Archive for the ‘answerless questions’ Category

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The Authority of the Bible

September 22, 2010

***Part 1 of my thoughts on Universalist Theology***

The Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. God didn’t fall silent with the last chapter of Revelation. he continues to reveal himself. It makes no sense to glorify the accounts of our ancestors’ encounters with God while dismissing our experience with him today. (From If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland)

The author of this quote goes on to say that in fact our experiences with God should count as more than the Biblical accounts, and that we should then throw out the biblical accounts that don’t line up with our experience with God.

Now, I can see where he’s coming from. There are clearly some things in the Bible that when we read them seem to reveal to us a God different than the God we see acting in other parts of the Bible, and different than the God we experience. But, who are we to make this decision? What base line do we have for judging whether an experience we have is with God or with something/someone else? The only base line I know of is the Bible, and if we start choosing what parts of the Bible we are actually going to believe then we are adjusting our base line to fit our experience.

When researchers are testing a new product, say a medication, they typically use three groups- control, placebo, and actual drug. When we take our experiences and use them to determine what parts of the Bible are true revelations of God’s character and what parts are misunderstandings or misrepresentations it is the equivalent of taking the group who used the actual drug and using them to determine what the placebo is. It’s backwards, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make sense. We cannot use that which we are testing to determine what we test it against.

The author argues that indeed we can and should, because that’s exactly what Jesus did. He would often take the Jewish scriptures and spin them or totally refute them. I can’t, and don’t, disagree. The difference is that Jesus never states that we should throw out any of the scripture, he simply challenges our understandings and interpretations of what that scripture is saying. In the words of the author, “Jesus challenged slavish devotion to the written word”. I don’t think choosing to trust that the entire Bible is true is slavish devotion. I think slavish devotion is believing we still must follow every rule/law exactly as written, that we must read the Bible and believe that every single story told is something that happened and not a story told to teach us something about God or humankind or both.

Throwing any part of the Bible out means that I am determining what it is that God is actually saying, rather than opening myself up to hear what he says amid the clutter of that which he is not saying to me. Some parts of the Bible are not specifically relevant to my life today, and perhaps are not even accurate reflections of who God is. But that doesn’t make them any less authentic as accounts of God working in the world through history. And because of that, I cannot be comfortable with any theology that is willing to choose which parts of the Bible are valid accounts of God’s work, and which are not.

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Where’s the line?

June 1, 2010

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator”

America is filled with potential idols, indeed the entire world is. Money, family, fame, a partner, family, job, home, technology, and the list could continue. There are a lot of really good things in the world today, but these things are all just THINGS. I’ve been wondering a lot lately, when do these things stop being good, beneficial additions to our life and instead become idols we worship? At what point do we exchange the truth about God for these created things?

I think it’s a tricky question. My initial response was that all things must necessarily be made to have no value to me- money shouldn’t matter at all, where I live, where I work, what things I have should all be irrelevant. I should just take what I get and be satisfied with that. I should be content single for the rest of my life and focus my entire relationship energy on God because otherwise I may begin to idolize the other relationships in my life. It seems extreme, but at first it also seemed like the only real answer because it is far too easy to cross the line. It’s not so simple though, is it? God created these things for us, they are here to provide a certain benefit to us and as such we need to learn to value them without allowing these things to become new gods.

So at what point do we cross the line from enjoying the things God has given us to viewing them as gods and/or idols? I believe it is when we have difficulty letting them go. When I am unable to follow God because I don’t want to lose my home or my friends or my family then clearly these things have become idols. Clearly I am choosing the created over the Creator. When I hold tightly to my job because it offers me security then I am certainly unwilling/unable to trust God. When a human relationship is getting in the way of my relationship with God and I work to find ways to make it work anyway then I am placing a higher priority on the human than the divine.

It’s still tricky and slippery and there is no clear line and it is possible that things become idols before reaching the point of being hard to let go of, but I can’t think of a better “line”.

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Lost thoughts

May 25, 2010

I have been an avid Lost fan and viewer since season 3. Like many I have been looking forward to the Lost finale all season- wanting answers and resolution to what seemed to be a continually unwinding spool that would never be re-wound. Going into the finale I didn’t have high hopes. With all the religious symbolism that became such an integral part of the show the past season I didn’t expect to find a satisfying resolution for me, and while it was emotionally satisfying it was definitely not satisfying in other ways.

I have read several recaps/reviews of the finale with everyone having a different take on it- one person views it as being very Christian, another views it as a critique of thinking we can ever have all the answers/having a master plan, another views it as mystic, etc. I think the Lost finale is actually rather dangerous for the Christian faith.

The imagery seems very much “Christian”- light and dark (good and evil), a church, a bright light, Christian Shepherd as “God the Father” and Jack as the Christ figure, eternity, redemption, and so on- these are on the surface very Christian images. But when I watch the finale (or any episode really) I don’t see any of the elements of faith present.

At the end of the day what we see with Lost is love guiding the way- love is a pretty much universal thing. It doesn’t matter what your faith or religion is, you believe in love. Yes, love is very much a Christian concept, but it is in no way exclusively Christian or predominately Christian. While we do have the light/dark symbolism on Lost the being controlling which one wins are the humans- suggesting that we are in control of our own destiny and must decide whether we will let light or dark win in our lives. Which in some ways is true, but ultimately what we must decide is not whether light/dark (good/evil) will rule us, but whether we are willing to allow God to take over our life. There’s a subtle, but incredibly significant difference.

What I found most significant is how Lost never allowed any one religious belief to have dominate representation- even in the church symbols from other religions were present. To me this suggests that while the dominate imagery in the finale would be perceived as Christian in reality what Lost is saying isn’t so much embracing the Christian faith but saying that all faiths have it right and that in the end everyone, through love, will come together and walk into “another life” together.

In the end I don’t think Lost was anti-Christian or pro-Christian, I think Lost was saying to all of us; What really matters?, Are you sure you have it all figured out?, Is it actually possible to have THE grasp on the spiritual? And rather than giving us their answer, we are left to answer the questions for ourselves.

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She’s going to hell

May 24, 2010

We sat there discussing life when she looks at me and says, “you think I’m going to hell, don’t you?”. I was completely taken off guard and didn’t know how to respond. Yes, I believe that if she died right now with what I know of her she would go to hell, but I also found myself in a position where when I looked at her I couldn’t believe that she was going to go to hell and I wasn’t.

I’ve gotten to know a few people who are not Christians in my life, but never before have I found it so difficult to look at another person and say that yes, I believe they are going to hell. Not because I doubt what I believe, but because when I look at T. I see a person who in every way is a better human being than I am, but doesn’t believe in the saving work of Christ. How can I sit there and look her in the eye and say that she who lives in every way, except the one way that really matters, like a Christian is going to hell while I sit back in luxury enjoying my secure salvation because the one thing that really counts I have done- I have accepted Jesus.

So I sat there and I looked at T. and I said that I couldn’t say for sure, it was between her and God, but with what I know of what she believes I do believe she’s going to hell. And then I looked at T. and said- I wish I lived my life more like you though because I think that you are truly living a Christ-like life.

But I can’t shake this feeling that there is something truly unjust about her being condemned to hell.

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Boys to Men

September 22, 2009

It seems that the question of women in leadership roles in the church has died down. Individual denominations and/or churches have figured out where they stand on the issue and it’s rarely brought up. For example, in my church a woman can certainly be a deacon, but not an elder. This isn’t the actual rule, it’s just what the church is comfortable with. Last night I was reminded how far we are from being on the same page on this issue.

We are trying to start a small group for unmarried young adults. A couple with kids in that age range is heading it up. They were discussing who would “lead” the group, and the woman deferred to her husband saying she didn’t feel women should lead men. I respect that, you know what you are comfortable with, you know what you believe, and you act accordingly. But what got me and what continues to confuse me is this notion that women can lead boys/teenagers but not young adult men, or old adult men.  I firmly disagree with this idea the church has adapted.

First, other than referencing parents teaching children I find no support for the idea that a woman is allowed to teach children and not adults. Second, it just doesn’t make sense. What’s the magic number when a male is no longer considered a “boy” and is considered a “man”. Why does it make a difference if a woman is teaching other women but not men?

1 Corinthians 14:34 is often used as an example of Paul writing about women not teaching. It states women are to be silent in church. Not that women are to be silent when men are present but not when it’s only women. Not that women are allowed to be heard when it is only other women and boys present. It states women are to be silent in church. Period. 1 Timothy 2 is also commonly used and states that women are to learn in silence and to not have authority over a man. It doesn’t say that a woman is allowed to teach children, nor do I find it to be implied as children have nothing to do with this passage. Ephesians 5 is popularly cited as why a woman is to submit to her husband in all things. Good, great. That doesn’t really have anything to do with women teaching in the church, and even if we say that it is more evidence why women should not teach men it also does not in anyway seem to suggest that women can’t teach men but can teach children.

Now, I am firmly in the camp that says women can be leaders in the church. I believe it is biblical for a woman to be a senior pastor, a youth director, a sunday School teacher, a small group leader, an elder, a deacon, whatever. This may color my ability to truly understand this child/adult split. But what is your biblical basis? Do you think women can teach boys because this is not expressly forbidden? Do you think women can teach boys because they give birth to them? Do you think women can teach boys because it doesn’t really matter because when they grow up the men will correct all the wrong teachings? WHAT is the biblical basis for this view?

Before I became a youth director I decided I needed to know exactly what I believe about women in the church. One of the things I realized right away is that it is impossible for me to reconcile this idea that a woman can teach a teenage boy but not a 30 year old man (or 60 year old man). Indeed, if women are such faulty, untrustworthy teachers, I certainly don’t think we should be allowed to teach the impressionable young boys in the church.

I’m no expert. I know what I believe, I know why I believe it, I feel I have pretty solid biblical and theological support for my position, and I have strong theological support from people much, much smarter than myself. Of course, this is true of people who don’t believe as I do. What I want to know is where did this idea that women can teach boys but not men come from? What is the biblical basis for it? Because nothing irritates me more than when I hear someone say that a woman can teach boys but not men. Not because I think I am infailably right in my position, but because from everything I have studied I don’t see where the idea that there are certain people women can teach and certain people we cannot. Either we can teach, or we can’t. But please, tell me where the biblical support is for your position. I’m tired of not understanding this position.

And if you read all that, sorry for my rantings. I’m just venting, but I really would like to know.

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Forsaken

August 24, 2009

I have heard many heart breaking stories recently but two struck particularly close to home and have me asking “What can we do better?”

The cook at my dad’s work had a serious liver disease, I don’t really know what was wrong, it wasn’t from alcohol but other than that all I know is that he needed a liver transplant but for a long time he wasn’t “sick” enough to get on the list. Finally he got sick enough and a shortly after that he got a liver. The transplant went perfect- the doctors said he was the poster boy for transplants it went so well. He was home 6 days later. Less than 24 hours after that he died. He had a blood clot. The doctors said it wouldn’t have mattered if he had been in the hospital still either way they wouldn’t have been able to save him. He and his family hadn’t been to church in years and his wife made a comment like “I don’t think I want anything to do with a God that lets this happen”.

My church growing up didn’t have very “youth”. But for the first two years of high school we had a lot of kids in youth group- they were mostly kids who spent all their free time at the skating rink. They were disruptive and said things that made the few of us who had grown up in church a bit uncomfortable. But there were some who were truly seeking a relationship with God. Katie was one of them. She was a senior when I was a freshmen so the only time we talked to each other was at youth group. When she graduated she slowly fell away from the church, but not so much from God- at least not from the few times I talked to her. Amy had a baby boy about a year ago. He was born really sick and spent the first 6 months of his life in the hospital. Even when they finally got to take him home he was often in and out of the hospital and needed a lot of special care. About 2 months ago, 3 months before his first birthday he died. I heard from a mutual friend that Amy basically has turned her back on God.

Neither of these people was connected with a church community when they dealt with these things, and I doubt that a connection to a church community would change their feelings about God right now. But I want to know what we as the church can do to connect with these people before it gets to the extreme.

I wonder if we reached out to them instead of waiting for them to reach out to us if we could be a support network as they struggle with this cruel loss.

I wonder if we would be supportive as they turned away from God for a time.

I wonder if we could be a lifeline that could keep them in some way connected to God even as they struggle with these feelings of hurt and anger.

I wonder if it’s too late for the church to reach these people.

I wonder what Jesus would do.

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A Bit of Crazy

August 12, 2009

He was with us for several months. The first time I saw him I freaked out. There was some old guy who looked dead sitting in a running car in the parking lot at 10:30 P.M. It was just me and another girl and we weren’t sure what to do. Neither one of us wanted to tap on the window to make sure he was okay so we just kinda ignored it. Then found a guy who was willing to go check on him. He was okay, he was just sleeping. I was still pretty creepd out by him and whenever I was at church at night, especially alone, I avoided going anywhere near his parked truck.

For a couple months- May until almost August I avoided this scary guy. And then something changed. He wasn’t allowed to drive anymore so he was stuck in our parking lot with his truck and no keys to go anywhere. A couple times a day he came in for water or the bathroom. Most of the time I would just let him in and smile and say “hi”. A few times we talked a bit more than that. He smelled awful. He was somewhat hard to understand because he was missing pretty much all of his teeth. He brought be a flower. I kill flowers. Ask anyone who knows me. So My goal was to make sure I didn’t hurt his feelings by killing this one. (It’s still alive).

After a week of casual conversation he stopped by my office and started talking about all sorts of things- ranting about the corruption in Pads, talking about his mission to start a therapy ranch, telling stories about the wonderful church experiences he’s had and the horrible ones. I wasn’t sure what to say.

Later that day he came in and was talking about his past life and angels and demons and how he can see them when they are present. I totally disregarded him at this point- not because of the angels and demons but because of his reference to his past life and why he had been brought back to earth.

The next day he was gone. He hotwired his truck and took off because he said there were too many evil spirits at our church (he called and left a voicemail).

I never told him I didn’t believe what he was saying, but I certainly doubted it. Did he sense that? Is it my fault he left? What would have happened if he had stuck around the church for a few more weeks? Would God have used our church to bring this man back to him? At the time I decided there wasn’t really anything I could do for him except give him water, listen to his ramblings, and be nice because I believed he was truly a paranoid schizophrenic. I still do. But I also realized something else.

Every prophet in the Bible would have appeared to those people as truly insane, at least some of the time. The people who were being preached to by the prophets probably weren’t always intentionally ignoring God’s word but were unable to see past the crazy person appearance of God’s messengers. How easily do we dismiss people who strike us as insane who might have a prophetic word to preach to us, even if they are truly insane? God uses anyone and I don’t doubt that he would happily use a mentally unstable person to preach to me, a person who considers my mental stability to be of great value. What other “prophets” has God sent my way only to have me shut them out for one reason or another? Do you think we are too quick to dismiss mentally ill people?