Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jesus Dirty-Ups the Temple


In discussing Jesus' example of nonviolent love, people ask, "If Jesus is teaching/encouraging a nonviolent lifestyle then how do we explain his cleansing of the temple?" or "Didn't Jesus whip people in the temple?" or even "What about Jesus' turning over tables of the moneychangers? Isn't that violence?" All these questions revolve around four passages of scripture. Here they are:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers." (Mark 11:15-17, NIV)

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer," but you are making it "a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:12-13, NIV)

In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. (John 2:14-15, NIV)

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’" Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words. (Luke 19:45-48, NIV)

There are a lot of problems using Jesus' turning over of tables and running out of merchants and animals in the temple for justifying self-defense, or the defense of those in danger in a way that is unloving, violent, or lethal toward an enemy. Here are some of those problems:

1. Jesus was not defending himself or anyone else from any type of abuse in these passages. If he was defending people from any type of abuse it would be financial abuse but even then we must admit that Jesus' top priority is not defending those being financially abused in this scenario. There are many reasons to fight for people. Proverbs 31:9 states, "Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." The folks being taken advantage of by the moneychangers were the average joe's of the day. This passage justifies defending the oppressed but it doesn't promote violence. We'll get into that more in later points. The key message to take away from this point is that Jesus was not concerned with defending his life or the lives of others. This act in the temple is not about reacting to assailants. If it is about reacting to anything it might be structural injustice.

2. Jesus is on the offense in this scenario. He is instigating the action. At least the physical action. The moneychangers initiated the conflict with injustice by pulling the old switcharoo on those who came to make sacrifices and by taking away the place in the temple which was meant for Gentiles. A family would come with their animal to make a sacrifice and be told "Oh no, this animal is not clean enough. Trade in your animal and pay a little for an animal worthy of sacrifice." So they family exchanged and paid. Then another family would come and go through the same motion and the animal they would receive would be the animal belonging to the previous family. A classic con move. This sort of scheme was extremely prevalent in the temple along with other schemes. By putting this marketplace in the Gentile court of the temple the Jewish folks abused the temple and went against God's desire for the temple to be a place for all nations to come to him. The Jews were keeping people from worship. Jesus knows this, see this, and does something about it. He comes into the temple knocking tables over, scattering money, not letting people walk out with merchandise in hand, and calling out the injustice and sin of the moneychangers (who are Israelites)! So far, if this passage grants permission for anything it's some type of social justice vigilante action or protest, maybe even almost to the point of rioting (but not quite). Let's keep going.

3. Jesus' wrath (if you want to call it that - as some do) wasn't one that involved violence against persons in this scenario. Jesus never reacts with physical violence against a person. There is debate if there was violence brought against animals or not. Most scholars say there wasn't. More on that in a moment. Nothing in John 2:14-15 (the only one of the three recordings of the instance that mentions a whip) leads the reader to believe Jesus used his McGuyver style whip to harm people. The whip is a herding tool and that is exactly how the reader at the time of it's telling would have assumed Jesus used it. Some scholars argue the turning over of tables was to make a pathway for the herd of animals but I'm not 100% convinced that was the main purpose. This sort of chaos, animals running through the temple, could be described as a small stampede. This sort of stampede would certainly send all the people in the temple (not just the moneychangers) fleeing the area.

Many scholars believe the disciples were aids in this stampede's inception. Perhaps they were helping direct the animals and making sure people didn't leave with merchandise. If the disciples were involved, as they most likely were given the rabbi and disciple relationship, then we would be wise to assume they'd get violent if Jesus got violent. After all, they were imitating him. This would have classified as a violent riot and drastic action would have been taken. But we're not told about this. We'll revisit this in a moment.

But does that mean the whip wasn't used on people? Well, when we look at the text we don't read anything else about the whip. Mention of the whip is omitted from three of the four accounts. This leads us to conclude that the whip really isn't an important aspect of the story for three of the four authors. If Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who dies for his enemies, forgives everyone, who came to save the world, who rebuked Peter for using a sword, and who spoke clearly about how to handle anger is whipping people then it would be a pretty significant detail to include in the telling of this story. Yet it is omitted.

When the whip is not omitted by John there is no indication that Jesus used the whip against people. If Jesus did use the whip on people the author would point it out since the wording of the text and the cultural assumption point to the whip being used for herding out animals. Had Jesus been violently attacking people in the temple then the Roman guards/soldiers who were there (which they always were thanks to the Roman Empire's occupying of the area and their connection with Jewish leaders) then He would have been taken downtown... or just taken down if it were as extreme as whipping lots of people. Yet this does not happen. The conflict does not escalate to this degree. We all know Jesus' arrest happens later. Jesus and his followers do not start a violent riot. If they had, they'd be overpowered by the armed Roman guards.

The Romans don't react. Only the people do. Mark's account goes on to state, "The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching." Apparently not everyone was afraid or even terribly upset. The crowd (the common folk) were amazed. Amazed is typically a positive word. It invokes the internationally known and practiced statements "oooooo" and "aaaaaah." The priests and teachers were pretty irked though and they weren't even present apparently. They only heard about the ordeal! I'm sure some of the moneychangers were a bit upset while being amazed though. Afterall, they lost a decent amount of money and were called robbers. If the people were getting whipped, even by accident, they'd be more than amazed. They'd want to kill Jesus along with the priests and teachers. Especially the moneychangers. But we don't get that reaction from the people for some reason. At the very most this passages grants permission for Christians to knock over furniture, scatter things like money, and herd animals (with herding tools if needed).

4. Similar to the first point, Jesus isn't fighting for the purpose of protecting people as much as he's fighting for God's temple in an attempt to rebuke. I do believe Jesus is fighting for justice on behalf of those being swindled and kept from the temple courts (obvious oppression) but he does it in a particular way. The main issue was that the temple was being abused ad thus people were being abused. This is why he cries out "My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers" in both the account in Matthew and in Mark. Jesus was concerned with the misuse of the temple by the people of God. What was supposed to be sacred and used to bring people closer to God was being used for evil and separating people from God. The place of reconciliation was becoming a place of sin. That's a big deal. I can see how the Messiah would be a little irritated by it and cause a scene.

Jesus attacked tables and money in this protest (if you want to call it that). He made it clear what needed to be done away with (interestingly he herds out the animals from the temple only to later be the final sacrifice for sin... connection? Possibly). The market didn't belong there, the Gentiles did. Jesus is seeking to correct this. He disrupts the injustice and then teaches scripture and truth. People are amazed and those in charge get upset. Jesus' words prove his concern and intentions. His actions promote his teaching. If Jesus was violent towards men and women in the temple then he would contradict various other teachings such as "love your neighbor." So while Jesus is in fact acting on the behalf of the Gentiles as he rebukes the Jewish people here he's not using violence to defend them as though they were being attacked. Jesus doesn't attack the people bringing oppression but the system (which has shades of Ephesians 6 in it).

Final thoughts: At this point it becomes hard to remember why we would be arguing this sets an example for violent defense of human life. There seems to be no way to connect the what Jesus was doing with what we want to do to our enemies. Despite that, let's entertain the idea that this is indeed a permission slip for violent action. If this is a justification for any type of violence then it's clearly not just self-defense or the defense of innocents. As my brother SirNickDon once wrote, "This would be an example of a person being told by God to attack with violence the people who are betraying his religious convictions. It would justify religious terrorism, of all things. I can't see how any middle ground is possible. Either this passage is not an instance of violence, or it is a form of extreme violence that Christians and people of good will everywhere would be right to reject."

Granted, Jesus' religious convictions are more in-tuned to the Father's will than any other person who has ever walked the earth but the example he would be setting is a dangerous one for it would still be a justification for religious terrorism of sorts. I'm not sure any of us are willing to accept that sort of thing. If we are there are plenty of other groups, such as the KKK, who are willing to promote that sort of activity.

Jesus' cleansing of the temple certainly seems to be the most "violent" of Jesus' interactions in the Gospels and strangely it doesn't have anything to do with protecting the innocent or hurting the wicked. Jesus seeks to clean out the temple of evil and injustice. He herds out animals, knocks over tables, messes up the tills of swindlers, and spends some time quoting scripture and teaching. Had Jesus committed violence, attacked people, and implemented what my friend calls "religious terrorism" then we might call this Jesus Dirty-Ups the Temple. Had Jesus whipped people with chords violently then we certainly wouldn't call this a cleansing. It'd be an attack. It'd be proof that Christ didn't walk His talk.

As it stands, Jesus does walk His talk and lives out His Lordship through His cleansing of the temple. At no point does He compromise His love for enemies or love for victims. He displays himself perfectly. He disrupts the evil and injustice around His people. He preaches the Word of God. He teaches. He possibly even points to His coming sacrifice through living metaphor. Jesus doesn't dirty up the place in the least. He cleans it. May we, like Christ, keep our hands clean as we seek to clean the world around us from evil with love, authority, and power.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heaven; Then, Now, and Then


Jonathan Edwards spends a significant amount of time in his piece entitled Heaven, A World of Charity or Lovedescribing the perfection of heaven and the love found in heaven through God, God's connection to Himself in the persons of the trinity, through relationships between human beings, and through the relationships of God towards humans and humans toward God. It is quite clear that Edwards sees no imperfection in heaven and that when heaven arrives, or we arrive at heaven, that love will abound as though it came from an eternal fount. However, at this present time, on earth, it is difficult to picture this reality. We taste this coming reality right now. Edwards illustrates this by writing, "They see and understand so much of this as to know that it is the best good. They do not merely yield that it is so from rational arguments that may be offered for it, and by which they are convinced that it is so, but they know it is so from what little they have tasted of it." We have not known Eden as well as we have known a life east of Eden. Edwards is keenly aware of this even though he does not spend much time directly discussing the matter.

We experience a little bit of heaven right now but we only do so knowing that this love and paradise must exist at bay, in a sense, a while longer and that this world we are currently operating in, even if we are operating in great love and expressing the fruits of the Spirit, is not the full paradise we have been promised to receive by Christ and the prophets. On earth, where there are troubles we can only see so much of the coming paradise. Edwards references the scriptures that teach us about the tension of this life on earth and its disconnection with the eternal bliss of heaven when he writes, "For though the glorious state of the church in its latter age on earth, will be perfect in comparison with its former state, yet its state in heaven is that state of the church to which the expressions of the apostle seem most agreeable, when he says, ''When that which is perfect is come,' and, 'Now we see "through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."'"

The tension is clear to all who have encountered Christ and have called him Lord. Jesus tells us that the kingdom is at hand (Matthew 4:17, Mark 115). He says His kingdom of heaven is existent and that we belong to it right now while we are living on earth (John 18:36). At the same time He tells us that heavenly kingdom is our reality and as a result of that kingdom being present and ourselves being citizens belonging to that kingdom we live according to the customs of that kingdom. Many theologians describe this tension as the "already-but-not-yet kingdom." They refer to this kingdom in this way because it has come to earth but it is not completely present on earth. That is, it does not fill the earth as it later will when God is all in all (Corinthians 15:28). It has been initiated by Christ and continues through the church but it is not yet finalized. Jesus has come and will come again. When He returns the tension will be torn in two just as the curtain was in the temple when Christ first shook the sin-filled world (Matthew 27:51). As it is, the kingdom is like yeast in flower taking over the entire batch slowly or even like a mustard seed which was planted and is slowly growing into a massive shrubbery in which birds will find their God-given home.

Edwards describes this present world as "...this waste and howling wilderness, full of snares, and pitfalls, and poisonous serpents, where no rest could be found!" Truly, we are a fallen people within a world that have been ravaged by sin and is ruled by rebellion (Ephesians 2:1-4). There is little point spending time on this truth since one does not have to believe on Christ to see such a great reality before them. Along with this world full of sin and rebellion, in which lions are still at odds with lambs, we ourselves are imperfect. This is part of the reason the world is imperfect. We have brought terror upon the earth (Genesis 6:11). In our hearts we are still imperfect and unable to express the true and perfect love of God fully. Edwards writes, "There they will have no dulness and unwieldiness, and no corruption of heart to war against divine love, and hinder its expression." When rebellion is void we will only have compliance with God's love. Unless we have full compliance with the deep love of God we will be in rebellion. Even in our actions we are "struggling after holiness" for Edwards writes, "In the heart in this world there are many opposite principles arid influences; and it struggles after greater oneness, and more liberty, and more free exercise, and better fruit."

Not only are our hearts imperfect but even our very physical bodies are not yet suitable for the eternal life that heaven consists of Edwards writes, "...there no earthly body shall clog with its heaviness the heavenly flame." Paul instructs the church that when Jesus returns and we are resurrected with Him physically we will be transformed in the blink of an eye and at that time receive spiritual bodies. He writes, "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (1Corinthians 5:42-44). We can not say if our physical makeup will change much (Edwards seems to believe that they will for some of us) but we can say that these new bodies will be imperishable. Yet even this has already begun in some , perhaps less physical form, as Paul writes, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1Peter 1:23).

Everything is in transition and thus in tension. We see through a glass dimly now but one day our love will be perfect and all shall be clear. Our world, hearts, bodies, and actions are all imperfect in their love now but they shall be perfected as we come into heaven. In Christ we have been blessed with the ability to begin moving westward and upward towards heaven. Therefore, in the words of Jonathan Edwards, "If heaven be such a blessed world, then let it be our chosen country, and the inheritance that we look for and seek. Let us turn our course this way, and press on to its possession. It is not impossible but that this glorious world may be obtained by us. It is offered to us. Though it be so excellent and blessed a country, yet God stands ready to give us an inheritance there, if it be but the country that we desire, and will choose, and diligently seek."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The God of Love


Jonathan Edwards is often known as the pastor who preached the harsh sermon entitled Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God. Sadly it is his claim to theological fame (or infamy). People often view Edwards as nothing but a man obsessed with hell-fire and brimstone damnation talk. Despite this Edwards wrote and preached many wonderful things. I recently read a lecture of his entitled Heaven, A World of Charity or Love. Here is a fun little snippet of the writing.

And this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. And therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens in a clear day, fills the world with light. The apostle tells us that "God is love;" and therefore, seeing he is an infinite being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love. Seeing he is an all sufficient being, it follows that he is a full and overflowing, and inexhaustible fountain of love. And in that he is an unchangeable and eternal being, he is an unchangeable and eternal fountain of love.

There, even in heaven, dwells the God from whom every stream of holy love, yea, every drop that is, or ever was, proceeds. There dwells God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, united as one, in infinitely dear, arid incomprehensible, and mutual, and eternal love. There dwells God the Father, who is the father of mercies, and so the father of love, who so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son to die for it. There dwells Christ, the Lamb of God, the prince of peace and of love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for men. There dwells the great Mediator, through whom all the divine love is expressed toward men, and by whom the fruits of that love have been purchased, and through whom they are communicated, and through whom love is imparted to the hearts of all God's people. There dwells Christ in both his natures, the human and the divine, sitting on the same throne with the Father. And there dwells the Holy Spirit-the Spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as ,it were, flows out, and is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the saints on earth and in heaven. There, in heaven, this infinite fountain of love-this eternal Three in One-is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it, as it flows for ever. There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight; and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love!

I enjoy his use of the term Mediator for the Holy Spirit. The early church often used this word in the same way and it has always seemed a fantastic name/title. I also enjoy the final line of this piece. It reads like a song. "And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight; and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love!" Edwards encouraged me by this writing recently. It is easy to forget the dynamic love of God. It brings to life a song I've recently become familiar with. Here's a video of the song.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Time to Kill


Sounds like a movie doesn't? Well, it is a movie! And guess who stars in it? Yup... Samuel L. Jackson. I'm sure it is utter rubbish of the highest quality. I should see if it is on Netflix. But not only is A Time to Kill a movie with one of the coolest actors of all time in it but it's also a passage of scripture. It's a passage that has been brought before me countless times by folks who don't accept that Christians ought to embrace nonviolence. Many claim that Ecclesiastes 3 teaches "here are times that it is proper to kill, hate and make war." Below is Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 & 8 (the portions of the chapter relevant to the question).

"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
...a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."

Solomon wrote a beautiful piece of poetry when he penned this. People often read Ecclesiastes 3 and take away that Solomon is saying that there is an appropriate time to kill, hate, and make war when he more likely saying that there are times of killing, hate, and war. I use to think it was only the latter but now I believe both are true. However, these verses are not granting people permission to make war or to hate just as they don’t grant permission to be born or die (after all who needs permission for birth or death). A sober reading of this text will show that Solomon is speaking predominantly of the way the world and history is and not what is appropriate action for believers today.

If we say that this passage is an allowance for hate, killing, and war for believers today then we must also say it grants allowance for every activity under heaven (aka on earth). That would be consistent right? Of course it would. Hopefully we would all also agree that not every activity under the sun is permissible for Christians (or ancient Jews). Is Solomon stating that there are acceptable times for all kinds of activities? Yes. Most likely. Is he right? ...Pretty much. Yes. We'll get back to that. We know that there is a difference between what was expected from the Jewish people and what is now expected from Christians. We also know that what God was doing specifically with Israel is different that what he is doing with the Church today. That is to say that God has always been seeking to bring all people to Him through his people but he has used different methods through time. It is my belief that these methods are connected to the amount of revelation God's people had concerning him. Like a child grows to know his or her father so humanity, predominantly Israel, had to grow to learn about her Father in heaven. Through miracles, rescue out of Egypt, Law, deserts, prophets, big fish, kings, weather, judges, and more God revealed more and more of Himself to His people through the Old Testament. Christ is the pinnacle of God's revelation for in Christ we see the very face of God that was cried out for (Psalm 80) as he did and said only what the Father instructed him (John 5:19) and as He is God Himself (John 1:1-5).

Therefore, something that must be considered when reading this poem is that Solomon lived before Christ lived and died and lived again on earth. The resurrection of Jesus is an enormous factor in Christian ethics. We must always look to the cross and victory of Christ Jesus when we seek to apply Old Testament passages to the Christian life. We must look at the scriptures with a cross shaped lens. Solomon couldn't do this. Jesus taught two men how to do this on the road to Emmaus when he revealed to them all the scriptures that pointed to Him (Luke 24:13-35). I know... those dudes were totally lucky. Talk about being in the right place at the right time (historically speaking). Anyway, we must keep in mind that Solomon didn't have the more full revelation of God like we who have come after Christ do. He had more wisdom than anyone else but he didn't have the revelation. That's extremely important in this matter.

All that to say Solomon's words may mean more than what he meant for them too because of Christ. Those dudes on the way to Emmaus would have probably known that. I maintain then that Solomon is primarily communicating that life is full of happenings. There is joy and pain in life. There is good and bad. There is mourning and dancing. Killing and healing. War and peace. Hate and love. Solomon, in his wisdom and creative artistic expression is painting a portrait of the way life is on earth through poetry. That seems to be his intention. He's not writing an essay on ethics. He's not writing doctrine. He's writing poetry. Wise people do that sort of thing. They understand that art is far greater than instruction manuals or position papers. Poetry is often dealing with perspective and observations of the world. This piece is no different. But perhaps in his portrait of the world Solomon was also saying that there is a time of permission for killing and making war. Perhaps that was a view he held. I agree with that. Why wouldn't he hold such a view? He was a Jewish king. Killing kind of came with the territory according to 1Samuel 8. Also, he was pretty good at those things so why would he speak against those sorts of things? And he isn't mistaken. Anyone who has read the Old Testament can attest to the fact that God commanded His people to kill and go to war. To disobey would be wrong. There was, without a doubt, a time for killing and a time for war. However, that time must have an end right? If it has a time to be then it also has a time to not be. That's logical. It's not artistic but it is logical.

Jesus tells us in His Sermon on the Mount that peacemakers are the children of Father God (Matthew 5:9), that if we remain angry and insult brothers we are hell-bound (Matthew 5:24) and that hate ought to be replaced with love (Matthew 5:43-44). Killing, hating, and making war are antithetical to the way of Christ Jesus. There doesn't seem to be any way around that. Even if Solomon were saying there is permission for such things Jesus has rebuked such teachings with His own teachings. Jesus, as being the pinnacle of God's revelation, trumps Solomon. Progression has occurred and Solomon's words are now most true in poetic form. By that I mean that Solomon still shows us the way of life on earth. His words are also now more true in the sense that time has been divided with a very bold line through Christ Jesus' resurrection. There was absolutely a time when God commanded his people to kill and make war and it was right for His people to obey His commands but that was under a more shallow revelation and different methods being used by our Father. Some things change. For instance, Christ informs his followers that the standard of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21) no longer applies but rather enemy love applies. As I've shown in this paragraph Jesus instructs us that we are to be people of peace and of love and of patience. The Gospels do not leave room for the Christian to hate, kill, or war. The time for killing and war seems to have passed. Christ reveals that we who are in His already-not-yet kingdom of heaven are not in the time of killing and war but the time of peace and of love. This is the time of reconciliation (2Corinthians 5:11-21). When Paul tells us this he writes that "the old has gone and the new has come." We live out kingdom ideals on earth since we belong to the kingdom. We live out what it looks like to be a purified, righteous, redeemed creation in the midst of a sinful creation still bent on hate, killing, and war. It's time for change. The old is gone. The new has come. The kingdom belonging to the Prince of Peace has come.

How do we know this is true? The witness of the New Testament. Acts 10:34-43 tells of how Christ came with peace and was killed. It shows conflicting worlds. Jesus believes it is the time for peace and the world around him disagrees (obviously). This passage also portrays Jesus as healing and being brought back from the dead. Jesus is winning in this conflict. His peace and healing is definitely outweighing the killing being done. If people are being healed and raised from the dead and if one of those people being raised from the dead is the Messiah then it is probably true that it is time for healing and peace. I say that because Jesus tells his disciples that he has left his peace to them in John 14:27. What's more, Revelations (the book at the end of the Bible) tells us that the kingdom Jesus said was at hand is going to be fulfilled when He returns and that kingdom is absent of pain. In other words, no hate, no killing, no war. What is present? Peace. Healed creation. Love. This is the same kingdom Jesus says is at hand and it is because this kingdom is at hand that He tells us to "repent." He tells us to change direction. The time has changed. The kingdom has come. Stop hating, killing, and making war. Be lovers, healers, peacemakers! The time is now.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Love Your Enemies... Unless...


It will be quite clear in this article that my focus is primarily on the Christian being obedient to Christ and loving to the enemy. Many folks want to focus on the innocent party involved in the discussion (which is about to be introduced) but I believe it is in our best interest to focus on the victimizers/enemy and Christ. After all, Jesus did not come to focus on those who were well and righteous but sinful and sick (Mark 2:17) and we are those very sick and sinful people and owe it to our fellow sick and sinful siblings to admit that solidarity.

The Issue:

In discussions centered on enemy love, nonviolence, and overcoming evil with good people often bring up the suggestion that we as Christians should hold to those things most of the time but not necessarily all the time. In other words, these commands of Christ to do good to enemies, love them, and forgive unconditionally are not absolutes but mere suggestions or hopeful ideals that he doesn't expect us to really take seriously. This idea usually uses examples such as self-defense or defense of others (and the other is almost always a powerless and innocent party who will be sacrificed without some sort of action that compromises enemy love which, for several reasons, isn't entirely a fair framing for the discussion). It has to be said that defending others is always a noble pursuit. Christians should defend people all the time. They should defend little girls from being shoved into sex slavery, little boys from being abducted and made soldiers by rebel armies, hostages from suffering more than gun point, and wicked men who are about to be bombed. Yes, Christians should defend/love all people and not just the ones who seem the most innocent. We all have blood on our hands. We're all wicked. We're all sinners. We're in the same sinking boat (that we put a hole in) and Christ has come to our shipwreck to rescue us. How can we on the rescue ship (assuming we're on that ship) possibly claim which of the others in the sinking boat should be rescued and which should sink with the ship, let alone claim which ones we ought to wrap in lead ropes? Should we not be concerned with all our brothers and sisters? If we care for one life should we not care for all others?

Let's return to the initial proposal that Jesus offers exceptions to his commands or that there are exceptions to his commands even without his direct say-so. I submit that not only does Jesus not leave room for us to believe that he is making mere suggestions or introducing us to initial tactics to employ that we can move away from should they not achieve the ends we are seeking but that he is commanding us to live a specific way with great consistency and that there are no exceptions to his commands.

So we know the argument right? We should love enemies except when they endanger our lives or the lives of others. That's what we often say. Once someone endangers our life or the life of someone else we are no longer obligated to love, forgive, or do good to them. That's the argument in a nutshell. Granted, the argument always puts emphasis on the motivation. The motivation is to protect or save the person in danger. Which, again, is noble motivation. However, noble as a motivation it may be we must remember that Christ told us "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that... But love your enemies, do good to them... Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:32-36, emphasis mine). Jesus is pretty straight forward about enemy love. He must have anticipated that we would say "Yeah, but what about when..." and thus inserting a preemptive teaching that commands us to do good to those who are intentionally against us. In obeying these commands even to death we model Christ for "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8). Some have translated this to show that while we were against God or enemies of God he died for us. I find it interesting that righteousness is dying for others but not killing for others. Moreover, righteousness is dying for those who are against us (individual and/or communal).

We'll return to this basic idea later on but let us now address the issues that are often the reasons for the exception clause; Preserving the life of self and preserving the lives of others.

Preserving the Life of Self:

I must make it clear that preservation of our own lives is not seen as a big concern in the scriptures or early church witness. If it were a large concern we wouldn't celebrate martyrs as much as we do, we wouldn't be as proud of the disciples as we are, we wouldn't respect Christ for rebuking Peter in the garden, we wouldn't think the apostle Paul as wise or of teacher status when he said things such as "for me to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21) and we would view Peter as sane for encouraging believers to expect and joyfully accept persecution instead of fearing it and various threats. Self-preservation is nowhere near as important as loving others. Peter writes, "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord... For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit" (1Peter 3:13-18). When Christ suffered he brought us to God. When we suffer for others, which is what we do when we choose to die instead of kill, then we bring others closer to God for we force them to see the love of God which was shown to us in Christ on the cross. Self-sacrificing love trumps self-preservation every time. Self-preservation doesn't show Christ to our enemies. Suffering can. On this point many want to argue that Peter is discussing mere religious persecution and thus it doesn't apply to the street mugger, home intruder, and similar enemies. But let us consider that he says "if you should suffer for what is right" that is, if we do what is right and love as we have been taught by Christ and we suffer as a result then we are blessed. We are not told we are blessed if we defend others by harming or destroyingthose who stand against them. You will not find that message in the gospels.

We do not fear the loss of self by the hands of an enemy because we know it showcases the love of God that was first made evident in Christ in his sacrifice but we also do not fear the loss of our own lives because we know this life is not the end. Our earthly lives are hardly a blip in eternity. This life is incredibly important but if we die today we will not be dead forever. Jesus and Paul often refers to people who have died as being "asleep" (John 11:11, 1Corinthians 11:30, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15). There is an age to come in which we will be raised with Christ, have indestructible bodies, and live (1Corinthians 15). That means that this is not the end. At one point St. John even speaks of a second death after we initially die on earth which means there is life after death. What's more is this continued life, this resurrected life, this eternity is better than the life we are experiencing right now. It is referred to by Jesus as "paradise" (Luke 23:43). In this coming life we know that there is "no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain" (Revelation 21:4). Staying alive for as long as possible is not our greatest goal. It's not even a goal above loving others. As shown above, dying and giving up a longer life can be a great tool in loving others and that doesn't make our lives worthless by any means. Instead, it makes our lives very worthwhile. Paul makes it clear that he avoids dying so he may continue spreading the gospel. If we can stay alive, we should do so, but that does not mean we seek to stay alive by killing others. If someone must die, we Christians must choose ourselves over others. It is the way of Christ. Did Jesus not switch places with the murderer Barabbas (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25)? Did Jesus not die for us? In our place? Why should we not be willing to give up ourselves for others? Staying alive is nice but not necessary or always best. Death is defeated in Christ (1Corinthians 15:53-54). Saving our own skin just isn't worth killing someone else.

Finally, self-defense is not a Christian virtue in scripture or the witness of the early church. In 198 A.D. Tertullian wrote, "But even such acts of great love set a stain on us in the eyes of some people. 'Look,' they say, 'how they love each other' (for they hate each other). 'See, how ready they are to die for one another' (for they would sooner kill each other)." In A Plea Regarding Christians Athenagoras wrote, "We cannot bear to see a man or woman put to death, even justly! How then can anyone accuse us of murder... How can we possibly kill anyone when we cannot even look on lest we are polluted with the guilt of murder and sacrilege! How can we possibly kill anyone, we who call those women murderers who take drugs to induce an abortion, we who say they will have to give an account before God one day! We are convinced that with God nothing goes unexamined, and that the body, after serving the irrational urges and lusts of the soul, will have its share in punishment. We have, therefore, every reason to detest even the slightest sin" (emphasis mine). Athenagoras points directly to the coming judgment in which all people will receive according to how they lived. God has justice taken care of. This means that we do not have to worry about evening the playing-field here on earth. We can set aside the philosophy of "a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:24). The disciples wrote down their teachings and called it the Didache (pronounced did-uh-kay). In the Didache they wrote, "You shall not plot evil schemes against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man. You shall admonish people, you shall pray for people, and you shall love them more than your own life. My child, flee from all evil and from everything resembling it. Do not get angry, for anger leads to murder. Do not get into passionate tempers or be quarrelsome or boil with rage, for all these things breed murder" (emphasis mine). Justin "The Martyr" once wrote, "We must then offer no resistance. He never wanted us to imitate the wicked. Rather, he challenged us to lead everyone away from shamefulness and pleasure in evil by patience and kindness. We can in fact show that many who were once among you have been transformed in this way" (emphasis mine). There aren't many quotes concerning self-defense because early Christians didn't typically think of defending self. They were happy and ready to die for others so that they may illuminate Christ's love.

To review: For Christians, self-preservation is not worth pursuing by violent or lethal force against an enemy because 1) It does not showcase the love of Christ whereas suffering does, 2) earthly life is fleeting and physical death is not the ultimate end, and 3) The New Testament and early church witness do not seem to prioritize an individuals self-preservation over an enemy's preservation but flips the two around.

Preserving the Lives of Others:

First, let it be known that Christians ought to defend others (Proverbs 18:5). Passivity is wrong and can not be encouraged. There are many powerful, wily, and effective ways to defend others without resorting to violence or lethal force. One of the greatest tools is prayer and it should always be our first response. It should not be our only response if we are able to act though. It is clearly not unloving towards the victim if we love the enemy. Love is not unloving. Loving one person doesn't necessarily mean neglecting to love another person. However, choosing one person over another complicates things. Perhaps this is why God shows no partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17, Luke 20:21) and why we also shouldn't (Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 16:19, 1Timothy 5:21). We can extend love to both the victim by defending them and to the enemy by loving them at the same time. Love is our ultimate goal as Christians. Sadly, there will be casualties. Love demands risk and as a result there will always be casualties. But we'll get to that later. We can't deny that there are no casualties when we employ unloving, violent, or lethal action against enemies. Again, the goal is not to save skins but to love God and all people.

To lethally defend one person for love's sake is to kill another person and to forsake loving that other person. To preserve one life by lethal force we must choose to forfeit another. This can not be denied. There was a time in Israel's history when the death penalty was ordained but Christ came and turned things around a bit. He told us to toss out some former understandings of God's Law and to embrace love which fulfills the law (Romans 13:10). We have been told that not even God desires to see wicked men perish but to be changed (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11, Luke 6:35, 2Peter 3:9). God has revealed himself through time and Christ is the true fulfillment of God (2Timothy 1:8-12) and we now know the Way of heaven better than those who came before us who did not experience Christ. Humanity has matured and learned more about her Father and can now put childish ways behind her (1Corinthians 13:11-13). Someday, there will be full revelation as God is all in all for all creation (1Corinthians 15:28).

Now, when we are really honest with ourselves it becomes pretty easy to discern good from bad. We typically have an easy time declaring what is classified as loving action and as unloving action. The average sane person would admit that it is not loving to take the life of someone who does not wish to be killed (killing those who want to die is an issue for another time but I'd argue it's, at least, usually not loving). Thus, husbands don't gift their wives with a shotgun blast to the face for their 20th anniversary. It just doesn't make sense. It doesn't fit. A fancy dinner and nice adornments are more appropriate. I mean, how often do people question the loving nature of God based on the deaths found in scripture? Something inside us says "killing isn't loving." If killing weren't an unloving or bad action then it would not need to be countered and thus protecting people from being killed wouldn't be necessary. But it isbad for one person to kill another person. It is unloving to take life. And we know it. Young men may cry "head-shot!" when they play Call of Duty on XBox Live as if to celebrate but if they shot someone in the head on the street they wouldn't expect a parade. For these reasons we must stand against killing and we must defend those in danger. We want to eliminate evil but we can only do it with that which is good. Christ teaches his follower to treat others the way they wish to be treated (Luke 6:31). He teaches his followers to do good in the face of bad. Divine tactics are not tit for tat. The solution to bad behavior is not similar behavior. Perhaps this is part of the reason Jesus commands his followers to pick up their own crosses and count the cost of being kingdom citizens under his lordship. Paul, in Romans, writes that we should not be "overcome by evil." We should not give into it. We must resist it. We must stand against it. We can stand against the evil of other people by loving them and speaking truth and we can stand against our own evil but choosing to love.

Just War Theory must be addressed at this point. Christians often point to this theory to support their claim that Jesus would be okay with lethal or violent defense of others. It seems just. Unfortunately, revenge is not permissible for Christians (Romans 12:19) and preemptive violence and/or lethal force is beyond inexcusable since it is not a reaction to injustice but is itself actual injustice. At no point in His ministry did Jesus give the idea that his followers ought to beat their enemies to the strike. Preemptive violence was never promoted by Christ or His disciples (except maybe Peter but that didn't work out as I showed earlier). Even Augustine, often called the Father of Just War Theory, didn't believe in the violent defense of individuals. Proponents of this theory do not argue that is just to defend individuals with violence or lethal force. That's not the point of the theory. If they didn't have that outlook, why do we? Not even Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who attempted to assassinate Hitler, claimed that such action was permissible for the Christian. Instead, he admitted that his endeavor was sinful. We'll return to him later on.

As stated earlier, Jesus let the murderer Barabbas trade places with Him. We know Jesus could have stopped this from happening. He had the army of heaven at his disposal (Matthew 26:53). We don't know if Barabbas was reformed. Nothing seems to indicate that he was. In fact, the narrative loses power if Barabbas were a reformed prison. Perhaps he later was transformed by Christ's love but odds are in favor of Barabbas still being murderous when he was released. Had Pilate truly not wanted to crucify Christ, which scripture indicates he was uneasy about, then it makes sense for him to put Jesus and Barabbas side to side. Why would the people choose a murderer over this Jesus fellow who has preached love, mercy, and forgiveness? It seemed like a safe bet. He was wrong. Thank God. Jesus faced the possibility of a murderer being unleashed on the public to demonstrate head on. He took that risk. Love demands risk. There will be casualties.

Here's the thing about not doing whatever it takes to annihilate evil: We do not have the power to annihilate evil completely. Men will not purify the world. God will. Yes, loving enemies and doing good to them, no matter what they threaten or do, may mean that they continue sinning and committing wicked acts. It may mean people die but people die every day and we can not be responsible for all those deaths. There will always be casualties. And if we do not want to be responsible for deaths then we should not kill, even if it means not killing those who kill. One can not defend against death by killing. One may keep one, two, three, or more persons from death but they will not eliminate people being killed. By killing someone the tragedy of someone being killed continues to exist and the tragedy that a person killed continues. The cycle obviously is not defeated. So yes, not killing someone who is dangerous may mean evil flourishes but we must remember that life is fleeting, that this life is not the ultimate glory and this first death is not the ultimate tragedy to avoid. Being apart from Christ is the ultimate tragedy. Being of the world and in the kingdom of Satan is the tragedy. Killing is a tragedy.

Many early Christians refused military service and violence of any kind. Origen, an early Christian who many honor, once told a man named Celcus, who was not a Christian but was still around in that early era, that Christians could not be asked to join the military and that instead of using earthly weapons Christians chose to pray as their means of fighting on behalf of others. Celsus responded to this notion by saying, "If everyone were to act the same as you[Christians], the national government would soon be left utterly deserted and without any help, and affairs on earth would soon pass into the hands of the most savage and wretched barbarians." A popular answer even in this late era by Christians and nonChristians alike. The obvious answer to this is of course "perhaps." But Jesus believed "perhaps" was a good enough answer and so we should believe it to be as well. Love demands risk. It's worth the risk. Apparently.

If we are truly concerned with redemption, salvation, reconciliation, transformation and the will of God then we can not possibly remove the wayward men and women from this earth but instead we must do all we can so that they see Christ and are knocked off their ass (or some other animal) by Him like the apostle Paul was on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). If we are truly concerned with Christ then we have no choice but to love the enemy and seek to see them reconciled to God. First and foremost, that means not killing the enemy but introducing them to life, even if it means they may continue in death. Perhaps people will continue to be killed. Perhaps people will find new life. That is not fully in our hands. We can risk with a hand that shows only hearts.

To review: Preserving the life of others is not worth pursuing by violent or lethal force against an enemy because 1) even though it looks loving in one perspective it isn't loving to those in need of the most love, that is, the wicked who are blind to love and evidence it by their action, 2) it is not permissible according to orthodox Christian doctrine through history, 3) Jesus seems okay with letting murders have freedom just as much as he is okay all other sinful people having freedom. In other words, God risks everyone having life. 4) Many influential early church fathers stood directly against the idea that killing is an appropriate way to rid the world of evil and even accepting that evil may flourish if they continued to live as Christ commanded and 5) killing an enemy removes the opportunity for them to find redemption while on earth and hurts the witness of the Christian who forces such a fate upon the enemy.

Back to the Overall Issue:

For every claim I've encountered that introduces the idea that these exceptions to enemy love exist for those following Jesus Christ I've yet to see any scriptural evidence. It'd be nice if we could love neighbors and hate enemies or take and eye for an eye, or even entertain the anger we have towards others but Jesus specifically speaks against both of those lifestyles (Matthew 5:21:26 & 38-48). It would make us feel better (momentarily) if we could do bad to those who are against us, curse those who curse who, or neglect those who insult us but Christ does not grant that permission and instead forbids it. Mercy is what we Christians must always embrace. At no point do Jesus or his apostles give an exception to enemy love. To harm or kill an enemy is to do the exact opposite of loving an enemy. Nothing in the teachings of Christ leads us to believe he meant for his commands on enemy love to be occasional. Some may point to Jesus' command for the disciples to buy swords but if anyone claiming that is evidence that Jesus has given exception to enemy love and self-sacrificing love they should read to the end of the chapter and notice Jesus' harsh rebuke to Peter when he actually seeks to defend Jesus with that very sword. In reaction to this passage Tertullian said, "The Lord, in disarming Peter, subsequently unbelted every soldier". Tertullian has been a prominent voice in church history, like it or not, and at the very least we must admit this rebuke of Peter by Christ sent out some powerful theological ripples in its wake. Jesus meant for us to be consistent in our love and he knew it would cost us dearly. All of us. It costs individually and communally. But there is no fear is such losses even if there is grief.

Christ never says "Love your enemies but if loving them doesn't work then go ahead and do X" because the point isn't doing what works (in the way of preserving life) as much as it is imitating the God of mercy and love who forgives those who do evil while they do evil. This is why Christ prays on the cross "forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Why would we harm those who do not know what they are doing? Should we think those who hurt/kill the "innocent" (are not almost all of our hands stained?) today know any better what they do than those who put Christ to death? Are both not acting in accordance with the kingdom of Satan and proving they belong not to heaven but the world and to sin? If that is the case then our only suitable reaction as citizens of God's kingdom is forgiveness and love. We have bee forgiven and thus we can and must forgive (Colossians 3:13). If we do not forgive we reject forgiveness entirely and do not receive it with Christ and do not have union with him (Matthew 6:15). We can defend and fight for the people in trouble but in doing so we can never neglect the imago dei in the enemy (Genesis 1:27), the love God has for the enemy (John 3:16), or our duty to the enemy. We absolutely can not neglect the Way of Christ in any of our pursuits. Not purposefully. Field trips to hell are not a scheduled part of the Pilgrim's progress towards heaven. Satan games must be dropped on the ground when we pick up our cross.

Even though he later went against his words, with great regret, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes beautifully about the narrow way of Christ in his book The Cost of Discipleship by stating, "To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenseless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at him who goes before, we are already straying from the path. For he is himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and he alone, is our journey's end."

Living with these exception clauses in our theology means not only that we disagree with scripture but that we are unwilling to truly submit to it. If we are adding to scripture because we want to be comfortable and get what we want then we're clearly in a bad place. If we refuse to take Christ as his word (and tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take him at his word) then we also refuse to submit to his authority. That's a big deal since Jesus, as Christ, has all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). If we are denying the authority of Christ we're in a bad place. To deny enemies our love is to deny Christ our love as well(1John 3:10, 4:7-21). To not love is to not know God. If we do not know God we are in a bad place. Well, the worst place. We must stick to the narrow way of Christ. We must stick with God for it is only by Him that we can love, forgive, and do good to those who seek to harm. He who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy - Satan - is vanquished by Christ for He who is in us [Christ] is greater than he who is in the world (1John 4:4). In this we put our trust. We trust Christ's instruction, as dangerous and strange as it may seem, because of his power, authority, victory, revelation, coming judgment and coming fullness of his kingdom. For all these reasons we do not need to add exception clauses to the commands of Jesus Christ but rather we need only to faithfully obey Him by extending unconditional love to all even if it costs us everything. This is the way of Christ Jesus. It is the way of love. It is risky. It is worth it. Either we trust that or we do not. Either we trust Christ or ourselves.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone" (Hebrews 12:14a) by turning from evil and doing good while seeking and pursing peace (Psalm 34:14). Remember that "if you can carry the whole yoke of the Lord you will be perfect; but if you cannot, do what you can" (Didache). May the peace and grace of Christ our Lord be with you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Doing Evil For the Sake of Good


"There will be plenty of time for opting out of evil once we are in heaven." Well, it's not exactly his words but that was the general idea of what this one particular man said. It's a popular idea. The idea is that we, as humans, Christians, live in a sinful world and as a result must, from time to time, commit sinful acts. We all fall short, make mistakes, screw up. That's different. This idea stated by the particular individual is that we must or should commit sinful acts. And why must/should we do things scripture tells us not to do? Why ought we go against Christ from time to time? For the common good. That's the common thought anyhow. There was a movie in recent years titledThe Boondock Saints which is a cult classic. It's abut two Irish Catholic brothers who kill corrupt men (mob type fellas) as a service to God. Their motto is one that provides a slogan for this very idea. They would pray "Destroy that which is evil so that which is good may flourish." It sounds cool. However, cool isn't always right.

At no point in Jesus' ministry is this theory proposed or encouraged. In fact, it is spoken against. The entire law is summed up by "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-40). Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). Love and evil do not mix. God is love. God can not mix with evil. At no point does Jesus say "Love your enemies and do good to them... unless..." The argument that killing a wicked person or doing evil for the sake of good can't be argued scripturally since we're given concrete examples of what it looks like to love others (Luke 6:27-36). Jesus is pretty clear that it is not only those who are good to us that we are to extend love and good deeds towards but those who are against us. And remember, most of the you statements in the New Testament are closer to y'all statements than to an individual use of the word you. These teachings were directed at groups. Together we suffer and live as sacrifices. My friend Jmallory and his wife T_Sheffield are a great example of understanding this. One would not kill for the other and one would not ask the other to kill for them. But killing is only one small example. Let's not get too hung up on it.

Back to the original theory that we'll have time for dismissing evil when we're in heaven but not right now on earth. This idea flies in the face of the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. Jesus is quite clear that the kingdom of God is at hand and that we are to embrace it (Matthew 3:2). Jesus makes it clear that his followers are citizens of his kingdom and act accordingly, as though they did not belong to the world and its ways any longer (John 15:19, 17:14-16, 18:36, 2Corinthians 2:10:2-4). God's people have moved away from evil and into life/goodness/love (Ephesians 2:1-9). Yet there is a tension. Christians belong to the kingdom of God and act as if heaven were already present even though the era of eternity to come has not yet arrived. It's strange. It is as if they have entered God's dimension (aka heaven) while still living on earth. Perhaps this is why Jesus instructs his followers to pray the words "Your kingdom come, your will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). Christians recognize that whatever there is time for in heaven there is a need for on earth. Since Christians make up the Church and the Church is the Body of Christ (1Corinthians 12:27) which continues Jesus' ministry of reconciling all things to God (2Corinthians 5:11-21) then the Christians are the vehicle by which God ushers his kingdom into the world day after day in this current era. This is why Paul demands that Christians "Be imitators of God" (Ephesians 5:1). Paul says we are Christ's ambassadors, "as though God were making his appeal through us." One ancient writer named Aristides put it this way: "And see, because of them [Christians], good flows on in the world!" These words could not be true if the Christians he encountered were doing evil for the sake of good. So when we read in Isaiah that men "will neither harm nor destroy" that means that it is imperative that Christians, right now, neither harm nor destroy. Since evil will not exist in the kingdom of God in the coming age it can not exist in the kingdom of God in this age and thus must always be dismissed for what it is. Evil. That is, not good. Or, not of God.

Throughout the Old Testament there are examples of God's people seeking to do God's will according to their own tactics and it never pans out. Abraham seeks to fulfill God's will for him to be the Father of Israel by committing adultery. After escaping Egypt the Israelites create idols to worship God. In the New Testament some of Jesus' disciples try to keep children from annoying Jesus so he could spread his Good News but they are rebuked. Later, Peter, a close friend and student of Jesus, cuts off the ear of a Roman soldier to defend Jesus and is harshly rebuked for that as well. Time and time again people in scripture go against God's words to fulfill his commands and it never works out. The means do not justify the ends and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So when we ask ourselves if we must face those who do evil with evil or with actions that are not good we have a clear answer from Christ. When we ask if we must uproot the evil from amongst the good he advises "No... because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn." (Matthew 13:26-27). The judgment will come. God is just and all will judged according to how they lived (Revelation 20:12-13). We can trust God to take revenge and deliver his wrath on those who seek it (Romans 12:18). We can love all people, at all times, forgiving them and doing good to them, no matter what they do to us or others (Romans 12:9-21). We can treat everyone the way we desire to be treated because Christ is victorious and the righteous judgment is coming. All shall be well. The world shall be purified at the end of this era of eternity so that the next era of eternity may begin. In that era, there will be no pain. There will be no war. We can live in the peace of Christ with the rest of creation instead of enduring a fallen creation.

The conclusion can not be argued against. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." I'd also suggest we don't try to dress-up evil for our own purposes and give it a different name. A wolf dressed like a lamb is still a wolf. Intentions can not change evil into good. The wrong thing done for the right reason is still wrong. Why would we live any other way? What possible reason does the Christian have to not love enemies and neighbors at all times? What reason is there to not forgive? What reason is there to not do good to, pray for, and bless all people? What reason is there to invest in evil? I submit that there is no reason. At least, no good or scriptural reason. So if you think of heaven/eternal life/the era to come and you can't envision the existence of the deed you are about to commit or are currently endorsing then rethink it. If doesn't belong in heaven then it doesn't not belong on earth.

"Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God" (3John 1:11).

In the Didache (teaching of the disciples) it is written, "...for if you can carry the whole yoke of the Lord you will be perfect; but if you cannot, do what you can." God saves us and moves us along but we do our part as well. Therefore, in as much as we are able, let us "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Owning What We Create


My brother Nick Don reminded me in his latest personal blog of a poet, farmer, theologian, and social justice warrior named Wendell Berry that I admire. In reading some of Berry's work online I came across an excerpt from one of his works that reflected the way I view the work I pen/type. Wendell Berry writes,

I do have an interest in this book, which is for sale. (If you have bought it, dear reader, I thank you. If you have borrowed it, I honor your frugality. If you have stolen it, may it add to your confusion.) Most of the sale price pays the publisher for paper, ink, and other materials, for editorial advice, copyediting, design, advertising (I hope), and marketing. I get between 10 and 15 percent (depending on sales) for arranging the words on the pages.
As I understand it, I am being paid only for my work in arranging the words; my property is that arrangement. The thoughts in this book, on the contrary, are not mine. They came freely to me, and I give them freely away. I have no "intellectual property," and I think that all claimants to such property are thieves.

I too believe that an author has very little ownership over his work just as any artist has very little ownership over her work. This is not a stance that I think ought to necessarily be placed side by side with truth in the mind of any person or enforced upon any person but it is a view that I wish many others would share because I have come to find, thus far, that it is a view that frees a person from a self-constructed prison in which the individual feeds on the crumbs of man's praise and payment instead of God's approval and provision. Not only does such a view benefit the individual who holds the view and who produces the work but it benefits those in the surrounding community who receive the work of the individual.

While the author and/or artist should always be given credit for their wonderful and talent drenched work of manipulating (in a positive way) what God has already given to man - for all one can do is manipulate and not truly create ex nihilo - in a way that educates and inspires the viewer/reader, the author and/or artist must admit that he/she does not "create" any of his/her work for the sake of hiding it in a drawer, under a bowl, or placing it in any location or fashion so that it may be hidden and of no use to anyone. The purpose of literature and various forms of art is to educate and inspire. All artistic work, which I believe all literature should be considered, is grounded in edification.

Therefore, if an artist/author can admit that he or she does not truly create but merely manipulates the sounds, colors, languages, truths, and beauty that surround the daily life of all beings then he/she must also admit that God is far more responsible for his/her work than he/she is (Deuteronomy 2:7, 8:17-18). I believe this is a biblical approach to production no matter the product. Not only can this be admitted but the author/artist must admit that he/se is not owed much for his/her manipulation. Creating communication is worthwhile. Arranging words to communicate a truth that is preexistent is worthwhile also. However, one is far superior to the other. I'm not saying that man's work is not worth strong wages simply because man can not do what God has done but rather that man is dependent on God not only for provisions of all kinds, be it money, food, shelter, or influence/power, but also for the ability to seize those provisions in whatever way he is able. In other words, man must not seek profit that keeps him from being dependent on The God Who Provides (Proverbs 30:8b-9), take ownership for what The God Who Creates has done, or entertain the idea that he is ever right to receive praise for more than what he has done.

All an author/artists can do is manipulate and compile in impressive fashion. This is worthy of both praise and reward but only to a reasonable degree. Berry calls the people who claim :intellectual property" thieves and rightfully so. As Berry points out, God has freely given to man and thus man ought to freely give what he has received. The scriptures that teach about the tithe and year of Jubilee should make this abundantly clear. The way Jesus teaches his followers to give should grind into our minds the truth that everything belongs to God and if he lay hold of it then the best way to worship, give thanks, and honor God is to share whatever we have laid hold of with those around us, especially if they are in need.

Others who may be worthy of the term thieves are the men/women who receive more praise or reward than is owed them for their mortal work. I would agree. Any artists/author who asks for more than what he/she needs is essentially a thief. If he/she is not a thief then at the very least he/she could be considered selfish and a hinderance on the edification of a community, which in turn makes his/her produce ironic. At such a point, the work of such a person changes from a blessing to a curse. Those who turn out curses can not be considered anything less than in cahoots with evil for they now kill, steal, and destroy. However, those who produce edifying works that continue to bless others and do not seek to receive more than they need for their work are a blessing and produce blessings for their communities. As Christ said, "Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit" (Matthew 7:17-18).

There is a great deal more to say on the subject of an artists ownership and reward and perhaps one day I will return to the subject to elaborate but I've run out of energy for now. Let me end by stating that it is the duty of every author/artists to glorify God, edify the people around them with their work. May all artists/authors be careful to bless and not curse by asking and accepting only for they need so they may continue being good trees that produce good fruit.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Need for Mysticism


I dread the idea of a church without mystics. I dread the thought that I could live without embracing mysticism to some degree. I believe that Christians are not living fully if they do not embrace mystery as much as they embrace truth. I'm not trying to say we should arrive at a place in which we say all paths lead to God or anything like that because then we'd be neglecting truth. However, scripture shows a God who interacts with his creation in an immensely intimate and powerful way. To not be open to the mystery of God's power and love in relation to his creation would be foolish. To not delve into experiencing the mysterious God of love and truth in various ways, be it living in caves, mental prayer, leaning into anguish, not wearing shoes, or fasting would be to let our relationship with our bridegroom fizzle out. Married couples have to learn ways to communicate to one another for a successful relationship and they have to keep things spicy between them. I think mysticism is one of the ways to keep our relationship with Christ spicy and in good communication.

Teresa of Avila is a mystic I thoroughly enjoy. Thomas Merton is also a wonderful read. I'm reading several of his works right now.

Who are some of your favorite Christian mystics?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Anima Christi; Hiding in Wounds


During the Catholic Reformation there lived an important man. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) was a soldier who, upon being wounded and hospitalized, converted to Christianity and later founded The Society of Jesus which later was referred to as The Jesuits. As a former soldier he approached Christianity with a military mindset and thus was incredibly militant about discipleship and living out the Christian life. Few men in history have been as fond of and submissive to the church as Ignatius. He had a great heart for obedience, education, and missions. He wrote a beautiful piece of work entitled Anima Christi. Below is that work.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.

Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds, hide me.
Separated from Thee let me never be.

From the malignant enemy, defend me.
At the hour of death, call me.
To come to Thee, bid me,
That I may praise Thee in the company
Of Thy Saints, for all eternity.

Amen.


The most powerful line in this piece to me is "Within Thy wounds, hide me." The picture painted by these words is beautiful. Knowing that Ignatius spent a good chunk of time after his conversion living in a cave (a smart move in my opinion), I can't help but think of a man hiding in the wounds of Christ like he would in a cave. He wraps himself in the holes as if he were the remains of the nails that kept Jesus on those planks. The torn flesh is his blanket of safety and strength. The great proof of weakness and creates strength and victory. In the most beautiful wounds of history a man finds his refuge. Within the cave of Christ's sacrifice no enemy can come against a man. He is hidden. He is safe. He is unable to see anything except his surroundings which are the very evidences of Christ's great love. There is true safety and comfort in those tears of flesh. Strangely, in those wounds is where healing ultimately and eternally is found. Perhaps that is why Ignatius placed such a powerful sentence in the middle of this work. Even the written line is hidden between poetic walls.

I ask myself what it looks like for me to daily allow myself to be hidden in the wounds of Christ. What does it mean to enter into the suffering of Christ and find comfort, purification, and restoration there? What does it look like to be protected by the wounded Messiah? These are questions I must continue asking myself. These are questions I believe we can all ask for ourselves and our communities of faith.

What stands out in Anima Christi to you? How do you hide yourself in the wounds of Christ?