Killing God to Find God

Human history is a road down which God has painstakingly, patiently, and silently carried a cross.

Throughout the Ages, God has absorbed the insults of his accusers and endured the mischaracterizations of his followers. 

For they have hurled accusations, misunderstood God’s nature and character, and projected their evil hearts, cruel practices, and violent images upon God, saying that God is a hateful, vengeful, tyrannical, authoritarian dictator worthy of a violent and inhumane crucifixion.  

And yet, through the vile mischaracterizations, the evil projections, and misguided accusations across the Ages, God has not opened his mouth, nor has God cried out.

With every strained step bearing the weight of mankind’s judgment from Age to Age, the hostile insults of God being a murderer, child-killer, the tribal warrior, and genocidal maniac battered his body.

And yet God remained silent, mischaracterized, and misunderstood.

With every labored step shouldering the burden of mankind’s guilty verdict from Age to Age, the condemning charges of God being a blood-thirsty, violent, and heartless monster whipped against and tore his exposed skin.

And yet God remained silent, mischaracterized, and misunderstood.

With every pained step from Age to Age, the unrelenting and violent slurs of God hating sinners, God cursing sinner’s lives, and God damning them to Hell bruised his breaking body.

And yet God remained silent, mischaracterized, and misunderstood.

With every brutal and gruesome swing of the hammer into every single rusty nail from Age to Age, the hateful recrimination toward the God who causes suffering and division, the God who abandons and hurts people, and the God who turns his back, unmercifully pierced his hands and feet and prepared him for death.

And yet God, beaten, scourged, bloody, and exposed from Age to Age, remained silent, mischaracterized, and misunderstood as the rugged cross was lifted up triumphantly.

“Here is crucified the hateful, the vengeful, the tyrannical, the authoritarian dictator.”

“Here is crucified the murderer, the child-killer, the tribal warrior, the genocidal maniac.”

“Here is crucified the blood-thirsty, the violent, the heartless monster.”

“Here is crucified the accuser who curses other’s sinful lives and condemns them to Hell.”

“Here is crucified the sinner who causes suffering and division, the sinner who abandons and hurts people, the sinner who always turns his back on others.”

“Here is crucified the chief of sinners.”
The despised, the scorned, the rejected was lifted high and unveiled for all to see- every person from every tribe, every tongue, every nation, and every Age was drawn in to the macabre public spectacle.

But that which was crucified on the cross and scandalously exposed, was more than anyone could have ever imagined.

For all the evil we had collectively ascribed to God, it was, in fact, our very own evil all along. Evil we had cast upon him. Evil we had projected on him. But evil he was willing to bear in shame and disgrace, so that he could triumph over it in a victorious public spectacle.

From Age to Age, God has been willing to absorb and carry all of our evil misconceptions and mischaracterizations of him in silence, in order to finally expose the ugliness and evil of our hearts and, at long last, reveal his true nature and character, in a humble, self-sacrificial, other-centered love that is willing to go to death, even death on a cross, to demonstrate it.

For what we ultimately crucified was ourselves. And what we ultimately discovered was the true heart of God.

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” – Jesus

Out of Context

I got an email the other day asking about certain Old Testament passages that seem to contradict a few of my most recent posts I have written about how Christians ought to view politics and the government.  Below is my response, which has been slightly edited from the original.

When discussing how Christians ought to understand and view their role and responsibility toward politics and government, it is absolutely essential to understand the larger narrative and movement of the Bible. For without backing up and taking a more broad look at the progression of the larger story, there is a real risk of reading the text myopically and out of context. It would be akin to focusing so narrowly on the individual notes of a song that one might actually miss the appreciation and beauty of the song as a whole. 

There is a direction in which the biblical narrative is heading that culminates in the full revelation of God in Jesus, that then helps us understand everything else leading up to that point. That is why picking and choosing verses or chapters of the Bible piecemeal is so unhelpful, because when they are not seen or understood as a progression toward the full revelation in Jesus, they can be narrowly understood and applied significantly out of context to support virtually any argument.

And in my best estimation, that is why Christians are so all-over-the-board when it comes to virtually every issue, but specifically politics and government, because we simply do not approach the heart of the biblical text uniformly. Many pick and choose verses to validate their positions, even if those positions stray significantly from the full revelation of God in Jesus.

There is a more complete and uniform way to read the biblical narrative, that culminates in Jesus, which then becomes the template through which we see all things and by which we live our lives.

The starting point is reading the Bible as a narrative in which God partners with mankind to successively and progressively reveal what it looks like to be a human in perfect relationship with God and other human beings. That is the larger song, if you will.

But how would you, as God, begin the process of writing this song? Where would you even begin? If your starting point is amongst a pagan and barbaric people thousands of years BC, it’s not like you can skip over the introductory notes or the notes that comprise the verses and chorus. For there would not be any appreciation or understanding of how amazing the grand finale in Jesus really is. It would not make any sense to insert Jesus into that context and be like, “Hey, follow and be like this guy.” The primitive heart, mind, and soul would have no appreciation, understanding, or context to understand why loving enemies, forgiving others, going the extra mile, or turning the other cheek is the essential heart of God and God’s deepest longing for humanity.

So how do you meet them where they are at and walk with them, while also preparing them in such a way that when God’s heart and character are fully revealed in Jesus… they will understand it and see the need for God’s heart and character in their lives?  

The answer is slowly, progressively, successively. And that is exactly how we see God working through history up to and culminating in Jesus.

The Old Testament is a step-by-step forward progression toward Jesus. What we see from the beginning is human rebellion, which is a turning from God, and then as a result, people turning against one another. We see steps throughout the OT in which God met the people where they were at in their primitive, barbaric thinking and lifestyle and began to take steps with them to a higher ethic, or higher, more godly consciousness.  

One step in this progression was with Abraham. At a time when a primitive, barbaric people were sacrificing humans for the blessing or approval of their deities, we find that Yahweh instructs Abraham to do the same thing… but then provides a ram for sacrifice instead of his son. In a culture where human sacrifice was the norm, God helped a people take a step away from that kind of barbarism, and a successive step toward valuing human life. Was all human conduct and relationships perfect after that step? No, far from it. But it was a step toward the true heart and character of God. 

Another progressive step was with Moses. In the midst of terrible oppression and slavery, God moved on behalf of the Hebrew people to deliver them out of slavery and bondage… and then, for 40 years in the desert, stripped away the pagan beliefs and practices they had acquired from the Egyptians. And then, meeting them where they were at morally and ethically, God helped them take another successive step by giving them a higher ethic and morality in the 10 Commandments (and the rest of the Law of Moses). This was certainly not the end, but just another step to help a people develop morally and ethically and then to begin to see the “how they fall short” of the Law. 

So while there was another step taken toward helping people begin to see God’s true heart, God’s full revelation had not yet been revealed. But despite God meeting humanity where they were at, at specific moments in history, people still operated in ways that were broken. And we see this all throughout the OT. God wanted to be their only King, but the people wanted a human King and this grieved God. People still offered animal and food sacrifices to God, but all God ever wanted was their hearts. And it goes on like that throughout the entire OT.  

But also scattered throughout the OT, we hear the voices of prophets saying that there will be one who comes who will end all division, who will establish a different kind government, who will be called the King of Kings, whose reign will go out throughout the land and bring together all people, who will lead his people into peace, righteousness, and freedom, who will write the law on our hearts rather than on stone, and who will establish the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

And in Jesus, God took yet another progressive, successive moral and ethical step… from written laws to God’s own Spirit demonstrated in flesh. 

Demonstrating that his character is not one that demands people offer sacrifices to him, but that his character is self-sacrificial in nature. Showing his people the profound limitations and evil that can come from human kings, politics, and governments, and then inviting everyone into a kingdom in which he again is the King of his people. And revealing that, in all the ways humanity has misunderstood his character, the full revelation of God looks exactly like the self-sacrificial, enemy-loving, peaceable, and forgiving Jesus. And it is this step in Jesus, in which God was moving people from hierarchies, dividing lines, social stratification, oppositional thinking… and making a new people, of a new kingdom, with a higher law and ethic of the Spirit, who would become the body of Christ in the world.

That is why Jesus’ primary message of the Kingdom of God is so important, because it is the full revelation of God’s character in human flesh and the perfect union with God and others. It is an invitation away from divisive politics, inferior governmental systems, and tribal thinking and into a new Kingdom in which Jesus is the Lord and King and the values and ethics of this “new country” is the values and ethics of God demonstrated and taught by Jesus (i.e. The Sermon on the Mount). And we, as those who give our pledge and allegiance to this King only, continue the present work of inviting people out of inferior systems and inferior vales into something more fulfilling, more beautiful, and fully of God. In a very real way, we get to experience “a foretaste of what’s to come” or “the first fruits of new creation.”

So the issue with how most Christians read the Bible is this- they do not read or understand it as a gradual, successive, progressive revelation of God culminating in the highest moral, ethical, and transcendent values of God demonstrated in Jesus… but rather as a patchwork in which pieces can be picked at and used when it fits a particular agenda or issue. That’s why it is not justifiable to use the OT as a proof source for how Christians ought to deal with governments or politics or war … because God met those people where they were at with what they could understand at a specific moment in time to help them take another step … but the full revelation of God through Jesus had not yet come to humanity. 

At just the right time in history, humanity had moved enough from an ethical perspective (but still far from perfect) for God to demonstrate what the final step looks like. It’s Jesus. That is God’s full revelation to us! We do not regress into old ways of thinking or old ways of living. The pattern and template for a new humanity has been given to us who are ready to receive it. But unfortunately, many in the Church still want to reside in the old conception of life… the tribal and barbarian way, rather than the way of new creation, the way of the new humanity. And it is difficult to help people understand that in the Church.  

Please understand. If your positions, stances, or beliefs are not rooted in, and do not look like, the full revelation of God in Jesus, then your positions, stances, or beliefs are resting in the old, inferior, animal or social conception of life.  It is time for the you, as a follower of Christ, and your church to take a step forward into the divine conception of life, the life of the Spirit, the life of new creation, the life of the new humanity, which always looks like the full revelation of God in Jesus.

“The whole historic existence of mankind is nothing else than the gradual transition from the personal, animal conception of life to the social conception of life, and from the social conception of life to the divine conception of life. The whole history of ancient peoples, lasting through thousands of years and ending with the history of Rome, is the history of the transition from the animal, personal view of life to the social view of life. The whole of history from the time of the Roman empire and the appearance of Christianity is the history of the transition, through which we are still passing now, from the social view of life to the divine view of life. This view of life is the last, and founded upon it is the Christian teaching, which is a guide for the whole of our life and lies at the root of all of our activity, practical and theoretical.” Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You

Sabbath: The Sacred Space

Anna had just finished cross-country practice when she opened the passenger side door of my car and sat in the seat next to me.

After a few minutes of chitchat with my oldest daughter, she asked a very direct, yet inquisitive question.

“Dad, why do certain religions have a day when they don’t work or do anything?”

It was a fantastic question. And just the kind of question I love to answer.

I explained to Anna that the Sabbath was a day of rest given to mankind at the very beginning of creation. It was a day in which all work activity was to cease so that people could rest, rejuvenate, and give thanks to God.

I then further explained that Sabbath was central to the very heartbeat of Judaism, as God instructed them through His law to abstain from any activity that constituted work. Sabbath was, not just true for His people, but also the animals and the land. Animals were to be given a day of rest each week and the land a year of rest for every six it is worked.

As I explained Sabbath to Anna, and how important it is to our well being (mentally, physically, spiritually, relationally, and communally), I began to think about my childhood and how every business in our small town stayed closed every single Sunday. And as I thought back to that time it made me so profoundly sad. It was a sad realization that there had been something so simple and so life-giving built into our culture, given for our benefit, rooted in the very foundation of creation, and we lost it… we walked away from it. And there was not even as much as a whimper when we lost it.

Maybe because we lost it so slowly. Maybe because it started as one store and then another and then another. Maybe it happened so subtly that our pace didn’t really change and we really never recognized what was truly being lost. Maybe if we would have lost it suddenly then we would have realized the magnitude of what we were giving up.

It wasn’t just stores and businesses.  It was us.  Individuals.

We were walking away from Sabbath as something that was optional, even a little archaic.

It was insignificant… of little consequence.  If we lost it… well… we wouldn’t be missing anything.

But Sabbath was a fortress wall behind which we could retreat at least once a week to find our breath and maintain our rhythm. Behind the towering walls of Sabbath we found respite, relief, and peace and even regained our sanity because it was the only thing strong and sturdy enough to withstand the unrelenting assault of busyness, 60-hour work weeks, and capitalistic greed.

But here we are now as wayfarers and travelers, with not even as much as a faint memory of where we used to be. Another generation, and the generation after that, has come along after us and has been introduced into a world, and a culture, that does not stop, that does not rest, that does not take time to breathe, and does not understand our desperate need for sacred space.

The pace at which we are moving is increasing without any evidence of slowing down.

The amount of information coming at us at any one moment is doubling and tripling in the wrong direction.

The degree to which we are connected to technology only promises to make us more connected and more connected… not less.

And to be honest… it feels like suffocation or drowning or losing control or all of them at the same time.

But to many, including Anna, I am fearful that this feeling is shockingly normal… because they have not known any other way.

And it is evident.

In our anxiety.

In our stress.

In our mania.

There is no denying that we are paying for it heavily with our minds, bodies, and souls.

And the thing is… the forces keep coming and they continue to increase and they keep taking more and taking more.

It is subtle but incremental… and completely overwhelming.

Matthew Sleeth, in his eye-opening (and highly recommended) book 24/6, writes:

We cannot turn back the hands of time. Our 24/7 world is not going to change. Life will only get more intense. New communication tools, nanotechnology, and human engineering will increase the number of tasks an individual can do simultaneously. We will look back with nostalgia at the 24/7 world once these “advances” make 48/7 a reality. If we wish to have a weekly day of rest, it will no longer happen as a societal default. It will happen only as a result of conscious choice. All we need to begin is to “remember,” as the Fourth Commandment tells us. We must remember the why and the how of a day of rest.

He is right. We cannot depend on our societies, our governments, our businesses to make the right choices or create sacred space for us. Once we abandoned the sacred space of Sabbath, there is nothing left but empty promises that will never give us what we keep hoping to attain- a better life.

The fortress of Sabbath still stands. It is still there. It hasn’t fallen or been destroyed. We just left it. The doors are still open to enter back into a Sabbath’s Day rest… to stop the madness… to stop the cycle… to stop the work… to escape the forces that are overwhelming us and imprisoning us.

The Sabbath doors are open and beckoning us to come back and take a deep breath and spend time with family and play with our kids at the playground and take a walk in the evening while watching the sunset and enjoy a meal with our friends… and discover what we have really wanted all along (but maybe never even known it)- life in it’s fullness.

Sabbath is calling us back.

I am not much on New Year’s resolutions… but Sabbath would be worth pursuing in the new year.

Have a happy new year!

brandon