Friday, September 28, 2012

using God

The only way to get this view is to take the ferry to the Isle of Mull.
I love books that start off with heartwarming observations on Christian spirituality and then, just when the warm fuzzies are getting really fuzzy, deliver a powerful punch to the gut.  We don't have enough of these books, in my opinion; we do have the Bible which is undoubtably punchy, but I am talking about writings from contemporary Christian thinkers.  And let me assure you that I am speaking figuratively here and not encouraging anyone to take up boxing.  I am also not talking about gut-punching just for shock value or to be provocative or to make sure the point is not forgotten.  I am referring to the ability to speak the truth plainly and simply and make no excuses for it.  I am talking about being able to clear away the rubble of our 21st century thinking so that truth can do exactly what it is meant to do: get to the heart of matter.  Here is one example of just that.

I am currently reading Eugene Peterson's book, The Jesus Way. In it he explains what it means when Jesus says, "I am the way..."  Though Jesus is definitely the means by which we have access to and relationship with the Father, the metaphor goes much further than that.  Peterson starts by observing that our world is good at getting things done in a way that is mostly impersonal (systems, techniques, guidelines, programs, organizations, etc) and we are prone to transfer this to how we follow Jesus.  This is counterproductive because the means by which we follow Jesus often threaten to sabotage the message we bring of Jesus.  Let me give one of Peterson's examples.

He interprets the temptations of Jesus as a necessary and primary event in Jesus' ministry because it served to clarify "how" Jesus would do his work as Messiah.  The three temptations did not involve the "what" or purpose of his work, but the "how."  He explains them in a way that relates to contemporary followers of Jesus.

The first temptation (turning stones into bread because he was hungry) is a temptation to use God's power to fulfill needs.  Not that feeding hungry folks, including ourselves, is not a good thing to do, but the important word here is use.  "It is the temptation to deal with myself and others first and foremost as consumers" (31).  It is a temptation to use Jesus, to reduce Jesus to someone who fills needs.  He is the ultimate customer service agent, if you will.  This orientation towards need becomes impersonal very fast, and the very purpose of Jesus' life on earth was to reveal the personal, intimate involvement of God in this world.  I always cringe when someone says "God used me" because many times it reflects this attitude of consumerism.  We are not tools in God's belt; we are sons and daughters in the family of God.  In the course of following Jesus we will no doubt find ourselves responding to many needs, but this is not our goal.  The goal must always remain this:  to love God and love our neighbour.

The second temptation (jump off the roof of the temple and be saved by angels) is the temptation to dazzle people with a show, to chase the rush that we feel in worship, to make miracles the main attraction.  In other words, we can become bored with just following Jesus, loving, suffering, and serving as we go.  We are a people who are used to being entertained, and we can translate this into a belief that Jesus needs to provide a diversion, something that will attract us and keep us and others coming back for more. It is an addiction to spectacle.  "The temptation is to reduce Jesus to escapism and thrills: an impersonal rescue, an irresponsible diversion, a manipulative reprieve from the ordinary" (32).  However, following Jesus is not a "sequence of exceptions to the ordinary," Peterson says. It is living fully and deeply in the place we find ourselves (33).

The third temptation (rule the world and bow down to the devil) is the temptation to use God to impose a just, peaceful, and prosperous government.  In effect, we are tempted to sacrifice freedom so that we can have a well-run society.  People are reduced to a function (do right, support what is right) to build a utopian community.  Ultimately, those who do not comply to our interpretation of a righteous society must be sacrificed for the good of the organization.  "War has always been the classic way of choice to impose our idea of what is good on the people we don't like or disapprove of.  It still is" (34).  The God whom Jesus reveals does not impose his government on the world.  The mistakes and abuses throughout history are evidence of this.  Much to our disappointment, people have always been free to make their own choices, even when they do not align with our morality.  But love is not impersonal, love does not impose its will on another, and love cannot be legislated.

I see myself in all of these temptations:  I have given to the poor and then felt I was a pretty good Christian for filling that need or participating in that project.  I have chased after supernatural experiences as a way of affirming that God loves me and because it was pretty thrilling.  I have tried to impose my will on others because I believed I knew what they should be doing.  None of it was love.  None of it was personal.  I was a consumer, using God for my own benefit.  I have to fight every day not to be a user, not to sink into the endless void of chasing entertainment, not to enforce my version of "right" on those around me.   Love is more beautiful and mysterious and stronger than all that.  And freedom is precious.  Jesus is the way of love and freedom.

A few more quotes from The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans, 2007).:

"A technologized world knows how to make things, knows how to get places, but is not conspicuous for living well" (28).

"To follow Jesus means that we can't separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way he is doing it" (22).

1 comment:

Shelley said...

I loved this book too...