Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cheerful despair

Jesus said that men's hearts would be failing them for fear of the things that are coming on the earth.  Even though they're saying "Peace and safety"! people will be clearly seeing impending calamity and be terrified by it.

So how can people's hearts be failing them for fear while they're cheerfully and complacently saying, "Peace and safety?"  That's how despair works, and how people's hearts fail them for fear.  The symptom of this kind of heart failure is not despondency, in which at least you're facing the bad news.  Real despair is expressed in denial.  The heart truly fails, losing the power to face and think about the real problems despaired of.  

Thus Christians are told not to grieve as those do that have no hope.  And how do such people grieve?  They cheerfully affirm that the one who died is in a better place, looking down on us from heaven, and all sorts of other happy dreck like that, even when there is no ground at all for such optimism.

This kind of cheerful despair is especially prevalent in supposedly Christian churches.  So-called "positive thinking" is actually taught, the same positive thinking taught by the false prophets when the armies of Babylon were laying siege to Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah - and we know how that positive thinking worked out.

For real faith, the issue is not positive or negative thinking.  It's about receiving the love of the truth, and about being damned if you don't receive it, which is in fact the only way anybody is damned (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

So the denial of climate change, and people kidding themselves that the US is about to become energy-independent through things like oil shale, and that we can have an ever-expanding economy in a finite world - the pursuit of such fairy tales is despair.  Their denial is simply their hearts failing, unable even to think about these things that need to be thought about - and prayed about too.  Their unbelief shows up as brazen professions of "faith."  I don't know how to cure this sickness, but I know that naming it is a start.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Strangers and aliens - but which kind?

I read last week in Ephesians the familar statement that disciples of Jesus "are no longer strangers and aliens but fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household."  I had overlooked its connection to another very familiar statement in Hebrews 11, that those who are of faith have "confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth."

So you get to be a citizen of the earth and fit right in, so long as you're comfortable being alien to God, or you're a citizen and one of God's household, and then you are a stranger and an exile in the world.

None of us likes to be an outsider, so we'd all like to be at home everywhere.  Dual citizenship is possible in this world.  For instance, it's pretty easy, if an American marries a Brazilian, to be a citizen of both countries.

You can even be a citizen of God's kingdom and a Roman citizen, as Paul was, and so I can be an American citizen and still be faithful to God.  I can, without mental reservation, undertake to defend the Constitution of the United States, not because it's perfect, but "the shields of the earth belong to God," and it is far better than nothing.  Since God is not unjust or cruel to the United States or any nation, and seeks their welfare by offering them mercy and truth, then if I follow God faithfully, the United Staes will never have a legitimate complaint against me. 

But if I'm going to be a citizen of heaven, my rule has to be, "What does the Lord require of you, O man, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?"  And that's not the rule of the nations, whose rule is, "What will we eat, what will we drink, what will we wear" - justice, mercy, and humility be damned if they appear to get in the way.

So who will we choose to be estranged from?  Working out that question is the task of the Christian life, which doesn't even start until we actually get started on it.  If we work it out right, the world, whatever aspect of it we belong to, will not love us.

Most religion is about asking Jesus into your heart, or performing mizvot, or doing prayers and charity and pilgrimage, and many other worthwhile things, thus presumably being right with God while continuing to fit right into this world.. Jesus put a lot of emphasis into teaching that this is just not possible, so religion saw to it that Jesus was nailed onto a cross - and it is still that way.  It's a hard lesson: we're strangers and aliens to God, or we're strangers and aliens to this world.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Proud Man Stumbles

Mitt Romney celebrated 9/11/2012 by denouncing Obama for apologizing to people who killed the US ambassador to Libya and others who climbed over the US embassy wall in Cairo and stole the American flag, replacing it with a black flag.  In fact, Obama had said nothing.  The US embassy in Cairo only put out a statement repudiating a fraudulent anti-Muslim movie, correctly stating that the US government had nothing to do with it and did not approve - before the demonstration at the embassy or any of the violence.  Romney in utter falsehood seized on this as evidence that Obama was apologizing to the people who murdered the ambassador..

Aren't diplomats kept on the payroll to say these sorts of calming things to avert needless conflict?  And that the statement Romney was huffing about was issued before anything else had happened - doesn't that small detail deserve some attention?

Neither the government nor the people as a whole of either Egypt or Libya in any way approved this violence, so Romney's posturing was especially out of line.  Even many Republicans repudiated this disgusting attempt to turn the ambassador's death into political capital for himself.  Some are even speculating that this folly has trashed his campaign for keeps.

So how did Romney stumble into this?

Well, it's obvious that a sense of common decency would have held him back.  He is so utterly unprincipled because he thinks that sticking to principle will land him in trouble - which of course it does.  He's right about that.

Trouble is, being unprincipled means being guided by nothing except our own cunning, and that's how we get to experience the scripture, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness." When God lies in wait to catch you in your own cleverness, that's real trouble.

You don't have to be that smart to stay out of real trouble, if you hold to principle.  In particular, biblical faith says, "What does the Lord require of you, O man, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?"  As Ecclesiastes puts it, "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."  Unbelief is to judge that God is not to be believed in this, and that some other slick device will be better.

And such conceit leads to stumbling, no matter how clever we are.  

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Putting it to the test

I was talking tonight with one of the parents I've worked with over the past couple of years.  When I mentioned that the principal of her daughter's home school who is violating the law in a remarkably insolent way is supposedly a serious Christian, she remarked that the Christians are always the worst that way - especially self-righteous and arrogant.  And in our experience, it's generally true.

I coincidentally came to 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 in my reading this evening, in which we read that "even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."  Put these two things together, and it got me meditating.

Christians like this verse.  It so clearly explains why the "unbelieving" don't believe us when we tell them about Jesus.  It's not us, of course - it's the devil working in them.

However, we might be blipping over an important condition.  A little before this, Paul writes, "We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" - which is to say, not in our own self-serving, rationalizing sight. 

Well, and how do we know when we are in fact meeting this condition?  Indeed it's as objective and indisputable as the balance in the doctor's office, and it works like this.

Our listeners can't come up with an honest reason - in their terms, not ours - for not believing what we say.  If they do, somehow we are very wrong.  No excuses.  The log is definitely in our own eye.  So let's look at some common obstacles that we bring to trip them up. 

For starters, there's our behavior.  If we aren't living the gospel of Jesus, people have no reason to listen to us.  In fact, if 2 Timothy 3 describes our attitude and conduct, Paul's advice is to turn away from us, so if they do, they're just doing what the Bible says.  You can't blame such obedience on the devil, even if they don't know the verse they're obeying. 

Christians from ancient times have considered themselves orthodox in doctrine even when they're behaving badly, but the Bible is having none of that malarkey.  Jesus cleared that up in John 8:31-32 - truth sets free, so if we're not free, we're not in truth.  Again, James wrote that faith without works is dead, which is to say that if our faith is alive, this live faith will behave accordingly.  There is no orthodox doctrine apart from faithful behavior, because dead faith is not orthodox doctrine.  It is, as James wrote, the "faith" of demons.

Then there's the way we reason with people.  If we are guilty of any of the logical fallacies that anybody can look up and study on the internet, then we are not commending ourselves to the consciences of honest people - and so our gospel is not the gospel that Paul referred to as "our gospel."  It's "another gospel," as Paul described it later in 2 Corinthians - and not favorably!

Often resorted to is "begging the question," which is to say, assuming what you're trying to prove.  The most common way that's done, maybe, is to assume the authority of the Bible when trying to prove to someone that he ought to believe what the Bible says.  But I can prove that Donald Duck is your Lord and Savior if I'm allowed to start with the premise that Donald Duck is your Lord and Savior.  Begging the question, in any form, is simply dishonest.  No serious person ought to listen to us if we do that, so if they don't, it's not the god of this world that has blinded their eyes, but we ourselves - or shall we say that it's the god of this world working in them through our dishonesty?  Now, Christian, that's something to think about.

Another common logical fallacy, a form of dishonesty actually promoted as a virtue in religious circles, is argument from authority.  Never mind how ridiculous you may find it -  sear your own conscience with a hot iron and believe it because some authority says so.  Stripped of religious blather, this vaunting of religious authorities over people's consciences is really naked bullying, and make no mistake: the effect on people's minds and consciences is probably as destructive as the trauma inflicted by bullies in school.  In fact, this religious doctrine, which has been close to universal in Christianity for around 1800 years, is probably the doctrine of the Nicolaitans ("victors over the people") that Jesus denounces in the Revelation.  There's nothing apostolic about it.  It is religious authorities beating their fellow servants, which does not end well for those doing the beating (Matthew 24:45-51).  It is lording it over people's faith, an act of arrogance bound to lead to stumbling, as pride always does.  That Christians are so often more stupid and irrational than others, even more inclined to believe lies even though they supposedly believe in the God of Truth, is strong evidence of real spiritual trauma and mutilation resulting from this bullying.   

Another very common logical fallacy that Christians resort to is ad hominem attack, which is to say, attacking the person instead of his argument.  It's true that bad behavior means that someone's doctrine is impure, but that doesn't mean that any particular thing he says is wrong.  It may well be the word of God - Christian, consider Balaam the son of Beor (Numbers 22-24), or Pharaoh Neco (2 Chronicles 35:20-24), among many others.  If someone is mistaken, you can prove that on his argument, not on himself.

Humility comes in here.  We know that everyone around us is mistaken about a great many things.  We are not better than other men, so we are also mistaken about a great many things.  If we don't get this, we are arrogant to the point of madness.  God has a way of sending us those that we esteem least to straighten us out - a very slick way to make sure that if we humble ourselves we will acquire wisdom, and that if we don't we will stay stupid, or in fact get even worse.  Thus it is fulfilled that wisdom is with the lowly, while God hides himself and his wisdom from the proud, no matter how much they study the Bible.

Of course lowliness will make us think that others might be smarter than ourselves, so that their arguments may well be better than our own.  Christians are afraid of that, thinking that such lowliness will compel us to abandon our faith in Christ in the face of persuasive argument, so that we have to vaunt ourselves above unbelievers to protect ourselves from being led astray be them.  But think how stupid that is - is our faith really to be protected by our arrogance?  That kind of "faith" is certainly not the gospel of Jesus and the apostles.  It is therefore "another gospel" which we actually need to lose.

In fact, lowliness of mind is not to abase ourselves before anyone that comes along, even if his argument appears sound.  It's abasing ourselves before the truth, which will actually cause us to put everything to the test including our own thoughts, as Jesus and the apostles charge us to do.  That means requiring the sort of honesty I've written of here from anybody.  Anybody that resents that is in rebellion against the truth - the fruit is bad, and so the tree is bad, said Jesus.  And so, like the sentry whose job it is to shoot the general who tries to pass without showing his ID like everyone else, it's our job to put everyone to the test on everything and bounce him if he flunks the test, whoever it is.  That's not insolence or arrogance; it's our job.