Maintence of the Main Tenets

Love is the mature bond of unity. Col. 3:14

We’ve been developing a schema that goes as follows: those who identify as the people of God, need a unifying, sustaining vision, structured in a way that remains essential, yet gives room for diversity. So, how can a church be the university of God…maintaining unity in her diversity. Or the maybe the question is better asked “What is so central that we can derive all of our sense of life, worth, and meaning…so completely…that the rest can simply be the rest, and it not matter whether or not we agree on anything else?”

Is there a bullseye that we can all hit, so that the rest can simply be the rest ?

Church history points towards such a center as the Gospel.  How we define the gospel may vary, but even a bullseye has room for some deviation. I’ll address a little of the nature of that deviation in this post, and then share my personal vision in a final post.

We would be hard pressed to argue against the Gospel as being the single most important truth that Christians should know. None of us are arguing against that per se.  I’m more interested in how we use the Gospel according to a structure that allows us to derive a sense of life and worth. Thus, we use the Gospel as our sustaining vision, in a conscience and intentional way.  In this, the deviation should show itself as benign. I believe as we do this, we’ll find that we’re in the bullseye enough for it to count and thus resist disbanding, as if we had no vision in the first place.

(It’s tempting here, to evoke the creeds, here but on a personal note, they have never done much for me. They’ve always felt a little gauche, outside of reciting them in a formal liturgy, to which I guess, is fine. The thrust of where I’ve been going in these posts deals more with, daily living and fellowship, even and especially as we commune in the great surrogate community of online communal spaces, or participate in theological conversations where everyone is coming from a slightly different background.)

Again, let me end this post by asking questions:

What vision of the Gospel do you have ? If we all shared your vision, would it bind us together in the right way, and how does that juxtapose with reality these days ?

Are you deriving your sense of life from the Gospel ? …Your sense of worth and identity from the Gospel ? Are you able to do so in such a way that everything else is just that — everything else ?

Target Practice

All have missed the mark that is God’s glory. Rom. 3:23

Previous posts have brought the idea of a sustaining a vision and how it should not be structured.

This post poses an alternative structure to that of a house of cards theology, where any point of weakness causes it to all crash down.

The alternative structure, as helpful metaphor, would be a bullseye nested in concentric rings.  The idea here being, that there is a center which utterly grounds us. We derive a sense of life, worth, and identity from this center…so much that, the rest can be categorized as “everything else” and can be left undecided, doubted even. Furthermore, we can change our minds on these things, and it shouldn’t rock us, or the community we are in, since gain, we are not deriving our sense of life worth and identity from all the outer circles of “other stuff.”

Outside of the bullseye, we can differ, we can engage with ease and poise, because that stuff does not define us, nor give us life.

This is a structure, in my opinion, which can better weather the tumult of modernity and post modernity in our scientific, hyper informational age.

The next post we’ll switch over to a content which best fits this preferred structure.

(Again, credit to Boyd and his book Benefit of Doubt for much of this.)

E Pluribus Unum

You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. Eph. 4 MSG

Last post alluded to this idea that the people of God are bound together by a sustaining revelation, or vision. (Prov. 29:18) In this post, we’ll examine what the structure should look like by negation, or how that vision probably should not be structured.

Much credit to these ideas, which are not originally my own, goes to Greg Boyd and his book Benefit of Doubt.

Essentially, one should examine the structure of their vision, to see if they’ve crafted a house of cards over the time of their life. A house of cards theology is one where any point of weakness causes the whole thing to crash down. For example, you can sometimes identify such theologies by their rejecting of one as a true christian, because, say, they do not believe in a literal seven day creation. The general prognosis would be an inner tension with differing points of view in Christian conversation, and a tendency to have no fellowship outside of your own theological camp.

If you often privately worry that everyone else is wrong, and they just need to get on with this one thing…then I’m addressing you, probably.

A sustaining vision is one that avoids this, that can flex and have great candor, and has real fellowship with those outside of your little, or big, ideology tribe.

So the structure cannot be overly systemic, and frankly shouldn’t be that hard to proclaim or grasp. If people need to have great schooling just to get the sub points before they move on to the main points of the vision that is supposed to sustain us all, well then we will probably never get there, disbanding before we do.

And the stakes remain, the dissolution of the people in the midst of a vision structured as such.

Next up, an alternative structure to the house of cards.

 

Parish the Thought

Without a vision the people perish.  Proverbs 29:18

 

I once heard a sermon in which it was mentioned that the word perish could be translated disintegrate.

There has been talk for a while now, (using, say, the legalization of gay marriage as a watermark) of the decline of evangelicalism in the U.S.

So a probable frame for this, could be, the proverb and this idea of a sustaining vision which binds us together to weather the crucibles of culture wars, policy change, or whatever.

Hopefully, several posts to come, but for now let’s start with this private/personal question…”What vision do you have ?” And perhaps how is it holding up ?

I think we all have a vision, whether or not we realize it, so asking questions is initially more beneficial then rushing to answer.

If you identify as part of the people of God, what vision do you have ? If we all shared your vision, would it bind us together in the right way, and how does that juxtapose with reality these days ?

 

The forthcoming posts will include what a certain vision’s structure should not be, what it should be, and then finally my personal reveal.

Politics of Faith: Pt. 3

In the Coen brothers’ modern classic film “O, Brother Where Art Thou,” there is a scene where some escaped prisoners (Delmar and Ulysses) stumble upon a congregation performing baptisms in a river. Delmar wades in to get dunked himself, and afterwards claims to be redeemed of his transgressions. To which, Ulysses pointedly replies “That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed.”

The first time I saw the movie, years ago, I chucked at this pithy one liner, but now looking back, I realize there is a deep nugget of wisdom buried in this exchange.

There was a movement in American politics a few decades ago in which a large voting bloc of Christians rallied behind chosen conservative candidates in an effort to increase the political clout of the church and institute a rule of law based on Christian morals. This effort was called the Moral Majority, and it was (in my opinion) a huge political and theological mistake, and was very damaging to the Christian brand.

For the record, I’m not the only one who thinks so. “Closely associating the core message of the Christian faith with a political ideology has always been a huge mistake.”  ~Tullian Tchividjian

But why, you are probably asking? What is so bad about mobilizing the church to  help create a moral and Godly society. On it’s face, it seems a worthy goal.

The first issue I would mention is that in America, there is a bedrock principle of separation of church and state, so any laws based on religious grounds are very likely to be challenged and overturned by the courts. But that is not the real problem.

I point back to the words of Ulysses Everett McGill, who said (paraphrasing) “God may have forgiven you, but the government is less forgiving.”

The core message of Christ, the most important aspect of all of this is the opportunity for forgiveness and redemption. However, as Ulysses pointed out to Delmar, that can come only from Christ, not from the government. If you break the government’s laws, no matter how much Jesus loves and forgives you, you’re still going to jail because Uncle Sam is not really into the forgiveness scene like Jesus is.

That means that, in effect, when Christians lobby the government to enact morality laws, we are asking the government to enforce God’s law, and thus in some small way deprive our brothers and neighbors who transgress the opportunity to be forgiven.

Now then, of course Jesus still offers forgiveness regardless of what the secular law is. However, I think when Christians insist on the government enforcing  morality, it sends an implicit message to our neighbors, which says “Even if God will forgive you, we want to be sure you won’t get away scot-free.” This is, of course, completely anti-thetical to the Christian message.

In a sense, it is an effort to go back to the law of Moses, which we were freed from. For some reason, humanity seems to have a strong innate desire to construct laws and rules for ourselves, instead of accepting and rejoicing in the liberty of Christ. It was evident in the early church, throughout the Middle Ages (cue Protestant Reformation), and it still pervades today.

Now, I am not saying we should live in a lawless world where anything goes. I think violent and serious crimes like murder and theft still need to be illegal and prosecuted by the government. Without those laws, society would break down into chaos. But for other things, I think the church should be cautious and ask ourselves if getting the government involved in a specific issue is really necessary and beneficial, or is it potential harmful because it undermines our message of forgiveness?

As a final word, remember the world will continue to become more sinful until Christ returns. We are told this in several prophecies, and so frankly, there’s no point in getting too worked up about it. It’s going to happen. Much of the world will continue to reject Jesus and sink into sin and debauchery. Our job as Christians is not to drag them out of this life, but rather it is to live in joy, fellowship, and love, and show them a better way.

A review of Star Wars Ep. VII (spoilers)

I have spent a lot of time in the last week talking with various people about my thoughts on Star Wars Ep. VII so I thought I’d collect them here. Before digging into the movie, for those that haven’t seen it yet I’ll say this: It’s a good movie, and it’s very enjoyable. I have a few minor quibbles, but overall it’s a really good film. I give it a B-plus/A-minus.

Below this point there will be spoilers. Major spoilers.

Seriously, do not keep reading if you haven’t seen the movie.

HUGE MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!

LOTS OF GIGANTIC MOVIE-RUINING SPOILERS BELOW THIS POINT!

 

 

Okay, now that the warnings are out of the way…. on to the review.

I’ll start by saying I think the film looks good. The effects are good, not too heavy on CG. The costuming and sets look nice, and I liked the updated design of the ships. I really like the battle scenes, especially the air-to-ground combat aspects of the battle at Maz Kanata’s place, which is a new dynamic for the saga. I would have liked to see more variety in the types of ships that were being used. We saw a lot of TIEs and X-wings but no Y-wings or A-wings or anything new and cool. So that feels like a missed opportunity.

They wisely expunged virtually all references to the prequels, and with this new installment we can all forget that unfortunate chapter in the saga ever happened.

I liked the new younger leads, and the Poe-Finn bromance is definitely one of the high points of the movie. I thought that Oscar Isaac, who is a terrific actor, was underutilized and needs more screen time in the next film. (Gwendonline Christie as Capt. Phasma was also underused in a large and talented ensemble cast)

Most of the criticism of the film seems focused on the inescapable fact that the plot is ripped directly from Ep. IV, even down to some smaller details. We start with the evil Empire/First Order searching for a droid containing a map that the rebels have hidden. We meet a young unhappy orphan (who is also a pilot) on a backwater desert planet, she meets a wise old mentor who takes her to an intergalactic dive bar to look for a pilot. The wise old mentor later dies. And then a planet gets blown up and the rebels make a desperate last minute attempt to blow up the super-weapon.

Okay, yes, it’s definitely a ripoff of the story from Ep. IV. I see how that could bother some people, but it doesn’t bother me. It was so blatant that it was clearly an intentional choice. I see it as an apology or a reassurance that Star Wars is getting back to its roots and there will be no more talk about how coarse sand is or nonsense about midichlorians. Disney have lots more movies planned, including some intriguing spinoffs, so the storyline will get more creative and interesting, but this first installment had to reinvigorate the franchise. They needed a layup, and a fun movie that is almost a frame-by-frame remake of the much-beloved first film was the best way to achieve that.

I did feel like the Starkiller plot was somewhat secondary to the plot about trying to find Luke, which made it feel a little less epic and urgent. The whole film is about finding BB-8 and the map to Luke, but then they have to wedge in a big final battle somehow, so let’s blow up another huge space station. I think they could have done a slightly better job of balancing those plot lines, but it did not sink the movie the way it was.

The movie has been widely praised for including a more diverse cast of leads than previous films. The inclusion of a prominent female lead is a nice addition because there aren’t a lot of those in scifi. I like Rey’s character, and I think Daisy Ridley is good. I do have some complaints that I think they oversold her character a little., particularly in the beginning when they do the “she’s a girl but she can fix things” gag a few too many times. She could have just fixed the Falcon the first time and moved on, and the audience would have totally understood. But then she had to have a pointless conversation with Han about the hyperdrive, and then fiddle with something else in the cockpit later.  For comparison, in Eps. IV and V we understand that Han and Chewie are good at fixing the ship because we see them constantly working on the ship while having conversations about other things while working on the ship. It is a nice subtle way of developing their characters, instead of “LOOK! A GIRL IS USING A SCREWDRIVER!”  It was generally just too heavy-handed and borders on making her character annoying.

I also thought that it was too far-fetched that this girl, who didn’t even really believe in the Force in the beginning of the movie, is somehow able to resist Kylo Ren’s Force mind probe and then is somehow able to “not-the-droids-you’re-looking-for” that (inexplicably only one?) stormtrooper who was guarding her with zero training or instruction in the Force. In Eps. IV and V we saw Luke struggling with the Force several times as Obi Wan and Yoda train him, so I find it rather implausible and ridiculous that Rey was able to just start using the Force with no training. Also she was able to defeat Kylo Ren-who has years of Force and combat training-in a lightsaber duel, so that was just laying it on a bit thick. Again, we saw Luke-one of the greatest Jedi ever-lose to Vader even after training with Yoda.

This brings me to my other complaint, which is that I don’t find Kylo Ren to be a great villain, which is important because I really believe that the strength of any films rests on the bad guy.  I think it was unwise to unmask him in the first movie (and also to reveal Snoke so early as well).  Also (see above) watching him lose to an untrained teenage girl really undermines Kylo as a scary intimidating bad guy. On some level, I think the writers tried to humanize him a little and make him a more complex character with insecurities and depth, which I appreciate. But I still think he needs to be scarier. We immediately get the impression that Vader is a bad bad dude that you do not want to mess with. However we don’t get that feeling with Kylo. He’s a whiny brat that loses to an untrained teenager twice, so I’m not very worried about him. I think Leia could kick his butt. (Side note: that would be an amazing scene for the next film) On the positive side, I will say that making Kylo Han and Leia’s son is a good move that really connects the new First Order to the old movies through that relationship.

Of course I was very sad about Han Solo’s demise because he is a great character, but it does make sense for the story. (and I was not surprised by it) I would have preferred that he go out in a bit more of a blaze of glory. I think Han deserved a little better than walking out on an ominous walkway and getting stabbed. In my screenplay, I would have fixed this and also the Rey-Kylo issue by having Rey lose to Kylo but then be saved by Han’s intervention. Then Han and Kylo have a nice father-son chat like they did on that bridge and Kylo kills him there. Maybe it could have added another layer that Kylo is jealous that Han would sacrifice himself to save this girl, but he feels like Han was not that kind of father to him. Of course, Han did almost certainly know he would die when he tried to save Ben/Kylo, so that shows some character development from the mercenary scoundrel we meet in Ep. IV.

FInally, (and this is a very minor nitpicky criticism but it really gets under my skin because it is a lazy continuity edit) when Rey and Finn are escaping in the Falcon, Finn gets in the gun on the bottom of the ship. That’s mistake number one because he would have had a better field of vision for shooting the pursuing TIEs from the top gun. And the Falcon clearly has two guns (we see Han and Luke both using them in Ep. IV) which are visible in the movie. But overlooking that, when his gun gets damaged and cannot rotate, he tells Rey to execute a complicated and risky maneuver in order to bring them around facing the TIE because he can only fire straight forward. But he could have easily climbed up the ladder to the other fully-functional gun, so the entire thing was totally unnecessary. My irritation about this is almost certainly disproportionate to how important this detail was, but anyway, it still annoyed me.

So those are the issues I had with it. However, you shouldn’t get the impression because I’ve gone on at length about things I did not like the film in general. I did think it was a good movie, and most of my quibbles were minor. After all I did see the movie in theaters twice (wearing my Jedi robes), and I’ll definitely be seeing the next one as soon as it comes out. Despite my nit-picking, I think Ep. VII is a great way to kick off the new era in the Star Wars saga, and I’m very happy it was successful and that a franchise that I love seems to have a bright future ahead of it.

The Politics of Faith: Pt. 2

I am finally getting around to writing the much-anticipated sequel to my previous post about the intersection of politics and faith.

Now, let’s just lay the cards on the table here: politics can be a nasty business. It is full sleazy, back room deals, lies, subterfuge, blackmail, and all sorts of things that make for great television and poor examples of Christian living. (e.g., House of Cards)

One could reasonably suggest that good Christians should withdraw from the political arena altogether, give the politicians over to the sinful desires of their hearts, and do our own thing separate from the government entirely. I understand this outlook, but ultimately I think it is a misguided form of cultural monasticism, which is a philosophy I reject. Jesus called Christians to live in loving community with each other, and also with our unbelieving neighbors. The best (arguably only) way to introduce the lost to the kingdom of God is through exhibiting God’s uncanny brand of love while living, working, sweating, and struggling alongside our neighbors as we all go through the trials of life. (The astute reader will note the previous sentence does not contain the words “Bible” or “thumping.”) Eventually, people will notice the Spirit living within us, which is manifested by an internal joy that they do not understand but will be led to seek out. I believe this is the model through which Jesus intended the kingdom to grow. However, for it to work, it is necessary that Christians be ingrained in society living alongside our friends and neighbors and coworkers and living in community with them, which is why I reject the theology of monasticism.

I think that Jesus (and also Paul, among others) modelled this plan effectively. Jesus was a man of the people, a true populist, who dwelt among the people during his ministry. He dined with prostitutes. When he travelled, he stayed in the homes of his followers. He went fishing with Peter. People were attracted to him because they saw him struggling with the same mundane, daily struggles that they also dealt with, and he displayed a profound inner joy and compassion while doing it.

Jesus is commonly portrayed as anti-establishment, a rabble-rouser who challenged the authority of the religious and (synonymously) political leaders of the day. While that image is largely true, one part that is often overlooked is that Jesus was not completely outside the system. There was already an established network of itinerant rabbis who travelled throughout Israel, teaching to crowds and recruiting disciples. Jesus was one of these. In the beginning of his ministry, Jesus’ strategy was not particularly novel or revolutionary: he began by being engaged with the existing community of rabbis and transforming it from within. We know that Jesus was viewed as a teacher because he often addressed as “Rabbi” and was invited to read Scripture when he entered the Temple (Luke 4). It was widely known that Jesus was well-versed in the Law and prophecy, and he was a respected member of the rabbinical community.

So the point of all this is that Jesus was engaged in the community. He definitely went against the grain with many of his teachings, and ultimately he was not concerned about wining a popularity contest. (A huge crowd shouting for your crucifixion is basically losing a popularity contest in the worst way) But he did not start off his ministry by going out into the desert and shouting Scripture passages at rocks until a crowd formed. He went to were people were, and he started living with them and teaching them, and he got his hands dirty.

Similarly, I exhort those Christians who want to retreat from difficult aspects of our society to stick it out. For the Christian life to be effective, we have to have some skin in the game. To bring it back to politics, I am not saying we all need to run for office and volunteer for political campaigns. But I do think it means we should be at least sufficiently engaged in the world to know what is going on and relate to our neighbors. Politics on municipal, state, and federal levels have enormous impact on every day life through taxes, education, law enforcement, and foreign policy. The people around us, with whom we are trying to live in community, are affected by these issues, and if we want to relate to them, we have to understand that. Possibly, when voting season comes around we will have a chance to cast a vote to improve someone’s life. But I think the more important contribution we can make is simply saying “Yes, we see what’s going on with you  and we and here with you.”

1 Cor. 12:26 “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

 

The Politics of Faith

Conventional wisdom for a polite society dictates that the two topics of conversation to always avoid are politics and religion so, I thought I would try to hit both topics in one post.

As a new election season kicks off, politics is coming more and more to the forefront of our national conversation, even though the actual election is more than a year away. (Gonna be a long year…) People of faith often struggle about how their faith should inform their vote. Should the government its power to enforce Christian morality? Should the government be doing more to help the poor? Isn’t that the church’s job? How does a large Christian community coexist in a democracy with other large groups that diametrically disagree with the Christian faith or the notion of religion at all?

Viewpoints on these issues are varied among Christians. The government can be a powerful force for social good and change, and some believe that the best way to show love to the poor is to leverage the government’s resources toward relief for the poor. Others believe that society as a whole is benefited more when the government acts to grow the economy, providing jobs and building wealth which lift people out of the cycle of poverty. Economists and politicians have been arguing over these philosophies for a long time, and there are plenty of intelligent educated people who come down on both sides of the issue.

Peter and Paul both speak clearly about the importance of respect for government authority because the government is God’s earthly arm for justice, which we can all agree is a good thing. Unfortunately, there is little Biblical precedent for interacting in our modern system of governance. Governments around the time of Paul and in the Old Testament days were less democratic. Israel in the time of Jesus was oppressed by the Roman Empire. In the days of the patriarchs, the nation of Israel was ruled by a theocratic class of priests and judges, while in America we are culturally very big on the separation of church and state.

Some might view this separation as diminishing God’s influence in the public realm, but I disagree. I think it is an invaluable gift to the church to be free from involvement from the government. Much like a tenured college professor is free to teach and write as he sees fit, a church that is not under the thumb of the government is free to preach God’s word as they believe it without adulterating influences.

There are several ongoing debates about various laws that people believe infringe on religious liberty. Most of these battle are ultimately resolved in the court system. Consequently, one of the most important features of our system of government is a judicial branch that checks legislative or executive overreach that infringes the rights of the disenfranchised. While I think it is unwise for the church to become involved in many aspects of government (more on that later), this is an area where I believe it pays to be vigilant, for two reasons.

The first-and most obvious-is that the church can defend itself from restrictive laws that prohibit our constitutional rights to free practice of faith. There are many faith-based legal groups doing good work on that front, which is a necessary and worthwhile effort to protect Christians and people of faith from persecution. (Note, the preceding paragraph can sound overly paranoid, so allow me to clarify that I don’t think there is a concerted effort in our society to persecute Christians, although there is a surprising swath of  people who regard the church with derision and vitriol. However, the freedom of religion is a fundamental tenant of our culture, and I believe it is important to keep that belief in the forefront of our thinking and conversation.)

A second way I believe the church should be heavily involved in the legal system is through advocacy for the disenfranchised. The legal system is vast, complicated, and intimidating. The poor and uneducated have virtually no hope of navigating it without legal counsel from faith advocacy groups. I think this is an area where the church can be a prominent voice for the downtrodden, either by assisting with appeals in wrongful criminal cases, advocating for humane prison conditions, or raising public awareness of the way in which various legislation negatively affects otherwise voiceless communities such as the disabled. There are myriad other examples of how to show Christ’s love through social work and legal advocacy within the government system.

I believe a careful reading of the life and teachings of Jesus show that one of his top priorities was always bringing the disenfranchised to have a seat at the table. His followers were social rejects and outcasts. Samaritans, adulterers, tax collectors, and lepers. He generally paid far more attention to these people than to the rich and powerful. Jesus fought for the inclusion of everyone, and so clearly we should do the same.

As James 1:27 says, “True religion that is pleasing to the Father is to look after orphans and widows.”

Swords or Plowshares: Pt. 2

A while back, I wrote about the issue of using violent force in defense of one’s self and family. This is the follow up concerning Christian thought on war and state-sanctioned violence.

This is an issue that’s been weighing on my mind quite a bit recently. The world seems to be a scary place right now. ISIS (ISIL) has been sweeping through the Middle East, kidnapping and murdering people, brazenly posting videos on YouTube. Boko Haram drags schoolgirls out of their beds at night, kidnaps them and probably selling them into slavery.  Just today, another militant group, Al Shabaab, attacked a university in Kenya and killed 70 people. (and counting as of the time of this writing)

These are not isolated incidents of a few crackpots that decide to wreak havoc. All of these groups are well-funded, paramilitary organizations operating outside of any legitimate government to instil fear in people and force their own twisted interpretation of religion on their neighbors. And the things they are doing are horrible.

So what are Christians to make of it? It’s easy to say we should send our holy fleet of Predator drones over there and bomb them into oblivion, just as our Lord Jesus commanded. Plain and simple.

Oh wait, he didn’t say that.

Jesus said “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

It’s right there in red text in Matthew 5:44. To borrow a phrase from Mark Lowry, “Have you ever read the red part of the Bible? It’ll mess you up.”

Yes, it often turns out that the things Jesus actually said mess up a lot of our beliefs that we think are based in Christian scripture.

So what am I getting at? Are we supposed to watch evildoers go around raping and pillaging while we pray for them and let the innocent suffer?  Are we not to also equally love the victims, the children who are being murdered?

In fact, Jesus had some very stern words for those who harm children, saying it would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and dropped into the ocean. (Luke 17:2) Those sound more like the words of Don Corleone than the nonviolent pacifist we so often picture Jesus to be.

The command to love our enemies who persecute us and also love our neighbors who are subject to that persecution seem almost contradictory. Are the two mutually exclusive? Would showing love to the oppressor not pile onto the plight of the oppressed?

This is a difficult, complex issue, and much has been written on it. Christian thinkers have wrestled with it for centuries, including such luminaries as Martin Luther and St. Augustine of Hippo.

I will not attempt to reinvent the wheel by rehashing everything that has been said, but I do want to survey this issue and highlight a few of my thoughts.

First, as is my custom, let’s apply my three-step method by examining the old Law, the words of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament, and finally the leading of the Holy Spirit. We will see where we land after that journey.

The Old testament has innumerable passages about war and warfare. God frequently ordered the Israelites to attack the cities of their enemies at chosen times, so that he could deliver victory into their hands. Sometimes God purposefully let the Israelites be captured if they turned from him. There is a lot of military imagery of God as a powerful warrior-imagery that pervades the New Testatment as well-and military success is strongly associated with the Lord’s favor.

I think part of this is cultural or historical. The early prophets lived in a time when the existence of Israel as a country was truly threatened and they were at constant risk of being enslaved by larger neighboring empires, e.g., the Egyptians or Babylonians. They viewed military success as a necessity to their existence, and God sanctioned those wars as needed to bless them.

We here in the United States do not face a threat of having our existence wiped away, or anything remotely close to that. However, there is still a lesson to be learned, which is that God fights for the  underdog. He protects the weak, and repels attacks on his followers.

In our modern context, Americans are not the Israelites, but the subjugated peoples in land controlled by ISIS could be. Children in Nigeria living in fear for their lives because they learned how to read a newspaper or a Bible are not so different from a small tribe of shepherds fearing the wrath of the vast Egyptian empire. God saw fit to protect the Israelites through warfare, so maybe we should do the same.

In the New Testament, Luke 3:14, some soldiers (possibly Roman, possibly Herod’s) asked John the Baptist “What shall we do?” I think there is a strong implication of asking if they should quit their jobs in the military. However, John did not command  that. Instead he told them not to take money from people by force, or I see it more broadly as “Do not take advantage of your strength.” I think in doing so, he implies that the soldiers can use their strength and position of authority as a force of good in the world. Later in a similar incident, Jesus abstains from telling a Roman centurion to leave the army.

Jesus actually said little else about the government or military other than saying that we should pay our taxes, perhaps an implicit endorsement of the  legitimacy of government as an arm of God’s authority on Earth.

Peter and Paul, however, both gave some clear instructions regarding the government.  Paul says in Romans 13 that all must submit to the governing authorities because the governments are ordained by God and is “an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.” To me, that sounds like a strong affirmation that wordly governments can use their military force to bring about peace and justice, and Christians should support that mission by paying taxes. (As tax day approaches, I must point out that, unfortunately, the case that paying taxes is a Biblical command is ironclad.)

Paul says “Those who oppose will bring judgment on themselves.” So perhaps, if terrorists are doing so much evil in the world that they bring the wrath of our government down upon themselves, their blood is on their own hands.

Peter’s instruction is similar to Paul’s. (1 Peter 2) “…Governors sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil” This verse may have been aimed more at police and magistrates enforcing the law, but it is not a huge stretch to think Peter would also support the projection of force to foreign lands to protect the weak from oppression.

So, I think there is a strong case that governments have the authority to wage warfare and enforce peace and justice. But, here in America, we live in a democratic society, which means we get to vote (somewhat indirectly) on when or how to do that. And what about that stuff about loving your enemy?

It is true that God uses Earthly authorities as a means of bringing justice to His people. However, it is important to remember that He does this in His own timing. There are plenty of evil, tyrannical, corrupt governments throughout history, which God left in power for a time. We’ll probably never know the reasons for this, but we should learn not to rush to war at every injustice. This brings me to the third line of inquiry, the Holy Spirit. I think we have to rely on the Spirit to know when the injustice in a situation justifies the cost of war. We have to keep in mind many people will die on both sides, people will be injured, homes destroyed. The financial cost is enormous, and maybe that money could be better spent finding peaceful solutions. Sometimes, that is just not possible. After much consideration and prayer, we might have to go to war. It’s important that we for our government leaders to have wisdom in deciding this.

Clearly we have to show love and compassion to the weak and downtrodden in times of war.

Jesus taught on the importance of showing love by ministering to the specific needs people have. He said “Who among you if your song asks for bread, will give him a stone? If he asks for a fish, will you give him a snake?” Careful scrutiny of the Gospels show that each time Jesus ministered to a poor, sick, or hungry person, he showed them love by catering to a physical need they have. Feed the hungry, heal the sick. And we can extrapolate that to “Protect the weak from those who wish to do them harm.”

When people are being murdered and watching their children be kidnapped by terrorists, they have some specific physical needs, and we should minister to them by meeting those needs. Sending a box of Band-Aids will not help; what they need is military protection. If we refuse them that, doesn’t that undermine our message of love? If we respond to mass murder with an impotent Twitter campaign instead of a military campaign, we are giving our neighbors a snake when they need a fish.

However, having Congress declare war on a set of enemies does not exempt us from loving them. Jesus said “Love your enemies” not “Love your enemies until that’s really hard, then just kill them.” But how are we supposed to love them?

I believe we have to make diligent efforts to continue to extend an olive branch to our enemies even in the midst of war. This seems to me to be the only solution that shows love to both sides. We cannot forsake the weak and the oppressed. Neither should we give up on those who persecute us and give them over to darkness. I think the way to show love to them is by making it clear that we will not tolerate various  heinous crimes, but they are welcome back into the fold if they repent. (Wait, that sounds familiar…)

We can draw from the ultimate example: Christ’s sacrifice for us. Humanity has endlessly sinned against God, and there are consequences waiting for all of us. All sins will be answered for, either in the fires of Hell or the fires of Hellfire missiles. However, even while passing judgement for our sins, God extends a peace offering by sacrificially giving his life so we have a chance at reconciliation.  I think this dual model of justice tempered with a sacrificial desire for harmony is the model for how we should also deal with our Earthly conflicts.

 

Faith with a side of nihilism

There is quite of a bit of psychological and philosophical discourse devoted to the foundations of morality.  I don’t want to dive too far down the rabbit hole in discussing all of the schools of thought that exist. They are legion and encompass a broad range of religious orthodoxies and secular beliefs. Continue reading