October 24, 2014

That’s a LOT of Money!

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 4:57 am

Jesus is no stranger to hyperbole in his parables, but the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Mt. 18.21-35) takes it to a whole new level.

The story opens with a king who is looking to collect on his accounts, a slave is brought to him who owes 10,000 talents.  My first thought when I read that is some vague notion that it is a fairly large sum, then I wonder why a slave would have asked for and then be entrusted with that kind of money, and then I move on with the story. To clarify, we aren’t talking 10,000 dollars, nor even 100,000. One talent by itself was fifteen years wages for a labourer, the lowest earning person in ancient society. In Manitoba, a full-time minimum wage employee earns about $18,500 after tax. Based on that, 10,000 talents worth in today’s dollars would be 2.775 trillion dollars. I very quickly realize that amount is something no one person could ever hope to repay. Bill Gates himself, the richest man in the world with a comparatively insignificant net worth of $65 billion, would be unable to pay that. In fact, according to number published by Forbes, it would take over 1,000 of the richest people in the world today to combine their net worth to pay off that amount.

Jesus wants his listeners to understand that by no stretch of the imagination could the slave ever hope to get out of this one. When Jesus tells of how the slave begs for time to repay, the listeners probably scoffed at the idiocy. But then something marvellous happens: the king forgives the debt, just because the servant asks. I don’t think America, with a similar national debt, would have much luck begging for that kind of relief with its creditors. But the king did it, and those same listeners who scoffed at the stupidity of the servant probably gasped at the reckless generosity of the king. How could he stand to lose that kind of money? Humanly, no one could. But the king is standing in for God, who has no limit to his wealth, for he has created the world and owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50.10). Thank you, God, that when we as broken people come before you with a debt of sin this big and bigger, your resources are great enough to cover the cost!

But then the audience is once again shocked when the slave goes and asks for repayment from someone who owes his money — and a mere 13,500 dollars at that! The only way I can make sense of this is to assume that the slave didn’t actually believe he had been forgiven for the debt, and wanted to repay at least what he could of the debt. So he bullies those who owe him, completely forgetting about the grace he has received.  Needless to say backfires on the unmerciful debtor, the one who had owed and been forgiving a LOT of money.


October 9, 2014

Witness and Hiddenness

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 7:10 pm
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This morning I read a passage that is very familiar to me, and to many others.  Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, speaks these words:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.14-16).

Jesus is very clear here; there doesn’t seem to be much to elaborate on. Then I discovered a cross-reference that pointed out how Jesus uses the same metaphor of the lamp in two other seemingly unrelated passages. In Luke we read:

“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you” (11.33-36).

In the Matthew passage, the light on the stand is the visible witness of Jesus’ followers as they act as transformed people of God.  In the Luke passage, however, the lamp changes from shining light outward for all to see, to shining it inward to penetrate the darkness of one’s soul.  For Matthew, to put the lamp under a basket is to dim the light of Jesus shining out from us to be a witness in the world; for Luke, to put the lamp under a basket is to limit the potential for the light of God’s truth to shine into our interior lives.

At first I was confused.  Jesus seemed to be using the same metaphor to speak of two very different, even opposite things.  But then I realized that they are actually linked, even dependent upon one another.  Much of what Scripture speaks about when it reflects on the Christian life is the centrality of being transformed from the inside first, which then leads to powerful witness.  For example, Jesus speaks about himself as the true vine, from whom we as little branches draw our life and energy.  And he warns that if we sever ourselves from him, we can do nothing (Jn 15.4).  Likewise, it is no coincidence that many of Paul’s letters begin with a theology section that describes the new life the Christian has in Christ before it moves into a section of how to live.  For the Christians, ethics is rooted in ontology: we live in the way God desires us to live because we are fundamentally new beings in Jesus (2 Cor 5.17).  The “therefore” in Romans 12.1 marks this transition between identity and how that influences our actions.  Colossians 3:1-5 forms a similar hinge point in that letter.

In my mind, the metaphor in Luke logically precedes the metaphor in Matthew.  The reality of the light of Jesus shining into our lives and dispelling all the darkness, must first happen before the light of Jesus can shine out of us.  If the darkened life is dark indeed, what light can be reflected outward?  Our hiddenness can dim our witness.  When we refuse to let the light into all the dark corners of our soul, we take the lamp from the stand and put under a basket; we black out the windows of the city on the hill.

And then there is a third use of the lamp metaphor.

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open” (Mk 4.21-22).

If the light on the stand is used to uncover and disclose, should Jesus’ followers themselves not also be exposed?  Our failures and follies and foibles must surely be made known to us by God who knows all.  And if we would dare to try to reflect the light of Jesus back to others like lights in a city on a hill or a lamp on a stand in the middle of the house, our sins and imperfections will surely also be seen. But if we endeavour to hide and withdraw into shame and hiddenness — if we try to not let the light uncover and reveal as it ought to — then it cannot shine out either.

I say “cannot” but that is not fair, really.  From a human point of view, in which it is all up to us, my screw ups would certainly spell the end of any witness I might have. (Incidentally, it is precisely when we buy into the “it’s-all-up-to-us” view that we are most prone to hid our stuff, which just dooms the potential for true witness).  But the success of Jesus’ witness, as much as we become his partners in this mission, does not depend on us getting it right.  Sometimes, it actually depends on us getting it wrong.  Because Jesus’ light shines out from us in spite of our brokenness and darkness, and Jesus’ light shines out from us because of our brokenness and darkness.  If you took a clay pot and smashed it, put it back together with super glue, and then put a lit candle inside and placed it in a dark space, the light would shine through all the cracks.  The light would actually be more visible than if the jar were entirely sealed and flawless.  Tbis is the way of grace and what keeps us moving in spite of ourselves.  This is not to suggest that we linger in darkness and deliberately wander away.  Paul writes: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Rom 6.1-2).  The light of Jesus shining into us and out of Jesus is mean to dispel the darkness.  It is meant to renew and reinvigorate and release.  And when we experience that, we will be great witnesses for Jesus, because we then speak about a redemption we know first hand — one that depends entirely on Jesus, but invites us to be partners in the project.


April 20, 2014

Lenten Learnings

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 11:31 am

Today ends my lenten fast from media and digital technology.  For more details of my fast, read the previous article from Feb 15, “My Lenten Fast.”  It has been a great experience, and I have learned some new things and rediscovered things I have known.

(1) I can find distractions aplenty if I seek them out.  A huge reason to do this fast was to excise distraction from my life.  I had become too distracted and wasn’t using my time well.  So I thought I would cut out media and tech and replace that with more deliberate time investing in relationship with God and others.  And it really worked.  When you don’t have the radio on the car, you create space for prayer.  When you aren’t reaching for games on the phone or checking Facebook, prayer becomes a more real and compelling option.  But that doesn’t mean I was entirely free of distraction.  There are lots of other things that can get in the way, and if I really didn’t want to spend time with God or my own thoughts, a good old-fashioned paper book was a great diversion.  Distractions are always available, particularly if I go looking for them.

(2) It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this fast actuality came more naturally to me than I thought it might.  I was even looking forward to it since I had decided on the project.  I think part of it was because I had seen for some time the negative consequences of being so distracted.  But I think it is always because distractions quickly lose their lustre if you take the time and have the courage to take a step back.  When you give yourself a little perspective, you can see the little distractions and diversions with which we so often fill our lives for what they really are — amusing, but ultimately unfulfilling and unimportant, particularly in contrast to the investment in relationship that I had decided to concentrate on.  Distractions are always at hand, easy, and quick, but they aren’t really all that meaningful.

(3) Social media inflates your sense of self-importance.  Not too many days into the fast, I heard a great quotation that I really wanted to share with people.  Normally, I would hope on Twitter, which is linked to Facebook, and send it out there.  The totally unrealistic and unexamined assumption I had in doing that was, because it was on the Internet, everyone in the world had access to my wisdom and wit.  This is technically true, but how many people actually bothered to read it, let alone reflect on and be impressed by it?  Very few, I am sure.  Social media actually seeks to create for you a disproportionate sense of your own importance and connectedness.  I may think I am clever, but few take the time to admire.

(4) Tech and media is part of the very fabric of our lives.  I said that it was easy to abstain — when I was aware of it.  But there was lots of times I found myself reaching for the iPad or the radio dial, without even realizing it.  As the fast went on, these times became less, but I was struck by the prevalence of these things and how much we thoughtlessly plug in or consume media.  It takes deliberate training to abstain.

February 15, 2014

My Lenten Fast

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 2:11 pm

I am fairly a distractible person.  It is rare for me to dedicate my emotional and mental energy to one task for any length of time in one sitting.  This doesn’t need to be  a downside, but I recognize the pitfalls of it.  Distractions can easily worm their way into my thoughts, particularly since I bought an iPad and iPhone.  Digital distraction is now never more than a swipe away.  I have recognized this for some time, along with a growing sense of unease.  So this Lent I have decided to do something about it.

So here are the rules for my electronics and media fast in the season of Lent.

(1) No electronics.  No computer, iPad, iPhone, TV.  This means no games (old fashioned board games still allowed), blogging, Starbucks card app, surfing the net, social media, etc.

Where this does not apply is to telephone, email, calendaring, texting, online banking, etc.: things necessary to life and work.

(2) No media.  No radio, podcasts, You Tube, music, TV, Netflix, movies, or magazines.  Paper books are allowed.

This will leave me alone more often with my thoughts, eliminate distractions, and make more time for focused engagement in relationships.  In stead of electronics and media, I plan to insert prayer.  I don’t know yet what this looks like.  I am researching something even as structured as praying the Divine Office in some form.

Anyone ever done anything like this before?

June 6, 2013

Simple (not easy) instructions

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 12:51 pm

I came across a single verse a few weeks back that has consistently stuck with me.  It is in Deuteronomy, which means immediately my ears perk up, because I know Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell speech, and anyone’s last words tend to be very important.  And the verse is in a section about true and false gods and prophets.  It is Moses reminding people of who the one true God is and how the people ought then to respond.  He says this:

You shall go after Yahweh your God, and him you shall revere, and his commandment you shall keep, and to his voice you shall listen, and him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast (Dt 13.4).

What I like about this is simply that is it so short and direct.  I think to myself when I read this: “If I just did this, my relationship with God would be significantly different (read: better).”  It is very simple, true, but it ain’t easy.

The verse is divided into six imperatives, each of which I want to treat briefly and separately:

(1) “Go after”: this could also be rendered “follow.”  Following means allowing someone else to take the lead and walking behind them.  This is actually a great encouragement to me because it means I don’t have to blaze a trail and bushwack.  God goes ahead of me and he makes a way.  He takes the hits because he is at the front of the pack and he deals with the obstacles.  Now, following does mean that I have to have a clear sense of where God is going.  This isn’t always easy.  Frequently I know he is ahead of me+, but I don’t know which way he has gone.  The Israelites had the benefit of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.  I don’t.  So it is a bit more challenging, but far less challenging than trying to break trail myself.

(2) “Revere”: this could also be rendered “fear”.  Personally I connect with God best when I have a proper perspective on how big God is and my relative importance and finitude.  I love passages like Isaiah 6, where God is pictured as so enormous that the only thing that can fit into the temple is the hem of his robe.  When I have this perspective and know that as much as He loves me, he is king and I am not, it helps me live as I should.

(3) “Keep”: this could also be rendered “guard”.  We keep or guard something that is important to us, that we cherish.  Do we treat his commandments in this way?  Could we say: “the law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold”? (Ps 119.72)

(4) “Listen”: this could also be rendered “obey”.  We obey those whom we respect and who we recognize as having authority over us.  And to obey we need to listen, and to listen we need to recognize what we are hearing.  Jesus said his sheep know his voice (Jn 10.27).  To be honest, much like how I don’t always know where God has gone off to, I am not always confident that I know his voice.  But that comes as I spend more time with him, and as I shut up long and eliminate noise from my live long enough to hear it.

(5) “Serve”: Pretty straightforward.  I am reminded of Paul’s exhortation to serve others as if serving the Lord (Eph 6.7).  We own our full allegiance to God, not other deities, but even in that, we serve others as if serving him.  Jesus  reminds us that as we serve those in need, we are truly serving him (Mt 25.40).

(6) “Hold fast”: this could be rendered “cling”.  I regard this as a summary statement for the verse.  All the other five things are in some respect action-oriented items.  There is activity and action in following and listening and serving.  Clearly clinging is an action as well, but I know less than the other verbs what that actually looks like.  Instead, I think of it more as an inner attitude.  To cling to God means to regard everything else as unimportant (or at least less important).  There is a desperation, a “this is my only chance”-ness to the idea of “cling” that speaks to an attitude to fulfills the other imperatives and ultimately makes them truly possible.

April 5, 2013

The Role of the Spirit

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 11:11 am

Every once in a while, as you become more familiar with Scripture, you notice connections and parallels you hadn’t picked up on before.  This has happened with me with Romans 8, which I have been spending a lot of time thinking about as I endeavour to commit it to memory.  There is lots of talk in the chapter about the battle between the flesh and Spirit, but what really struck me in particular about that was how Paul describes what the Spirit does for us.  And in speaking about this, he uses the same phrase (“that very Spirit…”) in two separate places.  The repetition is what first made me notice this.

First, Paul writes: οὐ γὰρ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα δουλείας πάλιν εἰς φόβον, ἀλλὰ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα υἱοθεσίας, ἐν ᾧ κράζομεν, Αββα ὁ πατήρ:αὐτὸ τὸ πνεῦμα συμμαρτυρεῖ τῷ πνεύματι ἡμῶν ὅτι ἐσμὲν τέκνα θεοῦ (For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God) Romans 8.15-16, NRSV.

So Paul talks about the Spirit as one who reminds us that we have been adopted by the heavenly Father, and therefore that very Spirit, by way of discharging that duty, reminds us that we are God’s adopted offspring.  He never ceases to whisper this to us, that we may live in the freedom that comes with being part of God’s family.

Next, Paul writes: Ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα συναντιλαμβάνεται τῇ ἀσθενείᾳ ἡμῶν: τὸ γὰρ τί προσευξώμεθα καθὸ δεῖ οὐκ οἴδαμεν, ἀλλὰ αὐτὸ τὸ πνεῦμα ὑπερεντυγχάνει στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις (Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedeswith sighs too deep for words) Romans 8.26, NRSV.

So Paul speaks about the Spirit as assisting us, His children, in our weakness, and therefore that very Spirit, by way of discharging that duty, speaks to the Father emotions that words cannot express.  He prays on our behalf so that we need not be worried about how to express ourselves.  Prayers are being offered even when we are unawares or too warn out to find the right words.

The Spirit does both these things for us, as well as many others mentioned in Romans and elsewhere, but these two pieces of his job description jumped out at me due to the repetition.


March 27, 2013

The Chain of God’s Action

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 1:59 am

I have been memorizing Romans chapter 8 recently, and this week I got to these words:

28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that he may be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he foreknew, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified. 

It’s an interesting logical progression: first comes foreknowledge, then predestination, then calling, then justification, then glorification.  It seems a pretty complete list, other than that we might expect sanctification inserted into the list between justification and glorification, based on what we know of Paul’s theology from elsewhere in Romans as well as other letters.  But these verses more or less offer a insight into the chain of God’s action toward us as he calls and molds us, based on his purposes.

March 13, 2013

The Many Branches of the Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 7:32 am

In my experience, many people both inside and outside of churches in North America have an overly simplistic view of Christian denominations and their lineages.  The two main categories I often hear used are “Catholic” and “Protestant.”  According this thinking, there are those who are Catholic, and then everyone else, whom we lump together a Protestants.  But the catch-all label of Protestant both misunderstands the historical record, and doesn’t respect how Christians in various denominations understand their place in the midst of this history.  To my mind, there are actually seven distinct/major branches of Christian faith, none of which can be collapsed into any other.  Let me explain.

First, there was simply the Church.  There really was only one entity that claimed to represent Christ in the world.  Some may not have agreed with official church doctrine, and there were small groups 0f people who were branded heretics, but from an “official” standpoint, there was the one, holy, catholic (read: universal), apostolic church.

Then, in 431, at the third ecumenical church council at Ephesus, there was a significant disagreement among those represented, and some Christians would leave the fold and establish an independent church which still exists today as the Assyrian Church of the East and claims 400,000-500,000 modern-day adherents.

20 years later, the scene was to be repeated.  At the fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon (451), there was again enough theological controversy to create another division.  What is now called the Oriental Orthodox Church still exists today in places like Egypt, Eritrea, Armenia, and Ethiopia.

The next division to occur was far larger.  For quite some time, tensions had been simmering between Catholics in Western Europe and Catholics in the East (Eastern Europe, Turkey, Palestine, and parts of the Near East).  Eventually this came to a head in 1054 when the Pope (who was mostly regarded as the spiritual leader in the West) and the Patriarch of Constantinople (the spiritual leader in the East), excommunicated each other.  There were some attempts over the next hundred years to bring reconciliation, but the divide only seemed to widen, leaving the Roman Catholic Church much as we think of it today, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The next big change came during the Reformation era in Europe (1520s and onward).  The most famous Reformation was the Protestant Reformation: think Martin Luther (Lutheranism), John Calvin (Reformed Church), and John Knox (Presbyterianism).  These men departed from Catholic teaching but still valued the role that the government could play in the church and society, and so they stuck with the idea of a state-sponsored church.  So if the ruler of your certain country was Protestant, so were you, and don’t cry about it.

There were those who liked some of the theological innovations of the Protestant reformers, but didn’t think these went far enough.  In particular, they valued the role of conscience and didn’t want to force their faith on anyone through the conformism of a state church.  They believed churches should communities of people who intentionally and willingly followed Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives.  As such, they also believed in baptism for those who chose to pursue it and understood that it meant a voluntary surrender to a life of following Christ, whereas in the Catholic and Protestant traditions, baptism was largely practiced on infants.  These people were known as the Anabaptists.  Modern versions of Anabaptism include the Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren in Christ.  They borrowed elements from both Catholicism and Protestantism, mixed with their own theological ideas.

Also around this same time, King Henry of England had a disagreement with the Pope over whether Henry could obtain a divorce from his first wife, Catherine, on the grounds that Henry believed his marriage was cursed (the proof being they could not have a child).  The Pope forbade such a move, so Henry took things into his own hands, declaring himself as the head of the Church in England instead of the Pope.  But really this was the only issue the King had with the Catholic Church.  He was still a staunch defender of Catholic theology and most of its practice.  And throughout the history of Anglicanism it has often resembled Catholicism very closely in belief and practice.  So it is not Catholic, because the Pope doesn’t command leadership, but neither does it share the theological emphases of Protestantism.  And Anglicans themselves don’t see themselves as Catholic or Protestant, so it requires its own category.

Finally, we have what we call Evangelicalism, or sometimes Restorationism, which by far captures the greatest diversity of denominations and movement.  These denominations began separating themselves from the Anglican and Protestant churches in the mid-18th century.  They sought to recapture the enthusiasm, theological purity, and emphasis on personal holiness that had, they believed, been lost between the time of the early church and their own time.  This category includes Baptists, Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Evangelical Free, Vineyard, and Methodists, among others.  Most “non-denominational” churches also embrace the Evangelical ethos.  A scholar man named David Bebbington, in a highly influential 1989 book called Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, identifies four main criteria of an evangelical church (see below).  All evangelical churches will share these.

(1) Bible — an emphasis on the Bible alone (as opposed to “Tradition”) as the final and authoritative source of all spiritual truth and matters of Christian and Church life.

(2) Cross — an emphasis on the all-sufficient atoning work of Jesus on the cross.

(3) Conversion — an emphasis on the fundamental importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus as one’s Lord and Saviour, and the necessity of having a personal conversion experience.

(4) Activism — an emphasis on expressing the good news of Jesus to others through sharing one’s faith and social action.

So the major branches are (1) Roman Catholicism, (2) Oriental Orthodoxy, (3) the Assyrian Church of the East, (4) the Eastern Orthodox Church, (5) Anglicanism, (6) Protestantism, (7) Anabaptism, and (8) Evangelicalism/Restorationist.  Thinking in terms of these several major categories of Christian faith can help us understand the diversity of perspectives within the universal Church and put the brakes on any simplistic reduction of faith to an unhelpful dichotomy between Catholic and everyone else (i.e. Protestant).

February 26, 2013

The Four Faces of Alienation

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 2:38 pm

All of the examples of sin we read about in the Bible are directly related to the early chapters of Genesis.  Genesis describes the goodness and creativity of God, the character of his creation, and who we are as his creatures.  The Genesis narrative also explains how things went awry.  In those first chapters we see the multi-faceted Sin first rear its ugly head.  And we see the four types of alienation that Adam and Eve experience because of sin: the four dimensions of sin upon which all the records of wrongdoing in the Bible are based, and which up to the present day form the basis of our dysfunction as human beings.  So let’s look at these four types of alienation and how they resonate with us today.

(1) Alienation from self.  Gen 3.7 reads: [After they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] the eyes of [the man and the woman] were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.  There was something in that primordial act of rebellion that introduced shame into the world.  Shame, while it can serve a useful social function by enforcing norms of behaviour by intrinsic means, ultimately whispers in our ear that that there is something wrong with us.  Adam and Eve no longer felt comfortable in their own skin; they could no longer exist in the way that God had made them to.  So they covered themselves up and became alienated from that part of themselves and the freedom which God had planted in their hearts.  This cycle of shame is familiar to the addict or anyone who struggles with a certain besetting sin.  There is the vow to abstain from said activity, but as soon as the person gives into temptation, the shame comes on and convinces us that we are weak and no good.  There then comes an attempt to hide that part of us, even from ourselves.  Henry Nouwen once wrote: “the biggest trap we can fall into is not fame, power, or wealth, but self-rejection.”

(2) Alienation from God.  Once we struggle with alienation from ourselves, genuine connection with God becomes much more strained, and we drift toward alienation from him.  When God was looking for Adam, Adam hid.  When God finds him and asks why, Adam replies: “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (v. 10).  Somehow Adam’s own inability to look himself in the face sabotages his relationship with God.  Perhaps he assumes that because he is ashamed of himself, God will likewise be displeased.  And so we distance ourselves from him and hide.  We believe the lie that our sin disqualifies us from relationship with God, as well as the lie that we are polluted and unloveable, and so in our own minds God becomes our antagonist.

(3) Alienation from others.  Immediately the excuses start flying: “The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate” (v. 12).  This further alienates Adam from God because Adam blames God for his sin by saying “it was the woman you gave to me.”  But it also drives a wedge between two people who until that point must have been a pretty happy couple.  Sin has them playing the blame game, the game that is familiar to all of us and which can be so deadly.  One of the first sins was the sin of deflection and not taking responsibility for our own actions.  Perhaps to acknowledge the reality and magnitude of his sin was too hard for Adam, as it threatened to further shame and alienate him from himself.  But sin that we have the courage to confess is sin God is all too willing to absolve us of.  Now all that happened was Adam got mad at Eve and threw her under the bus.  And the relationship was never quite the same, I am sure.

(4) Alienation from creation.  Finally, there is a cosmic dimension to this first sin.  There is a curse that is put on the ground.  And whereas the first command of God was for the people to be tenders and cultivators of the garden, which meant enjoying its bounty with ease and at their leisure (1.26-30), now the man must work — not even just work, but toil — for his food (3.17-19).  Suddenly God’s good creation, with which they should always have been at harmony, now resists him and becomes his enemy.  There is today much left in nature that soothes the soul, and the food that comes from the ground can bring great pleasure, but talk to a subsistence farmer or someone who has experienced a hurricane or an earthquake, and the danger, the raw power, and the unpredictability of nature becomes evident, and you must reckon with the fact that the natural world owes no allegiance to you or makes any promises to keep you safe and prosperous.

So try it on for size.  Take a look at any episode of sin recorded in the Bible and it will fit into one of these categories or feature some elements from across these categories.  Even extra-biblical literature and stories up to the present day can only recap these themes.  The are the archetypes of sin and conflict upon which our fallen human nature and experiences are built.

October 19, 2012

Who is the Bible Written for, Anyway?

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 4:02 pm

Christian culture in North America is exceptionally confused about how Christians are supposed to engage with those who do not profess faith in Jesus.  Some people are very happy to keep their faith a private thing and never discuss it with others, while some take every opportunity to share by bludgeoning people over the head with the Bible and seek to create laws based on a certain vision of biblical morality.  There are certain other (and healthier) approaches than these, but both of these are equally laid bare when we consider the seldom-asked question: “Who is the Bible written for, anyway?”  When we answer that question correctly, the best approach to sharing faith become much clearer.

We should be very clear about the fact that the Bible, first and foremost, was delivered into the context of a believing community.  It was given by God to those whom he was instructing toward being in relationship with himself — be it Israel or the Church.  The Psalms were the song-book of Israel, the Pentateuch was written to the Israelites to teach the story of creation and let the people know how to worship God, Judges and other history books were written to instruct the Israelites about how to live (or more often than not, how not to live), the Gospels were mostly written so that Christians could know the whole story or so those who wanted to investigate the life of Jesus had a source document to refer to, and the letters of Paul were clearly written to Christian churches.  Even Revelation was primarily written to Christians as an encouragement to hold fast in the face of persecution.  And the Old Testament prophetic books catalogued judgments God would bring on his people as well as the foreign nations — even the judgments against foreign nations were addresses to Israel, because their main point was to show God will still deliver and fight on behalf of his people.  All that to say, for the most part the Bible, in both Testaments, is meant for those who would follow him.

What does this have to do with the situation presented at the beginning of this post?  Simply this: that those who do not consider themselves followers of Jesus, and who are not interested in becoming followers, are not the target audience of the Bible.  Therefore, to use the Bible as a weapon to speak against such people is missing the mark.  Followers of Jesus actually have no business in using the Bible to correct the morality of those who do not believe in it.  Therefore, any type of legislation that is based on some version of biblical morality contradicts the spirit of the Bible.  Yes, the Old Testament records lists of laws that were to rule the nation of Israel, but that was a nation of believers from the very beginning, whereas the New Testament goes beyond the borders of nations to call people into the Church, and the borderless Church is the recipient of these new laws, no longer nations.  There actually is no such thing as a Christian nation, nor could there be.

But the Bible does make a certain claim on all people: there are numerous places where the Bible explicitly teaches the worldwide Lordship of Jesus and God.  Faith cannot be a private matter because God is Lord of the entire earth and of all its people.  Whether people like it or not, or accept it or not, God is King, and this is something that we can (and should) communicate to all people.

So where does that leave us?  I suppose the best formulation of this is to say the power of the Christian faith is in proclamation of the Good News and demonstration of it (i.e. living in accordance with that which is proclaimed), not in legislation.  Yes, we have an obligation and privilege as those who know and love God to verbally tell others about his love and compassion for them, and to get people to ask questions and witness the power of Jesus because of the unique ways in which we live.  But if people refuse to put themselves under the Lordship of Jesus, while we can claim that those actions which are at odds with the Bible are objectively immoral, we have no business holding these people to the moral standards communicated in a book primarily for those who are his followers; which means Christian legislation is against the spirit of the Bible and its Author, and, I would argue, abusive toward non-believers.

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