Sunday, October 6, 2013

What Christianity has taught me, and why I am still a Christian

I have been told on several occasions that I am not a Christian, because I have liberal views about Jesus and the Bible. Things like hanging out with atheists to learn more about their perspective, to supporting gay rights, and more, have gotten me labeled as a heretic, blasphemer, sinful heathen, vile Christian, and many other colorful names that I won’t put in this article. Labels have never worked well for me because I cant find one that fits me perfectly.  

Before I explain why I am still a Christian, I want to take a moment to describe what being a Christian has taught me. I learned the real meaning of love, from being a Christian. The lessons of Jesus have truly changed the man that I am today. Just ask my wife. My wife and I, have a marriage that almost all of our friends, and anyone who knows us, envies on a regular basis. Not a week goes by, that someone doesn’t tell Jenise or I, that they wish we had what we have. But it wasn’t always like that. You can read all about it, if you want in my article about “my personal testimony.” In a nutshell, I learned how to love my wife when she wasn’t doing things my way. I learned to love her when she was being irrational, irresponsible, illogical, and just plain unfair. I learned to love her, the way Jesus loved us, when He was willing to die on the cross, for people who did, and would, despise Him. I learned about Agape love. I have always been told that “true love is blind.” The lessons in the Bible actually taught me that “true love is NOT blind. True love sees everything, but loves anyway.” If anyone wants to know, that is the secret to our happiness and longevity of our marriage. I didn’t know these things, before I was a Christian. In fact, I had a very “primal” attitude that only the strong had the right to survive. If someone hurt you, or took advantage of you, it was your own fault for being so week. That was the attitude my wife had to endure for so many years. Looking back, I have no idea why she was so determined to stay with me, in spite of my loveless, emotionless, and heartless beliefs.  
After reading about Jesus, and what the new testament says about how a husband should love his wife, I slowly changed my attitude towards my wife. I am indebted to my Christian faith for not just saving my marriage, but for making it a marriage that almost every person who really knows my wife and I, wish they could have. I know there are parts of the Bible that are not about love, and some parts are just outright horrible. But this isn’t an article in defense of my faith or the Bible. Some people have said things like “Well, you shouldn’t need a God to be good,” or “you are a pretty shallow person if you need ancient bronze-age fairy tales to be a good husband.” And to all those things I say “So what?” Good for you, if you can be good without a God. Good for you, if you are a good spouse without “fairy tales” and parables. I couldn’t. I needed those things in my life to change my perspective. And as a result, I have an amazingly strong and happy marriage of 20 years and counting. Every person that has ever criticized me, could not say the same, regardless if they were Christian or Atheist.

Now in regards to why I am still a Christian, who ever said that a Christian had to be perfect? Not any Christian I have ever met. Not the bible. Not any church I have attended. There seems to be this notion that “Christians” are supposed to act a certain way or do certain things. That’s all well and good, but none of this has been documented in the Bible that I can find. How about this? Being a Christian is a journey. And some people are further along in their journey. I will even retract the word “further” and replace it with “at a different place” in their journey. The bible was meant to be an experience for everyone. Everyone I know has different stories and different experiences with God. That says a lot to me. We are all supposed to have different experiences. Just like the prodigal son had a different experience than Esther. I could go on and on. The point is, I am a Christian. And for all the things I do that are “unchristian-like” in some people’s minds, is only a testimony that I need Jesus in my life. I am not as bad of a person as I was 15 years ago, and I am confident I will be a better person in 15 more years. But mostly, I am a Christian for what I believe and uphold. I uphold the divinity of Christ, the sonship of Christ, the incarnation, the fact that God the Salvation is imaged in Christ, and I hold that Salvation is by virtue of God alone; this salvation revealed as living revelation in the person of Jesus, and his actions: And that this atonement has alone been revealed by Jesus, the Incarnate Body, and all of this subsumed in the Godhead.

I uphold that God's Love, and Justice, and all of God's divine attributes work in one accord, one unity, for divine purpose in harmony, not in dichotomy.  I do not deny, or pit any of God's attributes against one another.  I hold that Salvation is a simultaneous work of God's Love, Justice, Mercy, and Grace in one unanimous accord, and will, for the holy, and righteous purposes of God.

I uphold that Christ was born of the chosen virgin Mary mother of Jesus, crucified by Pontious Pilate, dying, was buried, and resurrected to sit at the right hand of God the Father.

I affirm, and confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, and is God the Son, beloved son of the Father, conceived of God by the overshadowing of God the Holy Spirit; and established through his being, and actions, the Kingdom of God in Earth, as it is in Heaven.

I affirm that Salvation is by God and the exercise of God's power, nature, and agency - through Grace and Faith given by God to the Human, and uphold Monergism, and Monistic Agency whereby God achieves his will in the Human.

That I hold that Salvation is for all and achieved in all because of the majesty, power, nature, and attributes of God does not deny saving faith, nor does it imply "damnable", and it certainly does not mean that I am worshipping a "different god".  I worship the God.  Ho Theos.  Being itself.  The God of All in All, which the Bible testifies of, and which the God gives revelation through, as God also gives revelation through Creation, Revelation, Prophecy, Divine Encounters, and the Truths of God.

In so far as Universalism goes the only thing it does is take the issue of Eternal Damnation, Eternity, or Aion-Aionios (from the approach of both Temporality, or Eternality) and approach it from a different angle.  Which is that God's actions are corrective, and restorative (which is perfectly in line with his attributes in unity, and his personhood) rather than merely afflictive, or even anticorrective as in the case of Damnationalists who believe that "Hell increaseth the sin, and where sin increaseth, the wrath afflicts abounding all the more".

It is possible to derive Universalism from the spirit of the Biblical themes, and it is especially possible to derive from Philosophical approaches to Ontology, especially in light of Monism, and Monergism.

For example it is possible for a person to hold to both Eternal Damnation, and Eternal Salvation for all persons simultaneously.  One need only take the verses as saying, expressed by the Apostle Paul, that the "old man" (sin, and our identification with a sinful nature) is eternally damned, and destroyed.  It (by Christ) is put to an end in us.  It is by virtue of God's renewing power that the "new man" (righteousness, and our identification with the righteous nature in unity with Christ, as children of God, etc) is by Christ given life, and freedom in the Lord as silver is purged of dross, or wheat is purged of chaff.

I hold that God's Justice is so thorough that it will not allow sin, and a sinful identity to remain even in a state of imprisoned affliction.  And in doing so restores through Christ the very health, and holiness of that which God has expressed through his Creation.  In other words: God is not content to enshrine sin in a closet, but destroys it, so that the goodness of his workmanship (all of creation) shall live restored to him. 

God is not content to contain crime in a prison designed to afflict.  The purpose of God is to achieve the end of crime altogether such that the prison has served its corrective purpose, and the prisoners (by the omnipotent power of God, and the omniscient knowledge of how to achieve restoration in what he himself has made) rehabilitated, and reconciled through Christ to the Father.  Just as we, once being prisoners to evil, and in allegiance to the Enemy, were by that very merciful Christ reconciled back, for the glory of God, and all the goodness that is of his Name, and Nature.  Even as we were saved back to ourselves, seated in Heavenly Places in Eternity beyond Time, saved to Christ with whom, and in whom we have unity in God, for Christ, and through Christ, and in Christ; so too will "all be reconciled" and "all be restored" to the glory of the Father.  Whereby for the glory of the Father true worship will be expressed (in Truth [life, and way] and in Spirit) by every knee, and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.  A confession which can only be given by one who is indwelt by the Spirit, which is the seal of Salvation, and given upon Salvation, by the Lord God Christ Almighty and Beloved Son of the Father.

To add to this, if the thief on the cross can make his declaration just hours before his death, when he saw Jesus, then I contend a person can make the same declaration to save themselves, just hours after their death. When they have witnessed Jesus. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

My friend took his own life this past Friday; He was an atheist

This past Friday, I learned that a friend of mine took his own life. He was an atheist. In fact, I met him when I joined a local atheist club in town, to get a better understanding of the atheist way of life and outlook. I gave him rides to the atheist meetings several times and we became friends on facebook. We were never overly close, but from time to time he would message me late at night when he was sad or lonely. His name was Johnny. He came from a very religious family and he always felt pressured by his family to accept God. Instead, he identified himself as a staunch atheist. He even had the atheist logo tattooed on his chest. The thing is, I don’t think he was an atheist. He would participate in the typical atheist arguments about how God wasn’t real and science has shown time again that God wasn’t needed for life to begin. But there as more to him than that. When it was just him and I, he talked about being angry with God. He talked about how he had screamed out to God in anger, and despair. He felt that his family forced religion on him as a youth, and as a result he rebelled as an adult. I don’t believe that Johnny was an atheist based on some of our late night conversations. At the very least, he was definitely curious about a lot of my ideas and opinions about the Bible, God, Jesus, the church, and religion. I can’t say if Johnny was a true atheist or not.

What I can say, is that Johnny had some well-meaning Christians in his life who may have pushed him away from God. The very people who were called to bring people to the Lord, may have been the one’s who kept Johnny from wanting God in his life. Early in the past year, Johnny’s father passed away. When this happened, I got a random message from him asking if we could talk. I agreed and he began to tell me how alone and dark he was feeling. He told me that he didn’t want to live. He wanted to mourn the loss of his father, but he felt that he was being attacked by some family and friends. He was told that his father desperately wanted him to know God. He was told that if he loved his father, he would accept Jesus because that was his father’s desire.  He was told that he will go to hell. He was told he was a disappointment to his father. I want to tell all of my Christian brethren out there, that even if you really think all of this is true; not everything that is true, is always helpful. This is not the way.

I don’t know where Johnny is right now. Since I learned of his passing, I have prayed for him, several times a day. I have prayed that God knows his heart. That God can see how confused Johnny was. How betrayed he felt. How hurt he was. I have wept for Johnny on several occasions this past weekend. I wept when I first learned of his passing. I wept when I posted the picture he drew for me on facebook. I wept this morning as I drove to the gym. And as I type this, my eyes are watering and I am choking back tears. I cannot believe that Johnny is burning in some hell right now. What I know of God, is that He is 1000 times more loving and compassionate than I could hope to be. If my heart is broken for Johnny, then God’s has to be, as well. I imagine God wrapping Johnny in his arms. I imagine Johnny weeping and saying “I’m sorry, but it hurt so bad.” And I imagine God saying “I know my son. And I love you.” To me, that is “love.” That is compassion. That is everlasting fatherly love and mercy. That is what God is.
In the Bible, Moses pleads with God to have mercy on the Israelites because they have turned their back on God. Numbers 14:11-20 says:  11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? 12 I will smite them with [a]pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.” 13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will [b]say, 16 ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have [c]declared, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children [d]to the third and the fourth generations.’ 19 Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your loving kindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” 20 So the Lord said, “I have pardoned them according to your word.” The people didn’t believe in God. They didn’t trust in him, and yet God was merciful because of the prayer of Moses. Later in the Bible, Jesus does the same thing. In Luke 23:24 He says “34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. In both the Old Testament and the New, we see an example of someone who knew and loved God, pleading with God for those who did not understand. Why would Jesus pray for those who turned their back on him, if it wouldn’t do any good? I have prayed to God, on behalf of my friend Johnny, that God would see how wounded Johnny was. How confused Johnny was. How hurt Johnny was. And I know that God can see that Johnny’s despair was caused in part, by people who were supposed to be God’s representatives. The one’s who were supposed to bring Johnny to od were some of the very people who pushed Johnny away from God. I know not every Christian in Johnny’s life was like that. I know a couple of the Christians in Johnny’s life were very compassionate and we tried to show God to Johnny, in a loving way. But maybe we didn’t do enough. I don’t know.

All I know is that my friend is gone. And it hurts. Like I said, we weren’t really “that” close. But I mourn for
Johnny drew this for me last January.
I gave it to my wife for our 19th anniversary.
He was very talented. 
him like we were. I mourn for his broken heart. I mourn for his mother who lost her husband and her son in less than one year. And I pray that Christians will think about the things they say to people and be aware of when they are slamming the gates of heaven shut, in the faces of those who are wounded, hurt, and confused.

Rest in peace, Johnny. I will miss you. And I will do everything I can to make sure your death was not in vain. I will tell your story in hopes that Christians will realize how powerful and hurtful their words can be. I will tell your story to encourage Christians to tell everyone the good news about Jesus’ death, rather than the horrific news of God’s anger, wrath, and death, that too many “believe in.” 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A letter to my christian friends; especially the fundamentalists

No, I do not know Hebrew and Greek, and no, I do not have a theological degree, and no, I do not understand how everything in the Bible fits together with everything in life, including my life.
Though I'd say that my life has more value to me than any book, and anyone's life, even yours, even though some of you frustrate the hell out of me, I believe counts for more than any book.

Personally, to be honest, sometimes I hate the Bible.
I hate how it causes so much strife and conflict and war, and how people use it to hurt each other, to weigh others down so they feel like life is empty and crazy, like the universe is run by Someone who is neither dynamic nor compassionate, who is, instead, petty and capricious... how people use it to fit life and all of its meaning into some tiny box, when life is so much bigger than that...

There are beautiful things I have read in its pages... there are wonderful things... I've found things that are encouraging and challenging, things that speak powerfully, things that give hope... but there are ugly and crazy things too, at least from where I'm standing.

But, to tell the truth, what has happened to me in my life has spoken more powerfully to me than anything in the Bible. The miracles, the love of people, all those moments of beauty and wonder and joy, and those moments when I thought life was not worth living anymore, but then, somehow, I found a reason to go on...

These things speak more to me than anything I've read in the book that others fight about and use as leverage to wound each other and crush each others spirits...

I spent more years as an agnostic/atheist than a believer, and though at times I have been afraid to ask questions, for fear of God lashing out at me for doing so, though there have been times I have kept my silence, even when my heart cried out for some kind of explanation, or at least some kind of comfort or hope, I will do so no longer. I cannot help but say what I feel.

I was not raised in a church and taught to accept only the answers fed to me, but rather I was taught by my parents that it is okay to think for yourself... and I've learned that being honest matters more than just about anything.

As Shakespeare said 'In these sad times we must obey... speak what we feel, and not what we ought to say.'

If I cannot be honest with God, real with God, then what good is it to even try and engage with Him? If He just tells me to shut up when my heart is breaking, when there are questions screaming inside of me, when there are fears and doubts raging within me, then why even bother to talk to Him, let alone listen to Him?
Why even bother to believe in Him? :/

One thing I can say I've gathered from the Bible though is that people in it ask questions... and though God sometimes questions them back, He never strikes them with lightning because they questioned, and never destroys them just because they were crying out for answers...
I dare you to deny that such is the case in the Bible, or in life.
If God could not handle our questions, then mankind would have been annihilated long ago, and we wouldn't even be here talking...

So I am not afraid to ask questions, or at least not as much as I used to be.

I question the traditional belief that homosexuality is wrong. And why? Because I have had and have friends who have struggled with this and cannot find any answers to it, any way around it, though they tried as hard as they could to be something they were not, to make others happy, or presumably, make God happy, even though it seems as though they were born the way they are, and thus it seems as though God made them the way they are, and now they should feel ashamed of something that God may be responsible for... and because I feel compassion for them, I wonder why God wouldn't have compassion too, since He supposedly is near to the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit...

I question the traditional belief that the Bible is inerrant because I believe that God can work through brokenness, through messes, through writers that don't have everything right (this includes me) and because I do not believe that God fits anymore in a book than in a box, and because I believe He is more than the God of the Bible, as if the Bible was all God consisted of, but the LORD of all creation is rather the God of you and me, the Creator and Father of all, and that is a truth that words alone cannot contain or describe...

And I question the traditional belief in an everlasting hell for sinners, because I believe that God can do better than that, because I believe that real justice is found in setting things right, in making things better than they are, in restoration and reconciliation... and that God's wrath is a passionate desire to make things right, to restore, and not just some desire to exercise fury and breaks things and hurt people, as it is with us... what good is punishment, if it leads nowhere at all?
Isn't God a master of bringing good out of bad, of bringing light out of darkness?

I believe that God making His enemies into His friends is more glorious than sweeping His enemies, which presumably includes the majority of the human race, even those who try to live and love as best they can, under a rug forever.
And I believe that God's glory is not in a show of power, but is in His character, and in His heart... that when Moses saw God's glory, he saw a God who was compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness...

I believe it is God's character and heart that is His glory, and when He is glorified in all the earth, it will be the glory of His character and His heart that will be spread... and in that day people will go out with joy and be led forth in peace, and the mountains and the hills will break out into shouts of joy before them, and the trees of the field will clap their hands...

I believe that the day will come when all of this fighting and bickering will be done, when God shall judge the nations, and settle disputes for many peoples, and when we shall beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks, when nation shall not rise against nation (nor individual shall rise against individual), and we shall not learn war anymore...

I believe that God will swallow up death for all time, and will wipe away tears from all faces, and will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth...
No more death, no more tears or pain, no more shame or blame... no more fear, or doubt, no more wrestling with sin, no more wrestling in the dark... when all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, and every heart will find its home, resting in the One who knows and understands every heart...

This is my vision, or at least as much as I can put it into words.
If you could step inside of me, you could see it in the connecting dots, in the stories that have moved me, in the memories, in the faces, the moments, the miracles, and most of all in the longing and the aching I have felt so often in my life.

And this is how I see things, though I'm hard-pressed to find words for it...

But, what I see matters nothing to some of you here, or so it seems. :/

It seems that you would like me to fit into your little box, so you will not be inconvenienced with all of my questions and my struggles, so you can glory in your own rightness, in having everything figured out, even if that means leaving others out in the cold. :/

Any belief, any theology, any worldview, that leaves anyone without hope or meaning, that leaves them longing and aching for more, in this crazy world, to me is not really worth believing in. It just doesn't cut it.

You can argue this till you are blue in the face, but the fact is, if what you're selling weighs a person down more than it lifts them up, and if it crushes them more than it heals them, then not many people will buy it, or should I think.

You can say 'well, it's the truth' as loudly as you want, but if 'the truth' you're promoting isn't good news to those stumbling in the dark, and isn't living water to those who are thirsty and dying, doesn't fit into their heart of hearts and say to them 'there is hope', then you shouldn't even bother promoting it.

People who refuse to settle for more rules or more fine print know better, that when it comes down to it, the truth has to be something better than all the pain and suffering in the world, and there's no point in living.

Or, even if your closed-in view of reality is the real one, all I can say is that I resonate with what C.S. Lewis wrote here in the Silver Chair, in Puddleglum's famous speech:

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so.
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right.
But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

You guys may think I'm stupid, you may think I'm naive, you may think I'm a fool, you may say this or that, quote this verse or that verse, do all you can to defend your position, positions which when I entertained them in the past caused me to hit my head against walls, claw at myself till I bled, and cry bitter tears and scream until my voice was hoarse, tensing myself till I went into involuntary convulsions and felt like little more than a frightened child, fragile and alone, like a fly fighting against the universe, longing and aching for someone to hold him, to give him peace...

No doubt you have suffered, but so have I, if that means anything to you.

No doubt you've struggled, but so have I, if that means anything to you.

You may not give a damn about me or about what happens to me, or whether I end up in heaven or in hell or as worm-food, but I would hope that you would at least listen... at least try to understand...

If you don't even try, than I feel sorry for you... sorry that your world is so small, and that your heart is so small...

I'll close with this, one of my favorite quotes, written by Stephen King:

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”