Category Archives: christian life

Knowledge about God or knowledge of God? (Sadhu Sundar Singh)


I will post thiSundars quote from the Indian Christian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh without much comment. I speaks for itself.

It surely makes one think about ‘it’s a relationship, not a religion’… (if we have a very narrow modern definition of ‘religion that is) Our goal as Christians is not just to have knowledge about God, or like the apostle says, ’You believe that God is one, and that’s good, but the demons do that too, and they tremble’… Unlike what some fundamentalists (and maybe gnostics if I interpret their name rightly) seem to believe, right head knowledge alone has never saved anyone… Acting upon it might actually be interesting…

(Assuming that the ‘head knowledge’ is always right, which isn’t always the case either, neither among fundies nor among liberal modernists…)

I studied theology in a theological seminary. I learned many useful and interesting things no doubt, but they were not of much spiritual profit. There were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and many other interesting things, but I found the reality, the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet.

When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological college in this world. We know about theology, but he is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few seconds a truth that has taken years to understand. Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his feet in prayer.

I do not condemn theologians wholesale, but it is unfortunately the fashion in Western thinking to doubt and deny everything. I protest this tendency. I never advise anyone to consult theologians, because all too often they have completely lost all sense of spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all that, but they spend too much time among their books and not enough time with the Master in prayer. It is not that I oppose all education, but education without life is certainly dangerous. You must stop examining spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.

Isn’t it ironic how easily we look at the finger pointing to the moon and even forget the moon?

Shalom

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (IV)


reLOVEutionAfter my explorations in the realms of magic, (false) scepticism and the defence of the middle ages it might be time to go back to writing about the Christian faith, and so I continue my meditations on 1 Corinthian 13. In this post I continue with the second part of the chapter, in its entirety. We could pause at every single line too (and you can do that on your own if you want), but I’m just going to let this part speak:

Let’s read this, and try to understand what Paul means here:

Love is patient,
love is kind,
it is not envious.
Love does not brag,
it is not puffed up.
It is not rude,
it is not self-serving,
it is not easily angered
or resentful.
It is not glad about injustice,
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Take time to read every line slowly and to let it sink in…

But what does it mean? We don’t see this kind of love in our lives. Sure, it means that we must strive to love this way (helped by the Holy Spirit), even if this kind of love will not be perfect in our lifetime. It is meant to grow into perfection, since the only way to be in ‘heaven’ in eternity is to actually be able to ‘love our neigbor as ourselves and God with all of our mind, soul and strength’.

So there’s more to it than a description of ‘ideal love’ that only exist in some kind of Platonic ‘world of ideas’ of which we only see a dim shadow here and now.  There is also more than our human love in the most ideal circumstance.

Darin Hufford in his book the misunderstood God says that those are the characteristics of God, since 1 John says that God is love. This view might be challenging to some, but it is not too big a stretch to make: Why would the Love of God be less than what the apostle writes here about love? It would be utter nonsense to assume that God, who is said to be Love, would ask us to love more than He does himself.

So the love God has must go beyond the ‘love your enemies, bless those who hate you’ of the sermon on the mount.

So let’s read the verses again, and now focus on these characteristics being the characteristics of Gods love for us. For me, you and everybody… What does this mean? What are the consequences?

Radical, isn’t it?

PS: Please don’t start discussions here about Gods love and Gods judgement as if those were 2 different things. If God loves His Creation and His Children, God will probably need to get very angry when the things He loves get destroyed… And things need to be set right. Sin is a very destructive power that needs to be dealt with… But all judgement is rooted in love. If anyone does harm to your children and creation you would get quite angry too..

1 Corinthians 13 (III)


reLOVEutionWe continue with my meditations on 1 Cor 13, Pauls love chapter. See also part I and II.

The next verse is the last of the first part of this chapter, and goes on in the same way as verse 1 and 2 which we’ve already read:

If I give away everything I own,
and if I give over my body
in order to boast,
but do not have love,
I receive no benefit.

(I recommend you to read this several times and think about it in all its implications and everything else that comes up when you read this. Asking the Holy Spirit for guidance before you do this is not a bad idea either.)

Paul still talks about all we can have and do without having love. This time he says we can sacrifice all we have including our own body, but without love we will not benefit from it.

The interesting thing is that when we compare the 3 first verses, the first verse says that without love we will just be meaningless, the second verse says that we are nothing, and the third verse says we won’t get any benefit. We can’t bypass love as a Christian. Not with knowledge, nor with strong faith, nor with any sacrifice we could make.

In medieval times we did have places called ‘godshuizen’ (god-houses) in this part of Europe, in which poor people were given housing and food. Sounds very good, but in fact the whole idea was that the (rich) people who founded such things just did it because they wanted to be sure they would go to heaven after they died. If this was indeed the reason why they built those houses and took care of the poor without really caring for them, we can doubt that it did really work. Paul here seems to assume otherwise…

Without love we are nothing!

There is some ambiguity in the original meaning of the second part, so some translations speak about giving over the body in order to boast, while others speaking in giving over the body to be burned, but the principle stays the same. Modern people don’t bother much with giving up their body anyway, so I don’t know if this particular sentence is that relevant for us. We do seem to revere our body more than that we are willing to sacrifice it.

But what Paul says here is very important. We can give and sacrifice everything we have and more, if it isn’t out of love (or at least creates love in us in the process), it will not do any good to us.

I must think of one more thing here: Jesus quoting the prophet Hosea to the pharisees in saying “Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13). Let that sink in, here is the Living bible version:

‘It isn’t your sacrifices and your gifts I want—I want you to be merciful.’

We need to be merciful. We need to be loving. Sacrifices of any kind are meaningless without love…

Without love nothing can ever mean anything at all…

So what is love? What characteristics does it have? That’s something for next time. (you can cheat by opening your bible though…)

Peace

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (II)


In this post we resume my meditations on 1 Corinthians 13 (see pt I here), Paul’s famous ‘love chapter’, and we do so by going to the next verse:

And if I have prophecy,
and know all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith
so that I can remove mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.

We started out with a rather radical verse, and now we continue in the same vein, maybe even more radical. What Paul says here is that even with all prophecy, mysteries, knowledge and faith we are still nothing if we don’t have love. The love mentioned here is still the NT idea of loving God above all and fellow humans as ourselves, which includes our enemies. The full characteristics ofreLOVEution this love will be summed up in the second part of the chapter so we’ll arrive at that later. Paul is very clear hear. In the first verse he used metaphor and said that all languages of the world and beyond without love are just a noisy cymbal, but here he is very clear.

If I have no love I am nothing.

Let that sink in again.

If you have no love, you are nothing…

The things Paul sums up are what a lot of people are searching for. Prophecies are divine revelations, mysteries are hidden things we cannot know until we are initiated. Knowledge is something we all still search for. All our modern science and technology comes out of that search for knowledge.

All these things will not benefit us in the end if we don’t have love…

Interestingly Paul does add one more thing here: faith. His wording hereis a direct allusion to Jesus, who said that if you have faith like a mustard seed you can move a mountain with it. But without this love for God and fellow humans all faith is just psychology and magic. Faith is relational, and comes down to trust, and trust goes together with love here. We are to have faith in God, to trust God.

(The more I let this sink in the more I wonder about certain things I’ve seen in certain corners of the charismatic world. But I am not the one to judge)

I do not at all think Paul means that those things are unimportant, but he is quite clear that, for a Christian, love is important in such a way that we can have all the rest and still be nothing without it. Love is not just the law, it is both the way and the goal, though it will never be complete on this side of the New Heaven and Earth.

Without it we’re indeed nothing.

(Note also here that stuff like money and power are NOT even mentioned here. I do think Paul mentions things that do have worth for Christians here, and omits things we should not give too much attention to )

Peace

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (I)


I don’t know where my year of demodernisation is going, apart from trying to stay away from too much Dawkinsian naturalist fundamentalism and not ingesting too much American stuff at the same time. At the moment it might seem that I’m mainly exploring the occult, and sometimes going back to discussions about sex(ism) and stuff like that. I will try to go to completely different domains too though.

I thought it might be good, being a Christian blogger of sorts after all, to spend some time on the bible parts (and other texts probably) I’m trying to meditate on, and write rather short posts -or longer ones like this one- about them. So I will start in this post with a series on one of my favorite chapters of the bible, one of the most famous parts of Christian scripture: the famous ‘love chapter’ from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 13;1
1 Corinthians 13 is maybe one of the most romanticised parts of the Christian bible, but it seems to me that both the importance and the depth of what Paul is telling us here are often understated. The consequences of this chapter are beyond what you’d think when you just read it superficially. That’s why I’m going to break this into small parts of one or more verses, to let every detail sink in.

We begin with the beginning:
If I speak in the tongues of men
and of angels,
but I do not have love,
I am a noisy gong
or a clanging cymbal.

Rosetta_Stone I do know a few languages. My native language is Dutch, and my second language is English (especially written English even). I do know a bit of French as a Belgian, can understand a little bit of Latin, and if I’d work on it I’d be able to read some old Greek again. And then there are languages in which I know only a few words. (My Japanese is better than my Russian, but still almost non-existing…)

There are a lot of human languages that are spoken today, and even more if we count the extinct ones in which texts still survive. One can spend a lifetime learning to still master only a fraction of them. And then there are the languages of angels, of which we do know nothing, and will never know anything, they use our languages to communicate with us, but I do know some Pentecostals believe some people who speak in tongues might have a ‘prayer language’ that’s not human but angelic.

It actually does not matter. We could know all languages of all language-using beings in the universe, but if we don’t have anything to say, it doesn’t matter.
It will all be worth nothing more than senseless noise. I do feel a bit offended as a drummer here that Paul uses cymbals and gongs here to signify something like ‘useless noise’, but it’s true that banging on a cymbal is always a lot of noise, and unless that noise does fit in some context, like a composition, or a ritual, or a lesson or practice for learning to do these things, we shouldn’t do it.

Someone once said to not break the silence unless you can improve it!

And what is the only way to improve the metaphorical silence? What is the only way to make those languages more than mindless noise?

Love

Yes, let that sink in, Love!

Anyone who knows the NT should not be surprised. Love is what it all is about according to Jesus. To love God with all that we are, and to love our neigbor as ourselves is the whole law. And it is the purpose of the law. It’s the Kingdom of God breaking in into this present age when we live in this love.

And nothing else makes much sense.

This goes deeper than I can realise and I’m only scratching the surface here,  so I think I have to meditate some more on this one verse before I go to sleep

Peace to you all

Bram

On basic human dignity and ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…


Note: I never completely understood the use of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ in the context of homosexuality, and I am not speaking about that interpretation at all here. I would probably be better if that application and its connotations just didn’t exist, for it does not seem to bring much good. I just use the saying here for the plain meaning, apart from its (ab)use in certain discussions…

“Love the sinner and hate the sin.” -St Augustine in Opera Omnia, Vol II. Col. 962, letter 211

man and woman
Let’s start with the Basic human dignity in the title: as a Christian I do believe that every human has an intrinsic worth, just for being a human being. (Just as everything in Creation has to some degree a worth in just being what it is, that surpasses all our ways of measuring value in monetary units) we are all humans: men, women, children, old people, handicapped people, people we disagree with, people who say and do wrong things, people in countries we don’t like, very rich people and very poor people… And we all have more value than money could ever buy. This is because you and me and every other specimen of Homo sapiens is made in Gods image, the Imago Dei as theologians call it in Latin!

God created humans in his image and said “and God saw that what He had made was very good.” But we all know that this isn’t the state the world is in now, long after the first chapters of genesis (and probably long before the last chapters of revelations) But even if the Imago dei has been damaged, it is not destroyed, and we do all still bear the Image of God in us. Every human being, even the worst ones included, have enormous worth, just because they are human. We do not have conditional humanity, even the worst sinner is still to be respected as a human being, even if all his rights or his life are to be taken away by our worldly juridical system. Like the Orthodox fathers say, sin does never destroy our human nature even as sinful fallen being… It can seriously damage it though… No-one is beyond salvation on this side of eternity, so no Christian should treat any human like that…

Surely we all know the paradise story, and that the icon of God has been damaged… ‘Human depravity’ is a term used (and abused) by theologians to indicate that humans are fallen beings, often inclined to do wrong, which will hurt ourselves, our relationships with others, with the rest of Creation and with God Himself. We miss the mark, we do injustice to others and ourselves. This is so with all of us I am afraid. This is what sin is!

I should remark here that this doesn’t exclude that there’s not as well a basic goodness still left within every human being too, even though it might be damaged. All things created by God possess some goodness, as the creation story teaches us. People who come with extreme versions of ‘total depravity’ and argue that even babies are evil wretched sinners with no good intentions at all are just creepy and should not be put within a 1 km radius of any baby. My experience with my own kids shows that this view on babies is just faeces from a big male bovine mammal as the English-speaking like to say it when their grandmother is not around… But our human goodness can be distorted, along with Gods image in us, sometimes at the brink of total destruction.

So we indeed are all sinners and under the influence of sin as it pervades our world and our human systems, as the Christian faith tells us. But sin is not just some abstract condition we’re in that offends an easily offended Supreme being because of some weird theoretical problems with it. It seems to me that our theories so often make sin too abstract, too big and too otherworldly to do anything against in the real world, only accept the sacrifice of Jesus to erase the punishment. Such an approach actually does not do much justice to sin at all. If we can’t help but sin, and having one wrong thought is as evil as killing a whole continent full of people, cute kittens and endangered pandas, what does it matter anyway? It is so over the top that the word sin loses any actual real-world meaning.
Such views do also seem to forget that Jesus did not just come to destroy our punishment, but to do away with sin itself, and with our slavery to evil and death, and to defeat the devil and stuff like that.

Moreover sin is not just something abstract that is evil because it breaks some rules that were written thousands of years ago… It is very real, tangible, and something that does destroy our life and those of others! Bad habits, things that make it hard to have a life in connection with God and our neighbor, things that make it hard to live with ourselves, things that destroy creation itself, and so on. All of those things are sin. They are bad for very clear reasons. Sin always is destructive in some way…

And yes, we should look at our own sin first, but a lot of sin does not just affect one person. We have systems of systemic sin oppressing the poor, destroying creation, and so on. We have people persisting in habits that do not only destroy their own lives, but those of their family and loved ones too. So if I have a friend who’s an alcoholic, who is destroying himself and his family, and our friendship, and more things with that problem, is it then not just appropriate to just hate that sin? How could I love my friend without hating the thing that destroys him? Some people might say that alcoholism is not a sin but a disease, but there are many more aspects to sin than ‘breaking this or this law’, and a lot of church fathers did describe sin as a disease permeating human lives, and it often works that way!

So we should hate sin whenever we encounter its destructive force at work in human lives. And no, hating sin understood properly is not at all a rejection of the person, it is the opposite. The person should never be rejected even if they are being destroyed by sin. We should always try to love and help the person. To live in a way that brings the Kingdom of God here and now, even in this broken world. We know that destruction still reigns here, and that only in an ‘eschatological horizon’ sin will be completely done away with, but we need to live as ambassadors of a world without sin, without hate, without the destruction of good things. Which means that we’ll hate the forces that do destroy, of which sin is a very important one…

We will encounter sin in both our own lives and the lives of others, and see its destroying qualities at work. If we love the person, and see the sin destroy his life or the lives of others, we cannot do otherwise than hate the sin…

Let me also say here that we do not need to denounce everything we think violates certain rules or whatever. Sin is not about breaking rules in the first place. Rules are there(if they are just) to make sure we don’t sin, because the sin is evil. Law is there to prevent evil and destruction (or social incoherence) and is only secondary here. Law is just an aftermath of sin trying to prevent it from attacking again. I am speaking here of situations in which we see sin that is effectively destroying people, about real sin that is objectively evil because it does harm people. Rules, laws and even bible interpretations are not always the most relevant arbiter here…

Note also that a lot of the more horrible sinners -killers, druglords, rapists, slave traders, women traffickers, dictators,…- are just those who manifestly do NOT believe in this basic human dignity and just act upon it accordingly. If you think that poor people, or people of another skin color, culture, language or religion, or the other sex (or those outside of 2 binary genders) are for some reason less human like you, you will most probably automatically treat them as less than human…

But this does not mean that even those people can change and repent and change their ways, and come to a path that leads to life for themselves and many others. Note that for example the apostle Paul was a recovered Christian-hunter who had approved of the killing of Stephen, the first Christian martyr according to the book of acts. He did terrible atrocities that should be hated (and yet forgiven) but afterwards he became a Christian like there haven’t been many in the history of Christianity.

And even if they don’t, we have to respect their humanity that’s created in Gods image, but never their sin. No-one is beyond salvation, no matter how big their sin! Every human being has basic human dignity.

There is no option for Christians to put any human being beyond salvation and write them off because they are ‘too sinful’. We are to love everyone created in Gods image. And the sin is never an intrinsic part of what makes us a human being, it is the damage done to it by our fallen world. And we should be willing to pray for even the most evil of our fellow humans to be saved from their sin, because if it destroys the humanity of others, it does destroy their humanity too!(I do not know if there is a ‘point of no return’ where a person is so destroyed by sin that the imago dei is lost beyond recovery, but we do not need to think like that! It’s up to God to judge in the end what can be salvaged and what not, now we should just love… Showing love to sinners might be the thing that brings them back anyway!)

We should love the sinners. They are human beings like us, equivalent to us. It is not right to think they would be under us in any way just as it is wrong to think we’re more than them in any way. And we should hate the sin, we should never affirm it, or bow for it, or think that the sin is the essence of the person.

If we let the sin between us define the other person as ‘less human’ than us and makes us view or treat them accordingly, sin has already won one more round. Just as much as it would have won if we’d have joined the sin itself…

What do you people think?

Peace

Do we Christians really live as followers of Jesus in the Spirit?


jesus-really-follow-me-twitter-450x408

How would the world look if all who call themselves ‘Christians’ and affirm that Jesus is Lord would take verses like the next ones foundational to their every-day life and to every decision?

How would the world have looked if people who claimed to be ‘Christian emperors’ or kings over ‘Christian countries’ filled with ‘Christian people’ would have meditated on verses like these every morning and did everything to let the Spirit transform them in such a way that this was the ‘normal’ for everyone?

Why, for those who dare to call ourselves Christians, is this so often not the ‘normal’, but do we derive our ‘normal’ from the fallen world around us because we need to be ‘realistic’? Don’t we believe that the Kingdom of God is a reality that will stay when this reality has faded?

Don’t we have to stick to what’s more real? Isn’t our world just a ghost compared to what is to come, and is the way of life laid out in these verses more real than our world now in a sense, even though its hard for us to see this and to align ourselves with the coming Kingdom.

 

Luke 6
27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. 31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Are we even among ‘those who are listening’ that are addressed here?

It is said elsewhere that we will be known by our love as Christians. I must say I don’t always see that. I do see a lot of seminars in Christianity, about leadership and being a good Christian man and be victorious in Christ and whatever. Where are the seminars that help us find ways together to love our enemies, give to those who ask, resisting violence with love and not hate? Why don’t we do everything in our might to grow into what is described by Jesus here?

I know want to be sure as protestants that we are ‘not saved by our works’.  But isn’t the goal to be the sort of people that love God and our neigbor with everything that we are? The kind of people that would populate heaven (or the new Earth), the kind of people that are at home in a place were all evil is taken away?

Are we different as Christians? Are we known as Christians because we are ‘kind to ungrateful and evil people’? Are we known to be merciful because we believe that Our Father is merciful?

Galatians 5
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another.

How many of the ‘works of the flesh’ are not present in modern Christianity, even apart from the hidden sexual sin and horrible abuse that’s going on.  Things like “hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions and envying” for example, can sometimes be on the foreground without anyone even noticing them. And they seem to have been since the early councils…

Note also that the freedom spoken about in Galatians 5:13 is the opposite of what our modern individualist sense of freedom (especially in the way some Americans are obsessed with it). We have the freedom not to indulge in our own longings but to serve the other in love!

Why are we as Christian so often even worse than the ‘sinner and tax collectors’ Jesus talks about? why don’t we assume it normal to go beyond this and really love our fellow humans, whether they are our friends of enemies, so people see Gods love through us?
Why are we as Christians so often distracted with stuff that go against the words of Jesus here, or are very clearly in Paul’s list of ‘works of the flesh’.

I can ask myself, but it would be very different if I as a Christian had always had examples of people living like this around me and finding it as normal as Jesus and Paul and the first church did… The world indeed would be very different if all Christians would find what is described in those 2 bible passages as normative and reality-shaping.

These verses  could be normative and reality-shaping for Christians.

These verses SHOULD be normative and reality-shaping for all of us Christians…

Can we please please please take this stuff more serious as Christians?  This broken world needs it.

Holy Spirit come!