Let My People Think

Posts tagged ‘God’

Bible: a study tool or a God-substitute

BibliolatryIt’s fascinating how often the Bible gets deified, based on the way we use certain phrasings: “The Bible says …”, “The Scriptures teach us “, “The Bible tells us”.

In all of those examples, the Bible is antropomorphized – i.e., it’s getting endowed with characteristics which belong to sentient beings. That is without warrant. The teacher is the Holy Spirit. The One who is to be obeyed is God. The human being to emulate is Jesus. And the Bible is simply a very, very useful tool on the journey. It is the official historically accurate record of God’s dealings with humankind, containing a lot of “inside information”.

Typically, by the time we get to studying our Bibles, we are already given the looking glass through which we perceive everything that’s written in the Bible. In doing so, we calibrate our reading experience to our apriori theology, and we draw out and magnify things that are in line with what we already believe, and minimize and discard the things that could challenge our existing beliefs.

So, often times it’s not “the Bible teaching me”, but actually quite the opposite of that. It’s “me” telling the Bible what I think it should be saying.
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1 John 1:9 : The litmus test of our faith basis

Here’s one verse that is often taken out of context and misconstrued.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

We are tempted to read “cause-effect” relationship in this verse in a way that’s not supported by the verse’s grammar in any way at all. The problem is not with the verse; the problem is that our Protestants minds are still so conditioned by the Roman Catholic confessional booth that we tend to read into the verse the stuff that’s not even there.

Here’s what the verse DOESN’T say ” if I confess sins – God WILL BE faithful and just to do xyz”. Future tense in NOT used in the second part of this verse. It’s fascinating how often this crucial detail gets missed. Rather, the verse says “If I confess sins – God IS [ALREADY] faithful and just to do xyz”.

Let me put it a different way. The relationship between the two clauses of this sentence is not “cause and effect.” The relationship is not between between me confessing sin and God forgiving and cleansing. The relationship is between me confessing sin and God being faithful and just! Both of these are stated in the present tense. Your confession cannot cause God to be faithful and just – otherwise your lack of confession would cause God to be unfaithful and unjust. This is nonsensical, and it should be quite obvious.
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Fear of death – an unholy idol of nominal Christianity

Fear of DeathSomething just dawned on me, as clear as day. At the root of the way modeled by Jesus Christ is the certainty and security about our relationship with our good heavenly father, carried into eternity. At the root of religious fundamentalism is the ever-present good old fear of death – and at its core, that fear of death is unmitigated even by the cross of Calvary. These two streams flow within the larger nominal framework of Christianity. They may employ the same terminology and the same sacred texts, but the difference is truly night and day.

Here’s what brought it to light for me. During these past few years, I’ve read theological books on a variety of subjects, and from a variety of perspectives. I’ve read much material on the subject of atonement. I’ve read entire books on some of the views, in addition to reading background material on all of the currently and historical popular views. I came away with a renewed understanding of the complexity of the issue. What’s important – awareness of those perspectives, coupled with my own in-depth research and analysis, gave me many tools to help me construct my own understanding of the meaning of the atonement.

I did very similar kind of research with the issues of “hell”, “heaven”, “theodicy” (goodness of God vs. evil that’s in the world), “end times”, and many others. Again – my awareness of those perspectives, coupled with my own in-depth research and analysis, empowered me to construct my own understanding of the meaning of the “hell”, “heaven”, “theodicy”, “end times”, etc. My understanding of these and many other subjects became much more textured, much deeper, much more internally coherent, much more resonant with the Scriptures in their historical and cultural context – and as the result, often very different from the commonly circulated pop-theology teachings.
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Is every existing authority from God?

Unthinking respect for authority Albert EinsteinHere’s an interesting passage in the New Testament that concerns submission to governing authorities:

Romans 13:1 New International Version (NIV)
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

On the surface, a translation like that seems to imply that any expression of Western-style democracy is a direct rebellion against God. That reading would also mean that Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot are legitimately examples of Godly leaders. That’s why this reading a very attractive target for abuse by manipulative preachers and “prophets” who don’t shy away from using out-of-context Scriptural prooftexts to prop up their own agendas.

But there’s a little translation peculiarity that’s often overlooked, and yet it considerably changes the meaning of the entire chapter. Here is Romans 13:1 in hyper-literal translation from ancient Koine Greek:
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Women in society: God’s blueprint for womankind violated

Woman with veil

This is part 2 of 2. Click here to view part 1 of 2.

When the first couple fell prey to satan’s deception, one of the consequences was the loss of that image of God:

Genesis 3
16 […] Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.

The woman’s curse was in that in her fallen state, her first desire will be not for God, but rather for her man. And to repay for that desire, the now fallen man will rule over her. The word “rule” here means to “gain control over, to dominate, to be a master of”. How far this is from the original design! That’s what happens when anyone is installed in God’s place, even if that “someone” is a God-given spouse.

This carries a profound lesson for us today. For women: if your primary object of worship is for your man, rather than God, you might become dominated or enslaved, in various aspects of your life. For men: if you don’t submit to God and learn from his heart of love, you will be prone to subjugating your woman, and to robbing her of God-given rights.

If you have read romance novels, watched romantic dramas, or have listened to love-themed songs, you know that this curse is still very much alive today. There are a number of good and well thought-out works in that genre, but a lot of what’s out there today is as unhealthy as chocolate-covered bacon.
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Women in society: recovering God’s original blueprint for womankind

Woman holding a BibleThe issue of the role of women in society is as old as the Biblical story of humankind itself. So, let’s revisit the creation account for a good starting point in our discussion. It contains some intriguing insights.

Unfortunately, most translations of the account of creation and the fall will not give you a faithful representation of the full meaning of what was being said, due to different translations of the same words, and haphazard capitalization of the noun “adam”. The word “adam” may be translated as “Adam” in one place, “man” in another, or “mankind” in the third, according to translators’ biases.

So, I will take NKJV for a starting point, and give you an straight translation from the original language in square brackets. Please feel free to verify this with your favorite interlinear or original language Scripture text.

Genesis 1
27 So God created man [adam] in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

The word “adam” derives from the word “adamah”, or earth. Literally, it means “that which is made of earth”, or “earthly human”. Hebrew lacked capitalization and punctuation the way English language has it today. So, let me simplify this:

Genesis 1
27 So God created the earthly human in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

You see that the account is not describing Adam the man. Rather, it’s describing male and female collectively. Therefore, the masculine pronoun “him” is not a reference to the man, per se. Rather, it’s a reference to the unity of male and female.

The word “image” (“tselem” in Hebrew, “eikon” in Greek) is something that is meant to faithfully represent the original. An example would be an icon, or a photograph. So, both male and female collectively have a God-appointed function to be a divine image-bearer in the world. Any deviation from that is bound to skew God’s reflected image, so it’s very important for us to uncover and be mindful of that original blueprint.
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A yin-yang God

yin and yangUnfortunately, a commonly accepted understanding of God in Christendom is tainted by an Augustinian depiction of God as sort of a divine yin-yang, God being partly light, and is partly darkness. Well there’s a problem with that view, since:

1 John 1:5
5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.

Most people that hold to yin-yang understanding of God’s character don’t explicitly acknowledge it as such. Instead, in essence what they say is this: that God is light, and yet he can do evil things, and when he does, they are not evil but good, since God does them with a greater good in mind. So then, God can inflict pain, harm, or disability on someone for greater good, which is usually presented as some form of “drawing one closer to him”.

There are physically handicapped people who are known in Christian circles who have attributed their disability to a direct, willful act of God, along with any positive changes in their character that followed. That’s a very misinformed outlook, and a dangerous one at that.

There are numerous problems with this view.

First, if you try to inflict pain, harm, or disability on someone, they will never want get close to you. Instead, they will run away from you as fast and as far as they can, or they will fight back with all the strength they got. Try it on a pet rat and see how far you get. Please don’t try it on humans, it’s been done, and it never worked.

Second, if that’s your view of God, and you simultaneously believe that God is love, you’ve just completely redefined what love is.
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