Friday, September 23, 2005

Playing the "judgment card"...

I’ve been troubled by some of my brethren lately. It seems as though anytime a natural disaster strikes, many evangelicals are quick to play the “God’s judgment” card. This is a very disturbing trend. Before I go into why, allow me a disclaimer.

I believe in God’s judgment, both ultimate and temporal. I believe that God is well within His rights to judge anyone, anything and at any time, by any means He deems suitable. And, frankly, I don’t know if the recent hurricanes are messengers of His judgment. It’s completely possible that they are, but it’s at least as possible that they are not. I don’t know. And there’s the rub.

I get the sense that many believe that they do, in fact, know. They confidently stand behind an all-too-large pulpit, holding their all-too-large Bible, and proclaim in their all-too-loud voice, that God is indeed judging ___________________ (insert name of city, person or group here) through ___________________________ (insert name of natural disaster, disease or unforeseen circumstance here). But, how do they know that? I would venture to guess that they don’t, but, due to their place behind that pulpit, feel like they can’t just say “I don’t know.” So, they play the “God’s judgment” card, use some Bible references (probably out of context) and call it a day. But, the Bible can be tricky. I’ve read some, too.

Noah had to be told by God what was going to happen to the earth, not just so that Noah would survive, but also because God wanted it to be clear. When God wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah and preach against it, God had to tell Jonah what was going on. In Deuteronomy, God gave the Israelites descriptions of what would happen if they were disobedient to Torah, because, apparently, He didn’t trust their interpretive framework. We see in Luke 9:52-56 that Jesus rebukes the disciples for their misunderstanding of judgment. Again, in John 9:1-7, the disciples tried to play the “God's judgment" card and Jesus showed them how little they understood about the topic. There’s a theme here.

It’s God’s prerogative to let people know when He is judging mankind. And if He doesn't do so, I think any claims that we know what He's up to, and why, are tenuous, at best. Just like the Israelites, I don’t think we adequately possess the ability to interpret the movings and thoughts of an eternal, all-powerful God. And I think that’s the difference. Without an eternal, all-powerful perspective, how could we know what God is doing exactly, not to mention why He’s doing it? “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8) “Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed Him as His counselor?” (Isaiah 40:13)

I have a second problem with this line of thinking. It seems very much to fit into a particular, earthly, sinful, fallen agenda and viewpoint. We consult our own wisdom to ascertain why God has done what He’s done, and inevitably come up with answers that highlight the sin of others. Interestingly enough, we rarely, if ever, come up with answers that point to our own sin. Rarely are we left asking the next logical question, “If that’s judgment on them, then why haven’t I been through the same thing for the wickedness in me?”

I think it's because we like to categorize people’s sins. Sin “x” is worthy of judgment, while sin “y” isn’t. And when we’re finished with our little math experiment, we feel somewhat better about ourselves. Such a line of thinking shows not only a lack of familiarity with God’s mind, but a complete misunderstanding of His holiness.

Granted, all is not right in the world. I read that in Genesis 3. But, can we just be more honest? Let’s say “I don’t know why, but I do know that God is still good.” His love endures forever, we’ve been told. And yet, just when people need that message most, we seem to inevitably revert to judgment. Let’s give hope in the midst of a screwed-up world. Let’s preach grace, mercy, truth, beauty and love. Let’s be a people that point to a greater reality than this one that constantly lets us down. Perhaps through us, this hurting and broken world will see God. Not an angry, scowling deity waiting to make human life miserable, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who so loves the world.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Reflections on David...

I had to submit a paper today in my Old Testament History II class. I chose to write on David's charge to Solomon in 1 Kings 2:2-10. David spoke these words as Solomon's reign as the King of Israel was just about to begin. Interesting thing, this charge. Interesting man, this David.

First, David spends a considerable amount of time talking about how imperative it is for Solomon to keep his ways pure and live according to the Law. David references the promise Yahweh made to him in 2 Samuel 7:11-17 and seems to tell Solomon that the fulfillment of this prophecy is contingent upon his obedience to the Law. Good guy, right? Super concerned about the Law and walking in Yahweh's ways? One would think so if the story stopped here. But, it keeps going.

After expounding on the virtues of the Law and the need for Solomon to keep it, David then mandates the murders of two adversaries. Granted, he also calls for further mercy extended to the family of a former ally, but does that really wash away the other commands? In very strong language, David tells his son, "do not let these old men die in peace, but in blood" (Benji's paraphrase). Kind of wrecks the picture, right? Not for me, and I'll tell you why.

I like my Biblical figures like this. I don't mean bloodthirsty, Mafia-like dictators. I mean human. Give me some humans in all their gritty, unfinished and messed-up reality. David, even on his deathbed, was imperfect. And let's not forget Moses, Gideon, Samson, Abraham, Peter, and a whole host of others. These are dudes I can roll with.

David was called "a man after God's own heart." Yup, this David. In fact, Saul was rejected as King of Israel before him, because God wasn't pleased with him and He put David on the throne instead. Seriously. God chose David, the "soak them in blood" murderer-adulterer to be the leader of His people. And then called him a man after His own heart.

I'm encouraged by this. I see hope in David's story. If he could be so well regarded and spoken of so highly by the Almighty, maybe there's hope for me in all my stumbling attempts to follow in the ways of Christ. And even if it remains ugly and fallen until my last moments, at least I know I'm in good company.

Just a quick note...

If any of you out there in cyber land happen to be reading this (which seems increasingly unlikely), please pray for my parents. They are driving out here to spend some time with us, right as the next regulary scheduled hurricane is on its way. They are coming from north, so shouldn't hit much weather while they're driving, but who knows the impact of Rita on the Metroplex?

Thanks, and I'll be back soon with some reflections on peeps in the Bible.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Random thoughts...

First of all I'd like to say that I knew and predicted that UCLA would beat Oklahoma on Saturday. Something about my Bruins this year that has me cautiously excited.

The Yanks look good right now, despite their loss in Toronto today. The division isn't out of the question, especially since they end the year with 3 against the Sux. Again, cautiously much as you can be about a team that "technically" wouldn't make the playoffs if the season ended today.

Thirdly, fantasy football is genius. Right now I'm watching a game between a team I really can't stand (the Raiders) and one I am pretty apathetic about (the Chiefs). But, see, the thing is, my fantasy week rides on players in this game. So I'm watching attentively, cringing every time Priest Holmes touches the ball and making faces any time Kery Collins throws to someone other than Randy Moss.

We went and listened to Don Miller today. Dude is good. His message was so simple and yet profound. I guess that's what makes him a great writer and communicator. I seriously recommend hearing him or reading anything he's written.

Lastly, I've mentioned to some of you that I'm currently taking a creative writing class (which I hesitate to mention because it will inevitably change the way you read this blog..."That's not very creative"..."I could have written that"..."What a waste of seemingly infinite Internet space" and so on). I've decided that, on occasion, I'll post one of my "works" here so that y'all can see what I actually do in seminary. Also, because there are dedicated readers in California who wonder (Hi, Mom and Shannon!).

Here's a piece I wrote based on the painting American Gothic. You know, the one with the farmer and his wife. (It might be helpful for you to look at it for a while first)

We lived our American dream. We labored and sweated for years on end. See the home we built from the ground up? Simple, yet beautiful. A family sprung up, like crops we waited on each winter. They brought us joy and wonder. Now they’ve gone to build their own dreams and we sit alone again in a house that’s too large. The upper floor lies undisturbed, abandoned really.

We created a fa├žade, like wax fruit placed on a table to appeal only to the eye. But our faces won’t hide the truth; happiness evades us. We stand here as a monument to pointlessness.

This dream has not been sweet, but repetitive and demanding. It might seem as though we’ve “arrived,” but, if so, then why can’t I put down my tools?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Contemplating poverty...

Today I took a sub job that was simply described as "librarian." I thought this would be a rather simple assignment, involving lots of sitting, watching students pick out books and possibly explaining the Dewey decimal system when necessary. However, it turns out that in my half day, I hosted four different classes in the library, two without their teachers. For three of the groups, I read a story, talked about the theme of the story, and then helped them check out books. I found that children almost never know who wrote the books they want. "Mr. B.? Do you know where the Hank the Cowdog books are?" "Um, do you know who wrote it?" "No." "Then, no." "What about Captain Underpants, the Magic Treehouse or Junie B. Jones books?" "No."

The book I read to them was about a family that lived in an airport due to their poverty. Funny thing is, this children's book, coupled with a discussion I had with someone recently, really made me think about poverty. I get the impression that the political party with whom I have "registered" doesn't care much about the poor. This concerns me because this same political party also tends to trumpet itself as being on "God's side." This further concerns me because God tends to be on the side of the poor and the needy. It was, after all, the Almighty (speaking through James, the half-brother of Jesus) who said, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress." (James 1:27) Also, through the Apostle Paul, "All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." (Galatians 2:9-10) Even in the Old Testament Law, "Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien." (Leviticus 19:10) It actually seems that God is quite concerned with the poor and needy and commands His people to be concerned as well.

This may be a very pertinent issue in the wake of Katrina. I believe that we are about to see the effects of poverty (and the even more dangerous effects of acting like it's no big deal) in very vivid detail. Louisiana may not recover for years. And the sad thing is that I don't think that the government will be the ones to do anything about it. No, even with all the drives, fundraisers and collections that have been organized and will continue to be so, I believe that this responsibility to take care of those who find themselves suddenly poor will fall to the people of God, the body of Christ. After all, we serve a God who cares for the poor, and are called to reflect His character. "'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 22:16)

It is our role, our divine responsibility to stamp out poverty, Katrina-related, local and global. What should we be doing? What would make us the aroma of Christ in this world? Whatever, it is, let me drop one piece of advice: Be careful what you read in children's books. They may make you think.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Good to be back...

So, life is somewhat crazy right now. Both of the occupants of our little apartment are now officially grad students. And what does that mean? Why, 5 hour study sessions on the weekends, of course. Seminary is actually quite good. I really enjoy my classes, and the work load isn't too great yet, but this year I'm balancing work as well, and it's tougher than I anticipated. Tougher is a good thing, though. I need some "tougher" in my often-too-comfortable life. Luckily for me, I have Greek, and, all signs there seem to point to "tougher."

The Yankees continue to baffle me. They are currently leading in the Wild Card race, which would put them in the playoffs if the season ended today. (Although, if the season ended today, there might be a serious investigation as to what happened to the final three weeks.) So, I should feel good about the Yanks right now, right? Um, not exactly. I'm not scared in any way, as I firmly believe they will make the playoffs, I'm just exasperated that they aren't leading the division. They're good enough to do so, so why isn't it happening? Should I just be happy they are where they are?

The NFL starts tonight, at least according to the league. As far as I'm concerned, the NFL doesn't start until baseball season is over (or, as it's more commonly known, after the Yankees win the World Series). I like the NFL, don't get me wrong. It's just that I like it for that void between the World Series and baseball's winter meetings. It's convenient on Thanksgiving, too.

One of my professors is a star. She's a published author and I'm loving her class immensely. Her blog is really interesting and thought provoking. Check it out if you have time and are willing to be challenged in your thinking. Not to be read lightly, but rather with strong coffee in hand.

One of my wife's favorite authors, Donald Miller, is coming to the area next weekend. We're going to go hear him speak on Sunday morning. That should be great. He wrote Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What and Through Painted Deserts. When my wife says she likes an author, I pay attention. She's finished over 40 books since January. Her goal to read 50 books this year is going to be met easily. There's something about being married to a well-read woman that is incredibly exciting and frightening at the same time. She's always been smarter than me, that I'm used to. It's just that she can also quote and reference half of the library, and frankly, I'm overmatched.