Monday, August 26, 2013

The Wrath of God

You may have heard that the Presbyterian Church USA is releasing a new hymnal and that the committee decided not to use the popular hymn written by the Gettys and Stuart Townsend - In Christ Alone.  The popular story is that the song was rejected from the hymnal because of the lines Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied... 

I expect there is more to the story than the simple explanation, but in any case,  it has generated a lot of discussion even in the secular press. A piece by Timothy George - No Squishy Love - went viral which does a very good job of sharing the kind of theology behind the song.  It and No Squishy Love Part 2 are worth reading to get a good understanding of that viewpoint.   

Two disclaimers before I wade in... we sing this song along with a number of other songs written by the Gettys.  I like their sense of melody and in general I appreciate the depth of their lyrics.  At the same time, they are too Calvinist for me and a lot more conservative than I am or my church is.

I'm sure there are those who would give a much more reasoned and sophisticated theological treatment of the issue, but let me share two simple reasons why I cannot accept the simplified view of a wrathful God requiring death.

My first reason is a personal one.  As a parent, there is nothing that my children could do that would ever cause me to reject them.  Certainly they could do things that would break my heart, including turning away from me, but I would always be there waiting with open arms.  If they were doing terrible things I would certainly want that to change, and wouldn't hesitate to let them know my displeasure but I would never turn away, never forsake, never stop loving.  I cannot imagine a God who is less loving than I am.  I understand those who portray a God who requires the death of his son as monstrous and abusive.  I simply do not understand holiness or justice in those terms.

Then there is a theological reason... Colossians 1 is crucial in my understanding of who God is.

15 He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 

Jesus is the image of the invisible God and in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  You want to understand God?  Look at Jesus.  You want to understand how God acts?  Watch what Jesus does.  Jesus does not require retribution, he gives himself.  Jesus does not judge, he forgives.  Jesus does not turn sinners away, he reaches out to them, embraces them, and offers them forgiveness and new life.  If, as Paul says, Jesus really is the image of God, then God does exactly the same thing.  

There are lots of different understandings of what happens on the cross, but I cannot agree that God's anger requires someone to die in order that God's wrath be satisfied.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Men and Boys - The Way Way Back

There have been scores of studies that talk about the need for positive adult male influence in the development of boys.  My own experience points to the accuracy of those studies.  I can point to a number of adult men who were critical in my development, without whom, I would have become a very different man.  I am so thankful for them... especially two that I will name publicly - Charlie Appel and Earl Creps.  There were others and of course, my father played a significant role although father/son dynamics being what they are, it wasn't until I was an adult that I began to appreciate George Donkin.

Yesterday, Cheryl and I saw a wonderful film that highlights both the positives and negatives of those relationships between adult men and teenage boys The Way Way Back.  The relationship between Duncan and Owen is critical in both of their lives and both come out as better people in significant ways because of the ways they touched one another.  I highly, highly recommend this film and invite any adult readers to think about the teens in your life and the ways that you can be a positive influence in their lives.  Know that it will impact them in ways you cannot imagine and will likely change your life too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

not a smart move, Israel...

Israel has announced that it is going ahead with construction of just under 1200 new homes in occupied areas.  Not a smart move, Israel.  Here's why.

1.  The vast majority of the world sees these settlements as violations of international law.  OK, obviously Israel doesn't care, but there just may come a time when they'll want the positive feelings of the rest of the world. 

2.  Every new settlement makes a 2 state solution more difficult and too many more will make a 2 state solution impossible.  Those Israeli settlers aren't going to want to leave their homes should Israel decide to give that land to a Palestinian state (really unlikely) and they certainly aren't going to want to or be welcome as citizens of a Palestinian state.  You can't have a 2nd state that looks like Swiss cheese - filled with little holes of Israeli sovereign land.   Every acre of settlement is an acre of ground that could have been a part of that 2nd state and for the above reasons never can.  Every acre removed from consideration makes the 2nd state less tenable for the Palestinians.

3.  The status quo is not tenable.  Israel is essentially maintaining an apartheid system right now.  There is no good end for that.  It does not promote safety for the Israelis or justice for the Palestinians. 

4.  Moving the Palestinians to Jordan or some other Arab country obviously is not a tenable solution... it hasn't worked yet.

5.  A single state destroys Israel.  If they continue to maintain the current apartheid system, they continue to lose any moral authority and their national soul dies.  If they allow the Palestinians to become full citizens, they maintain moral authority but lose their identity as a Jewish state as very quickly the Jewish citizens would become a minority.   In either case, the ideals and visions that led to the founding of Israel disappear.

I don't see any easy way for Israel to turn back the clock and dismantle settlements already there... but they can stop pushing forward.  If they do not, they make the possibility of peace less and less likely.