Speaking Jesus

There’s a phrase that has come to my attention over the past couple of weeks.  More accurately, there’s a prayer that has come to my attention over those weeks.  This phrase is a prayer.  It is one petition in a longer prayer called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, a prayer supposedly (but, alas, probably not) written by St. Patrick.  It goes like this:

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It is the second phrase there which has really caught my attention (though all, of course, are worthy of consideration).  Christ is the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.  I think I heard that phrase/prayer/petition years ago; I vaguely recall encountering St. Patrick’s Breastplate in my college years (though that might be a false memory, a Mandela effect).  But it has exploded across my radar recently.  Some of this is due to the Celtic Daily Office.  I use this office at least twice a week if not more during my own prayer time.  The morning prayer of this office references this statement, saying:

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Not only so, but Ransomed Heart’s Daily Prayer, which I also use two or three times a week, mentions something similar:

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Somehow I have combined these two or three sources into my own idea, which I phrase in this way: “Be in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, and be in my mouth every time I speak.”

It is that second part that really convicts me.  The first part is a blessing I’m asking for myself, actually; I’m hoping that everybody who speaks to me does so as Christ, that is, speaks to me in the kind ways Christ would, doesn’t say anything that hurts me (yes, I know Christ challenged people but He never maliciously hurt anyone).  The second part, though, is a responsibility I need to accept.  It is a fair responsibility.  I firmly believe in “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”; I think I can make the case that is a biblical concept and that we thus shouldn’t ask something for ourselves which we aren’t willing to extend to others.  It is a good or noble responsibility; I’d be pretty honored if I knew that people felt I talked with them like Christ.

But it is also a difficult responsibility.  It goes contrary to my nature.  I think it does, anyway.  I always have a hard time separating nature from nurture.  But it definitely goes against nurture, goes against the way I was trained.  I was trained that you have to speak harshly.  Forget that, “Speak softly but carry a big stick” stuff.  No, speak heavy from the very beginning and don’t let up.  I was trained to believe that anyone who abridges you in word or deed must be immediately and fully smacked down in every way.  I was trained to believe that anyone who sends the slightest shade your way must be lit up hardcore.

Movies were a big part of this training.  In most (if not every) action movie (my favorites), there is scene early on in which someone braces the hero only for the hero to put them in their place.  I could give dozens of example, but my favorite is from the Chuck Norris movie Sidekicks.  Here is not Chuck but Mako who puts a man who braces him in his place (in case you’re wondering, this clip sticks in my mind because I was studying martial arts at the time; in every martial arts movie, the hero does some slight of hand in a situation similar to this, but this is the one in which my eyes were finally opened and I realized, “We’re martial artists, not magicians.  We can’t do stuff like that!”).

(I was totally surprised to find this clip on my first try.  I was also totally surprised at the racial slurs used.  Please remember this movie comes from a different time and that I don’t mean to offend anyone by using it.)

While I’ve never reached Mako’s level of putting people in their place, I have put them in their place nonetheless.  I have at least tried to.  It usually doesn’t work that well for me.  My mind doesn’t tend to insults (which I take as a good thing), and I usually don’t think of what to say to someone who braces me until much later.  I guess I’m like Marge that way:

(If YouTube removes that video, find it here: https://comb.qNnUSrio/)

But what I’ve discovered after reading and praying this phrase/petition, after seeing this incredibly beautiful idea of “speaking Jesus” to people (which is what I believe this is: not just speaking like Jesus but actually speaking Jesus), I am turning away from this training.  I am trying to, anyway.  I’m not sure what or how long it will take to be successful at this.  But I am sure I want to be successful at this.  Christ will not be in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me; that prayer won’t be answered at the one hundred percent level; people are going to brace me.  But Christ can be in my mouth whenever I speak to anyone.  The love of Christ can be all that is between me and everyone to whom I speak.  And I want it to be.  I’m praying for it to be.

Making It, Getting Through, or Blooming

At some point in my Bible college career (earlier rather than later, I think), someone (I no longer remember who) gave me this advice:  “Never resign on Monday morning.”  What that long-forgotten person meant was that 1) Sunday can be discouraging for ministers and 2) Ministers should not act too quickly on that discouragement.  Most times, they shouldn’t act on it at all.

This advice was repeated and reinforced to me many times over the years, both by those ministers (almost always older than I) who simply said it to me verbatim and by those ministers (again, usually older than I) who didn’t follow it themselves, those ministers who let Sunday’s discouragement result in Monday’s premature resignation.  It was so common, I thought for sure I’d find some Internet meme about it.  I didn’t, but I did find this article from Thom Rainer which alludes to the idea:

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This came to mind this Monday morning.  I was driving (to an active shooter training session led by our local police department, of all things) and as I drove I was thinking about the discouragement I suffered during yesterday’s service.  That service was greatly discouraging for several reasons and, despite what I’ve been taught over the years and how well I was taught it, I was beginning to think of resignation.

As I thought about that, though, three phrases came to mind.

The first phrase was “making it”.  As I thought about resignation, I thought, “I’m just not going to make it in ministry.”  By make it there, I was referring to becoming what my home church would call “a big name pastor” or “a big man in the brotherhood”.  It is a celebrity minister, in other words.  We do live in an era of celebrity ministers.  I don’t know that we always did.  I don’t know that we always didn’t.  I don’t know when this thing of celebrity ministers came to be.  But I know it is now, and I know we’re living in that era now, and I know that most if not all of my fellow ministers believe that they need to/should be one.  I know that most if not all of my fellow ministers believe (whether they will state it directly or not) that they will be a failure if they don’t become one.  And I believe that as well.  I believe it subconsciously yet still actually.  I believe it should happen because I believe I have a message (a way of understanding The Faith) that should be heard by as many people as possible.  And I believe it should happen because I’ll be a failure if it doesn’t; that will be proof that I have chosen the wrong path in life.  And I’m beginning to believe it is not going to happen.  Unlike these people, I have developed the ability to see that I might not “make it”.

The second phrase was “getting through”.  As I sat there in my car, I thought, “If I can’t make it, maybe I can just get through it.”  That is, maybe I can just get through another twenty or so years of ministry, maybe I can survive long enough to build up a retirement and then get out.  That wasn’t the happiest thought I’d ever had.  I’ve always felt life had to have some purpose, some goal, some meaning.  “Getting through” seems to me to be the opposite of that.  “Getting through” seems to be a capitulation to the “fact” that it doesn’t have any of those things, or at least to the fact that those things are never going to be achieved.  “Getting through” is just “getting by”, “passing time”, a slow, sad death.  It’s like what The Beatles describe in “Eleanor Rigby”:

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So those were the first two phrases I hit on: one that seemed positive to me but also seemed unattainable, the other that seemed negative to me but also unavoidable.

But then another phrase came to me.  That phrase was “blossom where you’re planted”.  I first heard this phrase through a picture that the folks at the church I served while at college gave me when I moved off to start my first ministry.

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Or maybe it was “bloom”; I can’t remember and I’ve lost the picture.  Either one works.

And it seemed to me that this is more what the Lord is wanting from me, more what He hopes for me and from me.  I highly doubt “making it” is as good as it seems.  In fact, I highly doubt “making it” has any real place in the Kingdom and the life of faith.  It seems much more like a worldly idea to me, no matter what Christian skin we put on it.  I equally doubt “getting through” has any real place in the Kingdom and the life of faith.  While perhaps humbler, it is worldly in its own way.  No, the Lord/Kingdom/life of faith clearly want me to do something more like “blossom” or “bloom”.  They clearly want me to produce fruit or be fruitful.

Jesus talked about such fruitfulness at many times in His ministry, and Paul wrote about it often in the Epistles.  But perhaps the best reference to it comes from the Parable of the Sower (also called the Parable of the Soils).  There Jesus described three people types, all of whom reject or lose the Kingdom seed in some way.  Then He described a fourth people type, the type that not only accepts and keeps the Kingdom seed but multiplies it.  An interesting thing about that multiplication, though, is that it was never the same.  For some it was 30 times, for others 60, for others 100.

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There is no indication that the 100 times multipliers were any better or any more right than the 30 or 60 timers.  No greater or lesser favor seems to be shown to the multipliers here.  It is just the way it is.  Some did 100, but some did 30 and some did 60.  They all bloomed differently, but they bloomed where they were planted.  That’s what the Lord seems to be looking for.  Not the quantity of the blooming, but the simple act of it.

That’s an encouraging thought for me.  That’s something I can do.  It is something I am doing, even though I’m not making it and probably never will make it.  It is something I can do which makes getting through so much more than getting through.  It is something which keeps me from resigning on Mondays.

God’s Limitations

But, “Why?” isn’t going to go away completely, is it?  We are, again, irrevocably human and are going to keep asking this question whether it is the most pertinent or not.

And in my experience, one of the reasons we do this is because we believe God can stop or change anything He wants to.  We believe God can do this because we believe God can do anything, that there is nothing God can’t do.  Since there is nothing God can’t do, so God can (we thing) stop or change anything He wants to stop or change.  He can prevent all the bad things that happen to us and thus at least indirectly if not directly responsible for everything that happens to us.

I believe this is how we think.  I know it is how I think and I imagine that it might be how you think, so I believe this is how at least some of us think and thus the reason many of us continue to ask the question, “Why?”

And what we don’t realize is that this is completely wrong.

The fact of the matter is that God cannot do anything.  The fact of the matter is that there are things God can’t do.  Masie Sparks identified this fact in a little book called 101 Things God Can’t Do.  I read this book when I was fresh out of Bible college.  I found out this week it is has been updated to 151 Things God Can’t Do.

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And strange though it sounds, the premise of this book is true.  There are things the almighty, omnipotent God can’t do.

There are things He can’t do if He is to achieve His goal, that is.  There are things He can’t do if He is going to bring His art to its grand conclusion.  I think of God as an artist; I style myself as an artist (an author; I write or at least try to write novels and stories) and I accordingly think of God as an artist as well.  I think of Him operating as an artist.  I think of the universe He made an not only His art project but His unfinished art project, His work in progress.

And one thing I know about art is that it has limitations.  Art is about choices, and once certain choices are made, they by default eliminate other choices.  Say an artist decides he’s going to make a sculpture, going to sculpt a figure from clay or stone.  That’s great.  Notice what he has immediately done, though.  He has immediately eliminated the possibility of his art being in color. He has also eliminated the possibility of his art moving.  He has opened the possibility of his art having three-dimensions and being touchable, but he has eliminated the other things.

Say he decides to paint.  Now he gets color, but he loses three dimensions.

Say he decides to make a movie.  Now he gets color and motion and sound, but again loses three dimensions as well as touch.

Say he decides to write.  Now he loses touch and sound and color and image altogether, but gains the ability to directly communicate thought.

And on and on it goes.  Once an artist makes one decision, he limits himself from the ability to make other decisions.  And you find that not just in art but in other fields as well.  You find the same phenomena in engineering, by the way; once you decide to make a diesel truck you lose the ability to run it in the Indy 500.

We find these same limitations in God’s artwork, God’s engineering, God’s creation.  Once He chose to make us a certain way, He was naturally limited from doing certain things.  He can’t make a square circle (to use a childish example) because in the medium He chose things have definite shapes.  Maybe He could do that in a different medium, but He can’t do that in this medium.  He also can’t “break the fourth wall”.  If He does that, the work is ruined.  Nobody likes to see the artists in his work.  We wouldn’t like it if Van Gogh painted his thumbs into one of his paintings.  We hate it when we see a boom mike in a movie shot.

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It is the same with God.  There are things He can but can’t do, things He has the ability to do but is kept from doing by the nature of His art.  He talks about this Himself in one of Jesus’ well-known parables:

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“I can’t destroy the tares,” God says here.  “I could, but I’d destroy the wheat in the process.  So I could but I can’t.”

For some of us, this is a disappointment.  For others, it is an argument against God’s existence or goodness:

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Come on, guys.  There are way to many variables here.

The reality, though, is that this is just the nature of art (or engineering or any other creative feat).  And the best thing for us to do is to understand and accept that.  The best thing for us to do is submit to the artist in the knowledge and faith that He is making something wonderful.

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What I Saw – Luke 5:1-11

Luke 15:1-11 was the New Testament reading from the Moravian Daily Text for Jun 26, 2018.  I read this passage with a small group of pastors that Tuesday morning.

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I saw several wonderful truths during the reading of this passage.  The first is that Jesus sees potential and we don’t.  I saw this when one of my fellow pastors read verse 2 from a different translation than mine.  That translation had the word but in it.

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That little word suggested to me that there was potential here, potential that was not being realized.  Jesus could see this potential, but the fishermen/future disciples could not.  That idea carries into the miraculous catch of fish.  All Peter saw was a barren lake (or a lake that was at least barren for him at the current time).  Jesus saw something else and told Peter to cast in his nets.  Peter did, and there was a catch, fruit, harvest, life.

There were a couple other ideas I saw here.  I wrote them down in my journal.

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I doubt you can read my chicken-scratch handwriting, so here’s what it says:

  • Do we have eyes to see the potential?
  • Can we submit to Jesus’ authority in a place where we are experts? (This is what Peter did, and as we go forward with Kingdom work, I imagine it is what we will have to do as well; we will have to trust Jesus when He tells us to do something counter intuitive)
  • Can we accept the grace Jesus is offering sinful men? (This is another idea I got from this text.  Peter asks Jesus to leave him, understanding that he is sinful and thus not worthy of what Jesus is offering.  Jesus, however, graciously refuses, holding on to Peter despite Peter’s admitted and no doubt very real sinfulness).
  • Do we have a spirit that will attempt what seems hopeless?

All of these were challenging but inspirational.  They indicate that God is asking me to do a hard thing (which Kingdom work no doubt is) but that He is empowering me to do this hard thing and that I am accepted/allowed to do this hard thing and can do this hard thing by faith.

The leader of our group then asked us to summarize “the covenant word” we heard in this passage (covenant refers to our relationship with God; a covenant word is usually about God Himself; it is a fact or truth rather than a command).  We listed these:

  • God is a forgiver.
  • God holds on to us.
  • God has more for us.

And that is what I heard on June 26th, 2018.

How vs Why

It seems I’ve been hearing the question, “Why?” a lot lately.  Bad things have been happening to people, and they have been asking me why those bad things have been happening to them.

And I understand that question.  I understand the tendency to ask that question.  I have asked it myself.  I still ask it myself.  Often.

Lately, though, I’ve come to understand something about this question, something that makes me in turn question it.  That something is somewhat summed up in the words of The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded:

Like Neo, we are irrevocably human, and thus irrelevant questions are going to be (or at least seem) pertinent to us, more pertinent than they actually are.  The irrelevancy of these questions is going to be far less obvious than it actually is.

And in many ways, the question, “Why?” is irrelevant.  A simple analogy will reveal this.  Say you have a knife wound in your shoulder; you have literally been stabbed in the back.  You might wonder why that happened.  Was it an accident?  Was it intentional?  Did a friend mistake you for someone else and strike you in error?  Or did a friend purposefully turn on you and try to take you down?  Pertinent questions, to be sure.  But not as pressing as the fact that you now have a knife sticking out of your back that needs to be removed, that you now have blood flow that needs to be stopped and a puncture that needs to be stitched.  The “how” in that situation (the removal of the knife, the stopping of the blood, the stitching of the puncture, the saving of your life and healing of your body) is obviously far more pertinent than the why.  Less emotionally pressing, maybe, but far more pertinent.

I believe it is the same in the life of faith.  How, that is, how we react to bad things, how we survive them, how we heal from them, how we overcome them, is far more pertinent to the life of faith than why they happened.  Perhaps no book of the Bible reveals this more than Job.  The first two chapters of Job give us a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening to that man; we know why bad things happened to Job perhaps better than we know why bad things happened to anybody else.  Yet when God finally appears to speak with Job about the matter, He does not give that why to Job.  He does not tell Job why these bad things happened to him, even though He and we know that why very well.  Instead, He just gives Job a lecture on how great He is, a lecture which is probably intended to teach Job to trust in Him.  Job (who as far as we know never discovered the why of the bad thing that happened to him) indeed learned the lesson of trust from that lecture, responding to it in this way:

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I wasn’t as accepting of that lesson at my first couple readings of Job.  I felt rather cheated by than answer in fact.  I thought it was a “no-answer”.  I wanted a better answer than that.  What I’ve realized in the decades since those first couple readings is that this answer is the best answer.  It is the only answer we’re likely to understand.  It is also the only answer we’re likely to accept.

Understanding is one thing.  I know we all think we’re very smart, but the fact of the matter is that we aren’t.  We aren’t able to order the universe as God has, to maintain all the parts that have to work together for life to continue.  We don’t even know what all the parts are.  Even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to conceive of them all in a working way.  And even if we did that, we wouldn’t appreciate them all.  We see a quick example of this every time we watch a science fiction/space-faring movie.  If I understand the universe correctly, most of space is full of radiation that will kill humans quite quickly.  I’ve never seen a space-faring show cover this aspect of space-faring, though, never seen one explain how the characters are faring through and sometimes living in lethal space.  I’ve rarely seen one explain how they have earth-like gravity on their spaceships, either.  The creators of these movies and shows routine miss facts like that.  They are apparently oblivious to them, or, if they aren’t oblivious to them, they can’t figure out who to tell an engaging story around them.  If we can’t do that, which is comparatively simple, how are we going to understand the far more complex matter of why bad things happen?  Even if God told us directly, we wouldn’t get.

We also wouldn’t accept it.  Understanding is one thing.  Acceptance is quite another.  And I don’t think we would accept most whys.  I don’t think we would accept most explanations of why bad things happened, even if they came from God Himself.  Imagine if God had told Job, “Hey Job, you’re about to go through several traumatic events in order to prove that people will love me even when they aren’t blessed.  In the process, you’ll become an icon of faithfulness that will inspire millennia after millennia.”  When you put it like that (which is an accurate way to put it), you can clearly seen that goodness came out of Job’s tremendous suffering.  Great and tremendous goodness, in fact.  Would Job have seen it that way, though?  I wonder.  He might have, but he might also have said, “God, are you sure there isn’t another way?”  I know one guy who said such a thing: singer Chris Isaak.  I saw Chris Isaak on The Today Show (I think) around 2001 (again, I think).  During his time there, Katie Couric (yet again, I think) mentioned that he had suffered during his lifetime.  He said he had indeed suffered.  She then said something to the affect of, “But it made you such a great songwriter.”  To this, Isaak replied, “Yeah, but sometimes I wish I was a mediocre artist and had a swinging life.”  I can’t document that exchange (I have been trying for years, but it was the pre-YouTube era and if it exists out there I can’t find it).  Nonetheless, I heard him say it.  I understand the choice he thinks about there, and I imagine most of us would think about that choice or even make that choice ourselves.  If God said to us, “This suffering will produces this good”, we would most likely answer, “Can’t we suffer less and have less good?”

That being the case, we just aren’t able to handle the answers to the question of why, and God, knowing that, doesn’t try to give that answer to us all that often.  And now that I’ve been dealing with that question via the lives of various people for a couple weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that we would be better off if we just didn’t ask.  I have come to the conclusion that we would be better off trusting God no matter what we experience.  I have come to the conclusion that we will do far better if we focus on the pragmatic question of how or even what (i.e., “How does God want me to respond to this?  What does God want me to do here?”) rather than the philosophical question of why.  I have come to the conclusion that the best response to this situations is that we find from Habakkuk who, when struggling with the question of why himself, eventually came to this answer:

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The Bible Isn’t What You Think It Is

Religulous wasn’t the only movie in Amazon Prime’s “Recently Added” section that caught my attention.  There was also this:

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I didn’t have any pre-awareness of this one, but I did recommend the type.  I see similar documentaries and shows on the cable channels and news networks every Easter and Christmas.  Most seem devoted to trying to disprove the traditional understanding of the facts and events of the New Testament/Christian history.  I avoid most of these just as I avoided Religulous, and I do so for the same reason: I think these shows are biased and incorrect.

Based on a review of this movie (I know; I shouldn’t read the reviews any more than I look at the comments on news stories), this seems to be more of the same.  Here is that review:

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Based on what this reviewer says, this documentary seems to be saying the New Testament is not the inspired and accurate volume of truth believers think it is but rather an unreliable cobbled-together mess.  The review apparently agrees with this assessment of the New Testament.  He or she also seems to think Christians are not educated about the history of the New Testament; I gather that from the fact that he/she says this movie will be a “shocker”.

And there are two problems in that little review which I couldn’t help noticing.  The first is the accusation that “many Christians” (and where he/she got “many” from, I don’t know; no testable data is given for that volume) are not educated about the history of the New Testament.  Without doubt, this is somewhat true; there are some Christians who don’t know this history.  But it is equally without doubt not as true as the reviewer claims.  It certainly isn’t true about me or my pastor friends.  We’re well aware of the councils and the translation difficulties and textual differences and all that this movie apparently covers.  I personally am very familiar with the documents of the New Testament themselves.  I have studied most of them verse-by-verse at a collegiate level.  I have translated a few of them from the Greek manuscripts.  I have memorized the epistles; I have had them memorized for more than a decade now, and during that decade I have recited one of them every day (which means I recite the entire body of epistles at least once a month and have been doing so for ten years).  If the New Testament truly was the cobbled-together corpus this movie/reviewer suggests it is, I and my pastor friends would know it.  And we don’t know it.  We know the opposite, in fact.  We who have read and studied the text to this degree, who know it back and forth and back again, continue to see it as a unified body.  We do so not out of obliviousness or defensiveness but experience.  So the “ignorance argument” (which is what this is; the reviewer is suggesting that Christians only believe the New Testament is a reliable body because they are ignorant of either the body itself or the body’s history) doesn’t apply here.  I’m sorry.  It just doesn’t.  I don’t think it is arrogant to say that I know the Bible/New Testament far better than any of its critics do (just as Neil deGrasse Tyson knows physics far better than I; he is far more experienced in that field; I am far more experienced in the Bible; it is just simple truth).  And I know the Bible/New Testament isn’t what the makers of this movie and this reviewer say it is.

(Can I throw in another little idea here?  At the risk of being snarky, I have to wonder if the ignorance argument is ever directed against non-believers.  I have seen it directed against believers many times; I have often come across the suggestion that we only believe what we do because we are ignorant of our beliefs or their origins.  But does anyone ever accuse non-believers of such ignorance?  Does anyone ever suggest there is something wrong with an evolutionist’s belief in evolution because he had never read On the Origin of Species?)

The second problem I had with this review was that it failed to mention the indisputable power the New Testament has.  It particularly failed to mention the indisputable power the disputed parts of the New Testament, the parts the reviewer calls forgeries, have.  I imagine the parts of the New Testament this movie critiques are the latter epistles: 2 Timothy and 2 Peter, etc.   What the reviewer fails to mention, though, are all the powerful, beautiful, inspirational statements these parts make.  For example:

 

 

I could go on and on, but I think the point is made.  The New Testament is universally-regarded as containing words which are beautiful if not true.  I have encountered atheists who believe this very thing (in a previous post, I told you about the atheist who accosted me at the gym and asked why he couldn’t just “do unto others” instead of believing in God; he recognized the beauty and truth of the Bible even while denying it).  My subsequent question, then, is, “How could such beauty/power/truth be in forgeries?  Wouldn’t the ‘hap hazard (sic) editing’ have eliminated that?”  Such editing would have eliminated such beauty/power/truth if there had been such editing.  No forgeries could contain such beauty/power/truth (if you want proof of that concept, read “The Gospel of Thomas”; it is nothing like the New Testament’s Gospels or other writings).  That these books and letters, even the disputed ones, have such a beauty/power/truth shows that they can’t be what the movie makers/reviewers claim they are, that that New Testament can’t be what they claim it is.

Let me throw one more idea in here.  It comes, oddly enough, from Isaac Asimov.  He once said this about those who critiqued the Theory of Evolution (or some such theory; not sure exactly which one he is referencing here) as being “just a theory”.  He said this:

Image result for isaac asimov christians think theories His point is well-taken.  Despite the fact that such things are called “theories”, which some interpret as being “uncertain”, a lot of work and thought has gone into them.  Well, the same can be said of the Bible.  The reviewer calls the collection of the 27 books of the New Testament “hap hazard” (again, sic), but this is far from the truth.  The fact of the matter is that people who sincerely believed that God had spoken in some books worked hard to collect those books and reject all other books.  The canon and the text of the New Testament is, like Asimov’s theories, not something dreamt up after being drunk all night.  They are the result of a lot of work and thought from a lot of sincere believers in God.  To call this work “hap hazard” (sic again) and to so easily question its legitimacy is really off the mark.

The bottom line is this: the movie makers and this review want you to believe the Bible isn’t what you think it is.  But I believe it is the other way around.  I believe the Bible isn’t what they think it is.  I believe, from my experience, from the text itself, and from the care with which the canon and text, that the Bible is what I have always believed it to be, what I will continue to believe it is no matter how many similar documents are made and reviews posted.  I believe it is the Word of God and thus the source of the truth I need to interpret and live life.

Irreligulous

I was going through Amazon Prime’s new movies section last night.  As I did, I came across this film:

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That’s Religulous (a portmanteau of religious and ridiculous), a 2008 documentary by HBO’s Bill Maher.

I am aware of this film.  I have been aware of it ever since it was released.  I saw some trailer or TV spot for it back then.  I have never seen the film, though.  I detected its major premise from the trailer/TV spot I saw (something like “Religion is ridiculous”, I suppose; I don’t want to put words in Maher’s mouth, but based on the title and what I saw in the trailer/spot, that seems to be what he is saying) and I accordingly declined to watch it.  I did so not because I was afraid it would shake my faith (which at this point in my life is a very hard thing to do; I know what I believe and why I believe it, so it would take a whole lot more than a film like this to shake my faith).  I did so because I recognized that the logic of this film was terribly flawed.

I was not the only one to come to this conclusion about the logic of this film.  Back when the film was released, one of my church members told me he had a discussion with a coworker about it.  The coworker apparently said that this film really opened his eyes to the ridiculousness of Christians and other people of faith and thus faith itself (which was, I assume, Maher’s hope).  The church member told the coworker that this was not the case at all, that not all or even most Christians were as ridiculous as the one’s Maher depicted (which is undeniably true; I know more Christians than Maher does and none of them are like the ones Maher depicts in his movie).  The church member went on to say that Maher had found the worst Christians he could and put them forward to the world as if they were the best example of Christianity, which is not a right thing to do.

So this church member, who is not overly experienced in Scripture or apologetics, could see the illogic of Maher’s movie, and I could see it too.  Maher did indeed dredge up the worst of all Christians and inaccurately portray them as the representative of all Christians.  He put forth a “straw man”, to use the logical term.

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Recognizing that, I felt no need to subject myself to that illogic or the film it was contained in.  (And if you have a problem with that, consider this: I’ve had many atheists tell me they aren’t going to read “Christian propaganda” like The Case for Christ or Evidence that Demands a Verdict; fair enough, but what is good for the goose is good for the gander; if atheists don’t want to read what they consider to be propaganda, I shouldn’t have to, either.)

I realized there was another problem with this movie when it popped up in Amazon Prime last night, though.  I realized that it was not only a straw man/blatant misrepresentation.  I realized it is also based on an unstated and maybe even unacknowledged but very real premise.  For Maher (or anyone else) to call religion (or anything else) ridiculous, he must be operating from some standard.  There must be something somewhere which he regards as reasonable.  A thing can only by ridiculous if 1) there is that which is reasonable and 2) the thing in question violates that which is reasonable.  The absurd only exists when there is a reality which makes it absurd.

By doing nothing more than calling religion (or, in my case, faith) ridiculous, then, Maher is asserting a reality which he regards as reasonable, a reality which is “the real”.  What is that reasonableness/reality?  I don’t know, and I again don’t want to put words into his mouth.

But I do know what it was for me.  I know that when I was younger, I likewise thought certain expressions of “religion” (and many other things as well) were ridiculous.  I realized I was going to die and I wanted to “go to heaven” when I died (something I now realize is not the core of The Faith, not what Jesus came to offer us), but I still regarded the greater bulk of religion, even my own faith, as ridiculous.   I did so because I thought that religion/those expressions of religion violated “real life”.  This “real life” was the secular lifestyle of the ’80s.  I thought real life was video games, movies, having friends and fun, getting money and possessions (and, yes, we had great possessions in the ’80s): all the things a teenager was attracted to.  That was reality/real life to me.  When I saw, then, that some religious people were sacrificing those things for their religion, I therefore concluded they were missing real life and were thus “ridiculous” (or stupid or any number of similar accusations).  That’s the thought process (if you can call it that) I went through at the time.  That was my (il)logical progression.  It was that simple.  It was that shallow.

That is exactly what I believe Maher (and those who agree with him) have done/are doing.  They have that which they think is reality or prefer to be the reality.  It could be materialism.  It could be what I call “the Starbucks religion”, which is the pursuit of physical pleasures.  It could be something else I can’t identify.  But they clearly have that.  We all do.  And as religion of any committed sort violates that to some lesser or greater degree, so they, like teenage me, conclude it is ridiculous.

If you need further proof of concept, consider the book Out of Africa.  In that book, Isac Dinesen records her conversation with some African girls who will be sold into marriage.  While most Americans would see that as ridiculous if not barbaric, the African girls saw it the other way around.  They couldn’t believe American girls gave themselves away for free, and they were proud of the “bride prices” they would bring.  Their reality (or what they perceived as reality) was different from ours, and they reacted to life and interpreted life accordingly.

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There you have it again: ridiculousness defined by reality; one’s understanding of what is ridiculous defined by one’s understanding of reality.

The crucial question, then, becomes, “What is reality?”  If ridiculousness is defined by reality, then we must know what reality is for us to identify anything as ridiculous. Is materialism  reality?  Is reality nothing other than matter.  Maybe so.  And if it is, then religion or any other spiritual pursuit is indeed ridiculous.  Of course, if it is, then everything else is ridiculous as well.  Not only is religion ridiculous, but fighting against religion is ridiculous.  Why would you waste the time you have, a time which is all you will ever have and severely limited in the grand scheme of things and could possibly end at any moment, to fight something like religion?  Learning is ridiculous.  Why learn anything?  It can’t stop you from dying.  Building is ridiculous.  Doing good is ridiculous.  Pleasure might not be as ridiculous as everything else (there is some value in pleasure; you can actually feel it), but it is largely ridiculous as well.  If the materialistic view of reality is correct, then we are all Shelley’s Ozymandias:

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I could go on about that for awhile, but let’s consider the alternative.  The alternative is that materialism is not reality, that there is a God in heaven.  If that is reality, then the pursuit of such a God (whom I believe to be the God of the Bible, the Father revealed by Jesus Christ) is not ridiculous at all.  Sure, the way some people pursue Him might be ridiculous.  That’s because people are ridiculous by nature.  All people are childish at their core (I think this is what Washington Irving is arguing in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; if so, I agree with and accept his argument), and that childishness appears in everything they do, even the pursuit of God.  Maher is not going to have a lack of ridiculous people to put in his movie not because religion is ridiculous but because ridiculousness abounds in every area of life.

The pursuit itself is not ridiculous, though.  In fact, if there is God who created us for relationship with Him, then the pursuit of Him is the least ridiculous thing we can do.  It is the most reasonable thing we can do, the most rational response to reality.  And we may realize this one day.  We will, in fact, if materialism is false and God is true.  In that case, we will all one day be like Bart Simpson here:

What we once perceived as “stupid” (or ridiculous) will be revealed to be anything but, and what we once perceived as “wise” (or cool or fun or what have you) will be revealed to be empty.

Or, if you don’t like Bart and Lisa, consider what Paul says about the relative ridiculousness of spiritual pursuits versus material ones:

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I would suggest that what is true of the widow is true for all.  Living for physical/material pleasure, which seems to be what most of us are doing (including teenage me), is a living death.  Not wise, not cool, not fun, not a rational, reasonable, non-ridiculous response to reality.  A living death.

As is so often the case, what we are doing here is arguing about the fifth floor when we need to be examining the foundation.  This is a matter of foundation, of assumption and presumption, and that is where this matter needs to be resolved.  When we address it that way, we realize that it is not religion which is ridiculous.  It is irreligion that is really ridiculous.  That’s how Paul saw it.  That’s how I see it now.  That’s how we all will see it one day.  We won’t see religulous on that day.  We’ll see irreligulous.