The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Beliefs Impact Treatment of Others for Better or Worse

We have recently been subjected to the repeated spectacles of "ministers" preaching hatred to their congregations on the issue of homosexuality ... and on politics. In one instance, an entire congregation cheered on as a three year old sang a hateful little ditty (we aren't born hating but this case shows how early we can be taught to do so). In one seminary course, we were taught that how you perceive God and the end of time will directly impact upon how you treat others.

I imagine each of these ministers sees God as wrathful judge waiting eagerly to pounce upon the sinful and send them to their doom. I imagine each espouses a belief in very limited salvation for members of their churches who believe exactly as they do and for few others. If not, I'll be mightily surprised.

For me: I am staggered and humbled that God, the perfect and eternal community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who spoke the universe into being through the living Word (Jn 1:3), seeks a close personal relationship with us all.  I place my faith in the eternal, loving, almighty God. I understand God is triune, one divine essence in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Trinity may be described as both hierarchy and equality. Although complete and perfect by God’s-self, out of love God created the universe, and humanity in it. Out of that boundless love, God created us in God’s own image (Gen 1:26-27). God creates and controls this universe in God’s omnipotence, knows all things in God’s omniscience, and in God’s omnipresence is active in human history. Out of profound love for wayward humanity, God is bending human history toward the goal of perfect community, which will be achieved in God’s coming kingdom. God is sovereign over all but limits that sovereignty to give humanity free will. However, at times God responds to our sinful acts with wrath and judgment, correcting our ways. That wrath may be suspended if individuals or societies are willing to turn to God’s ways (Jon 3:10; 4:11).
            I know that God is also a personal God. In Genesis 3:8, God walks in the garden in the cool of the day to be with Adam and Eve, an image I love. This personal God seeks us out as a shepherd seeks lost sheep (Lk 15:4) and rejoices when we return after going astray (Lk 15:11-22). God can also answer our prayers very personally. At the end of one particularly bad day at work, I asked in prayer if this might not be the time to move me from the secular world into ministry. After all, this is your idea God, I grumbled. The next day, the seminary class reading explored how to wait and what God does in our lives while we wait. Later, I checked the revised common lectionary. The day’s reading dealt with the wise bridesmaids who prepared while they waited (Mt 25:1-13). From Malachi 1:2-5, I know that our personal God is faithful. God will keep any and all promises God makes with us. This is comforting as my time in seminary draws to a close and I prepare for the next step in following God’s call.
 As for the end of time, I'm quite happy to allow God to sort that one out. That is truly God's business and none of mine. However, I will say this, I don't believe the "Church" gets out of any struggles yet to come. You do not find believers in the Bible getting off lightly when trouble comes. No, congregants will be expected to be in the thick of things, serving others, and acting as lights to an agonized world. I'll add this about eschatology, those troublesome end times we hear so much about:

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have the hope that death is not the end for us, but rather the road we travel to arrive in the coming kingdom of God. Heaven will be to live life eternal in perfect community with God. This is a beautiful gift for all humanity that we are called to accept (Mt 19:29, Mk 10:29-30, Lk 18:29-30, and Jn 6:40). Given this wonderful hope, we are called to live a life in which we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mt 22:37-39). In all our words and actions, we are to glorify God and declare this great, essential hope to others. To refuse God’s grace and run from God’s love, embracing sin, leads one to hell. Hell is being outside of the love of God. At the end of time hell and death will be thrown into the fiery pit and destroyed (Rev 20:11-15).
            Of the various eschatological conceptions, I prefer proleptic eschatology. In proleptic eschatology, God works through humanity to bring in the kingdom of God. God grants us all a choice, to help bring in that kingdom with God or to work against it. This eschatological concept encourages working with and for all of suffering humanity. Given the evil and suffering in the world, I believe the tribulation is ongoing. It began with Christ’s ascension and continues until Jesus returns. We, the Church, are in the midst of it. While I place my faith in Jesus that no one knows the time Jesus will return, I intend to do my best to help others in this life. I will work for justice and to alleviate suffering and instill hope as best I am able given the gifts God has endowed me with to use. I want to be able to stand in judgment knowing I did what I could to help others and allow God to use me to help bring God’s kingdom a little closer.
So, you're belief systems can positively or negatively effect your perception of humanity and how you chose to respond to humans in all our great diversity. For me, all humanity is:

As related in Genesis, humanity is a wonderful creation of God, made in the image of God, and free of sin when created. God blessed humanity. God deemed humanity, along with all of God’s creation, to be very good, and tasked humanity with creation’s care. (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15) God was in close association with humanity from the start (Gen 3: 8-9). Humanity quickly abused God’s gift of free will. We chose to disobey God, to sin, and fell away from the ideal state God intended for us. God loves us and maintains a relationship with us despite our tendency to act as “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3; 3:4-5). God sent us Jesus to deliver us from our sins. Jesus shows us and tells us of the loving God who still seeks us. Jesus also relates the good news that God plans a perfect community of humanity and God to come with God’s Kingdom.
            Humanity is respected by God. We are allowed to share in God’s goodness, truth, beauty, and eternal life. God respects us enough to grant us free will. God also respects us enough to teach us when we stray rather than strike us down in righteous fury. I am humbled before God’s love and respect. Knowing me as I am, God has still called me into ministry. Hearing my long, Moses-like lists of reasons why this should not be, God would not be deterred.

 Returning to the ministers recorded in their diatribes from the pulpit concerning creating concentration camps for the homosexual community and teaching small children hate lyrics, remember, with all the cameras available to the public today, your hate speech will be recorded and disseminated (but not here on this blog). In your angry rants, you forget Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3: If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Why am I bothering you with all this? There are many reasons, but foremost in my mind as I write is my concern that those outside the faith know that those noisy gongs and clanging cymbals recently in the news do not represent Christianity in its entirety. I want to provide a different point of view.

God bless you.

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