The End of the Law

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“Many Protestants readily acknowledge that they are justified by faith and not by “keeping the law” (Gal 3:11), yet they turn around and define sanctification, holiness or the Christian life in terms of keeping the law (usually delineated as a set of cultural taboos).

If Christ is the end of the law it means he is the end, there is no turning back to the law in order to establish either our own personal holiness or as a basis for what constitutes authentic Christian community. The only law left is the law of love.”

Hardin, Michael. The Jesus Driven Life: Reconnecting Humanity With Jesus


OMG all the men (it’s always men) who created their own set of laws and tried to tell me they were from God himself! They tried to soft-pedal it by calling them “convictions” or part of their “covenant” and then padding it with a bunch of scripture references based on their self-interested interpretation. The author above states a few pages earlier:

“…so many laws we have are little more than the legislation of personal or cultural taste. Yet we all too frequently make our own personal convictions into universal law. And so any time anyone violates our laws, we get offended… the term sin is relative to the cultural prohibitions that seek to stem mimetically orginated community crises… when we realize that we have died with Christ, that we are both victimizers and victims, we can then move beyond our Adamic existence grounded in violence.”

Violence. It’s our natural response to rivalry. Rivalry is our natural response when we desire the same thing that someone else does or has (“mimetic desire”). And violence due to rivalry only ever ESCALATES. There is no off button… the oppressed becomes the oppressor who then becomes the oppressed again, ad infinitum. Violence is only quelled for a while when there is a scapegoat to put all the blame on. But soon another scapegoat will be needed. THIS is the historic sacrificial system we see around the world and across history… and it ALWAYS requires fresh scapegoats.

We see it in today’s papers and on the news. The current president regularly defines scapegoats to cast blame and redirect rivalry and violence away from those like himself. But his opposition is no better because they in turn scapegoat the president. Our entire electoral system is built on this.

Scapegoating is how we do business. It’s how we raise our children. It’s how some view races, genders, sexuality, affluence or poverty. It permeates almost every aspect of our man-made religions (and there isn’t a single religion that isn’t man-made – not a one). We humans are the ones who demand sacrificial systems, not God. Humans created the sacrificial laws and rules and leveraged the dead-end of scapegoating to protect their ways.

What happened at Jesus’ execution was a complete subversion of sacrificial systems, yet most teachers who read the Bible miss it because they are so embedded in this human way of thinking… as the author above pointed out earlier as well:

“The way out of this dilemma is to follow the logic of Paul’s subversion of the sacrificial process. Robert Hamerton-Kelly points out that, “The major new element is that Paul inverts the traditional understanding of sacrifice so that God is the offerer, not the receiver, and the scapegoat goes into the sacred precinct rather than out of it. Christ is a divine offering to humankind, not a human offering to God.

In the normal order of sacrifice, humans give and the god receives; here the god gives and humans receive. The usual explanation of this passage is that human sin deserved divine punishment, but in mercy God substituted a propitiatory offering to bear the divine wrath instead of humanity. We must insist on the fact that the recipients are human, otherwise we fall into the absurdity of God’s giving a propitiatory gift to God.

The second point to note is that not only the order of giver and receiver is reversed but also the spatial order. Normally the offerer goes from profane to sacred space to make the offering; here the offerer comes out of sacred space into profane, publically to set forth (proetheto) the propitiation (hilasterion) there. These inversions of the normal order of sacrifice mean that it is not God who needs to be propitiated, but humanity, and not in the recesses of the Sacred, but in the full light of day.”

The point of this is that if one insists on translating hilasterion as propitiation then one must also take into consideration the subversion of the sacrificial principle. There is therefore in this passage no justification for arguing that God’s wrath must be propitiated. We humans are the ones who need to be appeased…

His death ends once for all any relationship we have to texts that authorize violent retribution. “He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14) because he has “abolished the law with its commandments and regulations” (Eph 2:15). He has abolished the hostility in all human relationships that are broken because one side is able to accuse the other (Eph. 2:16). Paul reckons that what gets nailed to the cross is not our sins (he never says this), but the law which accuses us of our sin (Col 2:13-15) thus forever ending its accusatory power and ability to judge who can be part of the community and who can be cast out.”

All of this thinking is relatively new to me but it resonates deeply . It isn’t about religion. It isn’t about sacrifice. It isn’t about “Christianity” (whatever that means anymore). It’s about identifying our ways of conflicting desire that lead to rivalry that lead to violence that usually requires a scapegoat to make us feel better about ourselves when deep down inside we know that nothing has really changed.

Should the Michigan Wolverines football team beat Ohio State again someday, it won’t actually resolve anything – the rivalry remains along with all the trash-talking and scapegoating (“Oh how I hate Ohio State”).

And why hate? It’s pretty much all we know… or knew… until the final scapegoat of all scapegoats appeared once and for all, showing us how love is the only way to break the cycle of rivalry and violence by showing us the futility of our ways and how love to the point of self-sacrifice while actually forgiving everyone is the only way out.

The Litmus Test

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe…

Different sources with different views (and sometimes vested interests) can tell a completely different story about a person. Pick your any famous person and think about the different ways they are portrayed…litmustest

Now think about the way God has been portrayed. Depending on your sources, you’ll see very different depictions. Even the Bible has many different voices saying different things about God, some quite inconsistent and even contradictory.

Some simply ignore the different voices or try to “harmonize” them to make sense of them, but their arguments for me all fall flat.

Some use the different voices as a way of dismissing the entire subject, suggesting that the entire thing is a lie and even if it were true, such a God wouldn’t be worthy of worship. I get that.

If only there were some kind of litmus test to know whether or not what is expressed about God (assuming God exists) were actually true… for me, that’s where Jesus comes in. He’s the “Rosetta Stone”, the “Secret Decoder Ring”, he’s the litmus test that indicates whether an expression about God is true or not.

For some people that’s a bridge too far to cross; for others it evokes curiosity to see if these things are so. It certainly would be nice to be able to get some clarity on such a universal subject who is portrayed as…

– loving and kind to all
– a sociopath who goes too far with fiery vengeance
– endlessly forgiving and accepting
– harsh, judgmental, excited about destroying evil people
– aloof, distant, unconcerned
– one who capriciously chooses only a few to bless and rescue
– (add your own depictions here)

Here’s a test you can try yourself:

If Jesus wouldn’t do it or say it, it’s not really true about God.

For those who require a scripture verse before they’ll consider anything, try “He who has seen me has seen the Father” and “I only do what the Father does”.

So if Jesus would rather be executed for speaking truth to power and pray “Father, forgive them – they don’t get it”, it’s clear he’s not looking to scapegoat anyone (like the priests, politicians, and mob were doing). He’s not looking to kick ass and take names. He’s willing to show that this is how far love actually goes – self-sacrifice, even when it’s your own kin saying evil about you, wanting you tortured, and even dead. THAT is the truth about God (at least from the Jesus litmus test perspective).

A number of months earlier he and his disciples were walking through a rough territory and the townsfolk refused to let them stay (technically it was a racial thing going on). Two disciples wanted Jesus to call down lightning to destroy the town; Jesus rolled his eyes and said they should just walk to the next town. THAT is the truth about God (from the Jesus perspective).

In fact, you can go through the entire Bible and every time you see violence and scapegoating and judgment and vengeance… those are voices of authors who bought into an inaccurate perspective about God. That’s why the Old Testament can seem so schizophrenic at times, because it isn’t a single voice, it’s MANY… and they don’t all agree.

Consider the two creation stories (Genesis 1 vs Genesis 2-3). Very different depictions of God. In the first story it is all good and harmonious. In the second story we see the introduction of judgment, violence, sacrifice, which is then followed by more stories of victims and violence and revenge (Cain & Abel, Lamech, Noah, etc). Hate and violence can only get worse and worse. Even if one of these stories says that God told them to kill… that doesn’t line up with the “Jesus Test” so you’re better off assuming that it’s the author’s view, not necessarily the truth about God.

And how does Genesis end? With Joseph… the despised family member who was abused, sold into slavery, falsely accused, imprisoned, yet in the end he forgives his brothers and saves the entire region. Who does that look like? How well does that compare to the “Jesus Test”?

This is why people throwing around Bible verses to judge and condemn you and doing the world a disservice. They are basically proclaiming fake news about God that doesn’t match the “Jesus Test”.

Already Done

I read the following “Easter Monday” prayer from a Christian minister:

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with reverence the Paschal feast may be made worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

It’s the kind of thing I typically read without thinking too much about. Today was different.

The core of this prayer is that God would make us “WORTHY to attain to everlasting joys.”

Worthy.

Deserving.

This is something I find in a lot of Christian prayers – asking God to do something that HE’S ALREADY DONE.

Like all these prayers asking God to “Have mercy on us, O Lord!” or to “Save us from our sins!” or whatever.

It’s ALREADY done. This is not something we should be asking for. It ignores the very position we are all in as children of God and as joint-heirs with Jesus the Son of God.

I mean seriously – considering that God has embraced us already, removed any barrier between us and God, called us his own, and ignored all offenses just like the father of the Prodigal Son did – why on earth would we pray to have things we already have? It’s insane.ProdigalSon

Think about it – how much sense would it make for the Prodigal Son to say to the father at the big welcome home party “Father, please have mercy on me!” DUDE! Your dad is throwing you a PARTY RIGHT NOW to show his lavish mercy – you’ve ALREADY been made “worthy”! Hell, you’re the GUEST OF HONOR!

Now I know really good, wonderful, God-loving people whom I respect but who get caught up into this kind of thing. Maybe like me they never really thought too much about it. It’s just part of the liturgy, part of the sing-song recitations that men invented in centuries past.

I get the same feeling when I hear people sing “worship songs” that cast us as “wretched sinners”, “worthless”, “unworthy”, “hopeless”, etc. Folks, that may have been the case in times past, at least according to certain theologies (not mine), but that’s NOT what you are right NOW. This is just language to make you focus on your guilt instead of your position as a loved, rescued child of God. And guilt is a manipulative tool of religion.

It’s ALREADY DONE.

So recognize who you actually are right now before God, embrace it, rejoice in it, realize it’s a present reality in your life and going back to the pigpen of guilt and shame and self-loathing is a trip you no longer need to take.

It’s ALREADY DONE.

Go Betweens

Gutenberg
Adam didn’t have a Bible.

Abraham didn’t have a Bible.

Moses didn’t have a Bible. Stories from his era were oral tradition until about 1000 years later.

David didn’t have a Bible. But he wrote some songs that ended up in it later.

Solomon didn’t have a Bible. But he wrote and collected some proverbs that ended up in it later.

Ezra (“The Scribe”) compiled the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) around 500 BCE.

Jesus and the disciples didn’t have a Bible, though they had access to portions of Ezra’s compilation at various synagogues.

Paul/Saul of Tarsus didn’t have a Bible, though he had access to a portion of Ezra’s compilation.

Christian congregations prior to 100CE did not have a Bible, though some had access to a portion of Ezra’s compilation and a few congregations had some access to “New Testament” writings by the apostles.

Christian congregations prior to 400CE did not have a definitive Bible. Illiteracy was much higher then, so hand-written copies of the Bible (or at least portions) were available to the wealthy and educated (including of course priests).

Christian congregations prior to about 1500CE did not have a Bible. Only 180 copies of Gutenberg’s first edition of the Bible were printed and copies of it cost about three years wages for an average clerk. This was a few years after he first made profits from printing thousands of indulgences for the church.

Think about it – all of this history gone by and NO BIBLE available for the common person. It’s only been available for the last 500 years to people with the means. Now there are so many copies you can purchase one cheaply… but it used to be quite expensive, and is known as the “best-selling book of all time”. A LOT of money has been made in the last 500 years from selling Bibles…

Q1. If the Bible is so important to our life (and after-life) as some religious people claim, why would the God behind it all wait so long to make it available to everyone?

Q2. If the Bible is so understandable and so important for church unity, why would the church splinter into tens of thousands of denominations once the Bible was finally available to the masses?

Q3. If the Bible is the single best path to truth, why did Jesus promise something ELSE to his followers to guide them into all truth instead?

Religion wants to put layers and layers between you and God. Religion wants to control the narrative. Religion wants to have the authority to define terms so if Jesus or the Bible say something that exposes it, Religion can just re-define things and push the focus elsewhere instead.

Jesus wanted us to focus on what we value and how we live in this world with each other. His way is motivated by love. Religion says it’s all about the after-life (and if you get it wrong, God is your Eternal Torturer). This way is motivated by fear.

Jesus and his followers wanted us to be responsive to the leading of “The Spirit” so we are always ready to do good, to show mercy and compassion, and to be willing to sacrifice because of our ever-growing love. Religion wants us to be responsive to the teachers who tell us what Jesus “really meant”, even when The Spirit tells our hearts otherwise. Religion wants to get in between us and The Spirit and cry “fake news” whenever we are led to do something contrary to what Religion wants.

All you have to do is SEE IT. Open your eyes and watch how those who want to control you use fear as their primary motivator. They’ll sometimes add guilt and shame to the equation. Just observe. They’ll spell it right out for you as they try to increase your fear in order to increase their control.

Jesus, on the other hand, was about setting people FREE – free from the religious, economic, political, and social bondage. Jesus was showing us the way to “abundant life”… the “good life”. He sometimes called this kind of life “aionios”, which was translated as “eternal”… but it referred to the timeless quality of this life, not its duration. And most of us have experienced those occasions where time almost seems to not even pass, where the day could go on forever. That’s a GOOD time. That’s the kind of life Jesus offers – the kind that doesn’t get old.

Nobody knows if there is an after-life and what it’s like. Nobody. It doesn’t matter how many people write books or make movies about it, nobody knows. And that’s OK because even though that is religion’s focus, it’s not Jesus’ focus. And you don’t need a Bible to tell you that… or a Bible teacher to interpret it for you… because there is nobody qualified to stand between you and God and tell you to ignore the very Spirit of God who is trying still to guide us into all truth.

The Only Victory That Matters

TheOnlyVictorySince the time of Jesus, about 1500 years passed with only one major division in Christian religion that not so coincidentally paralleled the split in the Roman Empire.
 
Then Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others come along and each say they have the one right understanding of scripture and turn scripture into a “paper Pope”… but what they REALLY did was turn their individual interpretations and understandings of scripture into the pope. In other words, they each declared themselves as a de facto pope assuming their understanding of scripture equaled what God really meant.
 
In time some doubled down on it by claiming scripture is without error, that it’s the very word of God… but what they REALLY meant was that THEIR understanding of scripture was without error.
 
500 years have passed since then and there are now TENS of THOUSANDS of branches in Christian religion, all who claim their understanding is the one right one, without error, and that to disagree with them is to disagree with God himself.
 
Consider that. Deeply.
 
Once you see through it, once you pull back the curtain and recognize the Wizard of Oz for who he really is, you can’t unsee it… and now you have the opportunity to show how much integrity and courage you really have.
 
Oh how they will hate you. They will come at you with their threats, their accusations, and their attempts to manipulate you with fear, guilt, and shame. They will ostracize you. They will exclude you and castigate you. They will do all they can to make you feel alone, isolated, and wrong.
 
But you aren’t alone. There is a generation rising up with the courage to stand against the lies with love and mercy and hope and joy.
 
There is a bottom-up movement of people changed from the inside-out who are connected in ways the top-down, outside-in folks cannot grasp or tolerate.
 
It has no boundaries, only shared values. It needs no creed or budget or government papers for its existence. And it is committed to the value of all people equally and to the notion that no one should lack what they need, that love is better than hate, peace better than war, mercy better than vengeance.
 
It’s in your midst here and now.
 
In the end, love wins. It’s the only victory that matters.

It’s No Sin

Let’s say you’ve developed a love for archery and you’re trying to master it…missing-mark

In a typical scenario, do you live in fear of punishment if you miss the target?

No – you simply keep trying until you get better and better and better at it.

If you miss, you try to learn from it and don’t let it derail your love for it.

If someone tells you you’re a horrible example of an archer, you can admit that you’re not as good at it as you’d like but you smile as you tell them you’ll keep trying until you finally master it as well as you can in this lifetime.

Hamartia.

It’s the Greek word that was translated into English as “sin”. It’s an archery term. Yes, archery. It means “you missed the target”. Oops.

If you love God and the way of Jesus and you’re trying to get better at it, you don’t live in fear of missing the target because your love propels you forward in the face of failure. Or as the apostle John wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear because fear has torment.

Love casts out fear.

So if you’re in a religious tradition that focuses more on fear of missing the target than a love for keeping at it until you improve, you may want to step back and think about this a bit more.

God is not an angry judge waiting for you to miss the target so God can punish you for the wretch that you are. God is NOT angry.

God is the patient father of the kid who demanded his inheritance early (i.e., “I wish you were dead! Give me my money NOW!”). The kid went on to squander all of it, yet the father kept scanning the horizon until he saw the kid return and he beat the shit out of him. Oops, no – the father EMBRACED him and threw a PARTY!

THAT is what God is like.

The biggest “sin” (missing the target) that Jesus came to “save” (rescue, restore, heal) us from is this:

Our flawed idea
that God is angry with us
and won’t accept us without
punishment, torture, even bloodshed.

Sure, in Hebrews it says “according to the law without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” But did you see the first four words? “According to the LAW“. And who wrote the LAW? Men.

Specifically, Moses adapted it from what he learned as a prince at the best schools in Egypt – Hammurabi’s code, Enuma Elish, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and all those other topics more ancient than the Bible itself. Moses adapted them to his view of God. Others came along and made their own additions.

It’s called “The Law of Moses”.
It’s not the law of God.
It’s not the law of Jesus.
It’s not the law of the Christian church.
Jesus came to FREE us from all of that.

The only thing you need to be rescued from are erroneous thoughts about God.

You are loved.
You are accepted.
You are embraced.
You are free to miss the target and keep trying.

It’s no sin.

Soured

sourmilk.jpg“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,
so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
1 Peter 2:2-3

I remember a friend telling me about some special times he had reading scripture with another friend. With a look of wonder in his eyes, he talked about how they “drank from the pure milk of the Word”. 

It “sounded” good, but a few things struck me in that moment that I put in the back of my mind for future reference. Today it’s the topic.

First off, “the pure milk of the Word” isn’t even a thing. The scripture he was referencing in 1 Peter does not mention scripture at all. In fact, scripture does not refer to the collection of writings we know today as the Bible as “The Word of God” at all. In the opening of John’s Gospel we see him refer to Jesus as the Word of God, but scripture (which was still being written) was never referred to as that. A “word from the Lord” didn’t mean scripture but rather meant a message a prophet believed he was given by God to give to others. There were many of those, but not all were written – sometimes it was acted out, sometimes it was implied. The “pure milk of the Word” is not a thing.

Secondly, what they actually elevated as “The Word” was their own thoughts – in that moment – as they read scripture. Their thoughts may have been true to some extent… or not. But one’s thoughts about scripture passages do not equal “The Word of God”. God’s Word according to scripture is Jesus – his life, his example, his message. His WAY. 

Thirdly, the “spiritual milk” in Peter’s letter is a starting point, not a destination. It’s where babies start. Middle-aged men raised in church shouldn’t be drinking milk, as the author of Hebrews opined:

“…by this time you ought to be teachers,
you need someone to teach you
the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.
You need milk, not solid food!
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant,
is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.
But solid food is for the mature,
who by constant use have trained themselves
to distinguish good from evil.”
Hebrews 5:12-14

The “elementary truths of God’s word” are milk. The basics. What are the basics that Jesus taught and lived? 

Love. A love willing to endure suffering for the sake of others. This is what we refuse to do. We’d rather avoid the pain altogether and focus on trivial things – the distant future, the distant past, esoteric notions, atonement theories,  nationalism and political battles – anything other than the basics of what Jesus actually cared about. Sacrificial love.

It’s hard to do. We don’t naturally want to do it. But when we actually get a taste of God’s love – that merciful, gracious love that accepts us right where we are warts and all – we see that the Lord truly is GOOD and we want more. More than milk, though that’s where we all start. More than the “elementary truths”. Solid food – the tough stuff you have to chew on for a while as you with self-discipline train yourself to distinguish between actual good and evil. 

Not what the church tells you is good and evil – that more often than not has a vested interest to it and a lack of trust that the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus will actually do what Jesus promised – “guide us into all truth”. Churches tend to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit as they try to constrain behavior with their silly little child-proofing rules and avoiding being exposed for missing Jesus’ point on what is truly good and evil.

The religious conservatives of Jesus’ day are the main ones Jesus had harsh words for. They had all kinds of rules, excluded all kinds of people who didn’t fit their profile, and used scripture to burden people rather than to free them. People who thought their understanding of scripture was automatically correct and condemned anyone who didn’t agree. It’s still the same today. 

These people miss the point. They should be teachers helping people to see true good and evil but instead they sip their milk and cannot see how they could possibly be off base. They cozy up to powerful people thinking that there is something stronger than sacrificial love when there isn’t. They cozy up to famous people thinking that better marketing is the key to changing the world rather than sacrificial love. They cozy up to wealthy people thinking that money is the resource they desperately need when it’s actually sacrificial love.

Then they get all butt-hurt when someone implies they are off-base or dares question their system.

  • When someone writes a book asking age-old questions about heaven and hell, they lose their minds and immediately boycott, protest, castigate, demonize, and write books in response to double-down on their system. 
  • When someone calls them out on their support of political figures who claim to follow Jesus but whose lives make it clear they don’t, they insult, accuse, condemn, and use every other non-Jesus tool to silence their detractors. 
  • When great injustices are done against groups of people and the environment, they side with the abusers without an ounce of compassion or sacrificial love.

Whatever “pure milk” they think they’ve been drinking… it’s obviously soured a long time ago. 

You’ve Got This

“Test everything. Hold on to what is good.”
– Paul writing to Timothy

NoFearWhen I was an Evangelical/Fundamentalist who claimed to believe and follow the scriptures, this was one verse that somehow got practically interpreted as:

“Avoid anything I might disagree with;
point out what is wrong about it.”

This shows up in boycotts, like when Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” was released many years ago. People picketing and shouting (and providing free advertisement) who had not seen the movie, did not intend to see it, but knew in advance that it was “evil”.

A number of years later when I couldn’t sleep one night, I stumbled upon that movie on cable TV and – contemplating the “Test everything” verse – I decided to watch it.

I learned several things that night:

1. The movie was a work of sacred art
2. I found great encouragement spiritually from it
3. Paul’s advice to Timothy was wise
4. Those afraid to follow Paul’s advice are neither strong nor mature

If I insist on avoiding being exposed to things that might cause me to change my views – whether religious, political, relational, whatever – I’m not allowing change and growth in my life. For those who say they follow Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they’re likely avoiding the very things that God wants to teach them.

When you start with the assumption that you and your tribe are “right” and everyone else is wrong, you close yourself off to the world rather than being like light in the darkness or salt in bland food. You rob yourself and the world by digging a deeper trench and holding your ground. You’re merely confirming your bias instead of being open to truth wherever you find it.

It’s scary, I know. I avoided it for many, many decades. I used to think that people who seriously questioned my beliefs were those of whom Paul also wrote to Timothy about:

“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.”

But now I see that it’s all inverted. People who are open to truth wherever they find it are OPEN, not closed. That’s how I am now.

It’s those who insist only hearing what they already agree with who demand teachers to tell them what they want to hear. Yes Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, I mean YOU. You (and I used to be in your company) are the ones who refuse to consider the possibility that you just might be wrong, that scholarship and science and well-reasoned arguments that differ with your thoughts must be boycotted, shouted down, avoided, perhaps even made ILLEGAL.

I remember the fervor when Rob Bell dared to release his book “Love Wins”. Oh my the hatred! Oh the many, many articles (and I read many of them) declaring that what Rob said was wrong, contrary to scripture, contrary to church history, etc.

The only problem is… most of those authors had not read Rob’s book, and when they did they didn’t read to understand his point but instead were just “quote mining” trying to find something nasty to write about him and his book. It was intellectually dishonest.

They also outright LIED about it, claiming Rob wrote things that he did not write. The biggest lie was when they said Rob claimed that there is no Hell. I’ve read the book several times and that is NOT in there. Rob actually, and very artfully, raised many questions without answering them, providing a number of perspectives, and left it to the reader to conclude things for themselves.

It’s also funny that a teaching that is clearly and obviously based on nothing but FEAR and that has been used to manipulate people for centuries could be seen as part of Jesus’ “good news”… because it certainly wasn’t part of the good news he was proclaiming:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

THAT is the good news message of Jesus. Nothing about Hell and fiery torture from a God whose mercies are supposed to “endure forever”. No threats, veiled or otherwise.

Now, if this resonates within you, my encouragement to you is to take Paul’s advice:

“Test everything. Hold on to what is good.”

If you disagree with something or think it’s just crap, simply discard it and move on. THAT is the mature approach. And if instead it makes sense to you, then have the courage and FAITH to figure out how to integrate that into your life in a way that will inspire and bless others. As John wrote:

“There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Don’t be afraid – you’ve got this.

Dishonest Questions

Do I “believe the Bible”?dishonestquestions.jpg

I believe many people interpret things very differently when they read the Bible.

I don’t believe any of them have the “one right understanding. But then… when were we ever asked to believe the Bible anyway?

What I recall – from the Bible itself – is that our faith and trust is to be placed in God. I don’t ever recall Jesus instructing people to believe and assent to human interpretations of scripture. Rather, I recall Jesus saying things like:

  • follow me
  • love one another – by this shall everyone know you follow me
  • preach good news to the poor, sight to the blind, healing to the lame, freedom to prisoners, etc.
  • don’t condemn people; trust God with their growth and stop shoving your precious pearls of wisdom on them when they aren’t ready yet
  • don’t worry – about the future, about food and clothing, etc – just manifest a society that does God’s will
  • don’t be troubled – I’ll send the Holy Spirit (not a book) to guide you into all truth

Do I “believe the Bible”?

I believe Jesus.
His words and actions resonate within me.
His portrayal of what God is like rings true.

He doesn’t reflect an angry God who says “love me or I’ll torture you in fire.” No, this is a God who says “do what you want to me – kill me if you must – but I’ll still love and forgive you.” This is a God who loves and forgives so much he’s willing to sacrifice himself.

So when people use the Bible to propose an angry, Zeus-like thunderbolt thrower of a God, I’ll pass.

When people propose a weak, sociopathic God who “doesn’t want anyone to perish” but “oh well… I guess I can’t get what I want so welcome to Hell”, I’ll pass.

When people propose a God who says we should “forgive 70 times 7 times a day” and then doesn’t have to live up to his own rules… I’ll pass.

When people propose a God who resorts to genocide to get his way – killing men, women, children, and animals – I’ll pass.

The problem isn’t God, nor is it the Bible.

The problem is what the church – very late in church history – has declared the Bible to be (something the early church never claimed): The inerrant words of God clearly communicated once for all time.

And the truth is that no one actually believes that. No one.

What they ACTUALLY believe is that THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE BIBLE is inerrant, that THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF GOD is infallible.

This arrogance has led to the creation of tens of thousands of so-called Christian denominations, all who think they are the “most right”.

It’s a distraction that enables them to ignore the life and example and teachings of Jesus so they don’t have to actually follow Jesus to be a “Christian”.

It’s an alternate gospel that merely focuses on getting into Heaven when you die and avoiding an imagined Hell that none of the early church believed in.

It ignores the fact that the early church fathers saw scriptures as the testimonies of HUMANS, not of God, and they considered and appreciated multiple interpretations rather than claiming they had the “only right interpretation”.

It ignores that God “morphs” across the Bible (because peoples’ understanding of God evolved over time, not because God actually changed).

It ignores the serious contradictions in scripture that are easily explained by studying the thought evolution of the authors and the cultural meta-narrative that coincided with it.

It’s worse than a paper pope because everyone who has access to the scriptures can assume THEIR understanding is the one right one. EVERYONE is a pope.

Do I believe the Bible?

Well, I don’t automatically believe that YOUR understanding of it is the most right one.

I’ll go with what the Holy Spirit confirms in my heart, with what resonates within me and makes sense to me. I won’t pretend anymore.

I’ll believe Jesus – both in what I understand he said and what I’ve personally experienced following him because THAT is REAL.

I’ll trust God with my life, my family, my prosperity, my health, my opportunities, with everything.

And I’ll fail. And I’ll try again. And I’ll fail again. And I’ll rise again knowing that God LOVES me, forgives me, roots for me, and sustains me. I’m not afraid of God. Certainly I’m in awe and reverence God, but afraid? “Perfect love casts out fear” wrote John.

Do I believe the Bible?

What kind of question is THAT? It’s a dishonest question and it totally misses the point.

Sacrifice?

What is the point of worship music?

Does God need to be reminded that he is great, awesome, powerful, etc?

Does God need to hear us remind ourselves that he is great, awesome, powerful, etc?

Sacrifice

Does God really inhabit “refrigerator magnet poetry” set to music?

  • “Lord, you are worthy…” – tell him something he doesn’t know
  • “We praise your name…” – and?
  • “We lift you high…” – oh yeah? How?
  • “We gather around your throne…” – uh, no you don’t, you’re just co-opting a verse from the Book of Revelation that actually applies to something else
  • “Your mercy endures forever” – but we ACTUALLY believe it stops when you die and people get sent to Hell

I could go on and on and on (as many of these songs do).

What’s worse is when someone adds a custom chorus to a public domain hymn so they can earn royalties on it. Yes, I’m talking to you, Chris Tomlin, and others like you.

What’s even worse are the songs that speak of some horrible human experience that God delivered them from… except it never actually happened because it’s written and performed by good church people who grew up in a safe church environment (possibly even Christian school and college) and have never once been in the pit of despair or feeding pigs like the Prodigal son. These lyrics are simply lies that reinforce the illusion of being saved from something that never actually cost the singer anything.

One might reference the passage in Hebrews about offering “the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips”… except sacrifices actually COST something. Sacrifices were a way of making restitution in an agrarian/herding society – “I hurt you badly, here’s a cow – go have a nice barbecue and I’m out a whole cow because that’s how sorry I am.”

So what does it cost anyone to sing songs that are bad re-hashes of scripture and/or lies about their human experience and/or bad poetry and/or theological propositions that the singers don’t even actually believe in when you look closely? And why co-opt the secular music that you condemn as if an inferior version of it is more pleasing to the Lord?

Why sing about God’s never-ending love when you believe in never-ending torment?

Why sing about God’s universal mercy when you don’t actually believe that?

And why sing about God’s goodness to all when you condemn and turn away at-risk foreigners for trying to come to your country seeking asylum from cruelty in their homeland as you seek to retain the wealth that you have?

I think the only things today’s worship music actually proves is this:

  • Most people would rather have professionals play cool music at them
  • Most people don’t care about quality music
  • And most people never really pay attention to the lyrics.

“One thing can lead to another –
it doesn’t take any sacrifice.
Father and mother, sister and brother –
If it feels nice, don’t think twice.”
– James Taylor

“And it’s no sacrifice
Just a simple word
It’s two hearts living
In two separate worlds
But it’s no sacrifice
No sacrifice
It’s no sacrifice at all.”
– Bernie Taupin