Saturday, October 20, 2018

Can You See the Light?

Today my husband asked me to go downstairs to "check it out". Not knowing what "it" was, I assumed he had set up the extra room for his band practice, because I knew he was wanting to do that. (Maybe there was even a new drum set?!!!) When I got to the room, nothing was set up. I was really confused. Suddenly he was behind me laughing and saying, "Do you really not know what's different?" I gave him the deer in headlights look. Let me explain that we have track lighting in that room...and just about every bulb had been burnt out for what seemed like forever. Now all the bulbs were replaced, so the room was FILLED with "how in the world could you not notice" brightness after months of barely being able to see in there. But I was expecting drums, so I totally missed it. When you think you already know what "it" is, sometimes you can't see what is right in front of you. 

In reaction to my post "I Can't Sign on the Dotted Line", I have to admit I get pretty frustrated when people ask me "So, you think everyone goes to heaven when they die?" or email me, "Maybe you're right, maybe God overrides all aberrant decisions and free will." But until you can past the idea the Bible is about "knowing where you will spend eternity when you die" (a direct quote from the last funeral I attended) I'm afraid you won't be able to "see" what I'm trying to show you. Though I'm going to try anyway, but please put the "drum set" out of your mind for a minute. 

I finished the aforementioned post with the teaser, "How did Jesus go around forgiving people, when he hadn't even 'atoned' for their sin yet?" I had a dear old friend private message me this scripture:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray", but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-23) 

Then she concluded "Kelly, this is in response to how could Jesus forgive us our sins when He had not yet atoned for them...He's perfect, that's how." I'm pretty sure she must not have been tracking with me when I asked the question, because her interpretation of this scripture is the perfect example to me of the problem. She has been taught (as the majority of Christians in this hemisphere) that the point of Jesus' perfection was so he could be the sacrifice needed in order for God to forgive us. But this scripture seems very clear to me that the point was so he could leave an example for us to follow. (Side note: how can we be expected to entrust ourselves to a "judge that judges justly" when we think God's judgment is "eternal torment for all...unless they have the free pass of believing in Jesus' atoning sacrifice"?...that is not justice, and we know it.)

I think I understand why we have trouble accepting that we are to pick up our own cross, and the reason we had to make Jesus' crucifixion about a substitute punishment. It's because the "way" Jesus is asking us to follow seems impossible. (Love our enemies? Turn the other cheek? Give away EVERYTHING?) We can't do it; we've tried. The more we try, the more obvious it becomes that we are unable. Why would he ask us to follow where we can't go? He must have only wanted to demonstrate how incapable we are of doing what he asks of us, so that he could take all this failure on himself, suffer the consequences of God's "just judgement" in our place, and then somehow magically when we die we become just like Jesus.

Except we at some level understand this is not what the Bible actually says, because all this talk about substitute punishment goes completely out the window when it comes to other people's sin. It's one reason I continue to talk about the "gay issue" --because it exposes this problem so very well. Suddenly this "free gift of salvation" changes to, "You want to be a Christian and live a 'gay lifestyle'? Oh no...unless you repent of that sin, you are going to hell. Sorry about that, but the Bible is 'clear'."

It's very confusing, when you're taught that the "grace" that gets you into heaven is a "get out jail" card Jesus earned for you... but then you read a verse that says "work out your own salvation". You are told gay folks can't be a part of the kingdom of God... but then look at the whole verse and see that greedy people can't either. How do you know if your "greed level" is low enough to get you in? You are told Jesus satisfied the wrath of God so you don't need to worry...but then you read Paul's warning to fellow believers in Rome that they are "storing up wrath for themselves". Does this wrath have to do with not receiving grace, or is it against the gayness and greediness? Actually neither; Paul was warning about judging others apart from love, something we are all extremely good at doing on a daily basis. Is Paul meaning to frighten these people into not judging others because God will send them to an eternal hell if they do? And how odd that they could "store up" something that is greater than eternal? Isn't eternal wrath kind of the maximum you can get?

Is it possible that wrath could simply mean "consequence" reaping what you in the measure you judge, you will be judged? You might wonder, "So does that mean if I judge others to an eternal hell, I will suffer the same fate?" Maybe if you actually thought that, you'd be more interested in the mistranslation in the Bible of eternal in regards to punishment; but my intent is not to scare you, but to free you from that fear. I don't think fear is what leads us to God. It may be the "beginning of wisdom"...the very start of our journey...but in the end, perfect love casts out all fear. 

Knowing and being transformed by this perfect love is our goal. That is the "salvation" that is being worked out in us. Are we there yet? No. Do we still suffer consequences when we act outside of the law of love? Yes. But consequences can teach us, if they are not eternal. And of course we are still "saved (transformed) by grace!" Everything we are has been freely given to us, but our egos have made it instead all about competition and proving we are better than others. When we let go and "die" to that small self who has to earn approval and love, we discover our true self! That is our life that is "hidden with Christ in God".

So, if the "good news" we are asked to proclaim is "Jesus died on a cross so God can forgive us", what is the "good news" Jesus is going around proclaiming BEFORE he dies for our sins? Maybe it's "change your thinking" (the meaning of 'repent') "because the Kingdom of God is not a place, it's right here-- inside me, a human. That is where God is...and that means God is found in you too. Start believing it!!!"

Maybe the whole point of Jesus coming was so we could see that God is inside of humanity (Emanuel...God with us, revealed in us) and through the Holy Spirit, reconcile us to the idea that we were made in the image of God. But unfortunately, as Richard Rohr states, "this full participation has been just too much for the psyche to believe."

So we switched it around to make the point of Jesus coming instead about God's plan to reconcile himself to us. We thought God needed to be appeased of his anger at us (because "justice" supposedly demands punishment, even though we are asked to forgive) so Jesus stepped up to the plate like a brave sibling taking a beating for his brother. 

But what does the scripture actually say about this "reconciled" business?
"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled US to himself" (2 Cor. 5:18)
WE are the ones that needed Jesus to show us the face of God and convince us God isn't an angry man in the sky. But there is an even better scripture about reconciliation in Colossians:
"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself ALL things"...
Isn't that a bright light worth trying to see?

P.S. I know I alluded to many scriptures without giving the specific reference; I was worried that doing so would bog it down...but for anyone who is curious and wants to read more about the "storing up wrath" scripture, I go into more detail on the "Here Comes the Hammer" post. Here's a link...but you have to copy and paste, sorry!