what does love think?

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by him.

1 Corinthians 8:1b-3; NRSVue

[Love] hopes all things…

1 Corinthians 13:7; NRSVue

Knowledge is given much pride of place in our world, even if there has been a severe backsliding in that area as of late. There’s no doubt that it has an important place in human existence. Wisdom must accompany it, or otherwise we’re stuck with problems like the specter (fearful threat) of nuclear holocaust. Along with wisdom, something even greater must accompany it, according to Paul. Nothing less than love.

Surely we need to read the Bible and all of life with both the lens of Christ and love. Of course people will rightfully want to know what our definition of love is, and just who this Christ is we profess. As Christians, Christ-followers, people of faith, we point to the cross. To understand God, we have to look to Jesus hanging on the cross, God in Christ thus reconciling the world to God’s self. The God who is love is Jesus.

Only love knows in any true sense of the word, according to Paul. Only the mind animated and moved by love, considering all things with the love of God in Christ at the center, and through which we consider everything, is of any value. Sheer knowledge by itself is not only not enough, but ultimately ends up being devilish, puffed up.

Just a simple word that I always need, to apply to everything.

how is God’s judgment evident, yes, on God’s people?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Matthew 23:37-24:2

What was true in Jesus’s day is just as true today. God’s judgment is on religious leaders, those supposedly the closest to God, I’m referring now to Christians. Not so much if at all on those they are leading, except to say that this is a case of the blind leading the blind which ends up disastrous for all. But the heavy judgment falls on the religious leaders.

They had their agenda and believed that God was all about doing their bidding, or that’s what they wished. And they got their way. But we see what followed. In Jesus’s day, the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. We see now religious leaders, prominent, not only defending but even promoting what amounts to an abomination in the eyes of God. Completely oblivious, evidently, to Jesus’s call of judgment on the rich and powerful, and blessing of the poor and marginalized.

The only correct posture before God for us all is one of humiliation and repentance. That is not what we’re seeing today, and we see God’s judgment in letting them go their way, along with the beginning of what follows as a precursor of what may come.

And for those who can’t figure this out, remember, as Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruits.” Good people do what is good, bad people bad. Love for one’s neighbor, in Jesus’s teaching including love for one’s enemies. Love being love, period. Not tied to whether or not they do what we consider or think is right. Unconditional. Like God’s love displayed in Jesus on the cross.

And as some wise writer said, Idolatry is quite hard to get out of, to repent of, and much easier to work at avoiding.

May God give all of us ears to really hear and hearts to really begin to understand.

 

a Christ-centered faith

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…

2 Corinthians 5:19a

Yes, the Trinity and the Incarnation all enshrouded in mystery as God is. But what God has revealed is the point. And the center of that revelation is Christ himself. Apart from Christ there is ultimately no revelation from God, at least not in any saving way. And it is a salvation inclusive of all humankind, yet standing in judgment of all humankind as well. Judgment is needed before salvation, indeed shows the need for salvation. Collectively as well as individually we have failed to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. Thus the judgment rendered, and God’s salvation from that judgment in Christ.

Christ might not always be invoked or explicit in our thinking. But if faith is according to the gospel, then Christ is always the light, life and power in creation to bring about the new creation, in this brokenness to bring about the needed reconciliation of all things.

This is the truth and reality on which we as Christ followers and Christ’s church stand. From which we live as witnesses.

how does true shalom (שָׁלוֹם) come?

So then, remember that at one time you gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) ordinarily translated “peace” in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament is a great study in itself. It certainly is the absence of conflict and violence, but means so much more. It includes all that contributes to and is involved in human flourishing along with the flourishing of all creation.

There is what continues to be, the settled belief that peace comes through strength, meaning military might, and that might (somehow) makes right. That’s a given not just in ancient times, but in the present. The Roman empire is among those who imposed their will in that way. And that is just as alive and well today, with the idea that what the world power does can change reality supposedly for the good, though given the makeup of the world in all its many diverse expressions along with inevitable problems, that indeed is impossible and always backfires.

When all is said and done, true, lasting, forever peace which brings the salvation and healing needed comes only through Christ. Of all people in the world, those who name that name ought to know better than to think anything else. Somehow in the brush heap of history God does use nations and kingdoms in ways that are well beyond our understanding even if we might be able to note some of the possibilities and even good coming out of that, along with what is questionable and not good.

In Christ alone comes the peace and good that the world needs. Not in any nation state, not in one. Through his reconciling death which is meant to put an end to all conflict. Christ took the final blow of humanity to end the chain and stop the endless cycle of violence and to bring about the shalom which only God can bring. Meant to be seen today yes in a humble way, but totally real, in Christ through Christ’s body in the world.

the way of violence is never the way of Christ

Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:50b-54

People look at this passage and attribute the nonviolence of Christ solely to the truth that scripture had to be fulfilled, and therefore that Christ had to suffer and die. That is true. But any reading of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John will tip us off to this: The way of violence is never the way of Christ.

I believe it’s a misreading of scripture to believe that violence is in God’s plan, that somehow God can express God’s love only through inflicting violence on something or someone. And for too many the heart of the gospel is something like this: God pours out God’s wrath on the Son at the cross, and therefore no longer has to pour out wrath on sinners, but can now forgive them, as long as they repent and believe. That is to some degree an understandable misreading and misunderstanding of scripture, but tragic, nonetheless.

Instead on the cross God is in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self, not counting people’s sins against them. And how did God do that? Through breaking the cycle of violence on the cross. Instead of God retaliating against the violence inflicted on God’s self on the cross in the person of Christ, God simply forgives all through that act, and takes all of creation into the baptism of death and through that into the resurrection of new life in the new creation in Christ.

This way of Christ is not only about salvation, but about all of life. We follow Christ by loving all, including our enemies. We never resist physically, never. But we do resist evil in a different way, in the way of the gospel, by good works, by proclaiming Christ’s victory to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, releasing captives (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18), setting ourselves in the way of Christ out of love for God and for our neighbor which includes everyone, even our enemies.

revolutions/revolutionary change comes over time

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:1-2, 10

I’m not advocating for war of any kind and in fact am against that. To think through all of that as a committed Christ follower who because of that is committed to the way of nonviolence and peacemaking when considering the world at large is not easy. Surely apart from Christ followers, if there has to be violence of any kind, it ought to be only a last resort, and then as minimal as possible, and with the goal not of retributive, but restorative justice.

One can see in the foments of history that revolutions (American Revolutionary War) and revolutionary change doesn’t occur overnight. Although because of the fallout of all the harm done often measures have been put in place out of necessity, such as universal healthcare in Europe after the ravages of World War II, a needed sudden revolutionary change. But one more thing on violence: The only real needed revolution in any such scenario is that of ending it just as Christ did at the cross, God forgiving all the violence against Christ so that all violence would come to an end. Otherwise there will be cycles of violence (“Violence breeds violence.”), one group sore and seeking revenge years or even generations later because of the violence suffered at the hands of another group. When will the world at large quit justifying war and bloodshed? Surely the insanity of using weapons of mass destruction ought to awaken the world to the need of settling differences in a nonviolent way, the truly needed revolution. But alas! A mixed record.

But away from that overextended analogy, in our own lives, maybe say within our communities of faith during certain times, we may well become aware of the need for change, a revolution in becoming someone or something totally different than what we are. That is not going to occur overnight, though it actually will happen if we take the necessary steps and keep going through God’s grace and help.

But to get there we need to not sweep under the rug in some way by rationalizations or whatever, what wrong or deficiency has come to light. We need to cringe, confess it to God either ourselves if it’s personal, or together if it’s a sin or shortcoming within our community. The first turn around may seem small and inconsequential, but if we continue on the change over time, it will indeed become revolutionary.

In a penitent (“penance” so to speak), committed way, we continue on, come what may, through trials, temptations, set backs, yes even when we slip and fall in the same way as individuals or as community. We get up, brush ourselves off, acknowledge our wrong, and continue on the new path. Never seeing ourselves as anything less than sinners only in the sense that we are in the process of recovery from that. But committed to the new in what amounts to no less than the new creation in community and within ourselves, in formation in and through Jesus.

putting on the whole armor of God: lacing sandals in preparation for good news of peace

and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace.

Ephesians 6:15

Whether this means being ready to spread the word of the good news of peace (Common English Bible) or being established by that peace to have a firm footing in life (New Living Translation), the peace promised as good news is included as part of the spiritual armor which the believer along with the church is to put on. Surely both are important for us. We share with others what is helpful for ourselves.

Peace in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament is the word transliterated shalom which means not only the absence of conflict, but all that life is intended to be, which is a mouthful. It speaks of flourishing and all being well. Where that is most to be found today will be among and in the community of Jesus’s disciples. Jesus told his disciples that he gives them his peace, and pronounced the blessing of peace on them, telling them not to let their hearts be troubled, nor afraid.

God has made peace in and through Christ who by his life and death brings the final reconciliation of all things, enemies becoming friends, beginning now. This happens through the good news of peace, good news also named with the technical term, gospel, the gospel of peace. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible points out, it’s good to see what this letter, Ephesians says about peace.

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both* into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 2:14-18

We share this good news of peace, a goodness that ultimately even if only in part now, is meant to bring reconciliation and healing into relationships, a peace to move us toward wellness in relationship with others. In which we can be confident through Christ that since all will end well, we can be rest assured in the midst of that being incomplete now.

This often seems like a pipe dream now, and there are after all limitations in this life. Those abused should not expect to see full reconciliation with their abusers. Often that’s not possible, and to try to force that, or expect more than possible is unhealthy and not wise. But insofar as it depends on us, we live at peace with everyone (Romans 12).

And we trust through prayer and thanksgiving that God’s peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4). As we seek to stand firm in this spiritual battle on the footing of this peace, proclaimed and present in and through Jesus.

*Jews and gentiles.

is there really good and evil?

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Genesis 2:16-17

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Genesis 3:2-7

In the story told in Genesis, I think what it’s referring to or getting at is the experience of good and evil, knowing both in that sense, and independently of God, since God commands the man not to partake of that tree, and some certain kind of “wisdom” following from that. Certainly, in the story once the man and woman partake of that fruit their world is changed. The man and woman are caught in the grip of this “wisdom.”

I would like to be able to explain all of this clearly, but not only is that not possible for me to do, but it’s not the point of this post, either. The point is that yes, there is real evil along with real good. If you dig just a little not only into history, but even into the present, you can see manifestations of that evil in numerous ways, open as well as hidden.

Maybe part of the point of the story told in Genesis is to help us realize that we’re not to navigate the reality of good and evil by ourselves. We’re not only in everything together, as was the case with the man and the woman, but we’re meant to be in everything under God’s authority, or one might prefer to say, in the life and love of God.

Good is real, and so is evil. Even if it were only physical, it is completely evident, psychologically and for example in our dreams, whether or not there are cosmic forces in the mix. Good is real and evident, and so is evil. Scripture grapples with this over and over again, because it’s a part of the real life in which we all live.

Evil is all that opposes or is antithetical to goodness. It is as real as the hair on our heads and can make what hair we have stand on end so to speak. Good is about goodness in loving and in truth. Good is a commitment to love grounded in reality.

Christ followers are committed to following the one who brings the greatest good out of the greatest evil. Jesus. The cross was the ultimate manifestation of that. And Christ continues that good work even through us who follow, as we realize that the evil in the world and in us is being addressed only through Christ’s death and our participation in that death. A major aspect of how we are blessed to be a blessing to the world. In and through Jesus.

seeing each other as equals

Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Romans 12:16

There is nothing more evident in the world than someone who is condescending toward you. Some of that comes out overtly, but it is mostly undercover, but the smell, should I say the stench of it is evident.

Really all of us as humans are equals. I want to say that again and underscore it: All of us as human beings, and I include every human being who has ever lived, are equals. That doesn’t at all mean for a moment that some of us didn’t needed serious help and intervention at certain points, or that perhaps all of us haven’t experienced something of arrested development. Nor does it mean that anything and everything a person does should be accepted as okay. Of course not. But underlying everything, we need the firm, core conviction that we are all equals, period.

There is no doubt that in Christ we humans are taken into the sphere of the new creation, something God is doing through the redemption and reconciliation of all things to God’s self through Christ. We especially together, but individually as well, in Christ are a new creation. The fact that this is so of each of us in Christ should in our imaginations at least take our breath away. But let’s not forget for a moment that everyone, yes every single human being is made in God’s image, and has an imprint of the divine, and is a special subject of God’s favor because of that, God’s children in creation, just as we in Christ are God’s new children in the new creation.

That said, let’s work at accepting each other fully: warts and all, just as we are. That’s two sided of course. Just as others will have to accept me, which is more than alright, as long as I continue to make the needed adjustments along the way, we must accept others fully where they’re at and without qualification.

Yes, as they say, we’re all equals at the foot of the cross. None of us has a leg up on another. We’re all sinners in need of God’s grace. But we need to learn not to look down on anyone, including those of other religions and traditions who again like us, bear the image of God, even though for all of us that image carries with it a brokenness. We may learn something helpful through them, even as hopefully they see Christ in us. Because of the cross (Christ’s death and resurrection), Christ receives all who will come to him with open arms. And Christ reaches out his arms to all, regardless. And in the end, God will get God’s way. Yes, through much judgment even with mercy, but the full salvation for all, following.

Let’s see every human being as an equal whom we take seriously, from whom we might receive help, as we love them as well. Something I need from others, and something I must always give, even when there are challenging points in that process. In and through Jesus.

sometimes you can only endure (and that’s it)

You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

James 5:11b; NRSVue

If you read the book of Job, you’re not going to find a patient Job. Job was arguably and I think accurately impatient with both God and Job’s friends. And one possible reading of Job is that he holds out to the very end, not necessarily impressed with God’s answer (Pete Enns on Job). There is more than one way to read Job, and in Jewish tradition, that is normal. And we might even say there’s an openness to it in the Christian tradition through Lectio Divina and perhaps in other ways.

When it gets right down to it, there may be days and times that one has to endure, trudge and even grind their way through. You endure in the sense that you keep doing what you have to do, trying to always be loving and right in what you do. And just keep doing that. Or maybe like in the case of Job, the pain is so excruciating and the loss so hurtful, that you can only cry out in painful lament, while not letting go of faith, enduring as far as faith is concerned.

Job was declared right in the end, and his orthodox correct friends wrong, which is interesting (note link to Enns above). God is revealed in Christ, unbroken by the way in that God is fully present in Christ, and not somehow absent at the cross as if the Trinity could be divided. God takes on God’s Self all of our wrong, every bit of it, and turns that into forgiveness through death and the new life which follows. God endured in Christ too, out of love. And in that love, we too are often called to simply endure. Endure, endure and endure again. Especially during most difficult seasons, but day after day as well. In and through Jesus.