sin and death

What is sin?

Many of us would say something like “it’s missing the mark set by God.” While practically true I’ve found it to be increasingly less helpful when we can’t seem to decide what that mark is.

We don’t need to think hard to find vehement disagreements in Christian circles around what “the mark is.” So many of the issues the church talks about (read, argues like children) come down to differing opinions on sin.

One thing I don’t find a lot of disagreement about is the result of sin. Sin equals death. Now what death means and the imposition of some kind of post death justice is not even sort of clear even if you yourself think it is.

But there is this funny little part of sin we seem to all agree on. Sin, while we can’t define it, causes death and after death something happens but we also can’t decide on what that is.

So let’s talk about death since there is some semblance of agreement on that.

Death is horrible. It is darkens in its purest form. It is the result of the brokenness that now ravages this world. And while we may hate that people die, do we hate the one who dies? Especially if we really love them?

No, we grieve.

The more I struggle through this idea of God and hate the more I wonder if God responds to sin in us the same way we do to death.

Death is loss.

Death is disconnection.

Death is the severing of relationships.

And that all sounds a lot like what sin does between us and God.

Because of sin we are disconnect and it was sin that severed our perfect relationship with God. And so how does God feel about the parts in our lives where sin still has control? Does he hate those parts of us or does He grieve the loss? The loss of perfect relationship, grieve the disconnect it causes, grieve the trauma He knows the sin will cause in lives.

While we may hate an idea I think when that idea takes on a face, if we truly love that person, our response is no longer hate but grief over the profound loss that sin causes.

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ideas with faces

Can God hate?

The more I think and pray and roll the idea around in my mind the more and more ridiculous it seems.

How can love hate?

Part of this entire issue is around what love is. We all use the word but when we say it what do we mean? While many would simply say “Go read 1 Corinthians” there’s more to it than that, and not just because I like to think there is more to everything.

Is love a feeling?

Is it an action?

Peter Rollins has said that love doesn’t exist but is the thing that allows other things to exist.

I took a course in university every so many years ago now and I was presented with a view on love that resonated and worked on so many levels that I’ve used it ever since.

Love is a motive.

Love is why I am patient. Patience is the action of my loving motive.

As a motive I can choose to let that be the reason I act or not. I can choose love. I don’t need to feel it. Which means I can’t opt out when love doesn’t work for me. When I’m mad, offended, scared, I can choose to be motivated by love.

Is hate motivated by love?

Is it love of God that motivates hate?

Is it love of the church that motivates hate?

Is it love of the one we hate that motivates the hate?

I can see how our love could motivate a choice to hate. A deep love of family could cause some to hate those who would mean to do harm to my family. It seems to be working until those that would mean to do harm have a face. Until I ask how my actions towards are motivated out of love towards them? How is love causing me to act towards them?

I feel like this is where it always gets muddy. The notion of hating an idea works. But ideas wear faces.

I could see God hating the idea of sin. This thing that separates us and has corrupted His creation. But once that brokenness became a part of us, once sin wears a face, I struggle to see God hating us, no matter how ugly.

Perhaps its in this dichotomy we find how a God of love can hate. Hate ideas that separate and harm, but once that idea is manifest in a person I continue to see an issue with God hating that part of them. Loving only bits and pieces rather than the entire whole.

If God doesn’t hate parts of us, how does he feel towards sin in us?

This is going to take some more thinking.

a hateful God

This idea is far less formed than usual and that’s saying something because few of my ideas or things I write about here are particularly well formed.

They are often more of a glimpse into something I’m currently considering, but have been pondering for a while.

This is a far more raw kind of thought. While in some way or another it has crossed my mind, it’s never been exactly this clear.

Can God hate?

I feel like I write the follow sentence every time, but I guess it’s just part of my charm (or lack of creativity, whatever works for you).

It’s seems like the obvious answer is yes, but I’m starting to worry that it creates some serious problems.

And this is the raw nature of this particular idea. I’m working and thinking about the implications and possible problems that a God how can hate creates, but these ideas are really new and not fully formed at all. So if you see an obvious issue here I’m interested. I’m just starting to roll this idea around in my mind so any new ways to approach it are helpful.

I’ll lay out how I got here and the starting point for the possible problem I see.

It started with justice. Specifically the notion that we may put our idea of justice onto God rather than look at God for what He means when He talks about justice. Quick recap, so much of God’s work is restorative it stands to reason that His justice would be similarly restorative rather than mimic our punitive process of exacting justice.

This idea stems from a God who describes Himself as love.

God is love.

And so God’s justice must be love. It must take the form of love and be a display of love. Everything God does is an expression of love because He is love. To do something that isn’t loving would be counter to His nature and His essence.

As a tree can’t be any less a tree, God by virtue of His nature will be love.

So how is the hate we often ascribe to God an expression of love?

How is hate a loving act?

How is hate not counter to the very nature of God?

Most we agree that we shouldn’t hate people. We should love them, but I’m wondering if the type of love we are showing is God’s love of a projection of our broken understanding of love.

I was reading a blog earlier today and the writer was talking about how we should react with love no matter the situation. The write then went on to describe all the people we should love.

Gays, lesbians, transgender people, heterosexual adulterers, atheists, white-lie tellers, good-churchgoers-without-a-shred-of-grace–any and all people who have issue with the hard words of Scripture–these are not our enemies.”

I posted the following comment

“I know for myself. If the way I was defined, labeled and grouped was based on a list of things people hate, I would struggle to find any reaction not matter how well intended as a loving one.”

And so again I’m left wondering, how do we lovingly hate?

Are we called to only love parts of people? To parcel them into pieces, those worthy of our love and those that we get to hate.

Is that the radical love of Christ or ours?

It may be, but I’m far less sure that’s how it’s supposed to work than I was in the past.

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.

what not to say around death

Yesterday we talked about getting in the same space related to death. Briefly we talked about:

How as a society and church we don’t tend to do well with death.

Death is not something that can be fixed.

Death is not purposeful.

And then we ended with the question of what don’t we say?

I have a few thoughts. My list isn’t exhaustive but it covers a lot.

What not to say:

  • Everything will be ok
  • It’s for the best
  • God needed another angel
  • There’s some good in this
  • Don’t worry Gods in control. He’s got a plan.

You may disagree with some of these but overall here’s why I think we need to avoid this lines of conversation.

This is an emotional experience not one to be conquer with logic or reason. It’s a deeply person, visceral experience that force us to face and engage with parts of ourselves we don’t often have to. Death causes questions and confusion. The problem with these statements isn’t necessarily their factual truth, though some are not true, but rather how little help and possibly how much damage they can do to someone experiencing loss. It’s not the time for ideas and theory, it’s time for love.

Think of all the ways these kinds of statements can be interpreted, especially considering that the person doing the interpretation is in pain. Consider these statements from the position of someone morning loss. They could very easily see it like this.

Everything will be ok –It’s not that big a deal. In a little while this person and their loss won’t be as meaningful or painful to you. It minimizes what’s happening in that moment. “Just buck up you’ll be fine soon. Now isn’t that important.” But that person is trapped in the now, in the full experience of the now. We need to speak to their now not some possible whole future.

It’s for the best – someone how your pain and anguish are for the best. God’s best plan and the best plan for you and your loved one is for that loved one to no longer be in your life. That’s harsh. May dad was in pain for 13 years but even when he passed I’ve never seen it as ‘for the best’. The best would be a healthy dad who met my sons and saw the man I’m becoming. Not one who left years before his time. That’s not the best. Why can’t God just health the person, why is them dying for the best?

God needed another angel – this is so often said when a child dies. It paints God as some kind of selfish malevolent being. He made and gave you a child then changed His mind because He needed it more. He can speak things into existence but needed YOUR child. You don’t need them as much as God does. But make sure you go and ask God for healing a support after He took your child.

There’s some good in this – while I understand the goal, there isn’t. Death wasn’t part of God’s plan. There is no good. Do we think so little of God that He can’t fulfill His purpose unless someone is taken? He’s so constrained that He can’t do good without first horrible trauma. What possible good is here that requires my loss?

Don’t worry God’s in control. He’s got a plan – again, an omnipotent God that can’t do good without causing tram and harm. A God who WANTS bad things to happen to you. It’s part of His plan. Not how I would describe a loving God. Not how I would describe a God of infinite power and grace. God can use pain but when we talk about how God is in control and has a plan we imply that God wanted the bad to happen to fulfill His plan. Like an abusive partner that uses pain and coercion to keep someone under their control.

I talked about God in all of these but they all still apply if the person isn’t a person of faith. In that case there is nothing more. There is this life and that’s it. Saying it’s for the best that someone loss the only life they will ever have or any of the other statements is just a damaging.

The point here is that what you mean and what you say aren’t always the same thing. You can have all the best intentions and still be hurtful. Where you mean to bring healing you can bring greater pain. Be aware of the implications of what you say.

Often it’s better to say nothing. It’s better just to love in presence and in deed.

But if you must say something I’ve got a few ideas for you tomorrow.

giving blood or prayer?

Prayer is good, giving blood is better – The Basketball Jones

I was listening to a podcast the other day about basketball. At the start of every episode they drop an often silly little quote. But this day I was struck by the quote above. I don’t know who said it first or what their original intent was but it got me thinking about prayer.

I worry about the way people pray. I worry about why we pray.

A few months ago a friend texted my wife and I. She was pregnant and was rushing to the hospital fearing that her child wasn’t well. She asked that we would pray, so we did.

Later that night we heard from her again. All was well, “God is good” she texted back.

A prayer was answered and God is good.

But what if it wasn’t all well?

I struggle with prayer a LOT. I struggle with the idea that we ask God to just step in and fix things for us. I struggle with the way we pray because it seems to treat God, as my father would say, as some kind of spiritual vending machine. Put in the right words, add tears and bingo God fixes. This gets to my struggle with why we pray.

I worry that we pray so that we don’t have to do anything. I worry that most of us pray so that we can be absolved of our responsibility and our role. I worry that prayer for so many of us has become the copout to real and messy relationships.

I sat at home and said “God please be with my friend. Support her and her husband. Bless and protect their child” and then just moved on. My part was done.

Sometimes I really suck.

What if it didn’t end up ok? What if there was a problem? Good thing I prayed. Maybe it was all ok because I prayed, I don’t know. What I do know is there are LOADS of times I’ve prayed for good things to happen and they didn’t.

What if she lost the baby? Her and her husband alone in a hospital room. I bet that’s how God planed for us to live and how community and love are suppose to work. I’m sure they would have felt better sitting there knowing that I prayed.

But hey, I was done, I prayed.

That’s why I worry about prayer.

I think prayer is so immensely important. But if your prayer leads you to feel done after you’ve prayed I think something is missing. If a friend in turmoil causes you to pray and then move on, you’re missing it. If you connect with God in prayer and aren’t moved to action, what are you praying about?

Is giving blood really better than prayer? No, but if you’re prayer doesn’t lead you to also ‘giving blood’ then I think you need to take a real deep look at your prayer.