Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Most Important Question

So many of the questions of our experience come back around to this one essential questions of life: What do you believe about God? The way we handle things, the way we respond to disaster, the way we love, the people we love, the way we stress out or don't stress out, what we hope for or don't hope for, whether we fall into cynicism or become overwhelmed with joy... in all of these things and more are reflections of what we believe about God. This means that it is of primary importance for us to take the time to intentionally ask this question of ourselves whenever we make a move. Who is God? What do I really believe about this God?

Do you believe in a God who loves all people? Then why do you discriminate against people who are different than you (even if they're "illegal")?

Do you believe in a God who has defeated death? Then why is so much of your life consumed in fear and despair?

Do you believe in a God who loves you personally and who actually loves your words and any amount of time that you will give to God in authenticity and honesty? Then why do you waste so much time with empty words and obligatory ritual?

Do you believe that God forgives sin? Then why do you withhold forgiveness from others?

Do you believe in a God who wants to save this world, the God who will never give up until it is completely made new? Then why do you so easily give up on hope?

Do you believe in a God who not only desires restoration but is also big enough to bring it into reality? Then why do you put your trust in anything else?

Do you believe in a God who died on the cross for God's enemies? Then why do you violently seek to "kill" your enemies?

What you believe about God is the central question in Christian ethics. The answer to this question will paint your imagination and will guide the way you live, the way you pray, and the way you dream. The scriptures ask us to accept in our hearts the God revealed in Jesus Christ, to believe in the God who turns the world's logic upside down. When we accept the world's gods we end up in pain, frustrated, fearful, and all sorts of other bad things. This God, the God of the Bible, leads us beside still waters, offers us joy in the midst of chaos, and creates within us a new heart and a new hope. But in order to follow this God we have to take the risk of abandoning the false version of ourselves in order to embrace our true selves. In order to follow this God we have to abandon our will to dominate and our twisted logic which makes so much sense to us. When everything inside us shouts, "get revenge!" this God reminds us that justice belongs to God and that reconciliation rather than vengeance is the path to peace. When everything inside us shouts, "you're just not good enough!" this God reminds us that we are God's and that we are created in God's image. This God invites every response to our experience in our hearts and in our actions to reflect God's image, the image of love, peace, restoration, compassion, and hope.

Ask yourself; what is God like? and seek first the Kingdom of God. Don't live in fear any longer but hope in the God who rescues us from evil.

4 comments:

Elliott said...

"This God, the God of the Bible, leads us beside still waters, offers us joy in the midst of chaos, and creates within us a new heart and a new hope."

...unless you happen to fall victim to temptation and sin -- ostensibly arbitrary concepts that God himself is ultimately responsible for creating. Yeah, if you happen get tangled up in that nonsense, then he wants to disembowel you, and rape you with broken glass and burn you alive for the rest of forever...

...you may retort that 'sin is a human invention' or 'God gave us the free will to chose Him or damnation.'

But answer me honestly, would you leave a child alone in a room with pots of boiling water they could pull over on themselves, or forks they could stick in an electrical socket? Because if not -- if you'd like to protect your loved ones from harm by removing the potential danger -- then you're a better father than God.

Sorry to be such a tough customer :)

WES ELLIS said...

Elliott,
good to hear from you again. I always enjoy reading your comments, they're refreshingly critical and witty.
To respond... I don't think sin is ever arbitrary (though many Christians seem to), sin is just when we hurt each other and I don't think that God cares to "punish" sin, he wants to save us from it. Therefore, I don't believe what you seem to assume I believe about hell (though many Christians do), God won't settle for suffering... especially eternal suffering.

Elliott said...

So, by your definition, four of the commandments are arbitrary:

Don't have other gods before [Yahweh].
Don't make false idols.
Don't take the Lord's name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.

...because they don't hurt people other than God.

And, do you believe in hell? If so who created hell?

Honest question about where you stand.

WES ELLIS said...

Elliott,
I don't think that the first four commandments are arbitrary. In their original context they each had very real social and political implications (as they still do today if understood correctly). I could explain each but I will only take one for example... Taking the Lord's name in vain is something I am sure you're familiar with. It basically means, "don't invoke God's name or his covenant with his people for ulterior or selfish purposes, i.e. bombing abortion clinics or destroying skyscrapers." It has nothing to do with stubbing your toe. There is of course a certain balance to it all, but usually when someone uses God against you and tries to force you to accept their moral standards or politics or when they justify horrific actions claiming that God wanted them to do it, they're taking the Lord's name in vain and thus they are hurting someone (or themselves).

The other three commandments you refer to all have social implications too, as they are explained further in other parts of the Torah.

Hell, to be totally honest, is a concept I wrestle with. No, I don't think I believe that there is a place called hell where people go when they die and then suffer for eternity. But hell defiantly exists around us wherever there is suffering, i.e. whipping and gnashing of teeth. Gehenna, the most common Greek word for "hell" in the New Testament, was an actual place (I stayed there for about three weeks once... The Valley of Hinnom) which was associated for historical purposes with oppression, starvation, and the burning of dead bodies. Jesus refers to this place symbolically. Since it is a real place that Jesus could actually point to, I am inclined to think that hell is most often understood in the New Testament as a reality in the here and now (not when you die). It's association with death probably comes from the fact that that's where poor people were taken to die or even to be killed (and eaten if you believe the legend). Jesus basically invokes the imagery of "hell" or Gehenna to say to all the people who think they're better than everyone else, that their wealth has come from their righteousness or something like that, and who are oppressing people with their power and/or their religion that their end will be the very place from which they may think that their power and wealth has saved them. I don't take the imagery literally and so I am not usually inclined to believe in, much less focus on the idea of a postmortem suffering called Hell. Even if I did believe in such a thing I would not be so arrogant as to say that I had any idea who goes there and who doesn't, I'd much rather focus on bringing heaven to hell within the reality I know as life.