Thursday, November 29, 2012

To Rid the World of Evil...

I think most decent folk, when thinking about the evil in the world, wish they could do something about it. However, most people seem to have a very broad idea of what constitutes "evil". And they are right...evil has been summed up as "knowing what's right and still doing what's wrong" and "sin" (thank you, Facebook friends!). I have heard others describe it as "anything that opposes God" or "anything that opposes good". These definitions are right...but they are huge. If it behooves me to do something about evil, I find it pretty overwhelming to think of my foe as "anything and everything that is the opposite of good"! So...perhaps I should narrow my definition a bit.

Maybe I cannot fight every strand of evil that is in the world. But I can do something about some of the evil. A couple other definitions my friends provided of evil were "malicious, deliberate and conscious immoral act, it's where the motive is to harm or cause destruction is a very selfish act" and "evil is when you deliberately do something that you know is wrong with no remorse." These strike me as a little more specific...they involve malicious motive, destruction, selfishness, and a lack of remorse. 

I think I would follow the "destructive" idea a little further. Destructive of what? Maybe life...or anything that sustains life...or dignity...or inalienable rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness)...? The more specific one's definition of evil, the more likely one will know where to start in combating it. Perhaps I cannot fight evil that is one huge foe consisting of everything I think of as "bad," but I can do something about human trafficking, or human rights, or child abuse, or providing clean water and food for the oppressed to whom these "luxuries" are denied.

A person's definition of evil seems to be intricately connected with his or her values....

In reference to the idea of evil as "selfish," I would say this is an important point. Sometimes people joke about people of differing political parties being the enemy, or people with very different values. I don't think this is true. It comes down to motive. In the United States, for instance, both Republicans and Democrats stand by their party's values because they believe those values are what will be best for the citizens of this country. Their motives are the same...neither are evil. Evil comes into play when my needs become more important than yours. Evil is when I am willing to sacrifice your needs...or order to meet my own.

When it comes down to it, I think most of us would agree on the things that are truly evil...things like genocide, slavery, sadism.... But if we learn how to articulate the things we believe are evil...perhaps we will learn more about what we truly value, and perhaps we will realize what we can do to help others who suffer because of the evil in the world. And maybe we can better keep from contributing to it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The God Who Has Revealed Himself to Me

For a New Testament Theology course right now I am reading an introductory overview of the development and methodology of biblical and systematic theology. Biblical theology deals with the message of the Books of the Bible within their historical settings. My reading deals with the idea of special revelation - namely Scripture, one of the primary modes through which God has revealed Himself to humanity. Scripture reveals God by describing and sometimes explaining His activities in human history. Various acts of God, not attributable to human achievement or failure or skilled leadership (such as God's miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery, for example), tell us about the character and intentions of God.

Reading this, I can't help but think about the "acts of God" in my own personal history - divine interventions that have revealed God to me as He would have me to understand and know Him. One of the most near to my heart of these experiences was when I prayed for God to heal a close family member who had been given a very short time to live. He did. He also eventually answered a prayer I had prayed daily for many years regarding a personal healing of my own that was both physical and emotional. These activities of God on my behalf have revealed God to me as Healer, and as One who is moved by (and not stoic to) my desperation. No matter what happens in the future, I know that in the past He moved for me in these two situations. I know He cares about me, and He is willing and able to move on my behalf.

He has revealed Himself to me through other activities as well. I won't share them all here - they are personal, and their meaning is individual to me. Others can argue they have been coincidences, or times of good luck, or statistical inevitabilities, but I KNOW when God has moved for me. There have even been times when I have known the very moment He was moved to act. It is an inward, personal knowing. And these acts have revealed God as having good plans for being the Faithful Provider of all my the Friend who sticks closer than a brother.

He has been so faithful to me!

In the times when I doubt who I am, who He is, what His intentions are toward me, or just whether or not I am going to make it, I have not only the witness of the Bible and the acts of God toward others; I have not only nature and all God has created; I have a whole collection of things He has done for ME that I can remember and be assured that the God who does not change will continue to be the Preserver and Establisher in my life. He will continue to heal. He will continue to be moved with empathy for me. He will continue to provide, to lead, to sustain. And though there will be times of suffering; though there will be times when I do not understand His purpose or seeming lack of activity, that is when my faith that has been founded on His revelation of Himself to me will sustain me, and my conviction of who He is will be enough, and I will trust Him.

May you remember how God has acted in your life in such a way that you knew it was Him. What have these acts revealed to you about who He is?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Jonah's Easter Message

I have always loved the Book of Jonah. Every time I read or think about it, I realize something new. Other times, I have been able to deeply identify with the screaming emotions exhibited by this ancient man of God. To give an example of one of the things I have learned from Jonah, I have always thought his story resembled that of Saul/Paul in Acts 9:1-19. Both were on their way to do their own thing, believing they were servants of God, when the Lord intersected their path and dramatically changed their mission to proclaim His message to people whom each prophet loathed. Both were schooled in obedience. Both were granted special insight into the wondrous grace of God.

Today as I was sitting in church listening to the Easter message, I again thought of Jonah, and this time in a new way. The Assyrians, the people to whom Jonah was sent, were the epitome of barbarism in the Old Testament. They were utterly cruel and oppressive and powerful. All others would agree, the Assyrians were just plain bad. They deserved any ill fate that might come to them, and then some! Jonah felt the same way. But after he spent three days of agony in the belly of the whale, he repented and took the message of God's mercy to the people whom he (rightfully) hated...the people whom God loved.

The day Jesus was crucified, He was humiliated, beaten, hated, and killed by a great, riotous mob. I imagine He looked out several times into faces filled with hate and malice, bared teeth and snarls...hearing the raging screams, "Crucify Him!!!!" and feeling the spit of these onlookers ooze down His torn body. We would probably all agree today, these people were just plain bad. They deserved any ill fate that might come to them, and then some! Jesus' disciples no doubt felt the same way, on top of their aching grief at having lost Him. But after He spent three days in the grave, somehow reconciling humanity to God, He rose again and sent His followers with a powerful message of God's mercy to these very same people, whom He rightfully might have hated...the people whom God loved.

And so it is today. God so loves a world that hates Him so much...He still extends His mercy, His promise of eternal life, to all who will accept. No matter how "bad" a person might perceive him- or herself to matter how "bad" a person might be perceived by others to be...he or she is welcomed by a merciful, loving God who promises restoration and new life!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Mean, Nasty God of the Old Testament: Was He Really All That Bad?

I dare say, it seems to me that most people, Christians included, view the God of the Old Testament as a pretty loathesome fellow. Some would never admit this, but let's face it...most of the time we view His treatment of people in the Old Testament, and even His own chosen people, as impatient, inflexible...and even perhaps inconsistent, or moody. For what it's worth, I do not think it is fair or accurate to view the God of the Old Testament as being different than the loving Father God as revealed by Jesus in the New Testament. He is, indeed, one and the same. Here are a couple of thoughts for your consideration.

Allow me to reintroduce you to the Prophets - the Old Testament harbingers of doom, gloom, impending judgment and just plain dourness. We will start with Jonah, who just so happens to be one of my favorites. And yes, you might have guessed he would be one of my obvious picks. After all, God basically forced him to go call the people of Ninevah to repentance. The people of Ninevah...also known as the Assyrians...are the same people who, a few decades after their repentant response to Jonah's message, would take Israel into harsh captivity for 70 years. God, in fact, knew this, for He had been warning His people through the prophets for a very long time that it was coming! Yet He inarguably went out of His way to show astounding mercy and great concern for these people who were known by all the world for their cruel and barbaric ways. In fact, His response to Jonah's complaints in Jonah 4:11 sounds almost as if it comes from a loving and concerned Father who knows His children (in this case the Ninevites) cannot survive without His care.

A second (again, often-cited) prophetic voice of the compassionate, loving God of the Old Testament is Hosea. Those people who say that the God-as-Lawgiver/God-as-Meter-Out-of-Justice picture of the Old Testament is out of character with the paternal God of the New, seem to overlook the fact that the God of Hosea is completely out of character with the God who ordered Israel to abstain from intermarriage with pagans, as well as sexual immorality of any kind. He actually instructed Hosea to marry a prostitute! And this was not a marriage for the sake of conversion...Gomer (the prostitute Hosea married) did not turn from her promiscuous ways. Yet every time she wandered, Hosea went and bought (as in, with money) her back and loved her. And this unrelenting, all-forgiving love of the woman who seems to have wanted not much if anything to do with him, is compared with God's love for His people. My point in highlighting this seemingly inconsistent view of God in the Old Testament is to emphasize that God has always been beyond our comprehension - we have never been able to peg Him down and hold Him in some kind of neat "box" of our own theological understanding.

And then we have the prophets (like Isaiah) who continually warned the people to repent of their sin and rejection of God, or else face estrangement from Him and captivity to other, much crueller, earthly masters. Wait - that doesn't sound very gracious, does it? In fact, it sounds rather punitive and vengeful and maybe even bitter. Admittedly, God even refers to Himself several times as being downright jealous. But I am not sure the prophets were warning the people that they were going to be "punished" per se. They were warning the people that they were going to suffer. One might ask if there is a difference. I believe there is.

Suffering does have a purging effect. However, the kind of suffering that is the result of poor choices does not erase whatever transgression was done to bring it about. So how can it be effective as punishment? Suffering, while horrible in most of our thinking, and to be avoided at all cost, has great value. It reminds us who we are, what we lack...what we need and cannot provide for ourselves. Throughout the Prophets, while they warn of impending suffering, they continually call the people to repent and turn back to God, who is waiting with open arms to be their Father, their Provider, their All-in-All. He pleads with them to reconsider their ways (Habakkuk). He reassures them that no matter what, even if they don't repent and choose rather to face great suffering, His invitation will be waiting for them on the other side...His ancient promises will still be there, intact, ever progressing toward fulfillment. He will remain theirs, faithfully, just waiting for them to allow Him to provide them with the loving relationship He has offered all along.

The Old Testament Law itself can be looked at in the same way - a tool of suffering (Galatians refers to it as a schoolteacher) to remind rebellious and obstinate humanity that they cannot provide what they need, neither temporally nor eternally, for themselves. They need Someone greater to do it for them. And all along, Someone greater waits to do just that.

The God of the Old Testament...the God who grieved over the ruin of His original plans for humanity (Genesis 6:6)...the God who promised to redeem the perfect relationship humans had willingly shattered (Genesis 3:15; 12:3, etc.)...the God who valued love above all else (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18)...has been the same since the very beginning. He has never changed.

Followers of Jesus do not serve a different God than the One revealed in the Old Testament. He has never been a God of hatred and wrath and fear, but a God of love and restoration and hope.