(Note: Content has been edited from my first posting from yesterday.)
Jesus tells us to let our light shine. He also tells us that all that is hidden will be revealed. I’ve come to realize that the light works both ways: just as we show the world what it is like to live a Christian life, the Holy Spirit shines within us, shaping us and reminding us of what we have learned. Like light itself, this shining comes in waves, as God shows us sins we need to repent or areas of our lives and relationships that need attention, habits that need to be broken, perspectives that need to be changed.
Life with Jesus is a journey — a place to deny the self, pick up the cross, and follow. When I started this blog, the image in my head of what it looked like to follow Jesus looked entirely different than what it looks like now.
The ten-years-ago me very cautiously put my spiritual life in a secure box. I read the Bible all the way through four years in a row. Sure there were verses in it that made me uncomfortable, but I mostly just brushed them behind me. They made me feel threatened, so I avoided them.
My journey took a series of turns as I began to hunger for more Jesus, more love than I saw at our church. When the pastor counseled a friend to continue submitting to the husband who had been hitting her, the camel’s back broke and we began a long period of time where we tried to find a new church home, hungering for family, for love, for acceptance. We attended some beautiful churches with wonderful members, but for one reason or another we stayed in the wilderness. It was hard to establish new relationships. We worshipped in places that didn’t even know we were there. Eventually we began doing church at home and became “podrishioners” of a church in Minnesota. Then we moved out of the Dallas area and have found a church home here in Florida that is literally right around the corner. In good weather, we walk!
However, it was while we were in the wilderness that those questions I stuck under the rug returned, this time not just from me, but also from my daughter:
- Did God create the Devil? If so, why would a perfect Being create evil?
- If he created the Devil first as an angel, wouldn’t he have known beforehand that the angel would fall and become the Devil? Couldn’t he have just decided not to make that angel?
- Why did God create humans with the inclination to break rules? As the human designer, couldn’t he have made us WANT to follow him?
- Why does God care so much about sex? Why was polygamy ok in the Old Testament?
- Why was it ok for people to murder other people if God tells them to even though murder breaks the 10 Commandments?
- Why did Paul say women couldn’t be preachers?
- If the Bible is without error, then why are there so many contradictions? See 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 — who incited David to count the census, God or Satan?
- Did Jesus die before the temple curtain tore, or after? It depends on which gospel account you read: Matthew 27:50-51 and Mark 15:37-38 (before the curtain tore) or Luke 23:45-46 (after the curtain tore).
- Why was it ok for Lot to GIVE his two virgin daughters to the men of Sodom for the purpose of raping them? (Genesis 19:8) Why is he still seen as a righteous man? (2 Peter 2:7)
These kinds of questions — and the fear that my daughter was about to denounce Christianity — led me to hope that other Christians had tackled these questions and found some answers. So I began reading Christian authors such as Greg Boyd and Peter Enns and following groups like Sojourners and Red Letter Christians. I wanted to find answers to my daughter’s questions. In books such as Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty and Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation and Satan and the Problem of Evil, I came to see that the “Christian viewpoint” is not as cut and dried as I first thought. While I certainly do not agree with everything I read, I now see that there are variations upon variations upon variations of interpretations and explanations. I still have much to learn!
What I’ve come to see is that some (including myself here) take the Bible out of its historical context and give it the authority that only belongs to God himself. I realize this is a statement that will get push-back and disagreement, but that’s where my thinking currently lies. My old way of thinking about the Bible tried to twist reality into something that fit what my rational mind told me was wrong, justifying it by saying my rational mind represents my flesh and accepting that I can’t know God’s mind. “God is God, and I am not,” is a common answer to many of the questions, but it was not enough. I wanted more.
It was wrong for Lot to give his virgin daughters away to be raped. Jesus said, “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” The Jesus who stopped a stoning of an adulterous woman would not have stood by and watched while a man gave away his virgins to be ravaged. Peter Enns would say that the old testament was written by a tribal people. Their understanding of God was different from our new testament understanding of God. Greg Boyd would say that we need to look at the entirety of the old testament through the lens of Jesus. It all comes back to Jesus.
My old way of thinking would not let me dare say that the Bible was wrong in any way. It felt sacrilegious to let myself form those questions. Why? Is it possible the reason we feel ourselves threatened when people ask difficult questions about or “attack” the Bible is because — and this is key — we are basing our faith on a book instead of on God himself? Is it possible we tried to contain the magnificence and glory of our unfathomable Creator inside a book and then gave the book God’s authority?
God will not be contained.
48 Yet the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands, as the prophet says,
49 ‘Heaven is my throne,
and earth is the footstool for my feet.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is my resting place?
50 Did my hand not make all these things?’ (Acts 7)
The act of love as displayed in Jesus on the cross, and the victory over death he attained in the resurrection, supersedes all else. This love-wrapped victory was the good news shared by the early Christians. They were believers who had no Bible on which to cling. The only Word they had was what had been orally handed down to them; they had something better than the Bible: they had the Holy Spirit, and they had their love for God and for each other.
25 “I have told you this while I’m still with you. 26 However, the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything. He will remind you of everything that I have ever told you. (John 14)
The Gentile, non-Jewish believers did not have the Torah, yet they were still counted as believers. However, even the Jewish believers who did have the Torah were called to look at all those regulations in a different way. When the Pharisees asked him which commandment was the most important, Jesus simplified what had been complex:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22)
The Greek word “all” referenced above is holos, which means all…whole…completely…complete in extent, amount, time or degree. Jesus was saying here, if I am reading it correctly, that all the Law and the Prophets can be summed up in love for God and love for neighbor. Here’s the flip side: if we don’t have the love, is our interpretation of the law and the prophets correct?
This focus on love is what changed my walk with Christ. It is what has driven me to embrace some of the more liberal-leaning social stances and is the driving force behind my blogging and social media activities.
What I didn’t realize was that even as my own image of what it looks like to be an authentic Christ follower was changing, other Christians still had their same framework. My passion for love of neighbor had not been “catching” to my conservative evangelical friends and family. Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that they are wrong, any more than I am saying that I was wrong ten years ago. What I am saying is that my own eyes have been opened to a reality that I never knew existed. I once was blind, but now I see.
So after the election last week, I grieved — but not just at being on the “losing” side. I grieved that I had been unable to reach my people. Even though I know God is the one who moves hearts, I felt that I had not spoken enough, written enough, or been persuasive enough when God called me to speak or to write.
As I stood in church on Sunday, I realized (again) that neither political party platform has a great track record when Jesus is the litmus test. Political fiefdoms are earthly kingdoms, not heavenly ones. Many upstanding people voted for Trump because of abortion and the possibility of the next president having the duty to appoint supreme court justices. And you know what? I completely respect that. I also weighed in my pro-life stance but ultimately voted for Clinton because of adoption, immigration reform, refugees, the death penalty, and the criminal justice system.
The election is over, but these issues are not. We have an opportunity to work together for good, through our churches and through our vocal advocacy with our elected leaders for the least of these. I pray we will be able to build bridges instead of walls. A pastor once preached that the words we say can act as a bucket of water to a fire or gasoline to a fire, and that wisdom comes from knowing when to use the water and when to use the gas. My prayer is that through this next series of blogs, the Holy Spirit will use me to illuminate, shine a light, and expose those things that are hidden. May He light a bonfire on those things that need to be fired up and rain peaceful, cooling water on those things that need to be quenched.
May the words of my mouth (fingers) and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, o God of mercy and love!