why I believe in God (and what doesn’t matter or make the difference that way)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Yes, I believe in God, in a creator and supreme being somehow behind it all. And not because that makes sense to me, though that does seem to make some sense in my case. Not really because of rational argument. And not because of an inerrant Bible, because I don’t believe there is any such thing. Not because somehow I think I have an objective answer, or can prove the resurrection of Christ along with what that is supposed to prove in the Christian faith. My answer is subjective, but really, isn’t everyone’s? How can anyone really know by some supposedly objective standard, as if God laid it out, and all people have to do is see it for themselves?

I believe in God and that Mystery which is as much beyond human comprehension as quantum physics, simply observable in something like a metaphysical kind of way, even escaping the best that scientists can muster. I believe because somehow quite beyond me, quite beyond us, God makes God’s self known. Probably in many ways on earth, and I happen to believe that Christ is central to that. It is like God’s world is opened to me as I read scripture- the Bible, and interact with life, just enough to keep me going, but not in some rationalistic way which can be defended apologetically. It’s like when you know someone is present, even while you may know next to nothing at all about them. That’s something like what I’m describing here.

Faith. Not a moonshot and a mere wish. But more like a knowing we would describe as in our hearts much more than in our minds. But then reaching out to the mind and somehow all of life.

That is how I would describe why I believe in God.

 

let scripture be

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

1 Corinthians 10:11

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have known sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Karl Barth’s 1917 address/sermon, “The Strange New World within the Bible” is definitely worth reading and rereading, at least certainly so for me. I was raised Mennonite, and while the Bible was an important book for us, from what I can recall and surmise from that time, we were not beholden to some kind of thought within which the Bible must fit, be it inerrant or otherwise. And now for me, given other influences that have entered in as well as my return to a Mennonite version of the Anabaptist faith, I am to some extent left wondering what to do or think about the Bible, even while I continue to read and ponder on it daily.

Don’t get me wrong. Even within that thought, I hold the Bible as somehow sacred scripture in some sort of exalted unique sense. While at the same time acknowledging that much of it was never meant to be read in some sort of literal, historical sense, that it’s often full of symbolic meaning, perhaps truth in some sense, but symbolic just the same. And that we simply don’t have to accept it at face value and stop there. Our perception will always be our perception, but what is needed just might be something beyond.

I find Barth’s words more than helpful, pointing us toward the something beyond the text which only God can give, even the very Word or word of God. I would say the Word is Christ no doubt, and the word is the message of God which comes across to us at least primarily through the words of scripture, the Bible. Barth says that the Bible is not the history of humanity, but of God, which may simply mean something like it tells us God’s story as recounted by humanity and for humanity so that we can enter into something of that same story through the pages of scripture but somehow for our own time and place.

And as Walter Brueggemann has said, in my own words: the Gospel, the good news in Christ is distinct from the Bible. We receive it through the pages of that scripture, but its message is a breakthrough that fulfills God’s intent through which the strange new world not encapsulated in words breaks into our old world destined to perish.

Let the Bible be, let scripture be. Let sacred scripture be what it is, and let’s quit making it what it is not. And instead of thinking we have to parse this and explain that, precisely what we mean, just maybe it would be better to acknowledge that we really don’t know. And that before God as faith communities and individuals, we simply commit ourselves to let scripture do whatever God would have it do for us. And that includes Genesis through Revelation including the most difficult, even appalling places along with the Apocrypha, which I consider at least helpful in the mix.

We especially together will find God’s will in love for us and for all in Christ, but not in some static, well defined way we’re then called to live up to, but instead in an ongoing dynamic, woven within the fabric of our lives and times as we continue especially together in that by faith.

Bible-centered or Jesus-centered? (yes scripture is sacred and wonderful and indispensable, but always the God-given primary means, not the end in itself)

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

…from childhood you have known sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:15

Scripture is important. There is no other book like it in the world as far as we Christians are concerned. It is sacred, from God, telling us the Story of God (Barth), yes in human words and with human limitations as it were. There’s no book that compares to it for the follower of Jesus. We treasure scripture, and I want to keep it near me all the time both physically in a book (Hebrew Bible/Old or First Testament, Apocrypha, New or Second Testament) and on my phone. We can’t get enough of it and that will always be the case to the very end.

But what is the intent of the holy, sacred scriptures? According to scripture to lead us to Christ, to faith in Christ, in order that God’s Word which is Christ might break through to us. I prefer to make “word” lower case when referring to scripture, or more precisely for me God’s word breaking through scripture. Yet somehow every part of the writings are important for or a part of that. And make upper case “Word” when referring to Christ.

For Christians or Christ-followers, while there is so much we can glean from scripture, the wisdom within it is ultimately fulfilled and seen in Christ. The intent of scripture is to make us aware of God’s Story in creation, new creation and all that is involved in that in and through Christ. It’s to help us individually and especially in community in the church to become attuned to hearing God’s voice, and finding our calling within that.

Christ and the good news of God in Christ, the gospel is the end of Scripture. Scripture telling us the Story of God within creation among messy humanity, in the world as it is, to bring about the world as God intends it to be, beginning even now in the new creation present in and through Jesus.

learn from (and don’t ignore) history

I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did, as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not engage in sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

1 Corinthians 10:1-15

I’m afraid that all too often our theology or teaching we’ve taken in trumps what Scripture actually says. In the same way I’m afraid that any ideology of the world can make reality take a back seat or get out of the car altogether. But reality doesn’t work that way. Unless we take seriously what Scripture says along with the voices that are raising concerns now, and unless we are willing to look at the past square in the eye, and seek to learn from it, and adjust ourselves accordingly, unless we’re willing to do all of that, then we’ll have to suffer the consequences, and others along with us.

All of Scripture somehow has meaning for us now, although I acknowledge that places in Leviticus seem without application to me. But you have to factor all the details of that book in as well, and see that as part of the whole, which might help us understand the present through considering the past along with the projected future.

Something similar is true for world and national history as well. Why we can’t look at the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly which is inevitable in any such history, and why that’s considered divisive or whatever else negative is a sign that we’re caught up in some ideology. To be devoted to an ideology as if it’s right and true, one example the myth surrounding any nation’s greatness and goodness, is to at least be on the precipice, if not already fallen into idolatry itself. We must be willing to hear the voices that speak out of pain. Of course, they’re not going to be infallible, but neither should we dismiss them as irrelevant with no truth and nothing to say that we can’t learn from. We must listen and listen and listen. Only then might we have something to say which might help, and maybe not. But we need to seek to learn. Only then will others come to respect what we might have to contribute for good.

And we have to accept what Paul tells us above. We need the fear of God in our hearts, but with the realization that such fear is meant to help us into the knowledge and experience of the fathomless and pervasive love of God. In and through Jesus.

who do we identify with in the gospel narratives?

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed by demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons, and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Mark 1:29-34; NRSVue

I’m in a devotional time where we’re working through the gospel according to Mark. As we go into it, and consider this writing, I was thinking who I identify with. We’re to be followers of Christ, so one might think we ought to identify ourselves with him. And in a sense, that’s so true. Christ fully identified himself with us, so that we might fully identity ourselves in him, find our true identity in him. But none of us in this life gets everything right the way he did. We have to be far more humble knowing that we simply can’t have the same assurance he did. We not only won’t get everything right, but there probably is some measure of wrong or mistakenness in all we do, everything. That doesn’t mean that God isn’t in it as we depend on Christ and seek to be led by the Spirit.

This makes me think I identify more with Jesus’s disciples, bumbling and slow as they were. I have no problem connecting myself with that. I almost always am struggling over something or another. But I can also identify well with bystanders in the story so to speak, participants like the man whose son was suffering terribly from a demon which Jesus’s disciples couldn’t cast out. Jesus comes, and asks if the man believes he can do this. He says I believe, help my unbelief! Yes, I can identify with that. And with the disciples at what’s called “the Great Commission” at the end of Matthew’s gospel account, when they worshiped him, but as the NRSVue renders it, doubted as well (“they doubted” not just “some doubted”) which might be a better rendering from the Greek.

People in Mark’s gospel account are in a position of receiving from Jesus. And as followers of Jesus we’re meant to be those who can bless others, mostly through our prayers and simply being available to them, hopefully being led by the Spirit to help them in anyway we can, whatever God gives us. At the same time I often feel like I’m the one in need of Jesus’s touch, of his cure and healing.

We are part of the ongoing story. Jesus is ascended, we fast as the Bridegroom is gone, at least in our attitude, though Christ is very near us by the Spirit. But the Spirit was with Jesus’s followers when he was present. How can you beat that? Yet Jesus said it was better that he depart so that the Comforter could come, the Spirit in whom he would be present. So the story continues.

As we read and work through such gospel accounts, may God help us to find our footing, where we fit. And to go on, seeking to follow Jesus entirely in every way to the very end.

In and through Jesus.

Jesus speaks to the crowds with parables

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on a path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. If you have ears, listen!”

Matthew 13:1-9; NRSVue

Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but didn’t give the interpretation, only to his disciples as we see later in this passage. But why? Jesus told his disciples that the secret of the kingdom of heaven had been given to his disciples, but not to the rest, citing scripture to that effect. I’ve touched on this before, but it seems like Israel of old, many of Israel had an incorrect picture of what needed to be. They had failed to see God’s big picture, what God wanted. And unfortunately, by and large their religious leaders had failed them as well, they themselves just as lost, the blind leading the blind. Jesus realized that the crowds were not ready to receive the truth he was giving to his disciples, but he wanted to point them in that direction.

I think this kind of teaching was not just a form of God’s just and even wise judgment, but also a form of compassion. Remember that teaching the multitudes many things is said to have come out of Jesus’s compassion for them, as he saw them helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. It could be at least to some extent that Jesus spoke in parables to cause those listening to ask questions. Instead of thinking they already know what needs to be done, God’s program, what the kingdom promised was all about, Jesus’s teaching of parables would raise questions. And would hopefully make some open to a new understanding. Note Jesus’s words to the crowd at the end: “If you have ears, listen!”

I don’t think I’m a good teacher in this way in causing people to ask questions. I try to point people in the right direction through giving the best answers I can. But probably the best teaching leads people to ask questions, but in a way that is directing them to come up with good answers. Probably faith is at least as much about asking questions, having sitting questions without clear answers. But within that simply  trusting in God.

Just some thoughts on Jesus’s teaching to the multitudes of the parables without explaining the meaning to them as he did to his disciples. In and through Jesus.

seeing the big picture (not losing focus, taking our eyes off that)

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

A probably vast majority of my posts are on issues which hit close to home, and concern details of life, mostly in personal, isolated matters. While Scripture doesn’t address all specifics, it certainly gives us direction in how we face and work through everything. And all of that is important. As we’re told in Scripture, the very hairs of our head our numbered, so that every detail of our lives is important to God. And our well being, also.

Scripture is probably much more communal than the way we read it, for instance often the “you” in our translations is plural but lost on us, even though that always has individual application. But a communal aspect is often found in those passages which we normally all but miss. Even so we must not lose sight of the fact that God does want to relate to us on a personal level right where we live down to every detail, helping us to live responsibly under God’s guidance and care.

That said, we do well to try to see the big picture found in Scripture, and keep that in our sights and focus, even when we’re considering details along the way. That is challenging, and partly so because our spiritual enemy wants us to be preoccupied with minute details, lose focus, and be brought into a kind of tunnel vision in which we lose sight of what God wants us focused on, on the big picture.

This does seem counterintuitive when we have something difficult, seemingly impossible, and easily taking our peace away, even causing some panic. This does remind me of Job. The excruciating details the Job of that story goes through, we can well relate to, though certainly for most of us, never the scope and intensity of what Job experienced. Interestingly God never answered Job’s specific questions, but instead took Job’s sights away from his situation and troubles to see a much larger picture, something of the mystery of God’s work and power over creation. The point here, a bigger picture.

When we read the Bible from cover to cover, and do so trying to see the big picture, we begin to understand the true context in which we live, in which our struggles take place. That doesn’t mean for a second that the details spelled out in Scripture should get lost on us. No. But at the same time, this larger focus can help us see what God wants us to see, including how God wants us to see the matters which are troubling us.

As God’s people, we need to keep stepping back to see the big picture, work on keeping our focus on that, and not take our eyes off of it. Yes, even in the midst of the details of our lives that we have to consider and work through. If we have the proper focus, and don’t lose sight of the big picture, that can help us in each part. And most importantly, we can find our place in God’s Story playing out before us day after day. Every part of our lives, how we work though the difficulties of our lives, included. In and through Jesus.

what new world is opening up for us today?

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:36-42

When Jesus came, he opened up an entirely new world for any who might listen and be open. Israel was moved by story, and Jesus and the story he brings by his life and teaching, death and resurrection, really does upset the apple cart. It essentially turns the world as understood by the people of his time, specifically Jesus’ own people, Jewish, it turns their world upside down. Instead of a Messiah who would conquer by conquest, or by God thundering out of the sky to destroy the enemy, this Messiah would be condemned and nailed to a cross, the sure sign to them that he was no Messiah at all. On top of that, under God’s curse no less (Deuteronomy 21:23). But we know the end of the story. On the third day God raised Jesus to life. Then after forty days of appearing to his disciples and other believers, he ascends into heaven at the right hand of the Father. And through him, the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost. Then Peter speaks, pointing to a fulfillment of Scripture with a story which you can find hints of in the Hebrew Bible, but nevertheless is new. And an entirely new world is completely opened up, now within the apostles grasp because of the coming of the Spirit. And Peter articulates that.

The reaction from faithful Jews present who were living according to the story of Judaism in which they were raised, and we can say for all intents and purposes were largely faithful to God, or at least their understanding of God and God’s will is nothing short of shock and stop. They are ready for change, an adjustment of course which would be abrupt and radical. The story in which they had been raised was now seen to be incomplete. The story of Jesus brought a sense of fulfillment, but also even displacement of the story which they had understood, in which they had been raised. This doesn’t mean for a second that the story in the Hebrew Bible was not important for its place and time, nor that it no longer had anything to teach God’s people. It just meant that what it pointed to was fulfilled in Jesus. In God becoming human in Jesus in complete identification with humanity, so that humans could be identified with Jesus and find the new story which he brings, in which they’re forever to live, beginning even now, the only story that never ends.

For me this is most helpful. We don’t live according to any of the world’s norms, nor even the norms of God’s people of old except where those correspond with the new vision Jesus brings. We see everything along with all of life in terms of Jesus. And that brings nothing less than the beginning of an entirely new world opening up to us. One we get to be participants in as followers together of Jesus. That doesn’t mean that all is great or easy afterward, that we’ll have it all together, as we see clearly from the New Testament. It does mean that there’s an inevitable movement of the Spirit through the church to bring God’s light and love into the world in and through a cross-shaped, love-for-all life. The beginning of so much to come even in this life. In and through Jesus.

Correction in Saturday’s post, Jesus’ freedom proclamation (Juneteenth in the United States): “May the Lord help us, and lead us to see how we white folks can help people of color to live as equals among us, most importantly how people of color can help us in this.”

Three books I referred to which influenced this post, all highly recommended: Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings. Acts by Beverly Roberts Gaventa. The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel by Justo L. González.

 

not seeing the forest for the trees

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Everything is meaningless!”

Ecclesiastes 12:8

It’s easy, as they say to miss the forest for the trees. We can get so hung up on this or that detail, seemingly important to us, maybe even important in their place, but in doing so we often fail to see the big picture. And the matter of us seeing is about perspective.

If you’re like me, you can become easily lost in this or that detail of life. Some good, bad, or maybe in some gray hard to see area. And we struggle to make heads or tails of things, to even do well or be well because we’re so honed in on the one matter, be it a problem, or maybe even more subtly dangerous for us, what seems good. 

We might do better, might start moving in a more healthy direction if we would step back and try to see the larger picture, even the big picture. Only God can help us do this. We need discernment when considering details, to hopefully begin to see them in light of the larger picture.

Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” spent a lot of time looking at not just one detail, but many, “everything…under the sun” (8:9, 9:3). And what probably he could make out from it all was that it added up to no sense at all, “utterly meaningless” (1:2).

The one who shared Qoheleth’s thoughts then moves the readers/listeners to something more of the bigger picture. What can get lost in the details needs to be brought front and center. When we do that, then maybe we’ll see more clearly so that the details themselves begin to have a new meaning to us in light of the whole, maybe even more clearly understand the details themselves. Their place in God’s painting.

here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

That is truth, but as Christians we can’t, we dare not stop at the end of Ecclesiastes. We have to see even that in light of the fulfillment, the light that has come in Jesus. Only God can make that reality, but in faith we have to step into that possibility. When we do, we’ll find a God of all grace as well as truth who helps us begin to see, then live in what is given to us as the fulfillment toward the final end- in and through Jesus.

don’t worry. pray.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

“Don’t worry, be happy” was a saying going around from a song which has some truth to it, but superficiality as well. Not so what Paul tells us here. This is truth which speaks to where we live. But we have to apply it, put it into practice.

To do that, one ought to read the entire letter and let that soak in. And along with that, the rest of the New Testament, starting with the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). And the rest of Scripture. We need to see all of life within the big picture. God’s Story.

But we can start here. We’ll do this imperfectly for sure. We should just do it, refusing to be swallowed up with anxiety and worry. To be overcome with anxiety and possibly the panic that comes with that means we’re not trusting. We need to trust God no matter what. No matter what. And do what Paul tells us here. We’ll get the help we need. In and through Jesus.

*I want to add as a footnote to this post. Some may need counseling and medication. There is no shame in that, none whatsoever. That’s a part of being human. Before one goes that route, one should do what they can, hold their ground, and seek to trust. Sometimes there are both psychological and physiological factors that need to be taken seriously, which attended to, can help.