misplaced confidence

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

Fear seems at the forefront of much thinking today, even in Christian circles. There’s no end to what we’re afraid of. We could say often it’s fear about everything, but that would be a hyperbole. Actually those who are motivated significantly by fear have confidence in some things which not only alleviate their fears, but give them a sense of security. But when we get to the bottom of it, it can end up being a misplaced confidence.

In the United States we say, “In God we trust,” but when it comes right down to it, is that really the case? It’s too easy to slip into confidence in ourselves, our military might, our know how, our vision of how things ought to be, etc., etc. This besets people on every side, be they moderates, progressives, conservatives, whatever.

This can be subtle, hard to discern and uncover. Again, it’s not like we can’t profess confidence in God. Note that this psalm is written to God’s people, Israel, and by extension, to us all. Part of it is addressed to the nations, which might include Israel at a given time, to “be still” or “cease striving” as if everything matters on human effort and might.

True dependence on God does not mean security and at times even force is not needed. In a world of evil, there are times for such. It does mean that our dependence should not be on such to see us through, but only in God. Military action should be used as a last resort, and hopefully to help promote peace, certainly not war.

What if Christians actively took a role of advocating peacemaking, and reticence toward any military action? Instead we ought to be known as those who stand for peace, are opposed to war, and make that known at the ballot box. But in the United States neither major party can claim the high road here. This is not at all to dishonor those who have served and serve in the military. They deserve our honor, support and prayers. But it is to acknowledge that our ultimate dependence is only on God, and nothing else. Our hope is always and forever only in God. Who will judge what is done now, and finally put a stop to it once for all. In and through Jesus.

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.

Update (2/3/18): My own take on Boyd’s work at this point is that I can’t track with him on this. It’s not how I read the Bible. Unless scripture itself qualifies something directly (or indirectly), I think we’re on precarious grounds to do so ourselves, which I tend to think Boyd is doing. 

the need for memory, unity, and the urge for nationalism

Brexit may end up being the first stage of what could become the eventual breakup of the European Union. What the UK and other nations within that union should do, in my opinion is not leave, but stay and work at making a better union.

Even a well learned Christian in a popular publication for some, advocated for Brexit, essentially arguing that nationalism and tradition can help a nation through storms which he said the kind of unification in place would not. There are a number of questions I have for that thought, but the concern I want to press here is the need for memory. Treaties and alliances are important, and they can be particularly good among states which have been at war with each other in decades past. And the thought that states would lose their identity, and in the melting pot lose their heart ignores both the change which continues to take place in nation states, as well as the differences which will likely remain, a good example of that being the at least alleged nine nations within the United States of America.

The pros for Brexit are possibly a throwback to the days when the globe was much larger. We live now in an era when it is much smaller, and the dangers are not far from our doorstep. We can’t go back to the past, nor is it desirable to do so. So Brexit is a most unfortunate reaction to probably a weakness in both the leadership of the European Union and the United Kingdom itself.

The need for nation states to work hard at unification for human flourishing (see Miroslav Volf on this subject; my words here will not necessarily be in line with his much better, well thought out take on the subject) of course does not mean that there aren’t problems with the project. Give me one example of any nation state whose foundation is built not partially on sand. But the alternative isn’t good, either. Nation states which are weaker need to be included in the mix and helped in times of trouble when need be. And debtor nations without the means to pay off their debt, and therefore in abject poverty with all the dangers that come with that, need help as well, debt forgiveness for a start. No nation is an island to itself. The room is much smaller. And nations need to think more and more in terms of being their brother’s keeper, which actually always was important. As well as looking after their own.

We of the church are to model to the world what the ultimate unity in truth and love looks like, that reality present from God in Jesus by the Spirit. Even as we in Jesus look forward to the day of Shalom (Peace, Justice, Flourishing) when all the nations will be under his rule and reign in the new earth to come.

the justice of the state

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a day in which we remember and give thanks to those who have sacrificed for their country by serving in the military, all too often at the cost of their lives. My father was in harm’s way in WWII in Germany in a tank. And we all know people and of people who are serving in this way today.

I wonder about the calls I read on the Internet for the state (specifically the United States) to follow the teaching of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, teaching which is directed to his disciples and not to the nation states or kingdoms of this world. And I wonder about the call to end all war, how that all war is a waste. It is too bad that violent evildoers in the world who hardly if at all think twice about ending other people’s lives and all too often brutally, pay no attention to such a thought. And it is a viable question: How is their evil going to be dealt with or ended? We may want to follow a couple examples found in the Old Testament when God’s people did not have to fight, but simply waited for the Lord’s intervention which did occur. But by and large the people of God during that time were called by God to participate in physical warfare when threatened. Not so according to the New Testament, arguably, but clearly enough, I believe. At the same time we read these words from Paul:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

It is clear then that the state today (albeit with a small sword in the passage just quoted which was used in what we would call today a policing role) has its place in God’s will, provisional for the present time. And that we are to submit to such who remain in that role as well as honor them. Even while I remain a pacifist Christian, not believing that the way of Jesus includes the possibility of such service for his followers. While at the same time certainly acknowledging that many of Christ’s followers have so served.

I don’t agree with all the decisions that the United States has made in terms of war, not that my opinion means all that much. The taking of lives should be truly a last resort; nations ought to be known for their restraint and forbearance, even though there may indeed be the time for war (Ecclesiastes). But we need to give honor to those who have and do serve in that way today.

I am thankful to God for his provision for us through the state. For all who serve in that capacity either in the military or on the police force. Especially to our veterans and to all who with good conscience have so served: Happy Veterans Day.

The followup post: God holds the state accountable (the other side of the coin)

remembering D-Day

I hope being a pacifist Christian does not lessen my respect for the terrible sacrifice that often accompanies war– from paying the ultimate sacrifice to simply being willing to go in harm’s way to so serve. The Normandy Invasion which occurred 70 years ago today is a prime example.

It seems the case that in this present evil age war or perhaps better put the use of force is not only inevitable, but perhaps in some measure necessary. Although it should certainly always be avoided if possible. It is not good to get into debates on war and whether or not a Christian should participate in such, or be in the military on days like this. Certainly many followers of Christ have so served.

Let us pause in silence to remember. And thank God for those who served and continue to serve. Even as we pray for the end of all war with the words our Lord taught us: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

some thoughts on Veterans Day (United States)

I agree with the point N. T. Wright makes, that God wants order in this world, and uses nation-states, or governments to maintain it. We live in a world in which anarchy would likely prevail if there were no authorities in place as we read of in Romans 13. Of course those authorities are answerable to God. With reference to force, they seem to be put in place to stop evildoers. Something akin to police work.

I also believe that a follower of Jesus is never to kill under any circumstances. I know that since Augustine and through Constantine, this has become a minority view. The “just war” tradition holds sway, even though that edifice is tottering. Many Christian scholars argue that “just war” as defined by Augustine and others is not possible today. And nations, including the United States, seem clearly to operate at least in significant measure on a different basis than that.

I have to admit that while I hold firmly to pacifist Christianity (or, Christian pacifism) as part and parcel of following Jesus, I also can’t put that together very well with the first principle mentioned in this post, namely the need for authorities to exist in a police-oriented kind of way, to restrain evildoers. And some of my favorite people, themselves followers of Jesus, serve either as police officers or in the military.

Today, on Veterans Day, I want to thank all veterans for serving in harm’s way, for their country and for the good of the world. Thank you for the sacrifices you have made in the name of justice and peace. Our prayers are with you during your active service, as well as during your life afterward. And for your families.

As we pray the prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

respect and honor to veterans and prayer from a pacifist Christian

Today is Memorial Day in the United States in which veterans, especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice are honored. I too want to honor those who have served along with those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, since I believe scripture teaches me to do so. I know as well that the state is used by God for good, indeed his very servant to put down evil.

As a pacifist Christian (or a Christian pacifist, not sure which terms to use, the emphasis should always be on Christian and the common reality we share in Christ) I believe I follow the teaching of scripture quite literally on this in a simple, straightforward kind of way, Romans 12:17-13:7 being a prime example, as well as panoramic view so to speak I believe, of this vision. I have to say I think (based on a study of it) the words in the opening verses of Romans 13  apply at least mostly to something of a kind of police activity, rather than war.

We also are taught to make it a priority to pray for those in governmental positions of authority, that there might be peace in which we can live out the faith, as well as share it with others.

I want to stop and say that even though I think there is a significant number of Christians becoming pacifist (or almost completely so), across denominations, the majority still are of the “just war” persuasion. And there are many strong Christians serving in the United States military, as well as in other militaries, I’m sure, around the world. They share Christ and seek to live out their faith in those difficult places. And for those who do not share in the faith, I also want to honor as those who for the most part don’t want to be in harm’s way (who really does?), but have made that choice. And in large part to stop evil. I say that as one who believes that most of what America does militarily is for national self-interest. And yet I think there is often hope in all of that for a better world for all.

I close these thoughts with a prayer from Mother Theresa’s version of the prayer of St. Francis, and the prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray:

Make us worthy Lord to serve our fellow men throughout the world, who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread and by our understanding love give peace and joy.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,
That where there is error I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt I may bring faith,
That where there is despair I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows I may bring light,
That where there is sadness I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgetting self that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

taking the teeth out of the satan

Scot McKnight wrote an excellent post worthy of framing on the meaning of Jesus’ death. What is often lost in the reformed emphasis especially, is the view that for God’s people (and ultimately for the world) God puts in place a new way of being human that breaks the endless cycle of tit for tat, violence. And refuses every other way other than the way of the cross in this life.

We must love our enemies no matter what. We must refuse to listen to the accuser both of God and of the brethren (sisters and brothers in Jesus), the satan. No matter what, we must take the way of not only nonviolence and nonresistance, but active love, the way of the cross.

But since Constantine, the church largely took another way. From it being illegal to be a Christian and serve in the Roman military, in time only Christians could serve in the military. Before Constantine, the church fathers taught against Christians using violence. But Augustine rationalized such use with the help of worldly sources (Cicero, someone like that). Augustine had to talk around Jesus’ teaching, and much of the church followed his error. And the result over the centuries has been anything but pretty, oftentimes even from worldly standards. Not that the world is going to put a charitable construction on what Christians do. But admittedly, aside from that, this is sadly the case.

However you see the relation of the church and state, or whether or not a Christian can kill, we must still take the way of the cross, the way of love. We must love our enemies, and refuse the voice of the accuser against our sisters and brothers in Jesus.

It is through Jesus and his cross that this new way of love was made possible. Through the cross God set in life a new way of love which is to rule the day, over the old way of force, which at best has limited value, and at worst is detrimental, as has been seen over and over again in old and recent history. It is only through God’s grace in Jesus that we can walk in this way. But this is the way we are to choose. And we do so, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we’re ready or not. I am speaking of a posture of how we obey, how we live with reference to Jesus’ commands in this world. Of course we want to pray and grow to the point that it is in our heart to do these things. But the grace of God in the love of God in Jesus helps us to take the way of the cross, even when we don’t want to do that. The way of humility and love.

We in Jesus are in this way in him together for the world.

the church not of the world, but in and for the world

The machine grinds on. I didn’t stay up to hear the president’s State of the Union speech last night, partly due to the hour I need to rise. I don’t like to be up that late, or I likely would have been tuned in. I will gather what I can, and perhaps will listen to it on the computer downstairs (this computer spews everything out faster and in a higher pitch).

I am betwixt and sometimes not knowing just how to look at it. Except that I believe the good news of God’s kingdom come in Jesus does have something, even much to say with reference to the world’s mess. But it says it in terms of Jesus and God’s will in him. And that is to be played out in the mission of the church, no less. Although I don’t think I’m in danger of becoming a Roman Catholic with all due respect to them, I think the Vatican gets something right on this score. It is about the church in the world, to them. And yet they endeavor to speak as a moral witness to the world against war, abortion, the death penalty, injustice to the poor. But they too were victims of the Constantinian shift, which in time resulted in Christian killing Christian in the name of the state, not to mention Christians killing non-Christians. Not following our Lord in that.

And so yes, I think I ought to pay attention to the politics of this world. At the same time I know that’s not where it’s at in terms of God’s calling for us who follow Christ, for the church. In Jesus there is something much better, which America, which the world is to see from us. Even in the midst of all our brokenness, growing up, even our errors and deficiencies. Yes, the world should be impacted as well as see the salt and light that we are. Through Jesus by the Spirit, I think that is true to the extent that we don’t sully and hide ourselves through embracing something less than our calling in Jesus.

And so hopefully we speak prophetically in Jesus across the board. Here in America to Democrats, Republicans, Independents, to the entire system. Not just to one side or the other. Following Jesus together as the one holy nation in and for the world.

what narrative are you living by?

We are in the Memorial Day weekend here in the United States in which we remember the ultimate sacrifice paid by many Americans in service to their country in the military. It is a powerful narrative with a long enough history which has involved a number of great men and women. “War is hell” and many have entered heroically into that scenario, often at great personal cost. America, its founding, and what it stands for is a compelling narrative all by itself, as told and understood by millions here. Though like most everything else in life it is messier than we make it out to be. But such is life. A good case in point is the American Civil War with the greatest American president in most people’s view (including my own) then in office, Abraham Lincoln. That war shows both the greatness of human sacrifice, as well as the devastation war brings. Evidently the narrative of war had a fairly good grip on me as a child, because I remember pretending I was in battles, even though raised in the Mennonite church in which we were taught that it is wrong for a Christian to go to war or to kill another human being.

First I want to say I am thankful to live in a nation in which we are free to worship according to conscience, and live out our faith, even to the extent that those of us who are Christian pacifists can register as “conscientious objectors,” and serve during war time in other ways. Some serve as medics or chaplains.

I have no doubt that some of the best Christians in the world have served and do serve in the military. They are there not only to serve their country, but also to do good in the world. As well as to make a living, which should never be belittled as an important factor, in and of itself.

Back to the question, and main point of this post. What is the narrative we live by? And what is the narrative we are to live by? I don’t intend to give any hard, fast answers to either. Indeed there is always a complexity which can easily be largely missed. In fact I want to be open to such complexity to the extent that I’m willing to seriously consider how the narrative of serving one’s country even in the military might work in the narrative of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. At least I want to listen, and in some ways I’m compelled to, since I live in an area where Christians take for granted that something of the sort indeed does exist.

The narrative, or story we are to be living by is the story of God in Jesus, God’s kingdom come and present in him. It is a narrative which puts all other narratives in their proper place. Another narrative can be taken up into and become part of this narrative only in terms of what the main narrative does, indeed what the gospel or good news of Jesus does. It is a narrative that is larger than life, and yet is meant to impact, and is indeed for life in the here and now.

What narrative are we living by? What story is the one that best explains why we live as we do? I imagine that while we all live under one specific narrative, it is influenced by other narratives, and indeed is perhaps meant to be, understood correctly. Or perhaps it is an amalgamation which is not entirely true to any of the stories in that amalgamation.

At any rate this is an important question to raise and consider. Even as we are thankful for the people of our nation, as well as those around the world, who have sacrificed, fought, and paid the ultimate price out of duty and a sense of doing what is right and good. As we go on according to and in the narrative of God’s kingdom and grace come in Jesus, together for the world.