losing one’s nerve

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devoursthose living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Numbers 13-14

In this account in Numbers, it was God who commanded Israel to send some men into the promised land to either “explore” (NIV) or “spy out” (NRSV) the land. So Moses sent out one leader from each of the tribes of Israel (minus Levi, Manasseh making up for that as one of the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, the other tribe). We know the story. Ten returned with a firm “but” after praising what was good about the land, and spread among the Israelites “a bad report.” They most certainly lost their nerve.

One can surmise clearly that they were not men of faith. After all, God had promised this land; that Israel was to take it, and settle in it should have been a foregone conclusion. Actually the exploration may have been for a two-fold purpose of encouraging the people to anticipate the blessing they were to soon experience, and to give them a heads up on the faith needed. Unfortunately, even though ten men went in who were leaders of the tribes, not one of them had the sufficient faith to actually believe God’s word. Whatever faith any one of them might have had was surely defective at best. It’s the same as if I would say, “Well yes, Jesus died, they say he rose again, but I really can’t buy the idea that we therefore are saved given all the evil in this world. I can respect religious people who say otherwise, but I can’t go there myself. Let’s either avoid it, or pull out all the stops to make sure as much as possible that we’re not victims ourselves.”

Caleb and Hosea (Joshua) were the two exceptions. Caleb being the older of the two spoke up and plainly contradicted the bad report of the ten. He believed they could and therefore should, certainly because of the promise of God. But he was outnumbered, and the Israelite as a community was unfortunately not predisposed to faith. Even though they had just witnessed mighty signs and wonders in their redemption from Egypt, their default position was to doubt God’s word, and therefore to doubt both God’s goodness, as well as greatness. They essentially saw themselves as on their own. And they had exceedingly short memories, even wanting to go back to Egypt, to the bondage which eventually would again surely overtake them there.

I can lose nerve, too. Where can we begin as to what? There’s no end to it, really. There’s always plenty of reasons to doubt God’s promise in this life, to think of some worse case scenario, or many more likely outcomes which are not good. Rather than to accept God’s promise in Jesus along with the difficulties in this life which come with it.

Depending on how you see what was going on at the time, the Israelites would be moving into a hostile territory armed, and depending on God for God’s deliverance from those entrenched in what was to be their own land. According to the narrative, the time for God’s judgment on the inhabitants had come, and how God carried that out, or wanted to is not necessarily all together clear, biblically and theologically speaking. Maybe the Lord meant to send them packing in some way. But the narrative is clear that at least the Israelites thought that God was commanding them to wipe out all the inhabitants of the land. And since I tend to accept the text at face value, I simply accept what I can’t understand, and frankly try to avoid the subject in public. But see Greg Boyd’s recent book, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence for what I tend to think will be a compelling defense of reinterpreting the text of scripture, while I await critiques, and intend to read the entire book myself, which was released just this month.

We must not lose nerve, but hold to the faith, meaning both to our confession as well as our practice of it, continuing to do that. And when we do lose nerve, we simply confess that, and seek to learn from it. Entrusting ourselves to the God who has revealed himself in Jesus.

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continuing in the word in the Word: “in Christ” and “in Christ…crucified”

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

John 14

Regardless of what happens in the unexpected twists and turns of life, the Christian, or follower of Christ is grounded in the faith: dependent on Christ, but also calling one to faith. I would like to say, calling us to faith, since it’s a community endeavor. Being in the word in the Word is key.

Perhaps Greg Boyd is getting at some vital, even though I’m not sure I would end up agreeing with some of his conclusions (see his tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. I await the shorter version due, I read, in August). But I am confident that at least there’s something to be said for the idea of reading all of scripture through the lens of Christ, and Christ crucified. As Christians, we endeavor to read the text in its original context, and ultimately as something fulfilled by Christ, so that in a certain sense the text is in Christ, or to be read in the light of Christ. And at the heart of Christ and his coming is his crucifixion, his death on the cross, and the God who is love being revealed in that light.

While scripture doesn’t talk explicitly about being “in the Word,” “in Christ” is repeated over and over again in the New/Final Testament, especially in Paul’s letters. It is shorthand for what is most essential in understanding the faith for our faith. So that no matter what I’m facing, or what we are facing together, the reality of remaining “in Christ” remains intact. And an important aspect of that is to remain in scripture, in God’s word. I take it that we feed on Christ both through the word and through the sacrament, Holy Communion/the Eucharist. For those of us (and I live among them) who don’t accept the view of the church at large since early times that somehow Jesus is especially present in the bread and the wine (not in the way the Roman Catholics suggest, but perhaps more like the Eastern Orthodox, or better yet for me, the description of that given by John Calvin), we at least acknowledge that we can feed on Christ by being in the word, in scripture. As we read it in the light of Christ’s fulfillment, in our union in him.

All kinds of things change, we get older, new problems and sometimes grave difficulties face us. But one thing remains for us, whatever else happens in our world, and in the world: In the faith by faith we are “in Christ,” and in that union both as individuals, and together, dependent on God through his word. Each of us must do this, but part of that is to do so in communion with all the saints, in the fellowship of the church. In and through Jesus.

think biblically

In the firestorm of today’s news, some of which is exceedingly sad, and perhaps all the more in the political climate of today, and any day, for that matter, we need to aspire to learning to think biblically.

Just to look at the Bible alone, as if we could do so, as it were, in a vaccum, which is impossible, but again, just to consider the Bible alone is challenging. I resort to what has been called a redemptive hermeneutic (hermeneutic essentially means interpretation), so that the Bible is a story which points to an ultimate conclusion, which is a fitting end to the beginning, but takes seriously everything in between. So that, while there’s harmony in the sense that the story follows a certain path, we find unexpected twists and turns along the way, even in the First Testament alone, but especially so in the Second, Final Testament, when Jesus fulfills all of scripture in ways which were not anticipated by those who lived during that time, or prior. But the seeds of which one can arguably clearly enough find in the First Testament.

From there, we have to consider present day thinking, where that came from, how it is entrenched in society, and in our own thinking. If we’re beginning to get the first goal of arriving to good Biblical thinking, true to that text and its fulfillment in Jesus, then we are ready to consider how we really think in everyday life, what our thinking actually is, which likely will be a reflection of the thinking of the world in which we live. And we have to critique that in the light of biblical thinking.

Where I live, the United States, our language and thinking is derived from the Modernist Enlightenment. Even how we think biblically is in large part impacted by that, so that we actually end up imposing the understanding of the age upon the text of scripture. Rather, we need to remain in the text of scripture, so that we can more and more think truly biblically, and be able to critique our present day thought.

Does that mean we expect the world to conform to biblical thinking? Certainly not. But we in Jesus are not to be conformed to this world, but rather, transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we might come to understand what is the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). That is not something we’ll arrive to overnight, indeed it involves a lifelong process together with other believers.

I believe this is critical, mainly because I think we think in ways that are not so much informed and thus formed by the Bible, but more by society, with especially profound, and too often, I think, egregious/tragic results, especially seen in the political realm. Like everything else in life, this is surely a mixed bag. We do get some things more or less right even on this track, but are amiss in other things, I’m afraid. A big problem from our inheritance of the Modernist Enlightenment on which the United States was largely built, is the emphasis and insistence on individual rights. So that the rights of the individual, however that is manifested politically takes priority over everything else. While “rights” and the individual surely arguably have their place, we have to ask ourselves if that has the same place in scripture that it has in our world. And if not, then what informs it, or what context in scripture might we say it exists, its place.

This is not a proposal to imagine that biblical thinking can be imposed on the world, but to seek to be true to it ourselves, so that we can better live in it, through learning to think and therefore live according to what scripture teaches, and its fulfillment in Jesus, rather than what any political party of this world insists on. The new way of thinking and living in the grace and kingdom that is ours in Jesus.

approaching issues

I’m thinking here about issues which can be studied out in scripture, but probably also about issues which are brought up in society. Today an example being gay marriage. On that issue Christians approach it from all different kinds of angles. But to boil it down it would seem there are those on both sides (traditional and for lack of a better term, progressive) who appeal to scripture and an interpretation of it. There are those progressive Christians who appeal to scripture, but insist on giving different knowledges of the day some say, so that if something is demonstrated to be true, then something Paul says might not be true. Or more likely, they might say, it could not have taken into account all that is known today, so that what Paul says rightfully undertstood on the issue, is true, but he simply doesn’t cover it all. And I would think more variation among the progressives. This is not to say that the traditional view, which I hold to on this subject doesn’t have some variation, only to say, we would still hold to heterosexual sexual activity within marriage as what is according to God’s revealed will in scripture and therefore God’s will for human life. And then there are the liberals who see scripture as religious tradition, and put their weight entirely on an interpretation based from knowledges of the day (see these posts, first two).

Getting away from the specific example above, I believe that when we approach issues as Christians, we must take a stance within the grounding of scripture. However that doesn’t mean we pay no attention to the knowledges of the day, such as the sciences. And one avenue of knowledge which can have direct bearing on the text of scripture itself would be the kind of textual criticism which is not trying to undermine or throw out scripture, but is studious in regard to writings of the day in biblical times. Say writings in the Ancient Near East, so that we can compare biblical writings with them (as in the Genesis account of creation compared with other creation accounts either of, or known at that time).

In the end, as one who would be in the sphere and spectrum of the traditional, I would insist that scripture is the word of God from Genesis through Revelation, that all of it is true, properly understood, and that the truth of it is not far removed even from the face of what appears in our translations of scripture. In other words, though we’re sure not to get every jot and tittle right from our interpretation of the Bible, we will still be basically sound in where we stand, from a careful study of scripture. This last thought is rather naive, however, when one considers the history of hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation among those who are traditional, because we do vary on many counts with where we stand on biblical issues, baptism and the Lord’s Table being two examples. But even on those issues, if we set aside our differences, we can usually find common ground, which all has its basis in scripture.

Back to the drawing board briefly: scripture has primacy, followed by tradition (how the church has been led), reason and experience. Only scripture is infallible, but not our interpretation of it, it is not.

All of this should help us see both our need for humility demonstrated in dependence on God, and our commitment to keep working especially on what scripture itself is actually saying, its emphasis. Without ducking the hard issues on the table during the time in which we live. All of this done and taken in by us in Jesus for the world.