Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3 NET)
What happens inside your head when you read that? That and the rest of the same chapter make much of an otherworldly focus, yet so many who claim Christ are still hung up on changing human government. They tend to think of that “right hand of God” as just a couple of floors up, instead of a wholly different level of existence. They envision “raised with Christ” as slightly more intelligent.
They tend to think that the pinnacle of evangelism is beating down the doors of those who haven’t bought into their brand of gospel yet. They admire most the people with a big list of folks they converted. To them, spiritual depth means more knowledge, more effective in this life. They forget that Jesus considered the Cross about the most effective thing He did in this world. So they reshape the meaning of the Cross to the point it has completely lost its paradoxical significance.
Colossians 3 is not an encouragement to do things that bring more worldly success. If your behavior doesn’t invite oppression from worldly powers, you aren’t doing it right. If human governments don’t tend to crucifying you, you’ve come up short. You should not imagine that we have somehow come so far with civilization that the average Joe is going to be comfortable with someone who follows Christ. If you can’t be manipulated because you fight temptation, then you can’t be used by society. If you aren’t that different from society as a whole, you aren’t following Christ.
“Don’t be conformed to this world” means your world as it is today. The Pharisees thought they were doing it right, too.
We have a dozen words that could serve as synonyms for “love” in various contexts, but it is a testimony to the failure of Anglo-American culture that we still abuse the word with such ambiguity. We confuse it intentionally; we have an instinct for deception and manipulation. It’s not so much the conscious evil intent of the individual in the moment, but a cultural instinct. It’s what we do, and we cannot imagine it being wrong.
So at least in theology we have the symbol of the Cross, which holds some potential. The point being Jesus went to the Cross voluntarily, we still suffer a tremendous abuse of the image itself. People waste vast resources painting the horror of the Cross and it seems obligatory to sacrifice a lot of attention in some perverse piety. We use it to chain people, castigating those who refuse to wallow in the pity party on Christ’s behalf. That misses the whole point. You’ll notice Scripture says precious little about the literal event, but lots of words address the meaning of it as sacrifice. Jesus Himself noted He could have said “no.”
Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NET)
Assuming violence has no place in love is perverse Western stupidity. This was written by the same Paul who said you have to at least ostracize people who try to disrupt the mission of the church in teaching genuine sacrificial love. Sometimes love means beating the crap out of someone because it’s the only way to stop them harming others. That’s not a failure of love but the sin nature of fallen humanity intruding on your mission. You don’t love them any less before or after the beating, but it’s a bad sign if you have to crow about it versus standing by to bind up the wounds you just gave them. Sometimes you sacrifice your own peace for the needs of others, whatever those needs may be.
Divine justice brings violence only with a deep care that restrains and guides the hands. The passion is for the message, not the bloodletting.
When you read stuff on blogs, you know only what the writer reveals, and at that, only what you can perceive. Perception is reality in the virtual world. I’ve encountered some very talented people whose ability to think and write put me to shame, including writing about Christian religion. Yet the tone of their online persona is proud and you see no evidence of binding up any wounds. Maybe you see words of going to the foot of the Cross and taking the blame for it, but nothing beyond the words to make it real. So I don’t read much of their stuff, because it’s just high art, not deep spirit.
Maybe I’m just not a good reader, but that stuff doesn’t bless me. It doesn’t call out to my shepherd instinct, the thing God built into my soul. It calls out to something else, something that steers me away from the foot of the Cross. It’s not to say they are wrong, but they aren’t helping me serve.
The tempo is changing again.
As always, you could have written me off as nuts a long time ago. I’ve been reshaped in so many different ways by the hand of God that I can scarcely remember where I was a couple of years ago. That is as it should be. Reputable? You have to decide that, but I sense again that heavy divine Presence calling me to account. Not for things done wrong, but an inventory in preparation for a shift in operations.
Aside from neutral prophetic analysis, I’m not going to engage other people on politics. I’m backing away from people with any significant inclination to partisan political cheer-leading in any direction. People can talk all they like, but I won’t engage them at all. I’ll try to make it clear they are wasting their time ranting with me. That goes with all the sideline activism with a much more narrow focus. My only activism is free information, and that’s hardly considered politics by most people. I think everyone must be granted room to study and think as they see fit, regardless of their views. It’s a purely moral stance. I won’t crush political opinion, but I don’t want to be involved beyond opening the doors to everyone.
The reason has to do with my overwhelming sense of calling, my sense of mission. Some part of me foresees an exposure to a world where I would be utterly useless otherwise. So long as it’s about people and serving their moral needs, I am on solid ground. There is something looming on my personal horizon that will require a more rarefied moral stance that pulls back and lets others fight it out as they see fit.
I don’t have a strong sense of how it will affect this blog, aside from the suspicion that there will come days when I have nothing of substance to post. I still write every day in my personal journal, but sometimes it’s best not to waste readers’ time on things that have no bearing on my shepherd’s call. For those who you who need more, you’ll need to engage me with questions that I can answer here, or you can always pester me privately by email — eddie at soulkiln.org. It’s not as if I can’t learn new perspectives on what I’ve been presenting here all along, but I tend to believe this will be a period of implementation of what has already been learned. It’s awfully hard to make my personal mental framework relevant outside my own head.
On the other hand, I’m hoping and praying I can relate some relevant threads from future adventures, so this is hardly “goodbye.”
I’ve installed the latest LTS release of Xubuntu Trusty Tahr (14.04) on an aging laptop. There are a few bugs noted on the release page and I suppose they’ll eventually get those worked out.
At any rate, I still refuse to support GNOME 3 or LXDE, give very little support to KDE 4, but I can endorse XFCE completely. And while I still don’t trust Canonical very much, I can tell you that the Xubuntu branch is just independent enough to be fairly safe. I don’t intend to run it that much because I don’t think there is any way it actually improves on vanilla Debian itself, but it’s a whole lot easier for folks who don’t have a lot of computer savvy. So if you have to ditch Windows, I recommend Xubuntu as a replacement.
Most people get God’s Laws all wrong. It’s not that they can’t understand the words, and to some degree the higher concepts, but they insist on seeing “law” as some reflection of what our society has done with the concept. You have to keep in mind that our society is completely and totally wrong about justice in the first place.
The universe is a part of Creation. Creation is a reflection of reality. Reality is God’s character. You have to treat Creation as if it were alive. We do not worship the creation, but the Creator. Still, in our reverence to Him we act as if Creation is some part of Him. We treat all things as potentially holy when they are rightly used.
We are spirits with bodies. The flesh we now drag around is a flawed and damaged copy of what it should be, was meant to be, and in eternity what it will be. Creation as we encounter it is in some ways a flawed and damaged copy of what God’s body might be for us. Law as a revelation from God is meant to indicate the indescribable nature of His character. Law is reality. Obey the Laws of God and you are reverencing Him.
With these words I do not pretend to describe God, but indicate something about Him and how we relate to His world. The Laws of God are no more legislation than is Creation His literal flesh. God is not a legislator but the very owner and designer of reality itself. It remains directly connected to His Person, so it behooves us to know Him so that we can live rightly in His reality. Divine justice is roughly equivalent to embracing reality; it’s how things work.
The requirement for us is to relate to Him as a Person, to become acquainted with His whims. Each of us does not connect with Him in precisely the same way because our beings are not the result of some cookie-cutter process. We are unique in His mind as He knows each of us. There are broad generalities along with some basic facts that affect us all in different ways.
For example, I can say we know scientifically that stress carries the kiss of death. It does. But each of us has our own reaction and tolerance to different kinds of stress. Know yourself as He made you, and know His Laws.
There’s a time and place in divine justice for failure.
Who calls Jesus’ crucifixion a success? Sometimes it’s not a matter of winning, but of losing well. In some contexts, no single answer you can see is best. We are blinded by a Western focus on objectivity, as if such a thing actually exists in a world of shadows. We start from the assumption this entire plane of existence is one big lie, so how can we assume there is a right and wrong answer if nothing obvious sticks out? In the dark night of soul, it’s faithfulness to God, a desire to please Him, that matters in the first place.
The greatest treasure is not what you gain or can claim to hold, but what holds you. God never portrayed Himself as a king as we recognize the term. He was always an eastern potentate, a nomad sheikh who lived in a tent. The most valuable thing in His domain is His reputation, though hardly in the terms we tend to view it. Rather, it is all a matter His glory. We are here to manifest His glory, not in how we win or lose, but in how we live with both wins and losses, and sometimes do nothing at all.
We are to project such a high valuation of Him in Heaven that we can afford to deemphasize what we face here. That includes our own suffering and sorrows.
Granted, those things are a heavy distraction and such fine words are often beyond us. Again, it’s not that we show such a marvelous expertise in handling sorrow, but that in the end people can tell there is something more important to us. You can cry when you lose something; there’s no sin in that. But at some point you move on because your commitment to this life is not bound up in anything here, but outside this universe.
Insofar as we have a goal, it is to genuinely stop caring about this life. In the paradox of truth, that means we care about other people and their suffering because we can afford to set aside our own. The empty tomb means we aren’t stuck here when it’s all over.
Context is everything. To our Western eyes trained to read literally, this chapter could seem no different from what the trio said. However, Elihu has established already that he is not on their path. Thus, the same words in the mouths of the trio do not carry the same meaning as they do in Elihu’s mouth. The emphasis here is not on what God does among men so much as it indicates something of God’s character.
In the first few verses, Elihu asserts with confidence that he speaks for God. Not so much in the vein of a prophet bearing specific authority, but one whose words should be convincing simply because they reflect the ultimate truth. God plows His own path in the human heart, so Elihu need not worry about establishing his credentials; the truth should be self-evident. He does not claim perfection in himself, but a perfection in the truth he speaks.
Unlike the trio and their literalism, Elihu offers a symbolic frame of reference. Insofar as the trio used words to ascribe to God various attributes, such speech was accurate. Yes, we know that God is self-consistent and certainly powerful enough to do His own will. He does not sponsor wickedness and His revelation is meant to bring justice to those robbed of His promises. In His own realm He regards the righteous as the true royalty of humanity. It is the righteous who receive His attention, so that they live with boundaries that the wicked may never notice. The child who is undisciplined is unloved. So it is the righteous who seem to receive more discipline from God than do sinners. He doesn’t waste that much time on people who would never listen in the first place.
Thus, it is also the righteous who may well be the first to die for failure to repent. The wicked don’t get the message, so they would hardly cry out to God if He disciplined them. They are already dead in that sense, before adulthood. They are irresponsible in the most perverse ways. Elihu uses the image of cult prostitution where the more degrading the acts, the more sacred to the filthy heathen gods — this is the logical conclusion to their thinking. The wicked are inherently perverse regardless of how they actually behave in society.
Then Elihu says quite bluntly that the righteous are delivered by suffering. Suffering serves a divine purpose, driving us into the arms of God. The path to God is paved with suffering. We cultivate a conscious awareness that life isn’t supposed to be like this, but the only escape is to suffer through this life for the sake of something better. We get the logic backwards and blame God for not giving us relief, but we seek the wrong kind of relief. It’s not as if we can’t have a good life here, but it requires we first obey Him from the heart, not merely in rote conduct. A preoccupation with dodging suffering guarantees we will suffer. It is demons that try to bribe us into wickedness by offering worldly ease and comfort. What they offer cannot follow us into eternity.
So Elihu warns Job that it is improper to long for death, using the image of the night of soul. Don’t get lost on the path to recovery. Who is there with sufficient standing to tell God He can’t afflict the righteous more than the wicked? Suffering calls forth praise for His name. Then Elihu provides an example by praising God for His ineffable wisdom and power over His own creation. The lyrical expression is richer than any translation can show. As the thunder shakes the earth, so His greatness makes sensible men quiver because they understand His wrath, and recognize that it is also His blessing.