Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thought-full or Thought-less?

I came across a thought-provoking quote this week while reading which says, "All of us, including those who think professionally, are often enough thought-poor; we all are far too easily thought-less. Thoughtlessness is an uncanny visitor who comes and goes everywhere in today's world. For nowadays, we take in everything in the quickest and cheapest way, only to forget it just as quickly, instantly."

What struck me about the above quote is how often I experience my own Bible reading in thoughtless ways. In other words, I often forget what I read quickly and instantly. I struggle against getting a certain amount of reading done for class, sermon, or a counseling appointment. What I have been missing of late, but use to enjoy very much, is reading meditatively and deeply for myself. Fast food can satisfy an immediate hunger, but not a nutritional need. I need to learn to savor the richness of God's Word for the care of my soul, and not settle for less. 

The psalmist says, "My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise" (Pss 119:148). I need to rediscover the discipline of meditative reading--turning a passage over and over in my mind, contemplating the wonder and beauty of God's promise and Word for my life. Another psalm that comes to mind says, " . . . in all his thoughts there is no room for God" (Pss 10:4). One question I need to answer is, "Even if I have made room for God in my thoughts, what is the weight of those thoughts?" Is God thought-full or thought-less? 


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Between Delay and Damnation

Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes, who say: "Let him be quick, let him speed his work that we may see it; let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near, and let it come, that we may know it!" Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:18-21).

The above words from the prophet Isaiah strike a powerful chord of thoughts in my mind. What is particularly striking is the attitude of disbelief, doubt, and disdain on the lips of God’s covenant people who arrogantly say to God, “let him speed his work that we may see it.” The fact that human beings doubt the existence and power of God is nothing new, but to hear such boastful words from God’s own people is as sobering as it is sad.

The apparent absence of God in immediately judging the behavior of what Scripture deems evil in the lives of individuals, nations, societies, and cultures is perhaps one reason for this doubting disdain of God’s presence and promises. After all, the image of above of driving a cart of sin implies a sinner is in control and determining where, how, and when to live their life of evil. If you take your cart of sin wherever you so desire, and there does not seem to be any interference from the Lord, then why be concerned about what God calls evil, good, bitter, or sweet?

A “successful” life of sin is a terrible blindness. Successful sinning leads one to be “shrewd in their own sight” thinking that deceives one into believing they can figure things out for themselves apart from God.  The words of Peter are a beneficial reminder that “ The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Here is a strange thing. On the one hand, God’s delay in carrying out judgment can lead many to doubt His presence and power. On the other hand, God’s immediate judgment can result in the perishing of the unrepentant. It seems that in the eyes of God delay is mercy, but in the eyes of sinners delay is absence. What a peculiar tension God navigates between delaying and damning. The Apostle Paul warns against misreading God’s delay when he writes, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5). At the end of God’s delay is damnation. 

Therefore, between delay and damnation lies the mercy of God. Only the foolish would dare to presume to know the distance between the two. Now is the day of mercy, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2). Let us not be wise in our own eyes, but let us be wise in the eyes of God, and experience God’s mercy in this time of delay.


Peace in Space and Time

The Apostle Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18). What happens though when you have gone as “far as it depends on you” to make peace, but the one you are in conflict with refuses? The simple answer I suppose is that you “shake the dust off your feet” and move on. After all, you have done all that depends on you. However, Paul further encourages us, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:20-21).

In order to have the kind of peace that our Lord desires for us to experience, we must have proximity to the one(s) we are in conflict. You have to see that your “enemy” is hungry or thirsty to be able to provide them an act of kindness. Such acts of kindness imply that God does not want us to abandon our relationships to one another, but rather desires the good of unity to overcome the evil of division. Obviously, there are times when peace is not possible and you cannot be in the presence of one who does not tolerate your presence. Yet, we are to be looking for those opportune moments when the enemy is in need, and are able and prepared to provide such need. Therefore, we must not hope for our enemy to fall, but look to uplift the enemy when they fall. 

The hope we ought to be longing for is an opportunity to create a different experience with the one(s) we are at odds. Instead of a remembered experience of hate and division, we seek to create an experience of love and unity. We want our enemy to see us offering them a hand in care, not a hand in spite. However, herein rests a major problem in our contemporary western culture. Today, we are a mobile society. We are capable of packing up and moving not just across town, but across the state, country, and even continents! How then can we see our enemy is thirsty or hungry when those we are fighting with are literally out of sight? Take for example congregational conflicts. Often when members experience conflict within a congregation, they can simply move away and attend another congregation in town.  We do not have to worship with or see the one we are in conflict with and so our trouble seems out of sight and out of mind.

We can avoid loving our enemy all too easily today. However, not everyone in our world can avoid their enemies so easily. Recently, I watched a documentary about the 1994 Rwanda massacre titled,  As We Forgive. The film follows the experience of two Rwandan women, Rosaria and Chantale, who come face-to-face with the men who killed their families. What struck me in particular was how the issue of reconciliation was a necessity for these women and their enemies. The Rwandan situation due to cultural, economic, and tribal factors meant that the killers of the families of Rosaria and Chantale would be coming back after their prison terms to live in the same small village. The documentary follows how the process of reconciliation is worked out as victimizers and victims come face-to-face.

As I watched this film, I kept thinking how such a situation would be virtually unheard of in our society and culture. As American’s we would simply move away, whether we were the victimizer or the victim. Yet, as Christians united to one another at the foot of the cross of Christ, can we really do less than what these two Rwanda women were compelled to do by cultural and societal necessity? Should we not as Christians be compelled to reconcile with our enemies, not by physical necessity, but by our choice to pick up our cross and follow Jesus—the Prince of Peace? Chantale and Rosaria were granted about ten years apart from the murders of their families, but in time, the space and time between them collapsed, and they needed to negotiate how they were going to be in each other’s presence now and for the foreseeable future.

My heart aches when I see brothers and sisters in Christ divide and leave each other over doctrinal, personal, and/or petty reasons. We are so quick to move away from each other in space and time. Let us heed the words of Paul, and be inspired by Rosaria and Chantale to not use space and time to remain enemies, but to find peace in the space and time God has granted us to share with one another.