretz is ha-yabbashah or the dry land. God also calls the water gathered together inside the dome (raquia), seas (ha-mayim). These seas are different than the darkness covered (tehom) waters of Genesis 1:1. The tehom is outside the barrier (raquia).

Time to break it Down Some

  Now, we all know that there is no dome holding out a void or tehom. And we know that the stars, heavenly bodies, and galaxies are not suspended in this dome. The rest of Genesis 1 goes on to say all of these different things are suspended in the sky or this dome. Not above it or below it, but suspended in it. The different terms of dry land are also interplayed and later we see where ha aretz is used for purchase of property, place of birth, a region. And it is also used for ha-adamah. Genesis 7:4 says that in seven days God will send rain on ha-aretz and he will blot everything out from the face of the ha-adamah, ground or earth. When reading this text and looking at what the text is saying, it is impossible to see a modern world; it is showing a mystical understanding of origins that begins with a formless chaos that is held out by the dome, heavenly bodies that are suspended with in the dome. They were looking up and thought that the moon, stars, and sun were in this dome, the sky. Genesis 1 is from a point of view that anyone would have from just looking up.

So What?

Trying to force Genesis to say what we know now of the world is not honest to the biblical account. Genesis is first a religious text, a text that is full of mystery and theology. It is full of truth and we should embrace just how much depth there is in its contents. We should not be afraid of what it has to tell us, and reveal to us. Instead, we need to learn to embrace its mystery and let our doubts fuel us to a greater understanding of who God has revealed himself to be. We no longer have to live with a false dichotomy that faith and science are not compatible; they are. When we allow the biblical text to speak, we will find such treasure that will bring us into a great appreciation for those ancient Israelites who said that there was only one God. A God who loves creation, and will labor alongside His people.

References:

Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science by Thomas Oord

Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible

The Historical Books: Interpreting Biblical Texts Series by Richard Nelson

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton

The Oxford Companion to the Bible by Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan

Do we know best?

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Have you ever experienced a time when someone is talking about a subject that you happen to know a lot about, and you know without a doubt that they are making more than half of it up? Yea, this happens all of the time. I know I have been guilty of this on a few occasions. But wow, it really does happen a lot! We like thinking we are knowledgeable about not just a few things but everything. We even act like we know about things that are completely out of our understanding and rarely do we ever admit we do not know. When did ignorance become equated with stupidity? I wish I could answer that. But back to the issue at hand. You and I have been in a place where someone is talking, completely off the cuff, about a certain issue and we know they are completely wrong. This is such an awful and awkward place to be in. But I feel we are guilty of this on a day to day basis.

I sometimes wonder if the editors, authors, poets, song writers, politicians, evangelists, prophets, theologians, fishermen, and scribes who compiled and brought together what we call the Bible today would have the same opinion about us. That’s a pretty unique thought, huh? I wonder if they heard our conversations today on the Bible what their response would be. I have a strong feeling that there would be quite a few ‘face palms’ and maybe even a great amount of outrage. I think that they would be inclined to call up a team of lawyers to present their case that they have been exploited, misrepresented, and flat out lied about. So, what am I trying to say?

There are a lot of ideas, feelings, and also a lot of history that we bring to the table when we read the Bible. I remember my freshman year in college where I was first asked to lay aside what I had been taught about the bible and allow my mind to engage a different kind of mindset. I did not like it. What I was being taught in just a few short weeks was making me upset and I was frequently staying after class to ‘debate’ to the professor my case. It was sad. I did not care about being correct, I wanted to be right. There was so much pride to it that for a long time I was blinded to what I was learning. But then I finally came to a point where I laid aside my “want”, I was able to dig deep and find an infinite amount of beauty and mystery in the Bible.

When we read the Bible, we read it through a particular set of lenses. For me, when I read the Bible I read it from a middle-class, white, rural, conservative, never been persecuted, male-dominated cultural lens. This is something I had to learn to recognize and push aside. The Bible, the Scripture we hold to, was not meant for this kind of lens and if I continued to hold it, I would have made the Bible a tool of oppression rather than something to bring people into a loving relationship with God. Our Bible, your Bible, my Bible was not written to us. Each set of Scripture was written, and re-written through many times in history. When reading through the Old Testament specifically, one can see where there are snippets of hints that the material was written, again, and again. From before the exile of the Israelite people, in the time of the exile, and also after the exile. The Old Testament was written and re-worked to reflect the change of circumstances and thoughts that were going on at the time. Each work in the Bible has a variety of genres that are used, and these genres are not unique. The Israelites people had sources and even borrowed stories from other societies and when we compare the genres and stories in the bible to those of Israel’s neighbors we find some very interesting truths.

The creation stories are not unique, the flood story is not unique, a lot of the covenants and treaties that we see are not unique, even some of the Psalms were borrowed material. But each material in the Bible was used and constructed to form a certain type of ideology and we can trace it and see it as we read through the Old Testament. One of the big things we can find is that humanity has a special place in creation and that God is one and God is other; holy and loving.

This seems hard to grasp, but we must remember that we are reading about another time, where their understanding of history and what is important is much different than ours. We are reading about a culture that was heavily influenced by their neighbors in the Ancient Near East (ANE). We must implement a hermeneutic that focuses on understanding just what this culture was saying, in what setting were they saying it, against who were they saying it, what made them say it, and why do we have it in the form it currently is in our Bibles? We must look through a new set of eyes.

When doing this, the Bible will change for us. It will especially change for those who do hold to a more conservative understanding of Scripture and for those who hold to a view of inerrancy; it will come off as a lie. But I implore you to open your mind as the next few blogs will talk about some common misconceptions that people hold to be true that in my opinion are not. This will not just be my opinion but will be the opinions of the majority of scholars today as well.

My goal in this blog and the many posts that will follow is that we can come to a greater appreciation of the bible and also come to a greater understanding of who God is.

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Lord, Who are you?

There is a mystery to God that we will never be able to fully comprehend. The ancient mystics called this mystery “mysterium tramendum”, or the overwhelming mystery of God. There was something about this God, who was far off; yet infinitely close. Who seemed to be unapproachable, yet was open. From the beginning of time until now, people from all walks of life have dedicated their lives to the search and prodding of this mystery, and in some ways they have come to know this mystery. But there is something that’s amiss from it all. Something that is missing. We see this amiss in the religions of the world today. All religions are reaching out for this divine mystery, trying to come to know who, or just what this presence is. But this God remains a mystery. This mystery has been known and is known by many names, but their is a name that this mystery is revealed in. The true name of this mystery was revealed to a group of nomadic desert dwellers many years ago. The mystery’s name was Yahweh.
Yahweh was the great divine presence that the people of Israel had come in contact with. They were a people reaching out, but something unique happened; God reached down. But just who was this no body from nowhere people? Who was this people that God revealed Himself to? This people had no real home, they had no real unity, and throughout scripture we see just how shocking it is that God would use a people such as them. They failed, they rebelled, and they struggled. But the God of the universe revealed himself to them and used them to show his love to the world. Israel was a very unlikely candidate, but God revealed himself to them.

Now here is some truth, I can identify with Israel. I can identify with Abram. I can identify with Moses. I can identify with David. Not in their victories, but in their weak moments. Why would God choose to reveal himself to someone so unworthy such as me? Why would God reveal himself to such an unlikely candidate as Israel? Why would God make himself known? The only explanation I can come up with is this; love. God’s love is the great mystery.

Scripture is the story of God. It is a story about events and circumstances retold through the lens of people who knew a God who had revealed himself. Scripture is the story of the struggle of people to live up to their calling, and is a story of the failure and success of this people. Scripture is the story of a loving God who continued to remain close to His creation. But there was a problem. God was divine. There was only so much that God could show the world, could show Israel. Something had to happen. Something had to change, and it did.

Christianity has a truth that we hold to, that we protect, that binds us all together. It is a truth that if lost or neglected would mean a “religion” that is really no more than a system of values and good teachings. This truth, this amazing event that separates us from all other faith-based groups is this; God became flesh. God out of pure love for all of creation revealed himself fully in His son Jesus Christ. God sent the ultimate act of love. No longer would this divine presence just be that, a presence; but now God would come and live amongst creation. God would now be as close as to us as our own breath. Jesus became our connection to the divine. God became approachable, real, and infinitely near. It is through Christ that God was and is revealed.

So again I ask, Lord…who are you? This is a question we find ourselves asking when we are at the end of our plans, when we come to a fork in the road or when we do not know which way to turn. But here is the greatest truth we need to come to grips with, God is infinitely near. The mystics called it the divine mystery, John Wesley called it prevenient grace, and scholars today refer to it as panentheism. God is in all things. God is calling all people. God is always and completely near. God is love and when we call on God, he is near. Before we call on God, he is near. It is out of love that when we come to a point where we may question God’s activity or question his proximity, that when it seems he is silent; God will reply with an overwhelming and resounding filling and feeling of his presence.

Mystery. God is a mystery. His love is the mystery. When we think He is not near, He is. When we feel we are unwanted and not worth loving, God loves us. When we feel dead inside, God resurrects. God is a mystery, and it is a mystery that we need to embrace and seek after. Because in seeking this mystery, we will find that the God we were holding onto really was no more than an Idol. The God behind this great mystery, this great love, is one who is just waiting for his people, his creation to realize there is more depth to Him then what we know. We do not need to fear when our faith takes us beyond our knowing. Because at the edge of our understanding, is a God who is waiting to show us the depths of His love and lead us to an ever-increasing appreciation of His complexity. So when we ask,”Lord, who are you?” We can know that God will respond with this, “Come and let me show you.” Embrace this mystery and let it lead you deeper into a relationship with the author of life, with the source of all love, and into a new stage in your faith.