Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Ivory Tower God

One of the wrong ideas about suffering is that God is sitting in heaven somewhere, looking down on us in our suffering, smiling benignly at us, but really having no idea what we are going through. This is not the Biblical idea of God. The Bible says that He has come down and has become a Man and has suffered with us (Hebrews 2:9-18; Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-18). Further, He did this for our sakes, to save us from our sin (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Further, the Father also loves us, being willing to send His Son to save us (John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9,10). This does not provide an intellectual answer for the problem of evil. We might even ask why it was necessary for God to do this. Why was there not an easier way? But it does show that God is not someone who stands at the sidelines, shaking His head over what He sees happening in the world. And this can change our attitude toward God and suffering. For if God calls us to suffer, at least He is willing to lead the charge.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

God Is Good

God is good (James 1:17; Lamentations 3:25,26; Psalms 25:5-7). But He is not necessarily nice. Niceness is the idea that we should try to please everyone. And those who try it tend to end up not really able to please anyone. Goodness, rather, is a strong thing that is concerned about people's welfare and not just what they want. And herein lies the problem; we do not always agree on what is good for us. Now the Bible does say that God does good things for everyone, even for those who oppose Him (Acts 14:15-17; Matthew 5:45; Jonah 4:2). But this is not the same as conforming to their every wish. In fact, it is meant to bring us to repentance, that we might turn to God (Romans 2:4,5; Acts 17:26-31; Psalms 19:1-6).

Goodness is not a negative or a passive thing, but a positive, active one. Goodness, I am convinced, is too often portrayed as something that stands by, helplessly wringing its hands at the evil in the world. God in the Bible is rather portrayed as One who was willing to humble Himself and suffer to conquer sin and death and hell (Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18; John 1:1-18). Goodness stands up for and works to accomplish what is right. But it does not do so by simply trampling over those who it is claiming to help. It rebukes the religious establishment for its hypocrisy (Matthew 23:23-28; 6:1-18; 15:3-9).  But reaches out to the social outcasts who needed God's grace and forgiveness (Luke 19:1-10; 7:36-50; John 4:7-26). This is not based on the naive idea that the world is really a nice place if we could only see it. It is rather based on the idea that this world is a nasty place that needs to be redeemed (Romans 8:19-23; John 16:33; 1 John 2:15-17). And that the people who are in it are not nice people but sinners that need to be saved (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). But in the midst of this, Christ and those who put their faith in Him will ultimately be victorious (Colossians 2:15; Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14). And this will, over time, be gradually worked out in our lives (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 5:16,17). But it helps in this to see goodness as a positive thing, a thing that reaches out to help and rescue. A hardheaded goodness that see the world as it really is and reaches out to change it.    

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Holiday Season

Can we let our concern over the commercialism of the holiday season rob us of the joy of the season? How can we put this in perspective?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Old Erich Proverb

The gospel plus something equals something different than the gospel.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Constantine

The great majority, however, in their folly, ascribe the regulation of the universe to nature, while some imagine fate, or accident, to be the cause. With regard to those who attribute the control of all things to fate, they know not that in using this term they utter a mere word, but designate no active power, nor anything which has real and substantial existence. For what can this fate be, considered in itself, if nature be the first cause of all things? Or what shall we suppose nature itself to be, if the law of fate be inviolable? Indeed, the very assertion that there is a law of fate implies that such law is the work of a legislator: if, therefore, fate itself be a law, it must be a law devised by God.

Constantine the Great 260-337 AD, (as transcribed by Eusebius, 263-339 AD), The Oration of the Emperor Constantine, Chapter IV,  (translated by Ernest Cushing Richardson, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996, Second Series, Vol. 1) (This speech comes down to us by way of Eusebius and it is difficult to know how close these are to Constantine's exact words.)

Can fate be seen as an adequate explanation for the existence of all things? Can there be an initial basis for how things work that exists of itself without God for a cause?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Constantine - The Watershed

There are occasions when history hits a watershed that fundamentally changes things. Often this takes on a life of its own and goes beyond the influence of the people who started it. One such event was the adoption of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine. This led to its being tolerated and advocated and, in the long run, becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine, as the architect of this, has been both greatly lauded and greatly vilified. But what was his real contribution?

There are those who claim he helped decide the contents of the New Testament. But those contents were repeatedly referred to and copied before Constantine. There was some doubt around the edges, but the basic substance was not in doubt. Nor does it seem credible that the Christian faith would have existed for 200 years with no concept of what its foundational writings were. Now there was a council after Constantine's time that made the list official and ruled on the questionable books in the margins, but it was not working in a vacuum. Nor did Constantine originate the idea that Jesus was God. This comes from earlier times and was a belief of Christianity noted even by the pagan observers. In the controversy over this, Constantine seemed indifferent and just wanted both sides to get along. His son Constantius was totally hostile to the idea and tried unsuccessfully to stamp it out. 

It is hard to be dogmatic about what Constantine himself believed, because what we have from him was passed down through others. But there is a sermon of his recorded by Eusebius that is instructive. It  emphasizes belief in one God and a strong ethical standard. He does speak of Christ: His life,  His death and resurrection, but my perception is that this is not the main point. I am convinced that the conversion of the Roman Empire was very much of a foxhole conversion. Constantine was looking for something to hold the then deteriorating Roman cultural fabric together and decided on Christianity. I do not believe the decision was arbitrary, but was probably rooted in the stability of Christianity even under persecution. However, it did not necessarily represent a deep understanding of Christian teaching. The main thing Constantine contributed was to make the transition. But this had a considerable effect on the Christian church and society. Christianity became identified with the Roman authority and became respectable. This enabled it to have a period of peace to spread its message and work out its theology. But it was at the price of entanglement with the world and of acquiring members who joined because it was the respectable thing to do or in order to please the emperor. This resulted in a more worldly church, though there were many who fought against this. It also resulted in a nominally Christian society that used Christianity for its political purposes. And Constantine was the catalyst for bringing this about. But his direct personal contribution to it was more minor.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kindling Kindness

Kindness is associated with being tenderhearted, forbearing, and forgiving (Ephesians 4:31,32; Colossians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 13:4). It is related to long-suffering, but it is not quite the same thing. Long-suffering is more the negative, the bearing with others. Kindness is more the positive, being concerned about those in need. Long-suffering is more of an encounter of equals, letting go of the daily rubs that come from being human. Kindness looks to those struggling and in need and seeks to help. It is the attitude God has toward us as sinners in need of rescue (Titus 3:4; Romans 2:4; Isaiah 54:8). It is, I fear, a fruit that can be somewhat rare in the modern American church. We have, I fear, too often adopted the ethic of the stoics, with its hard imperviousness. We can, in many cases, maintain an attitude of restraint, of some degree of long-suffering. But we can lack real kindness for those who fall, even though we are told to act to restore them (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). In this it helps to remember that we ourselves are sinners who require kindness (Romans 7:18,19; Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17). Now there is a danger here, as with other fruits of the spirit (for example, self-control), of taking it in isolation and pushing it to the extreme. The result can be a refusal to correct sinful behavior. But we must not let fear of the extreme discourage us from trusting the Holy Spirit to cultivate in us the fruit of kindness (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13).