Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Instruction Manual from God

Funerals are never something someone looks forward to going to. We try our best to proclaim them a celebration of someones life, but it's never really much of a festive atmosphere. People are grieving a loss, and it's always a tough time. You don't show up expecting a party--you go because you want to honor a life that touched you, or support a family in mourning.

And so it was with the funeral I attended last week. I very much wanted to support my friend who's father had passed; but I'd be lying if I said I really wanted to be there. Besides it being a sad occasion, it was held at the church that I had left years back; the church I spent over half my life attending, and the one my husband still works at. Awkward.

I know most of the awkwardness comes only from how I'm perceiving things; and I've been working really hard at trying to see things in a new light. I've been praying a lot for God to help me believe I'm not the enemy of the fundamentalist...nor is the fundamentalist my enemy. We are apprehending the Bible differently, that's all. I don't have to put my defenses up. I can leave my judgmental thoughts at the door, and enter any church as just another human who is trying to figure it out.

And it worked! I walked in feeling no anxiety, sat by an old friend who still attends, (and I'm pretty sure believes I've gone off the deep end) as well as had a real connection with her that was free of any animosity. So far so good; I was hopeful to get through it without incident.

Near the end the pastor concluded with, "It is at these times we are faced with the reality of death. We know where (name of deceased) is because of what he believed. Do you know where you will go when that time comes? I know (name of deceased) would want me to take this opportunity to"... and then it was game over for me.

I'm not writing this post to clobber the pastor. I know his heart; he is a deeply compassionate and loving man. But what he stood up there and preached was horrible in my opinion; and wrong. Of course, when it comes to matters of faith, nobody can prove what's right and what's wrong. But when anyone is trying to scare people into heaven, and using the Bible as their authority; then I can't help but take issue with it. This is just my way of sorting out those way of processing my frustration.

So, back to where the pastor was opening up an invitation for people to be saved. ("saved" meaning knowing where your going to go when you die--which is not what I think the Bible really means by saved at all, but I'll address that a little more later) And how do people have this assurance? By believing the correct things, like the deceased person did. But I guarantee you nobody really thinks that way. Who would ever say Hitler went straight to heaven because he believed the correct doctrine about Jesus? Wouldn't you even say that because Hitler believed so strongly the doctrine that God will torture anyone eternally who doesn't believe in Jesus, he had no problem at all putting to death millions of Jews who clearly would be going to hell anyway?

It became evident the pastor didn't think just believing the right things is what saves you either, when he held up the Bible declaring it the "instruction manual written by God" that you had to follow. This means obeying the rules, of course, because the Bible is full of them. "There are things you may not want to give up"...he explained. I wonder what things he was referring to...drinking, smoking, gambling?  I'm sure the homosexual man who was there (I recognized him from PFLAG--he just married his partner; a very sweet couple) assumed it meant giving up having sex with his spouse. I'm pretty sure he's going to stay "unsaved".

We know what instructions Jesus gave the "rich young ruler". He told him if he wanted to "inherit eternal life" (actually, "life age-during" is the correct translation; but let's not go there right now) he needed to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. This is when everyone switches to, "oh, we can't be saved by works. It's only by grace." So, your telling me the gay man can be saved and still be gay? Well...there is that verse that says, "No one who is immoral or worships idols or is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert or behaves like a homosexual  will share in God’s kingdom. Neither will any thief or greedy person or drunkard or anyone who curses and cheats others." So, sounds like he's going to hell after all...along with the drunkard. (does it count if it's just on the weekends?) But wait, in the same chapter it says, "All things are lawful to me, but all things are not profitable". Then there's that bit in Romans that says that love is all that the law demands. Are you confused yet? Is the instruction book not clear enough for you? 

Alright, let's just skip to the "most important verse in the Bible" (the pastor's quote) to see if we can make some sense of this. "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, if not through me". To the fundamentalist, this means only Christians go to heaven. (too bad so sad Buddhists, but clearly, our way is the only way) And how does Jesus take us to the Father? Well, he sacrificed himself to appease God's wrath so we can be forgiven. If we believe that, then we are in. (because "coming to the Father" means going to heaven when we die, right? Because that's when we'll finally "see" him...I wonder if he has a beard?) But let's look at what Jesus says next. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?" Then he said if they really believed this, they would be doing the same works as Jesus--if fact, even greater works, "because I am going to the Father". When was the last time you saw someone call a dead person out of their grave? Maybe this is because none of us have been "taken to the Father" yet. Just a thought.

I think if we can see being "saved" as being transformed in the same way Jesus was transformed, things will start making a little more sense. How does this happen? Through the grace of God...which I'm not going to even pretend I comprehend. But I'm hanging on to the hope that someday I will see it not only myself; but eventually we will see all things being made new. Along the way, I'm trying to follow the "Spirit of truth" that Jesus promised to send. "But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." And I will keep reading the Bible, because I think it's the most beautifully disturbing, spiritual, mystical, confusing, conflicting mystery of a book I've ever read. Instruction manual though? I think not.