When God Kills People II

 

 

 

 

I still have a rather disturbing memory of a friend coming for dinner around 10 years ago and having a conversation around issues of faith. She picked up my ‘book of fairy tales’ as she sometimes called it and asked me how I could believe this nonsense.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

She opened it totally randomly and read the first words she came across which just happened to be Exodus 32:27 when Moses has just returned to the Hebrew people after they erected the golden calf.

It said this:

“Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.’ ”

And she asked ‘what the hell is that all about?’

Fair question?…

I don’t remember my exact answer but I imagine it would have had something to do with God’s holiness and people’s sin – fairly standard fare. But I would have much preferred she opened to John 3 or a more accommodating passage of scripture.

I’m about a third of the way thru Greg Boyd’s ‘Crucifixion of the Warrior God’ where he attempts to provide coherent answers to the horror passages of the Old Testament. I’m reading it slowly and trying to digest it (often I skim and get the gist) and I have to agree with Boyd that we have often been guilty of putting our ‘best spin’ on the difficult issues of violence and that we need a better way of dealing with this stuff.

At the end of the day I may read 1400 pages and disagree, but either way I’d like to open the subject up and give it a shake as I haven’t found a response that I can sit well with. I wrote about this here and I will continue it until I finish the book.

So I began…

I haven’t driven across the Nullarbor for a few years now, but the first 300 pages of Boyd’s book gave me that feeling. It’s a long and at times very repetitive trek through difficult terrain, with some great highlights along the way, but for the most part it’s just a place of endurance. You rarely drive across the country just for the fun of it.

Essentially Boyd is attempting to reconcile the issue of violence in the OT with the non-violent Jesus of the NT.

He begins with an introduction that serves as a roadmap to the journey ahead. Just reading this I felt weary, but I’ve signed up for the trip so I kept moving. His opening chapter, titled the faith of Jacob is about the importance of struggling with the tensions he is about to develop. This is an excellent intro and presents the reader with some of the key challenges for the road ahead. Issues like how we view God, how we read scripture and the link between ‘violent gods’ and violent devotees. A good kickstart.

He then devotes a chapter to explaining the idea of a christocentric hermeneutic but concludes by saying that focusing on Christ alone is ‘too ambiguous to be of value in interpreting the divine violence in the OT’, giving an overview of the direction he will head – towards what he calls a ‘cruciform hermeneutic’.

He then spends the next 200 pages showing how that cruciform hermeneutic (viewing the Bible thru the lens of Christ crucified) is present both in scripture and history. This part of the trip felt very dry… you could certainly call it ‘thorough’, but at times it veered into repetitive tedium.

He hammered the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’ and he did make a good case for it, as well as spending a fair slab of time arguing against his critics. I have certainly been challenged to look for this focus each time I read but I’m yet to appreciate how he makes it work in the violence narratives. He views this hermeneutical framing as critical for any further work hence the time spent on it.

From here it is on to a chapter entitled ‘The Dark Side of the Bible’ where he scans the Old Testament material for all kinds of divine violence. By the end of that chapter you are rather overwhelmed with the vast amount of problematic material.

He breaks it into 5 categories:

  1. Divinely sanctioned violence eg promised land entry
  2. Prescribed violence in the law – eg kids being put to death for being stubborn, lazy, drunk
  3. Divinely Caused Violence, eg flood and destroying angels.
  4. Violence in the Psalms, like Psalm 139:19, 21-23
  5. Violence in Biblical Stories, like the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19–21.

There is no shortage of material to deal with and I was quite stunned by how assaulted I felt having read the chapter. Most of this stuff I had come across over the years but in isolation. When you are confronted with it all together it really does make you take a breath. But I found this chapter helpful for simply laying out the weight of material that needs a response.

From here he moves to the solutions he rejects and this is the section I am in at present. He begins with the ‘dismissal’ solution, beginning with Marcion and moving on to more contemporary voices albeit to a lesser degree. Boyd states that he is committed to the inspiration and authority of the Bible (as well as what he calls ‘infallibility’ – as opposed to inerrancy) so obviously simply ‘ripping those pages out’ is not a valid solution.

He takes what I would consider a conservative view of scripture, but not so conservative that he can’t recognise genre, nuance and literary license. He argues that authority remains intact even if we conclude that certain ‘historical narratives’ fail to align with actual history. (eg Jericho entry)

He also states:

‘I believe every utterance of scripture should be taken literally; not in a shallow sense but in a deep sense. That is, it should be accepted as literal within the world of the biblical narrative, considered as God’s word which has an altogether deeper significance than taking something literally in that it corresponds to some scholar’s reconstruction of what actually happened.’

 

Make sense?

To be more specific he says:

‘The divine authority of a narrative is thus not diminished even if someone were to consider it proven that a particular narrative reflects no actual history.’

 

You might need to read the chapter to get the whole breadth of his argument here. He does go on to make the point that he considers himself a ‘maximalist’ in simply believing that most scripture does line up historically, so I’m curious as to why he needed to make the point so strongly. That said I think I would line up pretty closely with his views.

So I am now up to Chapter 9 ‘The Synthesis Solution’ and once I’ve read another 400 pages I will offer another update.

As a personal reflection I appreciate that its all too easy to read the Old testament with no prior knowledge of context and get tripped up in that, but if it takes 1400 pages of pretty serious reading to make sense of this stuff then what hope is there for the average church-goer who doesn’t have the time or energy to dive in this deep?

In other news I am cooking sausages for dinner tonight…

When God Kills People?

Its been said that ‘where you stand determines what you see’, which is why theology in a western context often looks very different to perspectives from other more impoverished or persecuted parts of the world.

Equally the lens you read the Bible through determines what you see and how you understand what you see. I recently ordered Greg Boyd’s new book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, a 1492 page tome looking at how we reconcile the violence in the OT with the non-violent Jesus – assuming that we hold a strong view of biblical inspiration and don’t just toss out the hard bits.

Boyd’s lens seems to be the ‘God who is revealed in the crucified Christ’ and after watching this youtube clip I get a sense of what he means by that. Essentially he is saying that if we now have this revelation – this information on who God is – whereas those before Jesus time didn’t then we have a lens for looking back on that historical information and interpreting it more intelligently. He suggests the violence attributed to God by the biblical writers is not actually God at work, but may be God allowing others to act in that way. (Watch the clip for fuller explanation).

I’m curious to see how he develops this thinking – and also why he stops at the ‘crucified Christ’ rather than ‘ the crucified and resurrected Christ’.

In recent years my own primary lens for approaching the difficult passages of scripture has been via the premise that ‘God is good’. Its the foundation stone of all of my theological thinking. If God is good then I have to be able to understand various events in light of that truth – or I can live with them as mystery knowing that God is good. (And if God isn’t good then we’re in some pretty deep poo…)

Lately I’ve pondered some difficult questions that don’t have any easy answers and without a strong primary lens I imagine a thinking person’s faith could unravel. I have just come back from my brother in law’s funeral, where a good, faithful man suffered for 9 years with motor neurone disease and then eventually died. You have to ask questions of God’s character in those situations. People were praying for his healing to the end. He didn’t ‘curse God’ and walk away, but when all was said and done he suffered and died. So maybe God is a heartless jerk?…

Or maybe God doesn’t see, doesn’t care, doesn’t care enough?… These are all very fair questions. Maybe God is ‘working all things together for good’?… Well… yeah… but really? He couldn’t have found a better plan? Is he God or not?

If God isn’t good then Graham’s death was a senseless waste of life and a tragic loss for his family, but if God is good then there must be another way of looking at that situation – not to minimise the pain, or trivialise it, but to ask ‘what is going on that we can’t see?’ The answer may be that ‘we just can’t see it’ and we have to live with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the funeral one of the images shared in a eulogy was Graham’s own take on life as a bit like a ‘cross-stitch’ ie. what looks like a complete mess of fabric and knots from one side is actually a coherent and beautiful picture from another side. With limited perspective we can only see part of the picture.

I can sit pretty well with mystery, but I have always found the OT slaughter passages a bit of struggle because even the best answers have left me somewhat ‘meh’. So here’s hoping Boyd has a take that allows me to put that one to bed and in the process gives a lens for viewing the dark times of life.

 

Hope Diminishing…

rob-bell

I keep listening to Rob Bell in the hope that he will restore my faith and my confidence…

His podcasts were wearying for a while, but recently I started listening again as he began to adopt more of a sermonic approach to some of what he is saying, even to the point of having a biblical base for his thoughts. There’s no question Bell is at his best when he is preaching and communicating the Bible and lately he’s picked it up again.

His three latest podcasts, creatively titled God Part 1 God Part 2 and God Part 3 are all ‘based’ in scripture, and do offer some provocative and helpful insights, but they also speak more clearly to where Bell is locating himself now.

In his final session (Part 3) he uses two passages of scripture to make his point – Jacob’s dream, where he makes the point that God has ‘been there the whole time’ but Jacob just didn’t notice – ‘his consciousness hadn’t evolved’ to that point. Then he flips to Acts where Paul states ‘in him we live and move and have our being’, from which he concludes that we are all ‘in God’ and that God is best seen as the ‘connective tissue of the universe’. He goes on to argue that the trinity is the ultimate expression of this and that we are all ‘in’ God, but only some of us have been enlightened to this.

HIs first session was actually quite helpful when he deconstructed the myth of God being separate from the world – ‘above us’ or disconnected from us, but in his reconstruction he has well and truly embraced what we would call ‘panentheism‘, the belief that all is ‘in’ God.

Theism-and-Panentheism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wiki def is this:

Panentheism (meaning “all-in-God”, from the Ancient Greekπᾶνpân, “all”, ἐνen, “in” and ΘεόςTheós, “God”), also known as Monistic Monotheism,[1] is a belief system which posits that the divine – whether as a singleGod, number ofgods, or other form of “cosmic animating force”[2] – interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly (and, presumably, spacelessly) beyond it. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical,[3]panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.[4]

 

I keep hoping he is saying things in such a way that ‘Ophra-ites’ will be able to understand, but I am increasingly coming to realise that he is now living in a different theological and philosophical space.

And I’d suggest his podcasts are best avoided by anyone without the ability to think theologically and do some rigorous discernment. There is such a subtle melding of biblical language and ‘teaching’ with new age bullshit that a newbie may well be unable to discern the flow of thinking and its implications. (I know you’re probably going to ask me ‘so what’s the problem with panentheism?’ and rather than regurgitate someone smarter than me’s thoughts you can read them here. )

I wouldn’t often use a word like ‘dangerous’ to describe someone, but I used this word the other night as I was explaining what I was hearing to Danelle. There is enough truth, combined with blazing communication skills to make him sound compelling and smarter than all the other people, but there are also clear and definite statements that locate him now in a place that is very different to where I would want my congregation to sit.

So – again – let’s not condemn the guy…

Seriously – that doesn’t help. But let’s be aware as we listen to him that he is operating now from a paradigm that is no longer within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and while some of us might have been around for long enough to be able to eat the fruit and spit out the pips that isn’t everyone’s forte.

 

‘Doing a Tony Abbott’

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‘Doing a Tony Abbott’…

I wonder if a phrase of this ilk is going to enter our Christian parlance?

This week Abbott spoke at the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture and announced that the Bible and the ‘golden rule’ was good and all that, but not to be taken too seriously – certainly not to be adhered to if you are likely to put yourself or your country in danger. It makes good sense except when it doesn’t work to your advantage…

His exact words were:

“Implicitly or explicitly, the imperative to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ is at the heart of every western polity. It expresses itself in laws protecting workers, in strong social security safety nets, and in the readiness to take in refugees. It’s what makes us decent and humane countries, as well as prosperous ones.

“But right now, this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error,”

“Our moral obligation is to receive people fleeing for their lives. It’s not to provide permanent residency to anyone and everyone who would rather live in a prosperous western country than their own.

“It will require some force, it will require massive logistics and expense, [and] it will gnaw at our consciences. Yet it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe, and quite possible changing it forever,”

There’s no doubting his simple take on this is, ‘The Bible says X – X is good – really good even – and it has ‘worked’ – but if X means your life is affected negatively then X is bad’

I’m no Abbott fan and I disagree with him on this policy, but I think we need to exercise a bit of care with our critique because as Christians we’ve done exactly this for years. When we get to a place where we can finish the equation above with ‘but if X means your life is affected negatively then X is still good’ then we will have got the log out.

But while we read the Bible and consciously, knowingly say ‘what the hell – I’ll do what I like anyway’ then we can’t be taken seriously.

If we’re honest we are pretty good at ‘pulling a Tony Abbott’ … but then that honesty doesn’t always come easily…

Just a thought…

 

 

 

Revelunacy

blood moons hagee For a long time I have avoided teaching from the book of Revelation mainly because I find it a hard book to read. I don’t resonate with the genre much at all. Beasts, dragons, angels, trumpets and seals all make for rather confusing reading.

While I recognise its epistolatory/apocalyptic genre within scripture, the closest I can get to it, is to think of the fantasy, sci fi stuff, another genre I rarely read if I can avoid it.

But the difference with Revelation is that this stuff is the inspired word of God and therefore a little more significant than Lord of The Rings or the like. So I thought it might be a challenge to overcome my aversion to this book and really dig into it so that we could get a handle on it as a church.

There’s no question it is a significant section of the entire biblical account, but one that either gets avoided or ends up being the domain of nutbags and crazies. My hunch is that most of us end up doing our first reading Revelation through the lens of whatever view we have grown up with. For me that was the world of Left Behind, a movie that scared the crap out of me as a 12 year old and then has come back more recently to haunt this generation of 12 year olds… and Larry Norman crooning ‘I wish we’d all been ready’… So my thinking on the issue was formed by popular (Christian) culture and by the odd sermon that was drawn from that perspective. Although to be honest once I scanned Hal Lindsay’s stuff as a teenager I discovered that even then I had enough discernment to regret wasting money on his book.

So a few days back I sat down to engage this subject again – as an adult – as someone wanting to start from scratch and wanting to make some sense of it. I recognised there were various takes on Revelation and I thought it would be good to begin with one of the ‘counterpoints’ series books entitled ‘Four Views on Revelation’. The introduction went well…

Then came the ‘preterist’ view – that Revelation was written for the people of the time. This is a fair argument. Surely a book that is part letter is addressed to people for whom it will have immediate significance? However I found myself zoning out as I was reading…

The whole interpretative process is laborious and needs careful analysis to do it justice. I went back to reading the book itself again, to try and make more connections. But once you get beyond the concrete first 3 chapters it begins to become obscure and ethereal, difficult to follow and quite bizarre. If we hadn’t been told that John had been sharing a vision and I’m sure it would qualify as some drug induced hallucination.

So I finished the book, went back to the overview and got bogged down yet again. I began to surf the net and observed that as well as four views of the book, there are several views on the millennial issue (depending on how you interpret them) and then within the dispensational view there are three divergent views on the location of the rapture… And having dug into some of those rapture forums for the last hour I can tell you that is feisty stuff. It seems the narrower you draw the lines of interpretation on this book the more fanatical people become and the more they detest each other and their heresies! I’m wondering if post-mill guys are even allowed to intermarry with pre-mill girls? My reading is that the cultural /theological jump might be a bit too big to navigate…

I find myself asking ‘do I really want to keep going with this?’ Will it be in any way helpful?…

What I would like to do is to be able to give people some tools for understanding this book – for reading it intelligently – as opposed to reading it thru the novels of Tim LaHaye. I actually haven’t decided which ‘millennial’ view I would subscribe to yet, but I fear for those who seem to swallow popular culture as facts when there is clearly no consensus on this issue.

So its back into it this afternoon after this short rant and we’ll see if I can make more sense. It’d be nice to be able to:

a) help people understand how our theology gets shaped – I seem to do a lot of this as we all have filters and lenses that we don’t always realise are there and it needs reminding.

b) present people with 4 lenses that they can look thru and help them think critically about the content thru those lenses.

c) help people deal with the popular ideas and assess them in light of other views.

The biggest struggle I see at the moment is that in a very short time I need to get across a mountain of information to be able to do this intelligently. Not sure if I can manage in the limited time I have, but now that I’ve started I might as well push on for a bit longer. We will soon know… And by the way I have no idea what the hell ‘blood moons’ have to do with anything…

So – What DO We Do With Divorce Part II

divorceSo I finished yesterday essentially asking what happens if it turns out you have married a complete psychopath who is doing permanent damage to you and your children, but who has not been unfaithful and is not looking like leaving?

Can you seek a divorce under those circumstances or is this your cross to bear for as long as you both live?

Its a cruel and twisted mutation of a Christian faith that would ever answer that with an ‘unfortunately yes’. While we want to be true to scripture in all we say and do, surely there is a point when we say ‘come on – we can’t be getting this right if its going to lead to the destruction of people?’

One my abhorrences of fundamentalism is the way it can take the ‘directives’ of scripture and apply them without context and often without compassion. I get the sense that this is what happens when we see divorce like this.

About now some of you are seeing me ‘go weak’ on scripture. And others of you are saying ‘please… someone… give an explanation for this bizarre two condition divorce clause that offers no comfort to those who are dying in abusive marriages’.

If we do our theology by working from directives to outcomes then chances are we will finish up in strange and disturbing places. But if we do theology by looking at broad themes and purposes and stories and then locate the directives within those then I think we have a better chance of arriving at sane and Christlike conclusions.

So my thinking starts like this:

God’s intention for this world is for the kingdom of God to come in fullness and for his ways and his plans to be the ones that shape everything. Immediately you know that a tyrannical abusive household is not a depiction of God’s kingdom. There is nothing of his goodness, love and grace in that picture. If relationships are at the core of the kingdom (and his ultimate hope is for ‘triune’ like relationships) then this is the antithesis. So why would he insist that people just suck it up in those settings?

When a passage of scripture leads to a conclusion that is completely contrary to the overall tone of scripture and the overall goal of scripture then we must question it – and possibly even reject our conclusions as false.

It simply is not within the character of God to command a person to remain in a hostile home situation when there is a solution. When we run with the two option and no more divorce scenario then we almost inevitably at some point turn God into a monster.

I got this far and got stuck…

If the ‘clear sense’ doesn’t make sense in the bigger picture then where do we go from there?

My only conclusion was to say that there was some knowledge we didn’t have that would complete the puzzle… if only we could find it…

So am I rejecting the traditional/historical view?

I guess I am. It doesn’t do justice to the rest of scripture or to the character of God. While those two conditions may still hold there isn’t scope in that view to manage the question I mentioned before.

Once Were Warriors 15

Fortunately at this point, late on a Friday evening, the ‘sun came up’ (see the intro to the previous post to make sense of this) I stumbled on some work by David Instone-Brewer, an English Baptist pastor and theologian (a practitioner and theorist)  who is able to articulate a coherent way of viewing this situation. A summary of his work is here on Christianity Today and you will need to read it all to get the gist of where he is coming from. But here’s a truncated version to get you in the loop of his thinking.

Essentially Brewer argues that in the OT marriage vows revolved around 3 core objectives –  fidelity, provision and love/care and as a result if any of these were violated repeatedly and unrepentantly there was grounds for divorce. These were the only reasons and obviously Rabbis spent their time interpreting what was legit and flawed cause.

A few decades before Jesus came along there arose a new divorce option – the ‘any cause’ divorce that allowed a husband to divorce his wife for whatever he chose. If she were late home, overweight, wore the wrong clothes… she was fair game. The Hillel Rabbis came up with this one as a new way forward and not surprisingly it became popular.

This was a more expensive option to implement but got men out of marriages quickly and easily. This was the option Joseph considered when Mary was pregnant and it would have avoided proving her adultery in court (would have been interesting to see him try though…)

So when the Pharisees come to ‘test jesus’ they are in fact asking him if he approves of ‘any cause’ divorce and part of their entrapment was to try and lure him into thereby condemning Herod for his marriage of Herodias after an ‘any cause’ divorce. They want to know if he is with the Hillel (any cause) or Shammai (traditional causes) crew and of course they are hoping that he will either ‘come out’ as liberal, or finish up like John the Baptist. Either way its a no win for Jesus.

That is a summary of a summary of Brewer’s teaching so if it doesn’t do it justice its because you can go to the article and read the whole thing. Or you can go to Amazon and buy the book here. Or you can watch a cartoon version of the teaching here. (No really… theological cartoons…)

But the point he makes is that there is a way of reading this stuff that is consistent with God’s character and the rest of scripture and isn’t a ‘fudge’. I sense that what often happens is we fudge and assume that ‘marital unfaithfulness or porneia’ can be extrapolated to mean domestic abuse.

Its a stretch – and we know it.

So while Instone Brewer is no advocate for divorce, he is seeking to provide a way to understand biblical teaching that makes sense and doesn’t have God becoming a monster.

I stumbled on Instone Brewer thru a John Ortberg article here and a sermon here. As I was throwing all this together on Friday I found myself spending most of Friday evening reading and poring over Instone Brewer’s academic papers and some of his more popular papers.

You wouldn’t put him in any kind of liberal/heretic camp. He is a biblical scholar – and a pastor who has been seeking to find a way to deal with the apparent incongruencies in our traditional theology of divorce.

That said, John Piper is not a fan. I think its good to read some push back on a person’s work and Piper certainly does that with an article entitled Tragically Widening the Grounds of Legitimate Divorce. It begins like this:

The October issue of Christianity Today carried an astonishing article on divorce and remarriage by David Instone-Brewer. What makes it especially amazing is that CT simply published it as if it were faithful to Scripture, with no counterpoint, and used the phrase on the cover “when to separate,” not “whether to separate”—even though Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).

Piper however doesn’t offer any way of making sense of the question I asked earlier and the more I read of him the angrier he sounds – in the name of Jesus and for his glory of course…

If you want an even broader approach to the topic that Instone Brewer then Dallas Willard has this to say here.

The basis for divorce among disciples is precisely the same as the basis for marriage. Where it is the case that the persons involved in a marriage would be substantially better off if the marriage were dissolved, the law of love dictates that a divorce should occur. If indeed the divorce is realized as a consequent of the law of love, the evil which is present in most divorces will not be present—and, indeed, very few divorces will occur. But the disciple will make sure of his or her obedience to the law of love in any divorce by making God his lawyer and judge through prayer.

Willard opens a pretty wide door I feel and I could see ‘substantially better off’ being interpreted in ways that are not at all healthy.

Of course that is what we do now anyway isn’t it?

Unless people are thoroughly rigorous in their own reasoning and considering of divorce, reality is that most will divorce because ‘it just isn’t working’ and ‘we’re better off apart’.

I think Willard paints with a broad brush but there is much good in what he says too, particularly his critique of our elevation of romantic love.

Back to Instone Brewer. I haven’t read his whole book, but I am assuming he is on the money with what he says as he is not a mug. I intend to read the whole thing as I have invested enough in this now to make it worth the extra mile.

How does all this play out practically?

For those with ‘marriage problems’

At the end of the day if I were to offer married couples with problems some advice what would it be?… Here is a 7 stage process assuming the previous stage has failed

1 Work it out amongst you

2. Go away and try again

3. Get some help to work it out

4. Keep getting help to work it out

5. Get better help to work it out

6. As above

7. Repeat as needed.

I will concede that there are times when a marriage is a farce and then divorce may be the only option, but I believe that wherever faith, hope and love are present there is always a chance of finding a way forward.

For those in destructive relationships…

If there are destructive things happening repeatedly in a home that are damaging both partner and children then I would have no hesitation in saying get out of there and work it out from there. It might something you can work out. But if there is no cooperation from the aggressor then a divorce may be the best option and the Bible would give you permission both for that and for a subsequent remarriage.

If your partner refuses to reconcile and seek help with you?…

It is down to us to ‘live at peace’ with everyone as much as it depends on you. You can’t force someone into a marriage. You can’t change someone else’s heart and tragically you may find yourself the innocent victim of a person who just wants out. I’d say the Corinthians passage addresses you. You are free to move on and remarry. You are not an ‘adulterer’.

But if you’re just ‘over each other’?…

No.

Grow up and work it out. Because if you don’t you will do it again. Seriously – that may sound harsh, but selfish, fickle people need a really hard kick up the butt.

Finally what about if you have been the aggressor – the one who has been the source of the problem?

The beauty of the gospel is that there is always hope, forgiveness and grace to be found in Jesus. Nothing we can ever do is beyond the pale of God’s love, so even if you think negatively and destructively about yourself there is a way forward.

So those are my thoughts. Many thanks to David Instone Brewer for his work in this area and for helping us make sense of an area that has long been a difficult one.

There is an online sermon and if you are part of QBC you will be able to access it. If not then email me, let me know who you are and I may send you the link. Because its an issue we have been discussing as a community it isn’t necessarily something I want digitised and spread anywhere.

 

So… What DO We Do With ‘Divorce’ Then?…

A number of years back – probably around 30 as I think about it now – I went away to Margaret River for a few days on my own. I had a mate down there and we arranged to head out for a surf at mainbreak one morning. ‘I’ll pick you up at 4.00am.’ he said.

‘Won’t it be dark?’ I countered. Mainbreak can be challenging enough, but at least with the sun up and the waves visible I figured I had a small chance of not dying.

‘Yeah – but we’ll beat the crowds – and the sun will come up soon enough…’

I didn’t want to sound like a woose so I just ‘no worriesed’ him and was there at 4.00am in the pitch black to be picked up.

Sure enough we rolled into the carpark and no one else was there. It was the middle of the night after all. I pulled the wetty on slowly… very slowly… He, a local now, was racing and keen to get out there. I could hear it, but I couldn’t see it.

It felt like madness. Kinda fun madness, but still madness all the same.

I had no idea quite what I was paddling into.

The sun would come up. That much was sure. But managing to survive between now and then was the top priority.

A couple of weeks back I decided to take a crack at this subject of divorce and I got that same feeling. Like paddling out to mainbreak in the dark… You’re not quite sure what’s out there, but fairly sure you want to be there and ‘ride it’.

On that day the sun came up, the wind stayed offshore and the surf was a good 4ft and was classic MR. I think the sun might have come up on some of my questions about divorce, but I’m still tentative, knowing that a trip over the falls is only an error of judgement away.

So – where has a couple of weeks of ruminating taken me?…

I’ll start writing and see if this is a ‘one post’, two or even three post blog.

It began with reading Mark’s gospel ch 10, where the Pharisees test Jesus with their question ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’

The conversation rolls on and ends up with Jesus speaking about anyone who divorces being an adulterer. Matthew’s account includes the ‘except for sexual immorality’ clause.

The obvious question it raises is ‘for what reasons can a person get a divorce?’ What does the Bible say and how do we make sense of it?

Apart from adultery the only other explicit stuff on divorce is by Paul in 1 Cor 7:12-16 who gives a person freedom to divorce if the non-believing partner moves out and moves on.

So the long held biblical view is that divorce is permissible either for adultery (‘porneia’ – could be other forms of sexual immorality) or if one unbelieving partner deserts the other. There are no other clear and simple instructions given on this matter.

And John Stott says unequivocally:

“We should have the courage to resist the prevailing tide of permissiveness and to set ourselves against divorce and remarriage on any other ground than the two mentioned in scripture (immorality and desertion of the unbelieving partner)” (Divorce 1973)

I think we can establish a couple of things quickly and easily:

a) Marriage is intended to be for life and with one person.

Jesus speaks of this in Mark 10 when he says:

At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I don’t think anyone sees marriage as a temporary arrangement so we can nail that as a given.

b) Divorce is a possibility and has been a possibility since the ‘get go’.

And Jesus cites Moses willingness to allow divorce as a concession to ‘hardness of heart’ , or perhaps self centredness is a more modern rendering of that idea.

So while we know marriage is for life and divorce is a valid option in some circumstances the murkiness and struggle hits when we try to discern what those circumstances are.

Perhaps it is just adultery and desertion?…

But Jesus made that one a bit tricky when he spoke of adultery being something we do when we lust in our hearts (Matthew 5). I’m guessing many of us are therefore guilty of adultery and (while divorce is always a last resort) surely a grieved wife could call a husband on ‘lust’ as adultery if she wanted to?… It’d be divorce on a technicality and the scribes and pharisees would be cheering with glee, but she’d win the point.

Some would also suggest that a divorced and remarried person (for reasons other than adultery/desertion) is always an adulterer and because ‘adulterers cannot enter the kingdom of heaven’ (1 Cor 6:9) then they have lost their salvation, are no longer Christian and cannot be part of the church community.  Yeah – I know its a totally dodgy interpretation of that verse and passage because then the greedy, liars and cheats would be out of the kingdom too… So maybe that’s not the case… (Oh but there’s an exception for gay folks though – right?… Because they are still in the ‘really really’ bad camp…)

I grew up in this kind of world. People didn’t get divorced in our church – or if they did they didn’t come back. It was clear that divorce was a special kind of sin that took you out of the orbit of faith and left you in no man’s land. At best on the bench and at worst completely unwelcome. That was the 70’s as best I remember it. Debates raged over whether divorced people could take communion, lead a creche, serve on a leadership team and if you could swallow all of that, whether they could be pastors.

I remember when one of our elders in the church I was attending got divorced. A man I had always perceived as a godly good man was now doing something unthinkable. What did this mean for his life, his faith?… It threw me into a turmoil.

Now – 40 years on – divorce is commonplace. There is no question over your status before God. Leaders can be divorced. Pastors can have divorced – multiple times even – and still be in the game. Divorced people are welcome in church and the whole tenor of things has shifted enormously.

Have we just gone soft?

Have we discovered some new learning/theological understanding that we didn’t have in the 70’s?

John Stott wasn’t unclear in his stance – even if it was 1973 when he took it. I wonder what he would have said if we had been able to speak with him before his death?

So let me pose a question:

If your husband is an aggressive violent man who beats you and the kids up, is feeding your 10 year son a steady diet of amphetamines and selling your 13 year old daughter for sex, while refusing to provide any money for food in the home and has threatened to kill you repeatedly, BUT he hasn’t been sexually unfaithful do you need to stick it out and suck it up?

Or – because it cuts both ways – your wife is a vindictive, manipulative and controlling tyrant who inflicts both emotional and physical harm on you and your children and refuses to change or even acknowledge a problem BUT has not been unfaithful… do you simply have to suck it up and find a way to manage within it?

Doesn’t everything inside you just say ‘what a stupid outrageous and absurd question?! Doesn’t it just seem ridiculous to even have to ask that? And sure – they are extreme examples – but they make the point.

The problem is that historically/traditionally if there has been no infidelity or desertion then there is apparently no biblical grounds for divorce.

John Ortberg says it well:

“For many Christians, sex and sex alone is the key to the dissolution of a marriage. The rub is that if you are humane about divorce you cannot be biblical, and if you are biblical you cannot be humane.”

That bites, doesn’t it?

I realise most divorces are still because people have ‘gone off each other’, and ‘need a change’, so hardness of heart is still the biggie in terms of causes, but there are plenty of situations where Christian people have stuck out incredible nonsense because of this biblical framing of legit reasons for divorce.

In fact studies have shown that Christians (both men and women) put up with much more abuse than those outside of the church because of these theological convictions. Christian divorcees are often more damaged and broken that those outside the church who will simply say ‘I don’t have to put up with this crap.’

So how do we come at this subject in a way is true to scripture but doesn’t lead us to bizarre places? Because Ortberg’s words are so true. There is a cross to carry in following Jesus, but is that how we would see a devastatingly abusive and destructive household?

I’m teaching on that tomorrow so I’ll finish this blog after I’ve said my piece.

A Taste?

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Ever have moments when you think life can’t get any better?

I’ve had lots lately and it’s sparked my curiosity. Occasionally I like to consider what it will be like when God restores and renews this world – when he ‘makes all things new’ as the Bible says and we share in that new creation.

I am much more inspired by this vision of the future than by the ethereal heaven that I saw as the goal for much of my life. NT Wright describes it as “life after life after death”, but either way it is the ultimate destination for those who follow Jesus – to live with God on a renewed earth and to enjoy that forever.

It’s hard to grasp just what that may be like, but my hunch is that we get glimpses every now and then – we have moments when we feel incredibly alive and have that sense of “it just can’t get any better than this!”

I’m sure you have those moments too.

This morning as we sat by the river on a beautiful day and laughed and played as a family was one of those times.

Wondering… Will it ever get any better than this? Is this a taste of what it’s like when God’s kingdom comes?

I think it is.

I believe we do get glimpses of the future kingdom every now and then – when worry is absent, beauty is palpable and people are close. I tend to think those moments are there for the taking more often than we may even realise, but in the busyness and craziness of western life we rarely are able to appreciate them or are in a place to enjoy them.

On a theological level it makes sense that we should experience the beauty of life in the kingdom here and now, but often our thinking has been shaped to expect this world to be hard and for life to be disappointing more than it is invigorating.

Maybe if we slowed down and took the time to savour life a little more then we would experience this reality more often and maybe that would be a catalyst for us as followers of Christ to lead others into this kind of life too.

The ‘L’ Word

 

I haven’t heard this one used for so long that I thought maybe we had grown up and moved on, but then it popped up again in conversation yesterday.

“I was going to go to XYZ Bible College, but a friend told me they were liberal…’

‘Liberal…’

What exactly does that mean?…

Well there is a fairly technical meaning in relation to theology (which I won’t try to unpack here) and then there is the ‘people aren’t as conservative as me on issues of theology I deem important’ meaning.

This was the one in question.

We probably need to be clear that ‘liberal’ really ought not be applied to a Bible College that doesn’t preach a party line, or that allows people to examine the evidence and arrive at their own conclusions. That is not ‘liberal’. That is good learning practice. Nor is it ‘liberal’ to employ lecturers who don’t all hold the same theological convictions on all issues – as if that were even possible…

But clearly ‘liberal’ is still out there and accompanied by its old friend ‘fear’. If you go to a liberal college then chances are you will end up believing that Jospeh Smith died for our sins and then married a re-incarnation of the virgin Mary… Its the slippery slope… Next you’ll be wearing lipstick and going to movies…

No…

During my time leading Forge we mixed with all varieties of denominations and I discovered that those I once labelled ‘liberal’ (yes I was a liberal labeller for a while…) were actually people who took the Bible seriously, but arrived at different conclusions to me. On some issues they were actually more conservative, but then we only use liberal to biff people on our pet issues.

So maybe next time you hear the word ‘liberal’ used against someone ask what’s meant by it. Ask which definition of ‘liberal’ is being employed and ask what role fear plays in the equation.

There is a place for scrutinising theology and there is a liberalism that is destructive to genuine biblical theology, but there is also narrow minded, red necked, fear mongering that only knows one word to pin on those with whom there is either disagreement or concern.

Truth Wins?

This Sunday we come together at QBC to look at Heaven, Hell and all that stuff. Its the stuff we rarely think about (at least hell is) and then there is the idea that we will spend eternity in ‘heaven’… another curious inheritance that may need some re-thinking and clarifying. I like NT Wright’s assertion that ‘sure – you will go to heaven – but you don’t stay there’. He focuses on what he calls ‘life after life after death’ which is definitely more hope-filled and inspiring than whatever heaven may be.

Bell’s book Love Wins (see promo above) put this issue back on the mainstream agenda quite significantly when it was released and Francis Chan’s response Erasing Hell pushed back hard arguing for a more traditional take on the subject.

This video is a clever pushback on the Love Wins promo and takes a different perspective

Chan’s basis for argument was that ‘God is always right about everything’ so if I don’t understand hell then the problem lies with me. Bell was a bit more elusive, but does seem to be saying that God will ultimately draw everyone to himself in this life or the next.

There are of course other options and the late John Stott is known for his annihilationist perspective an argument he suggests may not be traditional but is certainly within the bounds of orthodoxy.

So on Sunday we will come together to chew this one around. And… yes… I will offer my two bobs worth at the end but only after we have helped people really grapple with the issues both biblically and practically.

The title of this post is of course tongue in cheek as I’m sure we all will feel that our persepctive is the ‘truth’ and that we have taken the ‘biblical’ position. Whatever you may think of Rob Bell (I like the guy) he does remind us that we have a tendency to use the word ‘biblical’ as a lump of 4×2 to batter others into submission to our point of view. In reality we bring our own perspectives to the Bible and while we will endeavour to interpret it truly we may well end up with the ‘truth as we see it’.