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.

Stumbling Scripture Studies: How to have faith

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I am currently in a discipleship program which includes doing daily Bible reading, and then writing about it in a SOAP format: Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. You pick a specific verse out of that day’s readings, write it down, write a little about your observations of this scripture, how it applies to your life, and then a prayer based on this scripture. These are supposed to be short, like a line or two, less than a page total, but of course mine go on and on and on. In fact, I often have trouble sticking to just a single verse, and instead write about the whole chapter or several verses. I often feel that God is speaking to me here, telling me things of value to me. I thought that sometimes I would share them, in case they might be of value to anyone else.

Today’s New Testament reading was John 12. This chapter occurs right after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and takes place in the same location. In John 11, I was struck by the reaction of the Pharisees to this miracle. “What shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” (vv 47-48) I marveled at this reaction. This man resurrects someone who had been dead for four days, and it doesn’t occur to you that he may be more powerful than the Romans? But then I thought, well, they were right in a way. Jesus didn’t overpower the Roman Empire. He died. Jerusalem fell.

Chapter 12 continues to deal with this issue. Jesus was speaking about his coming death, but “The people answered him, ‘We have heard that the Christ remains forever, and how can you say the Son of Man must be lifted up?'” (v 34)

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” Hmmm. This was absolutely true for those first century Christians. These were the people who walked with Jesus, who sat at his feet when he taught, witnessed his miracles, watched him die, saw him after his resurrection. They suffered persecution, floggings, and imprisonment, and every single one of them suffered horrific deaths for his faith. This, of course, is one of the arguments for the truth of Christianity. These were the eyewitnesses. You might stretch the truth to have a good time, but would you endure persecution for it? Would you die for it?

Others, though, “the people,” they still had expectations in their minds of who and what the Christ was to be and do. They tried to put Jesus into that pre-made box and he didn’t fit all that well. They wanted a political savior who woud free them from Roman rule and restore the glory of the kingdom on earth as it had been under David and Solomon. So Jesus posed difficulties. They were the original believers in the prosperity gospel. They were not prepared to accept the suffering Messiah of Isaih 53. They were not prepared to suffer themselves for a kingdom they could not see.

Except that they had seen it. They were right there in the very place where Jesus had raised a man who had been dead for four days! How could they not believe, having seen that kind of evidence? Yet they didn’t. We might think that they are without excuse because of what they had seen, while we get a bit more slack because we didn’t witness this. But God still works. I know that I have felt God’s presence, have heard him speak to me, have seen him at work in the events in my life and the lives of those around me. I can say that those who witnesses Jesus’ miracles are without excuse, but am I not also, if I have once heard his voice? “Did I really hear that?” “Was Lazarus really dead?”

What got to me most, though, was another group of people mentioned in John 12: “Even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (vv 42-43) Now again, they had just witnessed Jesus raising a man who had been dead for four days! They are way without excuse, right? I mean, if I was there, I would have believed. I would have confessed! Right?

I have to admit, in my struggles with faith, this has actually been one of my problems. I love the praise of men. And women. As in, I want to be lovedand respected even. Now this is actually true for people inside the church as much as the people outside. The thing is that most of the people who love me are outside the church, as in far outside. Their attitudes toward Christianity generally range from complete disinterest to complete disdain. Yes, this is my family, and most of the people in my circle within the community. I will admit that when I hear sermons, I frequently imagine them sitting next to me rolling their eyes, or saying, “oh my God,” and not in prayer! I hear their derision ringing in my ears.

And the thing is, I get it. I have thought all of those thoughts. I can’t even say from an intellectual standpoint, “You are wrong.” Apologetics is never going to prove anything to anyone. I know because it has never proven anything to me. You have to have faith to get it. Faith is a gift from God, and when you say “no thank you,” you just are never going to get it. 1 Corinthians says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (v 18) The Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom, and the cross is nothing to them, “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (If you are reading this and you are wondering, you are called. Maybe this is your call. Just say yes and see what happens.)

This is the whole key, I think. In the last couple of weeks I have come to see it as the answer to everything, that last paragraph. It is not an easy answer to accept, and yet it is also the easiest answer of all. Well, one thing for sure is that I have been called. From the age of nine, raised in a completely non-religious family, I was seeking for this God who was calling to my heart. Since I found him, I have tried to get away, and I always get called back. It’s happened so many times now that I have decided to quit trying to escape and to try instead to hang on. It’s a bumpy road sometimes, but I am still here.

One other point, about Jesus’ kingdom not being of this world. That does leave us in a quandry if we require evidence. But are we really most pitiable? I don’t think so. I am a mystic at heart and I love to see the transformative power of God at work in my life, and in the lives of the people around me. Even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. It is beautiful.

Father, thank you for calling me and keeping me. Let me walk the streets of your unseen kingdom in this world. Take my hand and guide me, show me where to go, where to look, as you prepare my heart for what you would have me do. And give me the strength and courage to do it. Thank you, Lord.

Amen.