The way it should be

I will return to the regularly scheduled soteriology series shortly, but there’s something else brewing in my bones. It’s the question and struggle of what to do with the contrast, the dichotomy, between the way it is and the way it should be. We see it around us every day. Sometimes we ignore it, push it down, suppress it. Sometimes we get angry about it. Sometimes, we are even driven to action. I was confronted by a street preacher not too long ago. The beautiful thing about what he was doing was that he saw the “what is” and decided it wasn’t what it should be. He picked up a Bible, hit the streets, and confronted the brokenness.

I see things in my own heart and life that aren’t what they should be. I see things around me that are one thing, but should be another. I see heartache all around me, I see the poor neglected, church made into a show, lies used as currency, and hedonism our culture’s chief pursuit. Money is a god, arenas and stadiums our temples, and still brokenness is in every home and heart. What I’m saying is everything is broken, and everyone is sinful, and how we deal with both of those things and God is often times equally broken. I’m saying sin broke us.

If the “what is” is due to our sin, then the “what it should be” is brought about by repentance and faith. Our usual strategy is to try our best to try our best, but it never seems to be enough. What we should do is have faith in what Jesus has already done. Jesus offers us a way to clean up the mess. Paul wrote about something like this in Romans 10. He said:

the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. (Romans 10:1-3)

Doesn’t that sound like us sometimes? Maybe we don’t cling to OT law as our way of fixing stuff, but don’t we try to get right with God in our own way and doesn’t that result in the way things are? Verse four gives us relief, “For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.”

We have a way to turn things around, to make the way it is into the way it should be. The Gospel. It tells us the story about the Creator literally stepping into His creation in an incredible display of humility and selflessness and love so that we can be redeemed, so that all of creation will be redeemed. This is elementary stuff, but the more I study God’s Word, the more beautiful these elementary concepts are, like a jewel beautifully refracting light in different ways as it’s turned. Don’t overlook the obvious or fail to see the beauty in the stories we’ve all heard a hundred times. The Gospel is a jewel, keep studying it and it tells us of love and compassion and truth that heals all the brokenness of the world. It tells of the Creator King making one-time enemies of God adopted sons and daughters and citizens of the Kingdom.

Synoptic reflections

After spending the better part of last week pouring over books and old passages in an effort to wrap my head around the Synoptic problem, I came away with a few related, and maybe unrelated reflections. Barring the discovery of the elusive Q document, I doubt we’ll have a solution to the Synoptic problem until we’re in the sweet by and by. I can live with that. Not well, at times, but I can find some sort of peace. I like my theology neat. And theology isn’t always neat. It doesn’t always fit into a neat little box, and the Synoptic problem is my most recent encounter with that truth. I don’t have all the answers.

Another truth I came to realize, thanks to studying the Synoptic problem, is that some of what we obsess over in seminaries and Bible colleges doesn’t always translate well into the “real world.” I can’t claim much experience in the way of local church ministry, but I have enough to know that I’ve never been grilled on the specifics of Matthean priority or the two/four-source hypothesis, and I doubt I will be any time soon. In fact, the oldest and most widely held solution (by the average evangelical parishioner, not scholars) to the Synoptic problem, the Independence View, was barely more than a footnote in my research. Somehow, that doesn’t seem balanced to me.

I could go on, but let me summarize and clarify. First, theology isn’t always neat and isn’t always complete. We don’t always have the answers. Some of it we have to take on faith. Second, it’s sometimes hard to take theology out of the classroom and into the real world. Maybe you’ve concentrated your studies so much on obscure views Biblical scholars hold that you’ve completely neglected to notice what the majority of laity believe. Or maybe the lonely hurting soul doesn’t need your opinion on Markan priority as much as they need your love. The love our Bible keeps telling us to share with our fellow man sometimes feels more like a curse we’ve been afflicted with when we encounter unlovely people that we know, deep down, we are called to care for. Theology can be neat and systematized in the classroom, but sometimes it’s a messy business to apply it to our lives and make it practical. Sometimes it’s incomplete. But, it’s useless if it’s not taken out into the real world and displayed in our daily lives. If our systematic theology doesn’t naturally compliment our practical theology, we’re doing something wrong.

Book recommendation: The Bible Among the Myths

I’m reading a very interesting book for my Old Testament Introduction class, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature by John N. Oswalt. I read a lot. It goes with the gig of being a seminary student. I love to read, but sometimes with the reading load, I begin approaching books, even great ones, as raw pages to devour in order to pass a test or gather the appropriate information for a research paper. This book, however, has been a pleasure to read. As the name suggests, it compares the OT and the culture of Israel to other ANE writings and cultures, and really dives into what differentiates Israel’s religion and the OT from that of its neighbor’s myths.

I went through a similar class when I was an undergrad, but this one goes further. What captured my attention in particlular was Oswalt’s chapter on transcendence as the basis of Biblical thinking for Israel, and the basis of the Jewish religion. It was the concept that God was not simply a part of this world to be manipulated by the magics of men, or a force to be harnessed, or a god whose fortunes are mirrored by our reality by continuity. God revelaed Himself to be something completely other than the reality of this world, not tied to it, not a force of it, but the Creator of it. He is immanent in it in some ways, but He is also sitting on a throne above it. It is one of the basic principles of Israel’s monotheism, and it is woven into Israel’s culture and reality. Oswalt wrote, “Above everything else it is the principle of God’s relation to the cosmos. In mythical thinking God is the cosmos – or, to put it the other way around, the cosmos is God” (Oswalt, 81). But God is not the cosmos. He is the Creator of it, the Sustainer of it, He is sovereign over it, but He is not, as the mythical pagan gods of Israel’s neighbors, a force of it to be controlled.

God being something completely other than matter we can manipulate as the ancient’s attempted is awe inspiring, but on some primitive levels, it’s also a scary proposition. It’s easier to have a god you can control, a god connected to your rituals, your practices, such as magic, omens, and reading the entrails of court animals. It’s a much riskier proposition to accept God as other than the cosmos, something uncontrollable by human manipulation, yet sovereignly in control of creation. This is an aspect of Israel’s religion unique to the Hebrews. They would, of course, from time to time fall back into the notion that they could control the powers of this world and adopt the pagan practices of their neighbors. It is, after all, much easier to control the god sitting on your mantle rather than the One which spoke the mantle into being.

This is just a sneak peak of Oswalt’s book. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand why we hold the Bible as the Word of God as opposed to myth. It discusses issues of myth, history, continuity, transcendence, and so much more. It deserves a place your library.

Let the rambling begin

Welcome to the blog! Glad you stopped by. There are certain things most folks address in a first post. You might be thinking… What’s this blog all about? Why even have a blog? Why don’t you post this stuff on Facebook like the rest of the human race? Wait, are you a member of the human race or one of those bots on the web I hear so much about? You call yourself a writer, yet in post 1,492 I found a spelling error, and then in post 793 I found the wrong verb tense used twice. Are you a real writer?

To answer the questions currently only I am asking in my head, this blog is all about whatever I am interested in! It’s about theology because I follow Jesus, enjoy studying theology, and am currently in seminary pursuing a MA in Theological Studies. It’s about technology because I am a geek. I take stuff apart, I tinker with gadgets, I overclock that which can be overclocked, I played with developing for iOS and Android at one point, and the list goes on and on, but you get the point, I’m a geek at heart. It’s about writing because my dream is to write books. I’ll hopefully be blogging about a major writing project I’m restarting. More on the book later. I have a blog for a few reasons. Writing is theraputic for me. Writers need to do a few things, two of them being read (a lot) and be one who is constantly writing. It helps. I don’t post this stuff on Facebook mostly because I can’t stand using Facebook. Shocker, I know. I do, however, tweet. I’m human. That also accounts for the spelling and grammatical errors. Remember, this is a web log, not a finished book which has withstood editing, rewrites, scrutiny, and sits nicely in the library. This is a rambling.

So, without further delay, let the rambling commence!