As I enter my fortieth trip around the sun  I’m actually thankful that my 30’s are over and I thought I’d share some recent reflections that have been heavily influenced by a most profound experience I had just a few weeks ago.   Even as I write this it is still hard to put it into words.  In short it was a 5-day exhausting  journey towards Love.  Like most journeys I made some incredible friends along the way.  A lot of these thoughts flow directly out of that experience.

Do I really believe that God loves me?  Sure.  But the whole me?  Errrr….

In the not-so-great movie “First Knight” Sean Connery plays the legendary King Arthur and Richard Gere plays an unremarkable Lancelot.  While the movie is quite lame in its butchering of fantastic mid-evil fantasy there is a single quote that has stuck with me since I first saw it.  King Arthur is extending to Lancelot the brotherhood of the Knights of the Round Table and he says to him in the richly accented voice that is Sean Connery, “I can’t love people in slices.”  I’ve used this quote numerous times.  However, it is true that I have lived my life as though God only loved those parts of me that were presentable and attractive.   Worse yet, I have done the same to others precisely because I had believed the lie that I wasn’t lovable.

As I’ve ventured to let other people I trust into my inner world a common experience and belief surfaced… namely that we are not truly loved by God.  At least not fully and unconditionally loved as we sometimes say we belive.  We’ve all been waiting for proof that we are in fact unlovable.  The real problem with that is we all tend to see what we want to see and thus believe what we want to believe.  Everything we experience gets interpreted through this perverted lens of un-lovability and our presuppositions are all proven true.  Over time this lie becomes a psychological security blanket of sorts.  It is safe to not be loved.  In “Touching the Holy” Robert Wicks writes, “without knowing it, we fear emotional and spiritual passion more than we seem to fear our rigidity and lack of courage.  We fear unconditional love more that rejection.  We fear the newness of the gospel, the good news, more than we fear being mired in attitudes and beliefs that have us frozen in the present way we view everything.”

In the words of the Persian mystic-poet Rumi, “Your task is not to seek for love but merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself  that you have built against it.”  Or, if Persian mystics don’t do it for you, consider the words of Puritan theologian extraordinaire Jonathan Edwards  “Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.”  Pick your spiritual tradition.  Most of them will point to this inner battle we all have towards our own heart’s reception of a love that is already available to us.

This is why I say “fighting against grace is the ultimate form of self-deception.”   I am not the image others project onto me and I’m not even the image I project of myself.  In theological terminology I am made in the image of God.  I am.  My hope is to live a life from the inside out by embracing the truth that I am made in the imago Dei.  Once I came to the realization that people’s judgments of me were not real things, (see 1 Cor. 2:15)  nor even my judgments of myself, I was truly unfettered by the weight of condemnation.  When we project our own internal judgments of ourselves onto others we immediately shut down our ability to receive love from them… we fight against the very thing we so desperately need.

Every event, every person and every thing has been orchestrated and redeemed by God.  I no longer have to despise any parts of my own story.  Sure there are lamentable experiences and decisions, and for those I have and still do lament.  I just don’t condemn myself for the lament anymore because the degree to which I’ve held my own story in contempt is the same degree I’ve held the Author and co-author of my story in contempt.  As the apostle Paul wrote  “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.”

When the heart is done with fighting and gives in to the relentless love offered freely by God in Christ our pasts are integrated into our present and our hope is set for the future.  As a good friend of mine would sing, “It’s all a part of me, that’s who I am.”  It is all grace.

As a birthday present would you do me a favor?  Strongly consider the truth that you are lovable and you loved.  

Grace and Peace to you… every slice!

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Following are some thoughts I posted on a discussion board at Gordon-Conwell for a course I’m taking:  Theology of the Pentateuch with Dr. Gordon Hugenberger.

The initial question was as follows:

Kersey Graves is a 19th century religious critic who had particular penchant for lambasting Christianity (and religions in general). His book, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors, depicts Christ as a non-historical, mythical figure, and has a conspiracy theory approach to interpreting Christian text. In essence, self-styled scholars like Kersey Graves suggest that either the bible is a complete fabrication, or that it’s major themes and concepts have been plagiarized from more ancient religions. 

Here is an excerpt from The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: 
” ‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel.’ (Genesis 3:15)

 This text is often cited by Christan writers and controversialists as prefiguring the mission of the Christian Savior… Some of the saviors or demigods of Egypt, India, Greece, Persia, Mexico and Etruria are represented as performing the same drama with the serpent or devil… Again, it is related by more than one oriental writer that Chrishna of India is represented on some very ancient sculptures and stone monuments with his heel on the head of a serpent…”

How do we respond to the dissenters that contend that the Old Testament plagiarized myths from the ANE (i.e. Creation account, Flood of Noah, Messianic prophecies, Ten commandments etc…)? 

My response:

I love this question because it points out a theme that keeps recurring in my studies… namely, that different people can be looking at the same information, the same “evidence,” and come to completely different conclusions.  How is this?

In some sense, people are going to see what they ‘want’ to see and believe what they ‘want’ to believe.  If we come to that information with our minds already made up, whatever our conclusion may be, then we’ve simply allowed the information to serve as a support to our presuppositions.  My first response to these “dissenters” is to probe into what is in it for them to hold this view.  Usually in my experience it has nothing to do with being convinced of the formal reasoning and research of a Kersey Graves or a Bart Ehrman.  The “dissenters” I’ve conversed with are usually looking for a reason NOT to trust the Scripture.  If in fact that is the case then it hardly matters how I respond to their views on whether or not the Scripture plagiarized ANE literature.  Usually this simply means they’re looking for an argument to get in so that they can feel more at ease ensconced in their own position.

This seems to be the approach that Robert Puckett is taking:

Gilgamesh hardly wants deconstructing because he does not tell you “Don’t sleep with your girlfriend or boyfriend.” Unlike Noah Gilgamesh is not a preacher of righteousness who makes demands on your life. He does not say, “God’s going to destroy the whole world with a flood because of your sinfulness.”  Since regarding the Bible so much is at stake, we have to be aware of our bias, that we have a benefit in deciding against it, of charging it with being a false authority.

Do the Scriptures say “not to sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend?”  I digress.  The issue is the same in that will we allow ourselves the liberty of coming under the authority and guidance of sacred Scripture or will we simply be enslaved to our own devices.  That is not a fun mirror for us to look into at times and we shouldn’t be shocked when others choose to look somewhere a little more palatable.

This is not to say that people can’t in good faith question and explore these issues.  Indeed they should.  Faith is not believing what we know to be false.  Rather it is a gift to see what is real.

While I like the place that Robert English lands I don’t care an awful lot for how he arrived:

“In the end what they say is more reasonable. But no matter how convincing their reason, I still believe. I think it comes down to which tree’s fruit tastes better to you. If you have a taste for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil reason is the way to go. You can be like God and come up with your own explanations. If you like the Tree of Life, you get to believe what God says and trust that he is right.”

This seems to be a little too reliant on personal preference.  Not that it’s wrong per se but I don’t agree that what the “scholars say is more reasonable.”  Which scholars?  Some are.  Some aren’t.  Some have convincing theories on certain subjects and then lose their rationality on others.  If we simply boil it down to a choice between two trees then we have no rationale to say that one is “better” or “healthier” than the other.  This only lends itself to the above position that I’m going to see and believe what I want to in the end.

Another approach might be to actually listen in the moment to what the human behind the dissenting is really saying.  Could we as “Evangelical Christians” (a term that has really outlived its usefulness) actually humble ourselves enough to trust that the power of the Risen King is actively engaged in our conversation and in our listening.  Do we really hear people?  Do we see them and feel their pain?  Can we model for them what the suffering Savior has done to reconcile them to himself?