Let Us Give Thanks

I think we should first give thanks to the people at Automattic who give us the means to blog, and thus be in contact with many interesting people with intriguing ideas. Then we should thank the people that created and maintain the World Wide Web. Next in our thoughts should be all the inventors, designers, builders, and operators of all the electronic gear we have access to that, in general, enriches our lives.

We might have ideas but to express them we need to have had an education. So next our thanks should go to the people who gave us our education, and beyond that we should be thankful for the people who gave our teachers the resources they used. In addition to those who taught us, we should be thankful for all the people who have been good influences in our lives. Hopefully, these will include the people who raised us and took care of us when we could not do it ourselves. This brings us to think of the healthcare people, and there are a vast number of them, who have perhaps preserved our lives, or at least made them more comfortable.

Let us be thankful for weather-tight dwellings and the utilities, electricity, water, sewage, and gas that provide light (power for electronics), heating and cooling, and hot and cold water. There are thousands, if not millions, of people we have to thank for all these things. We can be thankful also for the people who have provided us with the transportation we use, additional millions.

Clothing we have available in almost overwhelming abundance. For what we have to put on our bodies, we should be thankful.

Most Americans will have food to be thankful for at a Thanksgiving meal. This food did not just appear at a supermarket or restaurant, although sometimes it seems so. Even if it did, we would have thousands of people to thank for the last link in providing our meals. Needless to say, the additional people we should thank go back all the way to the first farmers and livestock raisers.

We should be thankful for the governments that provide us the peace and safety we need to enjoy our Thanksgiving. Let us remember the people who founded this country, and those since who worked, and sometimes gave their lives, for the good of our nation.

We should also thank our Creator, who both gave us life and the means to enjoy it. May all of us be truly thankful for the immense gifts we have been given.

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Our Problems with Jesus

I think that before I narrow my discussion down to the problems present-day American Christians have with Jesus I will do a broad survey of the subject. The Jews were told by the prophet Isaiah (8:14) that their God would be a stone that caused people to stumble and fall. The apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:6-8) applied this prophecy to Jesus. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:23) wrote that the crucifixion of Christ was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” In Paul’s categories, all of humanity was contained in the two categories: Jews and Gentiles.

The situation now is much like it was in Paul’s time, only there are more categories of people with problems with Jesus and not just with his crucifixion. His claim to deity, that is to be of the same nature in his divinity as God the Father, is a difficulty for non-Christians. Atheists, Buddhists, and followers of the teachings of Confucius have no deity in the Christian sense and so have a problem with Jesus’s claim to be like God the Father in one part of his person and like us in the other part. Jews and Muslims are monotheists who have no acceptance of a triune God. New Agers, Hindus, Shintoists, animists, and pagans have room for many gods in their religious systems but no place for the Christian understanding.

It is not hard at all to see why people who believe other things than Christianity would have a problem with accepting Jesus. However, why do Christians have such problems with him that they have in many ways turned away from him in their understanding of Christianity? One problem is, as with the rest of humanity, his deity. God coming to earth, living as a human, and then returning to heaven does not fit the secular, materialist understanding of reality. Many contemporary Christians are willing to strip Jesus of his divinity, search for the historical Jesus, and proclaim him a great ethical teacher. This seems a solution to the deity difficulty but if what he said, as recorded in the gospels, is true then he was not a wise human being but nutty as a fruitcake (to use an old expression).

Beyond the problem of his deity there are major difficulties with his coming to earth and his exit from it. Let me begin with his birth from a virgin. This became a problem for Christians during the nineteenth century when materialists began to attack Christianity. However, we who live in the twenty-first century when microbiologists can create mice that glow in the dark may have less of a problem with it. There appear to be only three necessary steps for it to happen, all of them never likely to happen except for the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s body. The first step was the failure of meiosis to occur in one of Mary’s egg cells so that it contained two strands of DNA rather than the normal one strand. The second step was for one of the X chromosomes to be converted into a Y chromosome. The third step was the initiation of the normal development of an embryo.

There are theological reasons for Jesus’ virgin birth which lead us into two other problems. One problem, for some people, is the original sin that Jesus needed to be free of so he could be a blameless sacrifice. This first problem leads into all kinds of theological thickets which I will not get into but have caused a lot of people problems. The second problem is that at Jesus’ conception his divinity was bonded to his humanity in an absolutely unique way. It took the early church over 300 years of thinking, discussion, debate, and actual conflict to arrive at what is now the traditional understanding of his two natures.

Jesus’ resurrection three days after his crucifixion, and then his ascension into heaven forty days later, create problems for Christians. The people who live in a closed universe simply deny the resurrection and invent ways it did not occur. The unacknowledged problem for many other Christians is “What is Christ doing in history and human culture until he returns?” There is a wide range of opinions among Christians on this question and many Christians think Jesus has left culture and history in their hands. The result is divisions among Christians and so a lack of ability to do what we should if history and culture were actually given to us to control.

There would not be as much problem with knowing what Jesus is doing in history and culture if he would speak to us in the present. Prophets, though, are problematical. There are false prophets now just as there were in Old Testament times. So this problem with Jesus not sending word of his larger purposes is part of the larger problem of communication with him in general. We are told in the Bible and in churches to pray. Yet prayer as we know it consists mostly of tossing words and thoughts into heaven and hoping something happens. Sometimes we think we see results, but we are not told by Jesus that what happened was the result of our prayer and that is a problem for us.

If we are to hear from Jesus, we need to rediscover our spirituality (see previous post). When we become aware of the Holy Spirit within us and Jesus beside us, we are able to have the communication we were intended to have. Achieving this state of awareness is not easy for us because we are not yet aligned completely with God’s will. In the Lord’s Prayer we say “your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Our tendency is to think of the earth as someplace else and that this phrase does not have anything to do with our lives. Another one of our problems with Jesus is that it is not easy to keep him close to us. This is because we are still beta versions of what we were intended to be.

Our society tells us that almost everyone, given education and opportunity, can be OK. So we are encouraged to tell others they are OK and to think the same of ourselves. We can do this if we lower our standards enough. Our problem with Jesus in this regard is that his standard is perfection and if we are honest, neither ourselves or anybody else measures up. Some Christians think they are all right because God created them. It is true that God gives us our present existence, but we are not in our final configuration. After this life we will be changed into the persons God intended, from before the universe was created, for us to be.

We have a problem with Jesus because he did not give his disciples clear information concerning what was going to happen to get us to this eternal version of ourselves. I think that, just as the Jews did not get the Messiah they expected, we will not find eternity, whatever it is like, what we anticipate. The best we can do is have faith that Jesus will provide us the dwellings he promised to us who believe he is the unique Son of God.

Rediscovering Our Spirituality

In my previous post I wrote about a reformed Christianity maintaining the integrity of biological science. In this one I think I will go to the other end of the spectrum and write about rediscovering our spirituality. First though, I will begin with a caution.

Back in the seventh century there was a monk, ascetic, and author named John who wrote a book titled The Ladder. After his death he was designated a saint so in those days before surnames he came to be known as St. John of the Ladder. The ladder of the book is a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, something like Jacob’s ladder. There are 30 steps on the ladder representing 30 steps to spiritual perfection whereby a person could ascend to God. This sounds good so far, but the ladder is standing over the pit of Hell and it is possible for people to fall off the ladder into spiritual damnation.

You may wonder why I am telling you this as I have very little expectation that you will be trying to follow the steps in The Ladder. My point is that The Ladder is similar in its approach to spirituality to the many, many self-help Christian books published every year. These books present sanctification as a do-it-yourself project and fool most people who read them into thinking they can do something they cannot, so they are likely to fall off of the ladder. The ones who can do what the books recommend are as likely to end up sanctimonious as sanctified.

Our sanctification is a project taken on by Christ and the Holy Spirit when we become part of the family of God. Our role is to cooperate in the process and resist being our naturally difficult and reluctant selves. God had plans for us from before Creation, and these plans will be carried out no matter how much it takes to shape us into what we are meant to be. Our part is to pray for the grace to be able to participate and rejoice in the process. This being so, we do not have to look at ourselves or do works to develop into spiritual people. Spirituality is more than looking to ourselves. It is being able to see and know the things of God.

We, at this stage in our existence, are primarily physical beings. This is good and what God intended yet it also raises barriers to our spirituality. These blockages are categorized in the New Testament as the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world is all the physical reality that surrounds us. At one end of its nature it is so beautiful and kind it can lead us to believe in the reality of God. Other aspects of it threaten our very existence. Whichever face nature is showing us, it is significant, immediate, and forceful. It is hard to get our mind off of it, but that is what we are going to have to do if we are to rediscover our spirituality.

Our flesh is also urgent and in its necessities not to be denied. However, we are often confused about what we need and what we desire. In our desires we can use our flesh and nature in ways that are not for our good, either physically or spiritually. I think some of the things we can do are so far from God’s purposes for us they can be called soul-killers. These, of course, block any access to the spiritual things of God. This leads us to the third category.

The devil stands for all the spiritual beings in rebellion against God. Their leader, Satan, was described by Jesus as the father of lies, and it is by lies these beings work against our physical and spiritual wellbeing. These deceptions range from the denial of the existence of evil spirits to imitations of the glory of God. To list all of the lies being told in our culture would take a gigabyte at least. Not only are we surrounded by lies, it has become so that the only people who get in trouble for what they say are those who tell the truth. Rediscovering our spirituality will give us the understanding to recognize all these falsehoods; however getting to that point will require discarding some things in which we have been deceived.

It is wrong to present myself as an authority on spirituality, so what I am going to do is remind you of three sayings of Jesus and then discuss how they apply to contemporary American Christianity. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “No one comes to the Father except through me.” “The gate is narrow.”

American Christianity appears to offer many routes to God. Churches, the Bible, Bible study, good works, other religions (if practiced sincerely), openness to the Holy Spirit, sacraments, and other seemingly good things are said to be ways to God. Most of these are ways to bypass Jesus. It is not surprising that this is so. If you read the New Testament carefully, you will see that Jesus was not an easy person to relate to. Those who came to him with questions rarely, or never, got the answers they expected or wanted. He spoke of loyalty to him coming before relationships in our families. He also told us we should lay down our lives and take up the cross of obedience daily.

We are much more likely to be told Jesus is our friend and that we are his brothers and sisters. This is partially true, but he is also prophet, priest, and king and we ignore this fuller truth at our hazard. It used to be said that “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps the saying for our time is that “The path to spiritual deadness is marked by partial truths.”

Many Christians have become, to a greater or less extent, universalists. This is the belief that all or most people will be given a pass to eternal life because “God is Love.” There are lots of objections to universalist beliefs. My major personal one is that it allows persons holding that belief to yammer on and on about the “Problem of Pain”—while their unbelief prevents them from knowing the answer. A more objective reason for rejecting universalist beliefs is that they make everything that happens on earth meaningless. This not only includes all that Jesus did on earth but the worth of the choice people make when they chose to repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

We will rediscover our spirituality when we learn to be focused on all it means to be truly Christian. That means we become obedient disciples of the God-man who came to earth. Quite a while ago, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “To a great extent, in spiritual things, we get what we expect from the Lord. Faith alone can bring us to see Jesus.” So let us raise our expectations of spirituality and increase our faith so we will become people able to worship the Father in spirit and truth, and thus become spiritually alive.