Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge and The God Who Does Not Grow Weary (3)


Prior posts here and here.

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The connection between Isaiah 40 and the narrative of Desmond Doss is a carefully chosen one.  It is not on accident or arbitrary that the movie opens with those words.  The connection is essential, I think, to understanding the story.

So what is the connection?  I’d suggest that in this particular case, we should use Doss’s story to inform how and why Isaiah 40 is being used.  Only then can we say what it is that God “does not grow weary in doing” as was originally asked.

There is little doubt that the verses from Isaiah could be used as a sort of war cry, an enchantment designed to provide comfort that one’s cause is righteous and will prevail in the end through military might.  If you “wait for him”, God will strengthen your arms for war.  Your bullets will fly straighter.  Your bombs will land with greater precision and effect.  And perhaps the aim of the enemy will be just a bit off.  The conquest narratives of the Old Testament provide just the sort of “biblical” backdrop that we’d be looking for as support.

And perhaps we could find a way to squeeze Desmond Doss into that narrative.  We, those observing the movie from our comfortable chairs with popcorn in hand, notice that he’s doing a pretty good job as a medic.  So maybe he doesn’t need a gun to be a medic.  His convictions can, perhaps, exist as an interesting subplot within the war narrative.  Cool.  It’s sort of inspiring.  But that Desmond Doss is nothing more than an oddity.

And while Doss is certainly an “oddity” in one sense, the narrative centers around HIS actions.  We need to look at HIS narrative as THE narrative, regardless of how “odd” it might be.

When does Doss “now grow weary?”  When does he have strength when others do not?

The answer to me is obvious.  It’s when, out of fear, weariness, and death, the battlefield clears of all but Doss.  It is then that his particular narrative sets itself part as the one that reflects “not growing weary”.

And the implication of this is also obvious.

Doss does not “not grow weary” in killing.  Or in vengeance.  No.  He doesn’t grow weary in saving.  Even his enemies, those mindless enemies (here the portrayal as merciless zombies running into bullets is all the more relevant).  He sees something deeper than an enemy.  “Please Lord, help me get one more.”  This is the power given to the faint.

So this is the connection made to Isaiah 40.  These are not verses that can applied to any and all circumstances without respect to an end.  God, the everlasting God, Creator of all things, is one who does not grow weary in saving.  This is God’s “understanding”.  These are God’s “ways”.  This is God’s strength.  And so this is, in the end, what His strength is given for.

Many things about our life in this world would seek to label this as foolishness.  The Hebrew Scriptures, after all, are NOT foreign to violence as retribution and hatred - even divine violence.  That is a separate issue, but a closely connected and important one.  Here I simply ask: Do we possess an imagination that can see this connection between Doss and Isaiah 40?  What gets in the way of this?  Can we find a way to live in which this sort of “weakness” is actually “strength”?

return to 1st post

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge and The God Who Does Not Grow Weary (2)


1st post in the series is here.

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Hacksaw Ridge is a war movie.

In many ways, Hacksaw Ridge is like any other war movie.  Utilizing varying degrees of action and graphic brutality, war movies explore the tension between life and death, the loss of life and innocence, the internal conflict and compromises, the darkest parts of the human heart.  There are two clearly identified sides - the good guys and the bad guys - who are trying to and succeeding in killing one another.  One side - “our” side - is portrayed as faithful, honorable and life revering.  And then there are the Japanese - the “others” - the godless, merciless, cowardly “others”.  More often than not, these guys don’t even try to duck below the cascades of bullets. They just run right into them, indifferent.  Like zombies.  Taking the “demonization of the enemy” quite literally, the enemy is characterized as “Satan himself”, a characterization with which the movie's protagonist agrees.

While the same themes are often repeated in war movies, they each tell their story through a unique and heroic protagonist who possesses a unique perspective and exists in a unique (and usually dire) set of circumstances.

My point is NOT to assess the rightness or wrongness of this characterization or circumstances, but  simply to acknowledge that the movie itself portrays things in this light.  We must see Desmond Doss, the protagonist, within this context.

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Desmond Doss, as is well known, refuses to carry a weapon because he refuses to kill another human being.  He does this because of his Christian faith.  Thou shalt not kill.  Love your enemies.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Doss strives to live by these ideals even in war.

This is a problem.  A big one.  Ideas such as these are just fine, even admirable, when it comes to private piety, of course.  But are such beliefs a luxury that have no place in the “real world”?  At one point or another, this refusal to carry a weapon is a problem for virtually everyone in the movie - him, his father, his fiancee, the courts, his commanding officers, and each man in his combat unit.  All the problems - directly or indirectly - relate back to the fact that successfully waging war depends on people being willing to kill other people because they’ve become convinced that it is righteously necessary to do so.

Necessary.  There’s no church in the wild.

When all is said and done, what sort of a man refuses to pick up a gun and kill Satan himself?

Here I’m not interested in talking about pacifism, just war theory, whether Doss would be dead if his fellow American soldiers who did carry guns hadn’t first killed the Japanese soldiers that wanted to kill him, or any of that.

I’m interested in why the movie starts with a reading from Isaiah 40.

If the idea is just to explore the ethics of war using the Bible, why not read from the 10 commandments?  Why not grab a few words of Jesus about loving your neighbor?  Or that those who live by the sword will die by the sword?

Why Isaiah 40?

So let us ask these questions of Isaiah 40 once again.  Not grow faint or weary doing what?  Renew their strength to do what?  What do these words mean?

continued

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge and The God Who Does Not Grow Weary (1)


The previews end.  The lights dim and the moviegoers settle a bit deeper into their seats.  Hacksaw Ridge begins.

A voice speaks the words of Isaiah 40:28-41

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.
—NRSV

These are soaring words.  But what do they mean?  And how do these words both give meaning to and find their meaning within Hacksaw Ridge?

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The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not grow faint or weary,

He does not grow faint or weary?  What does this mean?  Is this a mere statement of power independent of whatever ends are wrought by this power?  A straight forward (and what many may take to be obvious) affirmation that the God who creates, sustains, and transcends all things is more powerful than human beings and not subject to human limitations?  Or can words such as these only be given proper meaning in terms of God’s character?  In other words, He does not grow faint or weary in doing what?

His understanding is unsearchable.

The same sorts of questions as above.  Is this mere poetic language that the good theologian should convert into the propositional language of divine omniscience?  As in, God knows more facts than human beings?  Actually, what is “understanding”?  In what ways does this understanding reveal itself?  How does this “unsearchable understanding” relate to not growing faint or weary?  How does understanding relate to love and goodness?  Does it?  All the time?  Some of the time?

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

The same sort of questions once again.  What is this power that he gives to the faint?  Power to do what?  What is this strength that he gives?  Strength to do what?

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.

Are we just talking about physical weariness here?  And a renewal of strength for the purpose of whatever the one who is strengthened desires - a sort of force that the worshipper can tap into and control?  Is this an if/then statement - a math equation?  We shall pray before our battle, and the strength to destroy our flesh and blood enemy in our great fury shall be the reward of “waiting for the Lord”?  Who is my enemy?  What does it mean to “wait for the Lord”?  Wait for the Lord to do what?  Yet again, renew their strength to do what?  For the Lord, of course, can only renew “strength” in a way that is consistent with his own “strength”.

They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.

Run and not be weary while doing what?  Walk and not be faint in order to do what?

continued

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Divine Love As Giving (Miroslav Wolf)


So, what do we Christians mean by love? First, let’s consider what we don’t mean. Plato’s Symposium is likely the most influential text about love in the whole of Western literature. In it, Socrates argues that to love is to desire something one does not have and considers to be good. Apply this definition of love to God, as some Muslim theologians do, and you immediately see the difficulty. God lacks nothing that is good, and God has no needs. So God cannot desire anything God doesn’t have. Therefore God cannot love— in Socrates’s sense of the word. Now, Christians agree with Muslims who think this way. All responsible Christian theologians insist that God doesn’t love in this “needy” kind of way; such love wouldn’t be worthy of God. 

Does it follow, however, that God doesn’t love at all? We use the word “love” in another sense— not just to designate desire for what we lack, but commitment to give of what we have and of who we are. This is the main sense in which the Christian tradition speaks of God’s love. “For God so loved . . . that he gave,” reads the famous verse about God’s love quoted earlier. When God loves, God doesn’t long to get something, but undertakes to impart something. God gives when God creates; God gives when God delivers; God gives when God forgives; God gives when God grants eternal life. God gives, and in giving God loves. All of God’s works are done out of generosity, none out of acquisitiveness.

--Mirsoslav Wolf (Allah: A Christian Response, p. 154)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Peace Through Strength" and the Propaganda of the Death Star as an Instrument of "Peace"


Saw Rogue One last night.  I'm not one of these big Star Wars guys who knows facts about the characters and storylines that don't actually appear in the movies.  But in light of recent political events, it got me thinking about the meta-narrative of Star Wars.

It was very striking to me that, amongst the Imperial Army, the Death Star is regularly spoken of as an instrument of "peace".  Whatever "peace" is in the minds of the Imperial Army, a vision which is ultimately formed by the Emperor and the Dark Side of the Force, it is best (and perhaps ultimately achievable only) through military strength.

Where have I heard this sort of thing before?

A strong military will stop wars. Peace through Strength! Let’s Make America Great Again!


In Star Wars, the Imperial perception is that the ultimate power exists with the Death Star.  For them,  it is the truth of the way things are.  It is written into the fabric of the universe.

"This station is now the ultimate power in the universe!  I suggest we use it."
-General Motti

Doesn't "peace through strength" have a certain ring to it?  And a certain sober realism about human nature and the human condition?

"Love won't save you, Padme. Only my new powers can do that!  I won't lose you the way I lost my mother. I am becoming more powerful than any Jedi has ever dreamed of, and I'm doing it for you. To protect you."
-Anakin Skywalker

But make no mistake.  Peace through (military) strength is really just a way to say peace as submission.  Peace through submission to a military will.  Peace through fear.  Which is to say there is no such thing as peace at all, only power.

"Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station."
-Grand Moff Tarkin

"Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy. And... we shall have... peace."
-Chancellor Palpatine

**********
The Sith Code

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

**********

The stories we create have something to tell us.  As we see in the movie, Chancellor Palpatine's "peace" is anything but.  Haven't we tried this already?  It will not work.  And it isn't the "ultimate power in the universe".

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bigger threat to democracy – climate change or nuclear weapons? The answer is yes.


“The biggest risk to the world, to me – I know President Obama thought it was climate change – to me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons.”  
“The power of weaponry today is the single greatest problem that our world has, and it’s not global warming like our president said.  It’s the power of weapons, in particular nuclear.”
So says our president-elect Donald Trump.

I am no expert.  I’ll leave the evidence (which is ample) to the scientists and the policy to the politicians, but let’s just suppose that we DO have a problem with man-made climate change.  Assume for a moment that it IS a real thing.  Assume that the overwhelming scientific consensus is correct.  Set aside the questions of the role of government, the EPA, the actions of the Obama Administration, etc.  Basically, assume that everything that our president-elect has to say about climate change – through his tweets, speeches, policies, cabinet appointments – is wrong.  This may be extremely easy for you.  Or it may be extremely difficult.

Why is climate change such a grave threat according to those who affirm it’s a real thing?

It’s a threat to the environment itself, sure.  We see images of gaunt polar bills.  We hear reports of disappearing ice.  Bird and fish migrations are affected, etc.

Is that the sum total of it?  Environmental issues external to the well-being of human beings?  No.  This isn’t just about animals and trees, but about the biosphere that keeps humanity alive.

If the scientific consensus is true, then the food shortages, droughts, floods, catastrophes and the poverty, social instability, and resource wars that are likely to ensue are not only A means, but THE means by which nuclear war becomes a reality.  

The bottom line is this.  It’s a mistake to pit climate change and nuclear proliferation against one another.  It's not one or the other.  Climate change doesn’t reduce the threat of nuclear holocaust.  It raises it.  The terrible threat of nuclear war isn’t opposed or minimized by climate change.  Rather, climate change is the means by which it could come about. 

Even now, as a species, we have the ability to destroy our world many times over.  Reflecting upon the creation of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer is reported to have quoted the Bhagavid Gita: 
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
May his prophecy sober us even as we act to prove it false.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Fundamental Change in Social Discourse



From "Obama Reckons With A Trump Presidency" By David Remnick (The New Yorker)

“Until recently, religious institutions, academia, and media set out the parameters of acceptable discourse, and it ranged from the unthinkable to the radical to the acceptable to policy,” Simas said. “The continuum has changed. Had Donald Trump said the things he said during the campaign eight years ago—about banning Muslims, about Mexicans, about the disabled, about women—his Republican opponents, faith leaders, academia would have denounced him and there would be no way around those voices. Now, through Facebook and Twitter, you can get around them. There is social permission for this kind of discourse. Plus, through the same social media, you can find people who agree with you, who validate these thoughts and opinions. This creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once thought unthinkable. This is a foundational change.”

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"We Live in a Semantic Universe" - Random Thoughts 11/10/2016


We Christians sometimes talk about “obedience”.  If “obedience” is viewed in the abstract and as independent of or superior to faith, hope and love rather than as their manifestation, then “obedience” is a sham, a millstone tied around your neck, a bringer of death and division.

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“Every prayer is an expression of hope.  If you expect nothing from the future, you cannot pray.  Hope is based on the premise that the other gives only what is good.”  (Nouwen)  For what do we hope?  Or rather, to whom do we hope?  Is the “God” that we see one that calls our hearts and minds to that mode of existence that we call “hope”?

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Be aware of “the immense difference that exists between hope and wishfullness.” (Nouwen)

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The fact that the word “great” appears in “Make America Great Again” does not itself make self-evident what the term means.  Be assured that it doesn’t mean to Donald Trump what it means to you.  To understand what Donald Trump means by “great” we need only look at his words, actions, policies, pursuits, and (perhaps most importantly) who or what is sacrificed in the pursuit of “greatness”.

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To those evangelical and fundamentalist Christians who piously hold forth that God “intervened” to give the presidency to Donald Trump I simply ask “Did God’s intervention on behalf of Trump begin before or after the Republican primary?”  If before, you cannot absolve yourself of the ramifications of your support due to him being “the lesser of two evils” or “having no other choice.”

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When I look into the face
Of my enemy
I see my brother
I see my brother
(“Brother” – The Brilliance)


This prayer of faith is pious nonsense unless that which binds and gives life to humanity is eternal; deeper and stronger than those things that separate.  A true vision of our beginning and our end may yet bring a healing and reconciling word to our present, a word that renders the construct of “the enemy” as illusory.  As vapor.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Is God "Primarily Angry"? (6) - Conclusion (and the answer is "No")



This is the 6th and final post in a series centered around the question of "Is God primarily angry?"

Previous posts are here:
Is God "Primarily Angry" (1)
Is God "Primarily Angry" (2) - Defining Our Terms
Is God "Primarily Angry" (3) - Trinity
Is God "Primarily Angry" (4) - Cross
Is God "Primarily Angry" (5) - Eschatology

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"Is God primarily angry?"

That was the question posed in a sermon several months ago.

Initially, my intent in writing this series of posts was to simply address the fact that people often believe God to be "primarily angry" because the God that they are presented with from a variety of sources and in a variety of ways is, in fact, "primarily angry".  That's all in my prior posts, though, and I don't want to rehash it all here.  But this series turned into a good deal more for me, and for that I'm grateful.

So after a good deal of rambling in these 5 posts over the course of several months, how shall I conclude?

Perhaps I'll return to the beginning.  As I stated in an earlier post, we live in a semantic universe.    What do we mean by the term "primarily angry"?

Does the term "primarily" suggest that God has "parts" and that we're attempting to identify which of these parts is the more fundamental?  Does "primarily" expose a sort of tension that our theology demands within the heart of God?  Are certain traits at war with one another?  A tension between love and justice?  A god whose mercy and righteousness war for the right to be "primary"?

What do we mean by "anger"?  Is divine anger in the interest and for the good of the object of anger (think discipline) or in the interest and for the satisfaction of the offended party aka God (think retribution as an end in and of itself?)  These aren't the same thing after all.  And I think people frequently defend God's anger using the former, but effectively mean the latter.

Now all that said, I absolutely love the way that the question (a loaded question for sure) was posed to the congregation and it inspired me to wrestle with it for myself.  After all, the semantics cannot obscure that the question itself is fairly easy to apprehend at first glance.  It does it's job.  Do I believe deep down that God looks at me with anger or disappointment at my behavior, lack of faith and gratitude?  Is God impossible to please?  Does God love reluctantly and through gritted teeth?  Do I use the word "love" but actually mean something else?  Something more sinister?  Something that isn't consistent with "love" at all?

The way that the question was phrased reveals our propensity to perceive a sort of tension within the heart of God - justice vs. mercy, love vs. holiness, etc.  And we need to get on God's good side.  Where does this come from?  And why does it so stubbornly persist?  Is it true?

There is a lot that I might have said but didn't.  I didn't mention Biblical violence (Old Testament genocide) at all.  I didn't mention personal experience at all - that sense that "God is out to get me" after going through a rough stretch of loss and pain.  This is completely legitimate and I have great sympathy for it.  I suppose that I chose not to address it here because there are many people who believe in an angry God even if things are going well.

I've argued that, in our time and place, common theological understandings of eschatology and atonement reinforce and even require a "primarily angry God".  Our anxiety that God is primarily angry comes from them and not in spite of them.  This isn't isolated to the theologically minded.  I think all Christians, right or wrong, have a basic idea of "why Jesus had to die" even if it isn't wrapped up in fancy language.  And these things may work deep below the surface in the heart and mind of the individual and be so integrated within the ethos of a faith community as to go virtually unnoticed, but I believe such things whisper to us.  They shape how we formulate our conceptions of the nature of divine love, anger, forgiveness, and our own worth.

One sees a "primarily angry God" emerge because they do believe what they're told, not because they don't.  Returning to my post on eschatology, for example, how could a person be told that "Revelation is the worst book ever written if you're not on God's side" and not consider if God might be primarily angry.

So what matters to me, in the end, is not whether we assert that "God is not primarily angry".  It's whether the underlying theology supports such an assertion.  And I don't mean "theology" in an look-at-me-I'm-a-smarty-pants-theologian way, but in the practical truth that everyone thinks about God, whether they do it with fancy language or not.  Whether God is "primarily angry" is bound up with the answers to many other questions - of that I am sure - and the relevant questions matter to us regular people.

I am thoroughly convinced that an "angry God" is the natural result of (some of) our theology, and so we must either (1)discard that theology that causes it or (2)discard the notion of a God who is not "primarily angry".  I suppose that sentence is the summary of everything that I was hoping to say in this series.

We must defy the temptation to avoid the cognitive dissonance that this creates.  I hate cognitive dissonance.  I really do.  But the place of seeking and wrestling with these questions is the place where the soul reaches for God, and so I'm less and less afraid to wrestle even though it's lonely and it hurts.  The journey of faith requires it, even if the wrestling leaves me limping like Jacob.

I conclude with a quote from Thomas Merton:

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

Let us hope and believe that God is eternally good and loving and greater than all our thoughts about Him.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

On Existential Efficiency


Don't use tough love when gentle love will do.
Don't use wrath when kindness will do.
Don't make enemies when friends will do.
Don't berate when encouragement will do.
Don't take when giving will do.
Don't buy more when what you have will do.
Don't speak when silence will do.
Don't move quickly when slow will do.
Don't hold grudges when forgiving will do.
Don't use three words when two will do.
Don't curse when a blessing will do.
Don't imprison when freedom will do.
Don't detach when the moment will do.
Don't run away when your presence will do.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Is God "Primarily Angry"? (5) - Eschatology


This is the 5th in a series of posts centered around the question of "Is God primarily angry?".

The 4 previous posts are here:
Is God "Primarily Angry" (1)
Is God "Primarily Angry" (2) - Defining Our Terms
Is God "Primarily Angry" (3) - Trinity
Is God "Primarily Angry" (4) - Cross

**********

Throughout this series of posts, I've argued that those of us who do struggle with the idea of an angry God do so largely because of what we're told about God, not in spite of what we're told.

Some might think that the above distinction is just a matter of semantics....told vs. not told.  What we are told, after all, is necessarily an absence of something else being told.  I hope that this post will help to clarify what I mean.

This post (the 5th in a "series" that has been dragging on for far too long) is about eschatology, or the completion, purpose, and end of things.  It's a wide ranging and controversial topic.  I've been trying to to find a way to take a ton of thoughts and condense it into a post of reasonable length but just haven't been able to do it.

But suffice it to say, like the cross (atonement theology), eschatology is often ground zero for "angry God theology".  It's the fertile soil, maybe THE MOST fertile soil in which it grows and flourishes.  And I'd simply like to demonstrate an example of that in this post.

First though, one must recognize that eschatological thinking can't be dismissed outright as an irrelevant endeavor whose most zealous participants are a weird and freaky circus of dispensationalist hermits mining sacred texts for a road map of the future.  That is not eschatology.

Where is creation going?  What is the destiny of creation?  When the veil is pulled back, what do we see?  To the degree that we dare speak of the unknowable, what do we say?

These are eschatological questions.

As David Bentley Hart says,
"In the end of all things is their beginning, and only from the perspective of the end can one know what they are, why they have been made, and who the God is who has called them forth from nothingness."
Who is this God who creates, who brings forth something from nothing?  Eschatology is inseparable from this question, and this question transcends time.  To put it simply, eschatology matters for the now.  It creates a vision of the sort of world that is possible, the sort of world that lasts and triumphs because it's in harmony with the life of the One who created it.

**********

The Biblical book of Revelation is often one of THE primary sources for this eschatological conversation.  And so we come to it - the content of a recent sermon at Lifespring:
"I want to demystify something right now.  The book of Revelation is not some weird thing that you should stay away from.  It is a book of victory.  It is the summation of all of the rest of the Bible.  It is the stamp that closes it and says "this is done".  It is done."
Pause here.

Importantly, this says nothing about HOW to interpret the book of Revelation.  That is NOT the point here.  But note the build up and significance being created.  It is a "book of victory".  So what is the nature of this victory?  It is the "summation of all of the rest of the Bible" and "the stamp that closes it".  So how does it end??

And so the sermon continues.
"It is done.  It's a book of victory.....unless.....you know......well, put it this way.  It's either a book of victory if you're on God's side or it's the worst book ever written if you're not."
In the audio version of the sermon you can actually here the "chuckle chuckle" of the congregation.  Perhaps it's an uncomfortable chuckle.  Perhaps not.  In any case, it's a knowing chuckle.  A chuckle of familiarity.

The exact details may differ, but we all know what's being said here, right?

"The worst book ever written".  That is presented as "the summation of all of the rest of the Bible" and "the stamp that closes it".  Never mind that we recently sang "Mercy, mercy, as endless as the sea".  We didn't mean it.

And so concludes the tragic and dualistic story of creation, the end to which we are inevitably hurdling.  That is the revelation of the God who has called us forth from nothingness.

Think this doesn't have an impact on how a person sees God?  Sees themselves?  It might create an evangelical "urgency", sure.  But an urgency derived from what?

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to pick on my church.  I just want to note the depth to which an angry God permeates our thinking and is intertwined with a great many things that we say about God.

Can we really have this sort of an eschatological vision and say with a straight face that God isn't "primarily angry"?  

No, ultimately this vision requires an angry God.

Continue to part 5 - Conclusion

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Mystical World of George MacDonald (Parts 7 - 8)


The following videos are part of a 51 minute documentary entitled The Mystical World of George MacDonald.  The documentary is on YouTube as 8 separate videos.  Parts 7 & 8 (the final 2 parts) are below.

Parts 1 & 2 are here.
Parts 3 & 4 are here.
Parts 5 & 6 are here.

Part 7



Part 8



Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Mystical World of George MacDonald (Parts 5 - 6)

The following videos are part of a 51 minute documentary entitled The Mystical World of George MacDonald.  The documentary is on YouTube as 8 separate videos.  Parts 5 & 6 are below.

Parts 1 & 2 are here.
Parts 3 & 4 are here.


Part 5



Part 6



Saturday, July 30, 2016

Is God "Primarily Angry"? (4) - Cross


This is the 4th in a series posts centered around the question of "Is God primarily angry?".

The 3 previous posts are here:
Is God "Primarily Angry" (1)
Is God "Primarily Angry" (2) - Defining Our Terms
Is God "Primarily Angry" (3) - Trinity

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I believe that God’s disposition towards humanity is revealed in Jesus' cross (though the cross can't be viewed independently of incarnation and resurrection).  It's ground zero.  Start here.  Many Christians would confess as much, yet what is actually intended and communicated by the assertion to "start here" isn't without ambiguity.  

“To know if God loves us we must look to the cross.”  But what do we see?  When we hear that “God did not spare His Son but gave Him up for us all”, what exactly do we hear?

Many modern Christians have been indoctrinated into a way of thinking about God in which He IS primarily angry.  This includes me.  I've had to come to terms with that, rather reluctantly at first but then quite relentlessly and unapologetically.  

Despite assertions to the contrary (assertions which, at times, seem to me to be quite empty) the way that the cross is understood often subconsciously (or quite consciously) displays a God who IS angry, who’s default position towards humanity is anger that is purely retributive.  Rather than holding on to a “primarily angry” God in spite of the cross, we hold to an angry God precisely because of the cross, because the way that the cross is theologically interpreted actually requires an angry God.  It makes little sense without one.

Now I realize that the (large) majority of people probably don’t think they even have an atonement theology, and/or that excessive talk of it is irrelevant and impractical gobbledygook.  But that's not true.  Everybody has some sort of "atonement theology", and I catch hints of it regularly. 

“Jesus died for your sins.”


Ok, what does that mean?  It’s not actually as unambiguous as it might sound at first, though the ambiguity might be well hidden due to deeply embedded and largely unchallenged ways of hearing it.  And that deeply embedded view (within western theology) is usually clarified like this:

“He died to pay the price for your sins.”



Again, not as unambiguous as it might sound at first.  What is the “payment”?  And to whom is it “paid”?  What does it mean to say that "It's finished?"  How does it all work?  Is it just "magic?"  I think the answers to these questions are so prevalent and assumed within popular theology, contemporary music, etc. as to be basically invisible and largely unquestioned.



When working it all out, the whole thing is conceived as a sort of economic transaction that goes something like this ("quotations" intended to call attention to our presuppositions):

God has rules.  Humanity as a whole and each of us individually broke and continue to break these rules.  This creates a “debt” with a God who is holy and all-knowing and thus keeps track of every single breaking-of-the-rules, every single failure, every single careless word, every failure to live up to goodness.  This rule breaking makes God infinitely angry.  It brings humanity under the condemnation of God's judgment and it forces God’s hand.  He’s bound by the law and by “justice” to exact retribution because retributive punishment, in the end, is what it means to “take sin seriously”.  God cannot "just forgive."  

Now, the verse “the wages of sin is death” means that because of sin, humanity is under the active judgment of God.  Judgment is not a mere "natural consequence" - it is an active and retributive wrath.  These are God’s rules being broken, so the “debt” that is created is infinitely higher than a human being can “pay”. The cross, then, is Jesus somehow transactionally and metaphysically "paying the price" by “becoming sin” and being punished in our place.  Jesus becomes a substitute, and God, "in his mercy", turns away from, forsakes ("why have you forsaken me"), tortures and kills Jesus rather than humanity.  

So God kills Jesus, thus fulfilling both divine justice and His own wrath.  God is now "satisfied".  His wrath has been appeased.  He is propitiated.  Justice has been done in the form of Jesus "paying the price".  The "payment" of the atonement is then "credited as righteousness" to the believer through faith via a transactional exchange.  Instead of seeing dirty old me, God's sees Christ's "righteousness."  IF you "have faith", and what "faith" entails varies.



That then is the meaning of "pierced for our transgressions".  Pierced BY GOD.  He "suffered the retributive wrath of God in our place".  The death of Jesus, thus understood, is a “payment” for sin - the suffering, death, and blood being the “currency” which effectuates the possibility of divine forgiveness..... if we "accept the payment."  And the suffering itself is an important part of the “payment terms” (lest the suffering of the cross be unnecessary gratuitous violence independent of the “payment” of death).  




This represents a distinct way of viewing the Christian narrative and the plight of humanity and a particular way of viewing the cross, one that is supported by a number of pillars (allegedly).  We might point to the OT sacrificial system which is viewed as a systematic way to appease God, a system that (so it goes) was pretty much right on in that God needed to be appeased, but that a sacrifice sufficient to appease God on our own just hadn't been made available.  We might point to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.  We might point to the blood, wrath, and retribution in the Old Testament.  We point to any number of isolated verses that speak of “sacrifice”.  We might point to a handful of verses in the New Testament - "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins", etc.  Perhaps more than anything, we simply trust the principle of retributive punishment that rules our world.


Note this tweet by John Piper:



The heart of the gospel is that God took the initiative in Christ to satisfy his holy anger, and make himself our Treasure not our Terror.

That says it all. 

For another helpful visual of this particular view of atonement theology, see this chart.

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A few qualifications or clarifications might be needed here or there, but this represents the dominant narrative of the cross in the mind of many people, is in many a church "statement of faith", in books, etc.  This is not a caricature.  I'm not portraying something that nobody actually believes.  LOTS of people in the pews of the church that I attend understand it this way.  It's all rather logical after all.  It fits our pre-existing understanding of retributive justice, I guess.

To return to the original question of if God is "primarily" angry, is it really believable that anger/wrath is not a primary ingredient here?  

No.  This widely accepted view of the cross simply doesn't make sense without anger....primary anger.  It's predicated on anger.  The entire thing is conceived of as a forensic solution to a forensic problem, a way to escape the wrath of an all knowing despot who had to kill and torture his own Son in order to gain the necessary capital to forgive.

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In my own life, the wrestling with a vengeful and retributive God has led me to the cross.  The cross is either the end of this angry, retributive God, or the ultimate and eternal affirmation of this God.  It is HARD to think through these things.  It can be scary.  It might feel like "losing your faith."  It's been all of these things for me.  

But there are many out there who have helped me.

Many are familiar with CS Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Well, God is not the witch.

We intentionally ask the question of "Who Killed Jesus?" and "How Does Dying For Our Sins Work?"  We look to "The Crucified God".  Only if we ditch the retributive and forensic models of the cross entirely (not even grant them status as "one facet") can we can assert that "God Is Not a Monster" and that "Jesus Died for Us...Not for God".

If you dare to, witness the vitriol in some of the comments of these posts.  Note the accusations of “making a God in your own image.”  Again, these simply point out the degree to which an angry God is vigorously defended and even needed for the cross - and therefore the entirety of the Christian narrative - to make sense.

Bottom line, I don’t think there is much possibility of truly believing, unequivocally, that God is love and light without a robust, well understood, and liturgically practiced way of understanding the cross that eliminates “appeasement” and the literal nature of “payment” all together.  We can't simply say that "the cross displays love" but still retain that forensic "God-punished-Jesus-so-that-he-could-forgive me" thing.  There is no actual "forgiveness" in this transaction after all.  There is only payment.  What sense does it make to speak of "forgiving" a debt that has been paid?

Simply calling a thing beautiful (the cross) doesn't make it so.
"Oh, yes.  They say so.  And then they tell you something good about him that isn't good, and go on calling him good all the same.  But calling anybody good doesn't make him good, you know."
---Robert Falconer (by George MacDonald)
I speak from experience here.  This is hard for me, and is very much an ongoing process.  The groundwork for the above "penal substitutionary atonement" model was laid early and deep.  It is not dug up easily.

In the end though, it's necessary to either (1) prayerfully challenge and deconstruct ALL that implies that the cross is a payment that appeases an angry God and then reconstruct deeply understood ways of thinking about the cross non-punitively, or (2) concede that God IS "primarily angry" and stop pretending otherwise.  


Continue to part 5 - Eschatology

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Mystical World of George MacDonald (Parts 3 - 4)


The following videos are part of a 51 minute documentary entitled The Mystical World of George MacDonald.  The documentary is on YouTube as 8 separate videos.  Parts 3 & 4 are below.

Parts 1 & 2 are here.

Part 3




Part 4

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Mystical World of George MacDonald (Parts 1 - 2)


The following videos are part of a 51 minute documentary entitled "The Mystical World of George MacDonald".  The entire documentary is available on YouTube as 8 separate videos.  Parts 1 & 2 are below.

Part 1


Part 2



Friday, June 10, 2016

Is God "Primarily Angry"? (3) - Trinity


Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
-- as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.  Alleluia.

If we were to pray the daily office on any given day, we might notice that the prayer both begins and ends with the above words.  They're interspersed throughout it's middle sections too, as a matter of fact.  This is important.  Fundamental.  Axiomatic.

Christianity confesses that God is Trinity - Father, Son, Spirit.  The transcendent Truth of all that is.... encapsulated by the image of Pericherosis - a Trinitarian dance of shared love and peace, a relational union not contingent on anything else in order to be complete.  God is complete within Himself.  So the answer to the question of  "why is there something rather than nothing?" – whatever that answer might be - has nothing to do with a fundamental lack within God.  God's "dwelling place" isn't a dark, dreary, lonely eternal realm that become a bit more cheery and lively after God made puppies.


Truth be told, I don't get this.  I have tons of questions, and I'm instantly skeptical of anyone who doesn't.  These words and images are but a shadow of something that is infinitely beyond words, but try to picture it.  A bearded and white-haired Father, a long-haired Caucasian Son with sandals and a robe, and a wispy Spirit holding hands and moving slowly in a circle.  Or perhaps you possess an imaginative mind that permits you to work from a less silly and anthropomorphic starting point.  Go with it.

Recall the two ways that I wrote about the concept of God being "primarily angry" in the last post - either for the benefit of the "other" (discipline), or for the benefit and satisfaction of the angered party (retribution as an end in and of itself).  Are either of these present in the scene that you envision?

Do we imagine that divine "anger" is a disposition or an "emotion" that is present within this transcendent Trinitarian dance?  Is it perhaps present but not "primary", whatever that might mean?  Does Jesus possess a little bit of an edge, or a problem with the Father's authority and His arbitrary rules?  Is there a slight hint of competition, insecurity, and self-preservation?  Is there anger and hostility within the trinity?

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
-- as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.  Alleluia.

I don't know how the answer could be anything other than "no".  But we'll come back to that.  Some people disagree.  Like this guy.

Ok.  But perhaps a desire to display wrath is present in the essence of God and thus is present in an unrealized sense?  A repressed rage that lacks an outlet perhaps.  A "justice" and infinite power anxious to be made manifest but only able to take form upon a sort of imperfect "vessel of wrath", a thing that doesn’t yet exist?  Is there a greater glory to be attained in displaying retribution, but no means to display it without an "other" to punish?  We like to indulge our anger sometimes after all don't we!  Especially when we're right.  And God is always right, right?!  So why not?  Is the music of conflict needed to complete this trinitarian dance by way of contrast?  

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
-- as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.  Alleluia.

Suppose we answer "no" to that too.  So there isn't a hint of wrath inherent within this trinitarian dance, nor is there some sort of desired but "repressed" wrath that "exists" but lacks a suitable outlet.

Hmmm.  What now?

"Let there be light."  Suddenly, there is space-time.  14,000,000,000 years ago.  Or 10,000 years ago.  Either way.  Whereas there was once “nothing”, there is suddenly a “something”.  Suddenly there is an "other" - that which is not God - and this "other" might rebel, disobey, break the rules, break relationship, deny it's intrinsic nature or however else you might like to say it.

How about now?  Is God angry?  In other words, does creation introduce something within the nature of God that wasn't previously there?  A zealousness to enforce the rules and smite someone perhaps, even though they haven't been broken yet?  A God who is just waiting....waiting for someone to screw up.

Ancient religion was quite comfortable with divine wrath and warring gods.  Many creation stories (like Enuma Elish) are filled with violence and wrath.  In these creation stories some sort of divine conflict is, in fact, THE means of the creation of the world.  Such violence and anger is part of the essence of God (or the gods).  Is that what we have here?

Nevertheless, still no anger?  Why should there be?  The mere existence of an "other" doesn't necessitate anger if that anger isn't eternally present within the essence of this trinitarian dance.  Right?  

But perhaps we now have a way to conceive of wrath as possibility?  

So move forward to the garden of Eden (which means "delight").  I'm quite aware of the difficulties of a "plain reading" of the Genesis narrative, but let us simply take the basics for what they are.  God plants a tree in the middle of a garden and tells the man and women not to eat it's fruit.  But they both eat it.  The "fall" ensues (though any reference to this as a "fall" itself isn't found in the Bible).

Now we have it!  There are rules.  We broke them.  God gets angry, and that anger is perfectly justified.  In the divine court of law, such anger is "legal".  What's so complicated about that?  That's how authorities behave.  Judges judge.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
-- as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.  Alleluia.

NOW is God angry?  God the angry judge.

Before answering, a few questions worth pondering.

Have human beings, through their sinfulness, managed to change God?  To change His disposition towards that which He has created?  Does human sin introduce something within the nature of God that did not previously exist?  Does it introduce some hostile and vengeful character trait that had previously been unactualized, which God is actually undesirous of?  

"I mean, look at those humans down there.  Sinners.  They’ve ruined everything.  I'm so......angry.  So violated.  I can't believe this happened.  What am I supposed to do now?"

Is that the deep truth?  That if we're good God will reward us and if we're not God will punish us?  Isn't that what "the Bible teaches!?"

Did we create a wrath problem with God for ouselves?  Did we create a wrath problem for God with Godself?  The sort of internal anger issues that a human being might struggle with?    

Observe that underlying the format of these last few scenarios - the language of God being angry now or being angry yet - lies a presupposition that God moves linearly through time and changes much like a person - without anger one moment, and then with anger the next.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
-- as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.  Alleluia.

I have to say, I think the idea that we change God is wrong.  And I say that knowing full well humanity's undeniable history of evil, violence, greed, and suffering.  But I don't care how extreme or graphic we make the language of evil.  Whatever it's nature, it isn't original.  It doesn't add to or subtract from that primordial trinitarian dance in the least.

So what now?  Is God not "angry" at all then?  What do we do about all the Bible passages in which God is angry....in which God becomes angry?  Or did we go wrong somewhere in this post?  Either God changes, of there is, was, and always will be anger within that trinitarian dance.  What other choices do we have?

I see two possible answers.

The first is to assert that anger WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE present within this trinitarian dance in the form of "holiness".  Yep, I played the "holiness" card.  We make holiness synonymous with anger, synonymous with justice, synonymous with retribution.  While I understand what's being said here (should a "holy" God be indifferent towards child molestation?), I think it's dangerous and ultimately heretical to frame holiness as virtually synonymous with anger and retribution, or to make sin the occasion by which a holy God deems His own anger and retribution to be sort of forensically justified (as in those vile humans broke the rules, now God can justifiably punish and nobody can say He's wrong for doing so).

No.  Jesus is holy.  That's holiness.  "Justice" is more than that (see "Justice" by George MacDonald).

But that "holiness as divine right to slaughter" is a perversion of the word and leads to this sort of thing from the Westminster Confession:

The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His Sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice(Chap. III-Art. VI and VII)

"Wrath for the praise of his glorious justice."  Yikes.

The second, in keeping with the immutable unchanging nature of the Trinitarian God, is to frame wrath as the love of God wrongly received.  In other words, it's not God who changes in his disposition towards wayward, selfish, and lost humanity, but the inevitable ontological experience of goodness bumping into evil.  It is darkness fleeing from the light.

If God is always for humanity, even in the midst of opposition, then what we call anger is restorative and for our benefit.  Always.  And this is good news.  Always.  This is the God who makes "all things new".  It's the "refiners fire".  It's "kolasis", going back to my last post.

If God is not for humanity, if God glorifies himself in punishment as an end in and of itself in order to display justice and holiness (or for whatever reason), then that is another thing.  It fulfills something that simply could not be fulfilled in the Trinity itself - opposition.

Either way, we must decide.  And we must decide with the Triune nature of God at the forefront of our hearts, minds, and prayers.

Is anger "kolasis" (inflicted in the interest of the sufferer) or "timoria" for the satisfaction and/or appeasement of the angered party?  In my experience, despite the lip-service paid to "kolasis", within our atonement theology and in our eschatology (my next two posts), we generally put forth that the default position of the Triune God is one in which wrath is primarily "timoria" - retribution, not discipline.

In the end, in light of the Triune God, I must believe that all God's actions are ultimately restorative because the only "end" for created things is defined by this Trinitarian dance.  "I am the alpha and the omega" says Christ.  All things.  Eternally.  Because the trinitarian dance of love and mercy is deeper than anything else, even deeper than our lostness and our will to destroy ourselves.  God is the father of the lost son, the one who finds the lost sheep and the lost son.  While it's virtually always portrayed in the exact opposite terms, I believe that is what makes God's ways higher than our ways.

Or do I?  Do I really?  I'm not so sure.  I'm filled with doubts.  Why is it hard so hard to believe this?  Because SO MUCH that I hear testifies to the exact opposite.  Because some would scream "heretic!" at my words here.  And because of the common portrayals of the cross, the subject of my next post.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
-- as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.  Alleluia.


Continue to part 4 - Cross


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