Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Absence of God—Love in Inaction

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was." John 11:5-6 ESV

It's hard to imagine Jesus not leaving immediately when he hears of this illness. But he chose to wait.

Earlier, when Jesus was in Cana an official asks that he travel to Capernaum (located 20 miles away) to heal his son. Jesus sends him home, saying, “Your son will live.” The deadly fever broke that same hour.

Jesus didn't need to travel the 25 or so miles from the east side of the Jordan to Bethany to heal Lazarus—he could have healed with a word. But he didn’t.

Jesus was absent, both physically and in the use of power until after Lazarus’ death. Why?

When Jesus receives word of his friend's illness he tells the disciples: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus dissembled.

This illness did lead to death. The wrapped in grave clothes, soaked in spices, decaying in a tomb kind of death. Jesus told the disciples that Lazarus was only sleeping—unfortunately it was the “sleep with the fishes” sort of sleep. Jesus was forced to clarify.

The delay had to be on Jesus' mind—and the sisters wasted no time reminding him when he arrived: “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” Was Jesus unhappy with his Father's direction? Perhaps the delay and obfuscation wasn't his choice—but rather the Father’s call.

John's gospel tells us this unbinding from death benefited many people: the disciples, those by the tomb, Jews that believed later because of Lazarus’ raising, as well as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—of course.

It was for the glory of God, but I doubt Jesus was looking forward to this walk to Judea.

Martha met him on the road, before he got to the city. “Where the Hell were you?” might be a better translation of what she said. Mary stayed in the city, unwilling to face the healer and teacher that had failed her. When summoned she didn’t look Jesus in the eye with anger, she fell at his feet sobbing—those around her weeping.

Surrounded by tears, Mary’s grief streaking the dust before him, Jesus was overcome. The cost of this glory had been high.

He cried.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Justice and the Lake of Fire

Justice calls out:

The punishment must fit the crime!

Created from nothingness we must choose
and be judged by the Son some day
Did we love darkness or light?
Were our actions wicked or true?
Did we believe in him who was lifted up,
or did we look away?

When we cry "Lord, Lord," that fateful day
will Jesus say, I never knew you; depart from me?
If so a terrible penalty must be paid,
first awful knowledge, then annihilation
Those He does not knowundone

The literalist calls out:

But that’s not what the scriptures say!

What of the undying worm and outer darkness?
Bodies cast into Hades, Hell, and Abaddon,
the lake of fire, unquenchable flame,
gnashing of teeth, and the rich man's torment?

That’s quite a list, frightful in fact,
but maybe this is the second death
dressed in dreadful metaphor and hyperbole
Perhaps these devices are only flashlights, weakly gesturing
Is not justice a brighter light?

The problem remains, exact reader,
how Godwho requires us to do justice,
love kindness, and walk humbly,
could torture forever those that annoy Him

For us cruelty to a fly for a day would be evil
Can the source of all love require souls in endless pain?

On Judgment Day the lost will truly be destroyed,
but eternal torment is not their fate
They did not ask to be brought out from darkness
Darkness will claim them again

Justice is done and the remnant is saved

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Point

In an Emergent Village panel discussion podcast, at minute 46, Tony Jones turns to Diana Butler Bass and suggests: "The point of your life is to influence the church." Diana immediately rebuts: "The point of my life is to do what God tells me to do."

Perhaps it was just the way Diana said it, but I don't think I have ever heard a clearer statement about God's will.

Some meditations on Diana's statement:

The point of my life is to do what God tells me to do.

Our lives have meaning. We are not just a collection of random walks along a meaningless pathway. Each of us has a vector and an impact on the world

The point of my life is to do what God tells me to do.

We exist as the otherindependent of God. We experience free will, and are not slaves to the past. We are not driven choiceless by the forces around us. Like Christ, we have the authority to lay down our lives.

The point of my life is to do what God tells me to do.

This foreshadowing of the telling carries no direction in itself. It's the commitment to obey the command, the decision to take the step to begin the journeywithout knowing the destination. 

The point of my life is to do what God tells me to do.

God doesn't ask, except for a few rhetorical questions (e.g., "Who told you that you were naked?"). Normally He tells. This telling can take many formsfrom a blinding light on the road to Damascus, to tiny pebbles glancing off our consciousness. But whatever the mode it serves to illuminate a way.

But what if God provides no telling for a decision at hand? There is no drawing of a line between God's business and ours. Normally we should just follow our hearts, but listen. As Heidi a.k.a. Virushead says: "God doesn't care what we dounless He cares."

Usually justice, kindness, and humility require no tellingthey call out on their own. 

The point of my life is to do what God tells me to do.

God's direction is not about theories or corner cases. It's about existence, the moves we make in our livesthe choices, the doing. His direction is more about the event than the flow, the exception not the rule. We can make no presumption of preferencesometimes we are to follow our hearts, at times He redirects.  

Some dis-miss the point because of unbelief.  Others complain that they never hear the telling. The telling might be in Diana's and my imagination, but I am sure of one thingthat regardless of whether we are right or not about this, belief comes firstotherwise there is no point.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


When Jesus taught in the temple the Jews marveled, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” (John 7:15 ESV).  Jesus responded:


  “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.  If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking from my own authority.”  (ESV)

This is an extraordinary statement.

Some say that the Bible is the key for knowing what is from God.  They tell us to just look to the scriptures.  I look to it, but far from clarity I find paradox, mystery, and dissonance—along with beauty, majesty, and resonance.   The scholars and religious leaders of Jesus’ time searched the scriptures, and mostly got it wrong.   They found no mention of a prophet arising from Galilee. They found verses that said no one would know where the Christ came from, and that the Messiah would reign forever.  They were confused even while the Word dwelt among them.  What hope do we have of correct interpretation?


Others suggest we should just look to ourselves to know what is from God.  We should follow our spirit; let our soul guide us.  This feels to me like playing God—not a way of knowing.  We possess the knowledge of good and evil, but we don’t have the wisdom in ourselves to reliably tell one from the other.  Darin, in his blog Alien Nation tells of a church retreat he attended where the leader was referencing God's command in Joshua to destroy every man, woman, child and animal of Jericho. The retreat leader asked, “Is that the God we know and believe in? A God who would order genocide and destruction?” He answered his own question with, ”No, that's not God, God didn't say that.”   I think statements like this are claiming the unclaimable. I believe that one of the attributes of God is love, but I also believe He is a consuming fire—we best fear Him rather than presume to know Him or judge His commands.


Jesus’ recipe for recognizing God’s teaching does not include wisdom, emotion, experience, consultation, or scripture. He tells us the key to knowing lies within us—not in our minds, but in the exercise of our will.  The path to knowledge requires us to discount our knowledge, subvert our opinions, ignore our egos, and lay down the control of what we value most—our lives.    Nothing is dearer to us than our wills.  In exchange for that commitment: to will to do God’s will—God reveals Himself to us.  And we will know what is from God.


Ironically, my proof text is from the Bible, and my assertion that this verse is a key one is from my knowledge/ego/spirit.  There is no resting point. I have no choice but to orbit in these unstable ellipses.