Wednesday, November 19, 2008

OK- this one's gonna get me in trouble...

In my previous post, my sole reader (maybe I should just email you? :) ) mentioned I was parsing my words in regard to salvation coming only from Christ. Do I believe salvation comes only from Christ? Yes. As quoted "no one comes to the Father except through me." Do I believe only Christians will be saved? No. The concept is far deeper than a simple yes or no can summarize.

Perhaps that makes me not a Christian. Well, that applies to 57% of Evangelical Christians then. Of course, majorities have been wrong before- we elected W. twice.

However, I have to look at what God is, and what He says. Unfortunately, except when I am in the most ecstatic of prayers, the only reference I have for God's will is the Bible. I think the Word is infallible. Man's Language, particularly translated language, has no such claims. Perhaps God acted to secure meaning in translation so His word is unblemished in the new versions- so then which translation should I go with? King James, which was politically motivated? Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic Bible meant as poetry? NIV, NRSV, RSV, Schofield, Peterson's Message, New World Translation, Jefferson's? Even when Jesus speaks the line above, he SPOKE Aramaic, and we have the line in Greek, then translated into English. Is the translation wrong? Probably not, but I bet it is missing subtlety.

So what is Salvation? It would seem to mean Eternal Life. Entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Continued existence despite the state of the world. I am sure it is much deeper than that, but let's go with it. Who gets it? Anyone God chooses. Paul confirms for us in Romans that the promise God made to the Jews- His chosen people- will not be cast aside despite the coming of Christ. (Chapter 11.) Indeed, the Jews play a specific role bringing the grace given them by God to the Gentile. Paul has already told us that GOD defines His people (Rm 9:6-9) by the Covenant (promise here from the Greek) and quotes Moses from Exodus 33:19 when he states God says "I will have Mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and compassion upon whom I will have compassion." Sounds like it is up to God who gets saved. Of course, I argue with Paul a lot, so I had to see if someone else also showed Hebraic salvation despite belief in Christ.

Well, Christ does. In Luke 15 Jesus gives us the parable of the prodigal son when asked why He hangs with sinners. Remember however, Luke is written by a Gentile for the Gentiles. The deeper meaning of this parable is not only a sinner returning to the fold, but the Gentiles having opportunity to receive the grace God the Father has already bestowed on the child who stayed, the Jews. Notice, at the end of the parable, the good son is not kicked out of his inheritance. Further, look at the parable of The Vineyard Workers. Those who came late (the Gentiles) received the same pay as those who worked all day (the Jews), but the ones who worked all day did not lose THEIR jobs.

So, here plainly in the Bible (and I haven't even gotten into James who implies you can work your way to Salvation, or The Great White Throne Judgement in Revelation where all who were ever born are resurrected and judged according to their works) are an entire people who receive salvation by virtue of their ancestors and not because they choose Christ as their personal savior- God chooses them, not vice versa. The Children of Abraham are spread far and wide, and indeed we have no idea how many descendants of the Lost Tribes are scattered among the population of the world. So already we have Biblical precedent showing there will be people saved who have not made the literal acceptance of Jesus as their savior. Jesus/God has instead chosen them.

So, how can I reconcile these thoughts with "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life- no one comes through the Father but through Me"? First, there's the deeper question of how separate God and Jesus are. Since the seeds of our modern Christianity lie with Athanasius who beat out Arius in the Nicean debates, we believe in a God who is "una substancia, tres persona" ("a single substance with three faces") rather than Jesus being, as Arius argued, "tertium quid" ("something different"). Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, and God and Jesus are of the same substance. Indeed, Jesus says in the same book (John) "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). John also argues Jesus as "The Word" made flesh, and "In the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God."

So, in simpler language the first quote can read "no one comes to Me but through Me."

So, does the "Me" in this divine case mean specifically the Jewish Carpenter, or the idea of Mashiah, the Christ, our Messiah? What IS the Messiah, what IS Jesus as God and man, and how does His sacrifice equal salvation? Humanity sins. Sinning, doing "bad," must have a fundamental effect on the state of the universe. Offending God creates a debt, an imbalance, which must be equalized. The debt must be paid, the balance restored, and the effect minimized. Somehow, and I make no claims to know how, God living as a man and dying one of the most heinous deaths we as humans have ever concocted pays this debt. God in the form of Jesus says, "I made these rules, yet I also made you inclined toward breaking them. However, I am not just holding you to the standard and throwing you to the proverbial wolves, I am taking PERSONAL responsibility and showing you how to meet my standards, and paying the price of not following the rules for you."

The price has been paid, or as my Buddhist friends say, the karmic debt is even. God has walked into the Universal Taco Bell and declared anyone can have a free taco. How do we redeem that? One way is certainly acknowledging the payment of the debt by accepting Jesus' salvation. Remember though, God WANTS ALL of us to have our free taco. It's already been purchased. It is still up to us to take the taco, but I think there must be more than one way to take delivery. Otherwise, there's a lot of leftover taco. God loves the world; God will stack His salvation in the world's favor.

Remember- the idea of being saved only through Christ all but originates with Augustine, then flows through Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin- Augustine comes along some 400 years after Jesus left us. Politics and mankind's prejudice already got into the mix. Many very well regarded Christian scholars argued against exclusive salvation including Origen, John Wesley, and even CS Lewis. So why don't we ask Jesus how to attain the Kingdom?

The basis of all the Law, all the prophets, the entire Kingdom, according to Jesus in Matthew is:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (22:37-39)

Jesus never even utters the word "Salvation" in the course of the Bible. He speaks only of entering the Kingdom, and He says it is at hand. See above for how He says you must come to Him through Him. There's not much to prove Jesus would agree with Calvin.

In Matthew 7 Jesus says "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Is Jesus putting the idea of serving God's will ahead of calling on the name Jesus? Just food for thought...

It seems God will cast the nets and choose which fish to keep and which to throw back. I will not claim to know how He plans to do this, but neither can I limit which of His children He will save, and the evidence He leaves in the Bible, unencumbered by man's theological doctrine, doesn't seem to either. I know the word "Jesus" means salvation, though. We keep coming back to God IS salvation.

Then comes the "reason" argument, and I don't think God would have given us reason if He didn't want us to use it. Why would God make a system which automatically excludes anyone who had the misfortune of being born before Jesus? There must be a condition to offer them salvation. How about those who die as infants? Those who perhaps hear the name Jesus only as distant trivia of a foreign religion? Those who even in our modern world never hear the name? This is a God who "so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son" to save us- is that the action of an entity who would be so exclusionary? I don't think God breaks his own rules of Salvation, but I think His rules are far deeper and more intricate than we can understand, including the simple acceptance of Jesus, but expanding to more.

So Jesus is God, and God again grants salvation as He sees fit. Should we begrudge the idea that God may extend His salvation to those who in our eyes don't deserve it? Does that make us the vineyard workers who were there all day?

Finally, I can't limit God. God is much more than I can understand. Much more than human language can express in any one religion, book, or philosophy. If this is so, I must reserve judgment on how God will do things, and finally accept that Salvation comes from God, however He wants to hand it out. And it makes no logical, theological, or Christian sense that He would be so elitist as to exclude children from His grace based only on the idea they didn't follow/understand/hear the ideas of one particular group.

I expect no one to agree with me, and nor do I in anyway want to disparage anyone else's faith. I want only to state what I believe based on my conversations with God, and deep study of other similarly baffled humans. I am the first to admit I am likely wrong, or at least limited in my understanding. God is hard to listen too sometimes, and I have certainly misinterpreted Him before... but I was asked. Isn't it far more important however that we follow the example Jesus gave us in life? We care for our weak, we strive for peace, we are merciful, and are pure of heart. Once we all get there, then we can take the time to begin to work out exactly how God's salvation applies to we His children.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My last comment on the 2008 Presidential election.

I want everyone who reads this to understand something right up front: I am not being snarky or sarcastic. I know it can be hard to tell in blogs and emails whether or not someone means what they say. I want to assure everyone, I do mean this, I am not being facetious. I really would like my Christian friends to consider the following.

On October 22nd, Governor Sarah Palin said "God will do the right thing on election day." Indeed:
“And it also strengthens my faith because I know at the end of the day putting this in God’s hands, the right thing for America will be done, at the end of the day on Nov. 4.”

In response the renowned and popular minister James Dobson, with whom Governor Palin was speaking, said that he and his wife were praying for the right outcome as well. I am sure millions of faithful conservatives prayed all year, right up to the election, that God would do the "right thing" on election day. That's a lot of prayers going to God. Yet, at 8PM Pacific Time (when the West Coast polls closed) on the 4th of November, every major news network declared Barack Obama to be the President-Elect.

I honestly, honestly want my conservative friends to consider something. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is the outcome God wanted.

I know President-Elect Barack Obama does not seem to have the exact Christian values espoused by a lot of more Conservative Christians, in particular regard to salvation exclusivity. Would this however be the first time God made someone who was not orthodox in their beliefs to do His work?

Pharaoh gave the Israelites sanctuary during famine at the behest of Joseph. He was obviously not a follower of the God of Abraham. God chose a man raised as an Egyptian to lead His people back to Canaan after successive Pharoahs enslaved the Hebrews. Nebuchadnezzar assisted Daniel and in some stories is the first human to proclaim the Christ. The Roman Empire's roads, language, and technology carried Christianity to the world when it should have been nothing more than a minor sectarian disagreement in the First Century. Saul was a man who actively persecuted the nascent church until he was quite literally knocked off his ass. Jerome, a monk who couldn't keep his hands off the Nuns, gave the Church the Latin translation of the Bible, which would be the Word of God until Vatican II. Thomas Jefferson, a man whose "Christian beliefs" were FAR more unorthodox* than Barack Obama's, rolled the Word of God secularly into our nation's birth with the phrase:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

So why do we have to think that everyone who does God's work agrees with a specific orthodoxy? Isn't God far more able and capable than to be stymied by a presidential campaign? Isn't He perfectly capable of having someone be part of the plan, regardless of specifics?

So, I ask only for a moment's consideration, and perhaps a prayer tonight to ask the Lord His opinion: Governor Palin said God would do the right thing on the 4th. Maybe, just maybe she was absolutely correct.

So that's it, I am done with politics here for a while. Next post will probably be about how much I am starting to dislike the new Star Trek movie, while I am keeping a close eye on the new President since it's We the People's job as his employer. Hopefully this President remembers that far more than the outgoing administration.

*If you don't believe me about how unorthodox Jefferson was, check out his Bible Translation with a miracle-free Jesus...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Proverbial Ball.

Dear Mr. President-Elect,
In a time when we as Americans desperately wanted to see our Nation secure our place as leader of not only "the free world" but the world as a whole, we the People have chosen you as our President. The expectations we have for you are astronomical. The fear your opponents have sowed is still out there among many, and you are going to need to prove yourself to them. Those of us who crossed old lines to support you because we so desperately wanted to believe in our system again, well, we're behind you, but you need to prove yourself to us too. The economy is in shambles, we have wars to win, and there was a lot of ugliness on both sides this election. However, you are a living symbol of an America trying to move beyond its past. You are the living example of an American dream come true. You are a living example of someone who set out to improve their community, and now have a chance to improve the world.
The ball, Mr. President-Elect, is in your court. Lead so I can follow. And may God bless the United States of America, every last one of us as one.

Ready? Go!