Christianity 201

September 9, 2017

“What is This You Have Done?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re returning again to the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The author of today’s piece is Lisa Rieck. This is another site you might want to bookmark and check back with from time to time. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Sorrow and Mercy of God

“What is this you have done?”

These words from God to Eve in Genesis 3:13 are always heart-wrenching to me when I read them. I imagine so much anguish in his voice.

Because of course God isn’t just talking about Adam’s and Eve’s one decision to eat from the one tree they were explicitly told by God, in his one command, not to eat from. This is the God of the universe speaking. A God who took exquisite delight in creating a world exactly as he wanted it. A God who was wild about these two people he had made in his image, and about their intimacy with each other and with him. A God nearly incoherent with joy regarding the eternity of beauty and goodness and rightness he could see stretching out before him.

It’s hard for most of us to imagine the glory of the world those first two chapters of Genesis describe because we’ve only ever known a world disfigured by sin. But try to picture it. Every plant vibrant with color. Every animal thriving, both on its own and in relationship to other animals. Human relationship free from blame or shame or fear or hurt or jealousy or dishonesty, with each person being fully known, fully loved, fully satisfied in the most complete way.

All of this and so, so much more was changed in a minute, in what seems like a flippant decision on Adam and Eve’s part. Of course, they could not have known what the full implications of their action would be, since they had no concept of sin or brokenness, imperfection or guilt. But God obviously did. And so, as he uttered his question, I imagine the span of history flashing before his eyes: Cain killing Abel. The Israelites enslaved in Egypt. Children sacrificed to idols. War between nations from the first civilizations to the present. John the Baptist being beheaded. Mary and Martha weeping at Lazarus’s tomb. The Black Death. Genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda and Ukraine and Germany and Guatemala. The Trail of Tears. Miscarriages and abortion. Affairs and divorce. Cancer and dementia. Families torn apart by deportation. Poverty. School shootings. Slavery. Mass incarceration. White supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. I wonder if it all rushed through his thoughts in an instant.

“What is this you have done?”

This is not to say that I think I would have chosen differently than Adam and Eve. I’m sure, had I been in their place, I too would have been persuaded that tasting the fruit, testing God’s words a bit, wouldn’t matter much. Isn’t that the way the devil always works? He tells me today that my jealousy, my bitterness, my judgment of others or my self-condemnation, my fears, my silence in the face of injustice, are not that big of a deal. He tells me that I have not contributed to racism because I did not march in Charlottesville this weekend. He keeps me dulled to the pain and far-reaching effects my sins of omission and commission have.

I imagine, though, what also flashed through God’s mind in that instant was what it would cost himself and his Son to make things right. His question was not without hope—but that hope did not cancel out or override his sorrow. Nor does it today; I believe he still suffers and grieves with us in the pain we experience from our own sin and from the sins of others, even though he has set in motion, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the redemption of all things.

Today, as on so many days, I am trying to hold those two things in tension as well—a horrified sorrow that does not end in despair, and a grounded hope that does not make light of the gravity of sin.

I’m also finding hope in ten other words from Genesis: “But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.” Amidst a world gone completely evil, where “every inclination of the thoughts of [people’s] hearts was only evil continually,” and “the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,” God saw the (I imagine) quiet faithfulness of Noah.

Given the rampant wickedness he knew was coming, it seems like God must have been tempted to end things right away in Genesis 3. By Genesis 6, we know that his grief over the wickedness in the world was so great that he did, indeed, send the flood to destroy most of what he had made. But not all. As has happened over and over throughout the history of the world, God was merciful, seeing and saving the ones who could not be moved from their faithfulness to him, despite being surrounded by utter evil.

And that renews my faith that every seemingly small act of obedience matters. Every kind word. Every risk, in conversation or action, that helps me know someone different than me politically or ethnically or denominationally or religiously a bit better. Every dollar given away joyfully. Every “thank you” spoken, and meant. Every beautiful poem or painting created. Every act of listening that seeks to really understand. Every truth told. Every renouncement of racism. Every meal shared with every orphan and widow. Every hurt forgiven.

Most days, I feel more aware of the world’s evil than of God’s mercy, more cognizant of the fact that we have inherited the painful effects of Adam’s and Eve’s sin than of the truth that those who believe in Jesus have also received every benefit of his death and resurrection. But as Paul wrote in Romans 5, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Which means that every day, through God’s Spirit at work in us, we can choose differently than Adam and Eve did. We can—and must—choose obedience over disobedience, worship of God over worship of self, humility over pride, life over death.

And when we fail, as we will—when I fail—I can and must refuse to blame someone else, like Adam and Eve did, and refuse to listen to Satan’s lie that my own seemingly small sin is not that big of a deal. Each time I rebel against God, my work is to hear his question to Eve in my head, ringed with the sorrow of a Creator watching the destruction of the world he created to be good and beautiful. I must be willing to look straight at, to name, to reflect on and lament the ways my particular sin has contributed to that destruction, hurting others and myself and perpetuating the broader sinful structures and systems of our world.

Because though God’s question came from grief over the death that had entered and would continue to enter the world, even this weekend, even today, it can lead us to life if we let it move us, next time, to choose faithfulness. To receive God’s forgiveness, and then show forgiveness to others. To take every opportunity to be kind. To work for justice for all, even when it means giving up some of our own power and privilege. To live in genuine relationship with others. And, in the face of every evil, to choose obedience to the God who grieves with us, grieves over us, and still chooses mercy. Over and over and over again.

December 20, 2010

A Brutally Honest Christmas Carol: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:33 pm
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The verse is in a minor key.   That should give you a clue.  Not your average Christmas carol.

Thinking about the song, and reading the today’s selected blog post, I was reminded of the popular worship song, “Blessed Be The Name;” especially where it talks about “pain in the offering.”     Ditto, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day;” a song cheerfully sung by some oblivious to the lyrics they are mouthing.    Christmas can be a time of pain for many.   Here in Canada we are mourning the loss of another soldier in Afghanistan, just two days before his 25th birthday; just days before Christmas.   There are other situations and examples I wish I could share here, but am respecting certain confidentialities…

…I find the posts for this blog in some unique places, and this post about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is from the blog of the student ministry of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Norfolk, Maine.   Coincidence?

Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan poet who had the following to say about pain and the love of God:

“And when I have been in sickness and pain I have thought if the Lord would but lift up the light of his countenance upon me, although he ground me to powder it would be but light to me; yea, oft have I thought were it hell itself, and could there find the love of God toward me, it would be a heaven.  And could I have been in heaven without the love of God, it would have been a hell to me; for, in truth, it is the absence and presence of God that makes heaven or hell.”  (The Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet, 317-318)

So often, we consider God’s love the power that drives away the pain in our lives.  We ask ourselves why God allows us to suffer such pain, and we wonder whether or not it’s because our faith isn’t as firm as it should be.  But I love what Anne Bradstreet writes and I’m challenged to ask myself if I could say the same thing: Heaven without the love of God would be a Hell to me, and Hell with God’s love being present would be like Heaven to me.

This Advent season, we hear and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” often, but I wonder how much we really miss how amazing the truth of that song truly is.  Emmanuel… “God with us.”  Knowing that God truly became a man in Christ Jesus, and that He sent us the Holy Spirit to live within and to guide each of us who believe in Christ should make a serious difference in how we endure pain and suffering.

For many, the Christmas/holiday season is a really difficult time of year as they remember loved ones who are not still around to celebrate with.  December can be a very lonely month!  But “Emmanuel = God with us” rings out even louder than loneliness… God’s love is true in Christ, cherish that sweet truth today.

Normally at this point, I’d embed the video, but this time I want to invite you to jump to the source blog to watch a very stirring contemporary rendition of the song…

August 29, 2010

Have Hurting People Estranged From the Church Left The Faith?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:52 pm
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A piece I wrote at Thinking Out Loud about the need for confession and forgiveness used, as a springboard for discussion, a post from a ‘confessional’ website where a reader stated that they’ve actually left their faith, but are staying on the church’s e-mail prayer chain list so they can continue to be in on all the church gossip.

If you’re interested, here is the item I wrote.

A reader responded with this comment which expresses a rather comment sentiment which you’ve probably heard come up in any discussion of someone leaving the faith.

The obvious scripture about christians who are no longer christians is that they went out from us because they were never part of us. What’s terribly sad is that they really do think they were once a christian. Though they mislead a few. It’s not possible for those people to make a dent in the reality of Christians anymore than a drop of dew on a shingle. Thanks for the blog.

I fully understand that there are a number of people who feel that way.   However, I also recognize that this reader does not speak for many others who would be reading that particular blog post; so I responded:

I’m sorry, but the “They were never Christians to begin with” flow of argument just doesn’t work for the many, many readers of this blog who disagree with your dogmatic eternal security position.   Since this was a post about the need for confession and forgiveness, and not about other doctrinal matters, I won’t pursue it beyond suggesting that the Bible makes very clear the possibility of being “a partaker of the Holy Spirit” and then “falling away.”

The idea that if someone was truly “in Christ” they would never walk away is good positionally, and there is an extent to which I can embrace that; but then you run into people who have endured a great deal of brokenness in their post-conversion situation, and have elected to walk away.

But the simple rejoinder to your statement might be, if a Christian can’t truly ‘leave,’ then they haven’t actually left; they are just going through a period of extreme hurt, extreme pain or extreme rejection.   Some seed in the parable of the sower actually did “take root” and “sprang up” before it was scorched by the sun.

There’s a lot of scorched people out there.

(Actually, I’m amazed at the level of “belief” among so called committed atheists.  They say they’ve left the Church, but they hold on to an interesting mix of doctrines.)

It’s funny how you can coin a phrase in the middle of writing something.   Scorched people is one of those.   But they are legion and and I’m sure you know some.

How do you respond to the “they were never one of us” argument? Judas walked with Jesus for three years.   I believe he was as in as in can be.   Perhaps he had a predilection to some kinds of temptation.   Perhaps he was jealous of the inner-circle relationship enjoyed by Peter, James and John.   Perhaps he just felt the whole crusade wasn’t making enough of a political dent in Galilee.  But was his sin any different from the many distractions which carry away people in Christian leadership today?   If Satan had truly blinded him 100%, he never would have recognized his transgression; he would have continued to believe his cause was just.

I believe the teachings of Jesus “took root” with Judas as much (or more) as with anyone else.

But he got scorched.