Wandering the savage garden…

May 2013Monthly Archives

Ricky Gervais on the nature of God

Not long ago, I read a tweet by Ricky Gervais, asking why God let terrible things happen. It was framed as a multiple choice question, with the answers stacking the deck, naturally: God must not exist, or God is allowing terrible things as punishment, or God doesn’t care, for example.

All of the choices reflected negatively on God. The answers presupposed that “terrible things” were of primal importance, as if the comfort of this very moment were the only thing about which we or God should care.

I don’t mind the sentiment, honestly. In the 1940s, most of my family disappeared in the Holocaust; I can fully sympathize with the anguish associated with terrible things.

Yet… God is responsible, but not to blame for these terrible things. He’s responsible in the sense that in the end He will create a new Heaven and a new Earth, using the construct we have at our feet.. but not to blame, in that we choose.

And blame presumes that the “terrible thing” is evil, when it may or may not be. Perhaps it was caused by evil; maybe it is evil indeed. (Or perhaps it’s a natural event which causes harm, like a tsunami or tornado.)

Regardless, the event is not normally the result of God hitting the “smite” key.

What it comes down to is this: God allows events to happen in accordance with His plan, such that an event chosen by Him will occur in His time and in His way.

That event is His reforging the earth, the “Day of the Lord,” when He returns.

Everything that has happened or will happen on earth is designed to advance His inestimable will. Every event causes a ripple in a sea that flows to His desire.

A terrible event – let’s say a tornado – happens, killing a family of five Christians. Are they being punished for their sin? The Bible says “probably not.” (It’s possible, but not very likely; “natural consequences” are by far more likely to be chosen as “punishment” rather than a tornado. If there’s abuse going on, then the consequence is normally going to be family ruin, not a natural disaster.)

Yet with this “terrible event…” what is God doing?

Honestly, I don’t know, and can’t presume to know. Yet I think God can use that terrible event – not just to usher that family into His arms, but possibly as something that leads others to Him as well. Perhaps the grief of the community leads someone to search for Him, for example.

Of course it’s possible that the event could turn some away. But someone who’s turned away by such things… their faith is in desperate need of shoring up, because they’re seeing God as some kind of magic vending machine, that disposes candy when we dance in a certain way.

God is not a vending machine. God is greater than our ability to describe; expecting Him to dance to our tune, and turning away when He does not, is more of an indictment of us than of Him.

Terrible things, indeed. Perhaps the focus shouldn’t be on the terrible events that catch our eyes, but on the terrible things that those flashes of despair illuminate through our responses.

Cheese-eating!

A few days ago, I made a reference to how eating a cheeseburger is wrong, and my conscience has been pricking me about it ever since. I decided I’d better offer an explanation and a retraction before too much more time elapses and I look like one of the legalistic dorks I tend to dislike.

First off, the Bible says:

19 “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 23:19, ESV)

The latter part is the bit I’m focusing on. The rendering thus becomes: you don’t mix milk and meat from the same kind of animal. Boiling an animal in its own kind’s milk…

But wait, there’s more. The prohibition ended up being applied to milk and meat, period. The rabbinical reason stretches to Leviticus 22:27:

27 “When an ox or sheep or goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on it shall be acceptable as a food offering to the Lord. (Leviticus 22:27, ESV)

In the end, what you have is a reflection of the ban against the hybrid in Judaism, something beyond the whole. It works itself out to varying degrees based on your level of orthodoxy and conservatism. Some Jews won’t use milk for six hours after eating meat; others (including me) tend to reject milk of a specific kind mixed with the meat of that same kind.

For me, it works out from a humanitarian view. The animal – let’s say a cow, since I can’t stand goats – gives us the fruit of its body in two forms: milk and meat. It seems wrong to abuse the gift of milk by using that milk to prepare the meat.

And with that, let’s cross the theological divide and cross over to Christianity.

From a Christian perspective, meat and milk are not prohibited. Paul says it over and over again, and you find it in Acts as well: food is considered clean to the point where he who eats it considers it clean. (There is no unclean food beyond the Noachide laws, in other words. I suppose you could make a case even there, but… no. Just no. Be warned. That site may present language and maturity issues for the reader.)

For me, well, I generally try to obey the level of the prohibition as I have from my youth. It’s not a “hard prohibition” – I’m not going to go weep in a corner if I eat mixed foods that go against the mixture of meat and cheese. (Proof: my wife made a taco casserole the day before yesterday, with beef and cheese. I ate it then, and polished off the leftovers this morning.)

What’s more, I would never use this prohibition to deny the offerings of someone else. My wife’s food – goes without saying, I’m eating it. (She’s fantastic in the kitchen. Meanwhile, I can burn water.) If I’m a guest at someone else’s house and they prepare a pork sandwich with goat cheese – well, I’m going to struggle with my anti-goat bias, but it’d be an affront to the offering for me to reject it.

So I wouldn’t.

A personal position statement on homosexuality that matters

There’s a lot of discussion going on that talks about Christianity and homosexuality, with a lot of emotion. One thing that’s rarely stated, as far as I can tell, is the position of the Christian and homosexuality.

I’ve already discussed the biblical stance regarding homosexuality (very much against, incontrovertibly).

Many Christians – not all, but many – use that to establish a pecking order among people with respect to God, with homosexuals at the bottom. They seem to think homosexuals are redeemable through the mercy of Christ, but only if they repent and abandon their sin.

In a way, they’re right – they’re redeemable through the mercy of Christ. But the abandoning of sin, well… you know, I repent of sin daily, to be sure, but I don’t think there’s ever been a follower of Christ who’s actually managed to abandon all sin.

That’s a very broad brush to use – and for God, sin places everyone at the bottom of the pecking order. Those who are redeemed are at the top.

It’s a two-position ladder, not a ladder with a rung at the top for good Christians, then one rung down go the Christians who smoke, then another rung down for the adulterous Christians, then a few rungs down you find the sinners, with another four rungs down you find them hommasexshuls.

Other Christians seem to think that redemption is everything, that everything ends there – and further sin is okay. (Or, at least, maybe some sin. “But that other woman’s my soul mate, not my wife!,” or “I, Adam, take thee, Steve…”)

Um, no.

This is part of why “Once Saved, Always Saved” is valid. If sin separated us from God, the saved would be cut off almost immediately, every time.

God reforms the saved. We’re remade in Christ, refined and purified in His love and power. We’re still sinners even as we’re redeemed, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we sin less as we grow in Christ.

What you see here is a battle between mercy and justice. Tim Keller put it very well, in “The Meaning of Marriage,” and I can’t find the actual quote, so I’ll paraphrase:

Truth without grace is legalism, and grace without truth is sentiment.

Grace says “Oh, so they sin, it’s okay!” Truth says “Sin is never okay!” … and God represents both.

It’s not “okay” to sin, but we’re redeemed through faith in Christ.

The Actual Position Statement

So here’s what I think my view of the homosexual is:

I don’t care. I don’t care who someone sleeps with, or when they sleep with them. It’s not my business. It’s God’s. Someone who sins (via homosexuality, or adultery, or theft, or what-have-you) merely sins – sometimes grievously, sometimes not so much, but in the end it’s all sin, and God can redeem anyone from anywhere.

What the redeemed do is between them and God; the Holy Spirit instructs and remonstrates.

All I can do – and all I’m called to do – is point to Christ.

Do I tell a sinner what their sin is, if prompted to do so? (“Is homosexuality wrong?”) … yes. By pointing to Christ.

Not by using my relationship or position. After all, I sin too! I required salvation just as much as any other sinner. I was in the position of the sinner before redemption; I’m in the position of the sinning Christian after redemption.

It cannot be me who judges them, because of my own sin. They would be able to accuse me, and we’d be penalized together.

But if I witness to them the love of Christ, in His strength He will convict them and lift them. It’s not me, or my responsibility; my responsibility ends when I point to Christ.

So I have no objection to the homosexual as a person – none. I have homosexual friends. They know what I believe, and why I believe it, and they know I consider them my friends, and that I always will. And yes, they know what I think about the practice of homosexuality.

And they don’t expect me to attempt to beat them down with the Bible. They see themselves protected by Christ, even as they’re not Christians – and that’s one very small view of the love of Christ.

Does Christianity hate homosexuals, or what?

Yesterday I read a post on CNN, “When Christians become a ‘hated minority’.” In it, CNN attempts to summarize a situation in which Christians are refusing to identify homosexuality as a sin, and as an added bonus (thanks, CNN!) some Christians claim that maybe it’s not so bad.

It’s not a particularly focused article, but it has a lot of useful statements.

I’d rather know I’m wrong than suspect I’m right. I don’t know I’m wrong unless I put some stakes in the ground: I make an assertion, with the full knowledge that someone wiser than I might come along and tell me what a fool I am. I’m okay with that; the delivery isn’t important, but the message is.

So what’s happening here is good, in the long run: it defines a problem (dressed in frilly clothes of “Christians are becoming a hated minority”) and describes a lot of issues in the Christian community concerning a specific issue (namely, homosexuality).

One thing that stood out – and actually inspired me to write about the article, which seemed rather “me-too” at first – was this passage:

What the Bible says

What about the popular evangelical claim, “We don’t hate the sinner, just the sin” – is that seen as intolerance or hate speech when it comes to homosexuality?

There are those who say you can’t hate the sin and love the sinner because being gay or lesbian is defined by one’s sexual behavior; it’s who someone is.

“Most people who identify as gay and lesbian would say that this is not an action I’m choosing to do; this is who I am,” says Timothy Beal, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book.”

Beal, a religion professor at Case Western University in Ohio, says it should be difficult for any Christian to unequivocally declare that the Bible opposes homosexuality because the Bible doesn’t take a single position on the topic. It’s an assertion that many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors would agree with.

Some people cite Old Testament scriptures as condemning homosexuality, such as Leviticus 18:22 – “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” But other Christians counter by saying they are not bound by the Old Testament.

Oh, my. This block of text is horribly written, as a series of assertions.

Let’s be clear: first, we should all reject all sin.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13, ESV)

Second, ain’t none of us innocent in and of ourselves:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:21-25, ESV, with verse 23 highlighted)

So let’s look at the crucial part of that: all of us have sinned and fallen short. We are justified by His grace as a gift, the gift of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ain’t none of us better than any other. In the eyes of God, sin is sin is sin is sin; while some sins carry greater consequence from a human perspective (murder’s worse than lying to someone about what you ate for dinner, right?), all sin carries with it the separation from God’s Will.

So: “hate the sin, not the sinner” is alive and well. As Christians, we can’t hate the sinner – that’d call us to hate ourselves as well.

It may be that homosexuals are who they are, that they have no free will in the matter. I don’t know; I’m not homosexual, last I checked. 🙂 But that’s of no account; we’re called to go unto all the world, to witness to everyone who sins. Therefore, they get included in that set; their homosexuality is irrelevant when it comes to “do they need Christ?”

And now we get to the statement that really hit me:

Beal, a religion professor at Case Western University in Ohio, says it should be difficult for any Christian to unequivocally declare that the Bible opposes homosexuality because the Bible doesn’t take a single position on the topic. It’s an assertion that many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors would agree with.

Really?

That’s horrifying. “Many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors” are ignorant of the Bible, then.

Leviticus 18:22 is, indeed, a starting point. And it refers to the sin as an “abomination.” That’s pretty relevant. And Paul, in the NT, makes a lot of reference to homosexuality – not pederasty, even though the Greek in which Paul wrote had both words available.

If Paul had meant pederasty and not homosexuality, he could have said so. He didn’t. Therefore: he meant homosexuality, because that’s what he wrote. It isn’t difficult to figure out.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27, ESV)

Sorry, Mr. Beal. You can claim that Jesus said little about sex; that’s because the Torah said it, and Jesus saw no need to echo everything about the Law, except that He fulfilled it. (See Matthew 5:17 and Romans 3:31.)

Some, of course, choose to rewrite the Bible: they say that Christians are not bound by the Old Testament.

Oh, my. Let’s run back to the Bible, but let’s use the New Testament, since they say the Old is no longer relevant:

31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31, ESV)

Wait, that says we uphold the Law. (And yes, this is one of the verses to which I referred a paragraph or two ago.) And if we uphold the Law, that says the Law is the standard by which we’re to consider ourselves moral (gosh, see Romans 2 and 3.) And the Law serves to convict us of our sin, which is why we need Christ in the first place!

Christians who say the law has no importance for us are wrong. Do away with the Law, and you do away with Christ. Do away with Christ, and you do away with the basis for calling yourself a Christian.

And honestly? If you’re going to do away with Christ, do Christians a favor and stop self-identifying as one; when you say you’re a Christian, you make it harder for actual Christians to witness to you properly. We tend to assume you know at least a little about what you’re saying about yourself.

Lastly: I mentioned a while back the use of the word “abomination,” תּוֹעֵבָה. This is a heavy, heavy word.

Sin is bad; it separates us from God.

Abomination is worse. Abomination causes God to push us away from Him. It marks behavior God rejects. It’s not for nothing that Paul goes on and on about certain sins; not only were they pervasive, but they were abominable.

This doesn’t mean the homosexual is a worse sinner than any other person; sin is sin, remember? And we all need Christ. What sin leads us to that condition is irrelevant to the condition itself.

But it does speak to the severity of the sin.

Eating a cheeseburger is wrong (as long as it’s beef and you’re using cheese from cow’s milk: see Exodus 23:19, and the reasons I say “wrong” are too complex for this post – let’s just say that it’s gross to think about in the context of that verse) but it’s not an abomination.

The sin is still sin; we’re freed from the punishment of the Law, but not the consequences of it.

I believe there are actively homosexual Christians, and by that I mean fully saved, covered by grace Christians. I also think that a homosexual act (not being homosexual, but engaging in homosexual acts) is a transgression to which Romans 6:1 applies:

6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1, ESV)