Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Driving the Wrong Direction on a One Way Street

I keep having the same conversation with different people.  They ask, "What does the Bible say about __________?"  And, I'm reticent to answer this particular question--especially in the way it is often asked--because I come off sounding like your typical elite who seems only to make things worse, obfuscating what should be clearly understood.  (See?  Even the word "obfuscate" contributes to the problem.)  By the time I'm finished, my recent conversation partner has lost all interest.  Their boredom is obvious.  They stare at me with that "oh-you-really-don't-want-to-answer-this-question-because-you-like-to-make-simple-things-difficult" look I've come to recognize so well.  Their blank expression screams, "Just give me the answer, you moron."

Here's my problem:  the Bible doesn't say anything.  It must be read.  And, we all are readers.  Yet, some read more than others.  In fact, I've come to the recent conclusion that most Christ believers don't read the Bible.  They consult it.  They peek into it.  But, they don't read it.  Why?  Because to them it's boring.  It's verbose.  It's not handy.  It doesn't get to the heart of the matter soon enough.  It doesn't answer their question.  And therein lies the rub.

I think most Christ followers come to the Bible with their questions, expecting the Scriptures to serve them.  We are the masters of meaning.  We demand answers.  So, we go to the Bible to find them.  Then, one of two things usually happens:  we go to the small parts of the Bible familiar to us, the passages we love the most, and find our answers.  Or, when we can't find what we're looking for, we go to a so-called "expert" so we don't have to do the work ourselves--which leads to the second problem.

The Bible was never meant to be read that way--as a slave to the mastery of our demands for an answer.  If it were, it certainly would have been put together by God more accessibly.  Rather, the Scriptures were meant to inform our questions.  Better yet, the Bible was inspired to form our questions.  Rather than ask, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?" it rather prods us to wonder, "Who is my neighbor?"  Indeed, one might be able to answer the first question if we were to ask the second.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Cursed Christians

It's a sad tendency in the Body of Christ:  Christ believers who see themselves as "cursed by God."  They feel like they have the anti-Midas touch, whatever they do turns golden opportunities into rusty results.  They've lost a sense of God's blessing (something that Paul was adament to claim--for himself as well as his converts--despite his detractors, see Gal. 4:12-15).  According to Paul, this happens when Christians fall under the spell of believing we are supposed to earn God's blessing, deserve His favor, by keeping the law.  Therefore, these law-abiders believe they're getting what they deserve when bad things happen to them.  Break God's law and you endure divine punishment.  It's as if God were playing "whack the mole" in the game of sin managment.  But, after a while, suffering the body blows of life's disappointments, many give up trying to please the impossible standard of God's reciprocal love.  "I'm cursed by God."

There's so much wrong here, I don't know where to begin.  But, let me start with this:  God's love cannot be earned.  He loves us regardless.  We call it grace (Paul's favorite way of describing the economy of God's salvation).  Since we cannot earn His blessing, neither can we incite His wrath--as if He loses patience and finally "let's us have it."  How do I know this for certain?  Because, if that's the way God works, on a quid pro quo basis, then the cross means nothing.

It's sad how many Christ believers cannot see the cross of Jesus as a blessing, the grace of God that changes everything.  In loss we find gain, in weakness we are strong, in giving power away we are empowered, in death we live.  Because of Christ, none of us are cursed by God.  Period.

What's even sadder to me is how many Christians point out the weaknesses of other believers and call it a curse, the failures of others and call it divine punishment.  "Look.  She's getting what she deserves."  To which Paul would reply:  "On the contrary, none of us deserve the cross of Jesus.  It is the sheer, blessed grace of God."

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Take a look in the mirror

It's become rather trendy for Christians to criticize the Church.  Most books, articles, blogs do well--attract a bunch of readers--if they take a pound of flesh in their biting critique of all things ecclesial.  (One opportunistic blogger feigned surprise when her blog post, which explained why she "left the Church," received so many hits.)  The so-called "emergents" got the ball rolling.  Now, it's headed downhill so fast no one dares to get in the way and stop it.  Can you imagine what it would sound like to defend the Church today?  Shrill, self-serving, obscurantist, proud, denial.

But, here's the problem:  when we criticize the Church we're criticizing ourselves.  I don't hear that sentiment in most of the self-appointed prophets who are out to bash the Church.  It sounds to me more as if they think they're pointing out the faults of others.  "Those people over there--they are the problem." But, the truth of the matter is the "other" is always "us" in the Body of Christ.  You're never going to straighten out the people who "don't get ________ right" (fill in the blank, "gospel" or "community" or "faith" or "doctrine" ad infinitum, ad nauseum).  Why?  Because our faith, our gospel, our doctrine, our community is a shared experience.

Think of it like this:  we're family in the Body of Christ.  Apply the same concept to your biological family.  Do we ever believe we're going to "straighten out" our brother?  Sister?  Parent?  Even child?  And, don't we automatically know that when we're criticizing our family we're criticizing ourselves?  Due to our shared DNA we own up to the fact: "You know, I got that from my father," or "You're just like your sister."

At the risk of sounding sentimental, our shared spiritual DNA in Christ should make us all own up to the fact that we belong to each other, whether we admit it or not.  That should inject a little humilty into the critical conversation about the failings of the Church.

After all, we are talking about ourselves.