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.

 

thoughts on the horrific violent act against the lgbt community

We in Christ stand with the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community against the horrific act of hate in the brutal, senseless murders of at least 50 people. We grieve their loss as ours, as well. And we stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers against such violence, as well as the thought of any retaliation against them, which would be equally as senseless and evil. These are all God’s children, created in God’s image, lives which are sacred and beloved.

Any denigration or targetting of any group we condemn. Hate has no place in our hearts as humans, and this is emphasized to us as followers of Christ. The only hatred we can have is against evil, expressed in anger, which as someone else aptly said must morph into grief and lament before the crucified God.

Hate and evil go on in this world, and socieities must take strong stands against even language and corresponding acts which marginalize groups, and make groups of humans to be the others as in not part of us. No, all of these people are part of us, even when we may not share the same faith or moral understandings. We must not think that everyone has to agree across the board on everything, and there are especially some things we guard as sacred. Not only “the right to life” for the unborn, which ought to be a given, but the right to living according to one’s faith and upbringing, or with no religion at all. There has to be room in good and just societies for the differences among us. A nationalism which invokes some superior way of being human along ethnic or religious grounds is to be repudiated and condemned.

As Christians we know that it is the gospel, the good news in Jesus which is the game changer, and nothing less. In that good news is the eventual promise of judgment in rooting out all of the evil of this world, and righting every wrong. We don’t know how God can settle the score on so many things. And we grieve and lament over those who could be so deceived as to take part in such pure, unmitigated evil. Wanting justice to come, but also mercy- both.

But we don’t flag in our hope grounded in the promises of God in Christ, that someday violence will be no more, and true justice in the shalom/peace of God’s kingdom will bring in the fullness of what we as humans can hardly dream of, but which is present now in its rudimentary, beginning form in and through Jesus by the gospel in the church. We don’t lose hope, realizing that the warfare we face as those in Christ is not a physical warfare, but a spiritual one (Ephesians 6:10-20). And so we pray against evil, and for the penetration of the saving gospel to overturn and destroy strongholds of Satan, bent on the destruction of others.

And we speak out for just and good laws. The banning of assault weapons, which have no use in a good society, good only for mass killings, ought to be high on the political agenda here in the United States. We must beware of a trust in guns to save us from evil, which is unthinkable for the follower of Christ, and is not wise in any society of this world. Unless we want to go back to the days when for example politicians in the United States used to settle disputes through gun duels which could end in the death of one or the other.

We pray for our enemies, and we pray for God’s kingdom to come, and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. As we grieve and lament, and pray for and help those who are victimized in the latest act of evil.

A Meditation on the Orlando Shooting- CT

Pope Francis Unequivocally Condemns Florida Man’s Gay Bar Shooting Rampage

 

loyalty for the sake of the gospel

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus,because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 1:15-18

The distinguishing mark of the Christian is loving one another, not being “right,” not even being holy, although a central part of true holiness is this distinctive love in Jesus. And it’s a love which embraces even enemies. But might have to expose those who are doing harm to others, especially with reference to the faith of the gospel.

In the Apostle Paul’s last letter, he noted what the NIV‘s heading calls “Examples of Disloyalty and Loyalty.” In Paul’s case, he was so closely aligned to the gospel, that loyalty to Paul meant loyalty to the gospel which for him was front and center, always, in terms of both his message and his very life. Paul became all things to all people so that by all possible means, he might save some. And that he did for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

We might define loyalty as being present for someone first of all, because like us, they are human, and made in God’s image. And then also, doing so for the sake of the gospel. And that presence being in terms of being for them. This will sometimes involve forgiving, which we all need at times, and sometimes we won’t be able to do anything more than pray for them, which after all, is the greatest thing we can do for each other.

Loyalty is important, and actually like God in that the God who is Love, pledges God’s Self to humankind, that pledge being covenantal in God actually becoming one of us in the Son, and taking upon himself the evil of humanity, to free humanity from that evil. God’s loyalty to us plays out in all kinds of ways. Like in the case of Cain before he murdered his brother Abel, God faithfully warned Cain, and tried to call him into his blessing (Genesis 4). As it ended up, God did not even prevent Cain’s murder of faithful Abel, which seems more than a bit of a mystery in our eyes, although we too easily get used to such, so that we can become jaded. But we have to look at the bigger picture, and accept the fact that God is faithful and loyal, and that we are called to that same loyalty.

I don’t believe people, including too many Christians are all that loyal in the way described above. Too often we divide along the lines of politics, which can seem to be as divisive as in the days of the American Civil War, when in some cases, brothers in the same family fought on different sides. We divide or simply become disloyal for a whole host of other reasons. When I find something of that in another, I find something that is lacking, period. If I see something like that in myself, I see something that needs confession, repentance, and prayer. We are loyal to others for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. And we are in need of that same loyalty ourselves.

I lose faith in the kind of Christianity which can cut another off, or doesn’t find room to include them. After that, I have a hard time receiving from such a source. We must always live and breathe and think and pray in terms of this loyalty derived from the God who is Love, and grounded in the gospel, the good news which is in Jesus. I believe when people do this, whoever they are, they actually need to repent and get back to the true basic, the covenantal love of God in the gospel. That is the one fellowship or communion which will last, and through which we seek to embrace everyone, even our enemies, in the same way which we ourselves have been embraced, in and through Jesus.

what do we have in the faith, whether to us it is religion or not?

There have been studies which supposedly indicate that those who have no faith or religion help others more out of a genuine heartfelt love than those who are of a faith tradition. The latter, it’s supposed do a lot of what they do out of a religious sense of duty.

Everyone is made in God’s image, so the idea that all can love wholeheartedly insofar as that can go is perfectly understandable, and even to be expected except in the case of some who have become so jaded in character that they are completely lost insofar as the ability to love and receive love.

But the notion that people of faith can seemingly have less genuine love is most troubling. I’m afraid there can be truth in that, depending on one’s religious or faith orientation. Theology comes into play here. What is one’s main take on the Christian faith as far as where one actually lives? Hopefully the reality that is present and sets in can trump at least some of that. But there’s no doubt in my mind that abberant thought affects one’s life. Augustine said something which fits in well here, to the effect that one’s interpretation of a scripture passage closest to leading one to love for God and neighbor is likely the interpretation closest to the truth. That echoes Paul’s words here:

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:5

Religion and faith can be helpful in keeping one’s focus what is good and true. If it becomes an end in itself, then it leaves one high and dry, and probaby all the more ripe for God’s judgment. Jesus had his harshest words for religious hypocrites, who not only failed to love, but preyed on those they should have loved.

But religion and faith can be quite helpful if it’s grounded in scripture and tradition, with reason following. We as humans need the salvation it brings, a salvation which not only saves us from our sins, but in so doing saves us for the love of God and others, even including our enemies. The gospel or good news in Jesus is the point of it all, a good news which takes us into the love of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and out into the world. A love which is not yet full bloom in us, but budded and growing.

What do we get out of the true religion, out of the faith? We get no less than Jesus himself, whom to see is to see the Father. The Jesus who rose from the dead, and whose love knows no end, being the very love of God himself. That is the difference.