justice, restoration and hell

I like controversial topics.

The controversy is fun. I like the mental experiences of debating. Looking at a problem from a mix of perspective and possibilities. Probing the idea, looking for cracks and inconsistencies.

It’s just fun for me.

Wow, does that sound sad. Please pray for me.

It’s not as hot a topic as it once was in so many circles but it’s one that will never go away and is once again coming up.

What do we as Christians believe about hell?

It’s a topic I’m seeing more and more of as we are faced daily with atrocities around the world. The beheading of 21 Christians by ISIS brought it back to the fore front. What would happen to those who murdered our Christian brothers?

The discussion quickly turns from what will, because truly no one knows, to what we think should happen. What does a just God do with this type of horror? What does God’s perfect and holy justice look like?

Before we can talk about God’s justice I think it’s wise to take a step back and look at ourselves.

What is our version of justice?

Justice for us is punishment. It’s punitive and it’s harmful. We like our justice to be a deterrent. We lock up offenders for years and say justice has been served. They deserve it. Actions have consequences and the consequents of grievous actions need a punishment that fits the crime.

My question then – is our justice the same as God’s justice? When God calls Himself just what kind of justice does he mean?

God is just and will bring about His justice. Since the only way we often think of justice is in the punitive, deterrent type we expect the same of God. We expect God’s justice to be like ours.

We expect God to be like us. In that context hell makes a load of sense. It’s the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime of rejecting God.

If you murder someone, we want you locked away. We want you to suffer the way that the family suffers. And sadly this is a collective we, because we as a society continue to reinforce this with our politics and practices in the prison system. While I or you individually may not agree our society firmly states that it does.

Justice is served when that monster is behind bars and rotting.

It curious to me the type of language we use to describe criminals.

Monsters.

Predators.

The one they are not is a person.

But God sees people. God loves everyone. So how does he see criminals? How does he see those who have wronged him? What does his justice look like?

We’ll how did God see us? What did he do while we were still sinners?

God is about restoring. God calls us to be agents of that restoration.

Resorting creation.

Restoring relationships.

Resorting the image of God that is inside of all of us.

If so much of what Jesus does is restorative why would his justice be any different?

Remember we are becoming more like Christ, not the other way around. And while this seems so obvious saying it is almost ridiculous. That is until we expect God to act like we would. Especially when that actions isn’t rooted in love.

I wonder if the way we expect God to enact his justice is a reflection of the bible, the person of Jesus and the love that he embodies or is it us putting our desires, expectations and wants for justice on our terms on God?

I don’t know to be honest, but hell as it’s often described sounds a lot more like somewhere you’d send a monster you hate than a person you love.

to what end?

Lent started this week.

Lent leads to two obvious questions in a lot of Christian circles.

“Are you doing lent?”

“What are you lenting?”

But I often struggle with talking about it. This is more of an internal struggle than an external one because I love to hear myself talk. To an extent it’s the same reason I struggle with a lot of social media.

My mother’s voice runs through my head every time I think about posting anything. The question of “to what end?”

I can’t escape it.

That said, my mom and I have never talked about Facebook or Twitter with any real depth. We do however talk about work and life and often the idea of “to what end” comes up. I try to consider it with any important decisions, but Twitter and Facebook aren’t really important so why is it creeping in here?

It creeps in I suppose because lent is important. Perhaps more to the point who I am, my actions and the way I share myself is important.

And what does my online sharing say about me?

What does it say about what I value?

To what end am I posting _______?

Is it to encourage people, is it to draw them into community, is it to love them…

Or am I just saying look at me, look how smart I am, look how much I care, look what I’m doing, aren’t I great? Why does everyone know that I am lenting ______ and that it’s such struggle? Why do I make sure people see all the volunteering I’m doing and all the people I’m meeting?

We’ll most of you have come here through Facebook, so I’m clearly not opposed to Facebook entirely.

I just wonder if we should be more critical of what we post, why we post it, and what it says about us.

Are we commenting to be encouraging, to build community, to support others or because everyone else is and we want the world to know we care to. I worry that the ease with which we can say happy birthday, I’m sorry for your loss, excited for you, etc takes away from our desire to really engage. We miss being in the moment, in the messiness, in each other’s lives as much as we once were.

I think this is where community becomes so central.

Community is where we can go and share because our community knows us. They know why we’re doing what we’re doing. They can call us out when we’re being boastful and showy. They know our intentions and our hearts. They want this type of encouragement and challenge, because we know them relationally. We can lean on them and they will support us, because sometimes we need more than a few likes to get by. Sometimes we need someone to hold our hands, wipe our tears and listen as it all falls apart.

I worry that if we sat and reflected we’d find we pose/share/comment so others see how caring, smart, funny we are rather than to love. That when the option is presented we’d rather comment on a post then send a message, make a call, walk to their house because if we were being honest, part of why we’re doing it is so people know we’re doing it.

It’s not everyone, nor is it always, but if we never think “to what end” it might be happening more than we think. I know it does for me.

lent, coffee, and a life never the same

I love coffee.

I love coffee with a deep and complex love.

However, despite my love for this rich and life giving elixir, I gave it up for lent a few years ago. It went about as well as you’d anticipate.

I made it through but wow was it ever terrible. I really wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to give it up, how much I enjoy it, and how unbelievably addicted I am to it. I started a new job during that time. I was like a walking zombie trying to make good impression on my new co-workers for weeks without caffeine coursing through my veins.

They noticed instantly when I started drinking it again.

We even joke about it now. They simply cannot believe that I could do it again if I wanted to, nor do they want me to even try.

But reflecting back, I don’t think it worked.

There are loads of reason why people participate in lent but I think this one missed the mark.

I guess there is value in praying more and I suspect I did, but not to the point that I remember or can say with certainty that I did.

I am however acutely aware that I’m not different because of it.

It didn’t change how I saw God or Jesus or my faith at all.

It didn’t draw my closer to God.

When all was said and done Easter came and went and I was the same person I was when it all started.

It was just a couple weeks where I was uncomfortable.

This year I hope it’s different.

I hope that my lent experience will draw me closer to Jesus.

I hope it will show me more the heart of God.

I hope that this will actually change the way I live. That by investing my time, energy and money in this I will be a different person when I’m done.

I want to be a better disciple when Easter comes around. I want to understand what Jesus is calling his followers into and realize that it’s not always easy. I want to act differently on the other side of Easter. I want to be changed by my investment in this process. To be open to Jesus changing me.

I want to see the world in a different way. In a way that won’t allow me to go back to the way it was.

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe giving up coffee and chocolate haven’t really done it.

Might I suggest trying something new?

It will be different for all of us, but let’s not lose the power of this time because the tradition makes it easy to coast. Let’s pick something that changes the way we see the world. Let’s pick something that forces us to truly experience the world in a way that we have never had to before, not simply un-caffeinated for a few weeks.

How will this fast change you? How will it make you different when it’s done? How does this push you to be a better disciple? How will your actions be changed?

It’s not that you’ll never take up coffee again, but rather how will this lent make you see Jesus in a way that you can’t be what you were before?

Let’s not pick something inconvenient this year. Let’s pick something that changes the very world around us.

more than just my feelings

I would love a wider breadth of worship music on a Sunday.

I’ve got a bunch of personal reasons why I’d like more variety and why the lack of variety frustrates me. That said, there is more to my frustration than simply my own personal desire for a space and time that reflects my experience.

Essentially this is not just about me. At least, that’s how the story goes in my mind so hopefully there is some truth to it.

There are some really important practical problems with an always up beat worship experience.

I think that we teach theology, expectations and actions in our worship. And if I’m right then perhaps we should spend more time critically thinking about the worship we present at church.

If worship teaches theology was does it teach?

That God makes us feel good.

That God will come.

That God fixes.

That God changes everything for the better.

This theology will directly impact expectations. However I’m not particularly worried about the expectations of the church. Those are absolutely skewed but the church, for the most part, knows when it’s being serious and when it’s being more rhetorical.

For those new to our spaces however, this may pose a problem.

What does it say to someone who comes to church broken and looking, sings songs about how God will comes, how he will fix and how everything will be better. Then reflects back on their life months later to see the same brokenness present. What happens when they see that their life isn’t perfect and mended? What happens when they stand in a service look around at all the other “happy” people and realize they are alone? What has to go through their mind?

What didn’t I do?

Why doesn’t God love me like them?

Why isn’t God fixing it?

Does God even care?

Is God even real?

Maybe it’s a step to far. But I doubt it.

If every Sunday we drill the theology of happy people living happy lives because God has made it that way this expectation will happen.

All because we couldn’t be open and honest without pain. All because we want to be happy on a Sunday rather than real.

And this leads nicely into my last thought (almost like I planned it).

In worship we talk about doing a lot of things; raising hands, bowing our knee, giving over our lives, trusting God, etc.

How many of them do we actually do? Some church are better than others but there aren’t many where people literally bow their knee when they say they are bowing before Christ.

We just talk about all the things we do and then wonder why we can’t get people involved in each other’s lives. Why we can’t build spaces that people feel safe to be open about their doubt and pain. Why we can’t get people to volunteer or to give back to their community or talk to their neighbour or do literally anything that would bring them closer to being like Christ.

It’s so pervasive it’s almost like there is something happening every Sunday teaching them and encouraging them to say one thing and do another. Something teaching them to hide the honest reality of their life because somewhere it’s being reinforced that the honest expression means they don’t know God or worse God isn’t even there.

Thank goodness we’d never do something like that every single Sunday…

worship is one sided

I’m not a sad person.

I think people who know me well would agree. For the most part, I’m gregarious and loud and perhaps at time a little too much. I would say that most people who know me would say that generally I’m a fun person.

But there is this part of me that is drawn to brokenness. This part that despite all of my fun and gregariousness (who knew that was a real word) identifies with and resonates with brokenness.

There is something in me that no matter how full and whole my life is, and my life is all of those things, I cannot forget, leave or simply release my connection to brokenness. I simply am constantly aware of my own brokenness and dysfunction.

This strong identification and awareness of brokenness has lead me to a real frustration with worship at church. This may be one of those things that once you notice it, you can’t unnotice (there we go, not a word) it.

There’s your warning.

Worship is wildly one sided.

Worship music is overwhelmingly and undeniably happy. It vast majority of the music is a statement of how happy we are now, how fulfilled we are now, how God has come and made it all better.

And that’s great, right up until that isn’t the life you’re leading.

I think the reason I always circle back to brokenness is that in so many ways it’s one of the real touch points and constants in people’s lives. It’s in sharing our brokenness and pain that many of us allow ourselves to be real and honest. To let out the true reality of the life we are leading because we just can’t hold it all inside anymore.

And without fail we find, everyone is broken. It’s the unifying constant of humanity.

And without fail I’ve found it’s almost impossible to find worship music that speaks to my heart and experience.

Where are the laments of sorrow?

Where are the expressions of pain and suffering?

Where are the times when I can call our “Why God why?!”

Not so I can complain but to be honest. I want to be able to tell God how I feel about Him in my present state. That broken and beaten I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to keep coming, struggle and all.

I would love to sing songs that invite God into my darkness, not expecting He fix it but that He be with me in it. That allow me to express my commitment to Him in the pain. The show Him I’m trying to trust and love but it’s hard for me, but some small part of me thinks He’s still worth it.

Why, when I step into worship do I have to put aside the most formative parts of my life?

Why cannot I not express the entirety of my life to God?

Why do I have to stand before God and be fake?

Why, when I step into worship do I have to lie to God and tell him how happy, full and grateful I am when I’m none of those things?

I imagine the power of being able to express my anguish in a community of people and realise I wasn’t alone. Realise that God was there in my pain and wanted me broken and all to bring whatever little I had left. Even if all I have left is to say in action that I’m not crying into a void, but that on the other side is someone hearing me, and I want them to hear me. Because that someone on the other sides does matter. They are worthy and I desire them in my whole life.

I imagine what it would be like to know that there was space for me.

To finally be honest with God.

Imagine if worship created that?

maybe Christian isn’t the right word

I don’t like to read my bible. Never have.

It’s just one point in a long list of reasons I’m not a great Christian, but I’m’ trying.

If you know me you know that everything is a question to me. My wife could not be less interested in all the things I find interesting, the actions we need to consider the implications of or the obvious questions everything we do seem to raise. Everything raises an interesting question. The problem is that more often than not, they are really only interesting to me.

But this issue I have with reading the bible lead to what is an obvious question to me, can you be a Christian without the bible?

The clear answer is yes but wow does that seem strange the write.

But the idea is so foreign and strange. The bible has such a place of esteem, and rightfully so, in the churches I have been a part of the idea that you could be a Christian without a bible seems ludicrous.

How would I know how to live, or what to believe about creation, head coverings and pork without a bible?

I dunno, but the early church, who the letters we now read as the bible, were sorting it out.

But how?

Well, they were Christians not Biblicists. They followed Christ not the bible and yes those can be really different.

Strictly speaking, it is entirely possible to be a Christian without a bible. While formative and massively important, it’s not required.

And we implicitly understand this, thought we live often in a Christian culture that refuses to acknowledge this. Again we know the early church didn’t have a bible.

So let’s take a moment to look at how we interact with the bible today

Be it head coverings, eating pork, selling all we have, or simply loving our neighbour, the bible is full of commands and actions we choose not to follow. Some, like head coverings and pork we interpret as cultural or part of a covenant we are no longer held to. Some like selling all we have we interpret as contextual or an outward example of the in workings of someone’s heart. And still some we rationalize away creating systems, categories and excuses to not love people because it’s hard and messy and requires more than we’re really willing to give.

The bible is interpreted.

Is the creation story a poem, an account handed down that mixes history and mythology from a people group, or a purely factual account that can and should be scientifically proven and defended?

I dunno but those are some really diverse ways to read the same thing.

All of those question and issues are important and worth of discussion, but they don’t make us Christian. But we feel, argue, and sadly condemn people as though they do. I worry that at times we defend the bible more vehemently than we defend Christ. His way, His love and His call to discipleship.

We understand the bible is important because it points us to Jesus. We should also get that while bible is important it’s when we make it more important than Jesus that we lose our way. It’s when we transition from Christian to Biblicist that we lose our way.

It’s when we use the bible and tradition to justify a system/belief/desire rather than look at the life of Jesus and try to be more like him.

It’s when we’d rather hide behind the bible than be the people Jesus calls us to be that we should really consider if Christian is the right word for us.

our love has a limit

For something that is supposed to be so naturally human we struggle with love.

Not the idea, we get it. But being love to someone? We struggle.

We understand that Jesus loved everyone and called us to do the same. We understand that He died for us in large part because He loves us. We know the verses that talk about how we are to follow His example and how people will know we are His disciple by our love.

We get it as an abstract concept but when it comes to real life it really breaks down.

This seems to be the underlying issue to me. While we would say “Jesus has called us to love everyone” we follow that up with a really reasonable and practical “expect _______.”

Of course we don’t say it that way. Let’s be honest, we’re more clever than that. Our brains wouldn’t allow for that kind of a statement. We need a better frame to allow us to accept that “love everyone but _____” proposition.

We talk about accountability.

We talk about holiness.

We talk about how we cannot condone sin.

We talk about plain reading of the scriptures.

We talk about justice.

We talk about when Jesus said “go and sin no more.”

But here’s the problem. We aren’t the woman caught in adultery and we aren’t Jesus. We are the religious leaders of the day. We are the ones dragging people in front of Jesus hoping He will condemn them. We are the ones using the law and the rules to dehumanize and belittle people.

We are the ones who refuse to see all the ways we’ve missed Christ in our own lives and point out the flaws in everyone else.

Yes Jesus tells the woman to go and sin no more. But it’s Jesus who tells her. It’s when she meets and connects with Jesus she leaves with the call to sin no more.

We are the ones in power, we are the ones trying to maintain the system, we are the ones raging against the outside world hoping it conforms to us and condemning it when it doesn’t.

We could be Jesus in this story.

But too often I think it’s just too satisfying to be right rather than to be love.