Tag Archives: Christianity

a great nation

“A great nation”… thoughts on inaugurals past and present

In a great nation, it once was said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Under the banner of making that nation great again, today it was said, “A nation exists to serve its citizens.”

In a book whose advice I value, it says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


To “the greatest generation”, these promises were offered: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” and, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

To our generation, this promise today is offered: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

In a book whose advice I value, it says, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it… for friendship with the world is enmity with God.”

Outdated Bible

Is it time to give up on our outdated Bible?

The number one complaint about the Bible is, it’s outdated. It’s the only ancient writing any of us read with regularity. Some assert that, despite the millennia, all of it applies directly to us with no interpretation; others feel that in modern times it has become useless, if not harmful. Ironically, some even insist on both: more than once, an atheist has argued I must hold Bible to such a high standard that it cannot measure up and must be rejected, and even to attempt understanding by ordinary scholarship is “cheating”.

In fact, whatever we believe about the divine inspiration of the Bible, the reality is that it was set down by particular people in particular places, in their own languages and for their own cultures. We must take account of the original worldview if we are to ever understand what it meant to the original audience. Once we can do that, we have hope of understanding what it is supposed to mean to us.

Outdated

It is objectively true that the Bible is “outdated” in the same way that the plays of Shakespeare are outdated: our language and our worldview have changed since they were written.

Consider a phrase like, “When he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin, who would fardels bear?” Few would claim it is “cheating” to seek the meaning of such a phrase in the everyday speech of Shakespeare’s time, and then to take that as the intended meaning. This is done through study of his culture. We cannot understand Shakespeare without some understanding of Elizabethan England. The same is true of the Bible. No one now living has the same language and worldview as the original authors.

Even when a good translation renders the Bible into familiar language, the cultural distance remains, and attempts to take its meaning directly from our cultural perspective are likely to lead us astray. Again, consider other “outdated” works:

  • Shakespeare’s Henry V has several of his former close friends summarily executed; did Shakespeare intend us to take him as a murderous tyrant?
  • Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn uses “the N-word”; does that mean he hated black people?

In fact, Shakespeare intends Henry V as a wise and benevolent king, and Huckleberry Finn was a revolutionary in its advocacy for friendship-as-equals between black and white. Correct understanding of the authors’ intents is only available when we compare what happened to what the original audience would have expected.

For better or for worse, correct understanding of the Bible is rooted in some knowledge of Palestinian culture during the first and second millennia BCE. The question then becomes, why then and there? Why not here and now, and save us all the trouble of scriptural exegesis? And, since scripture was revealed then, does that reflect a divine endorsement of their particular culture? Or is “ancient Palestine” simply a lingua franca shared by all Christians throughout time and space?

Lingua franca

My (English-speaking) parents were chemistry majors, so they had to learn German. Meanwhile, many German-speaking pilots were learning English to talk to air traffic control. At one time, French was the language of diplomacy, and to this day, all passports worldwide (even yours) include French. And Latin, for many years, was the common language of scholarship, which is why the term for “common language”, lingua franca, is in Latin.

How do these languages get chosen?  Is it because they are intrinsically suited to the purpose? Not at all. It’s more or less random. Chemists wound up with German because the Beilstein Handbook is in German. French for diplomacy goes back to Napoleon. English for flight goes back to the Wright brothers.

So. In the same way that understanding the Beilstein Handbook requires knowledge of German, understanding the New Testament requires knowledge of 1st Century Palestinian culture. It is simply a shared reference point, not a divine endorsement. Jesus worked hard to change many aspects of their culture, just as I’m sure he would do with ours.

But this gets to the question of “ours”. Why shouldn’t God update the Bible to “our” culture? The question is profoundly narcissistic. What is “our” culture? Since January 1, 2016, even this humble blog has been read in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Russia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. Which culture should God “update” the Bible to? Should he go pre-or-post microwave ovens, or VCRs, or automobiles, or the Internet?

Doing the work

The Bible is— yes— tied to specific times and places. But in so being, it is timeless. 21st Century Americans can look back and understand if they will take the trouble, just like we could in the 20th Century and in every century before that, and just like they can in Brazil and Iraq and China.

No matter our country, no matter our beliefs, there are parts of the Bible we embrace easily and parts that challenge us, and depending who we are, they are going to be different parts. I think that’s the point: no matter the standards we set for ourselves, we all fall short in some way, and God’s standards are no exception.

There is the fundamental core of the Gospel message, and then there is everything else. We have to interpret, based on culture, if we have any hope of figuring out which is which. We cannot separate “understanding the Bible” from “understanding the original intent”. The Bible can never mean what it was never intended to mean.

 

P.S. My 10-year-old daughter and her cousin got a glimpse of this blog during our visit. I think they said it best in a lot fewer words: “No,  I feel that we should keep the Bible. Many parts of the Bible are not meant to relate directly to our situations; instead, they provide motions towards the right directions for us.”

The church is after your money

The Church is after your money! Sort of.

My agnostic coworker recently went to church, where he was fine until about the 45 minute mark. That’s when they took an offering. “OK, here we go, I knew it, now they finally get to the real point, it’s a shakedown.” These were his thoughts. He hasn’t been back.

In the “Movementarianism” episode of The Simpsons, Marge escapes the brainwashing compound and flees to the church, but Reverend Lovejoy impatiently taps the offering plate before he is willing to help.

The perception that The Church is “all about the money” is clearly present in our society. Is it true? I would say “yes”, but not in the way people think.

Getting rich

When people get mad at the Church over money issues, it is generally some variation on the theme that church leaders are attempting to personally enrich themselves at the expense of the willing dupes in the their congregations. That certainly happens— who can forget Oral Roberts’ famous “ransom demand from God” back in 1987?

To this, I can only respond with statistics. Among professional careers, pastors routinely rank near the bottom in compensation. A Business Insider article from May put “Theology and religious vocations” as nearly the worst choice from a financial perspective, worse than such notoriously underpaid callings as “elementary education” or “drama/theater arts”. A CNN Money roundup of “Stressful jobs that pay badly” included both “minister” and “music ministry director”. And in 2010, USA Today stated more than half of Southern Baptist ministers need to work a second job to make ends meet.

I would submit that, rare exceptions notwithstanding, there is no rational argument that pastors do what they do for the paycheck. If the church is a shakedown or a con, then it is both the longest-running and the least-successful one in history.

The Bible on money

Yet Christian teaching is clearly very interested in money. Dave Ramsey asserts that the Bible mentions money over 800 times, more than any other single topic.

One dominant theme in those verses is that what we have, here on Earth, is given to us “in trust”, without really belonging to us. Parables like the talents, the shrewd manager, the returning master, the field of treasure, “much is demanded“, “faithful with a little“… all paint the picture that God has left us (a) in charge of his stuff, (b) for a little while, (c) to use for specific purposes, (d) with plans for an eventual audit. How we use our money here on Earth is going to be profoundly influenced by whether we believe that is true.

If the bible is, in fact, the inspired word of God, then its frequent teachings on money represent— not a highly ill-conceived and unprofitable shakedown— but an urgent warning to avoid the trap of “misappropriating funds”. Our society is replete with stories of financial managers who lived fabulously for a time on other people’s money; the day of reckoning is an inevitable part of these stories. It is hardly coincidental that the same concept is an important element of the Christian story.

Mmm… would we call that “giving”?

Many people think of charitable benevolence as “giving”: something we do because we are generous. There are certainly places in scripture that use that type of language, but the picture is not complete if we stop there.

I once heard the story of a janitor, working at Stanford University in the early 20th century when California was still undeveloped. Although one of the university’s lowest paid employees, he lived very frugally, and with his surplus money, he bought land… land in places like Palo Alto and Menlo Park and Atherton. Here’s what home prices are like there today:

$1.3M 400 sq-ft teardown
Yes, this is an actual, current Palo Alto real estate listing

The salient point is, yes, he sacrificed to set aside a great deal of money, but few would say that he “gave” that money, that he did so because he was “generous”. He simply had an idea that he was onto an investment, recognized by few, that would someday have real value. And it is this picture that scripture truly paints for us if we will invest our temporal resources in the things of God, rather than in Earthly things:

  •  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich. (Revelation 3:18)
  • But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:20)
  • And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9)

Speaking personally, I have found in my life that money comes and goes. There is a very good reason why wedding vows include the phrase “for richer, for poorer”. During the leaner times, looking back, the one thing I absolutely never regretted was the good that I chose to do in the world with the resources while I had them. To me, those times may have been the wisest investments of all.

9/11 cross and flag— a Christian nation?

This 9/11: We should be a Christian nation and shouldn’t

I am a Christian. I believe in Christ’s teaching to “love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

I am an American. I love my country.

Two separate things, or one and the same?

Every year, on the anniversary of the horrific September 11th attacks, I memorialize the lives lost in my own small way. I post the image you see above on my Facebook page.

It has a cross, which to me stands for hope and faith and God’s resurrection power over sin and death and destruction.

It has an American flag symbolizing my country.

One of the things I love about my country is that I am free to practice my faith in the way I live my life. The laws of my country protect my ability to do that.

In some parts of the world, there are religious extremists— some of them the spiritual successors of the 9/11 terrorists— who are fighting to establish “sharia law” in the countries where they live. Most Americans agree that this is wrong. But we differ as to our reasoning.

Some of us see America as a Christian nation, and so we oppose sharia law because we favor laws that reflect Christian values, not Muslim values.

Others make a careful distinction between our faith and our nation. We oppose sharia law because in our view, the establishment of religious beliefs— any religious beliefs— into society’s law is destructive both to the religion and the society.

Which view is right? It matters, because there are grave implications in how we stand against extremism. To the first group, it is by enacting laws, in our own country, reflecting our own values, taking a stand as Christians. To the second, it is by protecting our diversity of religious faith, taking a stand together as Americans, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or None Of The Above.

View #1: The case for a “Christian nation”

When it comes to separating religious views from secular laws, there is a fundamental problem: while easy to state in principle, it is nearly impossible in practice. This is because, for each and every one of us, our values are shaped by our “worldview” or our “set of beliefs” or our “religion” or whatever you want to call it, informing our decisions about right and wrong, which is inseparable from the creation of law.

Even in seemingly cut-and-dried areas, we cannot agree because our worldviews are different. Take, let’s say, murder, everyone’s favorite example of a moral absolute. We all believe murder is wrong, but! here’s the snag: we also believe that self-defense is OK. Which one is which? The polarizing debate over what killings are right and wrong is front page news every week.

Without some set of shared values, without some kind of moral compass, there can be no agreement as to law. Given our nation’s history, the closest thing we have to a shared barometer is Judeo-Christian values. Last February, a spate of editorials trumpeted atheist parenting skills, yet even there, the ever-present measure of good parenting was teachings central to Christianity: the sanctity of human life, the value of morality, the centrality of empathy.

When we come to the table to reason together, seeking the consensus which is indispensable to legitimacy in law, we could do a lot worse as a starting place than “do unto others as you would have done to you” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.

View #2: The case for separation of church and state

A recent issue of The Mission Society’s Unfinished magazine said it all. An article called “Living missionally in a post-Christian context” made the following point:

Christianity has certainly influenced American culture. But that is quite different than saying it is a “Christian culture.” If US missionaries believe their home culture to be Christian, the line between Christian faith and American culture can become indistinguishable.

When we imagine America as a Christian nation, here is the problem: we, the imaginers, are not perfect. Parts of what we imagine are biblically inspired, yes, but parts are shaped by our own personal and cultural biases. Those parts are, in fact, not God’s will at all. Putting it bluntly: we are fallen, we are sinful, so part of what we imagine is wrong. We just don’t know which parts.

There is a bigger problem with our efforts to enact Christian values into law: it badly distorts our notion of what Christ taught. Christ did not come to reveal a set of rules for all to obey. He did not. They had that already; that was what he came to change. To focus our efforts as Christians on making rules for everyone to obey… that is the very “yeast of the Pharisees” that Christ warned us against. The seeds of our own destruction, of the American Church’s destruction, are sown when we scatter to the chamber floors and the courthouses; instead, Christ would much rather see us at the homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons.

The genius of the “and”

Should America be a Christian nation or shouldn’t it? Both.

It should be, because to so many of our society’s ills, Christ has the answer. As it says in 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” That is what we need to be putting into our society. If we could be a Church of self-sacrificing true Christians, I can’t imagine that all our other problems wouldn’t find their way to a solution.

It shouldn’t be, because if we think that our Christian faith needs to be about bearing the weight of law to make our society behave, we have missed the entire point.

 

Also recommended:

Letting go of America being a Christian Nation — JoryMicah.com

Take a stand, or spineless for Jesus?

Take a stand: be spineless for Jesus

This week an atheist replied to one of my tweets. I agreed with him that the world is a beautiful place.

One of my posts was linked from Reddit’s “/r/Catholicism” forum, then suppressed on the grounds that is was heresy. I agreed with them that sin is real and harmful.

Why am I agreeing with all these people who disagree with me? Am I being spineless, seeking the favor of man, failing to take a stand for God? Or rather, what if “looking for common ground, building bridges, and being kind” is my stand for God?

“Take A Stand”

So much of our modern Christianity seems to be informed by the need to keep people from being confused. “If I fail to take a stand,” the reasoning goes, “people will think I support x, y, or z.” First of all, are people really going to be confused about what we believe simply because we were nice to someone who believes differently? But more importantly, what if they are confused? So what? Why do we care so much what people think of us?

Paul didn’t. Numerous places in scriptures, he talks about that “dirty word” concept— accommodation of culture— in his efforts to spread the gospel. For example:

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22, emphasis added)

At one point in Acts, he arrives in Athens and is “greatly distressed to see the city full of idols.” So what does he do? Get in their face? Condemn the idols in order to take a stand for Jesus? Tear his clothes to show his great zeal? None of the above. Instead, he compliments them on the very thing he objects to: their religious fervor. He goes on to present the gospel as the great fulfillment of that fervor, but he never circles back to say, “Oh, and by the way, idolatry is wrong.” He is more interested in spending his airtime on the core gospel message than on having his personal belief system clearly understood.

Live at peace

The news nowadays is full of ways that we Christians are defining ourselves by our refusals. Just today there were two: people who feel their faith forbids them to conduct ordinary business because the opposite party is “in sin”. But Jesus specifically refuted that notion. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” he said, despite behavior by the Romans  that was every bit as much an affront to God’s law as anything going on in modern-day America. That the bible objects to a behavior does not excuse us from a Christlike response to that behavior. Whereas we, in casting about for some kind of public response to “sin”, have landed firmly in a seat at the moneychanger’s table. 

Rather than stand off at a distance and refuse to engage, a more Christlike model comes close and engages completely. “Live in harmony with one another,” scripture urges, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” So much of our public persona nowadays is the farthest thing from that; I have trouble understanding it as anything other than spoiling for a fight.

Christ portrayed us as a light on a lampstand, a city on a hill, the salt of the earth. None of those things sits in a posture of judgment. How can we, as salt, give our flavor to that which we refuse even to touch?

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God, condemnation, and the “unrepentant sinner”

We all have sin. Scripture says so. Christians say so; even conservative Christians say so. Why, then, is there so much talk nowadays about how people are “in sin” and therefore condemned to God’s judgment? Do we have to quit our “sin” in order to be Christians? Do we have to quit our “sin” in order to be saved?

What is an unrepentant sinner?

A major idea of modern Christianity in America, non-controversial in even the most conservative circles, is that “ex-sinners” are welcome. “Ex-sinners” are non-problematic for us; many of us think of ourselves as “ex-sinners”, and rightfully include our deliverance from sin as a cornerstone of our personal testimony. “All have sinned” is thus held to be a thing primarily of our personal pasts, and our term for people who meet this test is “repentant sinner.”

What, then, of the “unrepentant sinner”, whose “sin” is still acknowledged to be in the present? People quote verses like “wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of heaven” to show that his choices are: (1) to desist from a certain list of sins (see below) or (2) be condemned to eternal hell. But then, in effect, his salvation stems from his behavior and we are back under the law; Christ did not come simply to change up the line of reasoning by which sinners are condemned.

If we only welcome “ex-sinners”, then another way of phrasing our message to the world is: “Go clean up your act, and then you are invited to join us,” or at least, “You may join us provisionally so long as you clean up your act.” The line of reasoning is that we must protect ourselves from the unrepentant sinner (often quoting the warning of 1 Corinthians 5:11). But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Whereas we, in our imposition of prerequisites and conditionals, are like the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, turning away the “unrespectables” to protect their program, only to find in the end that, “We were intolerant. How could we guess that all those fears were to prove groundless? How could we know that thousands of these sometimes frightening people were to make astonishing recoveries and become our greatest workers?”

In the parable of the sowerone major point lost on our non-agricultural generation is the shocking wastefulness; Christ as the sower makes no distinctions about where he spends himself. He scatters as liberally to the poor soil and the thorn bushes as to the good. If he made no such distinctions with his grace, if he made no such judgments about who is worthy to receive his largess, then why should we make such distinctions? I think Christ’s point is that you and I, as we are out there sowing, have no idea where is the good soil and where the bad. Sometimes the most radiant Christians (e.g. Paul) come from the most surprising and least worthy places (e.g. Paul). Christ himself said, “Whoever is forgiven much will love much.”

“Acceptable” sin

In our contemporary Christian culture, we have come around to a conventional wisdom that breaks down “sins” into three categories:

  1. Acceptable: Those that can be freely practiced without reflection, hesitation or misgiving. These include eating unclean food, breaking the sabbath, and (increasingly) remarriage after divorce.
  2. Borderline: Those that can be practiced now and again, so long as it is due to “weakness” and you feel shame (aka “repentance”) about it. This covers pretty much the whole range from alcoholism to sexual sin.
  3. Horrifying: Those that are so egregious they must not be practiced, ever. This category is largely theoretical, used as a debating tactic when shock value is needed; it’s mainly just murder and bestiality.

It is adherence to this conventional wisdom that fuels our entire modern culture war. People whose “sins” fall into the “acceptable” category are readily welcomed and embraced by the church, whereas those who are relegated to “borderline” status are offered a false correlation: between being acceptable to Christians and living in constant shame.

Here is the problem: it’s all a cultural construct. Even conservative churches now readily take in those who would have caused a great scandal just a generation or two ago. Rightly so. The weight of scripture is overwhelmingly against the drawing of niceties between different kinds of sin. James says “Whoever obeys the whole law yet breaks it at just one point is guilty of breaking it all.” Paul makes a similar point when talking about circumcision. And Christ himself equates one of our “horrifying” sins (murder) with words spoken in anger and contempt, a practice so common among contemporary Christians that it is seen as totally “acceptable” (if not “encouraged”!)

Christ’s plucking grain on the sabbath, Peter’s vision of eating forbidden food, Paul’s railing against the need for circumcision: these are not meant to be line-item deletions of three specific legal requirements, leaving the rest of the law in full force. They must be read as they would have seemed to the original audience, as wild and revolutionary, sweeping and scandalous, not chipping away at the cornices of the law, but swinging at the foundation stones with a pickaxe.  If we are to tolerate unrepentance towards the “acceptable” sins, then we ourselves are the transgressors when we refuse equally free welcome, grace and acceptance to all.

Errors of judgment and license

Unfortunately, many instinctively revolt against this line of reasoning because it is open to abuse. Always has been. That doesn’t make the theology wrong. Paul was God’s pioneer for grace-instead-of-law, and he was constantly having to defend it against the legalists on his right and the licentious on his left. Sin still has the power to destroy, but so does the knee-jerk, unthinking, reflexive application of the law.

As brothers and sisters, we are not to stand idly by when we witness destructive sin at work in a person’s life. Simple human mercy demands that much, to say nothing of scripture’s commands that we care for each other and bear one another’s burdens. But we must remember: there is more to knowing what needs to change in a person’s life than simply knowing whether or not Hebrew law is being obeyed. It is the blanket application of law— without love, without reflection, without relationship— that cannot survive in the heart of the true Christian.

Related Links

What is sin? It’s not that simple.

Religious freedom: if scripture is a weapon, then whom are we killing?

Religious freedom: if scripture is a weapon, then whom are we killing?

Picture this: I’m getting up to preach, and I’ve brought my Glock 9. Right up into the church where everyone can see. And then I’ll explain: I’ve got a deadly weapon here. But look! I checked that the magazine is empty. I checked: there’s no cartridge in the chamber. The safety is on, and there’s a trigger lock. And on top of all that, I’m only pointing it at the ground. Why am I being so careful? Any one of these precautions by itself is enough to make the gun safe… why on God’s green earth should I need to use them all? Because there is nobody here that I want to kill. Because when it’s a deadly weapon, a tiny mistake can have life-shattering consequences.

Now I want to talk about something far more powerful, far more deadly, far more destructive, and yet the precautions that people take with it are terrifyingly few; the casual, careless way that people wield it is terrifyingly common.

The bible often describes itself as a weapon:

  • “Before I was born the Lord called me; He made my mouth like a sharpened sword.” Isaiah 49:1-2
  • “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Hebrews 4:12
  • “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17

…Something far more powerful, far more deadly, far more destructive, and yet the precautions that people take with it in the name of religious freedom are terrifyingly few

Too many people read language like this as an invitation to get out there and damage people in the name of Jesus. What else, after all, is a deadly weapon for? “Sinners”, those “in darkness”, the “unsaved”… all are dispatched with the casual indifference of target practice. This is what’s really behind all the current hub bub over religious freedom in Indiana. The words of scripture hold incredible power, but if used carelessly, we can suddenly find that we are blowing holes in the heads of beloved children that Christ died to save.

In so doing, we may find we have even turned the gun on ourselves. Not for nothing does scripture call itself a two-edged sword. The Pharisees’ command of scripture has never been surpassed, before or since, and the result, Christ said: “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter.” (Matthew 23:13) The mishandling of that fearsome power destroyed themselves and others.

Whom, then, are we to attack? On whom are we to unleash the weapon of scripture, if not the miserable unrepentant sinner? Scripture couldn’t be clearer: it’s a hostage situation. The “sinners” flocked to Christ and the demons were panic-stricken: he was there to rescue the one from the other. The only battle God intends is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). By your love and joy and peace and all the rest of it– what Christ calls hearing his words and putting them into practice– if you can spring one of their victims, there’s a gigantic party in heaven every time. Any battle you pick with flesh and blood, you are only shooting the hostages.

Jesus and Internet trolls

What Internet trolls have in common with Jesus

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Internet trolls.

Whether righteously piling on to destroy someone’s life for 10 seconds of Twitter thoughtlessness (à la Justine Sacco) or going after a 17-year-old softball player because you don’t like her dad (à la Gabby Schilling), the inhuman viciousness of it all is a little hard to reconcile with our supposedly progressive 21st century.

So, I was very interested to discover that, in Britain recently, some actual justice was done: to wit, in two cases at least, the casual act of gang-terrorizing a stranger with threats of rape and death resulted in actual jail time. And I began to wonder whether we couldn’t do that here in America. My nerd-brain immediately thought, “First Amendment problems! Ah, but direct threats of violence are not protected speech.” Then my social-justice-brain wondered if such laws might be subject to abuse. And my practical-brain wondered how you would ever muster enough social appetite for the cost and effort of prosecuting such crimes.

If your attempt to witness for Christ comes out like hate speech, you are doing it wrong.

And then, in the saddest moment of my day, it dawned upon my faith-brain that a lot of self-proclaimed Christians would probably be against it. As a Christian, when I think of a woman like Adria Richards, whose home address was tweeted alongside photos of a mutilated corpse, I think of John 8. (Spoiler alert: Jesus is the one who protects her from the mob that wants her dead). But in certain “Christian” circles nowadays, wave around a term like “feminist” or “liberal”, and how many of us become more like the pharisees of that story than like Christ? If online excoriation is the 21st century answer to stones at the town gate, how many of us are sinless enough to throw one? I have actually seen a Christian website decrying the possible passage of hate speech legislation, lest it become illegal to verbally abuse a homosexual with Leviticus 20:13 or an unbeliever with Revelations 21:8. Lost in that very self-serving position, however, is this: if your attempt to witness for Christ comes out like hate speech, you are doing it wrong. It may be that the only thing Jesus has in common with an Internet troll, is us.

In the end, I abandoned my contemplations of legal action in defense of basic humanity on-line. For one thing, it is pretty clearly outside my personal control. I think it is open to debate whether it is even “Christian”; in the words of Christ, “If you are uncivil online to punish someone for incivility, how are you any better?” (Matthew 5:46-47). I believe that, one day, real solutions will be found, to take away the “dissociative imagination” that lets the trolls thrive in blissful ignorance of the real lives being destroyed.

In the meantime, the best course for a Christian in the whole cultural cyberwar may be to take the naïve advice of our savior: to mourn with those who mourn, to bind up the broken-hearted, to look inside our hearts and there find love for our enemies, to look at those who persecute us and keep them uppermost in our prayers.

God fixing our world

The 3 best options for God fixing our world (hint: none of them will work)

I recently had a discussion with some non-believer friends about the question of faith, and the major point under discussion was basically, “What is God’s problem?” That is to say, if God exists, why all the mystery, and why require us to have “faith”, which scripture defines as “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1)? Think of all the strife and division and error that could be eliminated if God would just come down and reveal himself… it would be God fixing our world.

As a bible-believing Christian, it got me thinking. What could God do? That is, if God were going to “come down and reveal himself”, what are his options? In broad terms, he could either do a one-time thing or an on-going thing.

If God were going to “come down and reveal himself”, what are his options?

But in the end, a one-time thing would inevitably fall into the same category as all the revelations already recorded in the bible– it would become a matter of history and, over the course of centuries or millennia, would become debatable. All the historical documents that attest to it would become “religious texts”, and therefore to some people, unreliable, especially if (for convenience), later publishers began adding them into the same volume as our existing collection of “religious texts”, which is known as the bible.

On the other hand, if God did an on-going thing, then that would quickly come to be viewed as part of our universe’s natural operation. Christians often cite the many seemingly miraculous aspects of the universe as it is, but all of them have been described and natural laws have been created to model them, and therefore they are all part of nature. If you fundamentally reject the possibility that God created nature, then anything on-going he does is not to his glory, but rather to the glory of the natural universe.

There is one final possibility, which is that he could live in on-going first-person relationship with humanity, like in the Garden of Eden, but according to the bible, that’s been tried and it didn’t work out. Even under those circumstance, people just couldn’t buy that God really is who he says he is and really means what he says.

This was a problem back in Jesus’ time too, by the way. Luke 16:27-31 records a parable he told that addresses this exact point. To me, the price of humanity having been created with some measure of free will is that, no matter what God does, it will always be a matter of debate. There can never be a “clear” revelation that puts an end to it.