Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Musings: Love, Justice and God

You ever wonder how the God who wipes out entire nations in the Old Testament, stoops to welcome a sinners in the New Testament? I have.

To be specific: Lot's wife is turned to a pillar of salt for turning and looking over her shoulder. The earth is flooded and wiped out because of evil. God's warriors are told to kill every living thing in a village--including women and children--as they conquer it. And then there is the eternal punishment in Hell for those who refuse God's grace. These are just a few examples of what we are told is the JUSTICE side of God.

The LOVE side? When we are permitted a front row seat to God's presence, we see a different sort of picture. He bends down and forgives an adulteress lying condemned in the street. God loves the one filled with demons who lives in the cemetery. He invites cheating, conniving tax-collectors to be on his team. He forgives soldiers who are killing him in the most agonizing of ways. He tells a criminal he'd see him in Paradise that day.

Have you ever struggled with the juxtaposition of these two portraits of the Almighty? I have. And so, instead of a cliche answer to this question, I'd like to ask if anyone is interested in commenting on/discussing this quandary?

I think it is cogent to the theme of Breakers. How would God deal with Kenna? Why? How would he have Cam involved? Would God have Cam involved? Why? Why not?

In the world where you live, how would God interface? A flood? Salt people? Genocide? Invitations to represent him? Get down in the dirt?

No matter how you answer, where does your picture of God leave the other picture of God? How do we deal with that? How do we explain it to the one in a hotel room, suicidal and grabbing the nearest Gideon Bible, then reading about the flood--or Lot's wife...?

Hmmm. Felt like asking you to think today.

Grace and peace to you.


bikehiker said...

I don't think God wiped out people or called for people to be killed as groups or individuals--back in OT times, in NT times, in the time of the Crusades, or now.

I think that's primitive/archaic religion talking--the age-old sacred violence scenario: putting into the words and actions of Yahweh what men/women have done/do to defend themselves, justify their fearful actions, uphold their sense of "order," maintain a sense of "purity," etc. Most OT "wipe outs" are occasions of tremondous human tragedy, violent over-reaction, hateful ethnic cleansing, and misguided crusading interpreted and recorded by Irael's historians and lawyers as if directed by God, permitted by God, or blessed by God.

Amid all this violent action, however, the authentic voice and character of Yahweh, incipiently and then progressively breaks in and breaks through. But based on the manner of the ancient religious mindset, we may never know for certain what in the OT was real and what was interpreted after the fact as God's doing.

However, we DO know more reliably that in the Jesus presented in the NT we have one who is self-declaring and being declared by many to be the image/reflection of Yahweh. Jesus' manner of bearing justice and love as two sides of the same coin is very different from some(NOT ALL)of what is presented as the image of God in some OT accounts. Since the life and work of Jesus was largely that of correcting what religion had misshapen and fulfilling what was intended, then paying close attention to how Jesus addresses justice and demonstrates love in his life, death, and resurrection bears full attention. Whatever was done in the name of God before, Jesus bears something so rattling and surpassing that everything before has to be radically reassessed and everything after must be understood in light of his life-giving way.

Best full discussion of this is "Violence Unveiled" by Gil Baillie

Zee said...

@bikehiker - i disagree. had 4 years of discussing it with my Bible teacher at my university... if we say that OT times God is just a people's interpretation of what God is like... then how can we still say and believe that the Bible (in its entirety) is the Word of God? and then, how do we know that NT wasn't just an interpretation as well? just because it wasn't a convenient one, therefore it must be true? uuuh, don't think so.

i agree that maybe some parts of the OT and NT are human interpretations, but to say that OT is people's writing and then NT is the true one... *shrug* IMHO. crusades a whole different story.

@David - i guess we always have a choice to make. yeah, we would like a world that would be painted in colors and no black in it. but... how then we'll know what to appreciate? i mean...

i have no idea why God told the soldiers to kill everyone in that village (someone recently told me that the archeological studies have shown that particular town was infested with syphilis - whether it's true or not - only God knows). but in most of the cases, there was people's choice involved.

i believe that God is Love. that His Love is so big and overwhelming that we cannot even imagine. that Jesus showed that Love when He was here. but when Pharisees were making a show of their religiousness, He didn't give them a hug, but rather called them "whitewashed tombs with dead bodies inside" and "snakes"! this shows that there is also justice. God is not tolerant when there's an obvious blatant sin. what matters is whether we ask for forgiveness or we continue thinking that He doesn't care.

the flood... once again, CHOICE. i bet that if people wanted, they could get up in the ark with Noah. or help him build it, for that matter, as well.

Lot's wife - God specifically asked NOT to look back.

anyways, that's my opinion. and talking about a person who wants to commit a suicide and sees "bad" sides of God - i would've told him / her that God doesn't mindlessly kill. and His Love prevails His Justice because otherwise Jesus wouldn't have to come.

re: Breakers. if it were a real story, i think God would've sent Cam into Kenna's life. or maybe another Christian... i don't know if it would be for Kenna and Cam to be together in the end, but to show an example of what other life is like. Cam is real about his faith and he cares for people he meets. so for Kenna, Cam's a representative of God's love, an extension of His Love of sorts... a Moon reflecting Sun's light.

david said...

Wow. Great conversation here. Obvious disagreement. I'll let this play out a bit.

I really think we need to have some good answers--never all of them--but good answers to respond to a world that is interested in finding truth. John, do you remember Leander Keck's book dealing with "progressive revelation?" O think it was entitled: "Taking the Bible Seriously." It comes to my mind here. I think I'll let you address Zee's challenges here.

Hmmm....I read a blog on Emergent Village yesterday which said this: Emergent Village Weblog
The Circle Of Inclusion
Posted May 3, 12:54 AM | 41 comments | by Editor | Link


By Jonathan Brink:

I recently had a conversation with someone who was really frustrated about the emerging church. He was really upset about what he saw as a consistent squishiness, which I completely understand. The emerging church conversation takes a little getting used to because it is such a radically different way of operating. He assumed all we were doing was sitting around talking. From his perspective, our pretension was so deep that we had been reduced to not just talking about the emerging church, but talking about talking about it.

Which brings up the joke:

Q – How many emerging church bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A – 1 to change the bulb and post about it. 315 to lurk around and make no comment. 2 to propose that a flashing colored bulb would be more in keeping with the culture of the day. 34 to retort that all talk of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ is just relative, and purely down to the culture, context and personal experience. 18 to weigh in with quotes from Derrida, Baumann and McLuhan and discuss the essential duality of light.

There’s this fascinating myth that all we do is talk, to which I would offer is one of the most basic forms of relating to each other. It is in communicating that we are learning to work out our own expressions of faith.

When I offered him my definition, or really my limited understanding of it in words – the emerging church is a collective search for a wholistic expression of following in the way of Jesus through love – he didn’t like it. His first question was instantly, “What do you believe?” And when I said, “In Jesus,” he responded with, “But what do you believe about Jesus?”

And then it hit me. In refusing to be defined by “traditional” methods of definitions, the emerging church has taken away the traditional means of arguing. And it pisses people off. I would offer that the emerging church absolutely believes in truth, but it doesn’t go by traditional means. It’s called love, which then defines everything.

My friend was looking for our differences. And in doing so was participating in a means that would eventually exclude. At some point our differences would emerge and a barrier to relationship would be created. When we begin with defining people by what they believe, as opposed to who they are, we create natural barriers that instinctively create exclusion even when we don’t want to. And those barriers end up excluding US at some point. What we end up with is 27,000 different version of church. Our desire for unity becomes impossible because we are beginning with a method that is broken to begin with.

When we begin with love we create, what I think Jesus was really trying to get to, which is a circle of inclusion. Love begins with our similarities, not our differences. It draws people in as opposed to pushing people out. It looks past our brokenness to discover the best of who we are. It destroys barriers as opposed to creating them.

But when we begin with love, we step into a very different way of operating. We begin with the idea that we are each created in His image. Differences don’t define us. They express the subtle facets of a different part of God’s image working its way out. We can’t control it. We can only participate in it. And when we do, we engage what Jesus said was the only true way to live. We create an unshakable foundation that fulfills what it means to be human: to love.

(You can find this post at Emergent Village Weblog
The Circle Of Inclusion
Posted May 3, 12:54 AM | 41 comments | by Editor | Link

Jessica said...

Good discussion. I have totally wondered about this exact subject. Even just a few weeks ago, I had been mulling over God's love and care during the day, and then did the reading for that particular day in the Lenten calendar that night--the Flood story. Kind of brought me down, I'm not gonna lie.

I have this half-baked theory that when God interacts with humans, humanity, and culture, sometimes what he does says more about the state of the world than it does about God. Kind of like when Jesus says, "It is because your hearts were hard that Moses gave you that law."

You know how when you move your hand under a thick blanket, it kind of looks like your hand, but it mostly looks like a blanket? Maybe because our world is so corrupted, sometimes God does things in the midst of it, and all we see is blanket--all we see is corruption.

I don't know. But something else: I don't know if this idea is specific to Orthodox thinking, but I've only heard it in Orthodox books and homilies. A right fear of God is not trembling with fear that he might capriciously decide to eat you. A holy fear of God is like being in a boat in a storm-tossed ocean, clinging to the boat because it's your only hope. God is the boat. Fearing God means fearing that you'll walk away from him, and knowing that without him you have no hope.

And the good news there is that at great cost to himself, God has undone corruption and death. So therein lies the hope.

david said...

Jessica, I like what you've written here. Your last paragraph makes me think of St. John Chrysostom's Paschal Homily and of the icon of the resurrection...all still fresh. Thanks for adding your orthodox insights. Zee, on the other hand lives in a place where the orthodox church has been dominant, yet her training comes from a more western denominational influence. Very interesting to me. I see Jessica's words as a sort of conversational compromise between Zee's and John's words.

These questions are at the tip of our conversations and thinking much of the time. What will Christian apologetics look like in 100 years if any of these views is the mainstream?

Anonymous said...

No matter how you answer, where does your picture of God leave the other picture of God? How do we deal with that? How do we explain it to the one in a hotel room, suicidal and grabbing the nearest Gideon Bible, then reading about the flood--or Lot's wife...?

I have more thoughts than I could ever express on one piece of paper or even a book, but to me God's justice and love is just the right combination in which he developes us into what He had in mind from the very beginning. Living life is full of hard, difficult, harsh and very painful moments and or experiences which is justice in itself , BUT His love comes back around to carry us through and or pick us up so we can make it to Him in at least one spec of what He originally started with.

I'm not even certain these days if where I am at in life is not where you say the hotel room person is, I just keep going back to what was instilled in me through others and of course God, what the end goal is . . . . God. Lord knows I am faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar from where I thought I'd be in life and here I am a Pastor who . . . . well has failed more times than one can count. I see how Pastor's treat others and treat those among themselves and it has more than discouraged me over the years, BUT I continue to believe God LOVE and Justice will be just the right combination when it comes to those hotel room issues and or all the people I coach through Groundwire who need this gracefully, smooth combination of Justice and Love.

Who says it might not be me, I sure have been there and will probably be back there some day. I don't deal anymore I just live, God will either give Justice when needed and or Love depending on what He thinks I need and then some.

Not sure if I answered or even hit a spec of the conversation, but thought I'd share My Thoughts. Between John, Dean, Don and well the list of deep thinkers I always have something to say or share, just not as deep I suppose.

Zee said...

@anonymous - you've put in words what i couldn't - "God's justice and love is just the right combination in which he developes us into what He had in mind from the very beginning."

thank you, whoever you are.

@Jessica - it's interesting that you pointed out that that particular description of the fear of the Lord is not terror before Him, but rather fear of leaving Him is Orthodox. as David said already, i live in a country that claims to be Orthodox (although there's a lot of syncretism and stuff), but my views on God and Christianity in general have been shaped by more western approach. nevertheless, i hold that view on holy "fear" as well... hmm... now i wonder whether it's because i live in a culture that mostly supports Orthodox views or because i've learned it somewhere else...

i guess one of the words for the "correct" answer to your initial question (using quotes around the word correct since only God knows the really correct answer) is BALANCE.i hope that Jonathan Edwards' theology will not resurface - like i said, although i believe that God is just, Edwards and the like described Him as a maniac - who else would "[hold] you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhor you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours." (from the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, 1741)O_o i mean, seriously. that's not the God we worship. why does one need hell if heaven is time with a God who hates you?

yet, there's another extreme, like my Bible teacher (whom i mentioned already) who says that God is the ultimate Love therefore there's no hell and no Satan and all the bad stuff that happens is just our projected perceptions and that we create our own reality.

so, i am for balance.

*climbs down from the soapbox* :)

Jessica said...

@Zee, see, I guess that definition of the fear of God is probably a pretty general Christian principle. But I've never heard the boat analogy outside of Orthodox settings, and in Protestantism, usually when I heard someone talk about "the fear of the Lord," they used the phrase "healthy respect."

Incidentally, regarding the whole "no hell" thing, in Orthodoxy, hell is not punitive. That is, God won't send people to hell so that they can be eternally punished for violating his laws. Hell is just the reality of the absence of God. So that doctrine has a slightly different flavor for me in Orthodoxy compared with pop Protestantism. You know?

Thanks for discussing!

david said...

You know that in all of my time studying Orthodoxy, I didn't pick up on that angle, Jessica. Thanks for that. Absence of God...Hell indeed.

Zee said...

@Jessica - hmm... interesting :) i guess my theology HAS been affected by Orthodoxy then... never thought i'm gonna admit that :))))

i think i've mentioned Angelwalk by Roger Elwood somewhere on this blog, and his description of hell was probably the one that coincides with the one you've described...

"I feel what it is like to be in a place without God, cutting aside all the childish rationalism and nihilism of Man, the immature playthings of deluded spirits... experiencing the inner core of atheism as objective, fundamental reality like a vulture swooping overhead, ready to devour." (Roger Elwood, Angelwalk, 1988)...

i have never been an atheist (thank God), but one of the quirks of my mind (or personality) is that i always try to understand why people do one thing or another... and the easiest way to do that is to try to imagine myself in their shoes. however, it still eludes me WHY ON EARTH would someone consciously choose to claim there's no God when God offers love and care and all the good stuff! i mean... if He were offering something bad, yeah, that would be understandable. but that's not the case... what He offers is the absolute best...

i'm veering off the subject, but yeah...

re: healthy respect... IMHO, it's a incomplete description... healthy respect describes only a tiny bit of the whole concept of the holy...reverence. as describes this word, "a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe" - healthy respect is more about human relationships, but when we talk about God who holds us in His hand... it's more than just "tinged with awe", even...