Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Only Way That Wins

The world hurts.  It contains people who either intentionally or unintentionally have hurt you.  It also contains people who just don't care: they blow right through you to get whatever they want or to wherever they want to go.

You can respond by no longer caring, by toughening up your exterior, by saying "No more!" and bulldozing people and their feelings to take what you want and get back at the world.  After all, it is a dog-eat-dog world, so you can become a dog.  You can become what was done to you and perpetuate the cycle, contributing to exactly what makes the world so cold and shitty.  And it will have won.  You won't have won.  It will have - the evil done to you, the hurt passed onto you from another hurt and defeated person... defeated and claimed by the hurt.

Or you can be claimed in another way.  You can retreat to the cold dusty armchair of the hardened cynic.  You can stand on the periphery of life, bewailing how messed up people are, yet refusing to ever be involved again.  You can dig in your heels and tell yourself that you are different, which is easy to do from a retreated, negative, and uninvolved position, casting down judgment from your ivory tower.

Or you can do the hard thing and not let it, the system of the world, claim you.  The world does not know this way.  It customarily calls it weakness.  It mocks and taunts it.  But it is the way which refuses retaliation, refuses to let ourselves become infected.  It is the way that may mean suffering and being misunderstood, but it is the only way to fight and truly win... by refusing to play the game.  It offers us no protection from harm (as if the other paths offered us any, either), but it is the way that lasts.  At the end of this whole system of things, it is the only way that stands.

This way has a name. His name is Jesus.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

One of My Pet Peeve's

The picture to the left shows a typical thing you see posted to the news-feed by people on your Facebook.  Notice what is being done.  Some facts are presented, and then an accusation, an assumption about motives, is being leveled and passed off as fact.  It is true that the media is,
by and large, fairly "liberal" (depending on the source).  It is also possible that the media may cover certain things up.  But are we really to believe that the death of the man in the picture was not reported by the "media" because of some grand conspiracy to cover it up and hide it from our eyes?

I did a little looking around on Google, and I found out that there is plenty of information about the incident, and not just from those online media sources that claim to give you the scoop that the mainstream media is trying to "hide" from you.  I found an article about the incident, in fact, on the CBS Atlanta website.  They seem pretty mainstream to me.

Oh wait, are we complaining because the incident didn't make headline news on CNN?  With no disrespect toward the deceased or his family, may I gently point out that, according to the FBI's crime statistics, there are around 40 murders a day in the USA, on average.  That figure does not include a whole host of other forms of violent crime that do not end in death and are not classified as "murder."  My point is... could it be that there simply isn't enough time in the day to report every violent crime that happens every day in our country on the headline news?  Sad, but true.

Well, the picture just says the "liberal media" is covering it up.  Maybe CBS Atlanta doesn't fall under this category.  That liberal media, some nebulous group that is completely undefined by this accusation, is surely out to control us.  It's us versus them, right?

Where am I going with this?  Well, I am going to tell you.  One of my biggest pet peeve's is when people take sides on a matter and seek to demonize their opponent.  And one of the simplest ways to demonize the opponent is to read malice, as a sweeping generalization, into all of their motives and then present it as fact.  This is used by a lot of those "conspiracy theory" folks who salivate over the idea that someone or some group is trying to do something evil to them and the rest of the world.  They may or may not be, but these folks almost seek to like entertaining the idea that it is definitely happening.

Maybe we can call this "hysteria-thinking," because rational thought has left the building.  It is the kind of thinking that says, "I'll tell you what is going on, I'll tell you what they are doing... bother me with facts, later."  And if any facts are presented, things that even remotely support the position of skepticism and fear and division are focused on while facts that oppose such an idea are discredited and dismissed.

The problem is that it doesn't just happen with those conspiracy theory folks.  It happens between ordinary people, usually when discussing an issue of contention.  Take the gay-rights, gay-marriage issue.  I have heard people, even Christians, argue that Christians who are against gay marriage are doing homosexuals evil and are trying to control them and make them act like Christians by forcing their beliefs upon them.  While there may be Christians who are motivated by such feelings and do want to control homosexuals and anybody not like them, has it ever dawned on anyone that maybe some people are against gay marriage for other reasons?  Has it ever dawned on anyone that maybe those reasons have nothing to do with trying to "stop gay people from acting gay?"

What if I went around accusing gay-rights activists of just acting that way in order to piss off the conservatives?

But see, if you can successfully generalize and demonize your opponent's motives, you have gone the first step in silencing them.  After all, nobody wants to listen to a "bigot" or a "tyrant."  And their voice goes silent under the rumble of false accusations while the other party, the accusing party, gets to not only act like they are victims (or at least on the side of the victims) but also noble and superior to the people with those allegedly sinister and unloving motives.

It reminds me of one of the no-no's in formal debate, called ad hominem.  The phrase is Latin and literally means "to the man."  A debate participant is guilty of ad hominem when he moves his arguments and discussion away from the topic at hand, away from the facts, and toward personal attacks on the opponent and his character.  It's like saying, "You can't listen to this guy.  His arguments are not valid because he is a bad person... I heard he slept with a prostitute back in college."  He may be a bad person, but that has nothing to do with the validity of his arguments.  Truth stands or falls on its own.

Some people pick up on this fallacy and disregard it, though many do not.   When it comes to demonizing your opponent's motives, likewise many do not.

Why does this bother me so much?  It bothers me for a few reasons.  It bothers me primarily because I value truth and fairness.  Whether intended in this way or not, to use such tactics is essentially to use a "trick."  It isn't fair play.  It isn't honest.  It isn't honoring to the truth.  Furthermore, I hate it when people with whom I agree resort to such things because it just makes us look bad.  Even if I agree with a person or a group of people in substance, I want to distance myself from them if they do this kind of thing because I do not want to be associated with hysteria and irrational thinking.  If one really stands on the truth, they should not need to resort to underhanded mechanisms.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Atonement Thoughts - Part 5

The Bible does seem to use language of commerce sometimes when talking about the death of Christ on our behalf.  And probably the most common, simple way many of us communicate the significance of the death of Christ to others, today, is by talking about our "debt" of sin and how Jesus "paid" our debt on the cross.  The debt-payment motif is indeed popular, and it is simple.  It is so commonplace that I can scarcely try to explain the Gospel to someone without using it.

In other posts in this series, I have alluded to the fact that there are some problems with taking the commercial understanding too far, which is easy to do given the formulation handed down to us by Anselm (whose formulation, I should add, is by no means completely without merit).  One such problem is that I don't see how it really does a full and accurate treatment of the resurrection of Christ.  If our understanding of the significance of the death of Christ does not meld with the resurrection of Christ, there is something wrong or something missing.

Here is what I mean.  If Christ's death was merely some kind of payment of a "debt" on our behalf then why did He have to rise from the dead?  After all, our salvation was accomplished with His death, period.  All done.  (In fact, what is the significance of faith in this model?  If our debt is paid, it is paid.)  In this regard, many explain the resurrection of Christ essentially as the proof that His payment "took" and our Creditor in the sky was appeased.  But proof to who?  To God or to us?

In other words, given this view of the death of Christ, there is no functional purpose to our salvation in the resurrection of Christ.  It serves merely as a public sign of salvation already completely accomplished in his death.  That may be fine.  But couldn't there have been other means of doing this?  Was it merely one more miracle to prove to us who He is?  You could essentially take the resurrection away, and our salvation would still be accomplished.  All we might lack was some kind of divine expression telling us that everything "worked."  But couldn't he have just appeared in a vision?  Or, as the Jehovah's Witnesses believe, couldn't He have just come back as a "spirit creature" to tell us "Hey, my death was enough.  Everything is good, now?"  Why this whole business of bodily resurrection?  Is it really just visible proof?  Again, if that is what Scripture says I will not argue with it.  The problem is that I don't see it saying this.  I see it giving more to the resurrection than merely this.

But if we understand the death of Christ as Jesus dying for us, ahead of us, so that this age, the curse of this age with its death, alienation from God, and our sin would not be the end of us, then the resurrection means something more.  If Jesus merely died, it would not ultimately have accomplished anything new.  The curse of the law would have claimed yet another victim, even the most precious of victims.  For sure, the curse would have been brought to its fulfillment in his death ("tetelestai," as Jesus said), but this age, the curse, and sin would have remained unaffected.  But when Jesus rose from the dead, there was now something new.  The power of death and the curse was broken.  No longer do the curse and our sin mean the end of humanity.  No longer does separation from God ending in death and judgment define the collective life and destiny of the human race.  Jesus walked through that death, ahead of us, and made a new path by rising from the dead -a new beginning, a new life, a new creation, a new reality with God, a new kingdom.  And we, through rebirth and faith (identification with his death and resurrection), become partakers of it, to one day physically experience His same resurrection when He returns for us.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15)

You might say, "But there are many views of the death of Christ.  There are many motifs and metaphors used to describe His death in the Bible.  You can't just home in on just one.  You would be guilty of the same thing you accuse those with the more 'commercial' view of."  Perhaps.  I am not trying to pigeonhole the entire thing.  The death of Christ, I agree, has as many facets as a brilliant diamond.  I am merely positing that there may be a framework large enough to encapsulate all of them while generally avoiding empty theologizing to make it fit. I am not the first to think so -I'm not putting forth something new.  And, to my original point, I believe we must confess we are missing something significant about the death of Christ if our view does not Biblically connect to His resurrection.

The death and resurrection of Christ has both personal and cosmic significance.  It is both about our personal now and about the end of this age.  It is personally soteriological and universally eschatological at the same time.  And the death of Christ cannot be seen as divorced from His resurrection.  If our understanding is not big enough to contain a Scriptural explanation of what the resurrection means in light of His death, we are missing something.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Atonment Thoughts - Part 4

I started re-reading parts of Gerhard Forde's awesome little book, Where God Meets Man.  I came to a section on the atonement, and it really helped me to see what it seems he sought to communicate elsewhere with less clarity.

He argues that Luther's view of the atonement rejected the commerialism behind Anselm's formula found in most understandings of the "vicarious satisfaction" model but that Luther had a view large enough to really fit all of the various models and pictures and metaphors of the work of Christ on the cross.

Forde wrote:

"Something like this is the case in our understanding of Luther on the atonement.  For him what was important was not the various ideas or pictures of the atonement one might employ, but rather the distinction betwen a theology of the cross and mere and new beginning which is also my end and new beginning in which life under the law ends because life in Christ has begun (i.e. atonement or oneness with God has begun) then one can throw together words and images which only puzzle a theologian of glory....

If Jesus' death had been merely a payment to God he would not have done enough.  Wrath and law would not have been satisfied in actuality.  They are not satisfied actually until they end, until we don't feel or hear them anymore, i.e. until God acts to put the old Adam to death and to raise up a new one.  Therefore it is not because God needed someone more expensive to pay the debt that he sent his Son, bue because he wanted to put an end to the old and start something new.  Satisfaction or fulfillment in Luther's terms means truly bringing to and end, filling up, stopping.  "The fulfillment of the law" he says, "is the death of the law"...

[Jesus] rather, as we have said, dies in our place, i.e. he identifies himself with us by entering absolutely into that place where we must die.  He does not die 'instead' of us, but rather 'ahead' of us, bringing it forward to us.  His absolute identification with us puts to death the Old Adam inus so that his death is our death.  He dies ahead of us to bring us life here and now.  This identification with him in death leads to identification with him in the new resurrection life."

I love this.  What Forde is saying is this:  there is the normal course of the human race... cursed, deserving a cursed death, ultimately ending in death.  That is the course of all humanity under the curse of the law.  Jesus came down into our world, born under law, and walked the fullness of that course ahead of us.  He died a cursed death.  But he created a new course, a new path.  He conquered the curse by in effect saying, "That is not the end, not any longer.  I am going to defeat that and make something new."  He rose from the dead.  He therefore fulfilled our place ahead of us, as a person under the curse of the law, while creating a new path for humanity ahead of us, by rising from the dead.

Through faith, we participate in that death and resurrection such that his death is our death, not merely a substitute for our death, and his resurrection is our resurrection.  He said, after all, "I AM the resurrection and the life."  His path becomes a new path for us.  He is our new path.  Through faith, we are identified with what he did ahead of us, as our great forerunner, and some day our resurrection, our victory is just as sure.  That is the significance of the resurrection and why it has so much to do with his death -something I never really understood through the common atonement theory schemes.  The resurrection is the breaking in of something new -not merely a new possibility for mankind but a new reality.  It signals the defeat of the old and the entrance of the new.  Because he died I died with him -crucified with Christ.  Because he made this new path I am raised with him, and, after I die, I will be literally raised as he was... to the new creation when he returns.

What Forde really harps on is how this view of the work of Christ is "down to earth."  There is no talk of some kind of transaction in the secret chambers of God in heaven.  Jesus died a cursed death, the death due to all of us, right before our eyes, right here on earth.  And he beat that death, he overcame the curse, not by fixing it but by dying through it and then making something new, a new creation through his resurrection from the dead, an event that happened here on earth.  His victory was actual, seen, not merely inferred by some theologizing about how God must have thought Jesus' "payment" was "enough" since Jesus rose from the dead.