god is love
Most of my life, I’ve heard people preface some sort of argument they want to support with the preface, “The Bible clearly states…”
I’ve come to believe, however, that this is a phrase Christians should eliminate from their vocabulary, for a number of reasons:
- There’s no such thing as un-interpreted scripture.
Legendary preacher and theologian Fred Craddock famously noted that, even if one believes the Bible is inerrant, perfect, or directly handed to humanity from God, there’s still no way to glean an absolute understanding from the texts. After all, we all are imperfect, and as such all that we perceive flows through this imperfect vessel. The good news is that the Bible is full of imperfect vessels still being used for incredible good. So maybe rather than on absolutes, we’re meant to focus more on growth, improvement, and restoration.
- We can use the Bible to make nearly any claim we want.
Did you know “the Bible says” that if my man-jewels are squished irreparably for any reason, I’m barred from heaven (No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord. Deuteronomy 23:1)? And have you considered that the Bible condones mass killing, or what some might consider genocide (Make ready to slaughter his sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants. Isaiah 14:21), or even infanticide (Isaiah 13:15-18)? I can use the Bible to justify slavery (wouldn’t be the first time), keeping a sexual concubine, or to prove why eating shrimp condemns me to hell.
- I’ve never met ANYONE in my life who follows the Bible completely from beginning to end.
I could swear the protesters from Westboro Baptist wear shirts that are a poly-cotton blend, and that some of the fiercest Bible-thumpers out there enjoy a good shrimp cocktail from time to time.
We’ve all heard the sidewalk preachers and TV Evangelists quoting the Gospels, telling us, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"
It’s a claim that is generally intended to strike fear and trembling in the hearts of many. We’re supposed to straighten up, do right, and atone for all of our heinous, sinful ways.
If you went to my kind of church growing up, there wasn’t a sermon that went by that you didn’t hear the pastor say something like, "The end could be today, tomorrow or next week. So you’d better beg for forgiveness, get right with the Lord, or risk getting ‘left behind.’"
The season of Lent is a time of reflection and repentance, yes. But we’ve come to misunderstand both what it means to repent, and what Jesus is talking about when he foretells of God’s coming Kingdom.
As for the latter, Jesus preached to some degree about the afterlife, yes. But his Kingdom-talk primarily was focused on us, on receiving and co-creating God’s Kingdom vision for ALL of us, here and now, in our very midst. So rather than talking about some hellfire apocalyptic end-times, he’s urging us to open our eyes, to see what’s right in front of us.
We can have what he, what God, long for us. To live in a world inspired and living into the Kingdom possibilities just there, nearly within our reach if we’ll only claim it and risk everything to fulfill it.
The Christian journey of Lent is upon us. Lent commemorates Jesus’ journey into the wilderness. After his baptism, where Jesus heard the voice of God say to him, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. After 40 days of fasting, he was tempted by the devil.
In good mimetic fashion, Jesus had received his true identity from God at his baptism. As radically relational creatures, mimetic theory claims that we receive our identity in relationship with others. If you were to ask me to identify myself, I would respond by referring to my relationships — I am a husband, a father, a son, a friend. Even when we identify ourselves by what we “do for a living,” relationships are implied. An accountant, for example, helps people allocate their financial resources. Our very identity as humans, and everything we do, is dependent upon our relationships with others.
I hope that mimetic theory’s emphasis on human relationality seems obvious, but it actually runs against the modern grain. René Descartes gave the impetus for the modern world with his statement “I think, therefore I am.” But that statement is false. You don’t exist because you think for yourself. You exist because you are related to others.
Jesus received his identity as the Son of God from his relationship with his heavenly Father, but in the wilderness he was tempted to doubt that relationship. The story tells us that “The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”
If. It’s such a small word, but don’t be fooled by its size. If is loaded with significance. The devil tempted Jesus three times. Each time the devil used the word “if.” And each time the devil tried to seduce Jesus into doubting his identity as God’s Son.
She was 85 and nearing the end of her life. I’d never met her before. You might call her a “lapsed Christian,” or maybe she was one of the “nones.” She hadn’t been to church in decades. She called for a visit because she had anxiety about death. But what broke my heart was her anxiety about God.
“Hi,” I gently greeted her.
“Hello pastor,” she replied. She began telling me about her Catholic parents, her “fall” from Catholicism, and that she'd never felt “at home” in a Protestant church. She stated that she hadn’t stepped into a church in thirty years, and her relationship with God had suffered for it. And now, on her death bed, she felt the weight of guilt and anxiety of abandoning God.
“I’m not in a state of grace,” she said with spiritual and emotional pain.
That’s when my heart broke. She felt guilty because she believed she had abandoned God and so God had abandoned her. I began to think of all the damage many religious people have caused throughout the centuries by imposing guilt upon people. A religion that piles on the guilt isn’t worth following. A god who inflicts guilt upon us isn’t a god worthy of belief.
There is a pernicious theological claim that states God responds mimetically to us. That God imitates us. So, when we turn away from God, God turns away from us. When we abandon God, God abandons us.
That’s a lie. Don’t believe it.
A friend mentioned that he likes my blogs dealing with love and compassion and other themes without getting into religion specifically. He said that the mention of God can make things uncomfortable.
My reaction: I know exactly where he’s coming from.
The word “God” has become such a loaded term. We’ve made it that way; God hasn’t done it. And the truth is, I’ve found myself shying away from using the word at times because I’m aware it’s an immediate turnoff to some people. They have the same sort of visceral reaction that we get when we see one of those political attack ads come onto our TV set.
We want to reach for the remote and change the channel.
One of the reasons I started writing blogs was to try to strip away some of the nonsense we’ve attached to the name. And there is so much nonsense. You know what I mean:
That God loves me more than you. God approves of me and those who are like me, but not you and those who are like you. God likes my religion and my way of life, but not yours. God is on my side in any disagreement. God approves of hatred and judgment and killing. God promotes crusades and inquisitions and holy wars.
So much …
It’s bad enough when Christians sit silently by while LGBTQ folks are marginalized, ridiculed, abused, raped or even killed for who they are.
It’s another when Christians actively engage in the exclusion of people based on their identity or orientation.
And then there’s John Piper.
It seems Piper has a Twitter problem. Maybe he doesn’t see it as such, because with fewer than 140 characters, he can stir up quite a storm of controversy. But considering the damage that can be done with so few words, I think it is a significant problem.
It's light and full of delight. Simply (and it's simplicity is part of its great charms) beautiful.
Adam Phillips is a Evangelical Covenant Church minister and director of faith mobilization for the ONE Campaign, www.one.org.
This video is the latest installment in an ongoing series at God's Politics where we've asked leading clergy, writers, scholars, artists, activists and others who self-identify as "evangelical" to answer the question, "What is an Evangelical?"
"Do you think God sent Hurricane Irene?" a young man asked me with a curious look in his eyes that was as innocent as it was pensive.
My mind flashed back to a headline I remembered reading yesterday about Glenn Beck pronouncing the hurricane as "a blessing" from God.
As I heard the kid's question, my heart sunk, as I thought of all the rhetoric that has made God out to be a monster, or at least a punitive judge on a throne ready to zap folks with lightening bolts or hurricanes