Friday, August 21, 2009

Ah, Mr. Piper has joined Pat Robertson, Dave Wilkerson, and Jerry Falwell

It's too bad because I don't disrespect Piper but he just did the tornado-is-a-sign-of-God's-warning thing.

It's unfortunate with Piper because he did such a good job gently correcting Wilkerson a year or two ago. Why turn around and interpret a tornado as a sign of warning against the ELCA for its stance on homosexuality? If the weather had been different would it have been so useful as a didactic illustration?

Now for where I am from it can be easy for some Christians to find Robertson an embarrassment. I've known some people at Mars Hill who find Robertson an embarrassment who do not realize that it is thanks to the legacy of Pat Robertson they can even have the kind of church experience they have. So, believe it or not I have a measured, perhaps grudging, respect for Pat Robertson's influence as a media broadcaster as it connects to Christianity in America. Every time Driscoll does video preaching he should thank Pat Robertson for paving the way.

Now Piper has been moving in a direction of using other peoples' catastrophes as a way to instruct us all on how to joyously accept the providence of God for some time. Of course, he has cancer, why wouldn't he? Would someone suggest that Piper's failure to properly emphasize the love of Christ and Christ earlier in his ministry as a reason God has providentially given Piper cance? The theology of Job's comforters is tooo easy for us to get into. Job's friends were not necessarily wrong in their theology in an abstract sense ... but they were assuredly wrong in their confident attempt to use that theology as the way to interpret Job's life. In the end God said Job's friends had not spoken the truth about Him as Job had. Job was, as God said, not being persecuted with cause due to anything he had done.

Job never seems to find out that all that he suffered was the result of a wager between Satan and God. In fact job never seems to consider Satan at all. If only Job had known about Satan's involvement, perhaps he could have bound the principalities and cut the soul ties and thus rebuked the devil! If only Job had considered what generational sins his family must have committed to open himself up for this kind of torment, perhaps he could have renounced those generational sins and retained his prosperity. Maybe ... and maybe all of that still amounts to sympatheitc magic, witchcraft by another name. We as Christians will not stop struggling with the temptation to have a view of the Lord that is tainted by sympathetic magic, that if we just do X, Y, and Z that God somehow has to do A, B, and C for us.

Conversely, the same principle works in reverse, that if we don't do 1, 2, and 3 that God will punish us with 7, 8, and 9. It's the confidence of one-to-one correspondence we need to be careful about. Any serious study of the narrative literature of the Bible will reveal that God delayed exile and destruction for a startlingly long period of time. Not all famines mentioned in scripture were actually described as a sign of God's judgment. In fact if they WERE what need would there have been for prophets? But I digress, this week was a week where I was disappointed that Piper is still plowing the same furrow of using someone else's troubles as a way to rejoice in God's sovereignty and warn of how we all deserve as much. If he thinks he deserves worse than cancer but for the grace of God then perhaps in appreciation of that mercy he can avoid saying that tornados are a sign of God's judgment when we have the scriptures. As a man in a parable said, if they do not heed Moses and the prophets they won't pay attention if someone comes back from the dead. Still less would they pay attention to a tornado.

Monday, August 17, 2009

God uses the boring things to humble the exciting things, HT to Wendy at Theology for Women

God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise ... and lately I believe God can use the boring things in life to confound my craving for what I consider to be interesting. I have an interest in many things like theology, biblical literature, the Lord, music (particularly classical music), cartoons, comics, and literature.

I am at a point in my life where I consider nearly all of these things, so far as society at large goes, to be basically useless. The things I don't know seem useful and the things I don't know seem useless. So I wrote a three-voiced fugue for guitar and viola that is six minutes long and has organic thematic connections to the first movement. What good does that do anyone? I don't even know that much about the things I do know things about. Sure, I know that Jude quotes or alludes to the books of Enoch and the testament of Moses with some possible allusions (debated) to Jubilees but how does that matter? The interesting can often end up being useless.

I have found that God can permit you to do things that are boring, to learn things that are boring, because what is boring to you is not boring to someone else. What is boring for you is not boring for someone else. I personally don't find much about food preparation or cooking the least bit important, to be honest, but I have a friend who loves food and loves to cook. His interest in cooking extends to the applied science of cooking, why something as simple as putting cold water into a soup with a little gelatin will add body to the texture of a soup. To me soup is just plain old soup but for him there is an art to food preparation that fascinates him and because he is my friend and he conveys the fascination of that art I can listen to him explain the art of cooking for pretty long stretches even though, as I said, if it were just me on my own I'd have no lasting interest in it. In fact I have to force myself to cook because left to my own devices I'd stick with food that require minimal prep or might have cereal or packaged food, and several of those are not necessarily good habits!

Most of us in Christ, if we are honest, will admit that some parts of the scriptures are simply boring, imcomprehensible, or irrelevant to our day-to-day lives or the things we have experienced in life. Many people find Leviticus to be a drudge (not me!) and other people find the narrative literature befuddling. Some people find the narratives brutal in their moral simplification (evil king did bad and God killed him) while I find the biblical narrative literature disconcerting for how ambiguous it is, how often it reveals that the best are often bad and the worst have strange little moments of repentence to which God chooses to be merciful.

In my life there are things that I have considered boring that have not had boring implications for people I am connected to. Even something as simple as thinking through how to change the arrangement of food in a refridgerator can be helpful to a friend who isn't in a position (literally) to change the arrangement of food his aide made (i.e. he's in a wheelchair and an aide shoved some food way in the back where he can't get to it). If I know the truly boring rules and procedures at a job and get to train someone on those but know why those boring rules are set up the way they are then for that person it's not boring even though I'd be the first person to say the stuff I know is boring and otherwise pointless.

Yes, I'm a Pixar fan and this year's film included the observation that it is all the boring things in life that you spend the most time sharing with people. I have considered how time does not travel any faster but our capacity to filter out and ignore the boring things of life becomes more developed. We spend our lives as we get older ignoring our way through life.

Children do not have this capacity and so life for a child (or with a child) becomes refocused. We are compelled to share in the child's inability to filter, focus, ignore, and plow through the boring parts of life. This is not necessarily good or bad and depends on our attitude toward children, not just 'our' children. A child's longing to get to the fun part makes it more painful for the child to have that longing and here we might take a lesson from children about fellowship with Christ. I am not in a position to say anything other than that this is a new way (for me) to consider what it means that we must be like little children to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Our desire to be with and be like Christ may 'need' to be greater than our ability to act upon or within the litte we know, just like a kid who can't wait to get to the fun stuff.

I have gone through a few years of my life that are way too interesting. It has made me long for times that are more boring. We don't really want exciting lives, we want the kind of boring repetitive lives that we can anticipate, savor, predict, cherish. God does not give us that any more than lives that are constant chaos and abrupt change. Learning to be grateful for the boring things is just as much a challenge as learning to be grateful for the abrupt.