The wrong question

Today, another installment from Bible nerd.

Something about the story found in John 9 can be a little disconcerting on its face.  Jesus comes across a man blind since birth.  According to first century Judaic thinking, people with disabilities had been cursed by God.  Jesus’ disciples ask him whether the man is blind because of his own sin, or that of his parents.  Jesus replies that neither sinned, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”  Jesus then heals the man.  (By the way, I’ve blogged about the significance of the way he healed him–by rubbing mud in his eyes– before.  Check it out here.  Jesus is so cool.)

So on its face it seems that Jesus is saying that God made the man blind his whole life just so Jesus would have someone to heal that day.  Would a loving God really do that? 

In Greg Boyd’s excellent book Is God to Blame? he looks at this episode.  A more literal translation of the original Greek in John 9:3 is “Jesus answered Neither has this man sinned but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”  The conjunctive “but”, however, is the Greek work “all” (ἀλλ’).  It can be translated as “nevertheless”, “notwithstanding”, “yet” or “indeed.”

“He was born blind so that…” is implied in the text only if we assume that Jesus is answering the question of why God caused the man to be blind.  If we do not assume that God caused the man to blind, then the question of whose sin caused God to do it, is meaningless. 

A better reading of this verse then would seem to be “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.  Let the work of God be revealed in him!”

Essentially Jesus is saying:  “Who sinned you ask?  Wrong question!  What matters is seeing God’s redemption!  Let God be glorified!”

In the very next verse Jesus says, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.”   There is a lot of brokenness and evil in the world.  If we ask why God caused that evil, we’re asking the wrong question.  The right question is “How can God, acting through his people, redeem this situation?”

Love Wins

French Fries

The most commonly eaten vegetable among American children is french fries.  In fact, a full 25% of children’s vegetable intake in this country is from eating french fries.

And these fries aren’t being cooked by Mom.  They’re being deep fried in fat, coated with salt, dropped into a paper container and peddled by fast food corporations in “happy meals” and similar gimmicks aimed at children. 

Of course these french fries contribute greatly to the childhood health crisis we have in this country.  And they can’t really be considered a “vegetable.”

Humans crave salt and fat because they were once so scarce in our diet.  Our bodies naturally want to gorge on them, because historically we got them so rarely. 

But 25% of a child’s vegetable intake shouldn’t be french fries.

Our kids will pay a heavy price for what we are doing to them.  In fact, we all will.

Love Wins

Oil Theology

Oil Theology
by: Maria Kirby (from the Jesus Manifesto)

There is this black sticky substance that fuels our empire. That motivates us to go to war and have military bases all over the world. We feed off of it. We use this black sticky substance to supply our every need and desire. It energizes our greed and chokes out the life God made. This black sticky substance has even oozed into our religion and our theology; our thinking has become so black and sticky that we try and use the Bible to justify its use.

Our thinking has become so darkened that all we consider is ourselves. We have fallen into the hubris of pride and tell ourselves it is our God given duty. We believe that “God gave man the stewardship of the earth, to look after it and to use it for our enjoyment while living from its benefits. Plants, animals, fish, and fresh water. Minerals, such as coal, copper, gold, silver to make things and earn a living,” including that black sticky stuff.

We can be sad and shake our heads at the damage that black sticky stuff causes; the creatures that gasp and drown, the trees that fall, the mountains that crumble, the water that’s poisoned, the air that’s polluted. But we don’t have to do anything different, after all, we need that black sticky stuff and God gave it to us to use for our enjoyment.

Instead, we can blame the problems on someone else’s greed. Never mind the fact that they were only trying to make a living off of supplying our own greed; making so we can go where we want when we want; making it so we can eat what we want when we want; making so we can wear what we want when we want; feeding our insatiable desire for something new, whether or not its really better, whether or not what we had could be fixed.

We can be sad and shake our heads at the damage that black sticky stuff causes, because after all “the earth we inhabit is not a permanent planet. It is, frankly, a disposable planet – it is going to have a very short life. It’s been around six thousand years or so – that’s all – and it may last a few thousand more. And then the Lord is going to destroy it.” If what we do causes a little damage here or there, that’s regrettable, but in the long run it doesn’t really matter because it’s going to get destroyed any way.

The only thing that really matters is if “I confess with my mouth to be a believer and accept Jesus is Lord and I believe in my heart that he died for my sins and God the Father raised Jesus to life after his death. Romans 10:9” Since our salvation depends on faith and not works, black sticky stuff can still ooze into our lives and serve our every whim, even at the expense of other parts of creation, even at the expense of other human beings.

We can criticize our societies for having “departed from a Biblical worldview to that of a Humanistic and post modern one,” filled with “those who reject Jesus”. While at the same time we can believe that humans are God’s pinnacle of creation, that creation is here to serve human needs, and whatever the reality of global warming might be, it is subject to individual interpretations. The word that became the flesh of earth and sky, beast and bird, we reject as separate from God. And what we do to the least of creation is divorced from our beliefs in Jesus.

We can criticize our Jewish forebearers for not obeying the Mosaic Law, or listening to the warnings the Lord gave them of removing them from the land (Deuteronomy 28) if they apostatized. We can sadly shake our heads that the children of Israel did not listen and came under judgment – the Northern tribes falling to Assyria in 722 B.C., and Judah to Babylon in 605 B.C. In our Bibles we read how God designated the Babylonian captivity as a seventy-year captivity to rest the land for all the Sabbath years that Israel violated (cf. Leviticus 26:33-35; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21). And yet we never stop to think about giving our own land a rest.

We think we are smarter than the Israelites because we practice crop rotation, we have chemicals that fight off pestilence and weeds, and we have black sticky stuff that makes it so we don’t have to follow the natural rhythms of the earth. We have black sticky stuff that we can pump out of the ground every second of every hour of every day of every year. We never rest from pumping, shipping, refining, buying, selling, using and burning. We are so dependent on our black sticky stuff that we feel threatened whenever someone suggests we stop using it.

Instead we vilify environmentalists, claiming that because they serve creation, they worship the creature rather than the Creator. We vilify environmentalists for wanting to undermine the power our empire feeds upon. How dare they try and impose upon OUR freedom! How dare they suggest that our black sticky stuff could be irrevocably damaging the planet we live on! God’s in control and he would never let human greed and pride to murder millions of innocent people, not to mention many more plants and animals. This is just part of the natural cycle of things, over which we have no control. We are just innocent bystanders waiting to be raptured away.

And while we wait, we silence the groans of creation with pavement. We drown out its cries with our own noise bouncing through the airwaves, surrounding ourselves with incessant introspective chatter. We refashion creation according to our will and for our profit. All with the power of this black sticky substance.

By the power of the black sticky substance, we build bigger and better churches; we draw parishioners from afar off; we send our hand-me-downs and surplus to those who suffer from the poverty of supplying standardized products and services to a capricious market driven by fad and celebrity. By the power of the black sticky substance we proclaim the word of God louder, with cameras, lights, and action. By the power of the black sticky substance pages and pages of scripture, commentary, and devotion, are cranked out in version after version, language after language, until they weigh down our bookshelves, and overflow into our waste baskets.

I agree with those who claim that “we have collectively become ignorant and neglectful of God’s promised wrath on the children of disobedience.” We do not seek to put God’s kingdom first, his kingdom of the lowly worm, the humble donkey, or the peaceful dove. Instead, we worry over what we will eat and what we will wear. We worry over what the Jones will think of us instead of what God thinks of us. We emphasize the love of God to the exclusion of the coming day of reckoning.

We do not recognize the disaster we are bringing upon ourselves, our children, and their grandchildren. We believe that when things become difficult, that we will somehow escape the consequences, either by divine providence or by being raptured away. We do not recognize that the black sticky stuff that has oozed into every area of our lives has become the ipso facto god of our lives -a god that is destroying our lives down to the very core of our souls, a god that has imprisoned us in a web of catastrophic behaviors and blinded us to our own folly.

God is not deceived by our greed. Our God is a jealous God and will not settle for second place -not now, not ever. He will not settle for a second rate kingdom, despoiled of its natural beauty -not now, not ever. We have been hiding in the garden, donning the symbolic fig leaves of prosperity to hide the nakedness of our souls. He calls us out, and asks us what have we done?

Let us not try and pass the blame, but humbly repent with changed actions. Let us forsake our comfortable lives bought with the power of the black sticky god, and instead receive the new life bought with his blood. Let us pick up our crosses and follow in his footsteps, giving up our lives for new life of his creation -all of his creation. Let us rule creation as he rules: not with a scepter but a towel; stooping as he stooped to care for the needs of his subjects.

– – – – –

The quotes used in this article were taken from comments left on a blogpost by Kurt Willems and from the article “Evangelicalism and the Environmental Movement ” written by John MacArthur. These quotes are typical of many discussions I’ve had with believers about the environment and are not used in order to single out certain individuals for criticism.

Love Wins

Learning from the sin of Sodom

Here’s an op-ed from the New York Times back in February that I’m finally getting around to sharing.

Learning From the Sin of Sodom

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

For most of the last century, save-the-worlders were primarily Democrats and liberals. In contrast, many Republicans and religious conservatives denounced government aid programs, with Senator Jesse Helms calling them “money down a rat hole.”

Over the last decade, however, that divide has dissolved, in ways that many Americans haven’t noticed or appreciated. Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria, and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo.

A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?

It’s not Save the Children, and it’s not CARE — both terrific secular organizations. Rather, it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.

World Vision now has 40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries. That’s more staff members than CARE, Save the Children and the worldwide operations of the United States Agency for International Development — combined.

A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion. The head of World Vision in the United States, Richard Stearns, begins his fascinating book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” with an account of a visit a decade ago to Uganda, where he met a 13-year-old AIDS orphan who was raising his younger brothers by himself.

“What sickened me most was this question: where was the Church?” he writes. “Where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Surely the Church should have been caring for these ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27). Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion?

“How have we missed it so tragically, when even rock stars and Hollywood actors seem to understand?”

Mr. Stearns argues that evangelicals were often so focused on sexual morality and a personal relationship with God that they ignored the needy. He writes laceratingly about “a Church that had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build schools, hospitals, and clinics.”

In one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49.)

Hmm. Imagine if sodomy laws could be used to punish the stingy, unconcerned rich!

The American view of evangelicals is still shaped by preening television blowhards and hypocrites who seem obsessed with gays and fetuses. One study cited in the book found that even among churchgoers ages 16 to 29, the descriptions most associated with Christianity were “antihomosexual,” “judgmental,” “too involved in politics,” and “hypocritical.”

Some conservative Christians reinforced the worst view of themselves by inspiring Ugandan homophobes who backed a bill that would punish gays with life imprisonment or execution. Ditto for the Vatican, whose hostility to condoms contributes to the AIDS epidemic. But there’s more to the picture: I’ve also seen many Catholic nuns and priests heroically caring for AIDS patients — even quietly handing out condoms.

One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.

Some Americans assume that religious groups offer aid to entice converts. That’s incorrect. Today, groups like World Vision ban the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversation.

Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice (it’s a myth that this started with President George W. Bush) of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations. That change would be a catastrophe. In Haiti, more than half of food distributions go through religious groups like World Vision that have indispensable networks on the ground. We mustn’t make Haitians the casualties in our cultural wars.

A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.

If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.

Love Wins

Mother Hen

Some of our common English expressions are products of our agrarian past.  For example, we all know what it means to say that someone “eats like a pig,” even though most modern Americans have never seen a pig eat.  We all know what a “tough row to hoe” is, even though most of us have never hoed a row.  Likewise, we know what it means to say that someone is “chicken” even though most of us don’t really know how chickens behave.

The reason we say someone is who easily frightened is a “chicken,” is because chickens are easily frightened.

But when we say that someone is a “mother hen,” we mean that he or she is very protective of his or her children.  A mother hen is not chicken.   Most of us know this even though we’ve never actually observed the behavior of a mother hen.

Because we live on a farm and keep chickens, we know how mother hens act.  For the last couple of weeks I’ve been able to see that daily.  The personality transformation that a hen undergoes when she has chicks is truly amazing.  Instead of being easily frightened, and fleeing at the slightest  thing, a mother hen will puff up and hold her ground against all comers.  She will charge and peck at anything that she thinks may be a threat to her chicks.  At night she gathers them all under her wings to keep them warm.  Whereas chickens usually grab food and run away, to prevent having to share it with any other chicken, a mother hen clucks loudly when she discovers food, to draw the chicks to it.   To show them that it is good to eat, she grabs it up, then drops it back to the ground for them.  She won’t eat until she knows the chicks have.

There are lots of references to birds in the Bible. (The ancient Hebrews were instructed, for example, not to eat eagles and buzzards.   I wonder if it was really necessary to tell them not to eat buzzards.)  But strangely chickens aren’t mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament.  Scholars speculate that chickens were probably not introduced into the Middle East until after the Old Testament was written.

But there is a particularly touching reference to chickens in the Bible.   In the gospel of Matthew Jesus is looking at Jerusalem, aware of its fate.  He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…”

So Jesus compares himself to a mother hen.  I know what that means.

Love Wins