LIVING WITH UNCERTAINTY

To many people uncertainty is a terrifying thing. We want to know and be certain about the fundamental aspects of life. This includes not just religion, but science, careers, money, love, etc. We want concrete answers that we can be sure of and can use to guide us. Self-help books that give us the exact methods to find our passion in life, or tell us exactly how we should spend our money. Certain morals that can guide us in right and wrong. Religious tenets that are foundational and firm and can determine all our other beliefs with certainty. What are we to do when we find the it is not certainty that is fundamental, but uncertainty?

I faced this a little over a decade ago, when all my certainties came crashing down. It’s true that I’ve always had a skeptical mind. I’ve always questioned things and had a natural curiousity. I’m just wired that way. However, I also had my childhood certainties about my Christian faith, that I held with a fair degree of certainty. It was never a question of Christianity being wrong, but how could so many people get it wrong?

As everyone who knows me is well aware, I enjoy a good debate. This time I was going to dismantle the arguments of an agnostic that I worked with. I anticated what his arguments would be and thought of all the counter-arguments so that I would be prepared. He would say that because 9/11 happened, how could there be a good God. And I would say that the terrorists had free will, and went against what God wanted. I was very wrong in any argument that I anticapted. What he asserted instead was that it was ancient myths. Now I knew that there were people who made such arguments, but I had never actually heard somebody say it before. To be honest, to this day I dont know why I had the reaction that I did, but my reaction was to conclude that everything I had grown up with was wrong. I was angry, bitter, and sad, all at the same time. When I got home, I chucked my Bible across the room and broke down. I was at the place where I could reject my faith, or I could look for evidence to see whether or not what the arguments I heard were true and whether or not Christianity in general was true.

I turned to Christian apologetics. I read book after book, and even took a seminary class on the topic. I came to the conclusion that God wanted me to be involved in apologetics in one way or another. Everybody needed to know why they believed what they believed. They needed to know the evidence, and unbelievers needed to be converted by the force of a good argument. Throughout all this time, I can say that my doubts were never truly assuaged. No matter how many books I read, I could always think of counter-arguments to what I read. I could not stop questioning. At church, I shared my “testimony” in front of the congregation that I had no doubt that God was real. I said it because I wanted to believe that I had no doubts, and no one wants to tell the church that after an event like that, you still have doubts. Now, I wish I had been more honest. Instead of looking like a hero of the faith, I would have been much more glad to assure someone that it was ok to have doubts. It’s in the doubts that we ask questions, and solve problems. Then those solutions can generate new questions to seek answers to.

A decade later I can say that I still have many of the same doubts that I held all those years ago. In fact, I think there is some myth in the BIble. I think there is a great deal of truth in those myths for us to live by. What I have found though, is that apologetics isn’t the answer. What the past 10-11 years has taught me is to live with uncertainty. That it is good to be skeptical and ask questions. That is how we grow in knowledge and new understandings and insights. It is also how we grow in wisdom. To live with uncertainty is not to disbelieve. I still believe in God. I don’t know with absolute certainty, but I have faith that he is real, that when we see Jesus we see what God is really like, and that Jesus rose from the dead after he was crucified. Can I prove any of those things? Absolutely not. I believe that my faith is reasonable. Otherwise I would not hold it. But what is reasonable to me, may not be reasonable to someone else. And that is okay. It is not just in this that I live with uncertainty, but in every area of life. And that is okay.

I have my own opinions, theories, beliefs and ideas. I don’t expect everyone to share them. Obviously, I think I’m right, or I would not hold them. But I can be wrong too. Once you realize how ignorant we really are, you can appreciate the little knowledge that we do have, and you can begin to investigate and learn new things. You can explore new and uncharted areas, and slowly chip away at your own ignorance. What I want most in life is to achieve true understanding in my areas of interest. Never to fake it. Do I fake it sometimes. That I have no doubt. I am human after all. I only hope that God appreciates this. I believe that the best way to show that I love God, is by living the way I have been made, and by showing God’s love to others.

THE RICH, EYES OF CAMELS, AND ANTI-CAPITALISM

This is my first post in a while. I kind of burnt myself out trying to publish stuff everyday, plus having a newborn leaves time for little else. Nevertheless, I am going to attempt to publish articles once a week, although I’m not making any promises. I’m hoping though that with a more spread out schedule, I can publish posts that are more well thought out, better argued, and more researched as necessary.

First though, a brief thought on free markets and the anti-capitalist straw man. This is particularly a fallacy you see in progressive Christianity, but you see it elsewhere as well. Conservative fundamentalists are just as guilty when they pull out Bible verses to support their own position as well. I came across a post recently where the writer made the argument that Jesus was anti-capitalist because of the passage that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. According to the writer, fundamentalists hate this passage because it undermines their support of the rich and capitalism, and their criticism of the poor as morally corrupt.

I don’t wish to touch how fundamentalists see the passage because many of them may see the poor as morally culpable for being poor. Such a view would be mistaken. But equally mistaken is the understanding put forward in the argument above. The argument is that capitalism is all about being pro-rich, and at the least indifferent to the plight of the poor. Assuming that capitalism can be used synonymously with free market for the purposes of the article. The free market however is completely indifferent to being rich and completely indifferent to being poor. If you want to really get to the crux of what the free market it, it is simply two or more people voluntarily exchanging goods for their mutual benefit. This assumes of course that no one would be making the exchange if they did not benefit somehow from the trade. This is almost an axiom in economics, if not a primary principle. Notice, though, that there is nothing about being rich or poor within this definition. Indeed, in the free market there is nothing inherently righteous or unrighteous about being rich or poor. Logically, these concepts are unconnected.

The context of this verse tells us how difficult it is to fully trust God when you cling so tightly to your possessions. This tells us nothing though about whether or not people should be allowed to voluntarily exchange their goods. However, what it does tell us about is the sloppy thinking of the author.

A PROJECT FOR THOUGHT

From the Libertarian Christians website:

To outline a proposal with such high aspirations is far beyond the scope of this article. My goals are much more modest than that. I hope to open a conversation about the compatibility of a theology whose inclinations are more “social” in nature with a political philosophy whose concerns are highly individualistic. Libertarians will want to know what happens to liberty when coupled with a theology that is not dedicated to individualism.

This is a project that I have been thinking about myself for a while now. As I am more individualistic in my politics and less so in my theology, I have spent time in thinking about how these go together. The Christian Faith is one rooted in community and has far reaching social implications. Libertarian political philosophy sees individual liberty as the primary political end of the polis. How these intersect and can be brought to bear on one another is an exciting challenge for libertarian Christians, and one I hope to pursue further, along with the author of this article.

THE UNTOLD STORY OF THOMAS

All eleven disciples were gathered together in a small room. They had been in hiding now for a week, in complete reliance upon the women who provided for them, as only one or two of them could sneak out at any one time. Fear had gripped them when their Master was crucified, and, although they had seen him risen, they knew the authorities would take any one of them into custody if they were discovered.

In this scene we find Thomas, his head in his hands, piecing together everything that had just happened. His fellow disciples all claimed that they had seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion, but how could such a thing even be? Yes he had seen Jesus raise people from the dead, but he had been crucified! The Messiah was not supposed to be crucified. There was nothing in their scriptures referring to a dead messiah, but there was a reference to “he who is cursed who hangs on a tree.” Such a thing could not be possible, and he refused to believe it. It’s true, faith had never come easy for Thomas. He hadn’t actually been looking for any Messiah in particular. Yes he wanted to do away with the Romans, but he figured Israel would have to pull that off on their own. However, when Jesus called him to follow, he felt compelled to, almost like he couldn’t help but follow. Maybe there was something to this Messiah thing and Jesus was it. He saw the miracles, and heard the teachings. Still, he had a hard time comprehending it all. He tried to wrap his mind around everything, but could never quite make sense of it all.

So when Jesus was put to death, any reference point for understanding what was going on was shred to pieces. It was beyond devastating. He had given up everything to follow a charlatan. He was determined he would never be caught a fool again. His fellow disciples claimed that Jesus had appeared to them while Thomas had been out getting food, but he wasn’t going to buy it. Unless Jesus was standing there before him and he could place his hands on the wounds to his hands and feet and side, he would not believe it. People, don’t just come back from the dead. Whatever the miracles that had come before, they must have been a charade.

At an instant, the room became different. What at once seemed like a blinding light, went away as fast as it appeared, and there was Jesus. But how? The doors were locked! There was no way he could have gotten in. This had to be a trick, but there he was all the same. Jesus spoke. “Peace be with you,” he said with a most gentle voice. Turning to Thomas, he said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” A million things raced through Thomas’s mind as he stood there, looking at Jesus. At once he knew that all his doubts, all his attempts to comprehend Jesus, were for nothing. Jesus wasn’t a puzzle to be solved, but a person to trust in. Oh Jesus was a paradox, but he realized he could believe the paradox. This was faith he realized for the first time in his life, and he responded the only way he knew how. He bowed down, and said “My Lord and my God!”

THE CROSS IS THE DEVIL’S MOUSETRAP

Richard Beck on Christus Victor and the “cross as the devil’s mousetrap” mechanism for the atonement:

The idea goes like this as unpacked by various church fathers. From the beginning of Jesus’s ministry Satan tries to thwart Jesus. But failing to get Jesus to fall into sin Satan ultimately decides to kill Jesus, to just get rid of the guy. (Recall that Satan enters Judas’s heart suggesting that the death of Jesus is Satan’s idea and plan.) Satan, we know, eventually succeeds and Jesus is killed. Thus, Satan, who possesses the keys to Death and Hades, now “owns” Jesus and has him locked up in Hades.

Satan has taken the cheese.

However, what Satan doesn’t know is that Jesus isn’t just another human being. Jesus is God Incarnate. In this Jesus is sort of like a Trojan Horse. So when Satan takes Jesus to Hades–Surprise!–he finds that the enemy has entered the gates. There in hell Jesus takes the keys of Death and Hades from Satan, binds him, and then releases the captives. In Christian theology this is called the Harrowing of Hell.

The mousetrap snaps.

PRAYERS FOR HOLY SATURDAY

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/04/04/holy-saturday-prayers/#ixzz3WNRuTpl5

GREEK ORTHODOX PRAYER FOR GOOD FRIDAY

“Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on a tree.
The King of the Angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped in the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.
He who clothes Himself with light as with a garment stood naked for trial.
He was struck on the cheek by hands that He himself had formed.
A people that transgressed the law.
Nailed the Lord of Glory to the cross.
Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Then the sun was darkened,
Unable to bear the sight of God outraged,
Before Whom all things tremble.
Let us worship Him.
The disciples denied Him,
But the thief cried out:
“Remember me, O Lord, In Thy Kingdom!”

REFLECTIONS AFTER PALM SUNDAY

Photo by adcreech/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by adcreech/iStock / Getty Images

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and I wanted to share a few thoughts at the beginning of Holy Week. At the very end of the service at our church, the organist played a tune called “Gothic Suite.” The playing was marvelous, and yet what came to my mind was a sense of foreboding that the music carried. All of Israel, and Jewish pilgrims from all across the Roman Empire are converging on Jerusalem for the Passover festival, the time when Jews celebrate their deliverance from slavery and oppression in Egypt. For the Jews of that time period though, the celebration was paradoxical. They were living under what they would have considered to be their oppression under Rome, and they were constantly anticipating the time when God would return to rescue them and restore the temple and the nation of Israel to a greater glory than that of King David. They longed for a king who would lead them to victory over the pagan forces that dominated them. This is what they were celebrating and asking of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Hosanna means “save us”. They were asking Jesus to be the one to deliver them. The celebration is ecstatic, as anyone can tell reading the chapters of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

However, that triumph quickly turns sour, as Jesus enters the temple and declares God’s judgment on the temple, and shortly thereafter, he prophesies that the temple would be destroyed. He challenges Israel’s authorities at every turn. Jesus is bringing God’s purposes to bear on the people, and it is not what they either wanted or expected. By the end of the week, the crowd is shouting “crucify him” instead of “hosanna.” By the end of the week, Jesus is crucified and placed in a grave.

Often times in pageants put on by churches, Jesus is smiling and enjoying the crowd as he enters Jerusalem. However, I am inclined to think that he was actually sad. He knew what the crowd truly wanted, and he also knew that that was not what he came to offer them. Jesus did come to inaugurate God’s kingdom, but it was not a kingdom of the style that originates in this world. It is a kingdom of the meek and lowly. Where the last are first, and the first are last. Where the servants lead, and the leaders are servants. Where people love God, and love their neighbors as themselves. A kingdom of peacemakers rather than warmongers. A kingdom of the persecuted, who love and forgive rather than seek revenge. A kingdom of people who turn the other cheek rather than striking back. Kingdom people who love their enemies rather than hating and fighting them. He brought a kingdom of sheep who serve God by serving the least of these. This was not what Israel wanted, and this is not what most people want today.

The interesting thing is that Jesus suffering on the cross is dependent on the Jewish population being in exactly that position. If the Jewish people were set on following Jesus, then the cross wouldn’t have happened, because Jesus was only delivered to be crucified after Pilate provided the crowd with the option. One could easily paint either the crowd, Pilate, or the Jewish authorities as the key ingredient historically in Jesus’ death. My focus on the crowd is to indicate the dynamic in the change from the shouting of hosannas on Palm Sunday, to the shouts of crucify on Good Friday.

How does this affect our thinking on the atonement? I’m not sure. I subscribe to no one theory in particular, and I think they all have something to contribute to our understanding. In Eastern Orthodoxy, as I understand it, the closest thing they have come to a theory is Christus Victor, and beyond that they are content to live in the mystery of how the cross works theologically. The word atonement itself simply means “at one with”, and I think this is perhaps the best take. On the cross, God and humans are reconciled and brought together in Jesus. There are profound depths to explore here, and a blog post is completely inadequate for the task. Maybe for now, we can continue to think through and plumb its depths, and stand in its mystery as we continue on through Holy Week.

PALM SUNDAY PRAYER

In your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ

to take upon him our nature,

and to suffer death upon the cross,

giving us the example of his great humility:

Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering,

and also share in his resurrection;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, for ever and ever.

Amen.