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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

to my fellow amateur theologian[s]

i know that you don't necessarily intend to dictate terms or set forth a precise multi-volume theological reference. as you notice me pointing out specific words or thoughts or themes within your writing, i hope you'll forgive the sharpness of my fine-tooth comb. it's just that i don't believe we can share our ideas about God with others, without somehow affecting their ideas about God (whether they agree or disagree, they react to us somehow.) and since we are affecting the theologies of others, i think we have a responsibility not to mislead them. "Brothers and sisters, not many of you should become lengthy bloggers..." (or something like that)

furthermore, i don't think we can always know exactly how our readers will read us. if we limit our blogging to anything less than a multi-volume theological reference, we simply won't have the necessary space or time to define all of the significant terms. that's practicality.

unfortunately (i think so, anyway), when we sacrifice super-precision for practicality, we leave things open to interpretation. that's fine, as long as people don't end up interpreting us incorrectly.

"isaiah, who the heck cares oif someone doesn't get exactly what you're saying about God? like anyone ever could anyway, especially with how confusing you can be."

well, reader, i wouldn't care at all... if the person not getting it always knew that they weren't getting it. have you ever communicated something to someone, and only much later (often TOO much later) that they completely misunderstood you, but were unaware that they had done so? and did that produce a pleasant situation?

"this is getting pretty boggy, man. get to the point."

here's my point. if i say, "nothing good can be accomplished without Christ," and all the Christians clap and say 'amen' because i'm a good speaker (which i'm not, except hypothetically), will they then boycott any charitable organization that isn't led by Christians? as if i had advised them to do so?? do i really want to shut down all non-Christian charities??? or here's a more common example: if i write a Facebook note about all the Bible verses that talk about God opposing the proud but giving grace to the humble, will all the impressionable readers (not you; those other readers that i tend not to address directly in order to avoid offending them directly) then think that God has actively set Himself against them every time they fail to be humble? what does that even mean, that God is set against them?! no wonder their printer stopped working this morning, and their boss threatened to fire them, and they found an eviction notice on their front door!

the ideas people have, the ideas i have, about God, are extremely powerful. they can set me on a steady course or throw me into complete chaos. they can point me towards a path of redemption, or towards a path of ruin. God Himself redeems; our ideas about Him determine whether we pursue this redemption.

"isaiah, redemption isn't pursued. it's freely given. the fact that you believe redemption can be pursued is proof that your faith and salvation are both works-based."

when i said 'redemption,' what i meant was the process by which our character is transformed so that we have, gradually, less sinful habits and more righteous habits.

"oh. well i guess i can give your FB note the 'canonical' stamp, then. for now."

ah, grace.

Friday, October 22, 2010

deservedness and design

there are many people in the world who do not deserve kindness. perhaps, if we are very honest and very literal in our exegesis (specifically our soteriology), we will admit that no one deserves anything but judgment,.

on the other hand, if we use this kind of reasoning to justify being mean to those people, we have missed an important point. whether or not a person deserves kindness, -we do not deserve to be mean to them. whether or not someone deserves to be treated fairly, we do not deserve to treat them unfairly. if we did, then "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" would still be the law (among Christians).

the actual 'law' can be (has been, is, will always be) summed up like this: be patient, be kind, be not envious, be not boastful, be not arrogant, be not rude; do not insist on your own way; do not be irritable or resentful; do not rejoice in wrongdoing; rejoice in the truth. bear all things, believe all things, hope all thing, endure all things.

this applies to how we treat others, and it applies to how others treat us. i think, to some degree, we can apply this to ourselves as well. -we do not deserve to pass judgment on ourselves.- it is no more our job to punish ourselves than it is our job to punish others. it is not your job to make sure you get what you deserve. it is not your job to make sure you don't get what you don't deserve.

the truth of these statements i'm making, i believe in with perfect certainty (and, very occasionally, perfect clarity). as many of you know, i am not one to wait to be asked, "isaiah, what do you think about this?" often i will even go so far as to answer the question "what do you think about my life and values?" without ever being asked. this has sometimes resulted in indignation or worse.

perhaps there are some opinions i hold about the lives of others which i should not broadcast to them unless asked. perhaps there are some situations where the speaking out of my values (read: the values i believe should be others' as well) is not well-timed.

this is not one of those times, nor is it something i would be willing to keep to myself, even if told to do so. if you would love and be loved as described above, you must be free to do so. and in order to be free to do so, you must believe you are free to do so. at some point, to some degree, you will feel free to do so... if you wish it.

i have this vibrant urge to facilitate this kind of freedom in the lives of people who have chosen to be vulnerable to me (by having genuine friendship with me). this urge is, in large part, what drives me to write and publish this note. i want you to consider the possibility that life is not about deservedness, but rather about design.

"what do you mean by that, isaiah?"

stop thinking about what you deserve. stop thinking about what others deserve. start thinking about what you were designed to do and be. start thinking about what others were designed to do and be. make a commitment to God, to yourself, to your faith, to others... ...to do and be what you were designed to do and be, no matter what you think others deserve, no matter what you think you deserve.

this is the kind of freedom we need. it frees us to confidently make tough moral decisions. it frees us from self-pity, self-loathing, self-devaluation. it frees us to give selflessly. it frees us to consider ourselves valuable without devaluing others. it ends the arguments about whether you should or shouldn't apologize to someone, if the question is based on something they have done. (likewise, it answers any question of whether or not someone should apologize to you based on what you have or haven't done.) it frees us to call out the mistreatment of someone else, or of our own selves, without condemning the people committing the mistreatment.

it frees us to pursue healthy relationships, even with people who don't seem to be willing to pursue that with us in return. if that sounds like something you'd be interested in, don't forget what you read just now.