Who Is My Neighbor?

Posted: August 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Who Is My Neighbor?

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

I can’t claim to have really followed the Chick-Fil-A debacle. I’m not the sort who pays a lot of attention to boycotts or their opposite. And, given that much of my family has celiac disease, we don’t really frequent any sort of fast food establishment. Nevertheless, I have a twitter account and I read quite a few blogs, so I naturally heard some of the back and forth. Throughout it all the expert in the Jewish law’s question to Jesus has been running through my mind. Clearly, from his earlier answer, the man understood that Jesus was teaching that we could only love God to the extent that we are willing to love our neighbor as ourselves. It wasn’t a love God first and then as a secondary command love others. Rather, it was one command intertwined and inseparable.

Almost everyone, Christian or not, has heard about Jesus’ parable in response. We even have “Good Samaritan” laws named after it. And over the years, I’ve heard a lot of discussion about that parable. Much of it has been good and highlighted important aspects about human interactions. But I think most of what I’ve heard over the years has missed one of the key aspects of the parable.

As a response to the lawyer’s question, the parable of the Good Samaritan reads to me like a sharp rebuke. Jesus is telling the lawyer that he’s asking the wrong question for the wrong reasons. When we ask, “Who is my neighbor?” we are all in truth asking who we don’t have to love. And we are doing so by trying to group people into categories. And in response to that question, Jesus tells a story of a man who encounters a stranger who needs him — a stranger who in other circumstances probably would have despised and avoided the Samaritan — and who without hesitation or condition meets the needs of that stranger.

Whenever we ask “Who is my neighbor?” we have already stepped away from the way of life onto the way of death. The question itself indicates we want the escape clause. We want to know who we are allowed to hate. Oh, we dress it up and rationalize it in all sorts of ways; some of them are even pretty convincing.

Jesus will have none of it, though.

So who are really trying to fool? Ourselves? Are we simply attempting to justify our refusal to follow Jesus, the one we often falsely call “Lord“?

This incident is just one of many, of course. We see it every time Christians other Muslims. (Has anyone ever gotten one of those fear-mongering emails about Muslims trying to turn America into an Islamic state under sharia law from anyone other than a Christian?) We see it when a white church refuses to allow the scheduled wedding of a black couple on its premises. And we see it in this most recent dust-up, which has never really been about fast food chicken nuggets and sandwiches.

Jesus tells us in the parable the question we should instead be asking:

Who will be my neighbor today?

Out of those I know, those I will meet, or the strangers whose paths will cross mine, who will need me today? Who can I serve? Who can I help, even if only by my presence and support? Who will I be given the opportunity to love today?

Because ultimately it’s not about groups. It’s not about categories. It’s not even about generic statements that we should somehow abstractly love everyone (though that’s better than abstractly hating them, I suppose). Instead it’s about loving the individual human beings, each beloved by God, who need our love today. And the moment we ask who we have to love and who we don’t, we’ve turned our backs on Jesus. It’s really as simple and as hard as that.

And please don’t misunderstand me. I understand how hard it is. There are individuals I struggle not to hate, much less love. And there are groups (like the modern nativistic, racist GOP element) I want to other as a group, to make into a group I’m excused from loving. Like everyone else, I want to love those who love me and hate those who hate me. Christianity is hard. If anyone ever told you it was easy, they lied. But in the long run, it’s much harder, or at least more destructive, to hate.

Richard Beck has a follow-up to an earlier post in which evidence seems to show that evangelicalism is actually structured to allowed people to perceive themselves as more loving when in reality, even on a self-assessment, according to specific criteria members of that group actually aren’t more loving at all.

Fred Rogers really had it right, I think. Won’t you be my neighbor?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8w9xk4hUKoQ

The Gospel in Chairs

Posted: June 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Last year I posted (among a host of others) Steve Robinson’s video contrasting the Orthodox view of salvation with the Western view of salvation using two chairs. If you haven’t watched it, take a minute and do so. It’s well worth the time.

This weekend, Kingdom Grace posted a somewhat extended version of the Gospel in Chairs. (It was Steve’s video that was posted on Jesus Creed — the same video I posted above. I recall that he’s a tonsured reader and may also be a subdeacon, but he’s not an Orthodox priest. He’s talked about some of the reasons behind that in his Steve the Builder podcasts. I found those podcasts interesting, personally.) At any rate, I found the somewhat extended version by the Protestant pastor Brian Zahnd also quite good. He added some additional emphasis, notably on the point that God is fully revealed in Jesus, that I liked quite a bit. So I thought I would post that video as well.

I’m not sure most people realize how central and critical that point is. For some reason, a lot of the things I hear revolve around trying to paint a picture or build a framework describing God apart from Jesus and then fitting Jesus into that picture or framework. As Christians, our central claim is that Jesus is God fully revealed. If we ask what God is like on any level or in any context, our answer lies in what Jesus is like. Period. Apart from Jesus, we can say nothing about God.

As I’ve written elsewhere, that’s one of the reasons I’ve always been incredulous about the often repeated modern assertion that God is holy and can’t be around sin or evil. Nowhere do we see that in the story of Jewish and Christian God, but it’s absurd whenever we look at Jesus. He sought out the “sinners” and those considered ritually unclean and acted as though he could make them clean through association rather than the opposite. Jesus certainly had no problem “being around” sin. In fact, that was one of the major criticisms leveled at him. At one point, he almost shrugs and says he didn’t come to the healthy, but to the sick. And in the fullness of that revelation, in case we missed the point of a God who goes looking for man from the moment in the story of the garden when he asks Adam where he is, Jesus shows us a God seeking out “sinners” and always facing man wherever we might flee.


Speaking of God – Trinity

Posted: April 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Speaking of God – Trinity

In Speaking Carefully About God and continuing in How to Speak of God I explored some of the things I try to keep in mind about God whenever I speak or write. In this final post, I want to explore what it means that the uniquely Christian God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God. We cannot speak of the God made fully known in Jesus of Nazareth except in a fully Trinitarian manner.

But what does it mean to speak in a Trinitarian manner? How does one do that? There are many directions the answer to those questions could take. It’s a deep subject and there’s no way I can do more than address a very few aspects of the answer in this post. So this is not a comprehensive treatise, just a few things I try to keep in mind when I think of God.

First, there are three distinct Persons in the Trinity. That’s critically important. It’s not God presenting different faces to creation in different situations, but three Persons acting in concert. However, it’s three Persons so unified in love and will and action that they can said to be of one essence — one God. And that is the mystery. It’s out of the overflow from that deep and utterly self-sufficient uncreated communion of love that all creation subsists.

But that reality constrains our language. One way I have heard it presented that makes a great deal of sense to me goes something like this. Absolutely everything we can possibly say about God applies either to all three persons of the Trinity or uniquely to one — never to two and not the other. So the Father is uniquely Father. The Father is the font or source. The Son is the only begotten of the Father (begotten not made). The Son is the unique logos of God, the Debar Yahweh, the Word and strong right arm of God. The Holy Spirit, the  Ruach Yahweh, the breath or wind of God proceeds eternally from the Father. Those are some of the things we can say uniquely about each Person. These are some of the things that make them unique Persons.

But almost everything else we can possibly say about God applies to all three Persons. We say that God is love. By that we mean the Father is love, the Son is love, and the Spirit is love. And there is no break, division, or separation in their love. They are all the same love. One way to think of it is that the Father always acts in and through his Word and Spirit. And his Word and his Spirit never act apart from the Father and each other. Perfect union. Perfect harmony.

And this brings up a common problem today. In an attempt to find gender neutral references to the Persons of the Trinity, some people today try instead to reference the Persons by different activities of God. A commenter on Sarah Moon’s post, Our Mother who art in heaven, mentions referring to the Persons of the Godhead as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are other “activities as names” I’ve heard over the years, but the ones above are a good illustration and every such attempt shares the same flaw.

When we name the Persons of the Trinity by an activity of God, we necessarily ascribe that activity to that one Person and not to all three. The above implies that it’s the Father who creates, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who sustains. A hermeneutical move like that effectively reduces the Trinity to three separate Gods (as some of the Christian critics have long asserted) acting independently from each other. And it also fails to accurately describe the God revealed to us.

The Father is not the Creator. No, it’s better to say that creation flows from the Father spoken by his Word and nurtured by his Spirit. We see that pretty clearly even in Genesis, but explicitly in places like the prologue to John and Colossians.

The Son is not separately the Redeemer. Rather the Son acts together with the Father and the Spirit as the agent of redemption — as one would expect of the Word or Arm of God. But it’s the Son acting in concert with the Father empowered by the Spirit redeeming creation. We could as easily say the Spirit redeems or the Father redeems.

Similarly, the Spirit alone is never the Sustainer. Colossians tells us that all creation subsists or is sustained each moment by the Son. Jesus tells us he is with us always, even to the end of the ages. The Father, as the font of life, also sustains all that is.

Virtually every action of God is an action of the Trinity, not of a single Person of the Trinity. It’s in that sense we have one God. So if we want to speak about the activity of God and we do not see how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all involved in that activity, we should be exceedingly cautious indeed.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.


Mary 6 – Brothers

Posted: January 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 6 – Brothers

In the comments to Elizabeth Esther’s post, there were primarily two objections from Scripture raised against the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. The more common one asks about his brothers — two of whom are also considered to have written books of the New Testament. If Mary didn’t have any more children, how is it that Jesus had brothers? I think the fact that it’s such a common and sincere question illustrates how completely disconnected so many modern Christians have become from the historical tradition of the Church. It was my impression that most of the people who asked about Jesus’ brothers in the comments on EE’s post weren’t consciously disagreeing with the tradition of the Church; rather, they knew nothing about it.

The oldest, and I believe most likely, tradition is that Joseph was an older man, a widower, and a father. Thus the siblings of Jesus were Joseph’s children from his prior marriage. That feels right to me on multiple levels. First, we are told that Joseph had earned the name or reputation of tsadiq or righteous. In the context of an externalized honor-shame culture, that public name is even more significant. While I suppose it’s possible a young man could be numbered among the tsadiqim, it feels more like the sort of recognition an older, more established man would have earned — especially in a culture that already tended to respect age over youth.

Also, the snippets of encounters in the Gospels (Mark 3:31-32 and Matthew 12:46-47) have always felt to me more like older brothers trying to straighten out a younger sibling who isn’t doing what they expected him to do. But perhaps that’s just the eldest sibling (and eldest first cousin, for that matter) in me.

And finally, we know that Joseph died sometime after teaching Jesus a trade, but before the Theophany at our Lord’s baptism. While people can and could die at any age from many causes, this fact fits with the idea that he was an older man when he was betrothed to Mary.

A different tradition arose in the West, casting Joseph as a younger man closer to Mary in age. In that tradition, the brothers of Jesus are actually his cousins raised in close proximity to him and possibly even in the same household. (The nuclear family as we understand it is quite different from ancient households and families.) That’s certainly possible. It’s true that ancient Aramaic used the same word for all close male relations of a similar age or generation. And the Greek word used also does not necessarily describe a sibling relationship, though it can. From everything I’ve been able to discover, this tradition arises later and exclusively in the West. Jerusalem and the regions in the Gospels are all in the East and this tradition never took root there. For both those reasons, it seems less likely to me.

Finally there is John 19:25-27 to consider.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.

I’ve only been a member of a Southern Baptist Church as a Christian, so I’m familiar with the modern, Protestant understanding of the above passage. Basically it goes that as the eldest son, Jesus was responsible for his widowed mother and since his brothers did not believe he was the Messiah and had rejected him (an assertion, I’ll note, for which there really isn’t any evidence), he chose to have John care for Mary. I suppose that makes sense to our modern sensibilities, but it’s completely anachronistic. First, all the sons of a widow were responsible for her care. And it was an automatic obligation on the eldest surviving son. It wasn’t something that had to be passed along.

Now, think back to my post on the way honor-shame culture works. In that culture, if others believe that I have done something wrong, even if I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong, I am still shamed and dishonored. So under the above interpretation of John’s gospel account, what’s really happening is that Jesus, John, and Mary are all colluding to publicly shame her other sons. I just don’t believe that’s the case. It doesn’t fit the character of any of them as captured in the gospels. It’s certainly difficult to imagine James, after being so dishonored by Jesus himself, becoming the first leading Bishop of the Jerusalem Church and such an influential early Christian figure.

No, the most reasonable interpretation of the text is that Jesus was Mary’s only son so he gave her into the care of John to ensure she didn’t suffer the fate of widows with no sons. (The ancient world was pretty harsh and there was no social safety net. Widows with no sons often did not survive long.) That’s not to say that his community of followers and extended family wouldn’t have cared for Mary anyway, but by doing this Jesus faithfully discharged even this last obligation. Remember, in Christian understanding, Jesus is the one, true faithful man and the fulfillment of faithful Israel.

Of course, John is known as the theological gospel and everything in it has multiple layers of meaning. This text is no different. However,  those layers of theology are grounded in an actual event. At least, most Christians agree it’s an actual event.


Neither Do I Condemn You

Posted: August 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

From the day I first read the Gospel of John, I’ve been haunted by the Jesus in it. Even as young as I was, I had read the Bhagavad Gita. I had read the Tao Te Ching. I had read the Life of Prince Siddhartha. I had studied tarot, palmistry, numerology, and astrology. My childhood was deeply and thoroughly pluralistic. When I started reading John, it felt comfortable, but as I read it began to turn things upside down. John’s Gospel, as much as anything else, drew me to Christian churches, where I discovered something very odd. Most Christians are uncomfortable with John. It’s not something you notice immediately. After all, John 3:16 seems to be one of the most popular verses in the world. But pay attention. Many Christians shy away from John except for a few select verses or passages. John challenges. John turns the way we want to view the world on its head. John gives no easy answers or safe directions.

Neither do I condemn you.

Those are the words in what we call chapter 8. They captured me. My whole life, I’ve known what it means to be loved. And I’ve known what is to be condemned — even sometimes by those I thought loved me. That truth was driven home at a very young age when two of my three closest friends held me at school while the third punched me in the stomach. I was hurt, but even more I was bewildered. I remember to this day the high school girl who took the time to comfort me when she stumbled across me.

Neither do I condemn you.

People try to qualify or dismiss those words in John 8. Unfortunately, that’s the message Jesus repeats again and again in John. In the prologue, we read that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John introduces him as the one who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus tells Nicodemus that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. Jesus sits and speaks with a Samaritan, a woman, and one who has had multiple husbands and he does not condemn — someone that everyone else condemned. He warns that those who dehumanize themselves by doing evil face condemnation — but it’s not an external condemnation. He feeds people and tells them that he is giving them his body to eat and his blood to drink. God is providing himself as their food. And then a woman caught in adultery is thrown at his feet. And in the context of all that has happened in John, he tells her the sweetest words ever spoken by God and ever heard by man.

Neither do I condemn you.

I grew older and became a teen parent in a story I’ve told elsewhere. I faced condemnation everywhere, from Christians and non-Christians alike. But the condemnation of Christians hurt the worst — for I had read John. I tried to walk away and dismiss Christianity. I honestly wanted nothing more to do with it. Ever. But —

Neither do I condemn you.

And then one day I met a Christian pastor who, to my astonishment, did not condemn me. Indeed, he did what he could to help my family. And I was undone. I had tried to block those words from my mind, but they came flooding back.

Neither do I condemn you.

Last night I read a post by Young Mom. My heart ached, but I couldn’t think of any words of comfort to write. I still can’t think of any words of my own. But I know the words that matter.

Neither do I condemn you.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 22

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

53. By a single infinitely powerful act of will God in His goodness will gather all together, angels and men, the good and the evil. But, although God pervades all things absolutely, not all will participate in Him equally: they will participate in Him according to what they are.

In this text, St. Maximos begins to draw the threads of his answer to the proceedings questions together. Yes, God draws all creation to himself. God fills all things. But angels and men participate in God according to what we are.

If that thought does not give you pause, I don’t know what will. It’s hard for us to be honest with ourselves, but I have some inkling of the sort of person I am. Do I love God? I don’t know that I would be so bold. Most of the time, I believe I want to love God. I’ve reached a point in my life where I am confident he loves me, for I know there is no-one he does not love.

But do I love God?

Can I even answer that question honestly and without delusion?

I see how little I love my enemies and I realize, if that is indeed a measure, then I don’t love God very much at all. To what extent can a man who does not love his enemies participate in a God who loved and forgave the men who mocked, tortured, and unjustly killed him?

I think so many of us today are reluctant to ask for mercy because we cannot see ourselves as we truly are.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.


Reflections on Resurrection 8 – Heaven

Posted: November 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 8 – Heaven

I can’t discuss the Christian narrative of resurrection and new creation in our modern context without discussing heaven. It seems that far too many people today perceive the goal, the telos, the reward if you will of Christian faith as going to heaven when you die. Within this perspective, the present world and our physical bodies become nothing more than something which is passing away and which one day will be cast aside — discarded as at best useless and at worst refuse. It is a future reward that is not much concerned with our present reality.

But that begs the question, what is heaven? I’ve heard it described variously, but I understand it best as the spiritual dimension of reality in which God’s will is already done. But this spiritual realm cannot be seen as in some way separated or at a distance from our material realm. No, as the stories throughout scripture illustrate, that spiritual dimension is all around us. It’s often a matter of perception. Heaven and earth are overlapping and interlocking. There is presently a veil between them (for our salvation), but heaven is not best described as a place that we go.

Most importantly, heaven is not the culmination of all things or the eschaton. Rather, the culmination of the Christian narrative is a renewed creation with no veil between it and heaven and our ultimate home is the renewed physical realm, not the spiritual realm. We are material, embodied beings and our charge is and has always been to care for the physical world and offer it back to God as our eucharist or thanksgiving.

Christianity does not say a lot about what happens immediately after death. We know that to die is to be with Christ, which is far better. In John 14, Jesus talks about preparing temporary dwelling places for us. We know that we remain conscious and active and praying. We see in the stories of the saints up to the present day that they are able to manifest and are actively involved with us, but we also see in their relics that their material body has not yet been used up in resurrection as Jesus’ body in the tomb was.

I’m also not sure that speculation on such topics is ultimately useful. Our goal and our salvation is union with Christ. If we are able to remain focused on that — which is certainly a tall order — I have the sense that everything else will work itself out. I do still like Bishop Tom’s phrase, though. Christianity has little to say about life after death. It has a great deal to say about life after life after death.


Reflections on Resurrection 7 – Creation and Matter

Posted: November 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 7 – Creation and Matter

In order to grasp the Christian narrative of resurrection, I think it’s necessary to understand the larger narrative of creation and the nature of reality within which it’s embedded. While that’s a lengthy and complex topic in its own right, I’m going to explore a few facets in this post which I think are particularly important.

Matter is not eternal and creation was not something God accomplished by shaping or forming already existing material. Nor is reality marked by an eternal cycle as it is in some religions. In the Jewish and Christian narrative, God is said to have created ex nihilo, which is to say out of nothing. However, that idea itself has to be unpacked to be understood. As Christians, we begin by saying the only eternal is the uncreated God. The Father, the Son — begotten, not made, and the Holy Spirit proceeding eternally from the Father have always existed in a self-sufficient, perfect communion of love. God did not create because he lacked anything or needed anything. Creation, rather, is an overflow of love.

I began to understand that truth, when I heard someone (possibly Fr. Thomas Hopko) say that describing creation as ex nihilo is an incomplete statement. When we say that, we then have to ask: Where did the nothing come from? Think about that question for a minute. Let it fill you with its wonder. While it’s true that God fills and sustains everything, from the Christian perspective we would not say that God is everything. No, out of his overflow of love, God has made room — made space for nothing and time to order it — within which a creation that is truly other can be spoken and can grow. This is a great mystery, but creation is not merely an extension of God, but rather is free even as it is wholly filled and lovingly sustained moment by moment by God. While the Christian understanding is often described as panentheist (not to be confused with pantheist), I remember hearing N.T. Wright once say that a better term might be the-en-panist (God in all).

The only other perspective I know which can be described as panentheist is that of Brahman within Hinduism. But that’s a very different sort of perspective. I can’t possible summarize it in a paragraph, but it does hold that all that can be said to exist is Brahman, even as Brahman is also transcendent, or more than the sum of all that exists. It’s also a cyclical view of reality in marked contrast to the Christian view. Moreover, there is not the demarcation between the created and the uncreated which exists within Christianity. It’s a fundamentally different narrative.

When you perceive reality as the free overflow of love of a Creator God, the Christian story begins to come into focus and make sense. Of course, the God who loves it would see this creation as fundamentally good and the ones who were created according to the image of Christ in order to be formed into his likeness are seen by God as very good. While they are no less awe-inspiring, the lengths to which this God will go to rescue his creation make sense. They fit. And we also see that the Word would have always had to become flesh for us to ultimately be united with God. We did not have that capacity. If creation had not turned from God, Jesus would not have had to die to defeat death. But he always had to become one with us so that we might be one with God. Salvation is nothing less than union with Christ.

So then we see resurrection for what it is. It is God’s act of new creation for the human being. Death has been defeated and God makes us new. But Christ’s act of new creation does not stop with us. “Behold, I make all things new.” All creation has been rescued and the image we see is one of a new or renewed humanity serving truly as priests within a renewed creation. Unless you glimpse that whole picture, I’m not sure the individual bits and pieces make much sense.


Praying with the Church 2 – Praying with Jesus: Sacred Time, Sacred Term

Posted: July 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Praying with the Church | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

These are reflections on Scot McKnight‘s book, Praying with the Church, that I wrote and shared with a small circles of friends in 2006. I’ve decided to publish them here only lightly edited. Since they are four years old, they don’t necessarily reflect exactly what I would say today, but they do accurately capture my reaction at the time.

This chapter starts with his self-identification as a ‘stubborn, low- church Protestant’. It includes this funny sentence: “If I can be shown that something is in the Bible, I’m all for it — except for things like greeting one another with a holy kiss or washing one another’s feet.” At least, I found it funny. On the serious side, Scot asks the following three questions.

How does Jesus want me to pray?

How did Jesus himself pray?

What did Jesus teach about prayer?

I have a hard time imagining better questions to ask about prayer. Scot then divides the lessons he has learned into four areas, two of which are in this chapter.

Sacred Time: Learning When to Pray

“Jesus prayed all the time.” That seems like an obvious statement when made, but I think we tend to overlook it. Scot opens with the emphasis that Jesus did pray alone in his Portiuncola. Constantly. All time is sacred and we are to honor the lengthy Christian tradition, realized in many different ways, of praying constantly. Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing” can, and has been interpreted in two ways: a constant attitude of prayerfulness or devoting ourselves to the sacred rhythms of prayer. The bible and Jesus’ practice supports both, so Scot thinks (and I agree) that we should embrace both. That’s unusual for him. Having followed his thinking for some time now, he normally finds the option of choosing ‘both’ in biblical interpretation disingenuous at best. As a translator and scholar he adheres to the thought that most of the time when people say something, they have a specific meaning in mind. As such, when he says we should consider a text to carry two different interpretations, it catches my attention more than if someone else were to say the same thing.

Sacred Term: Learning What to Call God

Jesus’ prayers almost always begin with ‘Abba’. The use of the term itself or the intimacy with God that went with it was, contrary to some popular opinion, neither new nor unique in Jewish culture. However, Jesus’ emphasis on that term is distinctive and goes far beyond anything else. Further, he taught his followers to begin their prayers with Abba. For Jesus, that is the sacred name of God. “Prayer for Jesus is about calling God Abba.”

So we start with praying all the time and calling God Abba. “But there is more to Jesus’ own prayer life than praying alone — for Jesus was one in whom the ancient Israelite prayer traditions came alive.”


Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 4 – Sheol

Posted: June 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 4 – Sheol

Hell, of course, is an English word. While I’ve heard some say that it’s not necessarily helpful to examine the different words that are sometimes translated “Hell”, I’ve personally found it beneficial. So I’m going to spend several posts looking at each of those words. I’m going to start with the oldest, the Hebrew Sheol.

Sheol is the ancient Israelite name for the abode of the dead. At first it seems to have been an undifferentiated name for the abode of all the dead, but by the time of Jesus, Sheol had been divided into two parts. The “bosom of Abraham” or “paradise” described the part of Sheol that was the abode of the righteous dead. The part of Sheol set aside for the unrighteous dead was described in a variety of ways, but one such description was “the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (That phrase might ring a bell for some.)

It’s important to stress that Sheol did not in and of itself carry any connotation of a place of punishment. It was the abode of the dead and all the dead, righteous and unrighteous were in Sheol. It’s a different way of thinking and is largely lost in many modern ideas of “hell.” That’s one of the reasons I think it’s important to understand some of the concepts behind the words that were actually in use before and during the time of Jesus.

I believe a better understanding of the ancient context casts at least some of Scripture in a different light than that of many of the current, popular interpretations.