ƒ Christianity for Thinking People: December 2007

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christ in the Crucible

Every community of faith has its lunatic fringe. Some years ago, ‘the fringe’ was out in force on the St Louis streets surrounding an international gathering of my Protestant Christian denomination. I tried to accept all information they offered, as I can learn something from just about anyone with the courage to present his or her point of view. One 24-page booklet thrust into my hands was entitled ‘The Omega Apostasy: A History of the Development of Deadly Heresies’. Not wanting to be part of any ‘deadly heresies’ I launched into this booklet, searching for the not-so-apparent apostasy. Near the center-fold of this booklet I discovered it – belief in the Trinity. Well, this was a shocker. It felt like reading a statement that baseball was un-American. What could be less controversial in Christian belief than the Trinity?

More recently my Saudi client challenged me to consider whether I really was a mono-theistic believer in the God of Abraham, given that I believe in the Trinity – which he (mis)characterized as a belief in three gods.

In studying Jesus’ Gethsemane crucible this week, it matters whether God was making Jesus suffer or whether God’s suffering was Jesus’ suffering. If you believe that God’s suffering was Jesus’ suffering, review Matt 26:36-56, Mark 14:32-51, and Luke 22:39-52, and consider what it means to be God-like in suffering.

Similarly, in studying Jesus’ crucifixion, it matters whether God was exacting suffering or suffering Himself. Review Matt 27:27-56, Mark 15:21-41, Luke 23:26-49, and John 19:17-37, and consider how your conclusions differ with your beliefs about the nature of the so-called Trinity.

© Alister L Hunt PhD

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Waiting is the Crucible

As a teenager I attended a prayer seminar with hundreds of people gathered in a “big top” tent to share their testimonies to the power of prayer. One man stood up and tearfully recounted how his son had an aneurysm burst in his brain. As his son lay unconscious in hospital, a prayer network mobilized 3,000 praying Christians across the city of Melbourne, Australia. His son recovered completely, … a miraculous outcome given what his son had experienced. I got to my feet and asked,
“What would have happened if only 2,999 Christians had been praying?”

Totally insensitive, I know, but as a teenager I wanted to know what this experience said about God. Is there a tipping point with God, where 2,500 requests aren’t enough, but 3,000 independent requests for intervention are enough? I imagined God up in heaven with an ‘angst-ometer’ saying, “OK, now I’d better do something.”

Later in the seminar a woman recounted how she had prayed daily for her son who had rejected God. After 34 years of daily prayer, some 12,400 prayers by my reckoning, her son reached out to reestablish relationship with God. One of life’s more trying crucibles must be the daily knowledge that the most important thing in a parent’s life is nothing to their beloved child – that their child is choosing eternal separation from them and God. But this woman had prevailed in this crucible through the power of 34 years of prayer. Again, this insensitive teenager got to his feet and asked,
“What would have happened if you had missed a day?”

While patience like this woman displayed is indeed a virtue in the crucible of life experiences, it does raise questions regarding God’s character. Luke 18:1-8 recounts Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow seeking justice from a heartless, Godless judge. For some time he ignores her pleas, and then eventually declares,
“… because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t wear me out with my coming!”

This week it is worth considering not only whether patience is desirable in the crucible, but why? Is it because God is as heartless as the Judge in Luke 18? Or does our continued plea for His deliverance bring glory to Him in the heavenly courts? Read on in Luke 18.
“… will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”
© Alister L Hunt PhD

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Morality of Meekness

I often recall my father’s treasured sayings with which he sought to convey wisdom to the next generation. Some of Dad’s sayings are discarded and some treasured. For example, after I gave Angela flowers soon after we were married, my father told me, “No use chasing a bus once you’ve caught it.” He was joking … I think … and fortunately that is not a saying I live by. However, a saying that does stick with me is “Never trust humble people.” Or, relatedly, “Humility is the worst form of conceit”, a maxim that French writer François de La Rochefoucauld had recorded some 300 years previously. So, humility and its cousin meekness were vices that my father avoided with religious fervor, and he encouraged us to do likewise. Meek people did not have the courage to stand up for right, and apparently humble people are the most likely to seek their own good while you drop your guard.

The problem with this piece of Hunt family wisdom was that we also took the Bible fairly seriously as a guide to daily life, and it upholds humility and meekness as virtues, not vices. Examples include Matt 20:27,28; Luke 22:26; 1 Peter 5:6; 2 Cor 12:9,10; Phil 2:5-9.

Years ago Yusuf Khan challenged Angela and I to consider whether winning at squash was most important. “If you always want to win, its simple”, he said. “Just make sure that you always play people who aren’t as good as you.” It’s the same with having a lowly opinion of oneself – just make sure that you are worse than the people you compare yourself to. Just act awfully, make poor choices, and you will be sufficiently full of self-loathing that you will have no trouble with humility. Of course, this is just as silly as always playing poor squash players, and is simply inconsistent with “life, and life abundant”.

I believe that my life, and the lives of my family, has been tremendously blessed by seeking to live in accordance with the principles of the kingdom of heaven. Our lives are better as a consequence. Of course, people who have chosen to live by God’s principles have also experienced heartbreak, torture and a martyr’s death, but the general reality we observe is that living God’s way blesses our lives. You may see this as a shocking admission, but I often finding myself involuntarily praying from my soul, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are.” Luke 18:11. I find myself praying the words that are iconic of arrogance – the Pharisee’s prayer – and meaning it. I am so grateful that God has delivered me at least partially from the fate of life lived without love or meaning. I pray that this realization will make me ever more reliant on God, rather than tempt me to self-sufficiency.

Of course, as you have probably already worked out, humility is not the same as self-loathing. It is the source of power and transformation in the Christian life. I read a wonderful book this Fall that was given to me by Gary Brown, principal of Columbia Adventist Academy. It is Andrew Murray’s 1895 book, ‘Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness’. Murray says it better than I can:

“Here we have the nature of true humility. … We must learn of Jesus, how He is meek and lowly of heart. He teaches us where true humility begins and finds its strength – in the knowledge that it is God who works all in all, that our place is to yield to Him in perfect resignation and dependence, in full consent to be and to do nothing of ourselves. This is the life Christ came to reveal and to impart – a life to God that came through death to sin and self. If we feel that this life is too high for us and beyond our reach, it must but the more urge us to seek it in Him; it is the indwelling Christ who will live in us this life, meek and lowly. If we long for this, let us, meantime, above everything, seek the holy secret of the knowledge of the nature of God, as He every moment works all in all; the secret, of which all nature and every creature, and above all, every child of God, is to be the witness, -- that it is nothing but a vessel, a channel, through which the living God can manifest the riches of His wisdom, power, and goodness. The root of all virtue and grace, of all faith and acceptable worship, is that we know that we have nothing but what we receive, and bow in deepest humility to wait upon God for it.”

Chapter 3, http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/murray/5f00.0565/5f00.0565.01.htm
© Alister L Hunt PhD