THE ATTRACTION OF UNIVERSALISM

It is difficult for me to comprehend how humans can think to be more merciful than God with regards to the eternal destiny of each human soul. After all we are made in God’s image to love, and to forgive but it would seem that according to traditional Christian teaching there is a limit to God’s own loving nature and actions.

In 1990 I became a convinced Calvinist assured that God’s glory was somehow tied into the justice of electing some out of all the reprobates on earth. Otherwise, I reasoned, we should all end up in eternal torment if not for the limited atonement of Christ for certain people.

But as I read the entire Bible it appears more and more that God’s plan is to bless the entire world and those in it. It appears that God’s desire is to have mercy on all people, that Christ is the second Adam in whom all are made alive.

Jesus said he would draw all people to himself through his death. And the Bible states that God really desires all people to be ‘saved’.

In my own mind without doubt is the idea that God’s love and grace are universal. But is that grace finally successful? I believe it is. That’s my presupposition if you will, somewhat akin to the presupposition of a loving God as see through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

I will use a universalistic hermeneutic (way of interpreting the scriptures) as I study God’s word and writings that pertain to this subject. I want to make the case for believing that the new heaven and new earth will resolve all sin, injustice and sorrow to the glory of God.

In my mind the story of the Bible is not about the power of God but the love of God as revealed in Christ and known through the Trinity.

Your reflections and questions will be most appreciated.

 

 

DO WE REALLY HAVE TO BELIEVE THE BIBLE?

You and I don’t have to believe in the Bible as the ‘strictly exact’ words of God. Some people call that ‘inerrancy’ or ‘without error’. Humans, who are not perfect, have written the Bible. Nothing in the Bible claims that it is inerrant. The Bible itself claims to be ‘inspired’ or ‘God breathed’. Some of the sermons I have preached over the years are inspired but God knows they weren’t perfect. They were conveyed by the Spirit of God.

I don’t believe the Bible is 100% factually correct and the moment I realized that was the moment I felt freer to read the Bible as it was written. I didn’t have to be insecure, anxious or defensive about each word and every story. The only reason people want to defend inerrancy is that they believe if one error is found then the whole Bible will be proven wrong. NOT.

The Bible is a revelation of God’s plan for his creation, particularly humanity. It’s not a science book. It’s a love story written in narrative, symbol, poetry with the complete revelation found in the person and work of Jesus Christ who is ‘every’ word, thought or expression of God. It’s why Jesus is called THE WORD OF GOD.

Some Christians are more hung up on a ‘historical Jonah being swallowed by a whale’ than the real story of Jonah, which is about the grace, and forgiveness of God. Read it sometime.

Some people spend too much time fighting over the seven days of creation and the issue of evolution and the Big Bang and they miss the Big Picture that there is a God who out of love brought this creation into being so God could share His love with you and me, so that we could know why we are here and what God’s plan is for now and eternity, so that we could join with God in this great project.

I will tell you this. There is not a cell within me that doesn’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word as a story of redemption and reconciliation, an account of people who broke God’s will and God’s heart, people who are not puppets but creations given free will to live with or without God. This book, the Bible is a magnificent library of 66 different books written over thousands of years with a single most important theme: God from all eternity has been relentless in his search and rescue mission for his creation. It’s is layer upon layer of truth concerning restoration. And it includes love and violence, much gone wrong and much more being made right.

It IS God breathed. You can read it and just ‘feel’ the breath of God blowing through the pages of history and into each of our lives. It’s a beautiful story, IF we as believers don’t get caught in a trap of defensiveness. And IF we as skeptics just let it breathe it’s life into us we will know, without a policy or doctrine, that God is in this place and that Jesus is the centerpiece that brings it all together though his teachings, his death and resurrection.

THE GRACE OF AMBIGUITY

Ambiguity is defined as uncertainty. It is the nature of humans to dislike uncertainty. It’s risky and even fear producing not to know the answer to life’s deeper questions such as ‘is there a God?’, ‘why is there so much suffering?’, ‘why am I here and where am I going and who cares? Is the Bible true, and why don’t the Jehovah witnesses have the same Bible as I do? ‘Am I going to be judged? And what about all those different religions?’ And then, ‘what’s for dinner?’ And did I make the right decision? And on and on and on?

An ethicist once asked Mother Teresa if she would pray for him for clarity in his life. Her response was, ‘I have never had clarity. I have had trust. I pray that you will have trust.’

I once saw a cartoon where the pastor of a church was sitting behind his desk and behind him on the wall was a poster showing the steady decline of attendance in the church. His assistant pastor was standing in front of him and said, ‘Maybe it would be better if you didn’t end every sermon with ‘but the again what do I know?’

Why do we need certainty? Trust implies a degree of uncertainty. The apostle Paul once wrote in Romans 8 that in the midst of the suffering and groaning in the world, we ‘hope’. But he says that hope isn’t something we have. It is something we long for with perseverance. And in Hebrews 11:1 we find these words: ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’ This is true trusting. And many of those whom Paul writes about never received what they hoped for, at least to the point of their deaths. They share in those things with us now.

Ambiguity involves trust and hope more than absolute certainty. Recall what Jesus said to the disciple Thomas after Thomas saw the wounds on Jesus’ body. ‘You believe because you see. How much more blessed are those who believe without seeing.’ That is the nature of ambiguity and trust.

Now some Christians and religious groups feel they need to be certain that they know the way to God. But Jesus is the only one who knows that way for he IS the way the truth and the life; he invites us to trust him to bring us into the Kingdom of the Father right here and for all eternity.

We would be more relaxed in our Christianity if we just allowed the ambiguity to exist and instead trusted God, say, the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in the times of Nazi Germany. Here’ is the way he describes his faith and life not long before he was executed by the Gestapo.

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me;
I come out of my cell
Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
Like a lord from his palace.

Who am I? They often tell me,
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me,
I carried the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one who is used to winning.

Am I really then what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
Or is something still in me like a battered army,
running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, You know me; I am yours, O God.

 

The last line sets the tone for our life. Though we don’t often understand much. What we do trust more than anything is that God knows we are HIS.

And the Bible. The Bible is not a rulebook. It is a relationship book. It is more like a book on the languages of love than Robert’s Rules of Order. And being a book of relationship it is filled with grey areas that are left up to the individual or group to discern what God’s will is for any given moment. The Bible is a history of God’s love for his creation and creatures and his longing for us. Love is never black and white and to want it to be so is to live by the knowledge of good and evil rather than in communion with God. And we know how that played out back in the Garden.

John Polkinghorne, a Christian and a scientist, writes these words:

The tapestry of life is not colored in simple black and white, representing an unambiguous choice between the unequivocally bad and the unequivocally good. The ambiguity of human deeds and desires means that life includes many shades of grey. What is true of life in general is true also of the Bible in particular. An honest reading of Scripture will acknowledge the presence in its pages of various kinds of ambiguity.

Regard Abraham and his uncertainty about his role as the Father of many nations. Jacob wrestled with God. Moses never really knew what he had gotten himself into. David’s ambiguities pervade the Psalms not knowing at times whether God would save him or leave him to die.

Perhaps we can learn from Jesus’ own ambiguity in Gethsemane when he asked his Father to relieve him of this dreaded death but conclude, ‘Thy will be done.’

Let me conclude by saying that ambiguity is a gift from God, an opportunity for trust and yes, even impulse at time. It is an occasion for prayer, prayer to trust, a prayer to seek God, a prayer to never grow complacent in the boring black and white of law but rather in relationship to Jesus Christ.

By the way, I love the words of U:

 

I have climbed the highest mountains

I have run through the fields

Only to be with you
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
A burning desire.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For lyrics©Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

 

 

 

Classic

I love the word, ‘classic’. It doesn’t just mean ‘old’. it means ‘fine’. It means that something or even someone is of the highest quality, outstanding or valuable. Like classic music, a classic car (my little 66 v.w. beetle convertible). A movie can be considered classic. A person is sometimes thought of as ‘classy’.

So it got me to thinking about and then discovering a book entitle CLASSIC CHRISTIANITY by Thomas Oden. Think about it. The faith that has been delivered to us is classic. It’s incredible,fine, valuable, outstanding and one of a kind classic.

Jude 1 3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.(NKJV)

Wow, have we strayed away from that classic christian message or what? We have got church folks like myself living too materially with too many thoughts that don’t often align with the words and actions of Jesus. We have got ourselves liberal christians who somehow think they know better than that classic faith has taught us. So they diminish the authority of the Bible with inclusive, tolerant, universal interpretations and language that basically say it doesn’t matter how you believe or live your life as long as you are basically a good person fighting injustices here and there.

The faith that was once delivered to us through God’s revelation most particularly in Jesus has been through the wringer of philosophies and theologies that have all but pressed out the original Jesus and his powerful message of love, tough love that it is. Some church folk are even afraid to share the Gospel with people thinking that all people are somehow saved without God’s word. And then Jesus tells us to love our neighbor and we look down on the immigrant folks coming from the south. Now we are even claiming we must stop them because the terrorists are part of their company.

No, we need the classic christianity that was believed by the early church fathers…ok, some mothers too. That was a faith worth literally dying for. Read some of the accounts of people like Polycarp.

Whereas once churches were communities that gathered together now they are mega- institutions that have problems of finance and property that Jesus never intended. We need classic christianity. We need class Jesus, the one who was born in most humble estate of a VIRGIN….no matter what liberals say.  The one who gave up all for everything and died to take on himself the condemnation that was due to us all …..no matter what the liberals say. And he rose bodily from the dead, not just in a fairy tale or in our minds as…..

And while i am at it Jesus nowhere instructs his followers to go and bomb our enemies. No where! We cannot justify it in the name of security or terrorism threat no matter what Sean Hannity may say. I want what Jesus says and teaches and if I have to die for that faith I should be willing. I may be scared to death but death is not the end. Jesus said not to fear those who can only kill the body but rather fear him who can kill the body and send the soul to hell. OOPS.

The earliest Christians lived a faith that we now can term classic in the best sense. Let us strive to live that message, the one that is so clear in the Bible. Remember that song, ‘Give me that old-time religion’- well that’s what we need. A wonderful traditional, evangelical, classic teaching handed down to us in the first century.

I think I will get that book CLASSIC CHRISTIANITY…..and I hope this post I am writing doesn’t mean I have to give my classic VW away. Besides it was a gift from my wife.

Blessings to all.