24 October 2013

Godly uncertainty

A Coptic-language New Testament fragment.
Source: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
God is the creator and sustainer, the author and finisher of our faith. So why does so much of God's purpose seem almost deliberately obscure?

Certainty is so fashionable among some Christians that I'm sure this sounds like a trick question. Without this certainty, what would be the point of holding high-profile conferences in which charismatics are denounced as nonbelievers? Why bother labeling Barack Obama as anti-Bible? Why fight over biblical "translations you can trust"? From knuckle-dragging fundies to hell-bound liberals, so many of us seem sure of the scandalous inadequacies of others.

I'm an adult convert, so I can remember how entertaining I found this scene in my atheist days. The Bible seemed to be a book that was (1) pasted together from scattered fragments, (2) copied and recopied, (3) translated and retranslated, and then (4) treated as a source of irresistible logic to convert or at least confound the lost. When I began reading the Bible for myself (ultimately leading to my own conversion) I found within it no license for arrogance, but instead an amazing realism about the enduring messiness of being human.

Biblical realism includes clear warnings about the tendencies of leaders to abuse their authority. "It will not be so among you" said Jesus "but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant." (Matthew 20:26 in all sorts of translations.) But if there's one thing that seems to mark a lot of church leaders, it's the tendency to swagger. Just read some of the approved biographies on the Web sites of celebrities and top scholars in the religion industry. Apparently, the Holy Spirit could cause amazing things to be included in the Bible, but isn't able or willing to make us take them seriously. And some of these leaders are causing actual harm--telling us who can and can't serve in ministry, or that God approves of war and murder (in select cases, of course), or that it is perfectly consistent with Godliness to cut funding for poor people. I could see advocating the reduction of fraud, but eliminating actual benefits??

Apparently, perfect certainty and perfect reliability weren't in God's plans, either for biblical translation or for human behavior. For better or for worse, we're stuck not knowing for sure what to do next. "When we pray, coincidences happen," as Douglas Steere said, but the people we pray for still die sooner or later. People we love will hurt us, and we will hurt them. God has given me a new family in the form of the Body of Christ, and what a wonderful family it is, even as it sometimes drives me to the edge of insanity. (And I'm not even commenting on what I do to others!) Somehow I have to come to terms with the reality that, for now, this is enough. I hope that together we can break our addiction to certainty, and cling to the one thing we actually have control over--our commitment to each other's welfare, now and for eternity.

Now here is a (courteous, mostly) conversation that is interesting, even without certainty guaranteed: Is Sarah Young truly entitled to record Jesus's words to her in a verbatim, first-person style? (Confession: I've not read her books and feel no urgency to do so, but I'd love to hear from anyone who has.)

"Could it be that my tribal culture is more evolved than the justice system of the United States?"

"Do Evangelicals Really Like Our Planet?"

... And, by the way, "What Planet Are We On?" (Tom Engelhardt.) The USA's military budget is as large as the next thirteen national defense budgets combined, but we seem powerless to do more than destabilize and assassinate.
If the overwhelming military power at the command of Washington can destabilize whole regions of the planet, what, then, can’t such military power do? ... As every significant U.S. military action of this new century has indicated, the application of military force, no matter in what form, has proven incapable of achieving even Washington’s most minimal goals of the moment.
"The BBC's First Man in Moscow," and the equally fascinating career path of his son.

Marking Venedikt Erofeev's birthday by taking his train. (Our train now....)

The computer corner: Having just installed Ubuntu 13.10 on my old, homebuilt computer with good results, here's my first plug for Linux in a while ... "Ubuntu vs Mint: Which Distro Is Better for Beginners?" (I like them both.)

Going back to December 6, 1983, Hamilton, Ontario, for a historic recording session:

1 comment:

Mindful Searcher said...

The "religion industry"--great phrase! Reminds me of the "temple industry" of Jesus' day. People who are too certain, too sure of their own rightness are very scary. Thanks for the insights.