Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Kingdom (Page 2 of 7)

Some thoughts on ISIS and non-violence

(I wanted to write this post over a week ago, but with building work going on and the house in chaos, I didn’t get a chance. Things are now calming down a little, so I hope to now be able to resume normal service.)

TOPSHOTS-IRAQ-UNREST-ARMY-EXECUTIONFor the past few weeks, social media have been alive with justified outrage over the atrocities committed by the ISIS radical jihadist movement in northern Iraq. This grouping, the latest in a series of factions seeking to spearhead the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate spreading from the deserts of Iraq to the western border of Turkey, has been steamrolling through remote areas of northern Iraq forcing all who will not swear allegiance to its radical brand of Islam – including but not limited to Christians – to convert, pay a religious levy or be killed. Thousands have fled their homes and headed towards an uncertain and precarious future in Syria, while others – including women and young children – have been brutally mutilated and slaughtered. According to reports, some of those not willing to meet ISIS’s demands have been crucified, their bodies left hanging on crosses for weeks on end to serve as a chilling example to any who might entertain notions of dissent.

While questions have been raised over the veracity of some of the images being circulated, there appears to be little doubt that the situation in the affected corner of Iraq is at the very least a humanitarian catastrophe, if not an outright genocide.

As I indicated above, the general response to this awful situation has been one of widespread moral outrage. This, it seems to me, is entirely justified and appropriate. And, of course, it’s a short step from moral outrage to cries of “Something must be done!”… leading immediately to the question of what, precisely, can or should be done. Which is where things get particularly interesting for anyone seeking to be a follower of Jesus in this violent age.

The decision as to whether to provide humanitarian aid in the form of air drops of supplies to fleeing populations is uncontroversial. Where things get trickier is when Christians unite with non-Christians in calling for military action against ISIS.

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Salvation reimagined

SONY DSCA few months ago, I wrote a post called On being saved, in which I sought to address the question “What must I do to be saved?”. In other words, it was a post about the how of salvation.

Today I’d like to think about the question “What does it mean to be saved?”. In other words, this is a post about not the how but the what of salvation. Another way we could ask the question is “What are we saved for, or what are we saved into?”.

If you asked a random sample of western believers what is the purpose of salvation, I’m pretty sure a high proportion would give as their first answer something involving eternal life and/or “going to heaven” after you die. We see salvation largely as a kind of status that secures benefits for us that kick in once our time on this earth is done – a celestial insurance policy, if you will. Of course, there are also some benefits to be enjoyed now, but these largely revolve around the assurance of knowing that we are included in the group whose eternal destiny is sorted and secure.

This “now versus future” duality is so deeply ingrained in our western psyche that it’s hard for us to be aware of, let alone shake off.

In almost thirty years of being a Christian, I’ve sat through more evangelistic services than I could possibly count. The vast majority of them have operated on the premise of “selling” the benefits of eternal security in order to get people to “make a commitment” today. Often no apology is made for using extreme psychological and emotional pressure to get people to “pray the prayer”. The justification is apparently quite sound: when someone’s eternal destiny is at stake, you use any means you can to get them to sit up and take notice.

If I sound uncharitable about those who practice this approach to evangelism, I don’t mean to. In most cases, they are deeply sincere and loving people who genuinely want the best for those they are addressing.

But I’ve been thinking. Specifically, about Jesus and his ministry. If you measure evangelistic efficiency by the number of appeals or altar calls made, Jesus wasn’t much of an evangelist. He didn’t go around trying to convince people to tick the right boxes so they could be saved. He mostly just encouraged people to repent and follow him. Which could be paraphrased “Change the way you think, and do like I do”.

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Exchange no more

Balancing The Account By HandAs westerners in the twenty-first century, we live in an economy of exchange.

In economics, an economy of exchange is an economy in which goods are exchanged for money or other goods perceived to be of equal value. This is how it works: when you go to the supermarket to buy your weekly groceries, you exchange your hard-earned cash for products off the supermarket shelves. When you take a job, you essentially agree to exchange your time, effort, loyalty and expertise for cash and (if you’re lucky) other benefits.

An economy of exchange is a closed system in which everything has a price. It might also be described as a “zero sum game”: for the system to work, every gain must be offset by an equal loss.

It’s easy to understand this at an economic level. But the principle of the economy of exchange plays out at just about every level of society:

– We send our kids to school because we believe that in return for entrusting them to teachers for a set period of time, they will in return gain an education that will be of value (economic and otherwise) to them throughout their lives.

– We look for partners/mates on the basis of what we can offer them and what we stand to get back in return. For example, we might be willing to trade some of our freedom for companionship, or perhaps we are trading some of our money for someone to provide us with kids and look after the house. (Okay, I’m simplifying, but hopefully you see the point.)

– We have a justice system based on the belief that no crime should go unpunished.

These are merely the most obvious examples of how the economy of exchange operates in our world. But the principle plays out all the time, in all kinds of ways of which we’re not even aware. We’re constantly on the lookout for leverage, for how we stand to benefit in return for any given cost, for whether any given investment (in time, effort, finance or whatever) will generate a worthwhile return.

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Right and wrong, but not as we know them

KeyEarlier this week I wrote a couple of posts about the fact that our default way of interpreting and making sense of the world tends to be through the prism of rules and lines demarcating who is in and who is out of whatever groups we happen to belong to. (You can read the posts I’m talking about here and here.) I want to continue a bit further on that same theme today.

It seems to me, then, that we tend to make everything into right and wrong, good and bad, true and false (and by the way, I’m well aware that I’m just as guilty of this as anyone… if not more so.) As I said in an earlier post, I understand that this tendency towards rule-making arises in part from of our inherent need for order and structure. But this hardwired need has become corrupted by our broken condition, and thus creates problems it was never intended to create. Something that was meant to bring order to the world so everyone could enjoy it in peace and harmony instead ends up creating division, disharmony and death.

The most tragic thing of all is that we even apply this exaggerated rule-based logic to God and faith. In fact, we seem to do it even more zealously in this area than in any other. So we take the invitation to follow Jesus, who was all about love and freedom, and make it into a system of rules, doctrines and expected behaviours, and we measure who’s in the kingdom and who’s outside it based on people’s performance against these criteria. We somehow come to understand salvation as “ticking all the required boxes”.

I think Jesus would have us see things differently. I think, for him, the way to know whether or not we’re in the kingdom is to look primarily not at the content of our beliefs but rather at the content of our lives: how we live and how well we deny ourselves and love others.

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Who’s in and who’s out?

On The Other Side of the FenceExclusion. I’m becoming increasingly aware that it’s something most of us tend to do pretty much all the time.

Of course, we don’t call it exclusion, and so we don’t recognise it as such. But in reality, it’s very often lurking not far beneath the surface.

Think about it. Every time we label a person or group, we are effectively practising exclusion. In applying a label, we are basically saying, “You belong to that category, which means you don’t belong to my category”. When I label someone, I create distance and separation between myself and one who is other than me.

Now, I’m not talking about simply categorising people for the sake of order. As human beings, I believe we’re hardwired to seek and create order, and part of that involves creating and organising categories. But you and I both know that there’s a very fine line (so fine, in fact, that it’s almost invisible) between applying a label to someone for the sake of understanding and ordering the world and using that label, however subtly, to diminish and denigrate.

We do this so habitually that we’re not aware of it. Political labels, class labels, labels based on where people live, how they dress, how they talk, what they believe… you name it, we label it. And in labelling others in this way, we often implicitly condemn them to the super-category of less than me.

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Homesick

If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.

— Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons

Long walk home

SomewhereYesterday I read the following quote:

The kingdom of God comes like a long walk home.

(For those who want to know, it’s actually a slightly edited version of a quote by Brian Zahnd.)

This really connected with something I’ve been thinking about lately, so I thought I’d take a few moments to unpack it.

To begin at the end, if the kingdom of God is a kind of homecoming, then it follows that the kingdom of this world – the world system as currently configured – is not our ultimate home. We are made for life in a different kind of world.

Of course, many Christians have been taught that this other world for which we are made is out there “somewhere beyond the blue”. For the moment, it exists only in our imagination as a kind of ethereal idyllic realm. Whether you refer to it as heaven, paradise, “glory” or whatever, the idea is the same: this is the place where we’ll get to spend eternity no longer weighed down by the sin, pain and corruption of this present world. The negro spiritual captures it well: This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through…

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