Monday, January 29, 2018

The overwhelming majority of Christians I know seem to subscribe to the atonement theory of Jesus’ incarnation, which says, as I understand it, the incarnation was God’s response to human sin. In other words, without human sin the incarnation would not have been necessary and therefore would not have occurred. However, there is another incarnation theory, accepted by the Eastern and Roman Catholic Church and dating back to the early 1100’s, which says the incarnation was not God’s response to sin but was God’s plan all along. Sin necessitated the cross, but Christ would have come either way; not because He had to but because He wanted to.

The difference is important. In atonement theology the incarnation begins with sin-Christ must come and die so God may once again love and accept us. Recall the Day of Atonement-the ancient ritual where a goat is sacrificed to pay the (blood/death) penalty for sin while another goat-the scapegoat-having had Israel’s sins transferred to it by the High Priest’s laying on of hand-carries the sins away into the wilderness. Thus, the people’s sins are both paid for and removed-forgiveness is completed, and consciences are cleared. Modern atonement theology as I understand it sees Christ accomplishing this once for all on the cross-which I whole-heartedly agree with. It also sees this as the primary purpose for Christ’s coming. This is where we part ways.

I do not believe Christ had to come and die to change God’s mind about humanity. According to Paul God already loved us- “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us... For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” Romans5:6-10;(NRSV; Italics mine). Jesus Himself says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 (NRSV; Italics mine). God already loved His creation; Christ came to change our minds about God.

Consider the Genesis 3 account: “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Genesis 3:8-10 (NRSV).   I see three points here. First, God walking in the garden hints at regular practice; the couple’s hiding says they knew it was coming. Second, after their betrayal the couple’s first act was to hide in fear. Third, God does not abandon His fallen creatures-He comes looking for them. These three points remain true today. God still desires our friendship and our love; we still tend to hide from His presence and He still seeks us out. God did not seek Adam and Eve out because Christ died for them, God sought them out because God loves them. God’s love comes first and never ends. When Christ comes, before He dies He shows us how to live (remember this, it will come up again).

That God sought out Adam and Eve after their betrayal is an important point and is not, in my opinion, the act of a God who needed His son to die before He could love or accept us. Consider again Jesus’ words “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:17-19 (NRSV). Now consider Abram “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6 (NRSV). What was it Abram believed? What God said. What did God say? “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…So shall your descendants be.” Genesis 15:5 (NRSV). Christ had not yet died when this promise was made; in fact Christ appears to Abraham “The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…[since]… all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him… for I have chosen him…and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice…” Genesis 18:17-19 (NRSV, Italics mine), and allows Abraham to bargain with Him to spare Sodom (vs.22-33). Again, not (to me) the actions of a God who demands blood sacrifice as a condition for friendship. God chose and sought out Abram before Abram had done anything one way or the other.

And since we are considering Abram, let us also consider Hagar, to whom God appeared (it was Hagar who named God El-roi-the God who sees) and Ishmael, who also received God’s blessing (Genesis 16:7-15; 21:9-21). To be sure, the promise and the covenant comes to Abraham and is passed down through Isaac and Jacob. However, Hagar and Ishmael also receive God’s direct blessing. And not only Ishmael; when Jacob returns from his long servitude to his uncle Laban he finds an Esau who (presumably with God’s help) has done very well for himself (Genesis 33:1-11). Now, I suppose one could point to these things as evidence for God’s sovereign election, or even predestination. I choose to see them as evidence of God’s unconditional love for all His creatures. This leads to my next topic-a statement made by Richard Rohr in one of his January CAC meditations, which I will pose as a question. Are we human beings trying to learn how to be spiritual, or spiritual beings learning how to be human?

Blessings JRG

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The incident I’m about to relay to you all was told to me by a person of the utmost reliability. Although I did not witness it firsthand I have no reason to doubt it happened.
The city where I live, about 33,000, I believe, has one medical center/hospital with an emergency room. Yesterday, one of our homeless men was brought in, diagnosed with the flu-confirmed case, apparently-and released back into the general population with a prescription for Tamiflu which he cannot possibly fill and no place to go. The overnight low was in the mid-20’s and the local police took him to our day shelter which, due to the extended cold spell, has become a temporary overnight shelter as well. The shelter took him in and will fill the Rx as soon as they are able; he will at least be somewhat comfortable and will have a warm place to stay for a few days.
My concern here, aside from our guy with the flu, is that everyone else in the shelter-12 or so, plus staff-have now been exposed to the flu. People will be coming and going, hanging out at local convenience stores, fast food places and using public restrooms. The staff-day and night-will be going home to their families. Not to be too paranoid but this is how stuff spreads. How many others will become sick because one local hospital refused to treat a homeless patient without insurance?
We as a nation, in my opinion, are failing our brothers and sisters living on the margins who, for whatever reason, cannot adequately care for themselves. Universal, government-supported health care is operating with various degrees of success in many countries today and there is simply no excuse for not having it here. We do not need to re-invent the wheel-we can take the best and leave the rest. If we so choose. This is not socialism or redistributing wealth or anything else; it is simply government providing equally for all its citizens.
Over this past year I have heard much about moral decay under President Obama; most of which focuses on sexual issues. There is indeed moral decay in this country and it has nothing to do with sex. This decay presents as social justice but the real issue, as I see it-the elephant in the room-is the fact that there are those who have taken it upon themselves to decide who is worthy to live and who is not. The criteria is simple-one either has wealth that may be extracted or requires wealth to be distributed. In other words, if you’re working you’re good. If you’re not working, you are not good. If you are sick or disabled you are not good. If you require government support in the form of Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid you are definitely not good. Don’t believe me? Consider who benefits from the policies of the current administration; consider who is making these policies. Are policies being made to benefit the greater good of all Americans, or for the benefit of a chosen few? Look objectively here, think critically. There is no room for moral equivalency-each policy stands or falls on its own merit.
Christians in particular have the unique ability-and responsibility-to evaluate things in light of Biblical teaching. To this particular point I will simply say, pay close attention to the ancient prophets where they acted as God’s prosecuting attorneys; bringing God’s charges against God’s covenant people. Keep in mind, regardless of our theology, we all believe the Church Militant is the presence of God on earth today and certain universal and timeless principles hold true still.

Finally, let me say there are some with whom I disagree yet manage to maintain a close personal friendship, people I love and admire and respect. We simply disagree on some things, and I expect, even welcome, disagreement here as well. I believe, in the end, personal relationship is key. Let us not become so lost in ideology we forget how to disagree agreeably and in the process loose our love for one another.