Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grace Over Karma

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:18,21-25

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I'd be interested to hear that.

Bono: That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there's a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let's face it, you're not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That's the point. It should keep us humbled . It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Assayas: That's a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it's close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that farfetched?

Bono: No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched

Bono later says it all comes down to how we regard Jesus:

Bono: If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s--- and everybody else's. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that's the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.

-- Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas

HT: @muriithiw, The Poached Egg

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Obedience Is A Gift of Grace

This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.
Psalm 119:56
This is a difficult verse to translate. In the original Hebrew, the word "blessing" isn't actually there. It's been added by the translator. But to make things even more unclear, the word "that" can also be translated as "because."

So, in light of the different ways this verse can be translated, how should we understand it?

Translation #1
This has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.
Psalm 119:56
In this translation, I understand "this" to refer to the second half of the sentence. In other words, "This is what has fallen to me: that I have kept your precepts." And the conclusion I arrive at is this: obedience (keeping God's precepts) is a gift of grace ("has fallen to me" implies that I am ultimately a passive recipient).

Translation #2
This has fallen to me, because I have kept your precepts.
Psalm 119:56
In this translation, I understand the "this" to refer to the previous verse.
I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law.
Psalm 119:55
In other words, "This is what has fallen to me: that I remember your name in the night and keep your law." And the conclusion I arrive at is this: obedience (keeping God's law) is a gift of grace ("has fallen to me" implies that I am ultimately a passive recipient). But in this case, obedience ("keeping God's law" in v. 55) is a gift of grace that God grants in response to my obedience ("keeping God's precepts" in v. 56).

Obedience is a gift of grace that God grants in response to our obedience. He rewards our obedience with grace for future obedience.

But before we could ever be rewarded with the grace for obedience in response to our obedience, God had to initiate our first act of obedience when we had no ability to obey (Ephesians 2:1-8, 2 Timothy 2:25).

"This has fallen to me" underscores the fact that even though I must make an active choice to obey God (Philippians 2:12), I am ultimately a passive recipient of the sovereign, sin-conquering grace of God (Philippians 2:13).
Grace unending all my days
You'll give me strength to run this race
And when my years on earth are through
The praise will all belong to You
Which is why it's the ultimate culmination of grace that God could one day say to us: "Well done, good and faithful servant....enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21).

You mean to tell me that He's going to reward me for the gift that He gave to me in the first place?
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD [who are obedient]!
Psalm 119:1

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong but walk in his ways [who are obedient]!
Psalm 119:2-3

This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts [I have been obedient].
Psalm 119:56
In the end, it doesn't really matter which way you end up translating verse 56 of Psalm 119. Either way, obedience is a gift of grace.

I couldn't more wholeheartedly agree with the translator's decision to insert the word "blessing."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Nations

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
Isaiah 49:6 (emphasis added)

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis added)
I just watched a dear brother in Christ get on an airplane to Vietnam, where he is moving to live for this next season of his life in his nation of ethnic origin.

In just over a week I will get on an airplane to Kenya, where I am moving to live for this next season of my life in my nation of ethnic origin.

Even though I've only known Tony for a couple of months, I have great affection for him because of his commitment to the truth of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the sake of rebellious sinners like me who only deserve the wrath of a righteous God but through Jesus get only grace.

And one day soon, multitudes from Vietnam and Kenya and every other nation on the planet who are seeing each other for only the first time will have an immeasurably greater depth of affection for one another because of our singular, undivided, all-consuming passion to praise the Lamb for sinners slain who wrote with blood our eternal praise!
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
Revelation 5:9-10 (emphasis added)
Even so, come Lord Jesus!