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The Late Great Planet Earth

April 8, 2008 Leave a comment

Late Great Planet Earth

I grew up under the haunts of songs and stories that anticipated the immediate destruction of the earth. Instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I slept with visions of Armageddon. While I disagree on all the particulars, I think folks like Hal Lindsey intuitively realized we were standing at the end of the world. Or to be exact, we were standing in the remains of a world that already ended.

The other day when writing Why Don’t We Want to Go to Church, I suggested that judgment came on the West in World War 1. I might go even farther by suggesting that World War 1 and World War 2 mark the end of the world. Most of us grew up in a world that had already come to an end.

I’ll clarify by suggesting what I mean by world. On a personal level, all of us have experienced the end of one world and the beginning of another world. We are already comfortable with language that suggests worlds end. Thus the common phrase, “His whole world fell apart.”

A world is the time and space where I live. Whether conscious or not, I express that world through symbols of language, clothing, hairstyle, relationships and more. A child uses a specific language. It may be English but it will include words and sentence constructions that reflect the age of that child. As a child moves from into adulthood clothes change, language changes, currency changes (real money replaces tokens or toy money), relationships and more. The child leaves one world and enters another.

This is not limited to a personal level. The world of city can come to an end. We speak of the end of an era, which indicates time, but the end of an era will also impact space, so a city may pass from one world to another. A large company may employ a high percentage of people within a city. Other businesses spring up to support the workers. One generation passes through the city in this world. So the next generation only knows the city with the businesses and culture and particularities that have sprung up around that city.

If the large company leaves the city or goes out of business, the world of that city comes to an end. Businesses close. People move away. The few who remain live in a vastly different landscape and may even speak of the city as a “ghost town.” A world that has died but has not yet been born again.

I would suggest that the Western world died in the early part of the twentieth century, and it has yet to be born again. But a new world is coming. In case this doesn’t make sense yet, I’ll follow-up with a second post exploring how the medieval world came to an end, and how the new world emerged slowly (over the course of at least a hundred years).

And eventually I’ll connect all this back to the 10 commandments.

Joshua and the Flood

April 8, 2008 Leave a comment

18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle. 20 For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the LORD had commanded Moses. – Joshua 11:18-20

Warning: This is when I turn off a bunch of readers with my questions.

Reading through Joshua looks very similar to the pattern of the flood. The flood brings judgment to all living things with the exception of Noah et al. And God promises never to flood the earth in the same way again. But He doesn’t promise to restrain judgment.

The book of Joshua reads like a series of local, particularized floods, bringing judgment to entire cities and tribes. We read these passages with our arrogant, self-indulgent sense of morality (which when really weighed will hold no water*), and we cannot grasp the angry God who orchestrates such an event.

But another question might be asked, “Why does he hold back judgment for so long?” The pattern in Scripture and in history outside of Scripture seems to be that God shows mercy to the undeserving (such as Ninevah) in ways and for periods far longer than we would show mercy. His mercy is unfathomable, but His justice is sure.

* – C.S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces” is one great response to our empty self-righteous morality.

Advent and the Justice of God

December 12, 2007 Leave a comment

“Truly God is good to Israel,
To such that are pure in heart.
But as for me,
My step had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
(Psalm 73:1-2)

In his confusion, the psalmist cries out to God. The great high God of Israel seems to turn a blind eye to those who mock his name. The people of God falter while the wicked appear to be exalted.

The psalmist’s anguished question still rings in the hearts of God’s people. From businesses to families to nations, we watch evil people prosper. We see the people who take shortcuts move ahead. And it seems like those who try to walk right often fail.

Then the psalmist beholds the coming judgment, and he realizes that a day of accounting is coming. He rests in the fact that God will make things right.

The Christian Celts anticipated judgment day. In St. Patrick’s Breastplate they pray that they might be clothed “with the power of His descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday.” In their manuscripts and crosses, Jesus is sometimes depicted at the “dread judge” coming to hold all men accountable for their evil deeds.

During Advent, we actually look to the coming Judgment Day. We expect a righting of wrongs, a day of rectitude. We may look toward this day, like ancient Israel, as a day when we will be proved right and those who opposed us will be exposed as in the wrong. We may expect this as a time when we will finally be vindicated.

As we look toward the coming day of days, we behold a day that came. The great day of woe was realized when the baby born in a manger grew up to be the man who bore the weight of sin and death. Jesus entered into the final judgment. He bore the crushing weight of woe upon himself.

This act of absolute justice strikes to the heart of evil. The cross heals my blinded eyes to see that I am not on the side of the righteous but on the side of the oppressors. While I cried out for justice, my own evil betrayed me as the offender. While I longed for my enemies to be exposed and humiliated and conquered, I was exposed as the one clothed in filthy rags.

Only then can I realize that what appears to be God’s blindness to evil is actually his longsuffering mercy. While some people think the God of the Old Testament is the God of vengeance, they are mistaken. The story actually reveals a God who is longsuffering, who continues to show mercy to evildoers, who withholds judgment again and again and again. Finally when he does bring judgment, He also brings a hope of restoration and redemption.

In the midst of revealing God’s judgment upon the evil in Israel, Zephaniah pictures a God who restores in gentle, lovingkindess.

The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save:
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

As I look to the final unveiling of God’s justice, I no longer look with a fist of anger at those who cheated me, betrayed me, hurt me. Rather, I anticipate the complete unveiling of God’s glory with humility, realizing my own failures, my own tendency to hurt and cheat and betray. During this season of Advent, I look toward the end of all things and cry out with the publican, “Lord have mercy.”

Jerry Falwell, Heaven, Hell and the Kingdom Come

May 16, 2007 Leave a comment

Yesterday Ryan asked the question, “Did Jerry Falwell go to heaven or hell?” I jotted out a few responses in my late night stupor. I awoke this morning still wrestling with the other questions that his one question set off. Beneath the particular question relating to the fate of a specific person, I hear the question about justice.

What significance do our words and actions have? If we violate other people and the world around us, is there a price to pay? As I think about these questions, I think about the idea of rectitude. Will there redress for every wrong? Can every wrong by righted in some way? These are questions better left to greater minds than mine, but at the risk of becoming a treading fool, I will proceed.

As I think about these questions, the bumper sticker “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” comes to mind. In a short phrase this sticker attempts to reflect something of the grace and forgiveness of God. At the same time, it may have some disquieting implications.

Are Christians claiming that their faith functions like a “get out of hell” free card? Does my faith in Jesus mean that I am not accountable for my actions. I can cut in front of you at the grocery store, or shake my fist at you on the highway, but it doesn’t really count: because of Jesus, the Father sort of winks at my indiscretions.

While these minor infractions seem innocuous, what happens when my words and actions set in motion violation upon violation upon violation of other people? I can cheat on my taxes and cheat on my wife but rest secure that I’m not perfect just forgiven. I can buy discounted clothes and foods that may come at the price of enslaving someone in another country whom I will never know or see.

I can enjoy the benefits of a culture that built its wealth on enslavement, torture and dehumanizing an entire race. The more I think about the implications of our actions, it becomes evident that either directly or indirectly each of us are oppressors. “Does God simply wink at this evil because we have faith in Jesus?”

If God is good, shouldn’t wrongs be righted? Do Christians suggest that because God forgives us for our wrong actions, everyone else should to? This obviously could cause some people to line up, ready to damn every Christian that acted though they had a right to condemn and/or mistreat the people around them.

Then I wonder, what if the Judgment Day looked very different then we expect. What if Judgment Day is not about God giving all my enemies their just deserts? What if it really is about redressing wrongs?

What if I had the opportunity to face all my oppressors on Judgment Day? My word would carry the power to determine their sentence. Each person who ever hurt me, oppressed me, or in any way violated me (directly or indirectly), would stand before me. By direct violation, I mean people who personally violated me. By indirect, I mean people whose actions hurt me even though we never faced (politicians, people’s action in other cities, states, nations, and even times). In fact, each oppressor would stand before every single person they harmed through words or actions.

The Prosecutor would show in detail every form of harm each oppressor ever caused. As the Defender, Jesus would stand on behalf of the accused. Because there are no longer any time restraints, this judgment would proceed until every single person faced his oppressors and all those he oppressed. Therefore, even as I looked upon those who caused me pain, I would know that I faced the same trial for all my offences (direct or indirect).

As I prepare to pass judgment, the Defender would make the audacious claim that he had took the wrong of each violation upon his own body. Then he would proclaim that his resurrection is a sign that rectitude has been made and will be eventually realized by every harmed person.

As I faced my oppressors, he would explain, “You can use condemnation or mercy as your measure for justice. If you choose condemnation, this person will bear the full weight of their offense. If you choose mercy, you are trusting that I will redress your grievance.” And then he would offer one last reminder, “The measure you use, will also be the same measure used for you.”

Please forgive my presumption to explain and or envision something beyond our human capacity to full grasp. I have no idea what the judgment seat looks like.

But I do think that Christianity claims that Jesus death and resurrection assure us of justice. Jesus and Paul both indicate that to follow Jesus means to bear his cross, his suffering. Oddly, this means that I might walk in the reality of Judgment Day today; that I might choose to bear the offence, the grievance of another so that mercy might prevail.

As I face those who oppress me, might I trust in the promise of both forgiveness for my failures and vindication for the wrongs against me? Might I have the power to offer mercy? This seems impossible and yet some have manifested in their lives.

My hero Richard Wurmbrand, suffering under daily torture for 14 years, pleads to God for mercy on behalf of his oppressors. More recently, South Africans facing the threat of inevitable civil war chose to enter into this model as a means of justice. The oppressors faced their victims. Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, confession and forgiveness became a model of justice. The reality of Jesus’ cross manifested in a national policy, attempting to heal of deeply divided nation.

This model of justice involves personal suffering, intentional forgiveness and trust. Instead of me trying to determine who goes to heaven and who is bound for hell, can I live in this world in a way that fosters peace and reconciliation? Can you imagine what our world might look like if we lived the reality of confessing our faults one to another and forgiving one another. Maybe we might finally see a glimpse of the kingdom come.
(Note: Please forgive my shortcomings. What I am trying to think about is more complex than this simple essay can address. And there are others like Miroslav Volf who are far more articulate and theologically astute than myself.)

A Vision of the Peaceable Kingdom

December 14, 2006 Leave a comment

What a treasure from Henri Nouwen’s Daily Meditation:

The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realisation in our day-to-day lives. Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises. Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.

We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are. Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.

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