Tag Archives: God

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

fallible language V: speaking about creation


We’re still in a series that I’ve begun last winter, about fallibility of language (find part I, part II, part III and part IV here) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes.

We’ve been talking about God and theology, but today we’re going to go to a more specific discussion, that is very important for certain people in my own broad tribe of evangelicalism: speaking about Creation.

I’ve always found the 2 most vocal major streams of thought within contemporary Christianity equally irritating; at one hand you have the very militant creationists, who claim to know scientifically exactly how God has made the world in a lot more details than the bible can provide. And if you don’t follow them you don’t believe in the bible and you’ll lose your faith. On the other side you have those who have an equally big faith in science and who know that science has the last word in everything, and if there’s anything in Christianity or the bible that goes against the findings of modern science we should get rid of it…

To be honest, I find both positions to be equally impotent and signs of a quite uncritical synchretism with the arrogant optimism of the enlightenment that we human beings can and will know everything. My thoughts on how Creation has happened may have shifted over the years, but one of the things I’ve always known is that the circumstances of how God made the world are not likely to be found out completely by our science, the visible does not stem from what we can see, and neither that any description of it will ever be complete and able to scientifically nail down what happened.

Vinoth Ramachandra, writing from an Evangelical but non-Western Point of View, puts it this way in his excellent but quite heavy book ‘subverting global myths':

Creationism and evolutions are simply mirror images of each other. The former reduces the Christian doctrine of creation to the level of a scientific account of chronological origins, and the latter elevated the biological theory of revolution into a total worldview. Paradoxically,creationist and evolutionists have more in common than they each realize: Both work within a “universe-as-machine” picture of the world, so that Gods relationship with the world can only be conceived in the form of ingeneer-type interventions which have to be scientifically inexplicable.

But the whole “universe as a machine” framework is just a modern way we think we make sense of the world… And Creation is something that happened outside of the things that we know and have words for, and something that was not witnessed by us. So I’d expect science to be able to find out something, but not at all even the main thing. Only of you’re a purely materialist Christian you could believe such a thing… (We’ve actually had discussions about evolution and spiritual beings here on this blog a while ago) But neither would I believe that an God-inspired description would be ever complete, it would just be an assurance that indeed God is the Creator. (the question about the origin of angels and demons is still there btw, genesis doesn’t say a word about this!)

With all of this in mind, I found the Orthodox way of looking at the subject of Creation much more interesting. Let’s go back to ‘light from the Christian East':

For one thing, the Orthodox emphasis on our human inability to conceive of and speak about God and creation together could help us escape the sometimes acrimonious “creation versus evolution” arguments that so often have bedeviled reflection on the creation among Western Christians over the last century or so. From the perspectives of Orthodoxy, the first chapters of Genesis do not explain creation. Creation was God’s act, and no amount of human intellectual ingenuity could ever account for it, nor any human words capture it. The terse affirmations made in Genesis 1-2 do not amount to explanations or even descriptions, from an Orthodox perspective; they confront us with the declaration that all that is came from God. In presenting the entire universe as God’s creative handiwork, Orthodoxy excludes all thought of an evolutionary process operating outside of God, to be sure. Equally, it precludes any arrogant claim to comprehend from the first chapters of Genesis how God brought everything into existence. What Scripture presents is the declaration that God made all that is, without any attempt to clarify how all came into being. The opening chapters of Genesis present what must be wondered at, not what can be fathomed. They offer stimulation for common praise by all those who believe in him, not material with which we should brow-beat fellow believers whose ideas about the way in which God may have accomplished that work differ from ours.
Further, even if God had explained it to us, could we have understood it? What language could God borrow to explain to mere creatures the act of creation so that we could comprehend it? If his ways and thoughts are beyond ours (Is 55:8-9), should we not offer humble praise for his creation and what hè has told us about it, rather than fighting among ourselves as to who best comprehends how God brought all things into existence? Is the beginning of Scripture intended to satisfy our intellectual curiosity about “how,” or is it to invite us to celebrate “what” and “who”? Western Christians could learn a bit more humility in speaking about creation and God from their brothers and sisters in Eastern Orthodoxy. (Payton)

Now that’s a bit like what I think about the subject, but much more eloquently worded…

what do you think?

Shalom

Bram

see also this post and the discussion under it, on evolutionary creationism and angels…

fallible language IV: The bible contains everything?


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Teach us to pray O Lord


The disciples asked their Rabbi ‘Teach us to pray’, and it’s a very important question indeed. If our good news of salvation means, among other things, being redeemed into in unbroken relationship with our Creator again, and prayer is communication with God. (Both are very standard ideas I’ve learned as a Christian) then we can’t underestimate the role of prayer. You can’t have a relationship if you don’t have communication, and if you have a relationship with someone you love one of the things you want to do is communicate with him/her.

So prayer is very important to us as Christians. Paul even says somewhere that we should ‘pray without ceasing’, which does not seem like a very simple task (quite impossible even), especially if you have ADD like me, but it’s undeniable that the salvation that Jesus brings, lived out in all its fullness, means a life that is in every moment connected to God, that is in every move informed by the spirit, and that results in the coming of Gods Kindom through our lives, on Earth as it is in heaven, as the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him that big question.

But, like I said, I’m a human who is very easily distracted. I struggle with prayer, even though I know and feel that I need it. I know I need to find more dicipline, and some kind of prayer rhytm, but at the moment I’m not there. So, ironically, one of the things I pray very frequently these days is ‘teach me how to pray’.

Here is a beautiful prayer from Christine Sine that expresses my struggle, and what I would want to see in prayer much better than I do:

Teach us to pray O Lord,
Draw us closer to you, to your world , to each other.
Teach us to pray, O Lord,
With compassion and love and forgiveness.
Teach us to pray, O Lord,
Until all that we are and all that we do,
Becomes a gift of prayer to you.
Teach us to pray O Lord,
Draw us closer to you, to your world , to each other.
Teach us to pray, O Lord,
With compassion and love and forgiveness.
Teach us to pray, O Lord,
Until all that we are and all that we do,
Becomes a gift of prayer to you.

what do you all think?

shalom

Bram

God cannot be around sin?


According to contemporary evangelical ideas that some people seem to hold, God cannot be where sin or evil is. I have encountered this idea several times in my life preached as a ‘biblical truth’, but I’m afraid that, like more ideas in  ‘radio orthodoxy’ (Oh man I’m glad we don’t have commercial Christian radio over here!) it’s neither truth nor biblical .

I would personally assume it quite obvious that the said idea is in itself a bit weird, and unbiblical, even without posing the question of how to rhyme this idea with Gods omnipresence, and God being ‘the Almighty’ (quite a powerless Supreme Being that would be, scared away from a little bit of sin, especially in a world that is filled with it…).

I do think that Scott Morizot offers a very good commentary with the following paragraph:

I’ve always been incredulous about the often repeated modern assertion that God is holy and can’t be around sin or evil. Nowhere do we see that in the story of Jewish and Christian God, but it’s absurd whenever we look at Jesus. He sought out the “sinners” and those considered ritually unclean and acted as though he could make them clean through association rather than the opposite. Jesus certainly had no problem “being around” sin. In fact, that was one of the major criticisms levelled at him. At one point, he almost shrugs and says he didn’t come to the healthy, but to the sick. And in the fullness of that revelation, in case we missed the point of a God who goes looking for man from the moment in the story of the garden when he asks Adam where he is, Jesus shows us a God seeking out “sinners” and always facing man wherever we might flee.

- Scott Morizot (click his name for the source)

Another remark would be that we can inverse the idea: sin cannot be around God. God, who is all-pure and an all-consuming fire, will not at all be affected by sin, but sin and evil itself might kinda suffer the same problem as darkness when exposed to light… (But here we can discuss the role of Satan in the book of Job, which might be quite a discussion!)

I do think that this issue will deeply influence the way we view atonement, but I let my readers think about that… So what do you think?

shalom

Bram

God fulfills the sermon on the mount? (E. Stanley Jones)


I wanted to share a piece of E. Stanley Jones (1884-1974), who was an important figure in Indian Christianity in the 20th century. I’m currently reading in e-version of ‘the Christ of the mount’,  a commentary on the sermon on the mount that is really interesting. I wanted to share this part, which coincidentally seems to fit perfectly with ‘virtue reborn’ by N.T. Wright in describing what Wright would call ‘Christian Character, but here he also turns it around, to apply it to God Himself. Which gives us quite the opposite of what some fundamentalists and new-reformed christians want us to believe, who have a godview that would make me an atheist! (And which looks more like the Capitol from the hunger games, as Sarah Moon points out here)

The reward of this kind of living which Jesus has been setting before us in the Sermon is in the quality of being : “Ye shall be sons of your Father,” or as Luke puts It “sons of the Most High.” Being willing to be the sons of the most low, you turn out to be sons of the Most High The reward is in the very make-up of your character.
It is not in being given a harp in heaven, but in winning a heart that has learned its song ;not in being allowed to walk on streets of fine gold, but in having the refined gold of character.
Your greatest reward will be that you will be like your Father. And that is heaven, whatever the future may bring. Every man will reflect himself in his environment, he will draw around Him in his environment qualities like his own. Any man that takes heaven with him is bound to have heaven. But the basis of that heaven and the degree of that heaven is character. As I have already said, in these twenty-seven marks of perfection there is not one that is irrelevant, and not one that will not be utterly necessary in the make-up of the perfect character for God and man. In the Father too ? Yes.
For these twenty-seven marks are in the Father himself:

He is surrendered in spirit in Christ he surrenders himself to the limitations, the trials, the buffetings and the cross of an earthly life; he mourns1 the cross is the symbol of that deep vicarious mourning ; he is the serving meek, if Jesus is the image of his person; he hungers and thirsts after righteousness not in himself, but in others, in his children the God of moral indifference has faded out and a God intensely ethical Is here. But in all Ms holiness he is the merciful toward imperfections in others; he is the pure in heart in him is no darkness at all ; the peacemaker an active intervener in love. He is persecuted and falsely spoken against, yet he rejoices and is exceedingly glad. He is the salt of the earth the silent power that keeps it from corruption and that pnts taste and worth and meaning into life. The light of the world take him out and the world turns to night. He keeps the least commandment that he lays on others. He is not indifferent to the painful struggle upward. He does not destroy it, he fulfills it. He is not angry with his children in the sense of revenge, but only in the sense of redemptive, moral indignation. He is quick to agree with his adversaries, going more than half way. He is above all impurity, even in thought. His word is simple and Yea, yea, and Nay, nay not subject to whimsicalities. He resists evil on the high level of turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and giving the cloak also. He gives to them that ask and from those that would borrow he turns not away. He loves Ms enemies and does good to them that despitefully use him. He sends the rain on the just and on the unjust, makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good.He loves them that do not love him and salutes those who pass him by he is the Perfect!
This kind of a God can have my heart. For as Jesus has been sketching for us the likeness of the Father I see in it his own likeness. God is Christlike; and if he is, then he is a good God and trustable.

The christ of the road, p 199-201

Shalom

Bram

An apophatic video interlude with Peter Rollins…


I’ve been talking about apophatic theology, and the limits of language earlier, and the idea will come back in some future posts. Apophatic or negative theology is a very important way of doing theology in the Eastern Orthodox church and some church fathers. The basic idea is that God the Creator does not exist like we do, and is not bound to words and ideas that are derived from what we know as created beings in Creation, so the only way to speak of God is to say what God is not…

Another tradition that is very suspicious of the preciseness of language, when speaking about anything actually, not just God, would be postmodernist continental philosophy, which is quite popular in certain parts of the emerging church. So here is for you the guy with the coolest accent and the weirdest background music in postmodern christianity, Peter Rollins himself.

And no, whatever the description on youtube says, he could actually not be further away from classical christian liberalism, and fits more between old orthodox mystic apophatic negative theology and postmodern linguistic deconstructionism… Both thought systems that couldn’t be removed further from the rationalist roots of the original Christian liberalism… And yes, some of his stuff here is just semantic wordplay probably… Some atheists would object to his definition of atheism probably, but I see where he’s coming from.

What do you think? Is Pete making sense here? Or is he just talking heresy or plain nonsense to you?

shalom

Bram