FIVE THOUGHTS ON GRACE — #4, THEODICY

Five Thoughts on Grace –  #4, Theodicy
Job 1:8-12; Psalm 80:4-5; Lamentations 2:7; Mark 15:33

Evil/Good/Jesus/Satan—not equivalents.

Theodicy: If God is good, how can there be evil in the world?
Boethius asked: If God is righteous, why evil?
Hume’s question: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Is God able to prevent evil, but not willing?
Is God willing and able to prevent evil?
Then God is either impotent, malevolent, or there should be no evil at all!

Dualism demands we choose evil or good.

Grace Tainted with Evil? No!!!

Monism denies evil as substantive,
and claims that only good has existence,
evil has none and has no quality, being the negation of being itself.
Both dualistic and monistic approaches
are extremes demanding belief in the impossible,
and hindering Grace.
Augustine/Aquinas understood evil as an absence of good,
but, I ask, if God is all that is, then how could that be?

With another eye, let me say,
if God is our Comforter, then evil is our discomfort.
Most theological questions assume a humanity
apart from the cycles and events of nature,
and when horrible events arise for which theology can’t account,
they are deemed, evil.
In the processes of Nature, horrors and insanities are part of
a natural cycle, having placed ourselves above Nature
we are flummoxed by events otherwise normal.

Grace is present in what we cannot understand,
in what our arrogance denies,
and Grace is present in our worst and best experiences
and the in middle ground of our everyday stuff.
Grace is, and we can trust it!

Theology has asked some strange questions from time to time.  I like the one where someone asks, If God is all powerful would it be possible for god to  make a rock that God couldn’t live.  My dumb question might be, If God is all knowing, and smart, then how could God create such knuckleheads?  However we are dealt questions from naive past ages when naive people asked naive questions.  the trouble is that we, in our own time, treat those naive past ages as if they were golden times, and therefore holier than the present, and therefore more right.  Well, maybe not.  We must constantly be on the guard for reifying  ideas, rites, and claims of a past time without a serious re-examination.  All questions and their various answers are good, as long as any, one, answer does not end the questioning.

The question of whether God can be both good and evil, is a question based upon a system of thinking that was based upon analytical abstractions finely wrought, and bereft of experiential input.  Or maybe it wasn’t.  I could well be that those asking the question had experiences of God that, indeed, contained evil.  It might be interesting to see how the question has been answered.

According to Leibniz, the world we have is as good as it gets, and we need to understand good and evil as light and shadow, with evil being the shading that helps the light to stand out (my interpretation).  Origin, and later St. Thomas Aquinas, held that evil came into being as a kind of abuse of the freedom and freedoms that creatures, notably human creatures, have been given.

In a Dualistic Model of theology (dualism being the model of two polar opposites that are split off from each other), there are coexistent, both good and evil.  They are in conflict for control of the world.  Humans must choose between on or the other.  In this system only good can come from God, and its opposite, evil comes from a powerful but lesser, anti-God.  This is the stuff of the fantasy-film genre, Harry Potter books, Tolkien, Lewis, and the Book of Revelation, snake kissers, True Blood, and a very scary event horizon.  The more imaginative faiths seem to drift over to this theological model, and in it fear reigns, believers are smug, and the elect who choose correctly, are themselves then chosen as the elect.

In a Monistic Model of theology (the word, monistic, is best understood as having to do with a system of one as in, monotheistic, or only one God), only good is existent, and evil is illusory, and therefore does not exist.  Good is the positive overcoming and making negative that which is negative.  This model sounds a little like some sort of mathematical construction where there is a zero point from which one side emanates positive numbers, and from the other side emanates negatives–each side fulling nullifying the other.

I find that the notions of both “good” and “evil” are evidences of a vocabulary of “other.”   We humans seem to need to find ways to talk about events in terms of defining categories.  We categorize some events as good, and other events as evil.  Many times this categorization simply reduces the events to a common denominator that makes us feel as if we have some knowledge about how the cosmos is run, when actually we have none at all.  We may be participants in the machinations of Nature, but we forget that we are neither the focus of its attention nor the ones controlling its forces or actions.  We are quite simply subject to its ebbs and flows and our pain is no more or less intense that that of the members of any of its other species.  It is precisely because of both this forgetting and our developing a vocabulary, that we can come up with such categories as “good” or “evil.”

A Grace Model of theology (this model postulates that the goodness and good will of God is all prevailing, all present, and all pervasive), takes into account that we are subjects of, and not controllers of, the universe.  In a Grace Model of theology, there is evidence of hope available for all situations.  To my mind, grace does not judge good or evil, but judges need against desire, hope against despair, but not human against human, hurt against hope, or harm against help.  In a Grace Model, all get saved.  In a Grace Model no one gets to choose who those chosen are, because all are–chosen.

In a Grace Model of theology, we develop a vocabulary that attempts to include even the perpetrators of harm, even mass harm, into the loved-by-God category.  We understand that harm and suffering, and those causing it, must be stopped, but we also understand that regardless of the means we need to use to disable the mechanisms of harm, and those who operate them, we are mandated by covenant to find the means to do it through Grace.  If we are given Grace, which we are, then we must offer Grace to all.  Grace is.

FIVE THOUGHTS ON GRACE — #3, CONDEMNATION?

The Old Judgement Seat

Five Thoughts on Grace — #3, Condemnation?
(Matthew 7.2; Matthew 11.24; Matthew 27.19; Romans 2.5;
1 Corinthians 11.29; & Revelation 14.7)
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Judgment is thought of as an
awful action to experience.
It usually is.
We are judged not good enough,
most of the time by judgers
who are themselves not good enough,
and so make sure everyone else
shares their experience
of being less than the norm.
This judgment usually ends in condemnation.
But is this kind of judgment
how God judges?
Is God a petty tyrant, with the mood swings of
a Type I Bipolar,
the scary voices of a Schizophrenic,
who insanely condemns and tortures
any who do not execute, precisely,
rules this divinely powerful being
allows certain, chosen, followers to establish?

Nah! That would be crazy, I mean, wouldn’t it?

But that is just the way it seems to work—
a posited merciful God
who judges with condemnation,
holding all creation accountable
for what it was created to be,
having invented a fiery hell
for that very occasion.

I am choosing to believe and follow
the God Jesus embodied and modeled
who saw the goodness of creation,
who is defined by love and grace,
and for whom forgiveness is a
higher value than condemnation!

Before I get started, it might be time for a caveat.  I want to do this because there may be a few that are beginning to feel uncomfortable with what I am saying in this series on Grace.  I am not denying God, I am affirming the ultimate goodness of God.  Next week I will continue with the question of theodicy that asks how evil could exist if God is good.  I just want to say that in this post, I am denying God’s condemnation, and if you feel more comfortable knowing you have judgement and condemnation to look forward to, rather than Grace and love, I just don’t know what to tell you.

So I ask, Arwk, where’s grace when you need it?  And I answer, always surrounding us.  Always holding us.  Always protecting us.  Those doors of forgiveness God has opened for us, through Jesus, so we can enter the Kingdom?  They will never be closed to us, ever!  I am betting my eternity on it.  Here’s why.

GRACE!!!  Is the preacher still harping on Grace?  You betcha!  In the end it is all I have to talk about–Grace.

I believe that the main message of the Gospel is the abundance of Grace, it is certainly not condemnation.  This business of the atonement which became one of the central Christian doctrines, is not so much based upon anything Jesus said or did, but upon those who wrote about him after he had been murdered.  Remember, these writers were Jews who were weened on Atonement theology and spirituality.  It had been key to their way of life ever since their escape from Egypt.

Atonement was a Leviticus thing.  Atonement was pure spiritual economics, and the cost of doing the business of church in a time when grace might have been abundant, but was understood as available through the blood of some innocent animal that was smeared on the altar.  Economics:  you play, you pay; be bad and the blood makes you good with God again.  The selling and buying of animals, big and small, was also the means of food and income for the priests, so the idea of Atonement was very important for the priestly economy.

It is almost as if the writers of the Gospels and Paul as well, were too entrenched in their Jewish upbringing to actually believe what Jesus told them about Grace.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and whomever else, just never really got Jesus’ point about forgiveness and the absolute, unconditional love of GodJesus died, and when they wrote about it, they told it their way, and it was not necessarily how Jesus had taught them.  I think it is sad that we have to work so hard to find the clues to what Jesus actually taught.  They are there, but we have to work really hard for them.

But God is not crazy, people are.  God is not bloodthirsty, people are.  God does not work on a ledger system of profit and loss.  Humans do and they usually lose.  What Jesus had to say was astounding, and counter to the religious economics of the time.  WE CANNOT BUY OUR WAY OUT OF CONDEMNATION, BECAUSE GRACE SUPERSEDES THE ECONOMICS OF ATONEMENT, AND THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION—FORGIVENESS IS ALL WE HAVE!  That claim is what got Jesus killed, not the need for atonement through the shedding of his blood!  The atonement story is an overlay on Jesus’ story of forgiveness.  It is an glossing of the story Jesus told of God’s unconditional love.  I believe that when Jesus died his followers figured that there had to be a reason for it or his life and death was wasted.  They then built the Doctrine of Atonement on top of the fact that he was murdered out of the fear that if he were right, the Law and its holiness codes would be dead.  The idea that if the blanket forgiveness God offered was true, the structure of religious power would shift for all time.

Now, don’t kid yourself, there is judgment, but it is not a judgment that ends in condemnation, it is a judgment that ends in blessing.  If we were judged blessed at Creation, then with the cycle of Jesus; Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension, we are now judged re-created and re-blessed, both retroactively, presently, and eternally–judged Saved/Atoned, if you will.

The idea of condemnation and a hell to go with it is just bunk!  It is a lie passed down, generation to generation, created out of misunderstanding and fear.  I’ll end where I began.  Where’s grace when you need it?  Always surrounding us.  Always holding us.  Always protecting us.  Those doors of forgiveness that God has opened for us, through Jesus, so we can enter the Kingdom?  They will never be closed to us, ever!  I am betting my eternity on it.

FIVE THOUGHTS ON GRACE — #2, SALVATION

Potentiality #6 -- Salvation

Five Thoughts on Grace –  #2, Salvation
(Romans 13:8-14)
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Salvation:
the purpose of the enfleshment of God!
A word morphed
from a real-time on the spot help
(like when the cavalry shows up in a western),
to a metaphysical concept
for avoiding the fires of hell
A salvation from the evils of the world,
to a salvation from the wrath of God?
Do we even need it–this salvation,
whatever it is?
I thing the real question is,
do we need to be saved from God?
Frivolous question?  I don’t think so!
Specious argument? Not on your life!
Especially if there is a wrath of God
from which to be saved.

Things from which I need to be saved are:
hatred and violence of others, and myself;
sickness, suffering, and fear;
minds that conceive war, torture, and distrust,
but a God of wrath and eternal torment?
I don’t think so!

This God I worship is a God of Grace, not desolation!
This God I worship is a God I can trust, not fear!
This God I worship is a God of hope, not horror!
I’ll bet my eternity on this God to care for me!
For this God is my salvation,
not my destruction.

Salvation is a given.  We tend to think of salvation as being saved from the fires of hell, the wrath of God, or some kind of eternal destruction, because we are trained to think of God as a psychopath who lurks around for a chance to get us.  We are wrong!

Many ministers and theologians have tried to paint a picture of a God of whom we should be terrified, who has invented a special place where those who pique the godly ego get to be tortured forever.  They base this on their interpretation of scripture, and so convince many people they are correct.  But I just do not believe them for one heartbeat.  They are either pathological, terribly misinformed, or outright manipulating lairs.  However, I do believe there are things from which we need to be saved, and I’ll bet you can think of some things as well.

So, with this out of the way, and with the things from which we would like to be saved on our minds, what sorts of things would they be?  First off do we need to be saved from God?  Is God a mean, nasty, vicious, petty, immature sort of a God who whacks us for any and all infractions.  Is God the Highway Patrol Officer standing beside the road with a radar gun, who simply goes by the Law and cites us regardless of our intentions?

Salvation from fear would be on the top of many people’s list.  Salvation from violence another.  Salvation from self-loathing, self-destruction, self-intimidation I think should be on our lists as well.

There is plenty from which to be saved, but a loving God who defines the term, Grace, is not one of them.  If God is a God of love and grace, God will not do mean things to us for our own good–tough love is not one of God’s categories of love, it is a human invention, born of a need to do something other that offer unconditional love.  God is not a God of loving torture!

What kind of a God do you worship, anyway?  What kind of God is worthy of your worship?  It is a good question and one that should be answered fairly–to you and to God.  We do not live in or near Assyria, or in a small Hebrew settlement that has a theology deeply influenced by Assyrian and Babylonian metaphysics.  Those gods were horrific!  Yet that is vision of god with which we get presented, and that god has little or nothing to with the God to whom Jesus came to us to introduce us.  The God that we believe Jesus is, is a God of absolute love and concern for our well being–both proximate and eternal, and that is a God that is worthy of my worship and my trust!

FIVE THOUGHTS ON GRACE — #1, GRACE ITSELF

Five thoughts on Grace – #1, Grace Itself
(John 15:1-11)
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

God's Grace In Our Lives Is Like The Sun On Ice

The Graciousness of God
toward all humankind!

Never not enough,
rarely just enough,
always more than enough: Grace.
The word gets tossed around like a
basketball at a pick-up game
back an forth and back and…
Without it ever being
shot into the hoop.
We seem to love the word,
not understand the concept,
want what it offers,
but we just can’t make the shot,
score the points,
shoot the hoop.
Existing first,
being during,
and still thereafter: Grace!

We hope for Grace.
We dream of Grace.
We scheme of ways to get Grace.
We think there is not enough grace.
Yet, we already know this
deep in our bones,
we are deeply imbedded in Grace,
living it even as we breathe and move.

Grace is!

What is it about Grace that we know, and what is it that we don’t know?  I suspect we think we don’t know a lot more than we do.  Theologians have chalked up a lot of points in its favor in attempting to define grace, but I wonder if they actually have done much in terms of understanding it.

I HOPE YOU HAVE BROUGHT ALONG YOUR WADERS FOR THE PARAGRAPH THAT FOLLOWS!

Here are some of their tedious notions about Grace:  First, browsing around int he Westminster Dictionary of Theology (s.v.), according to theology, there seems to be an abundance of sub-categories for the concept of Grace: “Elevating Grace,” is the Grace when we participate in the nature of God; “Healing Grace,” is when our participating in Grace heals the effects of sin; “Prevenient Grace,” is when the Grace of God anticipates any human movement towards God; “Efficacious Grace,” is the Grace humanity responds to; and “Sufficient Grace,” is the Grace offered to humanity which humanity in return turns away from.  There is also “Uncreated Grace,” which is God, God’s Self; there is also “Created Grace,” which is the Grace humans accept from God; “Sanctifying Grace,” which is a permanent aspect of a human’s new life in the Spirit; and “Actual Grace,” is the effective nature of Sanctifying Grace that humans understand as strength given to us by God.

There are some theologians who understand that Grace itself is something offered humans that is unique from the act of creation.  Grace, for them, is seen as a conversion of natural life into a divine nature.  Humans seem to have a leaning towards the Grace from which they have been created that makes them compatible with it, so it is not actually a foreign substance to human nature, but it appears to be distinct enough from human nature, that, while readily available to humans, not necessarily something they already possess.

What an exercise of futility theologians have gone through to try to grasp something that cannot be grasped!  We do love to use words!  Yikes!

I am not sure that all the sub-categories in that paragraph up there are important.  The photograph included with this posting is how I think of Grace–God’s Grace in our lives is like the sun on ice!

OK, you should understand that I don’t believe in the extreme dualism (the split between matter and spirit, between nature and divinity, between sacred and profane, between us and them) implied by that taxonomy of different kinds of Grace.  I just do not.  I do not see an actual split between God and human.  I understand that we are not God, but I also believe that humans are not the evil, sin-ridden, vile creatures certain aspects of our faith has tried to make us believe we are–we just are not worm-ridden.

Grace, as I understand it, is the action of God, that is more than us and beyond us, to convince us we are loved, that we are so much better than we think we are, that we are divine creatures, if we would but let go of the lies we have been offered as Truth, and simply relax in the love God has for us.

I think that without Grace we couldn’t breathe.  We couldn’t be.  Grace is the stuff of Spirit.  Grace is the stuff of God.  Grace is the stuff out of which we are created.  Grace is the glue for all that is.  Grace just simply is.  And we are held safe in it, forever!  Grace just is!

WHO’S SHARIN’ YER DRUMSTICK?

Who Is Invited and Who Is Not?

Who’s Welcome Where? (Matthew 10:40-42)
© by Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

We all want to sit at table with Jesus
and remember the great things
he has done for us,
but we really would like to choose
who gets to sit next to us.

Do we welcome tramps and drunks off the street?
Will we invite atheists to share the Cup and Bread?
How about a tattooed, gauged, dreadlocked teen?
OK, so how about someone who is just plain
over-the-top, out-of-the-closet
gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered?

I’m asking because, if
Matthew can be taken seriously,
and for our own good he ought to be,
then anyone we,
in our self-righteous arrogance,
deem not welcome, or
for any reason we may manufacture,
is, by the claim in this text,
the Jesus we claim to worship,
we have excluded Jesus from his own table,
and in a real sense disfellowshipped,
shunned, ourselves
from the table as well.

Well, I suppose the poem is enough, but I’m not going to quit here.  I preached this last Sunday, and got a good response to it.  I know this because my sermons are more like a conversation.   They are free-for-alls where anyone at any time can raise their hand and chime in with a question or a point they’d like to make.  I’ve got some really sharp 10, 11, & 12 year-olds who hold their own with the adults in the discussion.  And they all did this time.

We need to understand that this text is not a text for wannabe Christians.  It’s a text for the full-blooded sort of Christian who doesn’t hide behind Paul because Jesus is too drastic for them, and like better how Paul excludes and judges than the way Jesus includes and forgives.

This text heals and opens possibilities for inclusion and hope.  Jesus doesn’t seem to give a rat’s patootie about who belongs to your church, or how many, but he really does seem to care who you allow to receive at Communion.  Jesus doesn’t seem to care too much about dogma or doctrine or systematic theology or denomination or ever which of the Big Five Religions you belong to, yet he really seems to care how you treat the poor, hungry, naked.  Actually, Jesus doesn’t care whether you are doctrinally sound or unsound, spurious or true, read the King James or The Message.  It appears that Jesus only cares about who YOU welcome, and apparently you should too.  Jesus does indeed seem to care about more about who is not invited and who has not been welcomed, than the insiders who do the unwelcoming.

Apparently, it would be unfortunate to just welcome your cronies.  It might be hapless to only welcome those who smell nice.  Certainly inopportune if one were to single out the ones who cold make it worth our while for a welcoming.  And certainly hostile to advancing the Kingdom if one were to hold a welcome back from a stranger.

Then there is the question of our own serves.  Do we welcome ourselves?  Do we treat ourselves with the true compassion Jesus expects us to treat strangers?  How are we on the self-love front?  If you can’t truly love and welcome you, how can you possible love and welcome a stranger?  I am not writing about the weak, selfish, grasping love that some think of as their “sick ego,” that thinks demoralizing others makes themselves bigger and better.  I am talking about the healing, legitimizing, affirming kind of self love like Jesus has that ripples out and heals, legitimizes, and affirms others.  How are you doing on that front?

The truth of the matter is, much of the time we do not act very welcoming to ourselves.  We say things to ourselves that we’d never think of saying to someone else.  Actually, when we make mistakes, most of us do self-talk that is so demeaning that we would despise someone else for saying it to us.  How will we ever learn to love others if we cannot learn to love ourselves?