Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.
In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.
We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.
But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.
In this year of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, though I prefer to think of myself as simply Christian, and one with all who name the name of Christ, though my heritage, beginning with the Anabaptists- Mennonite, falls more along those lines, I don’t hesitate to say that I try to be biblically based. Like most things in life, that’s complicated, and doesn’t mean at all that the church doesn’t have authority, nor that the ultimate authority isn’t God himself. It does mean that a certain kind of practical authority is invested in the Bible, but only when read contextually, and as a whole. And that opens up another important set of questions.
One of the keys in Christian thinking is to attempt to end up reading scripture the way Christ did. Jesus saw himself as the fulfillment of scripture, and not only with reference to a copy and paste approach, which highlights passages in the Old Testament about him, but in terms of being the completion of God’s working in bringing in a reign that is saving both from and for. And so while we need to read all the scriptures as if in their original context, insofar as that is possible, we also need to think of them in terms of their fulfillment in Jesus. Seeing how he fulfilled them in an abundant, overflowing and to some extent even unanticipated way.
A key aspect to remember in the First/Old Testament is that while the groundwork was indeed laid, some of its aspects were provisional for that time, and I think in a sense, an accomodation. But to think that somehow lessens its authority is a failure to understand the Final/New Testament. Jesus again refers to the First Testament as speaking of him, and Paul wrote that all of the First Testament was written to instruct, warn, and encourage us. So we need to read the New/Final in light of the Old/First.
And so, I remain a Bible person from which I want to understand the gospel, God’s good news in Jesus, the heart of it, and all that proceeds and goes out from it. The church by the Spirit is very much a part of this. To do so, we have to go back to the Book again and again. Asking for God’s help. And believing in its message to us, as the very written word of God. Everything in and through Jesus.
I am more than a little bit averse to easy constructs in theology to describe the whole of what is going on in scripture in the story of God. But I ran across a post, worth the read, which I think provides a good summary of one important aspect of faith, from a scholar, Matthew Bates. I wish he would describe things more in a way which puts the cookies on the lower shelf. If you read him, you may have to use a dictionary and work at thinking through what he is saying, which really is not a bad exercise in itself. Here are three points Scot McKnight draws out of Bates’s thoughts about what faith is:
- Mental affirmation/intellectual agreement: certain enough to yield.
- Professed fealty to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9-10).
- Enacted loyalty to the king, as in the obedience of faith.
I do think this point made of scripture making faith to be at its very basic, allegiance, does reflect what scripture actually teaches when one considers faith in the context of Jesus, and again, the post admirably sets that forth. I also want to see faith as somehow basically family-oriented, in that we are children of God through faith in Jesus, and that the faith of a little child is required, if one is to enter into the kingdom of God. So yes, allegiance to King Jesus the Messiah, as Lord, but also faith within the context of family, as God’s children. Of course we need scripture to fill out all the parameters of what allegiance to Jesus and living as God’s children in God’s household means.
Faith as allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and trust in God as Father is important in becoming our orientation in the rough and tumble of everyday living. We do things not out of some personal, self-centered goal, nor thinking that it ultimately depends on us. Instead we do everything out of loyalty to Christ, trusting in the Father to bring good out of everything, and to meet all of our needs together with others. All of this in and through Jesus.
It is probably breathtaking just how much we take for granted even in matters which amount to life and death. We may even be thankful, but we might get into our cars day after day, month after month, year after year without so much as a thought of asking for God’s traveling mercies, though we might do that for trips. Or for God’s help at work, since we are skilled (yes, from him) and can take care of that ourselves.
But every once in a while God might send gentle if not uncomfortable reminders of our utter dependence on him for safety, help, and blessing. Of course the blessing of God results in much more than just getting the job done in front of us, but includes how we do it and why. But first things first.
We need to really commit everything to God, whatever it might be that we’re doing: the nuts and bolts of it all, and all that underlies that. I remember someone taking me home from work, since I needed a ride that day. They did what they always do before driving, they committed in prayer the trip to God, short as it was (a half hour at the most). My guess is that their father did that as well, so that they learned that from him. Or maybe they started it themselves, perhaps under someone else’s influence.
I remember at the time, while appreciating it, kind of seeing it as a bit much, maybe a little on the super spiritual side, though this person puts on no such airs at all. But I think there’s wisdom in that. It won’t necessarily save us from a bad thing occuring. But it is an acknowledgement of our utter and entire dependence on God. And a good practice of faith, that we might do well in the faithfulness of God, and see the difference needed in our lives in and through Christ.
Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.
I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.
But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.
The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.
We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).
And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).
Scot McKnight has an interesting piece on what the world needs most, precisely, What America’s Culture Wars Need Most, and I agree. Looking at what’s best for the United States, it would surely be a people whose expectations for the United States, or for any government or political entity or leader are tempered by their belief in one transcendent that deserves full allegiance and trust: King Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him.
This thought may not be easy for anyone, so great is the divide in the United States today. And it’s not like the politics of the nation state doesn’t matter, nor carry with it serious consequences. But it is a question of just where our ultimate confidence lies, and if we even unwittingly place that kind of trust in a political party or ideology of this earth, rather than in God. It is one thing to think this way or that about whatever issue we’re considering. It’s quite another to assume that the answer for the world lies in lining up one certain way or another. How such matters turn out may indeed make a world of difference, but what difference, or we might say kind of difference are we as followers of Jesus, as the church to make through the gospel?
The gospel, the good news in Jesus, is in some ways oblivious to the world and its ways. It matters not who’s in charge in Washington or elsewhere, the church through the gospel continues on with the same humanity coming out of the same life regardless. The church stands as the witness to the one good news which remains constant, and ought to be a light which often brings a rebuke to the nation state.
We must beware of putting our confidence not only in elected officials, but in ourselves as well, thinking that through grass roots effort, we can effect the change needed for the world. Again, it’s not like such things never matter. It’s just that there’s one thing which will stick and effect a change which will go beyond whatever changes occur within the world system. The good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus by the Spirit experienced and lived out within the church, and to which the church is a witness is the one reality that will last.
We hope and pray for the good of the United States, and for the good of all nations. But our full confidence is in God’s promise in Jesus, no less. And never in any nation state.