Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thank you, God, for making me better ...

... than 50% of the people out there. Then again, I suppose that would make God a respecter of persons. O:-)

And here was another parable that he told. It was aimed at those who were sure of their goodness and looked down on everyone else. 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood up and prayed thus: "I thank thee, O God, that I am not like the rest of men, greedy, dishonest, adulterous: or, for that matter, like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all that I get." But the other kept his distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat upon his breast, saying, "O God, have mercy on me, sinner that I am." It was this man, I tell you, and not the other, who went home acquitted of his sins. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18: 9-14.

I've been ruminating upon this passage, in connection with my opening sentence. So far in my life, there are instances where I'm thankful that I'm not like other people. That I'm not as arrogant, or that I'm more compassionate, or that I don't judge the way someone else does.

I do think that there are people I'm "better" than, in terms of good behavior. I don't think this in regards to every single good behavior out there. There are some behaviors that I'm horrible at, that other people are better at that I am. That's true of everything. I'm good at math: not everyone is. Other people are good at astrophysics. I can pretty much point out Orion's belt, the Dippers and possibly Cassiopeia.

But I'm not sure I can say the behavior goes against this parable, for a couple reasons. I think the crux of this is a matter of pride: it was aimed at those whose surety in their goodness caused them to look down on everyone else. It was as though they were saying, "Well, at least I'm not as bad as that person," and then went on with their lives, still self-focused.

We can see that in the parable itself. Three qualities are listed: greed, dishonesty and adultery. He doesn't thank God that he gives thousands of dollars to the poor, or feed the poor, or that he pursues justice. He is honest, he doesn't hoard things (whatever that means) and he doesn't cheat in marriage. But he doesn't go out of his way to love his neighbor as himself. Although he may have the "love self" very much under control.

He also points out two good things he does -- fasts, and tithes on whatever he receives. Those actions seem rather easy, as well. He fasts, which is self-focused. He denies himself food, but he doesn't say why. Is it for appearance, or does he honestly feel that it brings him closer to God? He also tithes. However, I'm not sure how tithing works back then. Does that just mean it was money paid to the temple, and the temple decided where the money went? Because that seems like an easy way to donate.

I just have an image of a very satisfied person, patting himself on the back. He found sins that would make him bad, but conveniently looks on the very sins that are easy for him to avoid. He then thanks God that he's not like those people, but he doesn't even thank God for creating him to not be attracted to those sins, or thank God for helping to avoid them. It's almost like the thanking God portion is perfunctory.

Then we have the closing words: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. The Pharisee was exalting himself at the expense of others. He was prideful in his accomplishments, and bragging about them. Had he been humble, he would've thanked God for his strengths, while still being aware of what needs work, and being aware that it can be too easy to become prideful.

The thing about humility is that it's the opposite of pride. It should make one reflective. But if you know that you are a compassionate person, and go around saying how you aren't compassionate, then that's almost false humility. It looks like you just want people to praise how compassionate you are, that you're trying to get people to feed your ego. Which can be another aspect of pride.

Can you find yourself better at something, and not exalt yourself? Yes. Now, are there times I'm prideful that I'm better than everyone else? Oh, I'm sure. However, I, and I know others, who use those opportunity to say, "Okay, I find that behavior arrogant. Are there times when I'm arrogant like that? Or arrogant in other ways?" They use the situation as a training example, to be on watch for their own behavior. If I'm standing somewhere and thanking God that I'm not like so-and-so, and then I skip home, satisfied with myself, then I'm just bragging. The Pharisee was bragging, and using the sins of others to exalt himself. If I use the behavior of another, and say that I'm a compassionate person so long as I'm %0.0001 more compassionate than he is, then I'm not looking to better myself, I'm looking to justify my current behavior. I'm looking to an excuse to stay the way I am.

Or there are times when I'm just really grateful that I'm not like that. I think we've all had moments like those.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wheat 'n' Tares.

I'm not going to type out the whole parable, as it's a bit lengthy, but I'm about to post on the Wheat and Tares parable from Matthew 13. It's from verses 24-30.

I've seen this verse used before in describing those destined for heaven and those for hell. Obviously, the wheat are the saved, and the tares are the lost. But can we really say that the wheat and tares represent people?

The farmer would clearly be the Son of Man (given that it's what Jesus said), who has created the "wheat," if we're using a people comparison. That works. God creates all of humanity. Then the enemy comes, and sows the tares. Here's where the comparison would fall apart for me: only God can create man. The enemy cannot. So we can't then say that the enemy also created other people, which are the tares. But if the tares aren't created people, then can we really say that the wheat are also created people?

Except Jesus does -- in verses 37-43, he says that the good seed are the children of the Kingdom, and the tares are the children of the evil one. When the harvest comes, the angels will gather everything that makes men stumble, and those whose deeds are evil, and they'll be thrown into a blazing furnace, while the righteous will shine as bright as the sun.

This is almost taking universalistic tendencies at this point, since every person on this earth would have to be the wheat. The enemy can't create. Yet the tares are specifically called the children of the evil one, and are separate from the wheat. They grow together, but always remain separate. There's also no point at which a tare becomes a wheat. The wheat belongs to the Creator from the very moment it's planted. Same with the tares.

(On a side note, Jesus says that the Son of Man is the sower of the good seed. But I'm not sure that we can then say the Son of Man is the Creator, because he simply planted the seeds, he didn't create the seeds that were planted).

The tares are almost two-fold. They are things that cause men to stumble, as well as those who deeds are evil (and another interesting thing: this is action-oriented only, with no mention of faith. Deeds are what get the tares out of the kingdom). However, while the tares are called the children of the devil, are they ever referred to as men? In the explanation, Jesus says "those/them" which do evil things. But he never says "people." Simply because he earlier says the children, can we really say that it's the same kind of children?

The other interesting thing about this parable is that it refers to the kingdom of God, and it's not something that is seen as instantaneous. In the parables before and after this, the kingdom of God is something that takes time to develop. It's also something that people are a part of at that moment, not something that people step into after death. In this particular parable, the enemy is also within this kingdom, sowing tares, and those tares are gathered out of the kingdom at the end of time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hiding Behind Jesus

Your Father is light and live, always faithful to His promises. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, He will allow you to return, running to embrace you. His arms always welcome you. You can't go too far or too fast to escape what He offers. Simply turn around, and it's yours.

You wanted to see the world, and so asked for your inheritance. You got more than you bargained for. They always said pigs were smarter than dogs, and actually preferred to be clean. Both are true.

Your Father has always been kind. Even to pigs. Perhaps He'll take you back. Didn't He always say that you don't have to be perfect for Him, that you don't have to be good? You only need to repent, and He'll take you just as you are.

You need that. You need one person who loves you, no matter what you've done. One person who won't reject you, one person who will look at your whole life -- even the mistakes, especially the mistakes -- and say, "It's all right. I'll still take you."

The pigs didn't watch you go. Someone sees you coming, and rushes to the other side. You both pretend that he doesn't watch your reflection in the store windows, dirt staining your robe in haphazard patches. Shoes crumbling off your feet with each step. Even you can smell your self.

It's a long walk, and easier to travel at night. You're like everyone else, then (except for the smell). Night masks imperfections, and assumptions are given free-reign. The smell, at some point, deters most. Except for the drunks. They're too drenched in their haze, and toss out slurred greetings.

Father always kept a light on from sunset to sunrise. Tonight's no exception. You hover at the fencepost. You should care about your appearance, at least try and clean yourself up. But you're so tired.

He won't reject you. Father doesn't do that. Father keeps His word.

One step. Two.

The front door bursts open. Father flies out. His form intersects the light, and all you see is this blog. Then it slams into you -- it's Father.


His arms cradle you. He's laughing. His child has come home. His child has returned. Why wouldn't this child, when Father leaves the light on?

You slump against Him, releasing those cares. Everything seems like a dream now.

Father asks you a question. You can't hear the words -- you just feel the vibration in his chest. But surely your Father sees that you're too tired to answer ,you're just too overwhelmed that you're home, that you're --

An answer? You gave an answer? How? You didn't even hear the question.

Wait. Why are you pulling --- you want to stare into your Father's eyes? But you weren't ready for that yet, you weren't ready to see --

Your Father's eyes are now mirrors, capturing this shimmering white form. Serene. Peaceful. Untainted. Something you never were, something you never could be.

The form's lips move, still saying those words. Its arms move, and you realize your arms move in time. Father's very happy. He's crying. "My son," He cries. "My son is home. Lost, and now found!"

Found? How am I found? This reflection in my Father's eyes -- how could I be found, when that's not you? Father always knew who you were, always told you ... who is your Father embracing?

Who am I, Father, if You don't see me?

The above italics are probably dramatic, if not overly so. But I'm hoping to explore the potential dark side of seeing Jesus as a sacrifice for sins. Paul says somewhere that it's no longer him that lives, but Christ that lives in him. Other New Testament passages reference being cleansed by Jesus' blood, and I've read on other blogs how Jesus' blood was perfect enough to cover all sins. Other times, I read/hear people pray that the "lost" always see Jesus/God in them.

The blood itself was necessary because God can't look upon sin. So I would see this as logically entailing that God can't look upon any human unless Jesus' blood is first in place.

However, evangelical Christianity also presents God as accepting you, "just as I am." I was involved in a discussion on another blog as to whether that idea is found in the Bible. In that precise wording, no. But the idea I get behind "just as I am" is that it's supposed to contrast Christianity against "work-based" religions. You don't need to try and be good before approaching God, He'll come and meet you no matter where you are (provided you either admit how bad you are, or how much you need God). Hence, "just as I am," entails all the sin was is currently infested with.

I'm not sure these two ideas are compatible. If God requires blood in order to look upon humans, then we aren't accepted just as we are. Especially since under the original sin concept, every iota of us is twisted/tainted with sin. If our parents or spouses tell us that they take us just as we are, the line of thought behind that is that we are accepted in both good and bad parts -- and both parts are acknowledged and seen.

(A possible way around this might be as follows: if going on the Trinitarian concept, then it could be said that God the Son accepts you just as you are, and yet God the Father must have blood in place. However, then you've got the different persons acting in an inconsistent fashion, with one capable of doing something the other can't.)

However, in referencing my parable above -- the Father wasn't accepting the prodigal child. He was accepting another creature in the prodigal's place. When he looked at the child, He saw Someone else. Isn't that how Jesus is used? God must see Jesus' blood in order to look upon you, for if you were actually seen, then you'd get thrown into hell? Can it even be said, then, that God loves you? Or is Jesus loved in your place, and you're just an afterthought?

If a parent only accepted a child after slaughtering a lamb and dumping the blood on top of the child, what would we say about that parent? What would that do to the child?

Does evangelical Christianity truly follow the story of the prodigal son? I'm not sure it does. It says that a sacrifice must be in place, so that one can be welcomed into heaven. In the parable, the son was simply welcomed, as he was. No mediator was necessary.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Magnifying God's love.

Would God's love pack as much of a punch as it does if we weren't also told how depraved we are? One of the things I notice in Christianity a lot is how overwhelmed people are that this most holy God loves the most wretched sinner, and how much humanity doesn't deserve this love.

But what if humanity was told that sometimes it does deserve that love? Would the love itself then be that overwhelming? Or just par for the course? Does Christianity need humanity to be in that depraved state in order to emphasize the nature of God's love? Does it need humanity to be depraved in order to make sure its followers never forget how humble they should feel, or that the followers should constantly be amazed? How much value would God's love have if humanity were perfect? Or even a mixture of good/bad?