Thursday, January 13, 2005

Can God Do It?

Recently I asked a group of Christians, "What does God want most of all?" They responded with a variety of good answers, but none of them hit the one I wanted them to think about. So I reminded them of the passage that states that God does not want "anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."(2 Peter 3:9)

I then asked them, "what does God want most of all?" and they responded with, "for all people to be saved." So I asked them, "Will all people be saved? Will God get what he wants?" They immediately responded with a unanimous "No!" So I continued, "God is omnipotent - he can do anything - right?" "Yes" they replied. "God is also omniscient - he knows everything - right?" "Of course" they said. I continued, "God is omnipresent - he is everywhere - right?" "Yes" they said. Then I asked, "So you are telling me that God who can do anything, knows everything and exists everywhere will not be able to get what he most wants?" They were rather silent...

But Kenny, this is really close to universalism. "Do you believe that everyone will be saved?" To which I reply - "I sure hope so!" God's grace is much larger than I ever imagined before in my life, maybe I still have too small a view of it. God is working...

Think about it...

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Last night we were doing a Bible study on Conflict Resolution based on the life of Joseph. We talked about his dreams and his wisdom, or the lack thereof, in sharing them with his brothers. Then I asked how we today use our dreams for the future as a weapon to generate conflict with others in our life.

We made the observation that everyone has dreams for their future, no matter how young or old. They may not be able, or willing, to articulate their dreams well, but they still have them. Those who have no dreams despair even of living. Then I opened my mouth and these words came out, "Dreams are the flowers that grow in the field of hope." I do not know if these words originated with me or if I borrowed them from someone else, but either way, I loved the description.

Since I have been reading from Buechner lately, I remember a quote from him about despair...

Despair has been called the unforgivable sin - not presumably because God refuses to forgive it but because it despairs of the possibility of being forgiven. - Wishful Thinking (Page 19)

I hope that if you feel despair you will reach out and pick a dream flower from Jesus' field of hope! Believing is not easy, but it is life changing...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Toward Perfection?

There is a cultural story of ever increasing prosperity, wisdom, and freedom woven into my experience of the American Dream. That optimistic story was shaken hard by the massive world wars of the last century, but at the popular level the dream lives on according to the script of that story. In my personal story there is the expectation of greater income, increased knowledge (and hopefully wisdom) and the freedom that comes from experience married to vision. In a nutshell, both my country and I believe that things are going to get better with each passing day - we are on a relentless drive to perfection!
There is strong theological pull (and even PUSH) to that story as well. All Christians are praying that there is a better life coming... We know that we have flaws, but we dream of being made perfect. We remember the words of Scripture that Jesus is the "author and perfector of our faith." So we wait, more or less, patiently.
Yet there is a counter story in Scripture that quietly challenges this fatal belief. It is not found in a single text, rather it is the story that emerges when you step far enough away from the story to take it all in. That story declares that perfection is exactly the thing that humans cannot handle. We had it in the garden, but we squandered it. Now we long for a return to the Garden. But God will not allow us to go back (remember the Cherubim?) and so we must move forward. (By the way this is a nice theological reminder for all the restorationists out there). And that forward movement is what the Bible is all about. But it is not the movement that some think it is. We are not moving back to the Garden, but rather we are moving from the Garden to the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem. We are not moving back to naivete, but rather we are moving towards an all embracing forgiveness.
It will not be our perfection that finally saves us, but rather our willingness to both receive and give forgiveness. The only way we can truly move toward perfection is to be humble enough to admit our own faults, and seek forgiveness, and to be mature enough to admit the faults of others and offer forgiveness. Nothing else we can do is more godly.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Frederick Buechner on "Hell"

I love the writing of Frederick Buechner. My first introduction to him came about 15 years ago when I found a delightful book of his at a yardsale. It was entitled "Wishful Thinking" A Theological ABC. Here is a sample of this book on the topic of hell...

People are free in this world to live for themselves alone if they want to and let the rest go hang, and they are free to live out the dismal consequences as long as they can stand it. The doctrine of Hell proclaims that they retain this freedom in whatever world comes next. Thus the possibility of making damned fools of ourselves would appear to be limitless.
Or maybe Hell is the limit. Since the damned are said to suffer as dismally in the next world as they do in this one, they must still have enough life left in them to suffer with, which means that in their flight from Love, God apparently stops them just this side of extinguishing themselves utterly. Thus the bottomless pit is not really bottomless. Hell is the bottom beyond which God in his terrible mercy will not let them go.
Dante saw written over the gates of Hell the words "Abandon all hope ye who enter here," but he must have seen wrong. If there is suffering in Hell, there must also be hope in Hell, because where there is life there is the Lord and giver of life, and where there is suffering he is there too because the suffering of the ones he loves is also his suffering.
"He descended into Hell" the Creed says, and "If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there," the Psalmist (139:8). It seems there is no depth to which he will not sink. Maybe not even Old Scratch will be able to hold out against him forever.

That is great food for thought, to which I will only add... "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

Amazing Differences

When noticing the interaction between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, there is an amazing disconnect - they seem, not only to be on different pages about God, but from completely different planets. That is why there is so much conflict recorded in the gospels between Jesus and the religious establishment.
What are the reasons for such radical differences in their approaches to faith? While I do not know all the answers, I have noticed a couple of things that may be valuable for those who live in the religious establishment today, but who long to live more like Jesus.
First, I think that Jesus and the religious leaders had different assumptions about sin. For the religious leaders, sin was something external that defiled only upon contact. Therefore their most solemn obligation was to AVOID sinful people, places, and situations. Jesus, on the other hand, said that sin was an internal problem that could never be solved by simple avoidance. What was needed was a heart transplant. This difference led to completely different stances when it came to relating to other people. The Pharisees thought they were the only clean people in the world (their name means "separated ones"), and that they should carefully avoid all sinners. Jesus realized that if you are clean then you will not only not be defiled by sinners but you might be in the position to offer them some help. So the Pharisees were extremely self-righteous and Jesus was the friend of sinners.
Second, Jesus and the religious leaders worked from different texts. To be sure, they both had the same Scriptures, but they emphasized different things from that Scripture. The religious leaders were convinced that "Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy" should be the main text for anyone seeking to please God. It was even essential in their eyes to keep all the extra laws concerning the Sabbath that the elders had formulated over the years. But for Jesus, there was a different set of texts. He loved to quote "I desire mercy not sacrifice" (particularly to the religious leaders) and he was convinced that the entire law was summed up in the commands to love God and neighbor. Jesus knew that laws are important only if they fulfill their function of serving people and pointing them towards God. The religious leaders were more interested in a rigid keeping of the law, regardless of how it affected people.
These two differences (an assumption about sin and a selection of texts) lead the religious leaders to have a sectarian mindset concerning what people can be accepted in God's name, and a tyrannical view of God who is just waiting for people to make a fatal mistake! Jesus offers a much more compelling view of the church and of God. Anyone who will come is welcome, and God is a loving host who delights in throwing parties for people who do not deserve it!
Your choice about what kind of church to be associated with generally still runs along these lines. Think about it...