Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Complaining, but also Believing: Remembering Psalm 73

I look around me in every area of life: politics, religion, economics, education, etc., and the victory seems to be to deception and falsehood (i.e., bullshit). People rise to prominence and power because of their ability to avoid the truth and their distaste for what is honest and true and just in life.

All around us lies evidence of the victory of bullshit, as people who have authority shouldn't have authority, but they were talented at bullshit, or at least able to satisfy those who like bullshit. And, these are our leaders - or, at least the great majority of them. I am sorry to put it out there this straight, but that is the truth. I have seen it first hand. But, this is not all the truth, just a very bad part of it.

And, there are always so many talented people of character who could have held those positions, but they just couldn't stomach the pretense and self-deception. I know these people in every field. As you get older, it makes you sick in your stomach, because you see that people that have no business exercising authority are exactly the ones who get to exercise it. That is the way it goes generally.

As I am complaining now, I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 73, when he is in the middle of complaining about how the corrupt prosper, etc., and then he stops, gets a hold of himself and says: "but, if I had continued to complain bitterly like this, I would have been untrue to the children of this generation."

And, he gets a hold of himself and goes to the sanctuary to worship, and all the sudden things become clear.

What becomes clear to him is that it is not human beings who really have authority, even though it sure does seem for all the world that human beings are the 'gods of the earth.'

And, the freedom of worship somehow got into his soul as well, this freedom to experience something outside the limitations of our social training and experience. He says: "It is good to me to be near God. . . My heart and my flesh my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

And, thank God, I don't have to accomodate myself to human authority all week long. Sunday is supposed to be a great reminder of that freedom to worship, that freedom to defy human authority by reminding oneself that there is only one God of heart, mind, body and soul.

I know where my allegiance lies and for that I am grateful, even if I do get a little off balance and angry at times in struggling with the "want-to-be" gods of the earth. I pledge my allegiance to God who binds me to the humble and decent people of this earth. And, who steels my mind and heart to oppose the arrogant and power-abusing people of this earth. All those who think it is a good idea to put the ten commandments in the public square better hope that not too many people come to understand the first commandment, because if a person does, then that one will become free from all the false gods of our society. And, what a blessing it is to be free deep down in your soul - made free by the fire of the Living God in your soul.

Sometimes it is very disappointing to think about the condition of our society. But, there is a society within our society that makes my hopes rise, a society of decency and courage and integrity and humility. And, I see this society within our society more strongly each year I live. There is a society that knows the freedom of the soul from human rulers.

So, don't wear yourself out trying to conform to the expectations of a false society, a society that didn't create you and can't save you. What emptiness there is in the struggle to conform to false expectations! Grow up in the grace of the wild and rebellious Spirit of the Living God that hates falsehood (i.e., bullshit) and that calls you to show allegiance to no party, no country, no religion, but to pledge your allegiance only to the One God of All Creation and to love what God loves - all the creatures of this earth. Grow strong in the Spirit that inspired Elijah and John the Baptist and Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Orthodoxy and Heresy

I have been thinking a lot the past week about the heresy of "Adoptionism," which was a belief advanced in the early church that Jesus had not been the pre-existent Son of God, but that God had "adopted" him as his Son because of the amazing righteousness and faithfulness to God demonstrated in Jesus' life.

As my professor in seminary, Charlie Cousar, used to say: "Adoptionism is one of those 'biblical' heresies," which is to say there is a good bit of scriptural support for it.

Adoptionist belief emphasized the true humanity of Jesus and the genuineness of his faith and obedience to God. And, these are a couple of deeply important matters of belief that the orthodox church didn't teach very well. Adoptionist belief also affirmed that God had chosen Jesus and raised him up and humanity with him to form a whole new relationship between God and humans. So much of this belief seems to fit with much of scripture, especially Paul's letters and the Gospel of Mark. But,there is one point in Paul's letters when belief in the pre-existence of Jesus, the Christ is proclaimed (Phil. 2:6-11). Most scholars think that Paul took this passage from a hymn of the early church, and didn't write it himself, but nonetheless, Paul affirms this belief by using it in his letter to the Philippians.

As I think about these things, I have started thinking about a dynamic way of thinking that alternates between raw historical experience and reflection on the relationship of that to God. These two poles of religious emphasis are not contradictory, but mutually interdependent. Without the raw historical experience of Jesus life, teachings, death and resurrection, there is no core of revelation to reflect on. Without internalization of this experience through theological/spiritual reflection, there is no transformation of human life by the core experience. Both aspects are part of a living faith, but in the history of the church, we have opposed theological reflection to primal experience. Truth is, both are aspects of a living faith which encompasses heart and mind, body and soul.

The problem with church history is that it excommunicated those who often emphasized a lost element of faith, whether that lost element was of the more reflective sort (Origen) or the more primal sort (Adoptionists or Pelagius).

As a result of our history in the church of not being able to appreciate the dynamic relationship between primal, historical experience and theological/spiritual reflection, we have lost critical elements of our religious tradition.

And, this line of thinking has brought me to a new view on the doctrine of strict substitionary atonement. I am always criticizing this teaching as antithetical to the Gospel, and as a false representation of the character of God. But, there is something right in this teaching, that standing alone is not right. And, that is the emphasis on Jesus' human righteousness before God and the truth that God recognizes it and credits it to humanity as a whole. Paul's letters promote this emphasis, but then take it up into a greater reflection on the involvement of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

If you have a belief that loses touch with the historical experience of faith, you begin to speak of a God who is not in relation to the "Word made flesh." If you get stuck in the historical experience of faith and fail to draw that into reflection on how the life of God relates to that experience, then you end up with a religion that speaks of Jesus, but forgets the God he gave his life to serve.

I guess these thoughts may not mean much to readers who haven't taken an interest in Church History or haven't puzzled over how to understand the theological teachings of the Church in relation to the Bible and experience.

But, I will close saying that when the early church sat down to speak to the "Adoptionists," the church should have said: "Thank you for emphasizing something we were overlooking - and something that is precious and sacred to the church's faith: belief in the humanity of Jesus and belief that he struggled in every way that we do, but without sin. And, also, celebration that something new happened on earth through Jesus' victorious life, something new brought about by God's vindication and exaltation of Jesus after the crucifixion."

The missing piece of modern theology is a real belief in Jesus' humanity. It is a radical belief, which the early church took for granted, and which modern Christians have very little appreciation for. Christians speak easily about Jesus' divinity, but uneasily about his humanity. If you aren't proud of his humanity, you have no business speaking of his divinity.