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Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Tag Archives: mercy

Late to the ‘party’

The other book I had with me on holiday was Rob Bell’s (in some circles – controversial) book “Love Wins”.

Yes, I’m pretty late reading it and passing comment and I’m sure that all possible comments have already been aired on the book, but I wanted to share some thoughts on what ended up being another fairly rapid read.

Interestingly, going back to read Rob’s earlier book ‘Sex God’ since I’ve been back from holiday and remembering a fair amount of ‘Velvet Elvis’, ‘Love Wins’ is really just further development of a thread that runs through a lot of Rob’s work.

Rob came in for a lot of criticism having written this and was called all sorts of things even before its release, even by people that hadn’t actually read the book (a dangerous policy if you ask me).
The first label levelled at Rob was that he is a ‘Universalist’. I didn’t get that impression from reading the book. Rob is definitely not saying “everybody gets saved in the end regardless”, he does however ask the question “what kind of God do we believe in?” Do we believe in an all powerful God that can find a way to redeem everything and everybody in His own way, or do we believe in a God that isn’t powerful enough to find a way to restore all things to himself?”

That’s quite a different thing and its quite a fundamental and important question.

There’s some very good explorations if what we understand by Heaven and Hell also. For example, in summing up the chapter on Hell:

“To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God
has for us.
We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.
And for that,
the word “hell” works quite well.”

Rob writes very gently and graciously and even if you don’t agree with his position, you would need to work hard to take offence, the book is more about asking the questions than specifically finding the ‘right’ answers.

Rob likes the parable of the prodigal sons and he uses it in this book because it highlights both extremes of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, coexisting in the same place: it’s purely our response to God’s love and grace that defines which place we chose to exist in. Rob rounds up the story by saying:

“Neither son understands that the father’s love was never about any of that (being good enough to deserve the father’s love or bad enough for it to disappear). The father’s love cannot be earned,

and it cannot be taken away.

It just is.

It’s a party.

The final chapter closes with a great passage that encapsulates both the continual restoration of all things into God’s “shalom” and our response to God, His love, forgiveness and grace.

“I believe that the indestructible love of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality and that every single one of us is endlessly being invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace, and experience it. Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God,
again and again and again.”

The book is definitely worth a read, I have barely scratched the surface in reviewing it here, it is also the perfect companion to ‘After Magic‘ by Kester Brewin if you want to read two books together!

Mercy Seat

I was reading the story of the wilderness journey and the construction of the tabernacle and it made me think about the ‘Ark of the Covenant’.

Whilst initially, the construction of the gold-covered wooden box with cherubim either side might look like Israel’s version of an idol, this building directive is in stark contrast to the culture around them at the time, a culture of images / idols carved out of wood or cast from precious metals.

The difference that drew my attention was this:

Then make a mercy-seat from pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. Make two cherubim out of beaten gold. Make them at the two ends of the mercy-seat. Make one cherub on one end and one cherub on the other end. Make the top of the mercy-seat, with the cherubim at each end, of one piece. The wings of the cherubim should spread up over the mercy-seat. Their faces should be toward each other, and toward the mercy-seat. Put the mercy-seat on top of the box. Put the Law which I will give you into the box. I will meet with you there. Between the two cherubim which are upon the special box of the Law, I will speak to you about all the Laws I will give you for the people of Israel.

Exodus 25:17-22 (New Life Version)

God requested a seat to be made for him to come and meet with the representative of the people. (at this stage it was spoken to Moses but later on it would be the high priest).

God didn’t want anything to be made to represent Him, or something that could be worshipped in itself, he wanted somewhere to ‘sit’ while he talked with the people.

It’s fully in keeping with both the God who says ‘make no image‘ and also the God who comes to live in and with us, first through the person of Jesus (John 10:38 / John 14:10+11) and then for those that choose to have relationship with Christ, in and through us (John 14:20 / John 17:21).

The box is not the important bit, nor is the ‘mercy seat’, but the one who comes to sit on it and be with his people.

It reminded me of a ‘voice of the day’ from the ‘God’s Politics’ Sojourners web site.

The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ‘no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him.

Clarence Jordan

God came to be with the people of Israel as he sat on the ‘mercy seat’ (mercy being a good word worth looking up yourself), in amongst the grime and muck of a wilderness nomadic community.

God sent His only Son, who emptied himself (Philippians 2:7) of himself and filled himself up with his Father, into a world full of the grime and muck that came with roman occupation, torture, military dictatorship etc.

God promises to come to the earth again (Revelation 21), (not that he has ever left – “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” – Ephesians 4:6) not to whisk people away to somewhere else, but to live with them and be their God in and amongst them, initially at least – in and with the grime and muck of the 21st century, in all the mess that we have allowed our world and lives to get into.

That’s a pretty significant forward-looking symbol in just a wooden seat covered in gold!

Hellraising

I’ve deliberately taken a long time to throw anything into the blogosphere regarding the recent furore surrounding Rob Bell’s most recent book “Love Wins(affiliate link)

I figure that firstly, I have no public voice or any kind of authority on the issues, secondly, I have no formal training in either theological college, bible school, seminary or other, thirdly, I didn’t want to get caught up in the nasty mudslinging that people calling themselves Christians seemed to be getting into and lastly, I hadn’t read the book.

My angle on the whole uproar isn’t actually on the theology or ‘correctness’ of what has been written, in fact it only really came to mind off the back of another book I haven’t read – “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan. (affiliate link)
I listened to the Simi Valley podcast (by the same name as the book) where Francis and Preston Sprinkle (the other author), talked about the book and basically their response to Rob’s book. So I speak from this perspective.

Rob intimates in his interview with Cathleen Falsani and Francis directly says it in the podcast mentioned above that they both feel that the books they have written were prompted by God, that they felt like God laid it on their hearts to write what they wrote.

The only other thing I get from the two perspectives of the two – Rob and Francis – is that Rob does his thing and minds his own business, I’ve listened to the Mars Hill podcast for over four years and I’ve never hear Rob criticise another person, especially another Christian pastor. Francis is very careful with his words on the podcast but listening to the whole thing a few times, I can’t help but hear him say between the lines that he thinks Rob is a ‘false teacher’. I’ve seen plenty of other stuff over the web that calls Rob a ‘false teacher’ or ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, and it seems that Francis and the other people on the podcast are effectively subscribing to the same view.

Now, how do we as ‘normal’, unschooled, non-professional Christians weigh up the two points of view?

Both men feel like God has laid their books on their hearts.
Both feel like the spirit of God has moved them to write what they have written.
Both are deeply spiritual guys who spend hours studying and praying alone and with other Christians.
Both have written books deeply embedded in scripture and with reference and knowledge of the cultural, historical and other influences on both the original bible writers and the church over the years.

But they have come to different conclusions on one issue of interpretation.

Do we go with the one we like, because it fits with what we have been taught and how we have been brought up?
Do we go with the opposing view to the one we always held because it is a majority view?
Do we assent to the less popular view because ‘when have the majority ever been right’?

It’s a tension, a bit of a pickle, the kind of tension my dear brother over at held.in.tension regularly wrestles with in his blogging.

So what are my opinions?

I don’t really know. The only thing I can say is to repeat the words of Gamaliel from Acts 5:38-39

“…in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.
But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

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