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Showing posts with the label #GodsWill

The 10 commandments.

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No doubt you’ve heard of the 10 commandments, or as they tend to be stylized, “The Ten Commandments,” as if they’re a movie title. (Which they were, repeatedly; the one with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner is the best-known.) In Hebrew they’re called the עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים / aserét ha-devarím , “10 words,” or “10 lessons.” Specifically they’re the 10 commands the L ORD spoke aloud to the Hebrew people from Sinai (or Horeb), a mountain somewhere on the west coast of the Arabian peninsula. No, the 10 commandments aren’t the only commands God gave the Hebrews. Nor the first. Nor even the greatest: When Jesus was asked about the most important commands, he listed none of the 10 commandments. He listed two other ones: Love God and love your neighbor. Mk 12.29-31 Those Christians who have no idea the L ORD gave about 613 commands in the Law —and that’s not even counting Jesus’s commands in the gospels—sometimes take Jesus’s top two commands, add ’em to the 10 commandments, a

God’s will isn’t complicated. But we sure make it sound so.

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When I was a kid, parents and pastors encouraged us to learn and follow God’s will. Wasn’t just a kid thing either. Churches encourage everybody to learn and follow God’s will. It’s what churches do. How do we do this? “Read your bible!” we were told. So we did. And… we found it had a lot of interesting stories, good advice, confusing visions, super boring genealogies, clever advice, inspiring poems, commands which were sometimes startling (“Wow, look at all the weird stuff God made the Hebrews do. Wait, does he still want us to do this?”) and sometimes made total sense (“Don’t eat bats. Well duh .”). But… we were still generally confused about where to find what God’s will is. Ah, said our youth pastors: It’s in the biblical principles. Apparently once we read enough bible, we’ll notice certain common themes throughout, and realize, “This seems like something God cares about.” To hear our youth pastors explain it: Turns out this —the connecting the dots between verses t

“What’s God’s secret, evil plan for my life?”

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In seminary I was introduced to the Calvinist idea God has two wills. Sometimes it’s called a “twofold will.” (As if that doesn’t also make him sound a little schizophrenic.) There’s the will he’s revealed to everybody in the bible. This’d be found in the Law, expounded upon in the Prophets, interpreted by Jesus’s teachings and the apostles’ instructions. It’s the stuff he expects us, his followers, to do. So get out that bible, look it up, and obey. But there’s apparently a second will: God’s plan for the whole of creation. From the time he first made the world, to the point he’s gonna restore it, to our infinite eternal future with him, God’s set a plan in place for everything. But unlike the first will—the one he revealed to everybody—God hasn’t revealed this second will. Oh, he revealed he has a plan. He just hasn’t told us any of its details. It’s none of our business. True, if he feels like it, he may sometimes choose to reveal bits and pieces of the plan to his

God doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.

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Back in seminary my theology professor introduced us to the concept of the tragic moral choice . Ancient Greek playwrights invented it for their tragedies: One god ordered the hero to do one thing, and another god ordered him to do the opposite. Obeying one god meant sinning against the other god. And like us, the ancient Greeks recognized sin has dire consequences… and wanna bet their plays would show the consequences? Now, we Christians don’t have multiple gods with conflicting wills. We only have the One God. Yes he’s in three persons , but all three one the same thing, so God’s not the problem. We are. We sin, and we live in a sin-plagued world. So in the Christian version of the tragic moral choice, we’re thrust into a scenario where all the possible outcomes are gonna be bad. The only choices we make are gonna be sinful ones. We can’t win. That’s just the world we live in. Fr’instance. Say it’s World War 2 and you’re hiding Jews from the Nazis. Suddenly the Nazis come

“Biblical principles” and extrapolating new commands.

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In my early 20s I went to a conference presented by youth pastor turned lifestyle guru Bill Gothard. (He didn’t present ’em in person; we watched videos.) Bill Gothard. Wikipedia His organization, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (formerly Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, formerly Campus Teams) goes round the United States to teach young people “basic biblical principles” which would keep them on the straight and narrow. Gothard ran it till 2014, when he stepped down ’cause of molestation accusations. Since the statute of limitations means he’s not getting prosecuted, it looks like he’s quietly slipping back into ministry as the scandal fades from everyone’s memory. Gothard is hugely popular among Fundamentalists, who promoted him ’cause his teachings are right in line with conservative Christian culture. He doesn’t just teach people to memorize bible verses, pray, and go to church. He claims the bible says we should obey our parents no matter what, women should o

The “Your will be done” prayer.

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Not just praying it for others, but ourselves. And meaning it! The “Your will be done” prayer is part of the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously it’s the “Thy will be done” bit. Mt 6.10 I’ve already discussed where we’re praying for his will to be done. Today it’s more about how we fulfill that particular prayer of his. Yep, it’s about doing God’s will. Typically when Christians pray “Your will be done,” we’re not talking about ourselves. We’re talking about everyone . “Thy will be done on earth ,” is how the full clause goes, so we’re thinking about how God’s will gets done on earth as a whole, and by all humanity instead of us as individuals. When we pray it, we’re praying humanity collectively does God’s will. We’re not always remembering that we—you and I and everyone else—have to do God’s will too . Usually we’re thinking about how everybody else really oughta follow God’s will, ’cause they don’t, the earth sucks, and it’s their fault. So when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re

Election: God did choose you, y’know.

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Because you didn’t just wander into Christianity. God wants you. ELECT ə'lɛkt verb Choose for a purpose or position, like a political contest or a job. 2. noun. A person (or people) chosen by God for a purpose or position. [Often “ the elect.”] [Elector ə'lɛk.tər noun , election ə'lɛk.ʃən noun. ] I grew up with a Christian mom, a Christian upbringing, and lots of relationships with people who happened to be Christian. Whole lot of opportunities to have God-experiences. It’s kinda like I was set up: Stuff was deliberately stuck in my path to influence me to become Christian. Other Christians didn’t grow up the same way, of course. Things were a lot less Christian, a lot more pagan —or they grew up with another religion altogether. But at one point in their lives they were obviously nudged in Christ Jesus’s direction. Maybe they had a rough patch and Christians showed up to point ’em to Jesus. Maybe a miracle happened and they realized, not just that God’s he

When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.

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SUPERSTITION su.pɜr'stɪ.ʃən noun. Belief or practice based on a false idea of cause and effect. Usually faith in magic, luck, karmic consequences, junk science, or ignorance. Sometimes irrational fear of the unknown. 2. Belief or practice held despite reasonable contrary evidence. [Superstitious su.pɜr'stɪ.ʃəs adjective. ] Obviously the title comes from the Stevie Wonder song. (And if you don’t know it then you’ve been deprived. That bassline alone makes it a classic.) Christians might claim we’re not superstitious: We trust Jesus, not circumstances! But spend any time at all among us, and you’ll find that to be utter rubbish. I would argue Christians are generally more superstitious than pagans. Some of it comes from dark Christians who are entirely sure devils are lurking under everything they don’t like. I grew up among such Christians. Some of ’em actually tried to teach me that because the rock ’n roll backbeat runs contrary to the human heartbeat (and

Killing the pigs.

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How the destruction of 2,000 pigs wasn’t at all Jesus’s idea—and actually got in his way. Mark 5.11-20 • Matthew 8.30-34 • Luke 8.32-39. Picking up where I left off : Jesus and his students traveled to the Dekapolis, a province (well, more like 10 provinces) in northern Israel inhabited by Syrian Greeks, located on the far side of the lake. They encountered a man ( Matthew says two of ’em) infested with the sort of evil spirits which pagan Greeks worshiped as minor gods, a.k.a. demons. The spirits were making the poor demoniac’s life hell. They realized Jesus wouldn’t tolerate what they were doing to the man, and would order them out of there. But they had an idea, which maybe they could get Jesus to go along with. Mark 5.11-13 KWL 11 There was a great herd of pigs grazing near the hill. 12 The demons begged Jesus , saying, “Send us to the pigs, so we can enter them !” 13 Jesus allowed them, and coming out, the unclean spirits entered the pigs. The herd stampeded to

“Efficacious grace”: When God’s grace turns dark.

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Because popular culture tends to define God by his power, not his character like the scriptures describe him, 1Jn 4.8 a lot of Christians do it too. The result is a lot of bad theology, where God’s love, grace, and justice unintentionally (but hey, sometimes very intentionally) take a distant second to his might and glory. Take grace. Properly defined, grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. It’s what reaches out to people who totally don’t merit God’s attention whatsoever, loves us anyway, turns us into daughters and sons of the Most High, and grants us his kingdom. It’s amazing. But when you imagine God’s single most important attribute is his power… well, grace looks extremely different. It’s no longer an attitude. It’s a determination. You will receive God’s grace, become his child, and be on the track for heaven. Or none of these things will happen, because God’s grace will never touch you, because God doesn’t want you. No w

Has God predetermined everything in the universe? Evil too?

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DETERMINISM di'tər.mən.ɪz.əm noun. Belief every event is fixed in place by external causes other than human will. [Determinist di'tər.mən.ɪst noun , deterministic di'tər.mən.ɪst.ɪk adjective. ] I first bumped into the idea of determinism when I was a kid, ’cause my parents let me read Mark Twain. A lot of people assume, thanks to Tom Sawyer , that Twain was a children’s author. Not even close. And in his later years, after so many of his family members died and Twain became more and more cynical, some of the things he wrote were mighty disturbing. What are the chances I read that stuff? Yep, 100 percent. In Twain’s novella The Mysterious Stranger , some 16th-century German boys encounter a young angel named Satan (named for his uncle— yeah, that uncle ) who takes them on adventures. At one point, young Satan introduces the boys to the concept of determinism. “Among you boys you have a game: you stand a row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a

Changing God’s mind.

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And those who say God never changes his mind. If you know your bible—heck, if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston—you know the Hebrews had a major lapse when they were at Sinai. The previous month, the L ORD handed down his 10 commandments, then Moses went up the mountain to get more instructions, and while he was gone the people decided they wanted an idol. Whether this idol was meant to represent the L ORD or some other god, we don’t know. What we do know is the idol violated the very command the L ORD handed down last month. Ex 20.4-6 Understandably, the L ORD was pissed. Exodus 32.9-14 KWL 9 The L ORD told Moses, “I see this people. Look, the people are stiff-necked. 10 Now leave me: My rage is hot towards them. I ’ll end them. I ’ll make you a great nation.” 11 Moses begged his L ORD God’s face, saying, “Why this hot anger towards your people, L ORD ? You brought them of Egypt’s land with great strength and a steady hand. 12

Free will. And God’s free will.

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He’s given us choices. Choose wisely. A will is the ability to make choices and decisions. Might be limited in what we can choose. Fr’instance when I’m at In-N-Out Burger, I can either order a hamburger or cheeseburger; I can’t order a tuna sandwich. But the fact I have a choice, any choice, even a really small one, means I get to exercise my will. If they give me no choices—i.e. they’re out of cheese—I still have the choice to get a burger, or not. Yeah, various people are gonna argue a limited free will isn’t truly free. Which reminds me so much of little kids who throw tantrums ’cause they don’t like any of their options. “But I don’t want cherry or pistachio ice cream! I want chocolate . If I can’t have chocolate I’ll have nothing!” And as the patient parent will usually respond, “Well, that’s your choice.” Limited choices are still choices. Even if you’re not given any options whatsoever, you still get to choose how you’re gonna accept that fact: Cheerfully, or bitterly

The age of accountability?

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How old do we have to be for God to hold us responsible for our sins? Wait, doesn’t he always hold us responsible? Well, not according to certain Christians. See, from time to time a child dies. Which sucks, but this is life, and sometimes life sucks. It’s always sad, and grieving parents frequently look to their religious friends for some kind of comfort. ’Cause we know something about heaven, so they wanna confirm with us that heaven is precisely where their kid went. Mommy and Daddy’s little angel, happy and pain-free, will forevermore be looking down upon them. Yeah, it’s never fun breaking the news to them that we don’t become angels when we die. ’Cause it’s such a deeply-held pagan belief. Some of us never have the guts to tell ’em otherwise. Hey, we figure, they’re grieving; let ’em believe their kid’s an angel. What’s it hurt? (Well, them . The belief will just become even more deeply-held, and then it’ll be a real pain trying to later explain how heaven really wo

Jesus’s first command: Love God.

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The most important of the commands to follow. When Moshe ben Maimon of Spain (1135–1204, also called Maimonides by westerners, Rambam by Jews) wrote the Sefer Hamitzvot /“Book of Good Deeds,” he sorted God’s commands into a list of 613. His first command was the first of the Ten Commandments, which in Jewish reckoning is this verse: Exodus 20.2 = Deuteronomy 5.6 KWL “I’m your god, the L ORD , who took you out of Egypt’s land, out of the slaves’ house.” Makes sense, right? It’s the first one the L ORD declared aloud from Sinai. But when Jesus was asked the most important of God’s commands, he listed two. Respectively, they’re Moshe ben Maimon’s fourth and 13th commands. Mark 12.28-31 KWL 28 One of the scribes was standing there listening to the discussion. Recognizing how well Jesus answered the Sadducees , he asked him, “Which command is first of all?” 29 Jesus gave this answer: “First is, ‘Listen Israel: Our god is the Lord. The Lord is One. 30 You will

When we remake Jesus in our image.

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PROJECTION prə'dʒɛk.ʃən, proʊ'dʒɛk.ʃən noun. Unconscious transfer of one’s ideas to another person. [Project prə'dʒɛkt, proʊ'dʒɛkt verb. ] When we’re talking popular Christian culture’s version of Christianity, i.e. Christianism, we’re not really talking about what Jesus teaches. We’re talking about what we’d like to think Jesus teaches. We’re talking about our own ideas, projected onto Jesus like he’s a screen and we’re a camera obscura. We’re progressive… and how about that, so is Jesus! Or we’re conservative… and how handy is it that Jesus feels precisely the same as we do? Y’know, the evangelists told us when we come to Jesus, our whole life would have to change. But when we’re Christianist, we discover to our great pleasure and relief our lives really didn’t have to change much at all. We had to learn a few new handy Christianese terms: PAGAN WAY OF SAYING IT CHRISTIAN WAY OF SAYING IT “I think…” “I just think God’s telling me…” “I strongly th

The best of all possible worlds.

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When Christians assume “God’s will” means good fortune. You mighta noticed my articles on God's will thus far, mainly focus on what God revealed in the scriptures to actually be his will. His commands. His instructions. His wisdom. What he literally wants us to do. Problem is, whenever Christians wanna know about God’s will, that’s not what we mean. Nor what we want. Poll the Christians you know, and our overwhelming attitude about God’s commands is they’re either “too hard” cf. Ac 15.10 or “old covenant.” We don’t care about the commands. Well, unless they make us feel good about ourselves ’cause we’re already obeying them—whether intentionally or accidentally. (And if we’re not obeying them, we offer our excuses.) Or unless they justify our prejudices, ’cause it appears God doesn’t like certain sins any more than we do. But whenever we Christians say, “I just wanna know God’s will for my life,” you gotta understand we don’t mean God’s commands. We don’t wanna be dire

Remember the Sabbath day.

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Our weekly holiday… and a command we regularly violate. Believe it or not, we Christians actually have a holiday every single week. You likely forgot about it because it’s so regular. It’s Sabbath. It’s the day God mandated (in the Ten Commandments, you know) that people take off. We’re not to work on it. We have the other six days of the week for that. Exodus 20.8-11 KWL 8 “Remember to separate the day of Sabbath. 9 Work six days, and do all your work. 10 The seventh day is Sabbath. It’s for me , your L ORD God. Don’t start any work on it. That counts for you, your sons, daughters, male slaves, female slaves, animals, or visitors at your gates. 11 For six days, I the L ORD made the skies and the land, the sea and everything in it. The seventh day, I stopped, so I the L ORD blessed a day of Sabbath. I made it holy.” And once again, in Deuteronomy . Deuteronomy 5.12-15 KWL 12 “Keep separate the day of Sabbath, as your L ORD God commanded you. 13 Work

Ritually clean and unclean: Ready for worship!

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It’s not literal cleanliness. It just happens to look like it. From time to time the scriptures talk about tahór /“clean” and tamé /“unclean.” Sometimes it’s meant literally, like when the bible refers to pure gold or silver, or refer to a dirty person or animal. But most of the time the scriptures use these terms not literally, but ritually —what the L ORD defined as “clean” or “unclean” for the purposes of worship. “Clean” things could be used for worship; “clean” people were free to worship. “Unclean” things and people couldn’t. If you were clean, you could go to temple—and the Pharisees would let you go to synagogue. If not, not. And if unclean things were used for worship anyway, or unclean people worshiped without first purifying themselves, there were dire consequences. Leviticus 10.1-11 KWL 1 Aaron’s sons Nadáv and Avihú: Each man took his incense-burner, lit it, placed incense in it, and brought it into the L ORD ’s presence— weird fire, which God didn’t perm

Meaningless things.

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“Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t describe our God at all. Ecclesiastes 9.11 KWL I came back. I saw this under the sun: The fastest don’t win the race. The veterans don’t win the battle. Even the wise don’t earn bread. Even the intelligent don’t get rich. Even the experts fall out of favor. Dumb luck happens to them all. Et va-fegá /“time and accident” tends to be translated “time and chance,” like the KJV has it. I went with “dumb luck.” ’Cause that’s the concept the author of Ecclesiastes was going with. Dumb luck. It exists; it’s why the best and brightest aren’t guaranteed success, no matter what our culture insists. Dumb luck grates on those Christians who insist nothing happens outside God’s evil plan. He’s got it all mapped out; he’s got everything under his thumb; even evil and chaos and destruction and sin are part of the arrangement. Dumb luck, they insist, can’t exist in the realm of our sovereign God. There’s no such thing as luck. Everything hap