Saturday, May 27, 2017

Why and How God Is Good

... all the time.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Psalm 34:8
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28
The goodness of God is often spoken of as if it were a mere instinctive desire for the diffusion of universal happiness, without reference to the characters or habits of his creatures -- as if he were concerned to make them comfortable, whatever might be their views and feelings in reference to himself, and in whatever way might be most congenial to their disposition and taste; as if, in fact, God had regard to no other end than the mere physical enjoyment of man!

Now, no view can be more at variance with the doctrine of Scripture than this!  I see not how, on such a supposition, we can reconcile the actual facts of human experience, with the belief that an Almighty Being, acting on this principle, exercises a providence over the world.  For, unquestionably, there is much suffering in the world.  And if there is no moral reason and no final cause for such suffering -- it would seem to derogate either from the goodness which we ascribe to God, or from his power to carry his benevolent intentions into effect.*

The man who holds it as a first principle, that the only or the chief end of God is the diffusion of mere physical enjoyment, irrespective of all moral considerations, and who takes a survey of the actual state of the world, or a review of his own experience -- must be staggered by many difficulties, which a more correct and Christian view of God's end in providence can alone obviate and remove.

The Bible does not speak of God's goodness in this way.  It never once ascribes to him the desire of making his creatures happy without reference to their moral condition.  It declares his loving-kindness, indeed, and tells us that he has no pleasure in our sufferings.  But it affirms, notwithstanding, that these sufferings are inflicted by his hand, and will continue to be inflicted, so long as the more important ends of his government are unfulfilled.  In a word, it is a moral happiness -- a happiness springing from, and in a great measure consisting in, the graces and virtues of a holy character, that the Bible declares God's willingness to bestow.  And it is a moral goodness that is ascribed to him, not an indiscriminate charity, that would secure a happiness for every man conformable to his own inclination, however wicked and perverted these inclinations may be; but a holy love, acting wisely, with a view to moral ends, and seeking to bless its objects in a way suitable to their dignity as moral and responsible beings.

--James Buchanan, The Improvement of Affliction
As often as we hear Romans 8:28 quoted, how often do we hear the very next verse--Romans 8:29--quoted together with it?  Not once in my experience.  But Romans 8:29 begins with the word "for" which means not only that it's inseparable from verse 28, but, more importantly, it provides the ground on which verse 28 stands!  What is that ground?
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:29
In other words, why do all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (verse 28)?

Because the good purpose that all things are working toward in the lives of those who are foreknown and predestined by God (verse 30 will make explicit that those called according to God's purpose in verse 28 is the same group as those foreknown and predestined in verse 29) is for every person in that group to be conformed into the image of the only Man who is morally perfect--namely, His Son Jesus Christ.  Which is to say that the good of Romans 8:28, the goodness of God, is ultimately a moral goodness rooted in God seeking not the temporal but the moral happiness of men.  Exactly what Buchanan says.

*In his best-selling book, Rabbi Harold Kushner solved this dilemma of reconciling human suffering, the goodness of God, and the sovereignty of God by denying the sovereignty of God.  God cannot be in control because the existence of human suffering robs His creatures of comfort and happiness and this would contradict Kushner's superficial doctrine of God's goodness.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

This Is About That

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32
The most concise yet profound summary I've seen/heard regarding the mystery of marriage.

Everything He has--His love, His goodness, His power--becomes ours.
And everything we have--our sin, our shame, our past--becomes His.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Hills and Valleys

And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’”
1 Kings 20:28
I know nothing about music technically, but the overall combination of melody, instrumentation, voice, soul, and theology here ... I've never been more captivated by the beauty of a song.

I've walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I've felt the pain of heartbreak
And I've seen the brighter days
And I've prayed prayers to heaven from my lowest place
And I have held Your blessings
God You give and take away
No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I'm standing in Your love

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley I know I am not alone
You're God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

I've watched my dreams get broken
In You I hope again
No matter what I know
I'm safe inside Your hands

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley I know I am not alone
You're God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

Father You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all You will remain over it all

On the mountains I will bow my life
In the valley I will lift my eyes

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley I know I am not alone
You're God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

And I will choose to say
Blessed be Your name
And I am not alone

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Good Shepherd Is Not to Be Spiritualized

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
John 10:10-15
The Gospel context and the cultural intertexts show that Jesus' use of the good shepherd image contests the leadership of those who administer the imperial system. The image is not to be spiritualized, as Kanagaraj does in claiming that the bad shepherds "steal people away from the path of obedience to Christ possibly by offering wrong teaching and theology." It is not primarily a matter of teaching and theology but rather societal injustice and exploitative leadership practices. These leaders cannot be good shepherds because they rule to benefit themselves materially and harm the people materially. No matter what they claim, they do not provide life and are not willing to give their lives for the life of society. They steal food, shelter, clothing, health, and safety from the people. They are illegitimate and violent rulers. Jesus-believers in Ephesus, urges the Gospel, cannot follow such violent "strangers." Violence is forbidden to Jesus' followers (John 18:36). They must "flee from" them and follow the good shepherd, whose voice they know (John 10:4-5). Happy accommodation with a thieving, illegitimate, violent, destructive, and life-threatening imperial system is not possible. They are called to an alternative allegiance in an antisociety, with a different set of practices. The title "good shepherd" as a descriptor of Jesus in contrast to imperial and allied leaders forms part of the Gospel's rhetoric of distance.

--Warren Carter, John and Empire: Initial Explorations, p.187-188

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Red and Yellow, Black and White...

...they are precious in His sight.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
Galatians 4:8-9

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Beware Over-Spiritualizing the Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Matthew 16:24
The cross utilizes a political image of shame, humiliation, pain, social rejection, marginalization, condemnation, and death. Crucifixion, as employed by Rome, was a cruel means of execution (Tacitus, Ann 15.44.4; Seneca, De Ira 1.2.2; Josephus, JW 7.203 [“ most pitiable of deaths”]). It was not used for Roman citizens (Cicero, Pro Rabirio 9-17, except for treason), but for sociopolitical marginals such as “rebellious” foreigners (Josephus, JW 2.306, 308; 5.449-53; Philo, In Flaccum 72, 84), violent criminals and robbers (Martial, On the Spectacles 9), and slaves (Cicero, In Verr 2.5.162; Juvenal, Sat 6.219-224; Tacitus, Ann 13.32.1). Crucifixion in public places was intended to deter noncompliant behavior (Josephus, JW 5.550). Carrying the cross-beam (patibulum) to the place of execution could be part of the precrucifixion torture and humiliation (Plutarch, “On the Delay of Divine Vengeance,” Moralia 554B). For some Jews, crucifixion could be associated with the curse on those hung on a tree (Deut 23: 21;
Gal 3: 13; 11QTemple 64: 6-13).

Jesus' scandalous call, then, to take up the cross and follow (cf. 4: 18-22) is a call to martyrdom, to die as Jesus does (9: 15; 10: 4, 21, 28, 29; 16: 21). Such is the risk of continuing Jesus' countercultural work of proclaiming and demonstrating God's empire (10: 7-8). On another level, it is a call to a life of marginalization, to identify with the nobodies like slaves, foreigners, criminals, and those understood to be cursed by God. It is also to identify with those who resist the empire's control, who contest its version of reality, and who are vulnerable to its reprisals. It is to identify with a sign of the empire's violent and humiliating attempt to dispose of all who threaten or challenge its interests. To so identify is not to endorse the symbol but to counter and reframe its violence. As the end of the gospel shows, it is to identify with a sign that ironically indicates the empire's limits. The empire does its worst in crucifying Jesus. But God raises Jesus from death to thwart the empire's efforts and to reveal the limits of its power.

--Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Bible and Liberation) (Kindle Locations 10421-10439). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Corrupting the Well-Adjusted in a Sick Society

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.
Matthew 13:33
The small beginning effects a massive impact. The yeast/ leaven has worked quietly, invisibly, hidden away, over time. Rome and the religious elite do not see it at all. Disciples could wonder if it was there at all, or achieving anything. But inevitably all of it was leavened. The passive indicates God's action. The yeast/ leaven has done corrupting work in transforming the flour.

By comparison, God's reign works over time. In a similar way, it attacks the status quo. In doing transformative work, it shows that conventional life under imperial rule is unacceptable. God's ways are not human ways. God's empire is not the same as oppressive political, socioeconomic, and religious control. So Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, eats with tax collectors and sinners, urges mercy, promotes access to shared resources, and constitutes alternative households. This is corrupting work in relation to the empire's status quo because it replaces an unjust hierarchical system which furthers the interests of the elite at the expense of the rest. But if a person is well adjusted in a sick society, corrupting is the only path to wholeness. In such a context, to be corrupted is to be transformed, saved, in encountering God's empire, in anticipation of its eventual completion in establishing God's life-giving reign over all things.

--Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Bible and Liberation) (Kindle Locations 8914-8924). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.