God’s abundant pardon

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6-9; NRSVue

Whenever we read or hear Scripture, we should be in prayer and ready to receive the word, whatever God might be saying through it. We need to be open every single time we read or hear Scripture read. To think that somehow we’re exempt or it doesn’t apply to us is thoughtless at best and dangerous at worst. Yes a passage might not seem to have direct application to us, after all, as in the passage above, in Christ we’re not of the wicked. But to recall that for us along the way in our lives that passage has indeed been applicable is important, too. And God might just have something to teach us, even if it’s only a fresh awareness of what we thought we already knew.

In the passage above from Isaiah, we read of God’s abundant pardon. That God wants to forgive and restore. Yes, we’re thankful that this is true for ourselves, and is possible for all others, for everyone, yes “the wicked…and the unrighteous.” If only they forsake their way and thoughts. Seeking and calling upon God, returning to God. For God’s mercy and not just pardon, but abundant pardon.

We limit God and everything else. But we’ll find that there’s no limit to God’s mercy and pardon. God is for everyone in the human race. If only each of us will forsake our own thoughts and ways, and be open to God’s thoughts and ways. Indeed vastly higher and beyond our own. But taking us in, including each and everyone of us in the way of love ultimately found in Jesus.

pray simply; simply pray

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2; NRSVue

This command or I prefer directive is given to a church, by extension to us as church today, as well as to individuals of the church. And it surely refers to public and private prayers.

Prayer simply put is talking to God. To pray well requires listening, being in Scripture and in life over time. But really beyond all else, prayer is a matter of the heart, a matter of being, and then from that, doing, so that in fact, anyone can offer prayer to God.

Frankly in my case my default is often feeling empty, unready, or even worse. At times it can seem uphill at best to pray at all. Most of the time for me, it can seem mechanical, just something I do. But then there are those moments when it seems like I’m taking up into a space of God’s making in which I feel the love and peace, yes presence of God.

Whatever may be the case in our experience of prayer, we’re told that we’re to devote ourselves to it. Praying for ourselves and loved ones, for neighbors and community, for the church, for the world, for concerns on our heart, whatever is on our hearts and minds. But also people and things we consistently pray for, regardless of how we feel (thoughts from morning and evening prayers in the hymnal, Voices Together).

Nothing fancy, in fact perhaps the most eloquent prayer might be the most simple. Just pray. Speak your heart and mind. For me that often involves not knowing what to think or how to look at a situation so that I just lift the person or situation up to God. We pray and keep praying.

differences in biblical interpretation and understanding

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15; NRSVue

I take the words above to be pertaining to the explanation of Scripture itself. To do one’s best to be approved by God takes work. And the goal seems to be the right explanation of the word of truth. The person of God to whom this applies needs to take the particular scripture into account in context, along with all of Scripture, and see it in the light of the present time and circumstances. What might be taught and emphasized one year won’t be what is taught and emphasized the next time the given passage is proclaimed, at least not precisely. While the gospel doesn’t change, the word needed in season will.

I personally don’t think one should be that concerned with differences in understanding the meaning of a passage from Scripture. Even in the same church gathering, there will be differences and questions which might remain unresolved when all is said and done. The same scripture passage can bring a number of diverse insights, maybe seeming on the surface to contradict when actually this helps us see the depths that Scripture has, with all the fresh insights the same passage can give us again and again over time.

So on the one hand while we likely shouldn’t get too overworked about the differences in understanding, at the same time we should strive for a correct explanation of a scriptural passage for a certain place and time, being willing to call out what is off track as far as the good news and teaching of Christ is concerned. And being willing to receive correction ourselves. But trusting that God will help us, the person to whom this work is entrusted along with those who listen to have the needed discernment to understand and apply it to life.

what can I do?

Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior.” Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has cast us off and given us into the hand of Midian.” Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”

Judges 6:11-16; NRSVue

The longer I’m on my faith journey, the less I like to focus on individuals and individual faith. But it’s a part of life, an important part of it actually, and while the church in Christ is preeminent for our spiritual journey at this time, it’s not like each one of us is not on a spiritual journey, because we most certainly are.

Just like every story in Scripture, there’s something we can gain, or at least we should make the effort to do so. And it’s not hard to see a few things in the Gideon story. One of the questions I ask myself from time to time is just what I can do. I can see enough from the whole of Scripture and from life that there is indeed plenty I can do. Just learning to pray and continuing in prayer, to grow in that is by itself exponential in importance. Good works will come with real prayer; God will make sure of that.

In the passage above, Gideon is humble, understands his limitations, probably doesn’t appreciate well enough the gift that he has so that God’s call makes little or no sense to him at all. And as we see from the rest of the narrative, he struggles somewhat in his faith, or at least I would consider that to be the case given his seeming propensity to demand signs or proof that it is really God who is speaking to him. I can imagine that had I been living in that time, and it were me, I would have been the same way.

God commissions Gideon, but the key seems to me to be the point God makes that God will be with Gideon. This is something for each of us to take home. We are the called in Christ, yes together primarily, but also out from that into our individual lives, to do the good works God has for us, and to see God’s loving rule in Christ present in all of that.

It’s good to read Judges 6-9, the entire Gideon story, and consider. It may have had a good beginning, but not such a good ending. Nor was it necessarily all good throughout. That is a heads up for us. It’s important that we remain steady, which means continued growth in Christ, and for us, in Christ’s body.

Hopefully good things to remember as we consider yet another fascinating story in Scripture.

scripture and science

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens
and its circuit to the end of them,
and nothing is hid from its heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the LORD are sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect one’s own errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless
and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19

In the Christian tradition scripture is central in the formation of faith. I take it that all of Scripture is sacred and inspired in helping us encounter God through the Word of God who is Christ. That is essentially what Scripture is about. It is infallible, complete and perfect only to that end, nothing more. It is what it is, and to be read as what it is, the fulfillment and ultimate heartbeat found in Jesus Christ and the good news in him.

Science is a human endeavor which is basically about the study of the natural world, of nature, creation. It is good insofar as it goes, but inherently limited and never a closed book. Yet as we see in our modern world, through it much good comes such as in medicine and almost anywhere else you look. And we have to acknowledge along with the great potential for good, the great potential for evil, as well.

What Scripture is about is not at all threatened by science, and what science is about is not at all threatened by Scripture. When we fall into either concern, we are as it were like trying to mix oil and water. They don’t mix. Scripture is not anti-scientific, nor is science anti-scriptural. While they’re not opposed to the other, neither are they supporting the other, either. They are equally good for what they are in their true categories.

And so we can without fear appreciate all true science, while without fear we appreciate all of Scripture.

don’t be meager in your faith

Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, King Joash of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows,” so he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. Then he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. Then he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram! For you shall fight the Arameans in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” He continued, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. He said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them”; he struck three times and stopped. Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times.”

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. As a man was being buried, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha; as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.

2 Kings 13:14-21

These are the kind of Scripture passages that I must confess I don’t really like to write on, teach or preach, whatever. I would like to ignore them, since there’s something in it which I don’t believe is Jesus-like at all, but actually antithetical to Jesus. That being said, as we’re told elsewhere about Scripture, we can and therefore should gain something good out of each passage or at least Scripture as a whole, even if sometimes it has in it more like an example of what we should not think or do.

In this case, with the great prophet Elisha, we find a weak king, Joash, who did not end well. I find something worthwhile to remember from this passage. Simply the idea that we ought to have a faith which doesn’t shrink and is vigorous in taking hold of what God has promised, as well as hope in God, and moving forward. That can be mistaken for the idea that with a little help from God we can do it on our own. And nothing could be more mistaken. That’s not the point.

What we need is a vigorous faith in God. That helps us do what we need to do and ought to do. We strike the ground over and over through our prayers, through being present, and doing what we sense God is calling us to do. Doing our best to do that. But with all the faith only and forever in God, not in ourselves. But through that becoming enabled to do whatever it is that God has called us to do. Not shrugging my shoulders and slacking off which I’m often tempted to do, and to some extent too often do. Not what God calls us to, as we learn in part from this passage in Scripture.

the gift and necessity of reason

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

As I heard recently on a podcast, the emphasis on reason that remains with us from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment which followed is a blessing from which we have many gifts we take for granted today, such as modern medicine, which for all our complaints, is light years ahead of what was in the past, mortality being just one indicator of that.

We do have to be careful that we don’t make, as it were, an idol out of reason. As modernists found out, we won’t arrive to any final answer through reason, and they’ve made peace with that. But as the podcast I referred to pointed out, evangelical fundamentalists think that through reason they can prove the validity of the faith or more precisely for them, the Bible. While reason is a gift God has given us to use as we pore through Scripture, it can’t do what only God can do.

On the other hand, I think reason is often all but lost due to many things which effectually cancel it out. Like theology not worthy of the name. Misreadings of the Bible, for example in Genesis. Apocalyptic misapplications of passages like in Revelation, which end up casting out most all reason, being held captive to conspiratorial thinking or whatnot.

Reason is a gift from God, to be used not only in our reading of Scripture, but in all of life. Sure, there are many things we won’t be able to understand, but so many things that we will be able to reason through. We should try to apply logic in terms of comparison and contrast, and ask many questions.

Yes, as a friend reminded me, overthinking can be a problem, and I suppose I’m rather a prime candidate for that. But actually I often think due to laziness, or whatever else, I can be prone to underthinking, which might be good on an odd occasion or in a certain way as part of life. Not “ignorance is bliss,” but going on by faith, even when we don’t understand.

But as Paul reminds us in the above passage: There is so much both in the faith and in the world that we can and should think about. The terms from the Greek in the Philippians passage above seem to refer more to human culture than anything religious. And that actually is a blessing given to us. Maybe even akin sometimes to “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

we never outgrow the careful, prayerful application of Scripture

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

On the one hand, you have the evangelical concern for Scripture, almost as an end in itself, so that what can lose out is the purpose of Scripture itself, to point us to Christ, and Christ-likeness. On the other hand, you have for lack of a better word, the liberal dismissal of Scripture as yes, a good book, even sacred, but on something of an equal par with many other “inspired” sacred texts. Neither one is very helpful, but in spite of both, the Word can break through in both the public and private reading of Scripture.

A primary thing that is needed is the careful, prayerful application of Scripture. We never outgrow or get beyond that. Some seem to have suggested that we start with Scripture, and basics we derive from it, but that we’re not meant to stop there, but actually get beyond it into the sphere to which Scripture leads. That sounds interesting, and can be at least somewhat compellingly argued for, but really does not entirely make sense on the face of it.

For example, the above scripture from James is something that has to be applied in this broken, difficult existence, in this life, and that ongoing. We will never arrive to a place in this life in which such application is no longer necessary. If we think we’ve outgrown it, we’ll soon find out otherwise. Life itself will teach us differently. God has given us provision, yes through Scripture, somehow even all of it (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It’s up to us to take it, and prayerfully apply it. Indeed that’s indispensable.

a Christ-centered, or a Bible-centered faith?

“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

There is probably nothing more central to the Christian tradition than the public reading of sacred scripture, the Bible. Along with the sacraments and prayers and the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs and I can’t forget the sermon and community discernment, the Bible holds central sway.

Be that as it may, Jesus points out that that in itself is not enough. I think we not only do well to be in scripture, but we ought to do so daily. I love the morning and evening prayer section in our hymnal which includes the Psalm reading, along with Gospel, Old Testament and Epistle reading. Yes, we ought to be in scripture regularly, as a rule, daily. Maybe the evangelical influence under which I lived for decades is unduly weighing in on me with the next statement. But I think it’s probably good for new converts to get used to listening to scripture read on online audio formats. If you dig hard enough, many versions/ translations of scripture, have at least one. At the same time, you do well also to read scripture privately. There are charts to get you through once a year, which isn’t a bad substitute for listening, if you’re either not into that, or else can’t find an audio of your preferred version. And it’s the very best if you do both. And it’s good to read the entire thing through, maybe best to read a portion from each section of scripture, rather than from start to finish. I would highly recommend adding the reading of the Apocrypha to that mix. My main Bible includes those books. And if you wish, memorizing is good, meditation to me the most important thing, as we consider a section or book of scripture. So for me, and for the Christian tradition itself, and I include all the traditions within that tradition, scripture is certainly important, and in a sense central.

But what is the point of scripture is the question. If we make scripture itself to somehow be the point, that it is God’s word, written word pointing to the living Word as some say, I think that sets us up to make the same crucial, even fatal mistake that God’s people of Jesus’s time made. The point of the Bible is never itself, never! It’s not meant to teach us science, not even history, nor any number of things we might try to pull out of it. Nor is it meant to be a text book to tell us what’s right and wrong, as well as how to get along in life, though we will learn precisely that from considering it in light of its fulfillment. It’s not that we can’t learn much about wisdom and life by poring through scripture, because indeed we can. But within the many contradictions in scripture, above all, the sacred inspired text is meant to help us understand the point of it all: the good news in Jesus, God’s light and life into our space, and what that means for us in the present considering both the past and the future. Again, it’s important to be in scripture. But it’s important because scripture is the chief and in a sense the only inspired witness to Christ. Christ and God’s good news to the world in Christ is the point of it all. Scripture is infallible only in that sense; it’s infallible for the purpose it exists. So that the Word itself can break through, and indeed it will. Scripture is rather central in that process, to be sure. But in the scheme of things and big picture, Christ ends up being the center piece, himself. And God’s good news in him.

should every thought on scripture and life from a Christian be Christological, somehow pointing to and centered in Christ?

“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

It is challenging in any time to think through scripture with an application for the present. I’ve heard it explained, and this makes sense to me, that we first need to try to understand the author’s intent, or the intent of the writing when done, albeit from some original source perhaps edited and redacted. But equally important, so it was said, is the reception. In other words, it’s one thing to write or talk as to communicate something to someone, or some people. It’s quite another as to just how that message will be understood. That’s the first step.

In light of all of scripture, which for the Christian consists at least of the 66 books in every Bible, and for various Christian traditions includes what is called books of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books, we might say that somehow all must be seen in light of Christ and the revelation of God in him. That seems to me to say that all must be judged in light of Christ, and that seems especially to be in reference to the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and only then what follows.

All of this is beyond anyone’s pay grade, and especially one who is limited in theological education, such as myself. It is certainly first and foremost the work of the church by the Spirit, sifting through scripture and the writings of church fathers and mothers and theologians. It is a daunting, yet wonderful, enlightening task, even if one dips into it just now and then.

Certainly there’s much more to say beyond my limited attempt here. I used to end almost all my posts on this blog with “in and through Jesus,” or something like that. Maybe I should resume that. Whether or not I do, I certainly believe all scripture should be read in light of Christ, putting the reading of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) first to not only understand what follows, but to appreciate what preceded, how Christ and his words, the revelation in him actually are connected to that past, and how it is the culmination which becomes ever present through the resurrection and Pentecost into eternity. Yes, always in and through Jesus.