The Answer

March 10, 2015

I get it! I finally get it! It has taken way longer than I would have expected. It could be that I’m not the brightest bulb on the tree. But at last I understand. Finally, finally, finally… Oh, what am I talking about? Sorry. Simply this, I HAVE GOD FIGURED OUT. Isn’t that great?! All those years, with all those questions and at long last it came to me. I can’t believe it has taken this long. You must know what a relief this is to finally comprehend it all, to have an answer to the mysteries of the Universe.

Go ahead, ask me something… anything. A question that you have grappled with regarding the faith. Something that has kept you awake at night. I will offer you tranquility. I have the answer! The question is what? Where did God come from? Why don’t you ask a hard one? But I’ll answer that: I don’t know, it’s a mystery. There you go. Next question.

What? “Foul,” you cry. “That’s no answer!” Well actually, it’s THE answer. The truth is this: If we are not comfortable believing in and worshipping an incomprehensible God of mystery, then we are in the wrong faith. Don’t get me wrong, there are surely things about God that we know. Maybe the most significant is that God is a personal God of love. But God is also mysterious, not fully knowable and infinitely complex.  And frankly, I find that to be a really exciting part of our faith.

I suspect in our world of ego-centrism and personal control, we want to believe in a God who is predictable, who we can fully know, and who we can manage. So the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not very appealing. He is His own Being if you will. Not bound by the whims or the desires of His creation. That’s not what most of us signed up for. But think about this for a moment. If we knew or could know everything about God… well, there is no such thing as faith then, is there? It’s just us in control.

But look at these two passages briefly:

Romans 9: 19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (It would probably help if these verses were read within their entirety, i.e., read the whole chapter.)

Job 38:

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:  “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!   Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

You need to continue reading further in Job. The short of these passages from Romans and Job is this: Who are we in our humanity and “createdness” to question God? And especially who are we to demand answers? We are simply clay in the hands of the great Potter. Does this mean that we should avoid trying to know more of God? Of course not! But let’s be careful we are not arrogant about it. And let’s keep in mind that there are many things we will simply not understand because God is God and we are not.

Many years ago when I was new in the faith I recall a conversation with a mentor. I was asking many of the difficult questions regarding Christianity. He would answer them as best he could on this side of “mystery” and I would say, “Yes, but….” Finally he said to me, “There is no ‘yes but.’ You either embrace God as He has been presented to you or you do not. You cannot know everything.”

I said a moment ago “But God is also mysterious, not fully knowable and infinitely complex… And frankly I find that to be a really exciting part of our faith.” In the last book of the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis entitled The Last Battle, Lewis employs a wonderful visual picture to describe the ascension into heaven. Those who are on the journey are said to be going “inward and upward.” That’s the faith my friends. A journey going “deeper and higher,” “inward and upward.” Do not despair because there are unanswered questions and issues that confound you. Join the club and don your spiritual hiking boots.

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Honesty

March 4, 2015

Times change… I know that. And I don’t know if women will relate to what follows here. Nor do I know if young people of either gender today can relate to what I’m about to write. But, when I was a kid television was filled with “cowboy shows,” or “westerns.” Gunsmoke, Bonzana, The Rifleman, Wagon Train and dozens more filled the air waves. Consequently boys of my generation spent an inordinate amount of time playing “cowboys and indians” when we weren’t playing baseball. Also, I suspect since WW2 and Korea were still somewhat fresh on the minds of our parents as many of them fought in those great struggles, playing “army” was a logical choice for their sons. There were a few “army” shows on television as well; Combat, Rat Patrol and 12 O’clock High come to mind. It’s hard to believe but we actually had to go outside to play. Seriously! In fact, we had to go outside to do most of what our parents wanted done which was primarily to make ourselves scarce. We would pretend to shoot one another with sticks, pieces of lumber, or plastic guns with caps if we were really lucky.  One exchange was heard over and over again between countless boys across this country.  It was yelled from the roof tops, the trees, and the drainage ditches. It was “drawled” in Texas, exclaimed “neutrally” in Urbana, Illinois, screamed “wicked loud” in New England and “yinzerized” in Pittsburgh. Know what it was? Ready for it? “I got you! No you didn’t! Yes I did! No you didn’t! Yes I did!” And on and on and on. You could touch your gun/stick to another guy’s forehead and pull the mythical trigger and he would immediately yell, “You missed! No I didn’t! Yes you did! No I didn’t! Yes you did…”

Even though no one ever got hit as stated above, I remember some great, Oscar worthy, death throes. The injured party would rise from their hiding place in a ditch someplace, yell in a raspy, failing voice: “Joe, they got me,” twirl around once or twice and fall silent onto the street or in a yard with maybe a twitch here or there. The best part – death was short lived. Get it??? “Death was short lived.” Okay, anyway…

I guess most of these epic battles took place in the summer during the elementary school years. I’m pretty sure by 6th grade or so I would have been too embarrassed to admit that I was playing “cowboys and indians” or “army.” I hadn’t fully discovered girls yet but they were growing on me and the pressure to conform to my peers was definitely present. Yelling, “I got you” with a fake gun or stick was, I’m pretty sure, positively uncool! So, what am I driving at? Well, essentially I want to point out the absurditey and immaturity of little boys and their games. But we can excuse them because they are little boys after all, aren’t’ they?

That being said: “I got you. No you didn’t. Yes I did. No you didn’t…” sounds a lot like our political leaders! I don’t care which side of the fence you are on. They all sound the same. “Not my fault. Yes it is. No it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t.” The insanity of little boys (and some girls) running our country is FRIGHTENING! And quite honestly, DISGUSTING and SAD.

Take a look at these verses from the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5: 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Note in particular the last verse. The short of the message here is this: “You don’t have to jump through all sorts of hoops to prove your honesty; just be honest!”

Eugene Peterson in The Message translation of the New Testament puts it this way: 33-37 “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

Lest you think I’m just taking pot shots at easy targets, i.e., unsavory political types, the truth is we all need a healthy dose of honesty in our lives. It is so easy to inappropriately exaggerate to bring attention to ourselves, lie to avoid discomfort, lack integrity to benefit ourselves. The truth is, Jesus wasn’t just talking to political leaders in Matthew was he? He was talking to you and I.

So, the next time you are watching C-Span, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, or whatever your pleasure is and you hear a conversation that sounds like: “Not my fault. Yes it is. No it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t”, pull out your remote control. There’s a red button on it… mash it down and shoot the television. Oh yeah… then remind yourself about what honesty means.