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Showing posts with label #Grace. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Grace. Show all posts

09 April 2018

Evil’s existence, and God’s existence.

The belief God and evil can’t coexist in the same universe is based on some bad logic.

Every so often I bump into a nontheist who complains God can’t be real, can’t exist… because there’s such a thing as evil in the universe.

Here’s how they’re figuring: If God’s real, God’s almighty, and God’s good like we Christians claim, he should’ve done something to get rid of evil, right? After all they would, if they were God. They’d have wiped out evil long ago, like with a great purging flood or something.

They can’t fathom a God who’d be gracious enough to grant his wayward kids any leeway, any second chances to repent and return to the fold. He’d shut that s--- down on sight. So since God isn’t their kind of God, he must not exist.

This is hardly a new idea. It’s been around since Epicurus of Athens first pitched it in the 300s BC. Or at least we think Epicurus pitched it. That’s what Christian author Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius claimed in his anti-Epicurean book De ira Dei/“On God’s Wrath.” The way Lactantius described Epicurus’s argument, breaks down into four views about how God and evil work, sorta like yea:

  1. God wants to eliminate evil, but he can’t. (’Cause he’s not really almighty.)
  2. God doesn’t wanna. (’Cause he’s not really good.)
  3. God’s neither willing nor able. (’Cause he’s not really God.)
  4. God’s both willing and able. So… why does evil still exist then?

This, folks, is what Christian philosophers call “the problem of evil.” We’ve been knocking it around ever since Lactantius.

Nontheists have obviously taken the third view: God’s neither willing nor able. But their explanation is a little different from Epicurius’s: It’s because he’s not really there. Evil exists because there’s no God to stop it.

For the most part Christians have taken the fourth view, then pitch various explanations for why evil nonetheless exists. Most of them have to do with free will: In order for free will to truly exist, evil has to be a possible freewill option—so that’s the risk God chose to take in granting his creatures free will. Of course that’s not the only explanation we’ve come up with, but it’s the most common.

13 February 2018

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

The sort of “grace” which turns you into a new creation… by reprogramming you.

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 we don’t know why; he just doesn’t. No you can’t change his mind; piss off.

I know: Under this redefinition, God’s grace is still amazing… but only for its recipients. For everybody else, God seems arbitrary, and downright cold. Because only a third of the planet considers themselves Christian. (Figure some of them aren’t really, and figure there are those, like Abraham ben Terah, whom God’s gonna save despite their inadequate knowledge of Jesus. I think it’ll still come out to be a third.) This means God’s perfectly fine with two-thirds of humanity going to hell. If so, he created an awful lot of unwanted people… and is deliberately making hell more full than heaven.

Yeah, that’s the usual problem when you make God out to be deterministic: Suddenly his plans for the universe are mighty evil. But hey, determinists don’t care: God wields all the power they could ever covet, and they’re going to heaven. They get theirs.

Calvinists tend to call this deterministic form of grace irresistible grace. Although lately a number of ’em realize just how rapey “irresistible” sounds, so they prefer the term efficacious grace—that if God decides to be gracious to us, this grace is so powerful, so mighty, it will have an effect upon us, and will do as God intends. ’Cause to their minds, the Almighty doesn’t merely want things, or wish for things: He determines things. And since he’s almighty, what force in the universe could possibly stop him from getting his way?

12 January 2018

Undoing God’s grace?

No, seriously: We don’t earn it. We can’t.

Before I started the bible-in-the-month thingy this month, I was reading a certain book (really, more of an extended rant) about holiness. Written by a guy I know; I won’t say who ’cause I’m gonna criticize him a little. We’ll call him Achard.

Achard spent a chapter ranting about fake grace. Which he didn’t really bother to define… but from what I deduced, he basically means cheap grace.

To recap: Cheap grace is when we take God’s amazing grace for granted: It’s meant to be our safety net for when we screw up and need forgiveness, but we treat it like a bounce house where we can spend hours in mindless fun, sinning away till we’re dizzy and kinda pukey. ’Cause grace!

Now yeah, when we find the cheap-grace attitude among Christians, it’s deplorable. God’s grace may be granted to us freely, but it cost Jesus his life. Treating it with anything other than the deepest gratitude is bad enough. Ignoring how God feels about sin, because we can go on sinning and he’ll just keep granting us grace Ro 6.1 is, to be completely blunt, a massive dick move. That’s not the love we need to show God in response. That’s exploitative, selfish, and depraved. That’s evil.

And therefore, Achard insists, not actually grace anymore. If we exploit his grace, God’s gonna take it back. We think we have his grace; we actually don’t. We’re exactly like those Hebrews in Isaiah 1 who presumed they had God’s grace because they were his chosen people, because they practiced all the festivals and ritual sacrifices he told ’em to practice—and all the rituals made up for their outrageous behavior towards the weak and needy of their community. They made God sick.

Isaiah 1.11-15 KWL
11 “What are your many sacrifices to me?” says the LORD.
“I’m full of burnt-up rams and animal fat.
I’m not interested in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats.
12 When you come before my face, walk in my courtyard, who requested this from your hand?
13 Don’t bring me empty offerings any more! Incense? It disgusts me.
Calling monthly and Sabbath assemblies? I can’t stand wasteful conferences.
14 My soul hates your monthly and special feasts. They’re a burden to me which I tire of carrying.
15 When you spread your hands, I hide my eyes from you.
When you pray ‘great’ prayers, I don’t listen: Your hands are full of blood!”

Achard is entirely sure if we think grace covers all, we have another think coming. It does not. Grace is only for those people who are actually trying to follow God. Not for those people who figure “Once saved, always saved—so obedience and holiness is optional,” and take the option to practice neither obedience nor holiness. These folks think they’re saved, but their nasty behavior and carnal attitudes have undone their salvation. They unsaved themselves.

Okay. Here’s where Achard and I part ways.

21 November 2017

God’s unmerited favor.

No, seriously: We don’t earn it. We can’t.

When the LORD chose Avram ben Terah, renamed him Abraham, Ge 17.5 promised him the land of Kenahan/“Canaan” and had him relocate there, Ge 12.1-3 and promised him an uncountable number of descendants, Ge 13.16 it wasn't because Abraham was a good man.

You might’ve known this, but in case you didn’t, go read Genesis again sometime. Most of the Abraham stories involve him screwing up one way or another. Abraham had loads of faith, but that was the product of his God-experiences; it came after God made all his promises. Abraham wasn't a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity.

So why'd the LORD establish a relationship with him and his descendants? Grace. Pure grace.

When the LORD sent Moses to rescue some of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, patiently dealt with all these Hebrews’ misbehavior thereafter, and finally got their descendants to Canaan and helped them take the land, it again wasn’t because the Hebrews were good people. Read Exodus and Numbers: Without constant supervision, they’d go idolatrous within a month! Miraculously supply ’em with daily bread, and they’d still grumble they had it better in Egypt… despite all the slavery and infanticide. The Hebrews were just awful to their God. So why’d the LORD even bother with them? ’Cause he promised Abraham he would. Dt 7.7-8 ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

When Jesus decided to save me, what had I done to merit saving? Not a thing. I was a little kid. Not a good little kid either. I could be a tantrum-throwing brat when I didn’t get my way. (I still can be, which is why I gotta keep that misbehavior in check. God help my poor nurses if ever I go senile.) Plenty of Christians will easily confess they were just as rotten when they first encountered Jesus. Why’d he save us anyway? ’Cause he loves us. ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

Christians love to describe grace as “unmerited favor.” It’s more than that—it’s God’s entire attitude towards us, which includes unmerited favor. And often we forget the unmerited part: It really isn’t deserved at all. Totally unfair. Often inappropriate. It breaks all the rules of karma. We shouldn’t get it!

Hence there are a lot of people, Christians included, who still strive to achieve good karma. Who try their darnedest to be good people, try to balance out any bad in their lives, and make it so they do merit God’s good favor. Who think the whole purpose of good deeds is to make ourselves worthy of heaven. They forget God doesn’t work like that. At all. He forgave us already. He makes us worthy of heaven. Ep 1.15-23

Why? Nah; I’m not gonna repeat it just now. Go back and read it again.

13 November 2017

Graceless advice.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I don’t really have to remind people that TXAB has an email link. I get questions on a fairly regular basis about all sorts of stuff. Usually asking my opinion about various Christian practices and movements, which I often wind up turning into TXAB articles on the subject.

And sometimes people ask for personal advice, which I’m much less likely to turn into TXAB articles. ’Cause they’re dealing with particular specific things. If I just posted these emails for the whole of the internet to read, it feels like a huge invasion of privacy. Even if I heavily censored them. The rare times I’ve done it, I tend to rewrite them entirely, which is why they kinda sound like me.

Not that this stops the various advice ladies from doing this on a daily or weekly basis. But then again, the people who send them questions know precisely what they’re getting into. If you send “Dear Abby” a letter, it’s gonna get published. So, best you hide certain details, because you don’t want the neighbors to deduce who you are, or who your spouse is. Sometimes people hide too many details for fear of getting outed, which means “Abby” can’t give an accurate diagnosis, which is why professional therapists aren’t always happy with the advice ladies.

Whereas the people who send me stuff obviously don’t expect me to blab this stuff all over the internet. ’Cause they do share confidences, hoping I’ll keep them. Which I will, with some caveats.

But there are limits to my expertise. I get a lot of questions about depression. Not because I suffer from it myself, but because a lot of people just plain do suffer from it. And when they go to their fellow Christians, they’re often given the lousy advice to try and pray it away. I regularly remind these people they need to see a doctor. Depression is a legitimate medical condition, and I’m not a psychiatrist. (My graduate psych classes dealt with education, not mental illness.) Go talk with a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t just send an email to some blogger: Go get actual help.

And if you read the advice ladies, they’ll often advise the very same thing. There’s still a lot of stigma in our culture against seeing a psychiatrist. Too many people think a mental disorder isn’t an illness, but a moral failure, caused by sin, exacerbated by devils. Exactly like the people of Jesus’s day thought of physical disorders:

John 9.1-2 KWL
1 Passing by, Jesus saw a person who was blind since birth.
2 Questioning him, Jesus’s students said, “Rabbi, who sinned? He or his parents?”
because he was blind since birth.

Jesus had to state, “Neither,” then cure the guy. But to this day people still act as if a birth defect is an “act of God,” and still act as if depression is because of some unconfessed sin or something. We’re so quick to judge, and slow to help.

Judging—which we Christians are allowed to do with one another, 1Co 5.12 provided we don’t use double standards—is a fairly simple process when we have an easy-to-understand scripture. If you’re asking me about bible, most of the time the scriptures are cut-and-dried, and I can easily tell you about ’em. I can give as quick a decision as any small-claims court show, like Judge Judy, who wraps up those cases really fast when the law is clear. I’ll just quote the appropriate proof text, bang the gavel (metaphorically; I don’t actually own one, and I’m not using my hammer on my wooden desk), and we’re done.

But most of the questions I get aren’t black and white. If they were, most people woulda figured ’em out themselves. They’re about debatable interpretations of the bible, and people figure they need an expert to help ’em navigate, figure I sound like I know what I’m talking about, so they come to me. But unlike a know-it-all apologist or “bible answer man,” I’m slow to judge. I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. I’m not gonna condemn you if you honestly come to another conclusion. You gotta stay true to your conscience, Ro 14.1-4 as do I. I’ve no business declaring you wrong; what do I know?

So I’d likely make a really unentertaining advice lady. What people want are snap decisions, and I don’t always have one of those.

09 November 2017

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

Calvinist soteriology, which they call “grace”—which isn’t really.

DOCTRINES OF GRACE /'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪs/ n. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.

A number of Calvinists aren’t all that comfortable with the title “Calvinist.”

For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer, and claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who’s comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.

Others concede not everything John Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obviously they’ve a problem with other ideas which undermine God’s character. Like double predestination, the belief God created people whom he never intends to save, whose only purpose is to burn forever in hell. Calvin figured it’s a logical conclusion of his system. But understandably a lot of Calvinists hate this idea, and have tried their darnedest to get out of it—with varying degrees of failure.

Regardless the reason, these Calvinists prefer to call themselves “reform Christians.” I first learned the term from my theology professors, who much preferred it. It reminds everyone they’re part of the Protestant reformation. As far as some of Calvinists are concerned, it’s the only truly reformed part of the reformation: The other movements capitulate to Roman Catholicism too much for their taste.

The problem with relabeling? Yep, not every reform Christian is Calvinist. Lutherans and Molinists aren’t necessarily. Arminians (like me) and Anabaptists sure aren’t. If you’re Protestant, reform means your movement and theology goes back to the 1500s reformers, and embraces the ideas of scriptural authority (prima/sola scriptura), salvation by grace (sola gratia), justification by faith (sola fide), and atonement by our sole mediator Christ Jesus (solus Christus). You know, stuff just about every Protestant believes—plus many a Catholic and Orthodox Christian, even though their church leadership might insist otherwise.

The other label both “reform Christians,” and Calvinists who don’t mind their title, like to use is “the doctrines of grace” to describe their central beliefs about how God saves people—or as we theologians call this branch of theology, soteriology. They’re called “doctrines of grace” because God saves us by his grace, right? What else might you call ’em?

But like I said, Calvin’s fixation on sovereignty undermines God’s character. And in so doing, they undermine much of the grace in this system. Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. But when Calvinism describes salvation, you’ll find not only is it not gracious: It’s coerced, involuntary, hollow, and sorta evil.

03 November 2017

Not faith, but a faith.

And we’re not saved by faith.

Faith /feɪθ/ n. Complete trust or confidence in someone/something.
2. Religion: A system of beliefs and practices about God.
3. A strongly-held belief or theory, maintained despite a lack of proof.
4. A name Christians like to give their daughters. My niece, fr’instance.
[Faithful /'feɪθ.fəl/ adj.]

I bring up the definition of faith again ’cause today I’m writing about the second definition: A system of beliefs. A religion. The word most people tend to mean when they talk about faith: “Oh, you believe in that stuff because you have faith.” By which they often mean the magical ability to believe in goofy rubbish. Or, if they’re being more generous, they mean we have a religion—and the religion requires us to believe in goofy rubbish.

So that’s what pagans mean when they speak of “people of faith”: People who have a religion. Particularly the people who like to insist, “No I don’t have a religion. I have a relationship.” (Which implies they’re not consistent in their religion, but I wrote on that elsewhere.) Okay fine: If these people wanna insist they have no religion—even though they totally do—we’ll just use the synonym “faith,” which they appear to have no beef with. But we all know it means “religion.”

For such people, “religion” only means dead religion—all ritual no relationship, all actions no beliefs, all behavior no trust. But call it “faith,” and emphasize the living part which should be at the core of living religion, Jm 2.26 and they’re fine with it.

Here’s the problem (’cause you knew there was a problem coming, didn’tcha?): In using the word “faith” to mean “religion,” Christians often mix up the two definitions and imagine them to all be one and the same thing. When we say we have faith, we don’t merely mean we trust God. We mean we have religious faith: We believe doctrines. We have foundational truths which we base our Christianity upon. Hopefully we’re orthodox—or at least we’re pretty sure we are.

Is that the definition the scriptures use to mean pístis/“faith”? Not even close. No, not even the verses where we think we can overlay the religion idea on top of it. Faith always means trust, and usually trust in God. It only means religion in our culture.

Not Jesus’s, nor the apostles’, nor the folks who came before. When Abraham believed the LORD, and was considered righteous for it, Ge 15.6 this wasn’t at all Abraham’s embrace of religious doctrine. It was a personal trust in a personal God, with whom Abraham held a personal relationship.

But like I said, Christians’ll mix the definitions together. The result will be all sorts of interesting heresies.

21 August 2017

Works righteousness: Salvation through good karma.

Christians who try to merit salvation—and Christians who try to weasel out of good works.

Works righteousness /'wərks raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through good deeds.

Works righteousness is how the world works. We tend to call it karma: If we want people to think of us as good, upstanding, and deserving, we’ve gotta publicly do good deeds. Like doing charity work, making big donations, rescuing needy people, doing stuff for the public good. Not just the stuff ordinary citizens do, and should do, like follow the laws and not be jerks. It’s gotta be actions which go above and beyond.

Or (and this is the much harder way, although a number of people prefer it ’cause you can do it passively) we’ve gotta suffer some kind of catastrophic loss. One which totally doesn’t seem to fit our circumstances. You know, like Job being a really good guy, yet losing all his kids and stuff in a single day. Jb 1 Getting a deadly disease, getting your house flooded, getting your dad murdered—stuff that’ll make people sympathetic, or even cry.

See, people assume the universe oughta balance things out. Good things should happen to good people, and bad things to bad. But in reality the universe is random and meaningless. When circumstances expose this truth, people feel it’s just wrong—and often take it upon themselves to balance things out. (And then claim, “See? The universe balanced things out.” Well, it needed help.) People pour out support to the needy—but y’notice it’s sometimes entirely out of proportion. More than once I’ve seen a story in the news about people in need, and people donated so much support, 100 times the people could’ve been helped by it. (Hopefully the needy people passed some of that generosity along.)

But yeah, the world runs on works righteousness. On karma.

The kingdom of God, on the other hand, runs on grace. People don’t get what we deserve, much less what people think we merit. Instead we get what God wants to give us, and he wants to do for us way more than we can ever ask or think. Ep 3.20 He wants to give us his kingdom.

Problem is, for a whole lot of Christians this idea hasn’t entirely sunk in. When we come to Jesus, we bring our existing ideas, including our existing wrong ideas, with us. One of ’em is the idea we owe God big-time. After all, look how much he’s done for us! But we conclude we therefore have to pay him back. You’ll even hear Christians claim this is why we’ve gotta do good deeds: We owe God. We’ll never ever be able to make it up to him; not even after a trillion years of good deeds. Still, they insist, we should try.

Which is simply nuts. And goes against everything God’s trying to teach us about grace. We’re supposed to give without expecting anything back, Lk 6.35 because that’s how our Father gives.

But karma is so pervasive in every human culture, even those of us who know God does grace instead of karma, try to make it up to him in big or small ways. We don’t always do stuff for God out of pure gratitude. We’re still trying to balance out our karmic debt… to an infinite God. Good luck with all that.

Nah. The reason Christians are to be good, is because God instructs us to be good. Not to earn anything, not to pay anything back, not for any other reason than love. If you love God, do as he says. Jn 14.15 If you don’t really, you won’t really. But forget about earning his love; you already have it. Forget about earning his favor; you already have it. That karma stuff only works on humans. Not God.

16 June 2017

Favor, grace, same thing.

There are many words for “grace” in the scriptures.

Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards us. And favor means a generous, forgiving, kind, gracious attitude. In other words, they mean the very same thing.

This is some of the reason people don’t see grace in the bible as often as they oughta. They don’t realize grace and favor are synonyms.

When God grants people favor—when he picks favorites, be they individuals or entire nations—he’s showing ’em grace. They don’t merit his favor; they don’t earn it. You don’t earn it. That’s the usual complaint about favor: It’s not fair. “Why do you keep playing favorites?” Because they’re favorites. It’s not deserved; it’s inherently unfair. Just like grace—which is kinda what makes it awesome.

But I realize a lot of people use the term incorrectly. Such as when they insist, “You owe me a favor”—supposedly they’ve racked up enough karma points, and are hoping to draw from them.

Or “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” Ge 6.8 NIV Too many sermons claim that’s because Noah earned God’s favor, by being the one good guy on a planet covered in sinners. Ge 6.9 Which’d mean Noah earned salvation—which is entirely antithetical to the bible’s main message. Nobody earns salvation. God is generous to people who are making an effort, but the idea that anyone merits forgiveness is one we need to watch out for; it undermines our message.

Noah, as the KJV puts it, “found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Ge 6.8 KJV Because the ideas are interchangeable. Both the Hebrew khen and the Greek háris get translated both ways. Note the KJV.

 GRACE, GRACIOUSFAVOUROTHER
HEBREW:
KHEN
(69×)
Ge 6.8, 19.19, 32.5, 33.8, 33.10, 33.15, 34.11, 39.4, 47.25, 47.29, 50.4, Ex 33.12-13, 33.16-17, 34.9, Nu 32.5, Jg 6.17, Ru 2.2, 2.10, 1Sa 1.18, 20.3, 27.5, 2Sa 14.22, 16.4, Es 2.17, Ps 45.2, 84.11, Pr 1.9, 3.22, 3.34, 4.9, 11.16, 22.11, Ec 10.12, Jr 31.2, Zc 4.7, 12.10 Ge 18.3, 30.27, 39.21, Ex 3.21, 11.3, 12.36, Nu 11.11, 11.15, Dt 24.1, Ru 2.13, 1Sa 16.22, 20.29, 25.8, 2Sa 15.25, 1Ki 11.19, Es 2.15, 5.2, 5.8, 7.3, 8.5, Pr 3.4, 13.15, 22.1, 28.23, 31.30, Ec 9.11 Pr 5.19, 17.8, Na 3.4
GREEK:
HÁRIS
(156×)
Lk 2.40, 4.22, Jn 1.14, 1.16-17, Ac 4.33, 13.43, 14.3, 14.26, 15.11, 15.40, 18.27, 20.24, 20.32, Ro 1.5, 1.7, 3.24, 4.4, 4.16, 5.2, 5.15, 15.17, 5.20-21, 6.1, 6.14-15, 11.5-6, 12.3, 12.6, 15.15, 16.20, 16.24, 1Co 1.3-4, 3.10, 10.30, 15.10, 16.23, 2Co 1.2, 1.12, 4.15, 6.1, 8.1, 8.6-7, 8.9, 8.19, 9.8, 9.14, 12.9, 13.14, Ga 1.3, 1.6, 1.15, 2.9, 2.21, 5.4, 6.18, Ep 1.2, 1.6-7, 2.5, 2.7-8, 3.2, 3.7-8, 4.7, 4.29, 6.24, Pp 1.2, 1.7, 4.23, Cl 1.2, 1.6, 3.16, 4.6, 4.18, 1Th 1.1, 5.28, 2Th 1.2, 1.12, 2.16, 3.18, 1Ti 1.2, 1.14, 6.21, 2Ti 1.2, 1.9, 2.1, 4.22, Tt 1.4, 2.11, 3.7, 3.15, Pm 1.3, 1.25, He 2.9, 4.16, 10.29, 12.15, 12.28, 13,9, 13.25, Jm 4.6, 1Pe 1.2, 1.10, 1.13, 3.7, 4.10, 5.5, 5.10, 5.12, 2Pe 1.2, 3.18, 2Jn 1.3-4, Rv 1.4, 22.21 Lk 1.30, Ac 2.47, 7.10, 7.46, 11.23, 25.3 Lk 6.32-34, 17.9, 24.27, 25.9, Ro 6.17, 1Co 15.57, 16.3, 2Co 1.15, 2.14, 8.4, 8.16, 9.15, 1Ti 1.12, 2Ti 1.3, Pm 1.7, 1Pe 2.19-20

Other translations have just as much a tendency to render these words as either grace or favor, depending on translator’s preference. Obviously the KJV’s New Testament translators greatly preferred grace, whereas their Old Testament translators could go either way.

06 June 2017

Punishing ourselves. (Don’t!)

Stop it!

Crack open a dictionary and the first definition you’ll find for penance is often “voluntary self-punishment as an expression of repentance.”

Actually that’s not what penance is supposed to mean. Our word penance comes from the Latin verb pænitere/“be sorry.” That’s all penance means: We regret what we did, we apologize, we ask forgiveness, and we resolve to do better in future. Period. When Christians confess our sins to one another, that’s all penance, penitence, repentance, or whatever word we wanna use for it, ought to consist of.

Problem is, the way Christians have historically demonstrated how sorry we are, is to prove it by making ourselves suffer. By undergoing punishment. Sometimes voluntarily. Sometimes not.

So let me make this absolutely clear: God’s kingdom is about God’s grace. Christians punishing themselves, or punishing one another, is contrary to grace. It’s not a fruit of the Spirit.

I won’t go so far as to call it a work of the flesh. That’s because there’s a time and place for penalties and consequences. But that time and place is only in the context of restitution, and the unrepentant.

When Christians hurt one another, we need to make it right as best we can. If we can’t, grace is gonna have to make up the difference. If the neighbor boy burns your house down, of course he can’t afford you a new house; forgive! But if he swiped your bike, of course he oughta return the bike—and even if he doesn’t, forgive! Mt 5.38-42 Any additional penalties need to be tacked on by parents or the state. Not the Christian; not the church. Christians are only to forgive.

Now sometimes Christians don’t regret their sins. They’d willingly do ’em again if the circumstances repeated themselves—and will even proudly say so. “Of course I hit him for insulting my wife; anyone who goes after me and mine should expect it.” When people are more interested in their rights, their lusts, their vengeance, their will, their flesh, than in following Jesus, these people need to be removed from your church before they harm you. ’Cause they will.

Applying penalties and consequences to Christians who wanna get right with God, means you’re teaching them this is how we get right with God. Not by trusting God to save us, but by striving to save ourselves. Not by grace; by good works. Not by receiving, but by effort. Not by love; by merit.

Nope, it has nothing to do with God. He does not want us to hurt ourselves. If you think God told you to do it, that wasn’t God. Period. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop it.

There’s enough pain and suffering in the world as it is. God wants to fix it, not create more of it. He doesn’t do abuse. He doesn’t approve of self-abuse. Even though plenty of Christians claim, “God wants us to suffer so we truly understand and share Christ’s suffering,” Pp 3.10 or “God gave me this thorn in the flesh, same as he did Paul,” 2Co 12.7 or “I need to beat my body so I can develop self-discipline.” 1Co 9.27 WEB Obviously they’re pulling those verses out of context. They’re wrong.

Yes, in our messed-up world, Christians suffer. Everybody suffers. Life is suffering. Jn 16.33 But to manufacture our own suffering? To produce more suffering? It’s contrary to the kingdom. It’s devilish.

25 May 2017

When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

The words we never want to hear from our Lord.

Matthew 7.21-23 • Luke 6.46, 13.23-27

Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.

See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!

It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?

So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things. This story applies to the people who didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, didn’t believe all the right things, and don’t realize they’re heretics or in a cult. You’re good. Relax.”

Or you can take the Dispensationalist route: “Remember, people, God saves us by grace not works. And notice what Jesus says in this story about “Law-breakers” Mt 7.23 and “unrighteous workers.” Lk 13.27 He’s clearly talking to people of the last dispensation, back when God didn’t save anybody by grace yet, and they had to earn salvation by following the Law. Still true in Jesus’s day, but doesn’t count anymore. So we can safely ignore these scriptures. They don’t count for our day. They’re null.”

Obviously I’m not gonna go with either of those explanations. Partly ’cause I’m no dispensationalist, and neither is Jesus; partly ’cause we don’t earn salvation by accumulating correct beliefs. Humans are saved by grace, and always have been.

So why doesn’t grace appear to apply to these poor schmucks, who tried the narrow door only to find it bolted shut?

Luke 13.23-27 KWL
23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are going to be few.”
Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.
25 At some point the owner could be raised up, and could close the door.
You standing outside might begin to knock at the door, saying, ‘Master, unbolt it for us!’
and in reply he tells you, ‘I don’t know you. Where are you from?’
26 Then you’ll begin to say, ‘We ate with you! And drank! And you taught us in the streets!’
27 And the speaker will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!
Get away from me, unrighteous workers.’ ”

What’d’you mean the Master won’t recognize us? Isn’t he omniscient? Didn’t he at least remember all the times we hung out together? We had a meal with him! (Or at least holy communion—hundreds, if not thousands of times!) We studied what he taught! Why’s Jesus suffering from amnesia or dementia all of a sudden?

Like I said, scary idea. Lots of us like to imagine our salvation is a done deal, a fixed thing, something we can never lose unless we actively reject it. This story throws a bunch of uncertainty into the idea, and we hate uncertainty. We wanna know our relationship with Jesus is real, and that it’s gonna continue into Kingdom Come.

18 May 2017

The age of accountability?

How old are we before God decides to withdraw grace? Yes, that’s what we’re talking about.

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 works.)

And it’s never fun breaking the news to them that, unless we trust Jesus to take care of our sins for us, we still own our sins. Therefore we don’t inherit the kingdom of heaven. And since they never raised their kids to trust Jesus any…

…Well you see where I’m going with this. Few Christians have the nerve to tell any grieving parents any such thing. We chicken out.

Lots of us instead embrace this idea of an age of accountability: There’s an age where God deals with us as a responsible human being. Before that cutoff point, we don’t know any better; we’re innocent; we’re spiritual minors; God couldn’t possibly hold our sins against us. For everybody before the cutoff, God practices universalism: Everybody goes to heaven. No exceptions.

Your pagan friends’ dead kid? Just squeezed in at the cutoff. Definitely in heaven. God would never send a five-year-old to hell. Six-year-olds definitely; hell’s chock full of ’em, screaming their bratty heads off. But never five-year-olds. Yes, little Tafadzwa is definitely in heaven. Yes, Tafadzwa now has baby wings like a little cherub.

Oh, it’s an utter copout. ’Cause the age of accountability isn’t in the bible anywhere. Seriously, not anywhere. It’s pure fabrication, invented to soothe grieving parents, and calm worried ones. When their pagan kid just died, parents wanna cling to hope, and Christians really don’t wanna be the ones to puncture it. (Well, most of us. There are certain a--holes who take a perverse glee in telling people, “Hey, it’s unlikely your kid was one of the elect, so they’re not in heaven.” I’ll get to them.)

Quite often it’s the Christians themselves clinging to hope: Their kids aren’t following Jesus, and they’re super worried the kids are gonna be pagan or apostate or even antichrist. So they wanna know there’s still a chance. The age of accountability is 30, right?

Now since this article is tagged #Grace, you can likely guess there actually is hope somewhere before the end of it. But you’ll have to bear with me as I dash several of the false hopes.

02 May 2017

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

Granting God’s forgiveness to those who need it.

Confess /kən'fɛs/ v. Admit or state one’s sins or failings to another (trustworthy) Christian.
2. Admit or state what one believes.
[Confession /kən'fɛs.ʃən/ n., confessor /kən'fɛs.sər/ n.]

The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna.

Partly it’s because we don’t find it all that easy to find a trustworthy Christian with whom we can talk about these things. Partly because those trustworthy Christians we do know… we’re entirely ashamed to tell them such things. We worry they’ll lecture us, condemn us, shun us, try to punish us, or we imagine some other worst-case scenario.

So we pretend the scriptures never instruct us to confess our sins to one another—

James 5.16 KWL
So confess these sins to one another:
Make requests for one another, so you can be cured.
A moral, energetic petition is very mighty.

—that it’s just a Catholic thing, and that Christians in the bible never did any such thing—

Acts 19.17-18 KWL
17 This became known by all the Judean and Grecian inhabitants of Ephesus.
Fear fell upon all of them, and Master Jesus’s name was exalted.
18 Many of the believers came to confess and tell of their deeds.

—even that it’s wrong for us to share these things with one another, because what business do we have forgiving one another for their sins, or telling them to go in peace?

John 20.22-23 KWL
22 This said, Jesus blew on them
and told them, “Take the Holy Spirit.
23 When you forgive people their sins, they’ve been forgiven.
When you take charge of people, they’ve been charged.”

But in fact when we publicly, or semi-publicly, confess our sins, God forgives us. 1Jn 1.9 When we don’t—when we try to keep these confessions only between us and God, but among fellow Christians we pretend we never sin (or we admit we do sin, but make it sound like we don’t sin much), that’s hypocrisy. Bluntly we’re liars. And since God calls us sinners, we make God out to be the liar in this situation. 1Jn 1.8

And frankly, a lot of times we confess to nobody because we really don’t care to stop sinning. If nobody knows about our sins—if the only person we tell these things to is the Holy Spirit, and we assume he’d never tell on us (biblical evidence to the contrary Ac 5.1-11), we can go right on committing ’em. Secretly. Privately. Hypocritically.

Now that we belong to Jesus, we’re supposed to quit sin. Ro 6.11-12 But if we hide our sins, disguise the chains sin still has on us, and pretend we’re living like Christians… we remain the same old slaves to sin we always were. It’s as if we never had turned to Jesus. It’s like an alcoholic who never quits drinking because he’s not going to any bloody A.A. meeting. Or the addict who pretends she went to rehab, and hopes nobody notices she’s still hooked. Same fraud; different vice.

18 April 2017

Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

God puts a huge priority on our ability to share his grace with others.

Mark 11.25 • Matthew 6.14-15

In the Lord’s Prayer we have these two lines,

Matthew 6.12 BCP
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Jesus briefly elaborated on this in his Sermon on the Mount:

Mark 11.25 KWL
“Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone.
Thus your Father, who’s in heaven, can forgive you your misdeeds.”
Matthew 6.14-15 KWL
14 “When you forgive people their misdeeds, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
15 When you can’t forgive people, your Father won’t forgive your misdeeds either.”

Elaborated on it even more in his story of the unforgiving slave.

Matthew 18.21-35 KWL
21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,
and I’ll have to forgive them? As much as sevenfold?”
22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as much as sevenfold.’
Instead as much as seven seventyfolds.
23 For this reason, heaven’s kingdom is like a king’s employee,
who wanted to settle a matter with his slaves.
24 Beginning the settlement, one debtor was brought to him who owed 260 million grams silver.
25 Having nothing to pay with, the master commanded him to be sold
—and his woman and children and as much as he had, and to pay with that.
26 Falling on his face, the slave worshiped his master, saying,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.’
27 Compassionately, that slave’s master freed him and forgave him the debt.
28 Exiting, that slave found his coworker, who owed him 390 grams silver.
Grabbing him, he choked him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe!’
29 Falling on his face, the coworker offered to work it out with him, saying,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.’
30 The slave didn’t want to, but went to throw him in debtor’s prison,
until he could pay back what he owed.
31 Seeing this, the slave’s coworkers became outraged,
and went to explain to their master everything that happened.
32 Then summoning the slave, his master told him, ‘Evil slave:
I forgave you all that debt, because you offered to work it out with me!
33 Ought you not have mercy on your coworker, like I had mercy on you?
34 Furious, his master delivered him to torturers till he could pay back all he owed.
35 Likewise my heavenly Father will do to you—
when you don’t forgive your every fellow Christian from your hearts.”

The “delivered him to torturers” bit Mt 18.34 makes various Christians nervous, and gets ’em to invent all sorts of iffy teachings about devils and curses and hell. And misses the point: God shows us infinite mercy. What kind of ingrates are we if we don’t pay that mercy forward?

03 April 2017

What became of Judas Iscariot.

His death… however it happened, since the scriptures don’t match.

Matthew 27.3-10 • Acts 1.15-26

Technically Judas bar Simon of Kerioth, the renegade follower of Jesus whom we know as Judas Iscariot, isn’t part of the stations of the cross. Whether St. Francis or St. John Paul, neither of ’em figured his situation is specifically worthy of a meditation for Good Friday. Although we should study him some, ’cause he’s an example of an apostle gone wrong—an example we don’t wanna follow. Nor repeat. But Jesus was too busy going through his own suffering to really focus on what was happening with Judas.

So Judas came up when he turned Jesus in to the cops… and in three of the gospels, that’s the last we hear of him. The exceptions are Matthew—and since the author of Luke also wrote Acts, it’s kinda in another gospel, ’cause Acts is about how the apostles started Jesus’s kingdom. But that’s a whole other discussion.

Here’s the problem: For the most part, the Matthew and Acts stories contradict one another.

Not that inerrantists haven’t tried their darnedest to sync them up, and I’ll get to how they’ve tried it. But first things first: The passages.

Matthew 27.3-10 KWL
3 Then Judas, who turned Jesus in, seeing the Senate condemned him,
feeling greatly sorry, returned the 30 silvers to the head priest and elders,
4 saying, “I sinned; I turned in innocent blood.”
They said, “What’s that to us? Look out for yourself.”
5 He threw the silver back into the shrine, left, and hanged himself.
6 The head priests took the silver, saying, “It’s wrong to put it in the offering,
since it’s a payment for blood.”
7 Taking it, the Senate bought a field with it from a potter, for the burial of foreigners.
8 Thus this field was called Bloodfield to this day.
9 This fulfilled the prophet Jeremiah’s word, saying, “They took 30 silvers.
The penalty payment which they paid for Israel’s children.
10 They gave it for the potter’s field, as the Lord instructed me.”
Acts 1.15-20 KWL
15 In those days Simon Peter stood in the middle of the family.
He said, “The crowd is more than 120 people I can name.
16 Men, family: We have to fulfill the scriptures the Holy Spirit foretold through David’s mouth
about Judas, who became the guide of those who arrested Jesus.
17 Judas was counted among us.
He received a place in this ministry.
18 He thus got himself a plot of land from his unrighteous reward,
and was found face-down, burst open, his innards all spilled out.
19 All Jerusalem’s dwellers came to know it,
so the plot’s called in their dialect Khaqal-Dema” (i.e. Bloodfield).
20 “It’s written in the book of Psalms: ‘Make his house desert, and don’t let settlers in it.’ Ps 69.25
And ‘Another person: Take his office.’” Ps 109.8

23 February 2017

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

We use “sufficient” to mean God’s salvation or provision. Paul meant neither of those things.

2 Corinthians 12.9

One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.

And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.

Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.

Great is your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart
So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me
—Matt Maher, “Your Grace Is Enough,” 2008

Is this what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient”? Not even close. While the idea we’re entirely saved by God’s grace is entirely true, the basis for this idea isn’t at all the verse where we find the words “grace is sufficient.” It comes from other verses, like “By grace you have been saved,” Ep 2.4, 8 NIV —not good works. There’s more to say about that, but I’ll do that later.

The rest of the time, “grace is sufficient” is used to say God will provide all our needs. ’Cause he’s gracious, generous, watches over us, answers prayers, cures our illnesses, guides our steps: We figure when we have God, we don’t need anything else. A self-sufficient person doesn’t need help, and neither does a God-sufficient person, ’cause God has us covered. Different worship song:

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me
My God shall supply all my needs
According to his riches in glory
He will give his angels charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me
—Don Moen, “Jehovah Jireh,” 1986

Horrible pronunciation of YHWH-yiréh aside, which I remind you isn’t one of God’s names but a name of an altar, Ge 22.14 the problem is this also has nothing to do with what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient.”

But you know how songs are. Once a catchy one gets in your head, it’s hard to shake the song away… much less the inaccurate bible interpretations which come along with it.

02 February 2017

Fake guilt, and where grace comes in.

If you can’t shake your guilt, it’s because your conscience is defective.

Guilt /gɪlt/ n. The culpability, and moral responsibility, attached to one who committed a deed. (Usually a misdeed.)
2. A feeling one has committed a misdeed; often regretful or remorseful.
3. v. Make someone feel remorse for wrongdoing.
[Guilty /'gɪlt.i/ adj., guiltless /'gɪlt.lɪs/ adj.]

Guilt is healthy. Fake guilt, not so much.

If I do anything, good or bad, I’m guilty of that action. Most of the time we use “guilt” in a negative sense, like when we’re responsible for sins or crimes. But we can be guilty of good deeds, particularly ones we do in secret. Like if I slipped an extra $20 into the waiter’s tip, or turned in a lost backpack to the lost and found, or deleted all the Nickelback from your iPod. Guilty. You’re welcome.

Being guilty of misdeeds—assuming you were raised with a properly-functioning conscience—tends to come with a negative emotional response. We feel bad about ourselves for what we did. Every time I turn the hose on Christmas carolers, I feel really remorseful about it. Not for long, but you get the idea.

But sometimes we don’t have a properly-functioning conscience. So we feel bad for no good reason. That’d be fake guilt.

Fake guilt is what happens when people try to program or reprogram our consciences so we feel bad over imaginary wrongs. Sometimes by convincing us more things are sins than really are, like legalists do. Sometimes by convincing us our very existence is sin: Supposedly total depravity has made us such filthy sinners, God can’t stand us, and the only reason he doesn’t blow up the earth in rage and hate is ’cause Jesus somehow placated him. (Often this idea of us being filthy sinners is their justification for all the abuse they wanna pile on us.)

The product is a feeling of guilt which lasts all the time. See, proper guilt is supposed to get us to repent, stop sinning, turn to God, get forgiven, apologize to others, maybe make restitution, and generally get on with our lives. Actual guilt goes away. Fake guilt lingers. We repent—but still feel guilt. We make restitution—and still feel guilt. We know (or think we know) God forgives all, and God forgives us, and yet we simply can’t shake this terrible feeling we’re royally screwed. It’s like we’re cursed or something.

If the human brain can’t find a connection between one event and another, but really thinks there oughta be a connection, it’ll frequently invent that connection. (Hence conspiracy theories.) Fake guilt does that too. Christians invent reasons why we inexplicably feel guilty: We must’ve committed the unpardonable sin and didn’t know it. Or there’s some weird generational curse we never properly dealt with, and we’ll continue to suffer it till we exorcise it. Or we got far more grace than we deserve (as if any grace is deserved). Or we feel if we receive grace instead of karma, if we don’t experience that eye for eye and tooth for tooth, Mt 5.38 something’s just plain wrong with the universe—and the universe might seek restitution its own way.

Ultimately there’s no good reason for fake guilt. We, or Christ—it’s usually Christ—dealt with it. So it’s done. Gone. Over.

But we can’t put it away. Like I said, it’s ’cause people have defective consciences. It functions like an autoimmune disease, where our own antibodies attack us for no good reason. It gnaws away at our insides, like a chihuahua who climbed into the Thanksgiving turkey.

30 November 2016

God can’t abide sin?

If true, it means God has a boogeyman.

“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”

It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.

It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure.

Well, self-righteous.

You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.

Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have those prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? Then grant me some so I can explain.

God is definitely anti-sin. He told us what he wants and expects of his people. Both through his Law, and through the teachings and example of Christ Jesus. (I was about to write “and he didn’t mince words,” but Jesus kinda did in some of his parables. Regardless, any honest, commonsense Christian—and plenty of pagans—can figure Jesus out.)

Yes, God’s offended by our willful disobedience. And he’s just as offended by the sins of people who don’t know any better: They do have consciences, after all. Ro 2.15 They were taught the difference between right and wrong. Even so, they chose what’s wrong.

But the issue isn’t whether sin bugs God. It’s whether sin bugs God so much, he can no longer practice grace. Whether he can’t abide sin—and therefore he can’t abide sinners.

If that’s the idea we’re spreading, we’re also spreading the idea we gotta clean ourselves up before we can ever approach God. Like when the Hebrews had to wash themselves for three days before the LORD could hand down his Ten Commandments. Ex 19.9-11 Like when the Hebrews sacrificed guilt offerings whenever they felt they weren’t right with God. Lv 5.15-19 Like when the ancients approached their kings with fear and trembling, knowing they could be struck down at any moment for daring to enter their presence uninvited. Es 4.11 The appearance of sin outrages God so much, it turns him into a bloodthirsty berzerker who can’t wait to fling people into fire and sulfur.

We’re also spreading the idea because God can’t abide sin, he won’t forgive it. Some of us went beyond the pale long ago, and can’t possibly approach him now. The magical substance of grace may exist, but it’s not for people who call out to God; it’s only for people whom God’s pre-selected long before, and everybody else is just plain screwed.

Basically, in order to defend our own lack of grace, we’re slandering God and making people hesitant to embrace him. Or even driving them away. Driving them to despair.

11 November 2016

Kingdom economics: How’s your eye?

Nope, not an opthamology question. Has to do with whether God’s grace flows through you.

Matthew 6.22-23 • Luke 11.34-36

Some of Jesus’s teachings tend to get skipped entirely.

Let’s be honest: It’s because we don’t like them. Plenty of us hate the idea the Law still counts, and God judges us by it; we prefer dispensationalism. Plenty of us hate Jesus’s teachings on money, ’cause we still kinda worship it. So we borrow his parables about forgiveness, where money wasn’t even the point, and try to claim they’re about capitalism. Or socialism. Or they’re Jesus’s secret critique of socialism. Whichever suits us best.

Today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount is in fact about money. Not opthamology.

But because people nowadays are unfamiliar with the Hebrew idioms “good eye” and “evil eye”—and will even mix ’em up with the European idioms, and think they have to do with all-purpose blessings and curses—we’ll interpret this passage all kinds of wrong. Or claim, “Well it’s obscure,” and skip it. Usually skip it, and focus on the verses we can understand. Verses we figure we’re already following.

So in Matthew, right after saying we oughta keep our treasures in heaven, Jesus taught this:

Matthew 6.22-23 KWL
22 “The body’s light is the eye. So when your eye is healthy, your whole body will be bright.
23 When your eye is ill, your whole body is dark. So if the light in you is dark, how dark is it?”
Luke 11.34-36 KWL
34 “The body’s light is your eye. Whenever your eye is healthy, your whole body is bright too.
Once it’s ill, your body is dark too. 35 So watch out so the light in you isn’t dark.
36 So if your whole body is bright, without having any parts dark,
the whole will be bright—as if a lamp could shine lightning for you.”

In the King James Version, in both gospels, the words to describe the eye are thus:

  • Aplús/“healthy” is translated “single.”
  • Ponirós/“ill” is translated “evil.”

Why? Well… ’cause that’s what the words literally mean. That’s the problem with idioms. Literal translations, and likewise literal interpretations, give you the wrong idea. If I described you as “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” then had that phrase translated into Chinese, my poor Chinese friend would find it inaccurate if you actually have brown eyes… and be stunned to hear you have a tail at all, much less a bushy one.

By aplús and ponirós Jesus meant a healthy eye, and a sick one. If your eyes aren’t well, vision’s gonna be a problem, and you’re gonna be in the dark. But if your eyes are healthy, you’ll see just fine: Light could enter your body “as if a lamp could shine lightning for you,” Lk 11.36 which interestingly is just how 19th-century arc lamps worked.

Well, light could more or less get into us. Remember, Jesus is teaching religion, not anatomy. Only the truly dumbest of literalists are gonna insist since our eyes work, our doctors won’t need to use the lights on the laryngoscope. Or colonoscope.

26 October 2016

Resisting God’s grace. (Don’t!)

It’s sad. But it’s possible, and it happens.

God dispenses his amazing grace to everybody, as Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

Our Father doesn’t skimp on the grace. He provides it, in unlimited amounts, to everybody. To those who love him, and those who don’t—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love those who hate us. To those he considers family, and those he doesn’t consider family—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love pagans. Be like our Father. Be egalitarian. Love and be gracious to everyone, without discrimination.

Yeah, Christians suck at following this command. It’s why we’ve come up with excuses why we needn’t follow it. Or invent theological beliefs which undermine it altogether, like limited grace, and irresistible grace.

Irresistible grace is a Calvinist invention. Basically it claims God is so almighty, so sovereign, so powerful, that if he pours grace upon us it’s impossible to resist. We’re gonna get it. We’re in no position to reject it. When God shines his sun on the good and evil, the evil are unable to duck into the house and turn on the air conditioner. When God showers his rain on the moral and immoral, the immoral find it impossible to book a trip to Las Vegas and dodge the rain in the desert.

Okay, obviously people can resist sunshine and rain. But Calvinists claim that’s because there are two kinds of grace:

  • Common grace. The resistible kind. Like sunshine and rain. Like free coffee, tax breaks, a good parking space, and all the other things God and our fellow humans generously offer us.
  • Saving grace. The irresistible kind. Infinitely powerful. There’s no defense against it. If God decides you’re getting saved, that’s that.

If irresistible grace sounds kinda rapey… well, it is kinda rapey.

That’s why it doesn’t accurately describe God in the slightest. God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and love behaves patiently and kindly and doesn’t demand its own way. 1Co 13.4-5 But when Calvinists picture what they’d do if they were God, love comes second to sovereignty. (You know, just like love comes a distant second to our own selfish will.) If they were almighty, and wanted you saved, you’d have no choice in the matter; no free will. You’d be saved, period, no discussion. ’Cause they love you. And you may not love them now, but give it time, and you’ll learn to love ’em back. Just stop fighting them, ’cause there’s no way you’re strong enough to resist the grace they’re sticking inside you.

…And I’d better stop this simile now, before it gets any more icky.