The story opens with a female prophet and judge holding court between “the heavens” and the “house of God.” A thousand different sermons could be preached incorporating the story of Deborah. In this counter-intuitive story the themes of lament, prophecy, and the role of women come to the front. I’ve included links to sermons from Brian Zahnd, Matt Chandler, and Greg Boyd on each of those topics, but this story also shows us how God has revealed himself through Christ in the Old Testament. Any time a prophet hears the voice of God like Abraham and Moses, or sees a vision of God like Isaiah and Paul, we know that it is Christ they are hearing and seeing, because he is the Word of God made human, and the perfect image of the invisible God.
Deborah is a woman who has had an encounter with Christ, and this encounter has gifted her with the ability to judge the nation. She reaches out to a man named Barak and tells him to gather troops for an upcoming battle. It is tempting for us to interpret Barak’s response as cowardly or hesitant to obey God’s command from a woman, but if we look at the rest of scripture and ask ourselves, “where have we heard this before?” we will see that his words are not cowardly or disobedient at all. Barak responds by telling Deborah that if she will go with him then he will go, but if she will not then he won’t. If you take a second to think about other passages of scripture where a similar response is given, several should come to your mind.
In Exodus 33 Moses asks God to not send them away without his presence, Ruth tells Naomi not to send here away, and that wherever Naomi goes she will follow. In Psalm 16 David says that he has set the Lord always before him, and because God is at his right hand he will not be moved. Finally, in John 6 Jesus gives a very difficult teaching about the necessity for his followers to “eat his flesh and drink his blood,” and in response many people leave. Jesus turns to the twelve and asks them if they well leave also. Peter replies, “where will we go Lord? You have the Words of eternal life.”
Barak’s response is anything but cowardly or disobedient. His response is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. When faced with the most difficult trial of his life, he looks to a woman who has seen the Lord and communicates God’s presence and will to the people, and Barak will not go without her. So much of the Christian life simply revolves around our response to fear, pain, doubt, and suffering. These things are enemies in our lives and they seek to kill, steal, and destroy all of the love, hope, and joy that we experience. In the midst of this suffering all that God desires is for us to trust that he is there, that he knows what we are experiencing, and that he will help us through our darkest hours, but most importantly if we let go, if we give up, if we cry out to him in anger and bitterness because of the pain that he has allowed, he will never turn his back on us.
I recently saw a tweet that said, “when God asked Job, ‘where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?’ Job’s response should have been, ‘where were you when I was being tortured by Satan?’” For some people the very thought of replying to God in that way is offensive, but this reaction sheds light on some of the most basic ways that we read the bible. One of those is the possibility that the “God” character in the Old Testament, is not always the person in the story who is revealing to us what God is like. When we take this possibility into account we see that at it’s deepest level the cry of Job and Jesus are the same, “my god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”
The two examples I use most often to highlight this principle are, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Moses’ willingness to sacrifice himself for his tribe. In these stories God is asking or threatening something that we know is not in harmony with who God has revealed himself to be in Christ. In the Abraham story, he is asking for a child sacrifice, and in the Moses story he is threatening to destroy his chosen people. In both cases it is often taught that God was testing these men, and Abraham passed the test through obedience, and Moses through intercession; but this does, and should, seem “not quite right.”
It feels wrong because we impose a mistaken understanding of what it means to test someone. When the bible says that God has said or done something to “test” someone, it doesn’t mean that their response to the test is going to determine God’s thoughts or feelings about the person. Adam and Eve failed the test of the trees. This does not change God’s attitude toward them, but it does change their attitudes toward God. God is still seeking after them, and they’re the ones that have chosen to hide from him. Jesus shows us that God is a loving father, whose arms are eternally open towards his creation. We are the ones who turn away, and experience the separation either as a bitter memory of a life we’ve left behind, or a cruel joke that could not possibly have ever been true.
What does this all mean for Job? Greg Boyd has a terrific sermon in his series of messages titled “Twisted Scriptures” that can help us see the connection. In this series he points out popular stories from the bible that people often interpret in the totally opposite way that they were intended. Greg points out that the most commonly quoted passage from the book of Job is the twenty first verse of the first chapter which states, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” Now the book is written to show us, what Jesus will point out later, that Satan is the one who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy, and not God; but we, like Job, embrace the exact opposite view, that it is God “taking away” what we value most.
God’s speech to Job at the end of the book is often held up as a general response to mankind in the midst of suffering. What many hear as a beautiful declaration of God’s power, others hear as a grandiose command to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. A command that is eerily similar to Job’s friend Elihu, but that is intentional. It functions in much the same way as God’s interactions with Abraham and Moses. This is not God’s response to our suffering. His response to our suffering is the same as it was for the Israelites trapped in the land of Egypt. He hears the cries of his people, and he moves heaven and earth to deliver them from their bondage. It is no coincidence that God reminds them of this as an introduction to the ten commandments, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
That promise still stands for us today. If we cry out to God, in the same way that the Israelites did in the land of Egypt, in the same way that David did in the twenty second psalm, and in the same way that Jesus did while on the cross, he is faithful to hear our cries and deliver us from our suffering. In reality Job’s cry is a mirror image of Jesus’ words, “my god, my god, why have you forsaken me.” This is what we feel when we are experiencing tremendous pain. God’s response to genuine cries of suffering like that of Job and David, is not, how dare you question me; but instead, “I have heard your cries, I have seen your tears. I will surely heal you…you will go up to the house of the Lord.”
My local paper, the Tribune Star, reprinted an article recently by Froma Harrop titled “The Silly Debate About Socialism.” I found out later that this article has been widely distributed throughout the country, both online and in print. There are two major problems in the essay, and one minor problem. By far the most egregious error is her definition of socialism. “Simply put, socialism is a system whereby the state owns the means of production. In capitalism, the means of production are privately owned. Would someone kindly tell us which companies Bernie Sanders would nationalize, starting with Bernie Sanders?” There are two great ironies about this statement. The first is that she gives this incorrect definition right after venting her frustration about politicians not knowing the definitions of political theories.
The reason her definition is wrong is clearly explained in her own description of our economy. We have a mixed (public and privately held means of production and regulation) economy that is primarily capitalistic. For an economy or a politician to be “socialist” does not mean that they have to advocate for completely public ownership, that is communism. Our economy is not 100% privately owned, that does not mean it is not a capitalist economy. She goes on to mention that Sweden’s economy is not socialist because it is a “capitalist powerhouse.” Sweden’s economy is primarily socialist, not because there are no capitalist elements but because the means of production and regulation are primarily public. Moving on, the second irony leads to the second major problem.
She challenges readers to name one company that Bernie Sanders would “nationalize.” She says this as a rhetorical device to prove her point, but her article was published the week after Bernie Sanders proposed one of his strongest socialist ideas yet. That is to tax Amazon and other companies like it, based on how many of their workers rely on federal benefits. I do have to commend her stated motives for writing the article. She explains that it is her desire for people to not be afraid of many good ideas because they think of them as “socialist.” And this is the minor problem. These are socialist idea, but I agree that people should not be afraid of them. I don’t advocate for these programs because I am a conservative, but I don’t fear them either because they would be much better than our current system.
The method Harrop is using to lessen the fear is actually adding to it. The reason there is so much tension between the United States and Russia is because we are currently two empires, one capitalist and one socialist, that have betrayed their people, and their founding ethos. The United States was an early adopter of the industrial revolution, and in that process we allowed a massive consolidation of wealth. This was our betrayal of the people, and of our ethos. The Soviet Union resisted the industrial revolution much longer than we did, and once they embraced it, for the sake of “the proletariat,” they allowed a massive consolidation of power. This was their betrayal.
Instead of repenting of these abuses, both nations have allowed the continuous consolidation of both wealth and power to occur, and used the excuse that it was necessary to compete with each other. The people bought these excuses primarily out of the fear that Harrop is describing, and inadvertently feeding into. In his “epic post apocalyptic ‘robot western’ Sea of Rust,” amazon’s description not my own, C. Robert Cargill’s OWI’s (One World Intelligence’s) foretell the destruction of mankind because humans could not agree on an entirely capitalist or socialist economy, and therefore could not keep pace with the machines. I think Cargill made the same mistake as Harrop, it isn’t that we can’t agree on one system or the other, it’s the fact that we can’t stop seeing each other as the enemy.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of North Terre Haute Christian Church or it's members.
The Painting at the top of this page is from the cover C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust
It happens almost every time I have coffee with a friend. It happens when my wife and I watch our favorite shows on a lazy Saturday morning. It happens when I lose myself in a game with my children. But it also happened one time when my daughter stopped breathing. “It” is the transformation of time. My wife and I were at her parents house when my infant daughter started running a high fever. For some reason my first reaction was to take off my shirt and hold her to my chest. This was pure instinct, but I found out later that it is one of the best ways to reduce a child’s temperature. When a parent holds their child skin to skin the heat from the child’s body actually transfers to the parent. We called the doctor’s office and they suggested running a lukewarm bath, but after a few minutes of holding her in the room temperature water, her eyes rolled back in her head and she stopped breathing. In that moment time ceased with her breath.
That is what fear, pain, sorrow, and darkness can do in our lives. They slow time down, and if they go deep enough they can stop it altogether. Thankfully the paramedics arrived and rushed my daughter to the hospital. We found out that she was susceptible to febrile seizures, a condition we had never heard of, but one that is common in children under ten. But do our experiences really change the flow of time, or is it simply in our minds. The answer is yes to both, but to understand why we have to examine what time actually is. Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that time is nothing but a localized projection of individual and collective human experience. What that means is that there is no universal flow of time apart from human experience. If time slows down for you, then time itself truly slows down. This fluctuating view of time is essential for us to understand what life can be like now and what it will be like in the future.
I grew up imaging heaven as an endless duration of trillions upon trillions of years. The more I think about this and talk about it with other people, I continue to discover that most find this view of eternity terrifying, but at the same time they feel it is explicitly taught in the bible. It’s important to remember that God uses things we know to help us understand things that we can’t know. For example, there are many different descriptions of heaven throughout the bible (John 14, Hebrews 12, Revelation 7), and these descriptions are true, but none of them fully encompass what our experience of the next life will be like. Our thoughts about this topic can also lead to a very harmful way of thinking about God’s relationship to time. SPOILER ALERT. There is a scene from the Netflix series Black Mirror that perfectly illustrates what I’m describing. In the episode White Christmas John Hamm punishes the digital copy of a woman by accelerating her experience of time. It’s possible for us to start thinking of God as existing in this manner; in a type of “time outside of time” where he is thinking and acting in much the same way that we do, but as an observer of time rather than a participant.
For God to participate in time does not mean that he must be bound by time, or that he must experience change. God’s participation in time is itself a timeless participation. This happens in much the same way that light interacts with matter, or the way that joy, peace, and love interact with our hearts and minds. When you experience joy, peace, and love, time speeds up, and the more you experience those emotions, the more quickly time accelerates. In mathematics this is described as an asymptotic relationship; so the next time you hear someone complaining about the uselessness of algebra, you can tell them that it reveals something very profound to us about our relationship with God and time! This is good news for anyone who might be terrified by the idea of infinite duration, of existing for trillions of years. What we experience in part in this life (an hour that feels like a minute) we will experience fully in the next, a timeless union with love itself.
The painting at the top of this page is Time in Eternity by Leon Devenice
P.S. This understanding of our relationship with God and time is far from being universally agreed upon. It is a topic that I discuss frequently with church leaders from around the country on twitter, so if you’re interested in learning more you can follow me on twitter @mattlarimer. Now, if anyone tells you that this is not the “majority view” throughout the history of the church, kindly disregard that comment because it is not true. Something that is commonly taught, however, is that our experiences and our emotions are not essential for knowing God. Origen, one of the greatest interpreters of Scripture in history, quoted 1 Corinthians 14:32, “the prophets are subject to prophets,” to highlight the importance of our experiences and emotions. Scripture itself is a collection of writings from the prophets, communicating their experiences with God; with the purpose of drawing us into our own experiences.
One of the most common myths pervading our political landscape currently is that of a monolithic conservatism. By that I mean a singular conservative ideology, but that is simply not how conservatism works. Conservatism differs based on the culture it operates in. The conservative ideal is to protect that which is best in the history of a culture. Based on that definition the conservative party in a nation with a long history of monarchy, would seek to restore the monarchy or at least fight for centralized power. On the other hand, conservatism in a nation founded on anti-monarchical principles would try to prevent the establishment of a monarchy specifically, and the consolidation of power generally. This is what should make conservatism in the United States different from conservatism in Europe.
This is not how conservatism is currently functioning in the United States. Long ago the conservative party traded it’s conservative ideology for a nationalist agenda. We traded the anti-monarchical and anti-federalist vision, that dominated American politics for the first fifty years of our nation, for the chance to be a global economic and militaristic superpower. I know this can be a difficult topic to discuss when political tensions are high, because people are already uncomfortable when long held beliefs are questioned. I don’t want to over state this, but I truly believe the future of our nation is at stake if conservatives don’t understand this one simple fact. Reagan conservatism is not American conservatism. Reagan conservatism is European conservatism rebranded, and it is the ideology that we revolted against. It is dangerous because increasingly nationalistic societies are the birthplaces of tyrants.
Great Britain was the dominant economic and militaristic super power of it’s day. The British Navy and the East India Trading Company absolutely dominated the globe. At the height of it’s power the British Empire truly was a successor to the Roman Empire, but the American Colonies stood up to this juggernaut, much like the Germanic tribes had stood up to the Romans centuries before. The Germanic tribes consolidated their power and sought after global domination and came up short, but where they failed we have succeeded. The United States built an army stronger than the Roman Legions, a Navy more dominant than the British Royal Fleets, and an Air Force that is stronger than anyone could have dreamt. We allowed robber barons and financial institutions to grow exponentially, and finally we convinced ourselves that economic and militaristic domination of the globe is what it means to be an American.
Global domination is not what it means to be an American. Global domination was never what it meant to be an American. The American Revolution stood for the exact opposite of global domination. The American Revolution was the start of world wide revolutions opposing centralized power. How can the revolutionary spirit that changed the world become the empire that it revolted against in just under two hundred years? I don’t know, but if Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in US history at his time, can wake up to the reality that the United States has betrayed itself, then you and I can as well. Conservatism is not about restoring every aspect of a bygone age. It is about examining your past, repenting of the mistakes you’ve made, recommitting to your best ideals, and partnering with progressive dreamers to create a future that is better than anyone could have ever imagined.
This post was in part a response to David Bentley Hart who recently stated that he has never heard of a conservative ideology that he was not “morally hostile” to. I am partially sympathetic to his hostility, because of the long history that conservatives have of trying to bring back the worst parts of their cultures, along with the good. However, I know that Mr. Hart is a good enough student of history, that he should be able to come to the same conclusions that I have expressed here. Unfortunately, he has fallen prey to the polarizing spirit that has seized our nation. He has perpetuated the myth that conservatives and progressives are working towards fundamentally different goals. This is not true. We should be working together, to embrace the good and repent of the evil aspects of our history, and dream about the best possible vision for our future.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of North Terre Haute Christian Church or it's members.
Last night Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing stood before the County Council and presented newspaper articles from 1980 when an 80 bed jail was built, and 2001 when a 270 bed jail was built. He did this, not to prove how broken our justice system is, but to persuade our community to build a new 530 bed jail. All in all that’s over a 650% increase in the number of beds that our county has need to house inmates in just the past forty years. He went on to state that the inmates in our jail are ignorant, lazy, and inept. In his defense he did try to use “politically correct” words to convey his contempt (uneducated, unmotivated, and unskilled). To top it off he claimed that no one opposing the jail understood what he and his officers have to deal with in our city, and none of them knew what it was like to have to bury a fallen “brother in blue.” Unfortunately using Brent Long and Rob Pitts deaths has become an all to common defense against anyone questioning the policies of our local law enforcement agencies. Not only were these tactics shameful, they were also inaccurate.
Some of those who oppose the jail have had to bury fallen brothers. Many protesters have mentored youth who have parents in jail, and had come to the meeting in order to speak for them and their incarcerated parents. The kids in our city have experienced what Ewing described as, “drug addicts screaming and fighting at 2 am,” but unlike his officers they don’t get to come into the home after the fight has started and then leave when it has ended. They either have to stay in the home or be pulled out and placed in foster care, and more and more of them are facing these circumstances each and every day. As Rose Hulman economist Kevin Crist stated, "if we are going to spend this much money on a jail, we might as well build a hallway straight from the schools to the front door." This statement reflects the tragic reality that over 70% of kids with one or more parents who have been incarcerated will end up behind bars at some point in their life.
Mark Twain once said that there are three kinds of lies, “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” He said this because statistics can easily be manipulated to fit whatever point someone is trying to make, but the incarceration statistics in our country cannot be manipulated. Since the 1970’s the US prison population has gone up almost 1,000% and as I stated earlier, our local jail population has and is projected to increase by a similar amount. Continuing to spend millions of dollars to build bigger jails is not a solution to the problem. We are constantly wasting our county resources to house more inmates rather than devoting our time, energy, and money towards reversing the decades long national trend of skyrocketing incarceration. I applaud Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rob Robertson for his efforts to communicate the county’s past and current attempts at staffing and funding rehabilitation programs, but there is a program in the works that, with the proper funding (which is unlikely now), could have drastically reduced our jail population.
The program involves a process called Medically Assisted Treatment or MAT. The patients at our local drug rehabilitation facilities don't have access to prescription drugs, including drug alternatives and mental health medications, because the facilities don't have the funding to staff on site pharmacies. As many studies have shown this drastically reduces the likelihood of recovery. The vast majority of people in our culture realize that the increase in prison and jail populations occurred around the same time that the drug epidemic began. Most people also acknowledge that this epidemic hit poor and minority communities the hardest. Pastor Dwayne Malone passionately spoke about the terrible injustice it is that African Americans in our community make up 9% of our county population, but 40% of our jail population. Unfortunately there are still racial biases that tempt us to blame this discrepancy on “lack of motivation, education, and skill,” but we know that is simply not the case.
This fight is not over. There are many more steps that must be taken before construction can be started on a new jail. These steps include actions by the Vigo County Commissioners and the Vigo County Council. I would strongly encourage you to research the candidates running for these offices and make sure that they are committed to opposing an oversized jail, that will prevent our county from spending the money that is absolutely necessary to invest in our local schools and drug rehabilitation facilities. Also please join in the call for Aaron Loudermilk to resign his position on the council and support legislation that would prevent public servants from serving on councils and committees that directly benefit their personal interests. Positive change for our city is not only possible it is highly probable. "Change will happen when the pain associated with the change becomes greater than the pain associated with the status quo," and the people of Terre Haute have suffered too much for too long. It is time for a wind of change to sweep through our city, and you can help make it happen.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of North Terre Haute Christian Church or it's members.
As a minister, the one question that I ask people most often is, “how do we know what God is like?” The way that we are taught to read the bible can have a tremendous influence on how we answer this question. How do you think it would affect someone’s thoughts about God if you told them that he made something that was evil and that would kill people, and he purposefully put it right in front of the first two people he created, just to tempt them. Oh and I forgot to mention, he made the evil thing look like something that would be really good. Or think about it like this, how would you feel if you developed cancer and then discovered that your parents had filled one of your toys with asbestos and put it in your crib, but told you not to play with it. These are some of the subtle messages that can be sent to children if we teach lessons from the bible like they are quaint fairy tales or history lessons.
One of the most common questions that kids entering into adolescence ask me about the Garden of Eden is, “why did God make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, if he knew Adam and Eve were going to eat from it?” When a child asks a question like this it is a clear sign that they are ready to learn a deeper truth about the story, and this truth is something that we should all meditate on day and night. The tree is not just a tree. The tree represents every decision we are faced with that has the possibility of a good or an evil outcome. We may know the difference between good and evil intellectually or in our minds, but when we make a decision that leads to the pain and suffering of evil, we come to know evil experientially or in our hearts. We gain the full knowledge of good AND evil.
Now some children will accept this teaching and never question the story again, but many will go on to ask. “why does God give us desires for things that are evil?” This really is a great moment to remind them of Genesis chapter one (this is also an extremely important philosophical truth), that God did not create anything that is evil. The fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is good and a benefit to humanity, and the desire for it is a good and natural desire. This is why God can say in Genesis chapter three that, “they have become like us, knowing good and evil.” Think about it this way, if you could know all of the pain that a bad decision would cause, I mean truly know the pain that your family and friends would experience, and I mean actually feel the pain that they would feel, do you think you would make the same bad decisions?
When I was in Middle School I once rode the bus home with a friend and did not tell my parents where I was going. My mom and dad called everyone they knew, and finally tracked me down at about midnight. I came home and I could instantly tell that my mom had been crying on the couch for hours. Twenty years later, I am a father, and I am just now understanding how she must have felt. If I could have somehow possessed that knowledge when I was in Middle School, I would have never made that mistake. This is why it is so important for parents to constantly be cultivating relationships with their children and with God. Our relationships have to be cared for like gardens, so that we are able to pass on the knowledge that God has blessed us with, and so that our children feel safe to come to us when they make mistakes. Being raised by parents who loved me unconditionally, and taught me that God loved me in the same way, has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.
This is the type of relationship that God desires to have with us. Jesus refers to God as Father so often that we sometimes forget how powerful this revelation was and is. God was referred to as Father in the Old Testament, but it was minuscule compared to the number of times Jesus refers to God as Father in the gospels. Not only does Jesus refer to God as Father, he tells stories about father’s to help us understand what God is like. The parable of The Prodigal Son is a story about a father, and a young man who desired the knowledge of what it would be like to manage his own affairs and to live on his own. Neither of these desires are evil things in and of themselves, and they are desires which are natural and common to all of humanity. But just like Adam and Eve it was the prodigal son’s impatience which led him to sin. Ecclesiastes chapter three says that, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We must remind ourselves and pass on to the next generation this truth, that it is our destiny to contemplate the beauty of God and his creation for eternity, and it is something that cannot and should not be rushed.
The painting at the top of this page is Basket of Fruit by Michelangelo Caravaggio
After five or six years of intermittent blogging I think I have finally found my niche. Once all of the hot takes have been written and shared, and then all of the frustrated responses to the hot takes have been posted, there is a sweet spot right in between the two where a ton of potential exists for fruitful dialogue. The latest dust up over Andy Stanley’s sermon regarding the way that believers should relate to the Old Testament is a perfect example of this. The most popular response I’ve read was Wesley Hill’s FirstThings article, in which he made the accusation of Marcionism. It wasn’t long after this that the “Can we stop calling everyone a Marcionite…” posts started filling my twitter feed. The funniest of which had to be Peter Enns’ personal blog post where he feigns contempt for being accused of Martianism. If you haven’t been following this debate or if you’re not familiar with Marcionism and you think this is just another obscure theological debate with little to no relevance in the real world, I would encourage you to do a little research into Marcionism, because the relationship between the Old and New Testament is vital to the gospel and to the life of the believer.
One of the things that shocked me the most about Andy’s message was his attempt to relate with those who were handed a bible early in their lives with little to no instruction as to how to read it. I suspect that Andy grew up in a church dominated by a dispensational interpretive method that was instrumental in instructing his reading of scripture whether he was aware of it or not. I have often thought that dispensationalism seems to be an evolved form of Marcionism where the God that Marcion rejected from the Old Testament is now embraced in an attempt to harmonize Old and New Testament revelation and preserve divine immutability. It seems to me that the system fails on both accounts, but that is a topic for another day. The reason I think that the charge of Marcionism “sticks” to Andy in some ways is that he seems to have embraced the dispensational idea of the violence in the Old Testament as being a divine “means to an end,” and therefore we must “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament in order to come to a deeper faith in God revealed through the New Testament. Some suggest that because Andy didn’t directly say that the God of the Old Testament must be rejected then the charge fails, but what is said implicitly is often as strong as or stronger than what is said explicitly.
I recently defended Brian Zahnd against the charge of Marcionism in a blog post because his attempt at harmonizing the Old and New Testament required a reinterpretation of the Old Testament rather than a distancing or a disconnection. And his method revealed a more Christ like God being active in the early history of Israel rather than his inspiration being a “stepping stone” to the New Testament. His teaching was also in accord with what I believe to be the “faith once delivered unto the saints” and handed on by the apostles. A great introduction to the methods the apostles used to interpret scripture is the Popular Patristic Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Press and edited by Father John Behr, and specifically On the Apostolic Preaching by Saint Irenaeous of Lyons. I would love to see discussions like this follow a natural progression from the specific topics to the general principles. This debate swirls around our interpretive methods and our fundamental understandings of the divine nature. As we discuss it we should be drawn unavoidably to the incarnation as the supreme revelation of God’s nature in history and allow it to be our guide in understanding these complex questions.
Are we our brother’s keeper? If so are we our father’s keeper and how far does it go? From the beginning we have been blaming others and refusing to accept responsibility. Adam points the finger at Eve, then Eve does the same to the serpent. Theft leads quickly to murder and when confronted by God with his guilt Cain responds with those timeless words that still haunt humanity, “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is yes, unhesitatingly yes! We are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s, our father’s, our mother’s, and even our grandfather’s keeper. That is why it shocks me every time I have a conversation with a Christian who is a part of an organization with past sins, and they coolly reply that they aren’t responsible for the sins of previous generations. I was even more shocked to hear Jordan Peterson, a man whose influence has seen a meteoric rise in the past year especially among conservative christians, renounce the idea of collective guilt during a recent interview with Ben Shapiro. But it might explain why he left out the Brother’s Keeper section of the Cain and Abel story in this interview with Sam Harris.
By no means am I suggesting that all people must assume collective guilt by necessity but it is a beautiful thing when it is done voluntarily. And never was it done more beautifully than when the creator of the universe took on human flesh, waded down into the baptismal waters of the Jordan, assumed the collective guilt of humanity, and started his long but inevitable journey to the cross where he would share in our punishment. John’s reaction was much like our own when confronted with the prospect of assuming someone else’s guilt, he tried to prevent him! But John was not the only one who tried to stop Jesus from fulfilling his mission on earth. When the Lord began to reveal to his followers that he would have to suffer and die for the faults of others, Peter withstood him to his face and the voice of God replied, “get behind me Satan.” In a culture where we barely have the strength to accept the responsibility for our own actions, assuming the guilt and sharing in the punishment of someone else can easily become offensive. So offensive that we murdered one of the brightest lights our nation has ever had, 50 years ago today, because he had the courage to hold up a mirror to our societies own depravity. But the tide may be turning and it may have started in an unexpected place.
This turning can be seen in the rise of the heroic antagonist in popular culture. Roughly starting with and made wildly popular by Idina Menzel as Elphaba in Wicked and culminating in Michael B. Jordan’s character Erik Killmonger in Black Panther. The heroic antagonist is built on the foundational truth that we ought to share in each others burdens. In Black Panther, justice does not require T’Challa to spare Erik’s life, but he understands that the actions of his father contributed to the horrific dilemma and he chooses to show him mercy. The heroic antagonist has become an almost ubiquitous element in popular culture, and the acceptance of collective guilt is a fundamental aspect of the gospel, the only question that remains is whether or not leaders in our churches will stand up and fight for change in our organizations. The blood of our black brothers and sisters is crying out to us from the ground and to often our response is, “am I my brother’s keeper,” and “it’s their own fault not ours.” It's not too late to change. There is still time for denominations that have been divided since the civil war to pursue repentance, reconciliation, and reunification. There is still time for predominantly white churches to speak out against the injustices that plague their communities and our society. And there is still time for individuals who have refused to accept responsibility for their own mistakes and for those of previous generations to join in that beautiful work of the gospel.