08.29.10

tying it together

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:48 am by Administrator

some notes for myself, and then to the heart of the matter…

every time i study the O.T. in its entirety, i’m impressed by how it really reads as a record of God’s pains and frustrations with humanity. God’s vision for Israel was for it to become the vessel of a godly order that would permeate the entire world. people ask why God does not intervene to eliminate poverty, warfare, violence, and disease. in fact, this was the nature of the first covenant He made with the Jewish forefathers. their law was intended to effect a governance that would establish peace and prosperity in the world, while eliminating the cruel and destructive traditions that were propagating human misery. Israel’s faithlessness undermined this vision and ruined the idea of global justice not only for Israel but for us all.

the prophecies about Christ did not arise until Israel had split into two kingdoms, each thoroughly in disgrace and at the mercy of their enemies. though Hezekiah was by all accounts a good king, he was the one who received Isaiah’s prophecy that Israel would be humiliated, disbanded, and sent into exile by the Babylonians. in the context of this message of defeat, Christ is presented by Isaiah, first as a king (Is 8 and 11) and then later as an atoning sacrifice (53). these elements are also echoed in Jeremiah and in Micah. on the one hand, the prophecies about Christ’s coming kingdom suggest the restoration of Israel; on the other hand, there is a disruption of the traditional sense of Israel, as the vision of this kingdom explicitly includes foreigners (for the first time in O.T. prophecy).

in the original covenant with the Israelite forefathers, intermingling with foreigners was utterly prohibited on account of their idols. Israel would restore peace and prosperity to the world by uncompromising conquest–initially by force, ultimately by spiritual authority. with the failure of the original covenant, the possibility of utopia in this form of the world was utterly lost. hence, Israel as a political and socially discrete entity was no longer central to the vision of global redemption. the prophecy of “a new heaven and a new earth” was hence issued (Isaiah), demonstrating the change in God’s intention for the present order. the redemption of the world’s tribes would now be effected directly by God, by His “own arm”, for the purpose of gathering to Himself a remnant who would, in the resurrection, govern the restored kingdom.

after Christ’s ascension, the original twelve emphasized a Gospel of “power”; their preaching focused on Christ’s resurrection and the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit as evidence of divine authority. Paul, in His contextualization of Christ specifically within the prophecies of Isaiah, came to a different idea of the Gospel altogether. his was a Gospel of weakness—a Gospel derived from the inherent failing of man, a gospel focused more on the meaning of Christ’s death than on the mere fact of His resurrection. in the heady days of the early church, some might have speculated that the restored kingdom was imminent and earthly; but Paul’s teachings opened the door to a different sense entirely, that everything in the present order would have to die just as Christ did, in order to pave the way for an entirely new world.

i was moved by this reading of the scripture, because i realized that there is not only human failure but also a sense of godly failure in His self-revelation. the promise of enduring goodness and prosperity in the world was not only Israel’s hope but God’s as well; and i believe that Israel’s destruction was not simply an inevitability but also a profound tragedy for God. i think it is significant that the prophetic foreshadowing of Christ did not begin until Israel’s self-destructive fate was sealed by its iniquities. the Messiah of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and MIcah was never cast as the king of a political Israel; Christ never intended to govern an earthly kingdom, and His birth into the world in fact sealed the end of an era for the nation of Israel.

obviously, the Bible is not a tragic story, as it points to a hopeful reality beyond death. but to me, Israel’s story demonstrates the failure of God’s original hope for the world; and i think that the New Testament demonstrates God’s intention to try again, in a brand-new place and time.

obviously this is not consistent with a more Reformed reading of the scripture, because it implies that God did not wholeheartedly foresee and foreordain everything that came to pass before the time of Christ. in fact, that is my implication now. the semantics and the self-depiction of God in the Old Testament does anything but portray God as one who wholeheartedly foresaw and foreordained the tragic story of the world, as it descended into sin. on the contrary, the O.T. account convincingly portrays God as one who struggled in real-time—one who continually reevaluated His intentions for man, in light of His frustrations, pains, and sympathies for mankind. the Christologist will claim that Christ’s death and resurrection were inevitable for God from the moment that He made Adam; but I think that this is conjecture. the Old Testament story strongly suggests that the necessity of Christ’s atoning sacrifice was only clear when the extent of Israel’s faithlessness destroyed the integrity of its covenant with God.

however, i do believe in God’s ability to dominate all creation, in His omniscience and omnipotence. for me, this can only be explained in one way: through self-restraint. and i think there are enough scriptural examples to corroborate the idea that God has intentionally restrained His omniscience and omnipotence, not only in the person of Christ but even from the very beginning of creation. after all, man could not be man except by virtue of his separation from God; clearly God restrained His reach by giving man a spiritual place in the universe where God was neither understood nor welcome. there are multiple stories of God “leaving” a man so as to test him and know his heart (i.e. Hezekiah, Job, and even Christ on the cross). God was intent on destroying Israel before being dissuaded by Moses; God relented from His anger and even changed His judgment on account of human intercessors. these were moments when God’s self-limitations allowed Him to be affected by something and someone outside of His own realm of consciousness.

of course, the most obvious example of God’s self-restraint and self-imposed limitation was Christ, who in his full humanness could not possibly embody the divine attributes of omnipresence and invulnerability, among others. i believe that Christ essentialized how God has presented Himself from the beginning of His journey with us; God has sought to relate to us in our manner, as one mind to another, out of respect for our nature and with the greatest hopes for our capacity to understand Him.

does the Bible “make sense” to me? no, it truly does not. and i confess that for all my explorations, i feel terribly removed from the experience of the miraculous and manifest divinity that is explicated in scripture. i struggle to see God alive and working in my present world. i struggle to understand how the invisible and silent God that i experience could possibly be the God that Moses and Abraham walked and talked with in the Bible. sometimes i feel cheated! and i wonder if my God is real, or just a fiction.

and yet i persist in the belief that i am growing closer to an understanding of God, in the manner of understanding that He wishes me to have. as time goes on, i am coming to believe that God truly does not lend Himself to a simple, systematic structure of principles; He is not an easily contained identity, to be summarized in 5-letter mnemonics and pictures of Christ as a bridge spanning the chasm of sin. no, God is concerned with other things; His desires do not mirror our own personal obsessions with theological rectitude and personal salvation. i think we hesitate to accord to God a real will, as if by acknowledging His regrets we might lessen Him. i think quite the opposite; it is God’s willingness to take this ride with us—a ride that has challenged and changed Him—that has proven His greatness. this for me is what God’s grace has come to mean: not the determination to tolerate what He has foreseen, but rather the determination to persevere with us despite what He has yet to suffer at our hands.

08.27.10

Theology Part 3: Christology

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:46 pm by Administrator

i read through the Gospel of John this morning to get a better sense of how Jesus presented Himself with respect to the Jewish traditions. a few observations:

Gospel of John:
1) somehow, John the Baptist knew Christ not only as the Messiah (a widely embraced prophecy) but also as the “lamb of God” who intended to “take away the sins of the world”. this is a level of divining that really was not demonstrated again until Paul; not even the original twelve apostles preached Christ’s death as a matter of atoning sacrifice, though they did understand that faith in Christ resulted in the forgiveness of sins.
2) Christ Himself chose not to speak of His death as an atoning sacrifice but rather as a “departure” which would herald the coming of the Holy Spirit.
3) in John 14, Christ is asked why He has chosen to reveal Himself to some and not to others, and He answers with a strange statement. in so many words, “if anyone loves Christ, he’ll do what Christ commands; in turn, God will love him and live with him.”
4)in general, Christ’s teachings to his followers are quite simple: do what is right.
5) Christ addresses the matter of His divine identity only when challenged or when questioned specifically about the Messianic prophecy.

Acts:
1) for the original twelve, the main message of the Gospel was three-fold: first, that Christ had risen from the dead, thus proving that He was the Messiah; second, that faith in Christ resulted in the forgiveness of sins; and third, that faith in Christ would result in the receipt of the Holy Spirit.
2) Paul began his ministry to the Jews preaching the same message (i.e. Acts 13). the emphasis of his preaching was Christ’s resurrection and the forgiveness of sins that results from faith.
3) after Paul’s ministry is extended to the Gentiles, tension began to grow between Paul and the original twelve (specifically James) on account of Paul’s progressive stance against adherence to the mosai law. when Paul visited James in Jerusalem, he made peace by acceding to the brothers’ demands for ritual purification as a sign of obeisance to the Jewish customs. later on in his ministry, he refused to make analogous gestures, instead taking issue with the apostle Peter on the separation of Jewish and Gentile believers.
4) in his preaching to King Agrippa en route to Rome, Paul preached “sanctification by faith” for the first time—sanctification representing not merely the forgiveness of sins (a recurring necessity in the Jewish tradition of ablution) but rather a transformed identity of true sonship (suggested in his teachings in Athens, later fleshed out in his epistles).
5) Acts begins as an account of the original twelve and ends as the account of Paul.

i find Acts and the story of the early church to be very much about the subtle but very certain schism that erupted between Paul and the original Jewish apostles. interestingly, it’s a schism that seems to have some parallels with the Sunni and Shi’a schism in Muslim faith. the original twelve, like the Sunnis, preached a doctrine of power; the culmination of faith was spiritual authority, demonstrated in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and supernatural manifestations. like the Sunnis, the original twelve based their legitimacy on their intimate association with divinity and hence a natural hierarchy of authority. Paul, like the Shi’a followers, could not appeal to the establishment; instead He claimed spiritual sonship borne of humiliation, which formed the basis of his divine revelation.

Paul evolved. he began as one who grew up in the shadow of those who had directly associated with Christ, and he became the authority who came to thoroughly explicate Christ. he began his ministry as one who preached power—the resurrection of Christ, the baptism of the Holy Spirit—but increasingly became a man who preached weakness—his personal limitations, the necessity of grace, the transformation of personal identity that is inherent to Christ’s identity as the atoning sacrifice. these latter concepts were only incipient in the initial teachings of the twelve.

this sense of theological schism seems to be corroborated by the other letters of the canon. while John embraced the concept of atoning sacrifice, Peter and James did not teach it as a central doctrine. Peter begins his first letter by focusing on the hope conferred by Christ’s resurrection, but he never specifically touches upon Christ’s death. James strikes an even more striking counterpoint to Paul by marginalizing the idea of justification by faith alone, instead modeling his focus after Christ’s emphasis on moral living. the book of James certainly is problematic to the Pauline follower. i do not believe the tension to be accidental; there is, in this contrast of teaching, the reflection of a real schism in theology.

if we try to find resolution in Christ’s own words, we find no obvious reconciliation. on the one hand, Christ never explicitly defined Himself as an atoning sacrifice, though He was recognized as such by John the Baptist. His focus was consistently on authentic spirituality, as demonstrated through an acceptance of Christ’s authority, obedience to the central meanings of the scriptures, and heartfelt worship of God. with his inner circle of twelve, Christ spoke of His death not as the culmination of His ministry but rather as the means by which He could rejoin the Father as an intercessor and as a necessary precondition for the endowment of the Holy Spirit. it is evident that Christ sought to present Himself to the twelve as their protector and their source of spiritual empowerment, not as the sacrificial lamb whose blood would pave the way for the spiritual adoption of Jews and Gentiles alike.

on the other hand, Christ never pretended to offer His full self-revelation to His twelve. even with his closest disciples, He rarely spoke in a straightforward fashion, and as a result, the apostles never anticipated His self-sacrifice or His resurrection from the dead. either Christ understood that the twelve were incapable of understanding his true self-revelation, or he desired that they witness these events without foreknowledge. either way, Christ never clearly enlightened even the closest of his disciples as to the fullness of His significance. certainly, he designated the Spirit a role for counseling and enlightenment, so that in his aftermath they would ostensibly continue the path to understanding that they had begun with him.

if nothing else, these explorations suggest to me a couple interesting things. first, Christ meant for his self-revelation to be a process, not a moment of epiphany. He began this process with parables and cryptic words; He continued this process through His death and resurrection; and He furthered the process by sending the Holy Spirit after his ascension. moreover, He later designated to Paul a form of revelation that had been unclear—or possibly unknown—to the original twelve; this designation was selective, accounting for the misunderstandings and tensions that evolved between Paul and the original apostles. and even in Paul’s life, the revelation of Christ was a gradual process, which transformed his focus of teaching over the course of his ministry.

second, if we are to take Paul’s teachings as the consummation of those of Christ, then we can understand that basic Christianity lies in believing in Christ’s resurrection and hence lordship; but the fullness of the Christly experience requires an understanding of Christ’s effect in establishing profound reconciliation and the transformation of personal identity. one need not know the latter to experience the authority and manifestations conferred by the indwelling Spirit; but only one convinced of the latter can recognize the full import of the cross.

in the selectivity inherent to Christ’s self-revelation, there is an aspect of a God who knows that He cannot be understood by man except in context and by special means. one cannot help but notice that the Christ of the Gospels was an intensely private man, wary of His detractors and even profoundly misunderstood by his own apostles. He was a goal-oriented man; He did not come to be loved but rather to accomplish His mission, knowing that His mission would not even be understood by His contemporaries. rather than choosing one of his twelve to reveal the significance of His sacrifice, He instead chose Paul for this purpose, a man outside his inner circle who was best known for murdering believers. herein lies an interesting truth: though Christ shared his life more intimately with other people, ultimately He was best revealed by the one man who encountered Christ through a total transformation of self-identity.

08.26.10

Theology part 2: the matter of history

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:38 pm by Administrator

again, the rigid ritualization of the Jewish religion, its depersonalization of God, and its extreme emphasis on social separation from other tribes represents a vision of godly community that is starkly opposed to that presented in the New Testament. a casual reader of the Bible might find it simpler and more logical to characterize the god of these two testaments as two entirely different beings. the apostle Paul explains this seeming change as no change at all; he posits the idea of an unchanging God who has manifested Himself in a two-stage self-revelation. Paul defines the rationale for this two-stage revelation as divine caprice—arbitrary in human terms, and fundamentally unexplainable.

the more i think about it, the more interesting i find this challenge of reconciling the new revelation to the old. Paul interestingly toes the line between enjoining the Christian to the Jew (i.e. in Ephesians, where he repeatedly defines the Christian Gentile as a new participant in the Jewish covenant) and distinguishing the Christian from the Jew (i.e. in Romans, they are our “enemies” on account of the Gospel; there is “no Jew or Gentile” before God). it is an awkward state of relations that he describes, as Paul attempts to translate the traditional Jewish concept of God so as to elucidate Christ while also dismantling the Jewish concept through the explication of Christ. Paul’s general assertion of a unified, consistent revelation of God exists in tension with his pointed and comprehensive deconstruction of the Jewish religious identity.

Paul had to assert continuity with Jewish tradition in order to legitimize Christ as the Jewish Messiah; but he had to break with the Jewish faith in order to allow the spread of faith outside the restrictive parameters imposed by Jewish law. it is for this reason that he so pointedly defines his new concept of Gentile Christianity as a “mystery which was not made known to men of other generations”. it is presented by Paul as divine revelation, hence above the criticism of the Jewish authorities and on level with (if not transcending) the antecedent Jewish scriptures. in asserting divine right in this way, Paul defined his role in utter clarity: he was not the interpreter of the old revelation but rather the architect of an entirely new religion. he did more than simply convey the message of Christ; he defined Christ, the novel structure of the Christian belief system, and the basis for an entirely new concept of God.

thus, Christianity hinged on Paul’s self-identification as a prophet; had he been unable to convince his audience that he was so endowed, then the nascent religion of his authorship would have died with him.

to me, this makes the historical figure of Paul as interesting as the canonized author Paul. Paul wrote what he did in his epistles not merely to explicate the Jewish faith as consummated in Christ but to assert himself and to defend his new religion. it was for this reason that so much of the content on his letters was focused on 1) defending his divine rights and authority and 2) addressing quarrels and debates that threatened the young church.

understanding this, then, it is logical to presume that when Paul addressed practical matters of church practice, he was very much concerned with encouraging a culture which ensured the integrity of the church and its survival in the face of severe sociocultural challenges. in this light, one might understand why he was so angered in Galatians by the activities of the Judaizers, who threatened to reassimilate the Christian community into that of the Jews. one might also understand then why Paul vigorously argued for new sociocultural boundaries to insulate the church from mainstream cultural practices which may have encouraged syncretism and social assimilation. herein lies an interesting tension: whether or not certain behavioral practices were moral or immoral in and of themselves, Paul had a vested interest in defining propriety as part of a consecrative law, so to speak, in order to promote unity and to prevent the assimilation of the church. the law could not precisely mirror the mosaic law, or else it would have undermined the separation of Christians and Jews; but the law had to be restrictive enough that it could prevent the free exchange of ideas and values between the church and its social milieu.

we might hesitate to define Paul’s collective instructions on behavior as a “law” (because of the general stigma he ascribed to the term) but these instructions do essentially comprise a law. its organizational usefulness is obvious; it distinguishes insiders from outsiders to the faith. its moral quality is less obvious, as Paul is neither transparent nor systematic with regard to how he designates which Jewish traditions (among other traditions) form the basis of his new law. on the one hand, he dismisses the ongoing relevance of mosaic law, while on the other hand he appeals to a seemingly arbitrary set of Old Testament precepts around which his new moral code is structured. there is, in Paul’s hermaneutic, a tension between a discrete need for consecrative moral identity and a concomitant need for a cultural openness and tolerance to facilitate his Gentile outreach.

as i ponder Paul, i increasingly recognize that much of Paul’s central problems—justifying the church as a novel entity, co-opting and also deconstructing the Jewish belief system, and ensuring the structural viability of the church organization—were very specific to his era. the divine nature of his prophecy and the enduring purpose of the church were ideas that were controversial in Paul’s time but not really critical to our self-definition in the present day. thus, if one reads the epistles as a mission statement for the chuch and as an organizational manifesto, one might recognize that much of what Paul authored was not specifically intended for the church’s identity struggles in the present day.

this idea informs my emerging concept of the linearized trajectory of man’s historical experience of God. God’s fixation from the beginning of time has been the preservation and consummation of his self-revelation to mankind. in ancient times, this had to be accomplished through consecrative law and military conquest, as the periodic absorptions and destructions of tribal cultures required that God’s chosen people be distinct (in every racial, ethnic, and historical sense), impervious to assimilation (on account of consecrative law and prohibitions on intermixture), and militarily ascendant. history has proven, after all, that the militaristic monotheists have been the most capable and enduring vessels of static beliefs. when the Roman empire radically changed the nature of civilization, by promoting religious diversity, assimilation of tribal identities, globalization of culture, and unifying infrastructures, the consecrative practices of the Jews served less to preserve revelation than to restrict its scope. hence, the next chapter of revelation was born. its intent was not to redeem Israel but to fulfill Israel’s purpose, by promoting the preservation and consummation of God’s self-revelation. Paul, the Roman citizen, the cultural progressive, and the organizational genius, was chosen on account of these qualities to be the architect of this new phase.

is there another phase of revelation yet to be encountered? will society radically evolve to a new level, requiring a new architect of faith to carry forth (or even break with) our present religious traditions? i think it’s possible. a new era—whether resulting from the collapse of civilization or its fundamental redefinition due to technological revolution or the experience of alien life—will likely prompt God to call for new vessels and new structures to express Himself to man. if the Bible is indeed a record of the mutual adaptation occurring between God and man, then new chapters will be written. the antiquated among us will call that heresy; the observant will admit that new chapters have been written for centuries and will continue to be written, as God and His vassals continue to change

08.25.10

Theology: the inevitable necessity?

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:09 pm by Administrator

over the past week, i’ve managed to author the full range of my ordinary entries, from cultural critique to escapist fantasy to religious rumination. i’ll be honest; the repetitive nature of these explorations is beginning to feel tedious to me. when will i graduate to more straightforward reflections? i feel like my obsession with the theoretical is itself a projection of my own internal disconnectedness. when i begin to focus more on tangible things and discrete experiences, that’s when i’m making progress as a person.

nevertheless, i can see that in one respect my recurrent explorations of theology do manifest something necessary, a natural outgrowth of authentic spirituality. as i have moved from the catharsis and relief of salvation to the daily struggle with reconceptualizing life to the ultimate struggle of realizing identity–both that of myself and of God–i am realizing that the Bible is the most important and most baffling resource i have.

here is the issue that drives my biblically-guided search for identity. i take it on faith that there is one God. nevertheless, i find the god in scripture so incredibly multi-faceted that i might argue that the Bible seems to present multiple gods.

if one abstracts the New Testament alone, there is reasonable cohesion between the person of Christ and the teachings of Paul. the role of Christ and God’s intention for creation are tightly defined by the apostle Paul, particularly in his epistles to the Romans and Ephesians. when these concepts are overlaid on the explication of God offered by the Old Testament, the cohesion is strongly tested. i’ve talked to Jews who find the Christian idea of a personal savior and an indwelling divinity as shocking, if not frankly heretical, because this sort of a god is really not present in their stories and prophecies. the Christology of the Evangelicals is quick to marginalize this seeming contradiction, but is it really fair to dismiss the contrast as a mere misunderstanding on the part of the Jews?

Paul succeeds to some degree in co-opting certain aspects of the Old Testament canon to emphasize the Israelite institutions as precursor forms to the new forms demonstrated by Christ and His church. however, the divine purpose for the “chosen people” of Israel–and their era in man’s history–is incompletely explained. Paul, in so many words, depicts Israel in ambiguous terms—on the one hand partly as a cautionary tale, on the other hand as a context for the prophecies regarding Christ. apart from these aspects, Paul seems to view Israel and its laws as largely irrelevant to the emerging church.

this begs the question of why the Messianic prophecy had to be specifically delivered to the Israelite nation to begin with. if Messianic deliverance was for both Gentile and Jew, and not for the purpose of restoring Israel’s preeminence, then why was the Messianic prophecy given to the Jews in the context of their consecrative nationhood? one could conclude, based on the Pauline theology, that Israel was nothing more than a failed experiment in mosaic law.

the characters of God in the two testaments are difficult to reconcile. God in the Old Testament does not invest Himself in man as an indwelling spirit; nor does He offer the personal experience of individual communion to His chosen people. instead, He demands ritual worship predicated on the consecration of community and the separation of the human self from the divine presence. it is for this reason that Jews, like Muslims, regard God as the divine mystery; the assurance of salvation is nothing to be claimed. in stark contrast, the Christology of the New Testament suddenly asserts an entirely new vision of God, in which the standoffish, authoritative nature is suddenly supplanted by that of a self-sacrificial servant capable of intimate communion with individual believers. we in the church tend to explain this sharp contrast as the effect of Christ’s sacrifice in modulating the effect of God’s holiness on his relations with man.

the New Testament scriptures address the unique situation of the O.T. saints by ascribing to them a faith in Christ (i.e. in the book of James), thus explaining their capacity for communion with God. obviously, these “exceptions to the rule” raise questions. if God could commune with Abraham, Moses, and David because the effect of Christ’s death was retroactive in their specific cases, why was the mosaic law even necessary then for God’s acceptance of Israel? the only convincing argument for this is that there was something intrinsically of blessing in the entirety of the mosaic law–which is what Judaizers incorrectly contend, according to Paul.

for me, these questions are fundamentally about the trajectory of God’s creation—the trajectory of man’s journey through history. Paul wrestles with this in the book of Romans, and he ultimately defines the trajectory of man as a closed loop involving Adam and Christ. his argument is simple: Adam fell from grace, Christ offered grace to restore Adam. Paul’s trajectory for mankind is a circular trajectory. he defines Christ’s sacrifice as establishing reconciliation between God and man, thus restoring a state that was lost by Adam. in this circular movement, Israel represented a stage in man’s psychospiritual self-realization that was primarily intended to prove man’s ultimate futility. personal transformation through faith in Christ accomplishes what the observation of the law could not, in that it restores communion with God akin to that experienced between Adam and God.

if this is the simple story of mankind, it should be deeply troubling to all people of faith. essentially, the story defines God as one who has compelled man’s loyalty through the forced humiliation of Israel; in this light, the story of man is the story of his manipulation and subjugation by God. Paul, the vessel of this particular perspective on the creation story, acknowledges this necessary conclusion about God but obstructs further inquiry. “Who are you O man, to talk back to God?” he challenges in Romans 9, right at the height of his explication of the Old Testament covenant and the failure of Israel. “What if God did this to make the riches of his glory made known to the objects of his mercy?” this is the best explanation Paul can provide. it is an extremely difficult explanation to accept without reverting to an Old Testament concept of God–the authoritarian, judgmental, and impersonal God.

there is another way to synthesize the Old Testament and the New, which is perhaps best captured in some elements of process theology. instead of asserting a circular trajectory (with the fall of Israel representing the diametrical opposite to the point of closure), one could choose to describe a linear trajectory instead, by which Adam’s communion with God is understood to be incomplete, while Christ’s communion with God heralds a previously undiscovered experience of the divine. in this design, God is not stationary with man in His orbit; both God and man are moving nearly in parallel toward a common and novel destination. it is possible within this concept to recognize that Israel’s history as a nation was not merely a demonstration of futility but rather as a necessary stage conjoining man to God. in other words, Israel changed God, as God in turn transformed Israel. the trinitarian nature of God, incipient at the moment of the Fall, was consummated by the journey of Israel; the trinitization of God’s nature (self-disruption, no less) was demonstrated in the death of Christ; the new revelation of God through Christ radically transformed Israel into a community of believers that transcended genetic lines; and the emergence of the universal church has in turn consummated the identity of Christ (hence becoming “the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way”).

in this manner, the Bible tells the story of a mutually transformative relationship between God and the generations of men, rather than the tale of an unchanging God whose failed expectations for mankind have motivated both genocide and divine suicide.

to discern whether the truth of the biblical narrative (and hence the real identity of God) is best captured in the circular or linear trajectory of mankind, we need to understand the true nature of Adam. was he or was he not what God desired for all mankind to become? did Adam before the Fall in fact represent the pinnacle of God’s hopes for the nature of man? the reason we cannot answer this critical question about God’s nature and intention is that we cannot know what Adam actually represented to God. it is in fact impossible to tell whether Adam was a real historical human being. Adam had no witnesses; his peers did not write his tale; and the stories about Adam are light on detail and heavy in figurative speech. one might rightly conjecture that Adam was an idea–which explains why Adam is so utterly difficult to know from the scripture. all that we can really discern is that Adam took the fruit from Eve and then blamed her for his own transgression. we cannot even discern whether the weakness that he demonstrated was inherent to his act of sin or present in some primitive form in his unfallen self.

theology is the inevitable necessity of the spiritual exploration of God simply because it is not clear whether or not Adam was perfect. but because we cannot know this, we must decide for ourselves whether Adam in the beginning was incomplete or utterly complete. if the former, then God is one kind of being; if the latter, then He becomes another being altogether. this is why we theologize; because we cannot accept the total contrast between these two beings. to advance in faith, we must each come to an understanding of which being our God truly is. i struggle between two poles. i struggle because God is not easy to understand. as Christ presented Himself in parables, the Bible itself presents God in the grand parable. can i understand? is worship, in fact, about understanding?

08.23.10

inspiration

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:41 pm by Administrator

i’ve thought quite a bit recently about the quality of my life. i’ve tried to be more “constructive” about it. rather than simply consigning myself to the certain difficulties of a 9-5 career, the inevitable disappointments of frustrated creativity, and the perpetually unfulfilled sense of ambition, i’ve begun to look at specific aspects of my lifestyle through a new lens. i credit the recent upheavals in my life and the new sense of self that i’ve gained because of these upheavals. i’m beginning to feel the impermanence and the relativity of things; i’m starting to approach God not as the monolith but as the man behind his words.

my greatest nightmare is boredom. it manifests itself as helplessness or defeatedness. i habitually war against it. it is what has driven my personal journey from introvertedness to extrovertedness. i have grown accustomed to the idea that i cannot live solely with myself, because at the root of what i am is a need for something that i am not. the answer to my fulfillment is not the explication of self but rather my conjoining to something greater than myself. i call this worship.

my happiest times are my inspired times. and i think a large part of my psychological struggle over the past decade has been my difficulty at finding inspiration. life has disappointed me, not because i haven’t found my place within society but rather because i have failed to find what is interesting about the society i live in. my disillusionment with passive entertainment, mass media, and consumer goods never should have been an end in itself; it should have driven me to more active pursuits. but i did not allow myself the time and freedom to explore these possibilities. i confined myself to a life structure that has progressively eaten away at my spirit for the last eight years.

i say eight, because there was something very special about my last year in philadelphia. it is the reason that i label myself a philadelphian and consider it my home away from home. it isn’t anything about the city in particular; it’s the experience i had there, during my last year of medical school. in many ways, it was the pinnacle of my life explorations. in contrast, the life in medicine that ensued after that year has represented a terrible personal regression in some respects. i have become a man driven by his circumstances, instead of the driver, the creator, the utterly inspired.

my last year in medical school was an unstructured time. i went into that year with a strong sense that i needed to regain the humanity that the previous three years of intense indoctrination had suppressed. i went through the motions of applying for residency, even as i privately began to nurture the fantasy that residency would never happen. in my day to day, i went about building a lifestyle that drew me into new circles and new experiences. it was my relationships with women that catalyzed my personal rebirth.

first, there was Kat–such a startlingly vivacious person that to this day her memory brings an insane smile to my face. Kat was from a totally different world from mine, a painter with an exquisite eye, a dilettante of a deejay with a passion for progressive house music. it was Kat who introduced me to the classics: sasha and digweed, orbital, way out west. through Kat, i saw the world in new tones—dark pulsing tones, full of brooding and sexuality and sedition. Kat, Tom, and i frequented Fluid on Wednesday nights; we drove all over town in her junky car, listening to the mixes she’d spun and recorded off her Technics. i learned how to dance from feeling, and to dance for hours upon hours, perpetually on the cusp of a foreign feeling. it was like swimming in the ocean at night.

and then there was emi. i took up ballroom again, as a relief from the sheer boredom of my incessant studies, and my first partner was a Russian girl who was hilarious and quite talented. but i don’t really remember dancing with her. the one memory i have of my time with the team was dancing with emi, at a social. emi was striking, in every sense. she was a ballerina, which showed in the way she carried herself on the floor—drawn up to full height but utterly relaxed, grounded but quick off her toes, tensile in torque and utterly fluid out to her fingers. i hadn’t seen anything so beautiful in years. we became mutual admirers, even though we were never partners. we studied each other, and fell into mutual infatuation, though we never admitted to our feelings until my last night in philadelphia. this later became a regret to me, in a pleasantly wistful kind of way.

and emily. i met emily in the company of friends, but we didn’t meet again until more than a year later, when she reappeared in my mind in a sudden and strange resurgence of memory. we had dinner–a wildly intense conversation–and when we got together again a week later, we found ourselves very oddly and uncannily connected. she called it love. i called it fear. i had never been so powerfully and dramatically impressed by a woman. it frightened me. we had to decide, right then and there, what the future of our relationship would be. it was that furious collision of our universes that has motivated so much of my poetry over the years. i still remember the look in her eyes; the feel of her apartment; the view from her window.

i think back to that final year in philadelphia with deep yearning, because i recognize that there was, at the root of that ethereal time, a powerful sense of romance that i had in life. i haven’t lost that romance simply because of marriage; God knows that my singlehood before and after that year was generally agonizing for me, even when i was in relationships. no, i’ve lost that sense of romance because i’ve stopped really loving people. in philadelphia, my friends were doorways to new and imagined lives; i lived through them. now–perhaps because of my age or my circumstances–i do not feel that mystery or fascination about people anymore. my wife does not find me romantic, and beneath the facetious wordplay by which i deflect her insinuations, i know in my heart of hearts what she is talking about. romance was something i once felt not because i was single and in the company of beautiful women but rather because i had devoted myself wholly to the virtues and interests of other people. my romance with life was about curiosity and exploration. and if i am failing at life now, it’s because i’ve given myself no space or room any longer to be this sort of a man; i have become a calculated, structured, and predictable thing, enslaved to responsibilities and alienated from others.

the tertulia i’ve started with sandy is an effort to change this sense of the world. my renewed interest in church is also an extension of this need to experience life more richly through a deeper connection with others. my writing too, whether it be nostalgic, philosophical, or forward-looking, is an expression of longing, to reclaim the happiness i once had. will any of these efforts succeed? i don’t know. i think it will depend on whether God will reveal Himself to me as the feminine divine; in His masculine paternalism, He is to me an incomplete being.

i need God to be the magnificent Her. and in Her presence, i must be the enthralled devotee, in the utter pursuit of love’s consummation. i fear that anything short of this will be unsatisfying to me. i am tired of life as i have constructed it over these past eight years: formulaic, sterile, aggressive, objective, and self-justifying. even in my religion, i have found only painful reminders of the love i have lost. in philadelphia, i had a glimpse of a wondrous life, the extension of a mysterious God. i want to find that again.

sex is the real fascination of living, is it not? with time, i have come to believe that genuine spirituality is a very sexual thing, whether it be manifest in a celibate, a homosexual, or a married heterosexual woman. i’ve got to figure out this sexual thing with God, this yearning for exploration and intimacy that masquerades as lustful objectification. i think that if i can experience that fulfillment of the connective impulse, then i can again experience that sort of charisma and power that once drove me to heights of creativity and feeling. the world is full of barriers and stopgaps, inhibitions and censures, debasements and distortions. i’ve got to break free. i’ve got to rediscover the life that is worthy of a lifetime of passion.

08.20.10

Adulthood

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:07 pm by Administrator

dan sent me a link to the NYT’s sunday article on “Adulthood”. the main focus of the article was American youth in their 20s, and the specific concern the author tackled was the perception that America’s youth are wandering, indecisive, and unable to assimilate into society in the same way that their parents did.

there have been enough articles on this subject now that it takes a bit more than simply an explication of the issue to make an article noteworthy. i think that what makes the NYT article interesting is that it really attempts to frame the issue not as a sociological “problem” but rather as an aspect of a universal developmental necessity. the author cites a study suggesting that anatomical development of the cortex continues into the mid 20s, even after hippocampal maturity has more or less been achieved. the author presents other related thoughts to elaborate a more fundamental question: in its increasing permissiveness of youth disengagement and prolonged self-exploration, is society beginning to reflect the facts of biology?

i always think back to my readings of marcuse, mumford, and roszak in college as the most formative things i read, even though i picked those books as part of an individualized tutorial and thus received no specific instruction on them. i didn’t study their books in context; i was unable to grasp their sociocultural milieu or their ideological beginnings. nevertheless, i was immediately captivated by their idea that the individual–not his society–is the basic unit of civilization. society should be the outgrowth of the individual, not the primary organism which births the individual. when the latter becomes rule, then authority necessarily becomes autocratic, not merely in a structural sense but also in a deeply psychological one as well.

it is intuitive to me that the modern Western approach to adulthood is fairly arbitrary. any society’s approach to development necessarily must be. after all, there’s no obvious answer to the question of “when do i become a man?” or “when am i a woman?” clans, tribes, and nations elaborate rites, rituals, and laws to define these things—and they must, because the law must answer to universal psychological necessities in order to remain relevant to its citizens. the interesting thing is that the laws then reflexively redefine the concepts that motivated their genesis. for example, the law that first designated the legal age of marriage might have been born out of a need to protect young girls from undue complications of childbirth; but now this law informs not only the feminine sense of maturity but also all of the social privileges that go along with it, including age of consent, right to abortion, etc.

the laws of nations, because they are so much more complex than the rules of a household, will carry within themselves contradictions on definitions of adulthood, which confuse the process of maturity for children. for example, a youth can drive when he’s sixteen, vote at age 18, and finally drink alcohol at the age of 21. where is the logic in these tiers of responsibility? but even if there is no logic in it, the ramifications of the law create culture by shaping our views of adulthood. perhaps because alcohol consumption is the last of the universal rites of passage, it is a heralded one. American college kids make a tremendous business of binge drinking, which their European counterparts cannot understand. it is not because Americans are immature; it is because their society has unconsciously created such an emphasis on the ability to drink as a premiere sign of personal maturity and social membership.

in so many incalculable ways, our authorities and our laws define our values, our sense of privilege, and ultimately our sense of identity. the 60s protest philosophers attempted to externalize these influences and study them under the microscope; they attempted to separate the youth from the social mechanisms that were turning him into a man. in the process, they dignified (or perhaps glorified) adolescence, as that potent crossroads between individualization and socialization. they sought to prolong it, and to endow it with meaning. Roszak wanted the young adult to disengage from forced acculturation; he wanted the adolescent to take on his natural role as the conscience of his people.

when i read the NYT article, i thought of the protest philosophers, and how much they would have resisted the article’s implications. youth is not a natural “stage”, they would have argued. youth is a social construction meant to marginalize the agony of conscience imposed by the old upon the most impressionable members of society. i have my biases obviously, and i would agree. young men like myself are not disenchanted with growing up simply because their brains are underdeveloped or because the job market requires too much education; they’re disenchanted with civilization because mankind has always been disenchanted with civilization, from the beginning of time. the alienation of late adolescence and early adulthood reflects a moral crisis, not a psychological phenomenon (as the NYT author would have it) or dysfunctional adjustment (as our parents would contend).

Roszak argued that the recurrent moral crises of the youth are the world’s best chances at meaningful change. he celebrated the painful alienation of young adults for its potential in driving social revolution. he saw in it the most powerful seed of collective action motivated by conscience, action strong enough to transcend the moral compromises and failures of the preceding generation.

i once believed that the protest fervor of the 1960s was nothing more than a cultural phenomenon, but i’m beginning to reflect on marcuse, mumford, and roszak in light of my own persisting sense of alienation. no, i have not graduated to the “next stage of adulthood”. i have not yet learned to cherish the 401k, the paid-off mortgage, the perpetuation of forms through the institutionalization of my children, and the charm of post-retirement freedom. i believe that there is wrongness—evil, no less—in these forms, even though there is some good in it as well. and i am beginning to believe that what we saw in America in the 1960s was not an isolated and failed experiment in youth movement but perhaps the beginning of something new: a self-realized obligation of the youth to destroy the society they have inherited so as to rebuild it in their own image.

08.17.10

A Mother’s Advice

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:53 am by Administrator

my mother has been writing or calling me every day since the crazy days of late May, when i first realized that my life was about to take its strangest turn. lately, she’s recognized that i’m struggling to rediscover personal moments of intimacy with God, in the context of more dramatic and almost depersonalizing movements that i’ve recently experienced.

this was her email to me yesterday:

“Psalm 27 is my prayer for you today.
27;4 One thing i ask of the LORD,this is what i seek: that i may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and seek him in his temple.
27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
SCOTT, psalmist always cry out for mercy and help to the LORD, ask him to help you everywhere you go
and protect you from evil one .may the LORD of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.God bless you. love mom”

i appreciate my mom. i appreciate her first for her devotion to me, which transcends loyalty. i appreciate her second for her utter candidness about her spirituality, which i find rare among the older folks. and i appreciate her also for really trying to understand me in every way that she can, even though my blog is semantically challenging for her. “how come you use such difficult word?” she always asks.

when i was a child, i used to fear my mom; she was a powerful personality, full of raw passion and unarticulated desire. unlike my father, she did not exercise her power through anger. she demonstrated her power through perseverance. she committed three hours on her Saturdays to my violin lessons; an hour a day to supervising my practices; three hours on some weekday evenings to my downtown classes or orchestra rehearsals; and an hour every day to cooking dinner for my dad and me. this was the threshold of diligence that i learned to accept as excellence. i have failed this standard in just about everything i have applied myself to, which makes me understand my mother’s greatness in a new light.

one thing my mother always wanted for me was boldness. she desired this as only an immigrant mother with great expectations for her only child could. there is simply no comparison between her ambition for me and that demonstrated by any other parent i’ve ever observed. other parents had multiple children, or selfish inclinations, or different cultural backgrounds. my mother honed her energy and poured it into me. she desired for me great boldness, to conquer a foreign land and to achieve greatness.

in fact, i achieved many things, but the one thing i never proved was this sort of strength. things that others worked hard for came easily to me; and even the things that i gained from hard work never meant much to me in the end. for many years, i tried to explain to myself why i could never even approach the sort of mettle that my mother exemplified in herself. i thought that perhaps i hadn’t suffered enough; perhaps i hadn’t taken enough risks; or perhaps i just didn’t inherit her kind of spirit.

over the last few years, i began to conjecture that perhaps i’d never been bold because i hadn’t yet discovered anything that warranted courage. believing in something can take many forms. for example, you can “believe” in veganism, simply because of your aesthetic; you can “believe” in God for any number of philosophical reasons. but believing in something because you cannot live without it, believing in something because you will instinctively fight and even perish to avoid losing it—this is belief that expresses itself in boldness.

i was reminded of my mother’s desire for me when i read her email today. in many ways, i’ve been half a man my whole life: half of the world, half of God; half practical, half self-loathing; half in, and half out. but i sense something different taking shape in me nowadays. over time, i have traded my father’s version of strength—stubborn memory, bludgeoning will, vicious anger—for my mother’s version. i have found boldness in my life, simply because i have discovered something that i will fight for, in that subtle, steady, and silently persevering way. it is boldness that i demonstrate when i articulate, in that inward and yet clarion voice, that i will not worship a false god or the pursuit of wealth. it is boldness when i declare that God does answer my prayers and respond to my heart’s cry. for me to totally believe in His lordship—His inexorable and all-encompassing lordship–i had to first discover in myself a boldness of an unnatural kind.

as my mother was a lion for me, i believe that i will be a lion for my people. this is how genealogies become legacies. one person of unusual character passes on a portion of his spirit, and his heir does the same for his next of kin. we were meant to be vessels of one another, by virtue of memory. in this manner, we preserve remnants of greatness, from which we can build a picture of glory

08.13.10

Fighting for Truth

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:57 am by Administrator

i’m in orientation for a new job and quite overwhelmed. i’m thankful, certainly, and thankful for the opportunity i’ll have to make a transition into ministry on somewhat more graceful terms (in many respects). but every transition time is extraordinarily stressful, and while i don’t miss the time off, neither do i feel like i’ve found “home”. as i customarily do, i feel like i’m wandering. i feel like i’m fighting on a daily basis to really come to grips with who God is—the God who’s taken me on this crazy rollercoaster ride over the past three months.

i’ve been thinking a lot about my second to last entry about joy. i became convinced this morning during my run (hampered as it was by a terribly painful case of ITB syndrome) that i’m doing the wrong thing by praying for daily joy. it’s like a guy with a huge bank account trying to make himself happy with the idea that he’s rich. joy has to be an outgrowth of something; it is a reflection of identity and self-understanding.

i realized during my run that some of my depression is “endogenous” perhaps, but much of it is rooted in a lack of peace with God. when i really got down to it, i had to admit to myself this morning that i really have lost sight of the cross and exactly what the gospel is. what is the gospel? there are so many books written on this subject, and i always thought i had it down pat. but whatever i’ve taken the gospel to mean, it certainly hasn’t been a great source of pleasure or satisfaction for me in a long, long time.

the trouble with my understanding of the gospel is that i often feel like it’s a story that’s trying to make me feel a certain way—and i really just don’t feel it. the gospel i grew up said that i’m saved and have eternal life. to be honest, eternal life just doesn’t mean anything to me. there’s only so far that idea can go. i might have a near-death experience, and the promise of eternal life might actually mean something to me at that moment. but from one day to the next, it’s really impossible for me to really process the idea of eternity, much less care about what it will be like. is heaven really a perfectly happy place? great. that has no impact on how i feel about the day ahead of me today, unless i know for sure that today is my last one.

the gospel i grew up with says that Jesus died for my sins. you know what? that is just an incredibly vague peace of syntax. did Jesus really die “for the sake of” my sins? no, he died for the sake of people, whose sins required retribution. how imputation was actually metaphysically accomplished (and what that says about God’s ability to change His mind about us) is a theoretical conundrum that i wrote much about five years ago during my time in baltimore. “Jesus died for my sins” is a phrase that actually makes almost no sense to me at all, in any intuitive sense, even if in a vague way i understand that God had to settle my debt within Himself in order to relate to me. in any case, i am now presentable to God, and Jesus’s death is a one and done affair. i’m supposed to feel thankful, i suppose? on many days, i am admittedly trying to make myself feel thankful, when in fact i could perhaps equally contend that the whole affair was a mind-game that God played on Himself.

no, the Gospel i grew up with has not succeeded in making me feel particularly loving toward God or happy about myself. and i believe it’s because the Gospel that i grew up with is not really the Gospel at all.

the point of the gospel, i’m convinced, isn’t my “salvation”. the point of the Gospel is the incredibly good news that Jesus rose from the dead—thus proving that He is what He said He is. and what did He say that He is? He said that He was the Messiah! i don’t think that this really means much to us in the present day, but we should endeavor to understand this word. Christ came to the “lost sheep of Israel”, a people totally demoralized by the division and desecration of the Israelite nation, humiliated under Roman conquest, ashamed of themselves. Israel felt abandoned by God in the time of Christ, and for this reason, the Jewish people pinned all of their hopes—personal, nationalistic, spiritual—on the idea that one day God would come back to them, in a physical, powerful, and majestic way, to destroy their enemies, heal their wounds, and restore them to both holiness and greatness.

when Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and rose from the dead, He proved that He was the Messiah, living evidence that God had not abandoned His people. this is the gospel. it’s that simple, i think. God proved through Christ that He intends to be with me and with His church to the end of time; and He will demonstrate His lordship over us as He did with the prophets of old. in this life, my enemies will submit to me; in this life, i will conquer my foes; in this life, i will prosper and experience the fullness of His life. this is the gospel! it’s immediate. it’s tangible. it’s now.

the immediacy and power of God is the nature of the Messiah and thus the foundation for real joy—a joy built upon the expectation that God is with us to stay.

there are people who like to pick at the distinction between Christ as savior and lord, insisting that only those who understand Him as both are truly His children. i think it’s the most laughable and despicable assertion about Christ that i’ve ever heard in my life. only one who doesn’t really believe in Christ’s dominion and power could really imply such a thing. if one believes in the Messiah—the same Messiah prophesied in the scripture, the one who died and then conquered death—how could one not believe then that the Messiah is by definition Lord of everything He chooses to lord over? does a feudal peasant limit the power of his king when he fails to know the total size and prowess of his king’s army? it’s laughable! if the king has it in mind to defend his peasant from thieves and invaders, then he will prove his strength by defending his peasant, regardless of what his peasant believes. Christ’s lordship is not limited by the extent of faithfulness of those He has chosen to lord over. as the all-powerful Messiah, He proves His lordship over His people by exercising dominion over them, in His incontrovertibly divine and fearful ways.

for many years, i think i’ve been crippled by the American Evangelical view that God’s power in me exists in proportion to my faith. no other lord of anything behaves in such a way; why should my Messiah? He opened the ground beneath his enemies and swallowed them alive; He immolated priests of Baal with fire from heaven; He wiped out armies of thousands with a blink of an eye. this sort of Messiah will exist at my beck and call, to be lord only insofar as i will allow Him to be lord? ridiculous! ludicrous! no, Christ is lord of His people, regardless of what His people think of Him.

all this is to say that i realize that praying for joy, or for positive thinking, or for a better attitude, is all entirely beside the point! because in praying for such things, i’m actually praying that God will allow me to be satisfied with a lesser god. what i should be praying is that Christ will prove Himself as the Messiah to me and to my brothers, as he so desires to do. what i should be praying is that faith—as my lens of understanding—will enable me to see the miraculous work that He is already doing, as lord of my church and all-powerful Lion of Judah. if i have lost enthusiasm for the Gospel, it is not because i lack faith; it’s because i have lost any understanding of what the Gospel really is! God does not call me to have great faith in a false premise. He calls me to have a little bit of faith in the truth of something incredible. because even a little faith in something mind-blowingly incredible will drive a man to give up everything He has for Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

my prayer: prove your lordship, Lord Jesus. after all, lordship is not something i can confer to you; it is what you are. what i aim to accomplish in my attitude and perspective is meaningless. Christ, not my testimony, is the substance of my life and the meaning of my journey. Christ, as Messiah, is the centerpiece of the Gospel, and His present authority and dominion over my life are the reasons for my joy. let me stop trying to live out a spirituality predicated on adherence and self-sanctification; let me instead live in the presence of the true and living God, to the loss of myself, that i might understand that this is the day of jubilee, and i who was lost have truly been found, redeemed, and declared royal by the prince on the pale horse who has settled all scores and established His kingdom at last

08.10.10

arguing about god

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:29 am by Administrator

among many high points i’ve enjoyed recently, i feel like i experienced a real low today when i realized that a brother and i were having an on-line argument about the attributes of God.

he’s a young believer and quite enthusiastic about the scripture. he is so enthusiastic that he’s come to the point of openly judging others in our church who don’t demonstrate his level of enthusiasm. there’s truth to his judgment, even though his particular approach to it (doubting their salvation) often made me cringe. we’ve met a few times to talk about starting a discipleship group, and i’ve felt both encouraged and wary of his absolutist tendencies. to be honest, he has reminded me a bit of myself.

our present argument stemmed from a comment i made a few weeks ago in passing, when i said off-handedly that i hope “it’s not God’s will for my marriage to someday end in divorce”. it was an illustrative comment pointing toward my main point that i cannot take what i have in this world for granted; anything and everything can be taken from me at any time. the brother saw it differently. we’ve exchanged three emails each back and forth since that time. he’s asked me to clarify my comment, and when he was unsatisfied with my explanation, he accused me of a “false understanding” of God’s will. he quoted scripture to me (an element of personal argumentation that i simply cannot stand) as he contended that any divorce is anathema to God and purely the product of a rebellious individual ego.

the central theological issue of course is the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. i tried to share with the brother that our disagreement perhaps demonstrates a real area of mystery with regard to creation, but he would have none of it. as tempted as i was to continue the dialogue in the hopes that i could regain his trust, i realized that i’ve already lost it. for better or worse, he must believe that i’m wrong in order to move forward with God; and in the context of how intensely our friendship developed, this probably means that our partnership is finished.

i hate arguing about God. i used to enjoy a debate, simply because i enjoy employing my intellect to beat down other people. it’s a weakness that i’ve worked hard to set aside. but here and there (i.e. with won ho), i devolve, because my concept of God is important to me. the arguments accomplish nothing except hurt feelings and division. this does not mean, however, that the arguments were inherently meaningless. God in His true identity and attributes is surely worth arguing and dying for, but as Christ Himself demonstrated, we must have enough wisdom to recognize whether we are truly right in what we believe and whether we actually argue on His behalf or our own.

i’m thinking back to what another brother said to me a couple of months ago, when i shared with him my newfound enthusiasm for the pastoral ministry. in so many words, he questioned the veracity of my calling on account of my views about homosexuality. we managed to keep our exchange fairly civil, though neither of us would back down from our positions on the issue. he quoted scripture to me (out of context, which only amplified my predictable unease) and warned me against leading others astray. we actually haven’t talked since then, despite the fact that he understood at the time that i was wading through a personal crisis. empathy and mercy to me demonstrate the attributes of God far more clearly than proper scriptural exegesis. i cannot claim to be “right” about many things i argue, but i can say that i am egalitarian on the matter of disdaining the theological argument. after all, i hate it in others as much as i hate it in myself.

back to the sovereignty of God. am i truly misguided when i state my hope that God will not will my marriage to divorce? what am i saying when i say this? what i am saying is that i know i cannot guarantee my perfection as a person, and i cannot guarantee my perfection in my marriage. is it possible that i, despite being a believer and invested with the Holy Spirit, could abuse my wife or betray her sexually? it is certainly possible, because the sinful nature i live with and contend with is still with me, despite the fact that its dominion over me has been broken. and if this manner of sin in my relationship is possible, then might divorce be the natural and appropriate consequence for such a sin? absolutely! and then, when the divorce has come to pass, will i say that such a thing was neither foreseen, ordained, nor intended by God? will i assert that such a thing was a shock to Him, counter to His sensibilities, holding no possibility of glory for His kingdom? in fact, it would be egotistical of me to assert the latter.

i do not think that God delights in any misfortune, suffering, or act of evil. but it is evident from the scriptural narrative that the evil of man is quite central to His redemptive plan; after all, it is the reality of sin (made clear by the law) which elucidated the reality of God’s grace (exemplified in Christ). without evil, we would not know God in the manner He has chosen to reveal Himself. as God proved Himself to Israel by hardening Pharoah and wiping out the Egyptian first-born, God proved Himself to the Gentiles by hardening the Israelites and dying a sacrificial death.

God does not delight in sin. nevertheless, sin has been integral to His creative intentions for man. and one cannot study His redemptive plan as described in scripture without being impressed that God has willed both suffering and salvation. those who are saved are saved by design; those who are passed over have been passed over by design. the true question is not whether God’s will is served by the evil of the world. the real question is what the evil of the world says about the attributes of God.

is God good? is God just? people who have not gone through the fire with God will naturally raise these questions in response to the ugliness they see in the world. a parent will lose a child; he will think that God is cruel. a person will kill someone by accident and wallow in a lifetime of guilt; he will declare God unjust. a man will truly love his wife with a God-given love and then betray that love in a moment of passion. his wife will leave him, as she is justified in doing, and he will be left alone with the consequences of his sin. perhaps he will say that if God willed such a thing, then God is unkind.

i’m not saying that i’ve graduated from this reflexive questioning. but i will say that the sense of entitlement that underlies these indignant questions truly wearies me. why must God eschew responsibility for evil in order to be good? is it not a bare fact that God invested Himself in man, intimately tying Himself to the nature and the fate of mankind, even though He knew from the beginning that man would prove himself to the most vile and wicked of all created things? when God created man, He created the conduit of all evil; He introduced destruction into the created order. that God did so attests not to His personal evil but rather to His intense love for man. like i once wrote, God loved the good in a wicked wicked thing. that love triumphs over wickedness and introduces goodness into the lives of sinful men. it is not “restoration”, in that God does not wish us to return to Adam’s likeness. it is “realization”; God wants us to understand Him through the lens of sin, that we might understand His grace and achieve intimacy that Adam could only have dreamed of experiencing in the Garden.

i do not want to experience divorce from my wife. but i believe that it might be God’s will for my marriage, as much as the thought is distasteful to me. i do not contend such a thing because i am cavalier about marriage. rather, i confess the possibility because i know that sin has consequences, and i have seen that God allows me to suffer them. i fear God because in His process of sanctifying me, He has allowed me to suffer some bitter consequences of sin, some that i never believed He would allow me to experience. but i recognize that the brokenness i have endured has allowed me to respect God’s sovereignty and also appreciate His grace more fully.

my brother with whom i argued might eventually see God in this manner, but he may not. i say that it doesn’t matter. the revelation of God that he receives, so long as it is through the death and resurrection of Christ, will be sufficient for his journey. i think that is enough to know about God. our time is wasted on argument, and i grieve the broken fellowship, as God probably does as well, despite the fact that He willed it to happen this way.

08.07.10

TG recap

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:41 am by Administrator

well, not really a recap. i’ll say though that the experience was fascinating to me, because for the first time in my life, i really felt like i was immersed in my true peer group. i’ve never experienced this before, in academics, medicine, or otherwise. dialoguing with korean-american church ministers was simply mind-blowing for me, because i saw my own intense struggles being explicated in the lives of men more gifted, more mature, and more experienced than myself.

one thing i realized early on in the conference is that korean-americans in ministry are gunners. their achievement-oriented neuroses become a foundation for both their successes and struggles in church development. i’m tempted to believe that korean-american pastors struggle with megachurch ambitions, pastoral earnings, and extent of social influence far more than their counterparts of other ethnicities, simply because they must contend with the profoundly deep vacuum of validation engendered by their strongly patriarchal and materialistic immigrant culture. moreover, the values of korean-american evangelicalism are very much derived from a theology that emphasizes the centrality of consecration, spiritual anointing, and spiritual giftings, a leaning that tends to cast the pastor as a man of mystical significance and supernatural prowess–a mythological role veritably impossible to fulfill.

seeing other korean-american ministers struggling with the powerful need for achievement and a corresponding sense of shame oddly encouraged me; it made me realize that my struggles are not unique but rather quite universal. it made me realize too that culture can be a vessel for a great work of God, even if the culture itself seems rather primitive. beyond these insights, i also realized another thing as i contemplated the projection of my weaknesses: i realized that i can externalize my self-expectations and hence change them, God willing.

at the end of the day, i believe that there is only one real criterion for success, and that’s joy. if a man is experiencing true joy in life—God-given joy—then he must be in communion with God, and he must be fulfilling his role within the church. as the past is full of trouble and the future is full of uncertainty, true joy is founded upon the redemption of the present; it is derived from an immediate and very simple belief that the moments are God-given and perfect for worship. pastors, like people of just about any profession, constantly have much to worry about; the stakes for every decision are constantly daunting. but pastors are not called to view the sovereignty of God any differently than their brothers and sisters in other walks of life. they are called simply to make the most of each day, to worship God sincerely, and to trust the next day to the Lord. the moment we can no longer relish the present is the moment we have allowed worship and even life to be taken from us by the devil.

i have resolved to resume praying every morning for joy, joy sufficient to color everything in my day, joy powerful enough to inform my worship of the Lord. i think what i will discover in this process of daily prayer is that joy will come at the expense of rumination, and joy will grow as i learn to surrender my life to God. correspondingly, joy will be complete when my thoughts extend from simple faith; joy will be consummated when my future ceases to exist to me. yes, i was groomed to be an ambitious, perpetually anxious, and obsessively unhappy man. but in the kingdom of God, this persona is dead. the self that i am rediscovering in the kingdom is the one who regards his ideas with skepticism, his life with humor, and his god as a real companion and friend. he is, in short, a man who has resolved not to take his life any more seriously than he can possibly take his own death. as he cannot control the timing or essence of either, he is content to live out both life and death with the natural optimism of a man anticipating paradise.

i pray this oh God. success and failure are the words i conjure to explain things that have no explanation. why do i pray for an understanding of your will? if you desire something, then your desire will inevitably be my own desire, if i believe that i am in you, as you are in me. no, i pray for joy. the giver will give of his life one way or the other, to the point of death; but the giver can be either cheerful or dour. i pray God for a spirit of cheer, a heart of gladness, so that in my pains and losses, i might show that i am otherworldly, as you are, and that my hopes are heavenly and thus impossible to supplant. dignify me God, not by handing me success on my terms, but by giving me the heart that is incapable of failure. give me joy, that i might testify to my faith and prove to be capable of the most self-sacrificial love.

to this world, i am already dead. to you, i am the child that cannot be restrained. i remember my first love for you. let me delight in this, every day that i live. cure me of my depression, relieve me of my childhood pains, and deliver me from the burden of a life i cannot live. restore to me my days, one at a time, so that i might delight in you from the depths of my being

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