Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Second Coming, only not really related.

This post is going to be more along the lines of wondering out loud, so it might be scattered. Or, depending on one's perspective, more scattered than usual.

It was sparked by a post in another blog, in terms of what Christians should do here and now for social justice, environmentalism and so on. One thing that has always intrigued me about a fanatical approach to the Second Coming. This approach would be summed up in people instigating wars to fulfill a prophecy that has to happen before Jesus comes back, or people very gleeful over the thought of Jesus tossing millions into hell without anyone feeling a sense of compassion. One could say this is an exaggeration, but in a later book in the Left Behind series where Jesus is dividing up the sheep and the goats, such a thing does happen. It involves the human who was helping the anti-Christ, and Jesus orders to angels to drag this man to the lake of fire. The man starts screaming for mercy, and all the 'sheep' that are watching don't have a problem with it. I did, because I started to picture the scene, and then tried to reconcile it with the Jesus from the Gospels. This man knew he was wrong at this point, that he had been on the losing side and was about to be tortured for an eternity.

But I digress. And on a side note, I haven't really read the Left Behind series. I started the first book out of curiosity, but the lack of writing ability alone deterred me. I peeked into the book that detailed Jesus actually here, which was the scene above. It was repulsive, especially if this book is read by children.

And I'm still digressing, and shall circle around my point now. One thing that's always bothered me about an approach where efforts don't matter period is that it tends to excuse a lot. One is no longer held accountable for one's actions, because it doesn't matter. So long as that person feels appropriately bad and asks for forgiveness the right way -- such as the Sinner's Prayer -- one is assured a place in heaven. You can treat the poor with disdain, you can abuse the earth, but if you hold the right beliefs, you're set.

I highly doubt it works that way. Efforts do matter, and it goes along the lines of 'faith with works.' There are people who say that we can trash the environment beyond belief, because when Jesus returns, everything will be new and sinless. The problem is, if someone feels justified in treating the Earth like a giant trash dump, why then would God welcome someone into heaven after that person dies? Regardless of one's view on Earth, it was still created by God (Christian viewpoint, atheists would disagree). It was given for a specific purpose, and with specific commands. Even if the Earth is flawed and fallen now, shouldn't some measure of dominion and respect still be given? If I give a child a simplistic doll that is dented and a little dirty, and the child then proceeds to abuse that doll beyond belief, why would I then proceed to give the child a doll in pristine condition? What has the child done to prove that s/he can handle the pristine doll when the child treated the simple doll with disdain?

Shouldn't the same policy work in terms of heaven? If God has given us life and people and this planet, and we turn around and say, "Nothing I do here matters so long as I have the right beliefs," then do we really get into some sort of paradise? I can't help but feeling those that await the Second Coming with a warlike fervor might be in for a rude awakening. If they're already mistreating what God has given, why is God going to give them something better? This isn't going along a sense of entitlement, in that someone behaved better and thus has 'earned' heaven. But nor can someone go around saying that they'll get into heaven and yet behave in a horrible fashion. It almost seems that those who speak out against environmentalism are behaving in an entitlement fashion, because they won't suffer the consequences. They're 'in.'

I realize that no one is going to behave perfectly 100% here. But there is a difference between closing one's eyes and starting the countdown to heave, and actively trying to live out God's will here and see some of the goodness here -- and screwing up at certain points along the way. Even though Paul states about salvation through grace, it's also very clear that people will be judged based on works. And works are evidence of God's grace working through someone's life.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Absolute Truth

This post doesn't refer to every single person who holds the Bible inerrant and infallible. It's simply written in reaction to the behavior of some who hold that view.

There are a variety of reasons why I don't hold the Bible to be 'without error.' I don't mean that the writers deliberately lied -- at least not as that time-frame would refer to as 'lie.' But they did lack a lot of knowledge in terms of science and just the universe in general.

Anyway, one of the other reasons is because very often, it comes across as though inerrants don't listen to those who aren't Christian: and this pretty much covers ever area. Those in another religion, those who are just spiritual, those who are agnostic/atheists (either were something else and become that or used to be Christian and are now that or those who were just always that), those who don't believe every aspect of conservative Christianity.

A very common reaction to those who aren't Christian is that they're actively rejecting God and blatantly living in sin. And no matter what the response is, the fundamentalist inerrantist )shorted to FI) rejects your answer, for the FI knows you better than you know yourself. Essentially, the FI isn't listening to anything you say, but rather interpreting you through the Bible.

The catch to that answer is twofold: 'actively rejecting God.' One, that assumes that everyone is agreeing on the concept of God. Now, for me, if God is defined Biblically as Spirit, Light, and Love, among other adjectives, then actively rejecting that concept of God becomes incredibly difficult. Most people gravitate towards the light. Many prefer to live a life of love, and if dwelling in love means dwelling in God ... then don't most people dwell in love? A friendship or a marriage or being a parent -- those do require the greatest type of love there is, a self-sacrificial love.

The second 'fold' is blatantly living in sin. Most of what Paul lists as not the fruit of the Spirit are feelings/actions that most people don't enjoy having: adultery, hatred, wrath, strife (probably even idolatry, because part of worshiping something that's unhealthy is the power it holds over you). Now, if living in those feelings while in the moment, one can feel perfectly justified. But for the most part, when someone no longer hates a brother, or lusts after someone/something, there's a tremendous amount of joyful freedom. So even 'blatantly living in sin' really doesn't fly, when I consider most people I come in contact with.

If the rebelling-against-God/blatant sin isn't the response, then the answer is usually that the non-FI doesn't know how to correctly read the Bible, or is eager to look for reasons why to discount the Bible, or trying to force God to work according to someone's terms. But that again gets lumped into the 'not listening' category. For many people, trying to work the Old Testament events around a all-loving, infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful God (or just trying to work it around how Jesus claims God is) doesn't work. Israel had a tribal mindset for much of the Old Testament -- thus, God is portrayed with tribal God behavior. I truly believe that if that type of behavior were shown to belong to an infinite God in *any* other setting, it would be enough to discount the Old Testament as divine/infinite. But it's part of an "inerrant, infallible" text, and so must be true. To a non-FI, or even a non-inerrantist, that comes across as an excuse, and that too many things have to be twisted into reasons why the Bible is inerrant. To a FI, the other person is simply hiding in sin, or unwilling to face sin, or ... something. Which brings us back to the non-listening aspect.

Another reason why I don't hold to inerrancy is that it can be an incredibly dangerous position. In the past, the Bible has been used to justify slavery, acts such as the Inquisition, and holding women to a second-class citizenship. Today, most consider all of those to be immoral acts, and would say that all occurred through a mis-reading of the Bible. That's fine. But all those acts were, in general, committed by people who held the Bible to be without error, and to act otherwise was to go against the word of God. If that was the case even 150 years ago, what is being held today as 'without error' that is actually just as immoral? Even the argument that reading the Bible while humbly asking God to do His will will lead to a moral act doesn't work, because those who supported slavery did believe that they were following God's Will -- and to fight against slavery was to be in rebellion against God.

So ultimately, that is why I don't hold the Bible to be inerrant or infallible. Because if I did, it would strip me of my ability to listen, or to understand why someone does not follow the Bible. It would be much to easy for me to lump anyone who is not like me into a category to be dismissed -- and that's already too easy to do most days. It could also run the risk of stripping my ability to make moral judgements. That can come across as arrogant, yes, but I've seen all the damage inerrency has done, historically. I do believe good can come from the Bible -- I've had good come from the Bible. I know inerrants online who are devout Christians who would never do anything immoral, and do understand why others have problems with Christianity. It just seems that they are on the rare side, too often.

It's simply important to 'test the spirits,' and consider the cultural context in which the Bible was written.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

... Grace did much more abound.

Romans 5:20 could have an interesting spin on it: "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Basically, this is saying that no matter what and how strong sin 'abounds,' grace is there and stronger.

For the concept of hell, that's where all the unrepentant sinners would go (by conservative Christian views). Therefore, hell would also be thriving with sin. But the verse above seems to say that no matter where sin is, grace is also there. Nothing can separate people from the grace of God, so shouldn't God's grace also be located in hell, since there'd be a lot of obvious sin there?

Now Paul also does go on to say that simply because grace is more 'abound' does not mean that people go on gleefully sinning to make grace more prevalent, and that those who are dead to sin should not go on sinning.

However, I see no reason why that doesn't mean that God's grace "stops" at the gates of hell, or isn't in hell. It's never unavailable. Sin can't stop it, no matter what. Grace is stronger, in all locations.