Tag Archives: Humanity

Affecting the Almighty

source: oxfordshire church photos via Flickr
source: oxfordshire church photos via Flickr

If you sin, how does that affect him?
If your sins are many, what does that do to him?
Job 35:6 (NIV)

Elihu, the fourth and youngest of Job’s so-called friends, continues his pent-up diatribe in today’s chapter. His point seems to be that God’s lofty omnipotence places the Creator above the affectations of humanity. Eli calls into question whether our sins or wickedness have any affect on the Almighty, and I find the question fascinating.

A few summers ago I read the book Holy Sh*t by Melissa Mohr who explores the history of swearing and profanity. I learned therein that throughout the middle ages Western culture would have answered Eli’s question emphatically. The really bad swearing of the day was to swear by Jesus’ blood or Jesus’ wounds. For example, in the opening scenes of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1, the bawdy Jack Falstaff utters profanity in saying “‘sblood” (contraction of swearing “by His blood”) and “‘Zounds” (contraction of swearing “by His wounds”). The culture of that day held that swearing by the body, blood, or wounds of Christ was so profane that swearing in such a manner resulted in further bodily injury to Jesus. If you swore you were perpetrating actual physical harm to the Savior in heaven. Wow.

This morning I am once again finding truth at the point of tension between the two extremes. Elihu’s projection of God who is above being affected by humanity is inconsistent with the entire story of God’s Message, in which God intimately cares for His fallen creation and loves us sacrificially in order to redeem us. The believers of the middle-ages, however, took that intimacy to an opposite extreme in thinking that when my momentary frustration leads to an inappropriate utterance, I have Jesus crying “ouch” in heaven’s throne room. That idea of that, in fact, seems more than a little bit twisted.

My long sojourn through God’s Message and my experiences in this life lead me to believe that God does care about us. I believe that God cares about what we think, say, and do. I believe that God is grieved at our penchant for doing the things we know we shouldn’t and choosing out of the things we should say and do. Let’s not forget that at the beginning of Job’s story God actually expresses His pride and deep appreciation for Job’s righteousness. God could be above it all, as Elihu suggests, but that’s the beauty of the Christmas story which we just celebrated last week. God cared. God sent His Son as a gift to make a way for salvation, and He made a point by sending His Son to be born of a seemingly insignificant peasant girl, arriving in squalor, worshipped by poor shepherds. That doesn’t sound like an aloof God unaffected by humanity. It seems to me that this is a story of God’s affections for even the least of us.

Elijah, the Spaghetti Western, and Me

28857-man-with-no-nameThe Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of theLord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)

Elijah is such an intriguing character. His personality seemed uniquely created to be the person God needed. He appears on the scene like Clint Eastwood‘s “man with no name” in Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns. Out of the wild comes this charismatic loner displaying miraculous qualities and a passion for God. He seems invincible. Outnumbered 450 to 1, Elijah gets into a spiritual shoot-out with the prophets of Baal and, thanks to a heaven-sent fiery climax, he finds himself the last man standing. It’s the stuff of a Hollywood action blockbuster.

Then, the story takes an unexpected twist. The invincible hero does a complete 180 degree turn and becomes shockingly human.  Fresh from the miraculous victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah learns that Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head and he withers on the vine. After three years of famine, scratching out an existence in the wilderness, and the big showdown on Carmel, God’s heroic prophet is physically, mentally, and spiritually shot. He shows the all too familiar human qualities of fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and suicide.

Elijah runs away. He gives up. He throws in the towel, lays down to die, and begs God to bring the end quickly. He then goes on a self-pitying pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Upon his arrival, there is a cyclonic wind, a great earthquake, and a raging fire. God was nowhere to be found in the cataclysmic manifestations.

God appears in a whisper, and asks His man a profoundly simple question: “What are you doing here?

I find in this story of Elijah so much of my own frail humanity. I experience amazing, miraculous moments along the journey and then seem to forget them when petty anxieties paralyze me. I have episodes of victorious faith, then run from the next challenge. Given to blind, self-centric drama I fail to see all that God is doing in and through those around me while I project the weight of the world on my  own shoulders, blow my own problems grossly out of proportion, and then slink into a corner to obsess and lick my petty emotional wounds.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And yet, I am strangely encouraged by Elijah’s story. I am no different than this hero of the faith. Human frailties are common to every spiritual hero, because every hero is limited by his or her own humanity. The question is not whether I will experience common human episodes of fear, anxiety, insecurity, despair, depression, self-pity, weakness, and conflict. We all experiences these things. The question is how I will respond when they happen. And, they will happen. Too often I pray for and expect God to send dramatic winds of change, a seismic shift in circumstance, or a explosive miracle to sweep away my humanity. I am beginning to learn that what I need to listen for is God’s still, small voice meeting me right where I am, in the midst of my all too human condition.

Related Bozos

Source: Peter Bakker via Flickr
Source: Peter Bakker via Flickr

Adam, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. 1 Chronicles 1:-3 (NIV) I thought we would follow the history of David from the book of 2 Samuel to the book of 1 Chronicles. If you’re reading along, you’ll notice a big difference between this book and the one we just finished. The books of Samuel read much like a biography in which the author is trying to tell the story of a person (in this case, David) from beginning to end. Chronicles is more of an official government record which chronicles the history of the kingdom and the monarchy. The royal scribe, traditionally believed to have been Ezra who lived and wrote his Chronicle about 500 years after King David’s life, begins his record of the kingdom with the beginning of human history and connects the dots through the ages. We’re in for what you might consider a dry couple of chapters of genealogy, but there are some important spiritual nuggets buried in the endless lists of names:

  1. We all come from the same place. The chronicler’s list begins at the beginning with Adam, and even modern science has proven that, genetically, we all come from the same woman. We can speculate and argue endlessly about exactly how things happened, but after reading through God’s Message a number of times I’ve come to the conclusion that God, as a storyteller, was not concerned about telling us exactly how thing happened (because, ultimately, that’s not the point) but why things happened (because, ultimately, that’s the whole point).
  2. Even our enemies are family. As we read through the list in today’s chapter we stumble over a few references to Israel’s traditional enemies such as the Philistines, Moabites, and Edomites. And yet, even the kings official record revealed from the beginning that they were all distant relatives. In fact, we all are. This may not make a huge difference with regard to world politics, but I think it should make a huge difference in my personal view of others.

I find it fascinating that Jesus did not concern himself in the least with the political issues of his day. Whenever the topic of earthly kingdoms and politics arose, Jesus always changed the subject to the Kingdom of God. At the same time, Jesus radically chose to talk to and relate with those whom his contemporary culture had raised him to believe were unworthy of his time and consideration: women, tax-collectors, prostitutes, Romans, Samaritans, etc., and etc. I believe Jesus looked at these people and saw, not the human differences between them, but the similarities. He didn’t see “different” people physically, politically, culturally, ideologically, or morally. He saw people who were fundamentally the same in human and spiritual terms. As I like to say, we’re all just bozos on the bus trying to find our way home. Jesus understood that, and didn’t discriminate what kind of bozo one person was over another.Today, I’m thinking about the ways I continue to divide and categorize people in my mind and heart. I’m repenting of my attitude, and heading into the day choosing to see each person as just another bozo like me (who is related to me as a matter of fact) and who is worthy of my love and consideration. Today, once again, I’m trying to be more like Jesus.

The Healthy Act of Human Expression

The Scream by artist Edvard Munch. Lithography...
The Scream by artist Edvard Munch. Lithography, 1895. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you?
Will you let them dishonor your name forever?
Psalm 74:10 (NLT)

The lyrics of this song of Asaph were written during a period of history when his country had been besieged and destroyed. The prophet Jeremiah is commonly attributed to have described the conditions of the same event in his own lyric poem we now know as Lamentations. The city of Jerusalem and Solomon’s wondrous temple were destroyed. Women and children were slaughtered. Many were enslaved (like Daniel) and taken back to Babylon. Those unfortunate few who were left in the desolation of the city were literally starving. The rich bartered their family treasures and heirlooms for a loaf of bread. The poor who had no other means were reduced to cannibalism. It was not a pretty sight.

Tragic circumstances and events are part of living in a fallen world. The news of late has been of tornadoes that killed small children when an elementary school was hit, of religious zealots publicly hacking a man to death on the street, and unspeakable horrors inflicted on human beings on both sides of armed conflict in Syria and in multiple conflicts in Africa. I listen to those who argue that the human condition is continuing to evolve and get better, who believe that there is increasing good in mankind. Then I read the world headlines and find continuous evidence that humanity, despite technological and societal advances is (as the Talking Heads put it) “the same as it ever was.”

We could debate this question over a pint or two. The truth remains that we will all face various levels of tragedy in our respective life journeys. We all have questions for God. There is something in us, as children made in the likeness of our Creator, to express ourselves creatively and metaphorically. Asaph and Jeremiah picked up their styluses and wrote songs and poems to try and express the unanswerable questions that plagued their souls at the incomprehensible horrors they witnessed. Art, in all of its many forms, heals.

Today I am reminded that creative expression is a prescription for my spiritual and mental health. I will experience and witness tragedy. The question is not “Will it happen?” but “What will I do with it when it happens?” I can stuff it and cover it over until it begins to eat me away from the inside out in unhealthy ways, or I can get my questions and emotions out into the light of day where they can be acknowledged and lose their destructive power. Asaph wrote a blues song. Jeremiah wrote a lyric poem. Edward Munch painted “The Scream.” Eugene O’Neill wrote the play A Long Day’s Journey into Night. These are examples most everyone knows. But most expressions are not public expressions. I myself have written pages and pages of words and lyric thoughts no one will ever read. They are not for public consumption. But, I wrote them. I wrote them to get out my questions, to make my case, to express my anger, sadness, doubts, pain, frustration, hopelessness, and to scream at God. I transmitted them from my mind and soul through my pen and onto the page.

What have you done with your own tragedies?

We are Family

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 36

This is the account of the descendants of Esau (also known as Edom). Genesis 36:1 (NLT)

As I read today’s chapter I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering to “the rest of the story.” All of these descendants of Esau (also known as Edom) would become the Edomites who would live in constant conflict with the descendants of Israel. The prophet Obadiah’s message was against the Edomites. The conflict was between tribes who shared a common ancestor.

That is also true of the conflicts we read about on the internet and see on the television today. The nation of Israel trace their lineage back through Isaac to Abraham. The arab nations trace their lineage back through Ishmael to Abraham. They are all sons of Abraham.

We can cast the net even wider. DNA projects being carried on by National Geographic and other groups are tracing the common genetic strands of everyday people all over the world in order to learn more about how tribes and nations and peoples spread across the earth. What modern genetics has determined is [surprise!] we all, every person on this Earth can trace their genes back to the same woman.

I can also pull the net in close to find this theme played out around me each day. I live in a small Iowa town founded by a small handful of Dutch immigrant families. “Dutch Bingo” is what we call the game that locals play when they start conversationally tracing family trees in order to find a connection. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard or witnessed casual friends or neighbors playing Dutch Bingo only to find that they are third or fourth cousins and never knew it, I could buy you a Starbucks Grande Latte in Oslo.

I don’t know what to make of it all. I scratch my head and mull it all over as I sip my morning coffee and watch the snow falling outside. The one thing that it does make me appreciate is that we are all connected. I can’t do much about world politics or global conflict, but I can choose each day how I treat my fellow human being family member. I can be a little more deferential to that jerk uptown who drives me nuts. I can choose to respond to a personal attack with grace. I can take that money I’d spend on your Oslo Grande Latte and feed a distant cousin on the other side of the world, help dig a well for a community of far off relatives who daily live without clean water, or help free someone with whom I’m genetically connected from human trafficking.

 

The Establishing Shot of the Human Story

The First Mourning
The First Mourning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 4

One day Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; 
listen to me, you wives of Lamech.
I have killed a man who attacked me, 
a young man who wounded me.

If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times, then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”
Genesis 4:23-24 (NLT)

Wendy and I love movies, books, plays and good television shows. We don’t just numb out when we watch a movie. We’re generally stimulated by it. Silly at it seems, Green Lantern prompted two days worth of conversation about the nature of love and human will (I know, we’re dweebs). We think about what we’re watching and why the writer chose to present things a certain way, why the Director made the choice to picture it like that, and what the actor brought to the performance. We talk about it. Some people roll their eyes and say to us, “Seriously, can’t you just sit back and enjoy it?” But, we are enjoying it when we explore all of the layers of it. Others have said to us, “I love watching movies with you because you see so much more than I do.

Let me add God’s Message to the list of things that we enjoy digging into. I will admit that my modus operandi for these chapter-a-day posts is usually just to read the chapter in my half-awake state and see what pops in a top of mind kind of way. Many times, however, you have to peel back the layers of what’s been written to appreciate the fullness of the message.

One of the things you learn about movie making is that the very first shot the Director shows you (an “establishing shot”) is often of critical importance. It clues you in to the whole story you’re about to see. So, consider that we’re reading Genesis. This is the beginning of the whole cosmic story. Think of today’s chapter as an “establishing shot.” It’s just the beginning of the movie, but the picture presented in today’s chapter is a foreshadowing of the entire theme of human history.

In today’s chapter, we’re presented with the beginnings of human history after Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden for their disobedience. The chapter presents seven generations (from Adam to Lamech) and is “bookended” with two stories across six generations: Cain (2nd generation) and Lamech (7th generation):

  • Cain murders his brother and is made a “restless wanderer.” God pronounces judgement and Cain is marked by God that any who seek to avenge Abel by punishing Cain him will face God’s judgement seven-fold.
  • Lamech takes personal vengeance out on someone who attacked him, points to God’s divine judgement on any who touch Cain,  and justifies his own act of murder by claiming that he personally deserves Cain’s divine protection [on steroids].

So, let’s dig in:

Throughout God’s Message, the number seven represents “completion” (e.g. the seven days of creation). So in presenting seven generations we are being given a “complete” picture of something. The number “six” is the number of man (e.g. the number of the anti-Christ in Revelation is 666, the three sixes representing the replacement of the divine trinity with the human – man asserting himself as God) so the six post-Eden generations from Cain to Lamech represent a progression (or actually a regression) of humanity. Cain committed murder and God pronounced judgement of the wrongness of it and exacted punishment. By the sixth generation Lamech was committing murder, justifying his actions, declaring that he was 77 times more important than Cain and replacing God’s justice with his own.

What we see in today’s chapter is the on-going conflict of the Great Story in one snapshot. God creates human beings that they would glorify Him and be in relationship with Him. Instead, they disobey which sets into motion a cyclical, generational and spiritual regression. We dishonor the Creator, reject the divine, and proudly set ourselves up as god of our own lives and existence.

Today, I’m thinking about this spiritual regression pictured across the generations from Cain to Lamech. I’m questioning the prevailing world-view that human beings are inherently good and continually progressing towards some pinnacle of goodness. I’m thinking about my own life and the journey this wayfaring stranger is on. What about my story? Does the story of my life reflect spiritual regression or progression? Does my story resemble The Godfather? The Mission? Pilgrim’s Progress?

So much to ponder. I hope you have a great day.