being a child of the Father in the family of our Lord

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5

Jesus’s words on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; see also the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6) are even now, after reading or hearing them many times still radical to our ears. And he says that we’re to build our lives on those words. They are understood essentially through where he was heading, the cross. And we in him are to live cross-shaped lives. We’re crucified with Christ already, so that his life might be lived out in and through us.

I think it’s rather hard for us where I live to readily identify with Jesus’s words here. After all, when are we really persecuted? Who are our persecutors? It seems by and large in the society in which we live, the worst we face is too often from each other. As we see in the New Testament, it’s not like believers always get along. There are family squabbles along the way, to be sure. And that’s another subject entirely, though an important one.

As we identify with Christ in this world, we may in more subtle ways where I live suffer persecution by being marginalized and ridiculed, not included, maybe sometimes not getting the promotion we thought we deserved. At any rate, Jesus by the Spirit will teach us along the way. As we continue in him to seek to love all in the way of the cross. And so be made more and more into the family likeness of our Father in and through our Lord.

Advertisements

what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?

At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.

Deuteronomy 2-3

In Greg Boyd’s new book, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence, Boyd makes some biblical theological assertions which have hardly been thought, much less spoken since the time of Augustine. Though a number of early church fathers prior to that time did. There is no doubt the Israelites thought they were commanded to kill all the Canaanites. Boyd’s contention does seems curious to me. Couldn’t have God made it clear to them that no, they were not to do such a thing?

Central to what makes this work for Boyd is the idea that the Israelites were so conditioned that when they heard the actual words of God, they acted on their understanding as well of what God meant in line with how all the people of the Ancient Near East saw their gods, even using some of the words of such peoples to express God’s intention. And the idea of accommodation, that God met them where they were at, to bring them along to the kingdom which would be fully realized in its grace and truth only in Jesus, something called progressive revelation.

What is central to Boyd’s thesis alone is easily worth the price of the book, though many will not want to deal with the odd parts, or will not take the book seriously because of them. The heart of Boyd’s proposal is that God is known only in Jesus, and specifically in Jesus crucified. That if we want to know what God is like, always like, and was always like, then we have to go to the cross.

A little hint of where this book goes: Elijah called down fire from heaven, and two of Jesus’s disciples thought they should do the same when a Samaritan town refused to welcome him to their town. Jesus rebuked those disciples, and told them they didn’t know what spirit they were of since the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives, but to save them. And many other examples.

For those who have the inclination, time and extra money, his massive volume preceding this more popular version, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 would be in order. I might refer to it out of the library, but don’t intend to buy it myself.

A big question for many of us is Boyd’s view of scripture. Boyd claims to hold to a high view, that it is the written word of God, and infallible. And that God stoops down in the spirit of taking sin on himself at the cross, to take the sin of the Israelites on himself in their supposing that God wanted them to do what today we would call genocide. And actually by and large in Joshua, they didn’t do so. It is a rough story in the Old/First Testament, to be sure. Separation and purity were central to Israel. Jesus comes and essentially obliterates that, contradicting Moses in a number of places, bringing a new way and kind of holiness, we might say. But hints of what Jesus would bring seem to have come across during Moses’s time, as well as before and after. Boyd thinks that God’s ideal would have been for them not to kill with the sword at all, but let God fight their battles. There are instances of that kind of thought. And indeed the heavenly warriors were a part of what was going on during that time, not divided in their minds from the physical component, as we do today.*

I would say here, that there are a number of instances in the Old/First Testament which seem contradictory to what Jesus taught, and what culminated from that teaching, indeed where the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all seem to be pointed to: the cross. A couple examples, in Psalm 139 when the psalmist says he hates the enemies of God with all his heart, he has nothing but hatred for them. And in Psalm 137 where it says that happy are those who dash the babies of the Babylonians against the rocks. Of course that is understood by Christians (and Jews) to not sanction such action.

A quick word on theology. Jesus is the truth. Scripture is the truth about the truth. Theology is the truth about the truth about the truth. That’s imprecise, because actually theology is not on the same level as either Jesus or scripture, but it’s a necessary component which follows. We have to wrestle with God, with scripture, as to its meaning. And theology is open ended and never done. While it does shape our reflections on scripture, it isn’t the word of God, so we need to be humble and not act as if it is.

It’s the way of Jesus which marks us as Christians, and that way is the way of the cross, which includes the way of love even to our enemies. We pray for them, bless and do good to them. And we believe God loves all, and is grieved when in his “wrath” he has to withdraw, and let them suffer the consequences of their sin (Romans 1) in the hope that afterward they will repent. That too, is part of Boyd’s contention. Read on with me, if you’re interested.

*That thought in no way to Boyd, nor to myself legitimizes their use of the sword in physical violence, akin to Paul’s thought that our warfare is not physical, but spiritual.

God is love

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4

I suppose and hope that if there’s one note I would like to end my life on, and hopefully begin to live out much better, it would be the reality of God’s love in Jesus from the God who is love. This special incarnate, atoning love would mark every step of my way, not by myself, but with others. And it would mark our witness to the world. Of loving each other and loving everyone, even including our enemies.

It is the way of the cross. Not without struggle. But a faith and love which overcomes everything, along with the hope which accompanies that. An inseparable triad in scripture, the greatest of the three being love (1 Corinthians 13).

God is love, period. Everything else comes out of that love. And it’s the love we find in scripture, demonstrated in the cross. For us, and then even through us in Jesus. And for the world. In no other terms than in and through the gospel. But a gospel in Jesus which ends up as big as all of life. As we await the completion and climax of this reality, when Jesus returns. All of this from the God who is love, in and through Jesus.

love’s priority over knowledge

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

Discover the Word had for me what was a rather convicting program on love’s priority over knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge is important, and that it can make the difference between success and failure, even between right and wrong. It’s not like we can simply toss it aside as unimportant, or unmeaningful. But it must be coupled with love to amount to anything. And that reminds us of what is called “the love chapter” in the same book, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us the very same thing.

It is relatively easy to accumulate knowledge over time. Some of it is basic, yet important for life, and wears well, lasts. But other knowledge is certainly subject to revision, I think of science’s current adjustment from the theory of relativity into quantum physics. That’s an extreme example, not something most of us ever think about.

But much of what we know includes elements of the unknown. The problem for us is that we never know what we don’t know. It’s simply unknown to us. So that a big part of true, good knowledge is to acknowledge that there’s much that we don’t know, and that we know nothing at all in the way God does, completely and perfectly. Not that God doesn’t reveal knowledge to us, nor that we don’t have certain basics down well enough to carry on in life, like how to drive a car to work.

But to love is another story. Is that something we think about, and occupy ourselves with? Scripture says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves. There is a proper love of self, but not the kind spoken of there, in which all that matters to people is what matters to them, and others are good only insofar as they fulfill that. No, the text quoted above says that we’re to love God, and we know elsewhere that we’re to love our neighbor, even including, according to Jesus, our enemies.

So love, beginning in the sphere of God’s love for us, is to be coupled with our knowledge, and is indeed to have priority over what we know. We don’t violate love ever. There is a place to put what we know (or think we know) aside, but never a time or place to put love aside. And this needs to be at the forefront of what we do, not on the sideburner, as we supposedly get the real tasks of life done. The priority in the midst of all we do, and all our work must be love. Because that is where God lives, the God who is love, and who we know in and through Jesus.

does God love people no matter what they do? who is the God who is love?

Scripture clearly says that God hates evildoers, specifically those who victimize others such as the poor. Yet it also says that God is not willing that any should perish, that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, wanting them to repent and live. I don’t believe there’s any sinner or sin which can’t be forgiven through God’s grace in Jesus.

God’s jealousy may be with reference to God’s infinite, cascading love. When people don’t give God something of the honor due him, or worship other gods in their hearts and lives, then God’s jealousy is aroused.

God is grieved when God’s people sin against him and others in their attitudes and actions, especially when they fail to love each other as Christ has loved us. That too is an expression of God’s love.

God in his love pursues us, and wants us to experience that love and be changed by it. So as to love out of being loved. God wants us to live in the same love that marks God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The same love shown to us and to the world in Jesus in his Incarnation, life and teachings, death and resurrection. Especially prominent and made known in Jesus’s death on the cross. That is how much God loves; God died on the cross in the Person of the Son.

Yes, God’s love goes on. But what is our response to that love? By what theologians call prevenient grace, God enables us hopeless and lost sinners to open our hearts to God’s heart through the gospel, the good news in Jesus. The question becomes not whether God loves everyone or not, because even though he may hate for a time, it seems to me from scripture that eventually God’s longing love wins out, and he would woo even the worst of sinners to himself. The question turns in on us. Will we respond? And the danger is that we will grow careless and hard hearted, so that we can be in danger of sinning against the work of the Spirit in prevenient grace, and thus close the door to God’s love for us, and perhaps seal our fate by our own choice.

Yes, no matter what, God is love, and God loves. That is shown within scripture and supremely and climactically in Jesus himself. We need to learn to read scripture and see all of life in that light. And let that change us even toward enemies. Changed by the love of God in Jesus who is love, that we might begin to live and grow in that love toward each other and everyone else.

the broken human penchant for violence

First of all, it is not human to be violent. We would say not humane, at least as a rule we would believe that, but we live in both a violent world and society. Check out our movies, which are full of violence. And how about the video games, known for that? And the church used to make soldiers who came back from the war do penance, since such an undertaking was considered inherently sinful.

This was one of the key reasons for God’s judgment in the time of Noah, “the earth [was] filled with violence because of them” (Genesis 6). God was going to put an end to violence by bringing judgment. This reminds me of how the story ends in the book of the Revelation. God brings judgment to clean up the mess: the violence and the evil, and finally bring in a salvation of justice and peace, the shalom of the kingdom of God in and through King Jesus, one in which the good will of the Triune God will hold full sway.

Jesus took the full violence of sinful humanity upon himself at the cross to do away with human violence once and for all. That doesn’t mean that the state/government existent today can’t use violence when need be to restrain evil (Romans 13), although that should be a limited, last resort option, and the language in Romans suggests a police kind of presence, and not a military one. It certainly is risky in a society where too many people think shoot first and ask questions later.

For the follower of Jesus, we in him are to reflect the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek when struck, refusing to answer fire with fire. Instead we are to break the chain of violence in and through Jesus, by showing love to our enemies, even if we end up losing our lives in the process. It’s not like we don’t look for creative ways to deal with the violence, and those who are violent, nor that we don’t try to preserve our lives, and most certainly the lives of our loved ones and neighbors. We certainly do. But it’s even more important never to return evil with evil, which for us in Jesus means we don’t threaten violence over those who might be threatening violence on us.

Not an easy road, but the way of Jesus. People have taken that road publicly, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. We need to show the world the better way, in and through Jesus, and his cross. The way of death and resurrection. The way of peace in the good will of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus.

thirsting for justice

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6; NLT

Justice is a theme all throughout scripture, especially justice for the poor and oppressed, as well as for innocents. Justice could be described as what is right in terms of societies and how people treat each other. We speak here in the United States of criminal justice, as well as justice in other ways. While the main idea may be agreed on, just what is involved in true justice, or what is right for all, is a debated point. For example, again in the criminal justice system it’s debated on what kind of justice should be given to those who commit crimes, the worst of such being murder. Some advocate punitive justice and the death penalty for the murderer. Others advocate a restorative justice which seeks to help the murderer and all other prisoners so that eventually they might not only be let out of prison, but also that they might flourish and desire to pay back something of what they owe to society.

Justice is grounded in a righteousness which at its heart is loving God with all of our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, which in the case of Jesus includes loving our enemies as well. It’s grounded in love. Jesus taught that those who are blessed include those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice. That they will be filled, or satisfied. We live in a world in which justice and what is right is scuttled time and time again for agendas of greed and power. And the “news” is normally about such abuses, so that we are prone to think that injustice reigns supreme. And in too many places, in too many instances, that does indeed seem to be the case. In this world we should be advocates of justice, justice of all kinds. That is part of hungering and thirsting for such. We are passionate about it, and we pray for it, but we also do what we can to promote it. It’s easy to give up and give in to the thinking that there’s little or nothing we can do.

We know that ultimate and final justice will occur at Jesus’s return when God’s kingdom in him is fully put in place. In the meantime we pray and advocate a justice in keeping with the world as it is now, in all its brokenness. One that can’t be as complete as it will be someday, but nevertheless with an aim for completeness even in the here and now. As we await the justice to come.