Expectations

It’s never good when we expect a person to accomplish something that they never set out to accomplish

Them judge them by their inability to complete the unattempted task

It’s deliberately misleading to say that someone failed at a task they never undertook

My brother is writing a novel, so I shouldn’t expect that book to be a detailed factual history

My cousin writes music, so I shouldn’t expect those songs to be methodical genealogies

Even when there is some overlap, when a person tries to use another subject to better accomplish their task

The original task is still the standard we should judge by

A piece of fiction about a historical event is still fiction

A song about genealogy is still a song

I should hold these works to the standard of what they were trying to achieve:

An entertaining tale

An engrossing tune

Meant to make us think and stimulate us in specific ways

The same for the Bible

The Bible is meant to make us think and stimulate us in specific ways

It’s books were composed intentionally

It’s authors had specific goals in mind

To expect the Bible to accomplish tasks it’s authors never set out to accomplish sets it up for failure

When the Bible fails at such tasks, it hasn’t really failed at all

We have chosen to read it incorrectly

We have expected it to do something it was never meant to do

Not just by its human authors, but by God as well

If you believe in God

And you believe that God delivered the Bible to us deliberately

In it’s current form

Then approach the Bible with the assumption that we are meant to read it as it is delivered

If God wanted the Bible to be something other than a collection of books written by different authors over long periods of time

Then it wouldn’t be what it is today

The Bible is a library meant to help you know God better

The Bible does what a library does: illuminate truth by viewing the world from multiple perspectives

That is the task it is meant to accomplish

There is plenty of room for nuance here. For me, I may try to accomplish a specific task but it’s clear that I should have approached it from a different angle. In that case I failed to accomplish something that I wasn’t trying to accomplish, but probably should have. Many more examples I’m sure but I still stick by the purpose of this post; it’s important to approach the Bible for what it is trying to do.

Not what we wish it to do.

Also, just a side note, the picture of books that I used in this post is the Nag Hammadi Library. Which is not part of the Bible. But come on, those leathery tomes are cool looking 😎

Cultures

Biology is the story that nature tells us about ourselves

Culture is the story that we tell about ourselves

True that we often attribute our cultural story to some other force

A deity
Or deities
Sometimes our ansestors

But ultimately we ourselves are the ones who pass on those stories

That’s why they’re so variable from group to group

Even groups like Christians who have a book that records their story can’t agree on how to tell the story

And as a result you get versions of the story so different that it becomes difficult or even impossible to see them as one

We tell our story
We create our culture and renew it
We tell ourselves who we are

I want to make sure I am proud of the story I tell myself
I want to make sure the story I tell others about myself is a story in which I actually want to be a character

As a Christian
As a man
As an American

And not only the story of who I am
But also the story of who I want to be
The story of who I strive to be

Be sure to tell your story well

A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall

I’m not Catholic

And I probably never could be, regardless any changes made to their ideology or institutions

Though I do REALLY like the Maronites

Compelling history

Worth learning about

But I do have a suggestion that would change some of my feelings towards the catholic institution

Maybe even heal the bitter divides that the current and long running abuse scandals have created

One of the clear instructions that Jesus gave was disestablishment of institutions

He definitely did not like the idea of humans creating institutions and investing them with power

Did not like humans building their own traditions and claiming authority through that tradition

He believed in communities

Communities where the individuals look to each other’s strength to keep the community together, instead of power invested in one person or one office

Communities where the individuals tended to each other’s weaknesses so that everyone had the means to overcome them, instead of relying on authoritative positions and offices that have sole authority to render judgement

Lifting up the broken instead of casting them out

Supportive them in their struggle

Binding the community through compassion and forgiveness

Not institutional authority

In the catholic church the institution is old and running strong

But it’s a mess

The priests that run the institution are a mess

If they want to enact change; take the priests from power and put the sisters in charge

At least for a while

It may not make a difference I guess

More of an experiment

But at least it would be an attempt at something different

Since they’ve not been the agents of institutional authority

Maybe they will be able to institute the

Just look at the ongoing scandals and it’s clear

The current institution is not regulating itself

And new leadership is desperately needed.

That’s my advice

My informed opinion from the cross-sectional religious perspective

Put the sisters in charge

It would upend millennia of church teaching…which is why I could probably never be Catholic: I don’t mind upheaval

But maybe an upheaval like that would be what the institution would need to transform itself

Maybe under that new leadership it would become the community it should be

Community of self sacrifice
Community that lifts up without judgement
Community where the leadership takes responsibility for it’s failures

This is where I got all that junk I said about Jesus and institutions

Mark 7

Matthew 23

Luke 11

Who WOULD believe in Hell?

I can’t imagine wanting hell to be real.

Because I believe in a God of compassion, self sacrifice, and forgiveness
Because I accept an omnibenevolent God as truth

For those reasons I find the concept of eternal suffering distasteful at best.
Maybe downright gruesome.

Of course I do believe in hell.

Without a doubt

Even though I don’t like the idea

I’ve come to realize that many things I find to be distasteful are none the less true.

I don’t pretend to know who goes to hell

I don’t have a whole lot to say about it in general

A few broad strokes

And to be honest, a silly movie I’ve loved since I was a teenager sums it up best:

“Do you know what hell is..? It’s not lakes of burning oil or chains of ice. It’s being removed from God’s sight”

-The Prophecy

Amen

I know Christians grapple with this all the time

What gets you a spot in heaven vs hell?

Do you earn it?
Earn God’s favor?
Earn God’s condemnation?

I’m a Protestant for sure, so that’s not what I think

But I’m a Baptist too
And as a more extreme one, I believe in total free will

So I guess you’d say I’m a weird mashup

I say God didn’t pre-condemn certain individuals to hell. God’s omnibenevolence pre-condemns to hell those that choose to hate, subjugate, & degrade

Those that walk the road of life and upon seeing someone robbed and ravaged, walk over to the other side of the road

These are the people that find themselves removed from God’s sight.

No one’s perfect of course

And God doesn’t expect perfect omnibenevolence from anyone but himself.

This is where we’d get into talk about justification and sanctification

But I don’t want to bore you to death.

You can investigate those technical arguments in the links if you want

For now, I’m just going to explain my take

I say it’s not about earning God’s favor. The message of Jesus is that our imperfections are already forgiven in him

And maybe they always have been

This is where our gift of free will intersects with God’s sacrifice for us:

We have to chose forgiveness

We have to chose the omnibenevolent God

Just as he has chosen us

We have to accept that redemption is real and let it work it’s way into the nooks of our person.

We have to love the God that is omnibenevolent

When we do, we have to also love our neighbors

For love of God and love of neighbor are entwined
Intimately
Permanently

They are part of one great commandment

The greatest commandment

Love of the omnibenevolent God will lead to love for our neighbors

I do understand that some Christians find it hard to believe that a God who loves us all could condemn us to hell

I think that to a degree those Christians are influenced by one of the many traditions that spurns the idea of true free will

But I also think more liberal thinking Christians have rejected the idea of hell because they couldn’t believe that there are people who truly reject the idea of loving their neighbors

Even if they believed that some actively reject the idea of an omnibenevolent God

They relied on this quite beautiful idea:

“Speaking of younger people today, some really are unbelieving: that is they have recognized that the God of Jesus, this God of tenderness actually exists – and they refuse Him.

Others are not really unbelievers as such since they have rejected only the picture of God they have seen portrayed through certain Christians now or in history.

If you are running away from a wrong picture of God, does that take you further away from Him or closer to Him?”

Celtic Book of Prayer Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community

I do agree with this
On many levels

But I believe some focus so much on the second part of this sentiment that they ignore the first

The mistake some Christians have made is believing that all who reject God are doing it because they are running from the wrong picture of God

And forget that some see the right picture

The omnibenevolent God

And they choose to hate it

In light of some recent events, I think those liberal Christians may be changing their minds about what people are capable of choosing

In the public sphere many have been emboldened to say with pride:

I do not love the stranger bleeding on the side of the road

And I’m not just crossing to the other side. I’m also building a fence so they can’t crawl near to me

Even if they had one last breath to gather their strength and try

I don’t want to give them the opportunity

Now I don’t want you to misunderstand you who might read this

Just as I know that God has given us enormous power by creating us in his likeness

Creating us with the power to choose

As omnipotent as God may be, he is restrained by his omnibenevolence

God cannot do what is wrong

Because God is Love, he can only chose love

He can’t save those that choose to hate
Because they don’t let him

It seems weird I know

We like to think God can do anything

We’re told that all the time

But God cannot performa an evil act

To be clear,

God still loves those that choose hate
He loves them with all his being
He loves them without reservation

And by their hateful choice he weeps
As Jesus wept on the cross for those who choose hate
He knows that hate is always born of ignorance
Those who chose it can’t see past it, they can’t see what they are doing to others
And what it does to them
They are blind in their hate

They remove themselves from God’s sight
It’s cold, dark, and empty

And they stay there

So why give us a choice? If God is omnibenevolent, why not make us incapable?

The answer is one of the core attributes of love that we do often fail to define.

Love means sacrifice
Love means putting someone’s needs before your own
Love means choosing that self sacrifice
Just as God chose to sacrifice himself in Jesus

Sacrifice requires pain and hardship that is knowingly embraced

Parents do this for their children
Children do this for their parents
Spouse for spouse
Sister for sister
Friend for friend
Even stranger for stranger

That’s why evil comes into the world, because we selfishly reject our neighbors

Because we hate and abuse and abandon them for our own comfort

Our own decadence

Even in modern politics we see this in nationalism.

When someone loves only those that look like them

If I were to only love those that

Look like me

Dress like me

Talk like me

Then I’m not truly loving others, I’m loving myself. I’m worshipping the image of myself.

And as much as we hate the idea, some take the opportunity for self sacrifice and instead chose themselves

Choosing Selfishness
Viciousness
Malice
Hate for the “others”

For sacrifice to mean anything, then there must be forces that cause pain and suffering

They give us the reason to sacrifice
The impetus to put ourselves in danger

Recognizing self sacrifice can be difficult though
It’s not always clear to those outside the situation

To be clear I don’t think I get to judge who goes to hell

It’s like loving God
No one can ever truly know if you love God
Despite all external signs, love is internal and impossible to observe with certainty. Our motivations can never be discerned without ambiguity.
Same thing with love for your neighbors
It’s looks different for each person
Different for each context

Even our actions can be hard to discern

Sometimes the action itself is so small in our own eyes, yet enormous and unfathomable for those whose lives are touched by it

Only God knows

Although, if you look deeply at yourself
You may see both

Both the motive

And the action it should lead to

At least, you’ll see enough to know:

Am I choosing love?
Or hate?

Sacrifice?
Or selfishness?

Gospels and War Stories

If you were going to tell the story of US involvement in Iraq, where would you start? The invasion in 2003? The Gulf War that started in 1990? Or would you go back farther?

You could go into detail about US, French, Soviet, and British support for Iraq through the course of the Iraq/Iran war that took place between 1980-1988. You might even want to go into detail about Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and the 9/11 attack because of its impact on the worldwide war on terror.

Or you could skip all that and tell the stories of the individual soldiers themselves. Both sides even, giving an utterly different and far more personal account.

It would probably be best to touch on all these topics to some degree or another, just placing emphasis on a few of the events while being briefer on others.

The same could be said of the 4 Gospels. When reading these biographies of Jesus’ life many notice the differences in the way they are told. And the differences are notable. One author may leave out details that the other authors emphasize. They may have events happening in slightly different order. Some contain the same saying but worded in a slightly different way or told in a different context.

They even start in completely different episodes in Jesus’ life. Matthew and Luke start with Jesus’ family genealogy as well as the events before and during his birth. Mark and John start in adulthood and scarcely mention his birth at all, although John includes a preamble which explicitly states that Jesus existed before the beginning of creation. In fact John tells us that Jesus was the agent of creation, through which all things were made.

So which of the Gospels is telling the story “right”? Whose timeline is “right”? Whose testimony should we trust? Luke doesn’t even claim to have witnessed anything at all. Luke claims that he investigated the different eyewitness accounts and carefully constructed the best & most orderly account based on his investigation.

I recommend thinking about the Gospels the way you would think about the war in Iraq. It’s not about whether the story is wrong or right, it’s about where a particular author puts the emphasis, what information they found most pertinent. If you were going to try to learn about the war in Iraq you should read a multitude of accounts to take in as many perspectives as possible. By comparing the different accounts you will find details that one author casually glossed over or ignored, that a different author spent more time on. Through the different accounts a more complete understanding will emerge. Each narrative will converge on  a more decisive & complete story that is more complete than any one book alone.

That’s why we have four Gospels
That’s why we shouldn’t be worried about the differences
The differences make the Gospels stronger.
The differences reinforce that we are getting multiple, real accounts

Everyone sees and experiences the world differently

The Bible acknowledges that
The Bible canonizes that

I trust the Bible because it brings me the same diversity of experience I see everyday in the world around me

The Theory and the Revelation

There is one sure way to completely shut down an argument: show the person you’re trying to sway that you haven’t done the background research to know what you’re talking about.

In the realm of religion and science there are 2 perfect examples

Evolution
&
Revelation

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Christian Bible. It can go by a number of different names:

The Revelation to John
The Apocalypse of John
The Revelation
Revelation

I’ve even seen a long form of it spelled out as The Apocalypse of St John the Apostle

But it’s never called “Revelations”.

And anytime a person who’s trying to argue with a Christian adds an S onto Revelation there is a good chance that the Christian checks out.

The thought being:

This person isn’t taking this argument seriously enough to go do the tiny amount of research necessary to even argue with me.

Why would I listen to them, then?

The same in arguments about science.

The book The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin can also go several names:

On the Origin of Species
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

But it is never called “The Origin of the Species”

That’s not the name of the book and the same thing happens when people call it that in an argument.

The opponent checks out and doesn’t take the rest of the conversation seriously.

If you want to convince someone of your argument or even get them to take it seriously you have to understand the terms and sources they use. At least casually, so they’ll respect your thoughts on the subject.

In both these cases I’ve even seen works published with the wrong title. That shows that even editors of texts meant to be taken seriously haven’t done their due diligence to know the title of the book in question.

But these are just good examples

There are many more

The point is, before trying to persuade others you have to spend the time to know what others believe.

In all productive conversations I’ve ever had, it’s only when I try to see the world through beliefs that are not my own that I can approach someone to try to change their mind.

For someone you love

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It’s hard to talk about love & suffering

they don’t seem to go together well

especially when it comes to the idea of a God who loves but allows suffering

So my thought for this Easter is something I think parents will understand better than I do

If I asked:

What would you do for your children? How far would you go? To protect them? To keep them safe?

Most of the parents I know would have the same answer:

Anything
I’d do anything for my children

I think maybe that’s why suffering exists, because love means you’ll suffer for someone you love.

You’ll place someone’s needs above yours

Above your own life

This is My commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends

John 15:12-13 NLT

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A’ Chàisg sona
Ka hari Aranga
Kristos sotonnheton;
oriwiio tsi sotonnheton
hyvää pääsiäistä
M’shee ho dkom!
Happy Easter

Links to

the images above