The Two Loves: Loving God

The Two Loves Logo

Love in many forms

The immortal bard, William Shakespeare once wrote, “Love is a many splendored thing.” Then in 1960, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant revised that to say, “Love Hurts” and a few years later a Scottish rock had a top five hit screaming about it. More recently, around 1979, Peter Wolf and Seth Justman decided that “Love Stinks” and the J. Geils Band sang about that. And finally, author and cultural critic, Douglas Adams says, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of love: Avoid, if at all possible.”

Human beings have a hard time through the centuries just figuring out how to express, understand, quantify, or relate to this emotion we call love. Within the confines of the biblical record, theologian Tom Oord notes, “From Genesis to Revelation and from the early church through today, the Christian story revolves around love.”[1] But just what does that word, love, mean?

What do we mean by love?

The truth is, we don’t really know what we mean by love. More often than not, love is simply understood as a feeling, a sort of wistful desire to be someone because of physical attraction or similar interests. I don’t think that’s an adequate definition of love because most people use this definition and most people have had a difficult time with romantic relationships because of it.

When we get to the heart of it, love means different things to different people. For example, in many parts of the world, love has more to do with duty, action and attitude in a relationship. In others, love is a passion for life and the continued well-being of those around you. The ancient world also varied widely in their definitions. The Roman culture regarded love as something to be controlled. Passion was a sign of weakness so for a Roman to be considered excessively passionate was to be effeminate or unchecked in your emotions. Aspects of personal conduct such as honor and duty were considered greater and to be strived for. The idea is best summed up by historian Paul Veyne who wrote this about Romans, “Love is slavery, but friendship is freedom and equality.

And yet, the Bible says clearly, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” For the next two weeks, we will try to figure this out.

What does it mean to love God?

Will Rogers said, “A educated man is only educated so long as you are discussing the subject he was educated in.” I don’t know educated I am in this subject but I’m going to give it a stab at defining this word love. Love is defined as the innate desire and expression of emotional, intellectual, and/or physical affection or feeling for another person. We don’t feel all of these things for everyone that we encounter. In fact, in most languages other than English, there are multiple words for love that talk about the varying degrees of feeling. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, love is eros (physical love), phileo (brotherly love or liking something), agape (faithful, selfless love), and xenia (hospitality toward others). So you can have an expression of love for hobbies and things we like (phileo), a love for our friends (phileo, agape, or xenia), and a love for our spouse (all of these).

As the lawyer comes to Jesus in our text, we see the Nazarene having his education tested. The idea, I believe, was to see if Jesus could either caught in a false teaching and thereby be discredited or to get Jesus to say something inflammatory enough to warrant declaring him a threat to Jewish and Roman society. Yet time and again, Jesus finds the holes in their arguments and teaches the teachers something about the things that they had taught.

In this case, Jesus is letting the lawyer define the greatest commandment for himself. The lawyer rightly answers by quoting from Deuteronomy – or the second law. Jesus, being the good teacher, applauds his student and then challenges him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live” or maybe a better translation might be, “Do this and you will be full of life.” So what is it that the lawyer should do to have life or be full of life.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart

When we talk about heart in the ancient world, we are talking about the seat of a person’s emotions. We mean that place in the psychological makeup of someone that is driven by their feelings. When Jesus speaks of this in the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart (or your emotional inclinations) will be.” It’s part of a section where Jesus is comparing a desire for the things of the physical world and a desire for the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. If your heart – your emotions – are directed toward the Kingdom, then you have treasures, things of value – that cannot be taken from you, cannot be lost.

When we talk of loving God with all your heart, we mean expressing the innate emotional affection or feeling for God. We mean turning our emotions toward God and feeling a sense of affection and feeling born of our experience with God.

Love the Lord your God with all your being

Being becomes a more interesting way to love God especially when we realize it is speaking of our conscious self or personality. Our being is that part of us that is uniquely us, the part that makes us individuals and distinct from one another. This is the part of us where our moral compass resides, the part that gives us a sense of right and wrong. So by our definition, it would be to express the innate emotional affection or feeling for God with respect to our moral decisions and attitudes. It is allowing God to be the central arbiter for all of our feelings that are related to our morals with the understanding that our morals should be God’s morals especially if we walk as those following Jesus and “adopt the attitude that was in” him according to Philippians 2.

Love the Lord your God with all your strength

What do you do well? Stop and think for a moment about the things that God has given you an ability to do. My father for instance, has the eye of a photographer. He can look at practically anything and tell you whether it has enough light, the right angle, the right depth, and all the other intricacies to make a scene a good photograph. He studied the science behind it for many years but he also has an innate, natural gift for seeing what is there when others can’t.

When we talk about loving God with all of our strength, we are not necessarily talking about a physical strength but our personal strengths, what the Bible would refer to as our spiritual gifting. According to Paul,

“There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

So the definition for loving God with all of your strength in this case might be something like the innate desire of a person to use their natural and innate gifts of the Spirit and abilities as an offering of affection or feeling for God.

Love the Lord your God with all your mind

This one should be obvious, right? The mind is pretty much the mind, that part of our person that is represented by our intellect, our capacity to reason, our ability to think. All true, but not all. The mind in the New Testament understanding of it can also be our disposition, our thought life. It’s just how we think but also what we think about. What we are talking about is all the traffic running through the grey matter. For some this may be considerable and require an intricate system of paths to keep the thoughts from running over one another, kind of like the Los Angeles freeway system. For others of us, this is kind of like a dirt path in the woods. One way in, one way out; no muss, no fuss, no traffic. Either way, the definition of loving God with our mind we could offer would still look something like the innate desire of a person to orient their thought life toward God and the things of God.

One big happy definition

I love a good puzzle and this one has a lot of pieces. Let’s see if we can put them all together into something that makes sense. We are called to love (innately desire and express emotional, intellectual, and/or physical affection or feeling) the Lord our God with all of our heart (the seat of our emotional being), our being (the place of morals and attitudes), our strength (our abilities and gifts of the Spirit), and our mind (our thought life). Quite a mouthful, huh? How about a simplified version – desire and express your affections toward God in every aspect of your life.

Emotions? Check.

Morality? You bet.

Abilities and gifting? Without a doubt.

Thought life? Absolutely.

No stone should be left unturned, no place hidden away and reserved. Everything we are, everything we have, everything we wish to be, is to be made accessible to God and changeable to the discipleship of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[1] Oord, Dr. Thomas. The Nature of Love: A Theology (p. 2). Chalice Press. Kindle Edition.

Walking Through the Storm: A Place in This World

Storm - Maxime Raynal copy

Stop the World and Let Me Off

I remember as a kid the first time I rode the Mindbender. It’s a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia near where I grew up. It goes up about eighty feet then drops into three vertical loops. A friend of mine talked me into it. He was excited and enthusiastic, telling me all about the ride and how it was, at the time, the best coaster you could ride in the park. How we would love it and ride it over and over. I was psyched at first, thinking no big deal, everyone over forty-eight inches tall is riding this thing. Little kids younger than me can do it, so no big deal, right? I got up to the top of the first hill and looked down at the first of the three loops in front of me and thought, stop the world and let me off. It went down the hill and I wasn’t sure if I would throw up or pass out. I had a death grip on the metal bar holding me in the seat, as though my life would end at any given second. I wanted to ride a roller coaster but I was thinking about settling for the one in the kiddie section on the other side of the park.

Life throws a few loop de loops at us as well. It’s the expected unexpected, the things you know could happen, actually happening. One minute we’re standing comfortably in line waiting for our turn in the next phase of life and the next, BAM! Something pops up out of left field and we feel ourselves being lifted off the seat. In that moment we recognize that the roller coaster we’re on isn’t the roller coaster we want to be on.

Do you ever feel like you just don’t belong? Like there’s something not quite right about the world around you? It’s kind of like waking up from a dream and not quite being able to get past the fact that you are dreaming. The feeling reminds me of a line from a song I heard a long time ago, stop the world and let me off.

Mind Bent

Job was feeling a bit like his mind had been bent by the time we get to chapter forty-two. After all the time Job spent challenging God and asking, pleading, begging, for God to speak, the Almighty finally does. And Job is left feeling a bit inadequate in the answer.

Job repeats two of God’s comments and offers responses born of a little more perspective.

Q: “Who is this darkening counsel without knowledge?” 

A: I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand, wonders beyond my comprehension.

Q: “Listen and I will speak; I will question you and you will inform me.”

A:  My ears had heard about you, but now my eyes have seen you.

The entirety of Job’s experience was that he spoke about what he didn’t understand and he heard about God but didn’t really know what he had heard until he saw it. Throughout the text of Job, Job cries out to God without answer. His cries seem to go unheard and the only response he gets is from his friends who can’t believe God would ‘punish’ someone who had not sinned. When God does answer, the answer is not what Job expects. God shows Job that the perspective that Job has of the world is limited and finite and that his place in the world is for God to decide as Job is one part, a small part, of the created order. Job realizes that he has a place in the world and that place is as a part of creation as a whole. He realizes that God cares for all of that creation and if God cares about the details of the entire created order, it is up to Job to simply listen and hear what God would have to say. God is saying to Job, “Trust me and let me show you what I have in store for you. Be patient and wait to see what I am doing.”

Too often we decide that our place in the world is a different place than what God has created for us to live into. We try to force our ideas and our beliefs on God and those around us in an effort to define ourselves. We try to act as creator, telling God what he should do with us and how we should live instead of the other way around. We try to make our spiritual world comfortable by proof-texting or cherry-picking religious ideas from the Bible that make us comfortable while ignoring the stuff that we don’t really like or want to do. It’s the mindset of Job’s friends, and in truth the same mindset that Job lives by, in assuming that they know and understand how God sees the created order without seeking God first.

It reminds me of the instructions. You know, the instructions in just about anything that has more than one part. For years, instructions have been packaged and sent with products so that men can ignore them. We don’t need instructions, there’s a picture on the box. All we have to do is make it look like the box, right?

It’s the old mentality that if looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. So if we put things together and it looks like the box, we got it right. Never mind that there are pieces left over and the thing falls apart the moment you touch it. Never mind the fact that it only looks right from one side because we were looking at only one side of the thing. It looks like the picture so it must be right, right? What we are talking about is a spiritual impatience that drives us to trying to play God. We assume we have big picture view and begin orienting our lives toward it. When God opens the heavens and reveals the wonders of all he has for us we can’t see it because we aren’t looking for it. We are simply looking at what we have created and nurturing that in place of what God has to offer us. We assume we understand things so well that instructions are a waste of time and if we do look at the instructions, we look for the instructions that align with what we think we already know.

Finding our place

In our New Testament text this morning, Jesus has been traveling throughout Galilee and comes to a mountainside. He steps up and begins to deliver what is the centerpiece for early Christianity and for many throughout Christian history, the sermon on the mount. The importance of this passage from Matthew 5 through Matthew 7 should not be lost on us as just another set of teachings. The early church was built on this passage. In fact, if you became a part of the assembly in the first century, you had a sponsor who had watched you live out the principles of this passage for a three-year period. When they had seen sufficient evidence of your faith, you were invited to become a part of the assembly.

As Jesus comes to the last part of this teaching, he says,

“Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? 10 Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? 11 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”

Matthew 7:7-11

In other words, God knows what is needed. God is aware of the situation and circumstance we live in and it is no surprise to him. As we develop as relationship that asks, searches, and knocks, we are developing a relationship that draws us closer to God. Close enough in fact to be comfortable going to God to ask for what we need but having enough of a sense of the spirit to know what we should ask for. Close enough to seek out understanding and wisdom from God while knowing God well enough to see the difference between our folly and his knowledge. Close to enough to have courage to knock on doors that open into God’s perspective and being willing to make that our perspective, even if it upsets our apple cart.

I’m going to be honest with you, I’ve had a hard time with the sermon this week. I feel a little like I’ve been back to Six Flags and just gotten off the Mindbender. After sharing the news about our new bishop last week, I have had some people come and say they are happy about the news and some come to say that most definitely not happy. But the truth is, regardless of your perspective, we are called to the place God has for us to live into and to serve from. For us, that place is Newcastle and the rest of Weston county. The mission this week is the mission last week and the week before and the week before all the way to the moment when Jesus said, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” No matter what else happens around us, that is the mission, the driving force of our existence and the central marker for our place in the world. And it is a mission we can live into because it is a mission driven by the real presence of Jesus the Christ, undergirded by the comfort and direction of the Holy Spirit, and created by the hand of God the Father, Almighty, amen.

Walking Through the Storm: Suffering in Perspective

Storm - Maxime Raynal copy

Newspapers and the world beyond

Every Saturday and Sunday morning of my younger childhood was more or less the same. I woke up before anyone else in the house, got an oversized bowl of cereal and turned on Saturday morning cartoons. Since I got up a few hours before everyone else, I had the TV and the living room to myself. One by one everyone would get up and when we were all awake, we went to the four-way store.

The four-way store was simply the convenience store sitting on the corner of a four way intersection. We would drive the mile it took to get there and my sister and I would run in to the candy rack and pick our weekly treat of one candy bar while my father picked up the Saturday or Sunday newspaper. For many years the candy was the high light of our weekend trip. But then I discovered the funny papers – Peanuts, The Far Side, and Beatle Bailey became a part of my childhood. I would also read the scores on the sports page, but rarely ever the articles. As I got older, I discovered Lewis Grizzard, the southern humorist, and all his stories about life in rural Georgia as well as his social commentary on the world at large.

Little by little, page by page, I learned to read the paper from front page to the weather on the back of the classifieds. As I did, I found a new world. I learned about the Chernobyl disaster in Russia and read about the Challenger crash and all the things that went wrong. I read news coverage of the Soviet Union all the way up to its dissolution in 1991. Beirut, Granada, the Falklands, and every other military action of the 80’s. The world I lived in was smaller and smaller with each article, each newspaper, each passing year, until the news from across the pond felt like the news across town.

A Big, Little World

As we grow in our faith, our spiritual world becomes a bigger place to explore as well. We find the simple, straight-forward beliefs we began with in our early years of faith become a more nuanced, more experienced understanding of God. Job is experiencing this expansion of his world in chapter 38.

After a long discourse between Job and his friends, God speaks into the discussion and sets a few things straight by asking a series of three basic questions: who are you, where were you, and are you able? Let’s look at a few examples of these kinds of questions:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” – Job 38:2

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” – Job 38:4

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,” – Job 38:12

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? Surely you know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!” – Job 38:19-21

These are pretty straightforward questions, a very direct response to the previous conversations. Ultimately, the question being asked here is, are you man enough to see the bigger picture? Are you able to set aside the discomfort and the pain you feel and look beyond them to something greater?

As God asks Job and his friends these questions, they point us to an understanding of creation that calls us to see a wider world beyond our suffering. I believe one goal, perhaps the major one in God’s speeches, is to remind Job and his friends of their place in the greater universe. By pointing to the grandeur of the cosmos and powerful aspects and creatures of creation, God is telling Job and his friends that they are a part of something greater than themselves.

A good example of this is when God refers to the sea in verses 8-11 of chapter 38. The sea is, as we said previously, is the symbol of chaos and disorder in ancient Semitic and biblical literature. As Job laments his situation, God reminds Job that the seas are under the Lord’s control, “Who enclosed the Sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment, the dense clouds its wrap, when I imposed my limit for it, put on a bar and doors and said, “You may come this far, no farther; here your proud waves stop?” As Job has questioned God, God is now putting those questions into perspective for Job. God is not that Job is unimportant of less than worthy of his attention. I think the exercise that we see here is similar to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you…?”

Suffering in Perspective

When we experience suffering, we should not ignore the pain and angst of it but we should put it in the proper perspective. Often, our pain keeps us so busy, so preoccupied with recognizing it and placating it, that we fail to ask big picture questions: What can I learn from this? What is God saying to me in this? Who am I becoming through this? It is only in looking both deeply into our hurting and widely beyond it, that we can truly learn to work through our circumstances in a healthy, spiritual way. Japanese artist and theologian, Makoto Fujimura, wrote:

Willingness to spend time truly seeing can change how we view the world, moving us away from our fast-food culture of superficially scanning what we see and becoming surfeited with images that do not delve below the surface.

– Silence and Beauty

Too often, as Fujimura says, we take the quick glance and the easy answer to our pain. Going back to the beginning of the sermon, we look at the funny pages and avoid the rest of the newspaper. We fail to do the hard work of walking in the fashion of disciples and recognizing that the path we trod is not an easy one and that we are not called to a life of comfort but a life of service. The gospel of Luke records a conversation with Jesus and some disciples something like this:

As Jesus and his disciples traveled along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head.”

Then Jesus said to someone else, “Follow me.”

He replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go and spread the news of God’s kingdom.”

Someone else said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say good-bye to those in my house.”

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.”

The writer of the gospel is essentially saying, “this is not going to be easy. The road we walk is hard. The road we walk is rough.” But as we see in the book of Job and as Jesus tells us, we do not walk alone. In John 15, Jesus offers words of comfort on the final night before the crucifixion saying, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” Jesus has not called us to follow him through difficulty and pain alone; he has called us that we might walk with him and learn from him while we deal with the hard things of this life.

I think that’s the key to all of this, ‘remain in me.’ We try to complicate a relationship with a theology. Sure, theology is a good thing for helping us frame our ideas about God, but each of us has a particular, peculiar, relationship with God that is different and unique from that of anyone else. The good, the bad, the indifferent of this life has to pass through the lens of our own personal connection to God. For us, that’s really the big picture, the broader panoramic view of things; to step back from the circumstances and see everything as a n extension of our relationship with God.

I think that’s what God is saying when he asks all the questions of Job. He’s really saying, “I can see the bigger picture that you can’t. Keep walking with me and I’ll show it to you.” I think it’s what Jesus is saying to the disciples in the upper room when he’s telling them about all the things that are coming over the rest of their lives. “Remain in me and I’ll help you see the bigger picture. I’ll show you the God sized view so you can see better.”

Pixels and Pictures

For the first part of my adult life, I worked with computers designing everything from t-shirts to marketing campaigns. One of the first skills you learn is to use is that of the zoom button. Usually it’s found on the bottom left hand corner of the screen and goes up in various increments from 16.5% all the way to 2500% or higher in some programs. At different times in the design process, you have to be able to see the minute detail and the overall image.

For the Christian life to make sense, we have to do the same. There are moments where we will have to deal with the minute details of both suffering and happiness, joy and pain, peace and sorrow, and the overall image of the life we walk with God. Our being able to move back and forth between these two perspectives in a healthy way is the ability to live in harmony with God and neighbor, seeing our circumstances as they are from every angle.

So our question for today is, how are we seeing the world? Are we limiting ourselves to one perspective or can we zoom in and out to get some clarity?

Walking Through the Storm: Just Being Honest

Storm - Maxime Raynal copy

The Birthday that Never Was

Imagine having a birthday that no one will ever remember. It’s pretty easy if you are born in December. It’s especially easy if you are born in the last half of December. I can remember as a child, years that only my mother, father, and sister even knew that I had a birthday. On the one occasion that I remember someone outside my immediate family mentioning my birthday, it was someone who handed me a gift and said, “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.”

I felt gipped.

Other people I knew had birthdays in the spring or the summer and had outdoor parties by the pool or the lake. They had, what seemed to me, to be tables of presents, lots of guests, mayhem, chaos, bedlam, and then some. I even knew one kid, whose birthday was five days before mine, who decided the best thing to do was celebrate half birthdays in June. Unfortunately for me, I was in my late teens before I heard about this, otherwise I would have celebrated on June 22nd instead of December 22nd.

Even my younger sister had a better time of it than I did since her birthday was in September. But no, not me. I tried to have a party one year and managed to find a few people who had not gone out of town to visit relatives. It was awkward and uncomfortable at best, especially since we watched a movie from the year before that everyone had seen but me.

I – Hated – It.

As an adult however, it’s kind of nice. My birthday disappears into Advent and all the festivities of the season hide another year’s passing in the birth of Jesus. I could conceivably claim to be twenty-nine forever if it weren’t for the grey hair, or what’s left of the grey hair.

Cursing the Day of his Birth

Yet as bad as childhood birthdays were, I never got to the place where I was ready to curse my birthday, wanting to have never existed. But missing your birthday isn’t nearly so bad as what Job experienced. After everything that happens in the first two chapters, we find Job sitting with his friends, having spent seven days and nights in painful, miserable silence. Suddenly, Job responds, breaking the silence in poetic fashion;

Perish the day I was born, the night someone said, “A boy has been conceived.” That day—let it be darkness; may God above ignore it, and light not shine on it. May deepest darkness claim it and a cloud linger over it; may all that darkens the day terrify it.

Job 3:3-5

If it weren’t for the life situation that goes along with this tirade, you might think it the dramatic raving of an overly emotional teenager. It sort of reminds of the little song that they used to do on the show Hee-Haw,

Gloom, despair, and agony on me,

Deep, dark depression, excessive misery,

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Job only curses the day he was born, he curses the day he was conceived.

“May gloom seize the night…May that night be childless…May those who curse the day curse it… May its evening stars stay dark; may it wait in vain for light; may it not see dawn’s gleam, because it didn’t close the doors of my mother’s womb, didn’t hide trouble from my eyes.”

It’s not enough for Job to hate the day of his birth, but he goes on to say he hates the moment he was even conceived. For Job even the moment that he began the journey toward life is anathema. Just to be clear about the severity that Job treats these moments, the word cursed in Hebrew carries the connotation of saying, “May it be as though this never existed. So in essence, Job is saying, “I wish the day I was born and the moment I was conceived never to exist, as if they never were.” It is the idea of calling something or someone anathema, another word for cursed that implies hatred and disdain to the point of treating the person or the thing as though they never were.

A Little Help From Your Friends

This is the pain that erupts from the soul of Job as the silence ends and he begins the work of dealing with his grief and suffering. This is the work of dealing with loss. This is where we begin deciding how we are going to grieve the hard things and whether or not we will be able to work through them. Job is already past the first stage, denial and isolation, where he spent seven days in silence wrestling with his emotions. He bursts out this in his curses and enters the second stage of anger. Anger is healthy but it’s a lot like fire, if you don’t control it, it will consume everything in its path. Job’s wish in the moment is that it should do just that, obliterate his existence. But as we will see throughout this book, Job’s anger does not drive him away from God in bitterness, but to God as an inquisitor.

Yet, Job is not alone as he deals with the anger. While he was silent before in his denial and isolation, his friends are now engaged in the conversation as he addresses his friends as well as God in his tirade. I think there is a great lesson in Job’s honesty before God. Often we have this view of God that is more master-slave or king-subject and we treat God as an overlord or ruler rather than the father that he is represented as in the scriptures. I mean think about it, have you ever been mad at your parents? If you have ever been a teenager you have. It’s part of growing up to rebel against your parents as you grow into defining your adulthood.

My wife and I were talking a while back and frankly, sometimes I get to see myself as an educated idiot. We were on the edge of an argument but rather than just argue, I tried to avoid it and dance around the discussion. Those of you on church committees don’t get any ideas. I’m not afraid to fight, just not with Heather. We talked and finally she offered this nugget of wisdom that I have offered to others but didn’t really like to admit to – It’s okay to fight, if you do it the right way. By being honest, by saying what you think, and by remembering that in spite of the disagreement, you still love each other.

Interestingly enough, Job’s friend, Eliaphaz, offers advice to Job that Job had previously offered to others, “Isn’t your religion the source of your confidence; the integrity of your conduct, the source of your hope?” In other words, the same hope you have offered to others in your faith is the hope you should be relying on for yourself. It is a moment of growth that Job has to endure along with the rest of the tumult. The encouragement is honest and direct, as are most of the conversations in this book. It is the advice of a good friend to a friend in need, an opportunity for growth.

We go through the same spiritual and emotional growth patterns because they are born from relationships: those we have with God and those we have with people around us. As we grow in our relationship with God, we go through difficulty and trials and sometimes we sense the presence of God and sometimes we don’t. We feel the same sense of struggle and the same anger with God as we would with a parent and we wonder whether they really understand us and what we are going through.

This is where Job is in this section of the book. He says in chapter six,

Oh, that my grief were actually weighed, all of it were lifted up in scales; for now it’s heavier than the sands of the sea; The Almighty’s arrows are in me; my spirit drinks their poison, and God’s terrors are arrayed against me.

Perhaps another translation would be found in the Johnny Cash song, Hurt,

I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.
I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.

Job dares to speak to God this way because he is accustomed to being honest before God. He is owning the good, the bad, the indifferent. He is recognizing that God is still God but he is honestly standing before God, telling it like it is, because he knows that God’s character is ultimately love and Job is hanging on to that. This is the honesty that Job offers before God and the honesty that we can have before God.

Job finally returns to a desire for isolation as he responds to his friends in chapter seven. He can’t find peace anywhere and so he wants nothing to do with anything or anyone, “I reject life; I don’t want to live long; leave me alone, for my days are empty,” in verse sixteen.

Leave Me and Let Me Die

Have you ever been hurt by something and the only thing that you want to do is listen to that one song? You know the song; the one that someone wrote that captures every ounce of hurt that you could possibly feel. It’s a safe way, a safe place to go and be with the pain while you make sense of it.

We’ve all been there and as we look at Job, we can look back to those songs and that pain and know that there is a purpose in it. Psychologist Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and prolific writer once said, “Human life can be fulfilled not only in creating and enjoying but also in suffering…lack of success does not signify lack of meaning.” But Job can’t find the meaning yet. He questions what seems to be his punishment, a punishment he sees as being fit for the monsters of legend during the time when the gods of ancient Canaan called the world out of chaos and beasts like Leviathan had to be subdued. “Am I Sea or the Sea Monster that you place me under guard?” asks Job.

Job has simply had enough. Stripped of his family, his wealth, and now his integrity questioned, the pillar of the community and great example to the heavenly court calls God out and demands an explanation. Something that I think many of us should learn to do. Something I think Jesus would advocate as healthy as he says, “Be angry and do not sin.”

But there is a comfort that we have that Job did not. In Luke 17, Jesus tells the Pharisees that, God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.” The kingdom Jesus spoke of is the kingdom that we are all a part of, all in the process of helping to make under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is come in the Holy Spirit that was promised by Jesus when he said,

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.

John 14:15-17

In spite of the suffering and pain we face in this life, we are not left comfortless. We are part of the kingdom of God, a community of those who are living this life with us. We are not left without the presence of God as we experience the Holy Spirit within us. With this community and the Holy Spirit of presence, we can have the courage to question God, be angry with God, and seek a deeper relationship with Him.

A Few Questions

How can we be brutally honest with ourselves and with God when it comes to suffering and pain knowing we should be? How do we react to suffering, ours or that of someone else?

Walking Through the Storm: Who Do You Love?

Storm - Maxime Raynal copy

Cowboys and Cowboy Singers

When I was growing up, my family listened to a lot of different kinds of music. From Gershwin to Guns n’ Roses, from Willie Nelson to John Williams, if you heard it on eight track, cassette, album, or radio we probably listened to a little of everything at one time or another. But no matter what we listened to, we always listened Waylon Jennings. Ol’ Waylon was part of the background music to my childhood whether we were visiting family or driving down the highway or just sitting around the house. At one time, I believe my father had every Waylon Jennings album released and most of them he made homemade cassettes of for the car.

I remember a television special that Waylon made some time back during the eighties called, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, where the native Texan decided to do on a musical documentary on being a cowboy. He joined a group of people – some experienced cowpokes, others, who were greenhorns like himself – for the annual spring roundup. As they gathered in West Texas, Waylon had the chance to go out on the range, riding a horse, rounding up strays, branding cattle, and being as close to a real cowboy as you could in this day and age.

That’s when reality hit.

Waylon spent the better part of the two weeks in the mountains suffering along with all the other greenhorns and came to an rather important conclusion that he summed up like this,

I am a cowboy singer, not a cowboy…you have to love this to do this.

It was living out a childhood dream that helped him to separate dreams from reality. Sometimes the reality bites and bites hard. What you thought you were and were capable of ends up being tested and you find out what you are really made of and who you are.

The story of Job is a story of a godly man tested in ways that would make most of us cringe. It’s a story about loving God no matter what. A story that we will dive into and swim around in and hopefully come out the other side having learned more about our relationship with God and more about ourselves.

The Story

The book of Job is considered by many to be the most ancient of all the biblical texts. It isn’t set in a particular time or place – though it was probably written during the Babylonian exile – and doesn’t reference history in any meaningful way. The story is just that – a story. It is a tale told to make point about the nature of good and evil, God and humanity, and how we answer some of the great questions of life. Over the next six weeks, we’ll look at this tale and through it, hopefully see whether or not we love God for how he treats us, how we react to suffering and pain, how to have hope in difficult times, and other aspects of the human experience as we try to walk with God.

As the story begins, we are introduced to a man who seems to be above reproach in every way. He and his wife have seven sons and three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, a thousand oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and vast number of servants. He was by far the most blessed, most financially stable, most respected and revered man of his day. Not only that, but Job was a man of honesty and absolute integrity. So much so that God asks the Adversary – one of the divine beings – “Have you thought about my servant Job; surely there is no one like him on earth, a man who is honest, who is of absolute integrity, who reveres God and avoids evil?”(Job 1:8) When he thought that perhaps his children had sinned and cursed God in their hearts, he brought offerings before the Lord just in case they didn’t. And for this obedience and piety, Job was apparently blessed of God and favored divinely.

The blessing that he has experienced at the hand of God is tested and replaced by the harsh hand of the Adversary, who seeks to prove that Job’s love and reverence of God is only a matter of Job being blessed. “Does Job revere God for nothing? Haven’t you fenced him in—his house and all he has—and blessed the work of his hands so that his possessions extend throughout the earth? But stretch out your hand and strike all he has. He will certainly curse you to your face,” says the Adversary. And suddenly, Job loses it all. Not a minor setback or stock market hiccup but all of it, gone. Raiders and invaders stealing oxen, donkeys, and camels; fire falling from the sky to burn up the flock of sheep; and worst of all, a terrible wind storm that torn the house from around his children and dropped it on them as they ate. Finally, Job himself is afflicted with sores from head to toe at the hand of Adversary. Crawling into an ash heap he laments the life he lives and yet, does not curse God.

“Do you revere the Lord for nothing?”

Even with this understanding, Job’s story is uncomfortable. From our western cultural perspective the Book of Job might seem to some like a cruel cosmic joke played out by infinite beings. Why kill a man’s family, take away his livelihood, and leave him in an ash heap covered in sores?

For me, a better question is found in verse nine of chapter one when the Adversary asks this question, “Does Job revere God for nothing?” In other words, “Does Job have reverence and honor for God even when he isn’t being blessed?” As we look deeper into the Book of Job, another question that pops up in looking at the overall idea of the book is – Why? Why does Job have to suffer? Yet that may not be the right way to ask the question. A better way may be to recognize that “…the focal point of the book is not God’s justice…, but rather the problem of human pain: how Job endures it, cries out of it, wrestles furiously with God in the midst of it, and ultimately transcends his pain— or better, is transformed through it.” (Ellen F.Davis. Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (p. 122).

What we are getting at in this first chapter of Job speaks to the heart of why a person would be pious and upright. Is it because they are blessed or because they love God? What happens if they are not blessed? It forces us to admit that, “…the core issue of covenant faith, [is] namely, the love that obtains between God and humanity.” (Ellen F. Davis. Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (p. 124). What we are getting at is how we respond to the experience of what we perceive as needless, pointless suffering while asking the question, why are we pious? As one man put it, “Genuine obedience must include right action as well as right motivation.” (Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p. 387) So it’s a matter of Job truly believing, trusting and showing his faith and devotion to God in everything he lives and does whether he is being blessed or not.

And so we begin our journey into the Book of Job by asking ourselves these two major questions about love with or without motivation and the problem of suffering. They are tied together throughout the book and form the basis for study over the next few weeks. But we are not without guidance on the topic.

Jesus and Covenant Faith

In Luke 17, we find Jesus offering a difficult teaching to the apostles on the subject of not causing others to stumble into sin. He says, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen.  It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin.” The response from the frightened apostles is a unanimous, “Increase our faith!” In other words, “Jesus this is hard stuff. We’re not in a place to do this kind of ministry and be this kind of followers. We need to more faith because none of us want to go swimming with weights.”

You might wonder, “What does this have to do with Job?” Well, Jesus answer is the key to that. When confronted with these questions from the disciples, Jesus answers,

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

You see it is faith, deeply rooted belief in God beyond yourself that is at the core of why we follow Jesus. It’s a faith that says, “I know it’s hard stuff, I know I’m in over my head, but I know you called me here, brought me here and so I trust you have a reason.”

And that brings back to Job; Job, who is a man of character and integrity; Job who is a man suffering and in pain in ways most of us, thankfully, will never know; Job, whose wife watches and suffers along with him and finally in pity says, “Just curse God and die. Put an end to this misery. The God we believe in has abandoned us. Stop the suffering.” This Job refuses to deny the God he serves, deny the one who blessed him.

. Instead he says simply, “Will we receive good from God but not also receive bad?” When his friends arrive at the end of chapter two, they hardly recognize the broken, tortured man before them. They tear their clothes in an act of repentance and solidarity with their friend and join Job on the ground in the dust.

Yet Job persists and continues to have the same faith he has always had in the same God he has always served.

Just the Beginning

Like our cowboy singer in the beginning, we find there is a difference between what it looks like and what it really is. This is one of the main ideas that we find here in Job and a question that we have to asks ourselves, most likely on a daily basis: “Do we love God because of who God is or because of the benefits that we get from the relationship? Is God still our God when the bad times come and we have to live through the hard things?”

The question isn’t an easy one and the truth is we will wrestle with it everyday for the rest of our lives. But when you get down to it, Jesus said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.” (Mark 8:34-25) Seeking after God, following Jesus, means that we say no to ourselves and yes to God. We recognize as Job did that the Lord gives and Lord takes away and no matter what happens, Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.

 

An Attempt at Theo-semiotics

This is a paper I submitted for a New Testament exegesis class, my first attempt at theo-semiotics. Not sure if the Greek font will translate well but I think you will get the gist of it.

A Theological-Literary Analysis of e;rgon in James

Thoughts and intents

“…word and language form the medium that sustains the common existence of the human spirit as such. The reality of the word in eminent ways makes existential interaction happen. And so, if the word becomes corrupted, human existence will not remain unaffected and untainted.”  – Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language–Abuse of Power[1]

In contemporary culture, we find that communicating religious meaning is becoming increasingly difficult both with the confines of Christianity and within that of other religions. The world struggles to define things clearly when speaking on matters of importance as the world has moved into a place of autonomous self-definition. Linguistic philosophy has given birth to relativistic culture that proclaims it no longer feels the need for a unified standard of meaning. Where Webster once gave us the meanings for the words our language, the internet now allows for a steady stream of culturally redefined, repurposed terminology. Language is reduced to text-speak (LOL, OMG) and language evolves seemingly away from a sense of permanency to an uneasy collection of colloquial dialectical expression.

This makes the expression of theological ideas in relation to the general populace difficult to translate. We use terms like “save” or “redeem” to mean something from a soteriological context and the general public sees them as expression for financial responsibility or an exchange of goods or services based resulting from direct marketing. The language that once allowed us the precision to convey exact thought now id reduced to sound bites that become slang euphemisms. The question becomes, how do we translate an ancient language tied to a culture that no longer exists, to a modern world where the use of certain words may only last part of a generation (anyone “feelin’ jake” these days)?

There may be, however, a means of translation that can perhaps reach beyond this verbal milieu to offer a sliding definition that has the ability to be attached to new language as it develops. The means would involve the use of basic exegetical principles seen through the lens semiotic analysis. This analysis would bring about the synthesis of new words relevant to the contemporary language and vernacular used in a culture. For the purpose of this project we are limiting the examination to a single word that has been a bane to theologians for centuries, the Greek word e;rgon as found in the Epistle of James.

An exegetical analysis of e;rgon in James

E;rgon is used fifteen times beginning in James 1:4 and going through James 3:13 and usually in the form of a noun (the verbal form is ργζομαι used once in James 1:20). The predominate usage of e;rgon is reserved for James 2, where the word is used thirteen times. The word e;rgon can be used in variety of ways to illustrate the concept of doing something either physically or mentally and these meanings have some minor, in some sense technical variance from the use in ancient or classical Greek through the development period of biblical literature.

Ancient Greek meanings

Kittel notes the most basic, most common used definition is that of activity or active zeal[2]. While e;rgon can it can mean any kind of active work[3], it most often denotes useful activity in contrast to useless busyness[4]. It also speaks to work in the social or ethical sense either as a burden laid on man of as a necessary means of life and support[5] and can be used in the sphere of moral action[6] to which Kittel writes, “Honest work is the basis and meaning of life…man is judged by his works, his achievement, his deeds, his total conduct.”[7]

Biblical meanings

BDAG references this most basic Greek definition saying it is that which displays itself in activity of any kind, deed, action (in contrast to word). [8] However, it is used as well for the Creation acts of God[9] as recorded in the Septuagint. The second noted use biblically is that of fulfilling the Law as a Holy Work undertaken by the righteous[10] and work done as a divinely given task (God instructing man to do certain deeds on His behalf)[11]. It is frequently used in the above manner to describe people of exceptional merit, especially benefactors. This is exemplified in the author of James usage in vv.21-25, making the deeds performed by Ἀβραὰμ and Ῥαὰβ actions or works of faith done on behalf of or in the name and purposes of God.

The Pauline understanding of works is often seen as a negative in relation to the Jewish stress on works “to which there is an intellectualistic misunderstanding of faith.”[12] This however, should not be taken out of its context as the purpose of Paul’s writing and the audience it was intended for differ from that of James lending an emphasis that differs from The Epistle of James. The author of James has a view of works as a complimentary aspect of the salvific / sanctification experience (James 2), in relation to that which is a divinely given task, for God’s glory and man’s edification. This is found in the contrast between e;rga and pi.stij where the second amounts to nothing more than a verbal statement if not exemplified by action, a concept that would be echoed in the writing of Paul when read in the proper context.[13]

Exegetical thoughts in relation to e;rgon

To understand the meaning of e;rgon in relation to the Epistle of James, we must of course take into consideration the socio-historical circumstances under which was written. It is difficult to set the text historically as the epistle may have been written as early as the mid first century or as late as the year 200 CE. As such, we can only say definitively that it was written in the early Christian period and to the pre-Roman Church. If it is early, the text may be taken as a collection of admonitions in aphoristic form for the Jewish Christian church scattered outside of Jerusalem. If later, the text could be an expression of wisdom literature intended for the Christians spread across the Roman Empire.

The structure of the pericope where the predominant usage of e;rgon is found and where the most specific meaning is derived relates to James 2:14-26. This is a continuation of 2:1-13 based on the discussion of partiality in those verse and how they connect to the idea of acting on that lack of partiality by taking care of those we come in contact with who are in need.

The structure is that of rhetorical argument as noted by Blaz and Schneider who state, “The argument in Jas. 2:14-26 takes over the juxtaposition of pi,stij and dikaio,w from the Abraham tradition and explains that faith and works necessarily belong together (2:26)”[14]  Patrick Hartin constructs the argument after this fashion:

a)    Theme (proposito) – Faith without works cannot save you (14)

b)    Reason (ratio) – Example of faith without works in the community (15-17)

c)     Proof (rationis confirmation) – Argument against imaginary opponent (18-19)

d)    Embellishment (exornatio) – Argument from Scripture: Abraham and Rahab (20-25)

e)    Conclusion (conplexio) – Faith without works is dead (26) [15]

Hartin sees the argument as defining the idea of e;rgon in relation to the most classical definition in Greek, good deeds, not to be understood in the same fashion as one might understand the Pauline criticism mentioned previously. The argument, as presented above, shows how the writer of James clearly makes the case that faith needs works as an expression for proof of its existence while not falling into the trap of righteousness based, legalistic faith. Ralph Martin agrees, writing, “The thrust of James’ argument is that indeed there is no profit (i.e. salvation-bringing efficacy) for anyone exhibiting the type of faith exhibited in vv.15-16a.”[16] Hartin states, “The erga (“works”) to which James refers are understood as “good deeds”…and are not erga nomou (“works of the law”).”[17] These works are works born of recognizing the need to ‘give feet to our faith’ (2:15-16) and show that there is truly no partiality in us as we have both pi,stij and e;rgon, a balanced expression of being a Follower in the Way. Luke Timothy Johnson expresses the idea of acting out faith by consistent deeds by calling it “the theme implicit from the first.”[18] Therefore the ‘good deeds’ definition is an accurate one but must be qualified in context so that it is properly juxtaposed to be the physical expression of a sincere faith/belief.

A semiotic analysis of e;rgon

Semiotics is in essence the study of everything that can be taken as a sign or in a broader sense of anything that can stand for something else.[19] It is concerned with what can be termed meaning making and usually refers either to finding this meaning in relation to ‘text’ and ‘media.’[20] Two schools of thought in relation to semiotics have arisen with respect to the two figures responsible for birthing the modern understanding of this practice: Swiss Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) and American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914).[21] Semiology or semiotics as a term was coined by Saussure in his posthumously published work Course in General Linguistics.[22] For the purpose of this examination we will use the Saussurean method.

The principle methodology described by Saussure is based on the idea of understanding the sign in relation to the two parts that make up the sign, the signifier and signified. Chandler defines the Saussurean terms by saying, “The sign is the whole that results from the association of the signifier with the signified…The relationship between the signifier and the signified is referred to as ‘signification’”[23] The signifier and signified were to Saussure pure psychological constructs[24], making the exercise of understanding signs well suited to a literary or philosophical pursuit. The signifier is considered the material or physical form of the sign, where the signified is defined as a concept in the mind, a “notion of the signifier.”[25] When the signifier is given / gives meaning to the signified, the process (called signification) creates a sign. By way of example we might consider it this way:

Signifier: write

Signified: write on the paper

The following image might help to illustrate the concept:

Image

This process ‘makes meaning’ in the sense that there are many signifiers that could be used to give meaning to the signified in this case (write=scribble, jot, pen, etc.). In the case of literature and literary pursuits, the signifier is invariably a word which is intended to cause the psychological response of giving meaning to the concept in the signified. This process, signification, is something we as human beings do unconsciously, based on our experience of language and defined by the cultural constructs we associate with that language. Signs make sense only in relation to other signs and therefore need to be interpreted with/in relation to other signs as both signifier and signified are relational entities.[26] With these concepts in mind, we will attempt to apply this methodology to an arena ripe with signs and meaning: theology.

qeoshmei/on: a synthesis (theo-semiotics)

The purpose of applying semiotics to theology is to (1) find a means of translating theological concepts into modern context and (2) giving greater meaning to these concepts by that translation. Building on this concept of signs being understood in relation to other signs, we can make a linguistic analysis of theological signs in relation to their secular counterparts and in doing so not only define a biblical idea for someone outside the religious arena but also find greater meaning within the biblical context.

In this examination, we have considered the meaning of the Greek term e;rgon with respect to its meaning in James 2:14-26. According to our resultant exegesis of the term, we have derived a definition for e;rgon as being “good deeds performed in relation to a sincere faith.” If it were to be represented in the fashion of a Saussurean diagram, it would look something like this:

Image

In the above, we see the signifier e;rgon in relation to the signified phrase good deeds performed in relation to faith. From this we see the complete sign formed in the psychological construct we consider to be: e;rgon. If we apply the semiotic process in a theological vein, it creates a comparative between the sacred (biblical) and profane (secular) which can be used to understand a sign greater than either individual sign. Combined they might be illustrated thus:

The sign above illustrates the process of comparative signification between biblical and secular where the terms e;rgon and deeds/works are equivalent terms acting as signifiers for the signified phrases “good deeds performed in relation to sincere faith” and “religious acts performed philanthropically for others on God’s behalf.” As none of the secular terms are privileged in the sense that they are completely static (as the biblical term is), they can be manipulated to form a sign that relates to any culture into which the sign is introduced.

The value of this in being able to constructs signs that have equivalent relationships across differing systems or expressions. In the theological-literary sphere, this would allow for terms which have specific biblical meaning to be constantly updated as signs with value to the current socio-historical or cultural circumstance into which they are introduced. In doing so, religious speak is no longer a privileged mode of communication but simply a static sign to be understood in relation to the variable, evolving signs of the emerging culture of the world.

Works Cited

Bauer, W., Danker, W. F., Arndt, W. F., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, Il, USA: University of Chicago Press.

Blaz, H., & Schneider, G. (Eds.). (1994). Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. II). Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Chandler, D. (2002). Semiotics: The Basics. London; New York: Routledge.

Hartin, P. (2003). James (Vol. 14). (S. D. Harrington, Ed.) Collegeville, MN, USA: Liturgical Press.

Johnson, L. T. (1995). The Leeter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary by Luke Timothy Johnson. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

Kittel, G. (1964). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 2). (G. Bromiley, Trans.) Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Louw, J. (1982). Semantic of New Testament Greek. Atlanta, GA, USA: Scholars Press.

Martin, R. P. (1988). James (Vol. 48). Waco, TX, USA: Word Books.

McCartney, D. G. (2009). James. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Academic.

McKnight, S. (2011). The Letter of James. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Pieper, J. (1992). Abuse of Language–Abuse of Power. (L. Krauth, Trans.) San Francisco, CA, USA: Ignatius


[1] (Pieper, 1992), p. 15

[2] (Kittel, 1964) p. 635

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] (Kittel, 1964), p. 636

[8] (Bauer, Danker, Arndt, & Gingrich, 2000), p. 390-391

[9] (Kittel, 1964), p.637-638

[10] (Kittel, 1964), p. 644-645

[11] (Kittel, 1964), p. 648-649

[12] (Kittel, 1964), p. 651

[13] (McCartney, 2009), p.53-56

[14] (Blaz & Schneider, 1994), p. 51

[15] (Hartin, 2003), p. 156-157

[16] (Martin, 1988), p. 80

[17] (Hartin, 2003), p. 156

[18] (Johnson, 1995), p. 245-246

[19] (Chandler, 2002), p. 2

[20] ibid

[21] (Chandler, 2002), p. 5

[22] ibid

[23] (Chandler, 2002), p. 18-20

[24] (Chandler, 2002), p. 18

[25] ibid

[26] (Chandler, 2002), p. 22

Find another way…

Last month it was Frank Schaefer in Pennsylvania. In March it will be Thomas Ogletree in New York, in the latest trial for the United Methodist Church over the prohibition against performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. Ogletree, a 80-year-old minister, theologian, and former dean of Yale Divinity, will be placed on trial for presiding over the marriage ceremony of his son.

My intention is not to take issue with what is said in the Book of Discipline. The Discipline is very clear in what it states as being both the infraction and the consequences for that infraction. The issue that I have with this process is that the trial is not necessary. There are other means and avenues for disciplining an individual in violation of the church regulations.

Have any of these avenues been sought out? Did anyone stop to think how much more damage this will do to the church at large because we insist on making a public spectacle of what should be a private procedure? Are we so intent on upholding law and order on these issues that we are willing to damage the greater witness of the church?

This is certainly no easy issue to address and there is no black and white answer in every case for how to proceed with the circumstances. There must however be a way to address this without it coming down to an issue of holding the United Methodist Church up before the world as a place of intolerance. The world does not look at us as champions of orthodoxy, under the circumstances the world looks at us as champions of injustice.

I can already hear some of the arguments against this, arguments against the idea of being concerned with the world and what it would or would not think. However this is very myopic thinking. It important that we take that under consideration given that this is our witness to the world every time we ‘stand up for orthodoxy.’

In this case to discipline or not to discipline is not the question. The real question is how. How can this be done to uphold what the apparent majority of United Methodists believe without making the Methodist Church look like a place with close doors, closed hearts, and closed minds?

Definitions…

Photo by Andrej Sevelin | Taken from stock.xchng (www.sxc.hu)
Photo by Andrej Sevelin | Taken from stock.xchng (www.sxc.hu)

I read an interesting quote today from Alastair McGrath which read, “The general phenomenon of ‘doctrine’ – although not specific doctrines – is linked with the perceived need for social definition, especially when other factors do not adequately define the group.”

I find this interesting because it places the general notion of doctrine within the scope of social creation. In other words, doctrine is something which is created by people but understood as being given/revealed by God. Not that McGrath is saying God is outside of this process, but that man has organized these concepts and ideas into the framework that makes sense to us. Doctrine, in that sense, is how we make sense of revelation, how we understand and sort what God is communicating to us.

That being said, doctrine then becomes a communal expression of belief rather than individual and as such cannot be limited to a singular set of ideas, given that there can be no true unanimity among any specific group if people. What happens when we ask a Pentecostal and Catholic about orthodoxy concerning Mary or a Baptist and an Episcopalian about the grace inherent in the sacrament of baptism? Doctrine, like orthodoxy, is at that juncture whatever the majority decides it to be.

Which begs the question: what is truly heretical when religious history, like all other forms, is written by the victor?

A good example of this is the Arian controversy of 325 CE. At the time, Arius may have had as many supporters for his perspective as did Alexander and Athanasius, so why did the First Council of Nicea condemn the priest from Alexandria? Ultimately, because the Alexanderian coalition at the Council of Nicea, with the emperor Constantine’s backing and blessing, decided that Arius interpretation was wrong, giving rise to the Nicene Creed in it’s present form.

While this is far from a thorough examination and really more of a thought teaser, it does bring up and hopefully begin dialogue on what the criteria should be for the acceptance of doctrine. Is it good doctrine to blindly accept the established position on a particular matter without questioning how it came to be the established position? Is it a matter of accepting the predominate opinion on the teachings contained in a book (the Bible) compiled by men who may or may not have had the most noble of intentions? If not, what is the alternative that allows for faith in God without having to acquiesce to belief in the Bible?

My intention is to answer each of these questions one at a time and to continue to develop this particular post with the hopes of finding a deeper faith.

Grace & Peace

Michael

Origins…

Another explosion in space by Flavio Takemoto
Another Explosion in Space by Flavio Takemoto

All things must have a beginning.

It is the inevitable law of existence that all things which are came to be from some place/moment in time. The same is true for all things of a religious nature. At some point there was no Tanakh, no New Testament, no Koran, no concept of Adonai, Christ, or Mohammed.

And then, a divine spark in the mind of a human being, a revelation, a moment perfect spiritual clarity and vision gave birth to these concepts of the divine. From the moment these things were conceived/revealed, man has sought to define and understand the nature of deity. It is my goal, using several methods of doctrinal, textural, and other disciplines of criticism, to seek out the origins of our religious beliefs. It is a journey to discover how we came to have the perspective we do and what those perspectives might mean for the future of religious thought.

In this respect, this is my origin.