Friday, July 23, 2010

Don't make me angry

Of course pretty much everyone knows the rest of that quote... wouldn't like me when I'm angry!

That is, as I think I've said before, one of my great concerns - not being liked. It's foolish and stems from some deep insecurities, I'm sure, but I like being liked. I suspect most of us do.

But it does sometimes hold me back from saying what I actually think and feel, particularly in public forums (fora?) such as here, or Facebook, or Twitter, or even in conversation or around and about. There was an article a while ago in the Church Times about Clergy Stress and one of the notes said that many found it hard that they had to 'be nice to difficult people'. There's some debate as to what that might mean! Being 'nice' is, though, the perennial image - and perhaps failing - of the Clergy, and certainly a trap I find myself falling into.

One of the problems is that when something does actually challenge the niceness culture, when something happens, all the bottled up and repressed anger or whatever can suddenly pop out and all sorts of views, ideas, issues, stresses and opinions can come out in a rush - sometimes unrelated to the issue or event in question, often making such an event or issue more than it need be.

My two flashpoints, which threaten to breach the dam of all my niceness, are these; two things which make me angry, sometimes needlessly, often with good reason:



Exclusive Christianity

I suspect that most of us will go along with the technology thing. I love the things that my PC, iPhone and all the other associated gizmos and gadgets I have picked up over the past few years allow me to do, though I sometimes wonder just how much more distraction I could have in my life! When it goes wrong, though, my tolerance level drops through the floor... Mostly this is trying to produce and print things on a timescale, but sometimes its to do with things slowing down for no apparent reason. Getting angry with keyboards, PCs, Printers etc when they go wrong is completely pointless and unreasonable - but it's better than kicking a cat in frustration.

More important is the Christianity thing. My understanding of Christian Faith is that begins with Grace. I have an understanding of ultra-prevenient Grace - that God's love and grace come first, that God begins with an attitude of love towards humanity and that this love has been shown in its fullest way in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (of which I could say more, and probably will). This means I believe that God starts with an attitude of love towards his creation.

I saw a video today that suggested God starts with an attitude of hate. Hating sin, hating evil, and hating humanity that is so sinful. Mark Driscoll offers an exposition of Psalm 5v5 which says that God hates evildoers. In this understanding God's holiness means that he cannot stand sin or the people that sin, and that his love reacts to this by sending Jesus and Jesus saves those who come to him and accept him and believe in him. Along with that you also have to believe a whole load of reformed doctrine or you are in sin and God obviously hates you as you are an evildoer. I'm not going to link to the video because it made, and still makes, me so angry. This along with a whole load of other stuff (I went back and edited that word, stuff will have to do) which I have seen from that whole reformed movement that I have seen and read fills me with sadness, anger and a certain level of despair for the Church and reminds me why I have a fair amount of sympathy for Atheists. It begins with a God who is angry, vengeful, wrathful and negatively disposed towards the creation he has made. There is such an emphasis on the holiness of God that the stress is on how this holiness cannot countenance sin. Funnily enough, that's not what I see in Scripture, I see the parable of the son welcomed back - not only welcomed but sought, watched out for by the Father (Luke 15), the Samaritan - outcast, unclean, not part of God's people - who gives an example of loving service beyond the boundaries set up by people. I see a God who loved the world so much that he sent his son to take the effect of sin onto himself, the wages of Sin in Romans 8.28 voluntarily taken by Christ.

I don't see an angry God who needs satisfying, but a loving God who puts him (or her) self in our place.

I know this paints me as a bleeding heart liberal and that my desire to try and keep everyone on board with my niceness has failed, but if that's the case then my understanding of and encounter with Scripture leads me to that place. I don't believe in hell (and fortunately nor does my Church) as a place where people are punished for not believing the right things. I don't believe that the effect of Jesus' death, which is the removal of ultimate death, is only restricted to those who have signed up to a certain viewpoint.

As I journey through Scripture I see a lot which is objectionable; genocide, rape, mutilation, war, exclusivity which seem to be approved of by God. I also see those things being turned away from as the Jewish people and later the Christian Church realise that God wasn't sanctioning those things, but that he stuck with his people despite them and even through them. Within itself Scripture contains its own judgement of itself - from Jesus' 'you have heard it said...but I say to you' to Paul's radical re-visioning of the Old Testament and his interpretation of God's message of love.

I see a God who welcomes, not despises. Who forgives rather than judges. Who is love rather than wrath.

And when I am told that only certain people are 'saved' and that we have consigned most of the human race to eternal perdition because they haven't got their theology right, I see red. And I don't believe it, nor do I think it consistent with Scripture. Sure you can pull out proof texts to show that I am wrong and that we should bash the babies of our enemies against rocks, or exclude those who don't measure up to our standards, or make women cover their heads, or exclude women from leadership, or let men dominate, or tell gay people they are bad and wicked for how they are made. I look at the big picture, not the proof texts, and I see in the Bible that God loves us; fallen, broken, failing. And God loves us before we know him, and after - even if some feel the need to tell them he doesn't.

Rant over. There's nothing to see here folks, go back to your lives :-)


quilly said...

One of my blogging buddies just wrote about giving up on God and leaving her church because there was too much hate and anger there. She said she would rather choose a lake of fire for eternity then lead her children to worship a God who hates them. I can't say as I blame her.

When someone gets to that point of brokenness and bitterness, what can be said? I prayed for guidance and wisdom, words of love to say ... and then I found this post. Do you have advice?

Melli said...

I think PART of the problem with people who THINK this way is that for the most part, the Christian church does not TEACH the Old Testament. We have talked about this extensively in my Monday night Bible study - because we shift back and forth from studying an OT book to a NT book and so forth... Because for a non-theologically educated lay person to just READ the Old Testament - there appears to be a LOT of hate and without doubt a great deal of "judgement" being cast! Of course, God DOES judge - righteously. But when the Christian churches only TEACH the New Testament, the people are not learning about the reasons and the purposes of that "apparent" hate. Of course God hates sin. He is perfect and holy and sin is NOT tolerable to him. But without LEARNING the OT, people don't understand HOW MANY CHANCES God gives us ALL to COME BACK TO HIM!!! The SUPREME efforts that He makes to teach us, and counsel us, and lead us back to Him. They don't understand how many SINNERS there ARE in the Bible -- and that they are there for the purpose of allowing us to see ourselves in them, and to know that if God forgave Abraham for his LIES, and David for his LUST (and murder) then He will SURELY forgive US too! And Jesus was and IS that PROMISE!!!

Oh Alistair... I sO understand your anger and frustration... truly I do... But I do think PART of the answer is that the Church needs to PREACH the Old Testament from time to time. Because lets face it... the majority of church attending Christians think that having attended service on Sunday fulfills their Christian obligation for the week... and take no time to develop a PERSONAL relationship with Our Savior.

Andrew said...

You knew I had to comment. I am not going to go through each of your points piece by piece but just offer a few general observations and questions all in the name of Grace and peace to you brother.

1) Your representation of reformed doctrine seems sorry to say very straw man like and far from my understanding of it. Grace is absolutely at the forefront of reformed Doctrine. In fact it is the absolute cornerstone of it. All the reformed folks I know are humble and loving which reformed thinking by its nature makes you.

2) I don't always agree with Driscoll but I think again you misrepresented him. I have listened to a lot of his teaching and what you described is far from who he is. Fine you may not like him or his approach but you can't just write him off like that.

3) Would you provide biblical basis and support for your view of Hell? I cannot see at all your view and when I read the Gospels Jesus seems pretty clear on what Hell is.

4) If you hold to ultra-prevenient Grace. Not sure what the Ultra bit means. But on what basis is a person saved then, what makes you saved? Do you believe all people in the word are saved and that God judges no one?

I am not asking this to be argumentative but you have raised some very key issues of huge doctrinal difference to my understanding of the Gospel even before I would have 'labelled' myself reformed.

Oh and my job is in IT and I fully get your frustration with it :-)

Alastair said...

thank you for comments, always much appreciated...

Andrew, I've tried to address your thoughts in other posts so won't waffle on again. Melli I agree, the Old Testament should never be neglected, and there's much to learn from it - in fact you can't fully get to grips with what we call the New Testament without knowing the Old. And you're right, of course, ultimately our faith isn't about Doctrine, or Church, or even the Bible - it's about knowing Jesus (not knowing about Jesus).

Quilly, what can I say? Well, plenty (as the evidence of this blog shows). Seriously, though, my first thought is that despite what some churches think, there isn't just one way of doing Church nor only one group who have it right and everyone else has it wrong. I think the way that Christian faith is presented by narrower churches does a huge disservice to the millions of faithful followers of Jesus who have gone before us, and to the Gospel itself. I would say to them to look beyond the experience they have had, explore the depth and riches of our Christian traditions, step away from an angry and bitter Church and consider other ways of worshipping, seeking and meeting Jesus. I am as excited about my relationship with Jesus as I was when I gave my life to him thirty one years ago, but he has brought me to a very different place to where I started from and its taken a fair amount of bumps, struggles, prayers and faith to get me to where I am now...