Do You Hear What I Hear?

ImageSince I was a child, I have never felt like I heard what other people hear when they hear scripture. When I was very small, my mother used to read me passages and chapters of scripture as I was going to sleep, which I remember almost none of, but it did train me to fall asleep in church. (Just kidding Mama). Even at that young age, however, I was plagued with questions about the scripture I heard that seemed to be unusual to the church members that heard them. Without satisfactory answers, I determined at the age of 7 that these Christians didn’t know why they believed, and church became a much less interesting place for me.

It took me 14 years to realize that the point of Christianity is not the people, nor knowing why one believes, but a relationship with God. I came to that conclusion not through scripture, but through life experience. I got to know God slowly over time, in my heart, in times of need, and in times of joy. I came to recognize His warmth in my heart, but you know what? Even though I am now a firm lover of God, I still don’t see what everyone else sees when they read scripture. It is because of this that I became a theologian in the first place, I want to know what my perspective means for myself and for the Christians of the world. I’ll give an example, I just Googled a random Jesus phrase, and John 14 came up. Literally, I googled, “Jesus phrase”. 

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas *said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Alright, so from what I understand, when the average Christian reads this they hear certain worship songs. They get a vision of God’s giant mansion with a bunch of rooms, where Jesus is apparently the only maidservant who makes up the bed (sorry that last bit was me). Anyway, in order, it’s like this for the average Christian. Don’t fear, you can get to heaven through me, I’ll take care of the arrangements. If you are a good person, follow the ten commandments and my example, I will return for you someday to bring you to heaven with me. In fact, I am the only way you’re getting to heaven. Who I am as a human and as God is the truth, I am the life of everything, I am all powerful and all knowing. There is no way you can get to heaven, unless you believe in everything that I am as a person, and do exactly as I say. Sounds rather Godfathery to me (sorry, me again.)

That’s my best approximation of what I have read and heard from various pastors and people via podcast and article. Seems pretty evangelical anyway. This is what I hear when I read this passage.

Don’t worry you guys, you can trust God, believe in what I am telling you. There is more than enough room for everyone with God, I know you don’t understand that right now, but there is, trust me. Yes, yes, I’ll double check, don’t worry. If you want to be with God, you can be there, if you like, I’ll even guide you there myself. Yes, I know it’s scary, that’s why I’m offering to come with you. Think of it as the next big adventure. Although, you already know how to get there. (Huh!? We don’t know how to get to heaven!? It’s like… in space and stuff!) No, no, that’s not what I mean Tom, I mean that you know the path in your hearts, it’s the same path I’ve been teaching you this whole time. My way, I, that is, my teaching, is the way to heaven. Love God and your neighbor as you love yourself. This is the way to heaven. You can’t get there any other way, no matter what anyone else says. Only through me, only through my teaching, only through these two basic commandments will you get to heaven. They take many shapes and sizes, but boy are they difficult to fulfill but I have faith in you guys! You can do it!

Can you see how this view is slightly different? It takes a much less direct view for one, although I would argue the first view isn’t any more literal, but it involves more of the relationship. When other people here I am the way, no one gets to God but through me, they envision some sort of gatekeeper, like Jesus is standing in front of God’s house with a flaming sword and a clipboard and if you’re name isn’t on the list of people who agree that Jesus existed, you’re not getting in. What I hear is a man desperate to get his message heard that humans will only find God if they listen to what he has to say. It’s the gospel message that matters to Jesus, not whether the future of all humanity believed he was God. The gospel message isn’t, Jesus was God and died, the gospel message is, your sins have been forgiven. It’s entirely relational, not historical, or factual.

I guess I’m trying to say two things, first, I’m weird see? Secondly, stop fussing over what you believe, and check your heart, because you know the way to God in your heart, (not your mind, which is telling you right now that your heart disagrees, but it’s your mind, don’t be fooled!).

Grace and Peace to you all!

Nice Angry God… Good Angry God…

Angry GodThere are a few very important things that Bible students learn in their earlier Old Testament classes, very important from where I’m sitting anyway. It is this, Job’s first and last chapters were added at a later date than the center pieces. This means that everyone’s favorite sections about Satan and God having a betting contest, and God’s whirlwind episode, were pinned on after the initial content had been written. What does this mean? Well no one can be sure, but considering the conflicting messages contained within either section, I’d say it wasn’t a friendly addition.

In Old Testament class, my professor proposed a theory that Job was an anonymous rebellion against something that we still encounter today, prosperity gospel. Now, what Job is talking about is more like, anti-prosperity gospel. It discusses how the ancient Hebrew people viewed sickness, tragedy, and imprisonment. As you read the Old Testament, take note of what it says when Israel is exiled or in trouble, it’s because they did something wrong, worshiped wrong, committed idolatry, something. And when something goes right? Same story, it’s because Israel was faithful, prayed right, ate right, believed right. Job is a message to the Hebrew people, talking about situations in which those effects are clearly untrue! God doesn’t work that way! It seems to say.

So what is it trying to say? The same thing that your average logical Christian will tentatively point out to their friends. If God rewards the good, why do bad people continue to flourish? If God punishes the evil, why do so many good people have bad things happen to them? And you know what so often used against these questions? Job! The whirlwind of God at the end of Job proclaiming his unfitness to question God’s decisions. However, you know who else questioned God? Abraham. You know what God did? Bless him with a bajillion children and an entire nation. Anyone else? David. Who was David? The man of God’s own heart. Seems slightly contradictory wouldn’t you say? That’s because it is.

Job was intended to put a wrench in retributive theology, that is, what we do has a direct effect on how God treats us. How fickle is that, am I right? Now, stick with me as I’m about to throw something crazy in the sauce. What if we looked at the entire Old Testament before Job, all of God’s supposed actions and reasons for doing things, as if they were being interpreted through retributive theology? In other words, what if we take what Job reveals about the minds of ancient Hebrew people, and apply it to their understanding of God.

Alright, hard to grasp I know, here’s a famous example. God hardened the heart of pharaoh. Boy have scholars gone to town trying to explain how this is okay! However, if we apply a little bit of Jobian logic, we can deduce that the ancient Hebrew people believed God hardened pharaoh’s heart, because pharaoh said, “no” so many times! Think about it, if you believed God was in direct control of every word, wouldn’t someone saying “no” mean that God had also said, “no”? In which case, God told Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let His people go, so that God could have the courtesy of replying “no”, so that God could then destroy the Egyptians. Well, if you believe in retributive theology, this is exactly what would happen, and it’s exactly what is described by God to Moses!

BUT! What if you didn’t believe in retributive theology? What if Pharaoh saying “no” was the act of a free man, beloved by God? A normal, arrogant, and selfish absolute ruler of a people? We certainly don’t have any of those around these days. What if we extrapolate this idea, this theological belief held by the Hebrew people to all of the times in the Old Testament when God acted? Might it allow us to believe that the God of the OT and the God of the NT are actually, possibly, the same entity? If the Old Testament is a record of the ancient Hebrew perspective on God, and the New testament is the record of the ancient Christian perspective on God, isn’t in possible that they are slightly different? However, we believe that God doesn’t change, and as Christians we believe in Jesus, so how might we reconcile the two? By realizing the theology of the ancient Hebrew people, and reading scripture through the lens of retributive theology.

Think about it this way, how different is your perspective on God from people just 60 years ago when truth had a capital “T” and the best thing for every man was to get himself a woman to stay home and cook for him? Now imagine that multiplied by centuries! It’s different! Wouldn’t their God act differently from your own? Yet you both believe He is the same person? Exactly!

Now, I want to state right now that I trust 2 Timothy 3:16, but I think it can be just as applicable if the scripture was written by inspired men. Scripture is a true at heart, inspiring, amazing, miracle of a record of human interaction with God over thousands of years. However, let us not forget, God is alive. Speak to Him with your heart, ask Him of those times recorded in scripture that you are uncomfortable with, see if you find a whirlwind, or a loving embrace.