Foolishness, Wisdom, Love

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It is Sunday morning, and I am not going to church today, because my white blood cell count is down, and I am not brave like my friend Erika who puts on a surgical mask and gets out there in the world. Of course, Erika looks pretty adorable in her mask, and I just look kind of scary. Seriously, what do you think when you see a person wearing a mask? “I wonder what sort of terrible disease that person has?” And this, of course, brings up another question, which is why can’t I get over this concern over what other people think of me???

Anyway, since I am not going to church, I thought I’d write a Stumbling Scripture Studies blog, since I’ve had a thought or two, perhaps even interesting, that is shareable. And as always, please don’t think I write these blogs just to tell you what I think, or what you should think. I am very interested in your pertinent, nice and creative perspectives. And your prayers. These Stumbling Scripture Studies, at least at this point, are a record of my own struggles in this journey.

The Bible reading track I am on is currently in 1 Corinthians chapters 2 and 3. These chapters have really captured the essence of my problem, which is the wisdom of this world coming up against the foolishness of the message of the gospel. Hey, that’s not my assessment. That is Paul’s. Time and again in these chapters, Paul states that the things of God are foolishness to the natural man, and that “If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor 3:18-19)

The point where I am in my faith is that I have resolved that I have been called to it, and that I am going to return to it however many times I run away. But it seems impossible for me to read the Bible or study my faith without looking at it through the  lens of the skeptic’s glasses. When I read this stuff about the wisdom of the world and the foolishness of God, half of me says, oh, aha, that is my problem, while the other half of me says, maybe this is because it really is foolishness. I can actually lay out that argument far more easily than the argument for faith’s wisdom. There is no argument for it. It is impossible to “witness for” the faith. When I read the scripts laid out for this purpose, it makes me cringe.

Faith, to me, is purely experiential. It can’t be argued, it can’t be taught. It has to be experienced. There have been enough times in my life that God has spoken to me, has acted in my life, that I have to open that door to him. But I think this is something anyone needs to experience for themselves. “Witnessing?” This is the only thing that I have ever been able to say to anyone that has made any sense: ask God to reveal himself to you. Say, “God if you are real, show me.” I used to say this with absolute certainty that God would do just that if given an opportunity. I still believe that. But in the many, many, many years since I first became a Christian (44 years to be precise), I have learned that resistance to the voice of God is deep.

Paul gives us a promise, however. He tells us that if we get over our wise old selves and allow ourselves to be fools, that the deep wisdom of God will be revealed to us. And I want that deep wisdom. I long for that deep wisdom. So let me be a fool.

If I should be wrong, and God doesn’t exist, and Christianity is just foolishness, what harm will be done if I am a fool? NONE. This is not to say that harm isn’t done in this world in the name of Christianity. It most certainly has been done, from early days through our own times. In this country today, the marriage between Christianity and the political right has been a spiritual disaster. It has bred a hate and intolerance that is completely out of step with what Jesus taught. It has bred a lack of caring for the needy among us that is purely Pharasaical, and which has been condemned by the Bible from start to finish. The Old Testament laws looked out for the poor, instructing landowners not to glean all from their fields, but to leave some for the poor among them to use. The early chapters of Isaiah may talk about the judgment on Israel for being unfaithful to God, but over and over again it talks about the greed of Israel and its lack of care for the poor. Isaiah says:

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Jesus, when he lived on this earth, did not hang out with the rich. He did not fulfill what the Jews of the time wanted, which was to overthrow the Roman government and restore the glory of the Kingdom of Israel on earth. He came and cared for the poor and the sick. He had compassion on those who were hungry and fed them, and on those who were sick and healed them. He taught us that the greatest commandment is that we love God with all our hearts, and second only to that is that we love one another. He gave us a very specific picture of what this means in Matthew 25: 34-46:

Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?” And the King will answer, “Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” 

Then he will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the evil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Then they will also answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

As far as I can see, the right wing agenda falls squarely on the left hand, and it has given the world a bad taste for Christians and Christ. But this is not who Jesus was. Many of us want to hide our faith because of this perception, but we can’t. As a recent article in Sojourner magazine put it, “We must learn how to ‘come out’ as Christians.” We need to show people that we live the love that Jesus taught. It is not up to us to judge the world. If we have faith, we should be absolutely assured of God’s ability to communicate to each individual what he wants for them in their own lives. If we have faith, we should not fear that we don’t have enough to share. If Jesus could feed 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread, surely we could take in some refugees!

I have a long, long way to go to meet the standards of love that Jesus taught. I need to get off my duff and do it instead of just talking about it. Following Christ without reservation can only foster that in my life, and hopefully let others know that God really does love them. It will help me to become a mature believer to whom the deep things of God may be revealed. If I am a fool, well I will be a fool who has led a better life, and been a better person, for traveling the road I have chosen, or which has chosen me.

Faith battles: Is God Speaking?

14138823_10207205513795653_6220339703742543748_oMy faith in God is not based in my mind. There are too many questions there. We are talking about things that are completely beyond what at least my mind can grasp. Faith is like quantum physics. My mind says, “Huh? Can you show me that please? Cause it makes no sense at all, and I’m not quite sure I even like it.”

My faith in God is not based in my emotions. My emotions are all over the place. My emotions are wrapped in abandonment and despair. How could they possibly support the idea of a God who loves and cares for me? How can I open myself up to the possibility of further abandonment, not only by a God I put my trust in, but by people because of that trust?

Instead, my faith in God is based in experience. It is based in God calling to me, speaking to me, very occasionally holding me.

For a long time, God was not speaking to me. I lived in unbelief, wanting to believe, but God was silent. Yet I kept chasing God, calling to him. And finally, when I reached a bottom of sorts, he spoke. The first word was a passage from the Bible he had used to call me before. I’d tucked a highlighter randomly into the middle of my Bible, and when I opened it I thought at first it was a psalm someone else had mentioned that I’d intended to look at more deeply, so I stopped to read it before moving on. I was surprised and encouraged when I saw it was a passage in Hosea which was so personal and special to me. The next day again, a similar passage, this time in Joel, verses in which God is calling Israel back to himself, telling them that his love for them is unending.

The next day I read a blog about the prodigal son, about the Father being so overjoyed about his son’s return that he ran to him when he was still far off. The son had thought the father would be angry at him for leaving home and squandering his inheritance, but he wasn’t. He was just happy to have his son back.

And the next day, I read a meditation by Ted Dekker, and it also was on the prodigal son.

One message, two confirmations.

This morning I was sitting here, feeling a little sick, my mind not lining up still, my heart honestly just grieving. In my Bible reading, I was in John 20, the resurrection story. I read that when Mary went to the tomb, she met Jesus there, but she didn’t recognize him until he called her name. And I thought yes, that is me. It takes him calling my name for me to see him. The Bible itself says that the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who haven’t heard that call. Yet I am still with Thomas, saying wait, let me put my fingers in the holes in your hands.

Then I am with Peter. I identify so closely with Peter, with Jesus telling Peter that he would deny Jesus three times, but when he returned he should strengthen his brothers. In the final chapter of John, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter gets exasperated over this repeated question, saying, “Lord you know I love you.” But each time Peter answers, Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.” For each of Peter’s denials, Jesus has given him an affirmation, and has reinforced his direction to strengthen his brothers, to feed his sheep. And finally, “Follow me,” even after predicting that Peter would die for his faith.

I was also listening to worship music this morning while I was doing my Bible study, and as I was digesting this, I was reminded that wandering is not unique to me, or even to modern times. The 18th century hymn, Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, says, “Let that grace now, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.”

Then the next song came on, one of my favorites, Brokenness Aside by All Sons & Daughters. “Will your grace run out if I let you down? Cause all I know is how to run. Cause I am a sinner. If it’s not one thing it’s another, caught up in words, tangled in lies…. Will you call me child when I tell you lies, cause all I know is how to cry.”

Again, one message, then one confirmation, coming right on top of one another.

And yet, as I believe, still I doubt. Maybe I’m just crazy. Is it all just coincidence? Maybe I’m making things up to make myself feel better. But perhaps that is the purpose of these messages, to tell me that God knows this, that I wander and doubt, but he still seeks me, still calls me, that he will make it beautiful, that perhaps even he will use it to some day, some way, to feed his sheep, to strengthen his children.

As God seeks me, I seek him. Through the rain I seek the rainbow. Lord, make it beautiful. Please. My heart is aching.