Okay, I’m Convinced

I’ve searched the New Testament.
I’ve studied commentaries, read blogs and corresponded with some of the authors.
And I’ve googled the web, searched out those who disagree, read and cross-checked their statements.

And I’ve come to one undeniable conclusion: Jesus would never sanction, advocate or even “turn a blind eye to” the use of life-threatening force.

He was against it. Period.

For those who might think otherwise, and for those who are uncertain, here are the statements I found most compelling. You may check them as you wish. (http://www.biblegateway.com/ is easy to use.)

First, I included only the New Testament in my biblical searches because I wanted to know Jesus’s view. (Greg Boyd’s blog has several thought-provoking entries on the Old versus the New Testament God, but my interests were about Jesus and what He espoused.) I searched the New Testament for the words “defend”, “defense”, “knife”, “knives”, “protect”, “resist”, “sword”, “violence”, “violent” and “weapon” and studied the results. I read of Jesus over-turning the tables in the temple. I studied how different books handled the same incidents and how different translations presented those same issues.

And I’ve even been studying how the Bible came to be, which books were written when, by whom, which are more about Jesus and which are more about His church.

And it is clear that finding Jesus in all this can be difficult.

And by no means am I any sort of Biblical scholar. On the contrary, I am just a questioning individual using the gifts at my disposal, and hoping, praying, that I’ve found the truth of the matter.

For the question at hand, and perhaps this is why I’ve become so focused on this one issue, the answer is there. It is clear, unambiguous and with no contradictory examples. Jesus was the consummate pacifist.

To show you why I’m now convinced of this, I’ll take the single most troubling incident first. It is quoted, in part, by others who use it as defense of their use of violence. Sadly, they quote only a small section and, in taking it out of context, they lose the meaning. Here are the critical verses. (If you are in doubt of my excluding of other verses, please conduct your own researches.)

Here is Luke 22, verses 36-38 and 49-51 from the New International Version.

36He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” he replied.

49When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

51But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

In an earlier blog, I wrote why I thought Jesus told His followers to arm themselves: It was because Jesus wished them to appear as outlaws to facilitate His arrest. Jesus was working to fulfill the prophecy (about being amongst the transgressors). He intended to get himself arrested, tried, convicted and executed and, thereby, fulfill the overall prophecy. Swords were essential to the look he needed to project.

And while it is true that Jesus did say “… and if you don’t have a sword, …” implying that some of His followers may already have been armed, that does not mean Jesus encouraged the practice. On the contrary, the only statements and actions we have from Jesus are those which immediately follow when he halts the violence with, “No more of this!” and then immediately heals the victim.

These verses are sometimes quoted out of context to suggest Jesus was telling his disciples to prepare to defend themselves by force. They have also been taken to mean that Jesus condoned the use of swords because some of the disciples may have already owned them.

Well, I have to now say that those conclusions just don’t seem warranted. Jesus’ words and actions are, without fail, to the contrary. Nowhere do we find Him condoning any such practices or actions.

Indeed, the clearest statement we have in these regards comes earlier in the same book in Luke, chapter 6, verses 27 through 38.

27“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus holds us to a very high standard.

The question then remains, how will I measure up?

And that, dear reader, is something none of us can answer until the time comes.

And when it does, dear Jesus, I pray you will be there at my side.

Amen.

Do I Believe … ? (Part Two)

Do I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?

Yes, but in a sense we all are. We are all His creation, after all. But I know what most people mean and I’m being evasive.

The fact of the matter is, I just plain don’t know. I read what the Bible says and I hear what others believe but I’m not completely convinced either way, neither “pro” nor “con”.

I guess it just comes down to a matter of faith and, for that, I believe that Jesus had a very special message to deliver, an extraordinarily important reason for being at that time and in that place, and that what he did and said is still incredibly important for us two millenia later.

Following Christ means life-style, attitude and actions modelled on His teachings. In that sense, I am very much a follower of Christ, often failing but always trying to steer myself back to the Path, the Way, the Word.

But do I believe He is the Son of God?

The faith-filled part of my mind would say yes while the fact-filled part would have to add, “Part of me is uncertain.”

I don’t really know whether or not Christ is the Son of God. But I do know what He wants us to do. Indeed, I feel that knowing within my very bones. I know what His intention is in my life. It comes through when I stop. It comes through when I listen. It comes through when I stop what I am doing and listen to what He is telling me through my feelings.

In my most difficult moments in life, when I could not find the answer to what should I do in a given situation, when I’ve stopped and given it up to the Lord and then quieted myself and waited, He has always given me the answer. In a few moments, the answer to my dilemna has always come and has always been accompanied with a profound sense of, “This is what’s right.”

In each of those moments, I knew these were God’s answers. They were often very difficult to do, often accompanied by strong objections from those around me but, in every case, I knew they were right.

Thank you, Lord.

I am utterly convinced that what matters is what we do, how we act toward each other, what we do to enhance, promote and spread life. What matters is attitude and efforts.

Faith demands action.

That action can be powerful, it can be simple. It can be lengthy and drawn out, it can be over in a moment. It can be an act, a deed, a word, a gesture or a look but, whatever it is, it makes a difference.

Doing God’s work.

I don’t know if Christ is the Son of God, but I do know what He wants me to do. And it will take all my life to do as much of it as I can,

… God willing and granting me the ability.

Do I believe the Bible is the Word of God?

Perhaps, but since God created the three dimensions and time and energy and matter and the physical laws that cause matter to clump together and form stars and planets and galaxies and galaxies of galaxies, I have to confess I am dumbfounded to think that I might be able to understand even the tiniest bit of what God might have to say. Indeed, I am astonished that the Bible is as readable as it is but I also have to confess that I feel terribly presumptious to think I might possibly understand the smallest portion of His Word and His Intentions.

Some of what I read in the Bible leaves me confused, but I’ve learned to live with that. Life itself, after all, can be very confusing. Given enough time and scholarly study I could understand many parts much better, and I’ve learned to listen with interest to those who are experts, but I do note they sometimes disagree and, at that point, I say to myself, “God is infinitely bigger than we can understand. Sometimes I just have to accept my ignorance, and then go on the best I can.”

The bottom line is I read the Bible and take from it what I can for my life, and I have no choice but to leave much of it behind in mystery.

God gave me two hands to manipulate things, two feet to carry my body to where there are things to be done, eyes to see and ears to hear. Every fiber of my physical self is here to accomplish something.

Some study and thought are needed to decide what to do and reading and studying the Bible are part of figuring that out but I am not here only to study. I am also here to do, to build, to make, to encourage, to enhance, to promote life in every possible way.

Do I Believe … ? (Part One)

Here is my answer to a predictable question.

Do I believe in God?

Yes, without any doubt whatsoever.

This is both a felt-belief and a reasoned-belief.

For the reasoning belief, I believe in God because life is finite, we are born and then we die, because everything I experience is cause and effect and I cannot fathom that being infinite. It is all start/stop and, hence, it needs an initial push to make it all go. Hence, God.

And science tells us the Universe, at least what we know about it, is also finite. It started with the “big bang” but why did the “big bang” happen? Again, I’m back at the cause and effect issue.

From the standpoint of reason, I can see no other possible explanation except that we, and the Universe, exist because God willed it.

But I also believe in God from my gut. Years ago I would’ve said that I had faith that God existed mostly because I needed Him to exist. The idea of a Universe and life without Him, was terrifying. I could not bear the idea that all this exists without some agent and, more importantly, some purpose.

In time, however, my belief would become more confident and the trigger for that would be God’s involvement in my life. In more recent years, I’ve become aware of God’s interactions in the events of my life. I see His touch. I recognize His guidance.

And in an oddly contradictory way, I am both thankful, and scared, by His presence. I am thankful for the ways in which he influences my life and the events surrounding it. Sometimes He helps, and sometimes He lets me learn.

And the fact that God intercedes in my life is also what scares me because it means that although I am in control of many things and to a very large extent, the master — or victim — of my actions, it also means that there are things, plans of His, that are beyond my control.

I’ve had to learn acceptance to deal with that fear, and it has not been easy. Indeed, God has handed me a couple of lessons that are taking at least decades to master, and possibly they won’t be completed before the end of my life.

But in all this, in my every day movements and actions, I see His touch.

I almost hate to say it but sometimes it can be as simple as a green traffic light that moves me through an intersection, presumably to the time and place I desire. But I also recognize that the green light and my passage may be there for the benefit of others, that my driving through the intersection at that time and place has some far-reaching effect on someone else’s life and that, by my getting through the intersection, they are delayed for some significant reason.

And there are also the apparently inopportune red lights that come up on my hurried drive somewhere. They too can be from God.

Just a couple of days ago I was trapped in the midst of a titanic traffic jam on Interstates 240 and 40 leaving Memphis. A semi-trailer truck had overturned and blocked all lanes of eastbound traffic. In the far-right lane I inched forward at first but eventually everything ground to a complete halt. At one point, I sat in place for a full 30 minutes and, by the time I merged left and eventually got around the accident, an hour and a half had gone by.

In that time, I had many choices. I could have behaved like the driver two cars ahead of me when someone tried to pass us by driving on the grass shoulder. He moved his car far to the right and blocked them. Soon, several cars were blocked behind him and, ultimately, they had to merge into the regular traffic lanes.

I was greatly annoyed at those attempting to pass on the right and was sorely tempted to help block these drivers but the (God-sent?) thought occurred to me that perhaps these drivers truly did have emergencies that warranted their driving on the shoulder to bypass the traffic jam. Or maybe their job was in jeopardy already and the traffic delay put “food on the table” in similar doubt.

So I simply accepted (!) that I was in no particular hurry that day and that I could simply watch the human behavior being demonstrated before me.

And I must say that, with the 90 minute total delay, those drivers on the shoulder saved themselves, at most, less than a minute because even passing a dozen cars on the right still left them in a completely blocked-in area. Ultimately, they had to merge all the way to the left to get past the blockage, and that effort took almost exactly the same time for them as it did for me.

God put a lesson in human behavior before my eyes and, hopefully, I learned something of what He intended for me to learn.

In a larger sense, I’m am profoundly convinced that God crafts many of the choices we find before us and, through the choosing and the actions we perform, He provides the classroom and the tools through which we learn.

 

Thank you, Lord, for the opportunities You place before me this day. I pray You will guide me so that I may learn from them as You intend.

Amen.