Sunday, September 13, 2009

Encountering Jesus Part 2

Jesus said, But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Luke 12:5

What? Sounds like a horrible contradiction to Jesus' emphasis on love in Luke 12: 6-7, does it not?

And what about 1 John 4:18? There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

And 1 John repeatedly claims, God is love. Yet is God also fear? And doesn't all of this sound like so much double-talk?

Should we teach our children to react to God like many religious children of the past and the present, who grovel in fear and anxiety so very afraid they might not be of the few predestined to salvation or that God loves to cast millions of them into Hell?

As a young adult trying to understand the Bible, even after college, I tended to see verses propositionally and logically--the fading shadow of my fundamentalist upbringing. So I was baffled and had no answer for skeptics. Whenever Scripture made extreme statements, especially ones which seemed contradictory, I got confused and lost my way.

Check out Luke 14: 26 If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Now there's a winner. Probably won't gets points from Focus on the Family. And it's an isolated verse atheists love to heave at people of faith, like a biblical Molotov cocktail.

So now we have Jesus demanding we fear God, fear Hell and then Jesus also orders us to hate our family!

I don't claim there are any easy answers to such difficult verses--and there are many pages of them in the Bible. However, I do think we grow when we sincerely struggle spiritually.

What I don't want to do is to twist the verses into easy answers. It used to frustrate me to no end when reading commentators and they would try and get around (or eliminate) difficult minefields like this. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the famous German theologian hanged by the Nazis) gave a brilliant satire on this habit of humans in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He made fun of those who turn Scripture into the opposite of its plain meaning:

Where Jesus says to give up all you have to become his disciple, Bonhoeffer has the modern Christian say, what Jesus really means is to keep all you have and get more.

I have learned much over the years about what Jesus means in Luke 12, but before I share my understanding this time, I thought, first, I would throw out the spiritual grenade;-) to you other bloggers and see what your take is on these vitally important verses.

In the Light of God,

Daniel Wilcox

6 comments:

Hystery said...

Daniel,

You mention how your background informed and informs your biblical reading. I am always interested by what we bring to the words we read. I see that my training in bible study from the perspective of the historical critical method informed by liberation theory informs me greatly. I was never taught to read the bible as a source of authority. Anything in the bible that fell short of uncompromising love, equality, compassion, mercy, and kindness was dismissed as irrelevant. The disagreements in the text do not trouble me because I see the bible as an anthology written by conflicting religious, cultural and personal perspectives over vast stretched of time. I can't expect such a collection of writings to be consistent.

That which expands my understanding of and ability to live a life of love and peace is sacred. That which does not is merely of academic interest.

Ken Schroeder said...

I also believe the overriding message of the New Testament is that 'God is love.' With this in mind:
The old testament states that
'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' First, 'fear' in this context is more like 'awe' and reverence; the fear a child has for a loving parent. In an outburst of anger I use the Lord's name in vain and fearing the Lord I cringe, then ask forgiveness, and get it. This may be an immature faith, and not the completion of wisdom, but it is a beginning. I believe Jesus spoke to a lot of 'beginners.'

As to the fear of hell, if you believe hell to be a state of being rather than a literal place, it makes sense that Jesus would want us to find inner peace by returning to God and escape inner torment resulting from separation from God. If I tell someone they'd better stop drinking and driving or they'll die I'm not threatening them, I'm warning them, for their sake.
As to hating the family, Jesus says, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.' If I put my family first and God second, I'm worshipping my family. I'm then pitting my family against other families, especially in tough economies. We create enemies, etc. For us to 'hate' our family, even ourselves, means to put God first. Naturally, as God is love, by loving God first and foremost, we will then love our family, our neighbours, our enemies... This love, of course, is 'agape' rather than that love that 'even the tax collectors' have.

Your Friend in Christ,

Ken

Kristy Shreve Powers said...

When I read the Bible, I am a doubter. I encounter troubling and even seemingly petty things as I read. But I agree that the interpreters of the Bible who make it all "come out okay" are troubling, too. It makes me feel that one can just say anything one likes and believe it, which, as my husband points out, leaves room for mean-spirited and evil concepts as well as benevolent ones.

I find Hystery's comment interesting that "That which expands my understanding of and ability to live a life of love and peace is sacred. That which does not is merely of academic interest." Because I need things in my life to help me live a life of love. I really do need as much assistance as I can get!

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hello responders:-)

Hystery,
Yeah, you got a very early start in realizing the Spirit of Truth must be the touchstone of interpreting Scripture, not vice versa.

I had to spend a lifetime suffering through and shedding incorrect/damaging methods of Bible study.

On the other hand, my grounding in Scripture often protected me from bad peer influences and relative social standards. For instance, the people all around me who wanted me to go to Vietnam to kill, were nice people dedicated to love, equality, etc.; they just limited their ethics of goodness to those of their own nation and kin.

It was the shocking, extreme words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that opened my eyes.
So sometimes we do need the Bible to pierce our present understanding even if we think we are right, good, and kind.
Hope your week is going better.

Hi Ken,
Thanks for the inspirational, very lucid response. Maybe I should have just posted your comment for my next post:-)

Where do you worship? I don't think I have met you online.

Hi Kristy,
I agree. The Bible brings out the doubter in me too. But also the person of faith who so wants to bring good to others.

Keep seeking:-)
Thanks for stopping by.

In the light of God,

Daniel Wilcox

ken said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the kind response to my response. I now respond in kind.

I am an affiliate member of Ohio Yearly Meeting as I live in Portugal. I attend a Baptist church run by dispensationalist, fundamentalist missionaries, where I have learned a great deal about faith and scripture. I have also learned a great deal about how square pegs are pounded into round holes to make a scriptural belief system work. Anyway, they tolerate my heresies (while correcting me), so I tolerate theirs (while correcting them).

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hello again Ken,

Thanks for the update. Portugal--wow. I didn't know anyone read me outside of the U.S.

As for Baptist, I know 'em. My father was a Baptist pastor. And I still value much in the Baptist faith tradition. Especially that is where I first met and accepted Christ as my savior.

Daniel