Wow. Amazing Post!
Dear Christians In Indiana (and those elsewhere, who might read this),
I’ve seen what’s been going on there lately. Actually, I’ve been watching you all along and I really need to let you know something, just in case you misunderstand:
This isn’t what I had planned.
This wasn’t the Church I set the table for.
It wasn’t the dream I had for you, when I spoke in those parables about the Kingdom; about my Kingdom.
It was all supposed to be so very different.
It was supposed to be a pervasive, beautiful, relentless “yeast in the dough” that permeated the planet; an unstoppable virus of compassion and mercy spread person-to-person, not needing government or law or force.
It was supposed to be that smallest, seemingly most insignificant of seeds, exploding steadily and gloriously with the realized potential of my sacred presence, becoming a place of safety and shelter for all people.
It was supposed to be…
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There are three things most Christians would seem to accept about God. However, when thinking more in depth about these, there are some massive contradictions.
These three seem to be:
1. God is all powerful.
2. God is all knowing.
3. God is all loving.
I personally believe all three, but they raise some interesting questions.
If God is all powerful, then isn’t he able to enact a plan to save everyone from hell?
If he can but doesn’t, then is he all-loving?
I believe he has enacted this plan through Jesus. If even a single human goes to hell for all eternity, wouldn’t Jesus’ plan have failed? If God loves each and every one of his creations infinitely, wouldn’t this loss torment him for all of eternity?
Would God create beings knowing in advance that they would go to hell? If so, how is this love?
I’ve seen these questions circumvented by stating humans can’t understand. While it is true that we can’t fully comprehend God, the Bible goes to great lengths to describe him as infinite love, power, and knowledge. Many have tried to manipulate God’s character for their own ends, but are only left with a loveless, powerless, and/or ignorant god. Is it any wonder people have trouble believing in that kind of god?
God is love, and he has a plan for humanity conceived from that love.
He has the knowledge and power to bring that plan to ultimate fruition.
This I believe.
It’s interesting to see how my own thinking and growth have developed just in the months since I’ve started this blog. Topics that I was afraid to explore have become much easier to write about. Perhaps that has been a major purpose of God leading me in this direction so far. In addition, many of my ideals I wrote on have either changed to be more solidified or have become less abrasive for the opposing viewpoints.
I still have several topics I would like to write on, but it seems the timing isn’t right yet. As it has been so far, this could be because I haven’t considered enough of the angles yet and/or I’ve not worked out with God some of my own prejudices and sore spots with these issues.
I don’t have a solid plan on how or what I might write day to day. So far, when I’ve tried to develop a plan or a list of topics to write about, God ends up putting something else on my heart on any given day to explore. Much of what God inspires me to write is relevant to me personally so I suppose this has become a sort of public journal of my growing relationship with, and understanding of, God. Likewise, when I try to write on something that it doesn’t seem God wants me to write on (yet, if ever), I tend not to have the words or just simply lose interest. When it’s something God seems to be talking to me about, the words flow much more freely.
I don’t claim to be right or even have a good understanding of many things. However, it would seem my writing is to flesh much of this out. As I’ve stated previously, if the Bible is to be believed, it has to make some sort of sense overall. It’s impossible to follow two conflicting passages as law and attempt to enforce and defend them to others.
Like in the Bible, I believe God comes to us where we’re at in our current understanding and then points us to a better way one step at a time. Rules that were meant to guide ancient people a single step forward would now seem like major steps back in our current worldview. As humans, we still have a long way to go. It would also seem we stagnate in some ways when we refuse to let go of antiquated worldviews that were not intended to be held on to so tightly.
In summary, I don’t know what tomorrow may hold for me and that’s half the fun of following Jesus. Every new day has its’ surprise twists and turns as characters in God’s grand story of the redemption of all of his creation!
Often, expressions are used referring to the rapture as though we Christians will be evacuated from this world and those left behind will be destroyed. Though it may be unintentional, this seems to be partially used to induce fear while giving those Christians who have been made to fear the world some comfort that they’ll eventually be taken away. This leaves us with a “hate the world” and “can’t wait to escape” mentality. Our Christian walk then becomes a waiting game to be taken away, excusing us from doing any good that we might be made for in this world since it is doomed anyway (Note: I’m not talking about obligation based “good”). My intent is that when we realize what the Kingdom is and that it is here with us—that we are citizens of it now—then our desire becomes to show that kingdom through ourselves to help others enter in. Yet, we’re caught in a conundrum, called to be the salt and light to a world we condemn to hell.
If the full context of the passages are considered, the solution to this contradiction can be a little more clear.
The first verse often misunderstood is Matthew 24:40-41:
Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and one will be left.
Usually, this verse is taken to mean that some will be left behind for destruction during the rapture. The entire context of this chapter is explained through the era leading up to the Temple’s destruction. When the Romans would invade a territory that was being obstinate like Israel was, they would make examples by randomly taking one person and leaving the other behind. The one taken was usually executed. Those that were “left behind” were the ones not destroyed. Jesus was warning that if Israel persisted in rebellion, they would be destroyed by Rome and there would be a lot of needless death of even those who weren’t fighting and were trying to live their normal, everyday lives. Jesus was trying to show them how to truly live, now, in this world, by loving our neighbors and especially our enemies.
The next verse that is often tied to the above is 1 Thessalonian 4:17:
then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever.
These two verses so far are speaking of two different instances. The first speaks of the Roman invasion to crush the Jewish rebellion. The second speaks of Jesus returning at the end of time. It’s understandable how these two can be amalgamated and confused, but context is very important. The context of this “caught up together with them in the clouds” is referencing how people of the time would welcome a returning king and his army. This wasn’t the inhabitants abandoning their current home to go off to some different place and leave everyone else behind for destruction. This was the king returning to once again rule over his kingdom. The area’s inhabitants would be “called out” from where they were to go out and meet the king, ushering him back into the city. When Jesus returns, we will be called up to usher our King into his rightful position as Ruler of the World! This would have been a very common concept at the time when these passages were written.
Verse three is John 14:2-3:
In my Father’s house are many homes. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also.
Again, if we just try to take this verse away from the context of everything else Jesus was speaking about, we’re left with an egress statement. However, even within these same verses, Jesus talks about coming back for these specific disciples. I take this to mean his return through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But what about the “homes” in the Father’s house? Jesus often talked about the Kingdom as it being imminent (John 4:23-24, Matthew 3:2). The spiritual kingdom Jesus has already brought. It is now being built up by him and through us. The Kingdom of Heaven is among us (Luke 17:21). We continue to assume it is in some far-off place, but Jesus spoke as it being a reality that the disciples already knew how to enter in to (John 14:4).
There is much more to these concepts and many more passages that can be explored. I tried to be as direct and to the point as possible. The focus is, though—God’s plan isn’t to destroy what he created—it is to redeem all of creation through Jesus (Colossians 1:19-20)!
Disclaimer: Please note these are all my personal interpretations through Biblical study and putting trust in God that he really is love. I encourage anyone reading this to search the scriptures to find the truth relevant to your personal walk with God.
I’ve noticed a lot more people exiting the Sunday congregation routine in recent years. I know the first response to this by leadership may be to state we are heading down a dark path. I use to agree with this sentiment. My experience on the outside has been radically different than what I would have expected though. God has shown me how to love those I wasn’t allowed to love from the inside because they didn’t do what they were supposed to do based on the status quo. I’ve been able to more openly listen and respond to people with more than just pat answers, condemnation, and/or scripture sound bites (that were often out of context/misappropriated).
I’ve been wondering why this exodus is happening now, at this point in history though. Over the last two thousands years (and even before), the religious institution hasn’t had such a good track record, yet it still survived. Why is it now on such a decline in the Western world?
I’m not so much concerned because these institutions have never seemed to be what Jesus intended for the Church to be (imo). Yet, I still try to find the common thread on “why now?”
It seems that we are at a point where information is widely and easily available. If someone, especially leaders, state something as fact, laypersons now have the thoughts of the top theologians in the world at their fingertips in an instant. Perhaps one of the major factors of this exodus is that trust has been lost. Prior to the information age, lay members had to trust what leadership said regardless of how questionable it may have been. Today, people can question through the privacy of their own internet access.
In many congregations, questioning is made out to be sinful. If congregants can’t ask honest questions to their leadership without being guilt tripped, misinformed, and/or misdirected, then they will seek their answers elsewhere. When these other answers align more accurately with scripture, trust can be lost in leadership. Simply vilifying those whose theology doesn’t match to ours will not keep people attending. Instead, it will just drive the wedge deeper. Insisting that one view of God is absolute fact and everyone else is wrong further dampens trust. The methods that seemed to work before are now driving people away en mass.
So how do we stop the Sunday hemorrhage if we even should?
I would say that we have to make these meetings a safe place to question, even some of our most core doctrines. We need to be able to do this without berating each other or shutting down conversations with things like the “hell card” (i.e. you’re going to hell because you don’t believe like me/what I tell you to). If a person can’t ask honest questions and receive deep, meaningful answers, they’ll seek elsewhere. I honestly don’t know if we should even continue the Sunday morning routine or not, but I do believe that God’s church will continue to thrive outside of the confines of the institution, and our stubbornness in insisting that we are right when results are pointing to the contrary will not stop his plans.
This is a story that many have heard, probably since birth, until they are bored to tears with it. The message is usually conveyed as “you can’t run away or hide from God.” While that could be part of the message, it doesn’t convey the full context of the book.
Usually, it seems only portions of Jonah are taught, tailoring the message around an agenda. Often, chapter 4 isn’t focused on or left out altogether. I’ve been told something that conveys the thought of, “Don’t be like Jonah. Non-conformance is running away from God.” I understand the premise behind this but have experienced it to be horribly wrong. I also understand this overseeing is an attempt to keep people on the straight and narrow. Again, I believe this to be mis-defined. Having been on, what looks to be, an indefinite leave of absence from religion, I’ve found such freedom in Jesus that I’m not sure if I can ever go back. It’s as though I can’t fit into the box of conformance based religion anymore no matter how hard I would try. I don’t mean this as an affront, but I was spiritually stagnant for so long that the growth towards God I’ve experienced outside of religion is too beautiful to renounce. This is partially what leads me to write about the story of Jonah.
There are many aspects of this book to take into account. Some statements are made such as, “A person can’t survive inside of a fish like that” and questions like “Is this a ‘real’ story?” To both of these I would say it really doesn’t matter as these tend to focus on the wrong things. Like Jesus’ parables, this book could be a story meant to convey some lesson(s). Making such statements as those above tend to miss the forest for the trees. Did anyone ask Jesus if his parables were “real” stories? Probably not because that wasn’t the point. Likewise, when the focus of much of the Old Testament is placed on “Did it really happen/happen that way?” lessons can be lost because of the “Bible says” attitude which ends up misappropriating the intent.
So, what might this story be trying to convey? Like mentioned before, “No where to hide from God” is partially right. I’d take this a bit further to say there is no where to hide from God’s love as his love wins in the end. I’ll elaborate on that in the rest of the story.
First, we see that the intended destination for Jonah was the “evil” city of Nineveh. Often, the point is missed of the significance of this city to the world Israel was a part of at that time. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire—the same empire that desolated northern Israel (~2/3 of the kingdom). This wasn’t just any misguided city, this was the capital of Israel’s most hated enemy of the time. And God wanted Jonah to go there and preach a message to them.
So what was so bad about that? Jonah knew God would be with him, so why would he run away? Could it be that Jonah didn’t want his most hated enemies to hear the message of repentance and forgiveness? If they repented, then God might just forgive them, and if forgiven, they would no longer be on their self-destructive path. If God was going to forgive them, Jonah and the rest of Israel would no longer be justified in their hatred. So, perhaps Jonah ran away because he didn’t want Nineveh to be spared. We know the story though of how God had other plans.
This brings up two interesting points. Did Jonah have free will? If so, why did he get redirected back to Nineveh via a fish?
To answer the first question, I would say yes, Jonah had free will and his free will played perfectly into God’s will. That is, we have free will, but God’s will is love, and love always wins in the end. If the situation doesn’t seem so, then maybe it’s not the end yet. As stated before, a more appropriate lesson from Jonah would be “There’s no where to run or hid from God’s love!” Many times, however, this message gets twisted to state there’s no where to hide from God, as if he’s some kind of divine boogeyman out to hunt us down and torment us for not eating our veggies or performing the correct rituals.
And this brings us to the point of the most famous, yet probably least understood, part of the tale—Jonah gets swallowed by a big ole fish then spat out 3 days later (foreshadows of Jesus?). So what’s the deal with the fish itself and how could the concept of a whale be less accurate? Here’s where Nineveh fits perfectly into this story. Dagon was the Assyrian fish-god. Those possibly witnessing Jonah spat out could have spread the word throughout the land that a messenger from Dagon was approaching. Imagine the Ninevites’ shock when Jonah shows up smelling and looking very fishy, but stating he wasn’t a messenger from their fish-god, but instead a prophet from the God of Israel. Yahweh had complete control over Dagon (Jonah 2:10) and uses the Ninevites’ understanding to bring his message of repentance and forgiveness. He comes to them where they are at in a way they would understand. (hmm, more foreshadows of Jesus perhaps?)
Jonah pursues his own will yet God works that completely into his plan. In the end, we see the real reason Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh—he didn’t want God to show mercy on them (Jonah 3:10-4:2).
A side-note about my personal thoughts. The way people understood God at this time was through the rest of the cultures’ understanding—the gods could get furious and punish those who didn’t follow certain standards. It would seem God’s intent was to save Nineveh from destruction at the hands of another nation (Babylon?)(Jonah 3:4). Of coarse no one knows the mind of God, but if he is truly love as Jesus represented, he wouldn’t wish destruction on anyone. Often though, the message can be convoluted with man’s current understanding of the world.