Category Archives: apologetics
I’ve been in the habit of confusing confession with repentance. They go together, but they are not the same thing.
Not only did I confuse confession and repentance, I left out lament. All three are vital and necessary to effect change.
Neither confession, nor lament, nor repentance has to do with shame. Shame is the belief that one is unlovable, beyond the reach of love. Shame is toxic, demonic.
Confession is admitting that what we’ve done is wrong. Not only admitting what I personally chose to do or say, but what the systems I’m a part of have chosen to do and say. I am not an island. I’m a part of an immediate family, a family of origin, a culture, a society, a nation, and a world. At various times in my life, I am a part of institutions, neighborhoods, friendship groups, work teams, and so on.
I’ve done and said things that are wrong, unethical, immoral, or just not nice. The systems of which I am a part – those nations, neighborhoods, family groupings, and workplaces – have also done or promoted things that are wrong, unethical, immoral, or simply not very nice.
Confession means I honestly admit that. No sugarcoating; no excuses. To whom do I confess? God and those I have hurt. I confess to God and those hurt by the systems of which I am a part. Confession means apologizing to my wife when I’m inattentive, to my colleague when I’m overly critical, to the Black community for the racism of my privileged station, to Native Americans for the genocide of ancestors, and to the LGBTQ community for the vitriol of my faith community.
Confession is essential because it allows us to realize the harm we have caused. It opens the door for empathy and understanding. It is not meant to leave us down on ourselves, guilty, or ashamed; but instead, kindhearted, understanding, and sympathetic.
Lament is the expression of grief. Lament creates space to grieve the harm caused by neglect, selfishness, greed, bigotry, unforgiveness, or social injustice. If I truly enter into confession, it will produce empathy for the victimized, whether individual or collective, and empathy will express itself in lament.
Confession is not repentance. Lament is not repentance. Confession allows me to realize the harm done; lament allows me to express grief over the harm done.
Repentance repairs the harm down.
As much as is possible, repentance undoes the harm. It aims to make amends, restore, repay, rebuild, reconcile, set things to rights.
While talking heads scream at one another, while dueling protestors shout insults and hurl bottles, while guns are brandished and lies are repeated, we who seek to follow Jesus are called to confess, lament, and repent in order that love, peace, and justice may rain down upon us all.
In my work as a hospital chaplain, it is not unusual to come across family members of a dying loved one who insist death is not imminent. Nor is it unusual for people to disallow symptoms of disease until it is too late. They are in denial.
On the other hand, hope is essential. As believers, we hold realistic hope in an eventual cure, a beating of the odds, and, even if death comes, we grieve in hope, knowing our loved one is safe with Jesus and we will eventually be reunited.
Christian hope embraces reality. It neither ignores nor disavows the truth of the matter.
America is very sick. Without proper treatment, it will die. How do I know? Watch the news.
Nations die in various ways. Occasionally, one is violently crushed out of existence. More often, its relevance fades until it becomes ancillary. World War I destroyed the Ottoman Empire. The British Empire gradually shriveled to a fraction of its size and influence.
Like all nations, like all empires, America will inevitably eventually die. Perhaps that time is imminent. Perhaps it is a ways off. Our choice. Will we accept the cure prescribed by the Great Physician, or persist in denial and anger until America is dead?
The United States of America is in the ICU on life-support.
Like ancient Israel, idolatry has led to injustice in these United States.
America is not “one nation under God.” It never has been. America worships Mars, Mammon, and Caesar, but drapes its idolatry in Christianeze. Idolatry results in national sin.
But, there is a cure. Death is not inevitable. The cure involves confession, lament and repentance.
Honest confession (without excuses) to God and to those the nation has hurt, followed by lamentation that enables us to empathize with the victimized, and capped by the kind of repentance that actually and practically sets things to rights – this is the three-fold divine cure.
Our national sins include:
- Invasion by imperialist Europeans
- Genocide of indigenous nations
- Land owned for 10,000 years stolen from Native Americans
- Forced relocation of indigenous people
- Jim Crow segregation
- Systemic racism
- Voter suppression
- Convict leasing
- Redemptive violence
- Myths of righteous wars
- Abortion as a form of birth control
- Patriarchalism, misogyny, anti-LGBTQ
- Environmental pollution
- Greed, exploitation
- Nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment
National sins have led to injustice:
- The reëmergence of white supremacy
- Mass incarceration
- Intergenerational poverty
- Hatred, greed, environmentally induced illness
- Violence, killing, wars, crime, police brutality
- Late term abortions
- Riots and unrest
- Political lies, corruption, avarice, immorality
- Unsavory foreign alignments
- Lack of civil discourse
- Disastrous response to pandemic
- Income disparity
Why should I confess, lament over, and repent of things I personally did not do? After all, I never owned slaves. The simple answer is that I need to confess, lament, and repent because I am an America. I am part of the whole. E pluribus unum.
America has been in denial for many years. Insisting we are not a racist society, reimaging a history without redlining and mass incarceration, responding to police brutality with “blue lives matter,” calling for a return to a nonexistent idyllic past, thinking the election of an African American president proves a post-racial society, failing to recognize that “Make America Great Again” has always meant “Make America White Again” – all signs of denial.
I am sad because I’m an American and I love America. Majestic mountains, crashing waves, towering sequoia, coral reefs, grazing pronghorn antelope, spewing fumaroles, mist rising from a tropical cascade – so much beauty. Colorful cultures, Mexican dances, African drums, lederhosen, ethnic foods – diversity enriching us all. Education, opportunity, and equality (at least in principle) – founding ideals of liberty and justice. There is much to love about America.
I’m also sad because America doesn’t have to die. As with Israel of old, the healing arms of the Great Physician are outstretched. Will we accept the cure, or, like ancient Judah, spurn the truth until the nation is dead?
America can go one of three ways:
- Blame all the problems on whichever political party we don’t like and naïvely imagine all is well if our tribe runs the show. Racism is our zeitgeist, the water in which we swim. If we imagine we have fixed things by swapping out some politicians, we deceive ourselves. Our nation will die.
- Continue denying we are anything other than great and near perfect. Our nation will die.
“The United States has often been called a land of contradictions, and to be sure, it’s failings sit along side some notable achievements — a New Deal for many Americans in the 1930s, the defeat of fascism abroad in the 1940s. But on racial matters, the U.S. could just as accurately be described as a land in denial. It has been a massacring nation that said it cherished life, a slaveholding nation in the claimed it valued liberty, a hierarchal nation the declared it valued equality, a disenfranchising nation that branded itself a democracy, a segregated nation that styled itself separate but equal, an excluding nation that boasted of equality for all. A nation is what it does, not what it originally claimed it would be. Often, a nation is precisely what it denies itself to be.”
- Repent, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. As with ancient Israel, there is hope.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
Will we take the cure or continue our denial until the nation is dead?
The End of Denial by Ibram X. Kendi, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research (The Atlantic, September 2020, p. 54)
God (along with those whose hearts were aligned with God’s) was appalled that people who claimed to follow the only true and living God, whose very nature is pure love, would go into the Valley of Ben-Hinnom (later referred to as Gehenna), heat up images of Molech until they were red-hot, strap their live babies onto the images’ arms and work themselves into a frenzy while children fried to death.
Jeremiah 32:35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
In the time of Jesus, Gehenna was the town dump where all the sewage, garbage, and refuge was dumped and continually burnt. It was also where the brutal Romans tossed the bodies of the many people they executed by crucifixion. It was a horrible place of stench, where the fires were always burning and where worm-like maggots lived in abundance.
Some English translations render Gehenna as “hell.” We sometimes hear people speak of “hell on earth.” At times, it can be. Imagine being thrown into Gehenna alive.
Something like that happened to Jeremiah about 600 years before Jesus was born. He was thrown into cistern because his message was deemed unpatriotic. A well connects to underground water; a cistern simply collects rainwater. It is a hole chiseled out of rock. This particular cistern had no standing water in it. Around five feet of mud sat in it. Most likely, people dumped their sewage in it, and perhaps their garbage as well.
Jeremiah38 Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people: 2 “Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. 3 Thus says the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.” 4 Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” 5 King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you.” 6 So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.
Hell on earth.
Sometimes, we wind up in a hellish situation through our own choices. A drunk driver faces prison. Hell on earth.
More often, we wind up in hellish situations because we live in a broken world. Our hell on earth might be the loss of a loved one, a chronic ailment, eviction, job loss, debt, addiction, mental illness, divorce, or being victimized by prejudiced people. Maybe it was partially our fault; maybe it was the fault of others; maybe it just happened.
Hell on earth.
We cry out to God. God never seems to answer quite as quickly as we would like.
Most often, God rescues us by using other people. Frequently, they are people we wouldn’t expect.
An outsider rescued Jeremiah. Reminds me of the good Samaritan. This person was gender-neutered – not female, not male. He (they?) was a black African, not Middle Eastern. He was a slave. He had no wealth and no privilege other than the fact that he worked in the government building, so he regularly saw the people in charge.
Jeremiah38:7 When Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern—the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate— 8 Ebed-melech went from the king’s house and said to the king, 9 “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” 10 Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take thirty men with you from here, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” 11 So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe in the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. 12 Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. 13 Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.
I’ve met people who would rather stay in mire up to their necks than accept help from “that kind of person.” I’ve seen very sick patients so full of hatred that they refuse the care of physicians and nurses of color.
Who are the strangers, the “others” in our lives? Undocumented workers? Those who do not speak English? Alcoholics? Drug addicts? Pro-life folks? Pro-choice folks? Young black men? Old white men? The poor? Wealthy? Red Necks? Harvard elitists? Prisoners? Muslims? Refugees? LGBTQ? Democrats? Republicans? Liberals? Fundamentalists?
Each one of us is “other” to someone.
Who are the people in our cities and towns who are living a hell on earth? Are they sleeping under bridges? Incarcerated? In hospitals, nursing homes, or hospice programs? Hiding in the shadows? Hiding in plain sight? Harassed by law enforcement because of their skin color?
How can we lift others out of their personal hells?
Do we, perhaps – some of us – find ourselves in a living hell?
Expect rescue from unlikely sources.
Scriptures are quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
I came to God because of love. I came to fundamentalist Christianity because of fear.
Growing up I had a ton of anxiety. I was what some might call overly sensitive and fairly easily traumatized. Yet, from the time I was a toddler I sensed a divine presence. Occasionally, I found myself in a thin place of connectedness. Once, my room flooded with light and God spoke to me of God’s perfect love for me. I intuited God’s presence and love in scriptures, religious texts, philosophy, literature, music, psychology, and biology. I felt God in sunbeams, crashing waves, 60-knot winds, old men, and Christmas lights. I came to God because of love.
Then I got into church.
A lot of church was great – music, worship, washing feet, baptism, communion, preaching, teaching, laying on of hands, prayer, celebration, dance. It was exciting and fun, refreshing and inspiring.
But the mainline liberals and the conservative fundamentalists pushed back. Hard. The tribe I joined, at the time I joined it, was warm, accepting, tolerant, and loving. It was neither liberal nor conservative. As the decades rolled on, however, it became increasingly inflexible, dictatorial, and pejorative. Unperceptively, I became dogmatic, judgmental, and theologically confined. To gain and maintain acceptance with my tribe, I distanced myself from all the other tribes. I woke up one morning and realized I was a militaristic bigoted ideologue quick to condemn a very many people.
Unconsciously, I had become gripped by fear – fear of judgment, fear of divine wrath, fear of hell, fear of rejection. I feared being rejected by my primary mentor and by my tribe. I knew what would happen. There’d be no formal hearing, no appeal, no ecclesiastical court, but I would be functionally excommunicated and effectively shunned. At some level I thought God would join my condemners. Fear of rejection drove me deeper into intolerance, toxic escapist eschatology, untenable cosmology, and reactionary political views. I turned my back on most of the world out of fear that a handful of fundamentalists would turn their backs on me. They did anyway, and I was, just as I feared, excommunicated, shunned, rejected, and demonized.
It hurt me deeply. After all, I am deeply sensitive. Gradually, however, as the hurt healed, I discovered that that which I had feared, that which had indeed happened, was a divine gift. I came to God because of love. I descended into fundamentalism because of fear. I came up into the light because I rediscovered God’s infinite love.
YHWH Tseqenu– The Lord, our Righteousness
Surfers speak of something good, like an awesome wave set, as “righteous.” (Remember the sea turtles in Finding Nemo?)
We often hear of religious people being “self-righteous,” supercilious, holier-than-thou, judgmental.
Two demonically empowered monsters threaten God’s people throughout the Bible: Empire and Religion. After describing in detail how the religious and political leaders of Israel and Judah have failed, God declares that, incarnate in Jesus, YHWH will be our shepherd. No sheep will be lost. No enemy will triumph.
Jeremiah 23:5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (NRSV)
One of the many names applied to God in the Scripture is YHWH Tseqenu.
The LORD, YHWH (Yahweh), I AM THAT I AM – the ever-living eternal creator, sustainer and redeemer of the entire cosmos.
YHWH eternally exists in community – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – One God in perfect harmonious relationship, in need of nothing, but choosing to create a material universe filled with stars and babies. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in seamless dance of love – the love spills over – and it is very good. Humans in the image of God, the imago Dei, created to love and be loved; created to love God, each other, themselves, and nature.
In classical Greek, there are a variety of words to describe love. The purest form of love is agápe. Agápe: Unconditional, self-sacrificial, cruciform, selfless, altruistic love. God is Agápe. “By this shall all know you are my followers, that you agápe one another.”
We are all broken people. Agápe is who God is; agápe is what all of us long for; agápe is what begins the process of redeeming, restoring, reconciling, and regenerating us.
“Righteousness,” here is Tseqenu, (sometimes spelled, Tsidkenu) which can be translated “righteousness,” “righteous,” “honest,” “right,” “justice,” “accurate,” “just,” “truth,” or “integrity.”
Righteousness is being brought into right relationship – right relationship with God, with ourselves, with others, and with creation.
Colossians1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (NRSV)
Romans5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NIV)
I love God because God first loved me. The only sense in which we were ever “enemies of God,” was in our own minds. Guilt and shame lead us to the erroneous conclusion that God doesn’t much like us. Right relationship with God begins as we awaken to the reality that God, in God’s essence, is unconditional, cruciform, enemy-embracing, all-forgiving, eternal, agápe love. Only when I am convinced of God’s love will I come to God openly and honestly. Until I am convinced of God’s perfect love, I can only be religious.
Once I begin to be convinced of God’s love nature, I will start to realize that my core identity is Beloved of God. That is who I am. Not a worthless worm, not a disgusting sinner, not a vessel of wrath, but God’s beloved. God has set God’s love upon me. God’s core, essence, is love. My essential self is beloved of God. And that love is unconditional. Regardless of what I have done or where I’ve been, nothing in all of creation can ever separate me from God’s love.
When I begin to love myself, I begin to be able to love others. I begin to see others – all others – as the imago Dei, bearing the very image of the God whom I love, created to spend eternity with God. I love the other. I love the enemy. I love my neighbor. My neighbor is everyone – Indigenous, Asian, African, Latinx, European, Middle Eastern, Arab, Jew, Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Atheist, Communist, Socialist, Capitalist … no exceptions – everyone. I forgive, I genuinely wish them well; I promote their wellbeing and wholeness; I affirm their essential goodness, listen deeply to their stories, seek to learn from them, and acknowledge their worth and dignity. I taste the foods of many cultures, hear the languages, dance to the songs, and admire the costumes. I treasure their art and poetry.
Filled with the Love that is God, I cannot stop there. I love all that God created. Whales, carp, algae, sandcrabs, moths, butterflies, owls, bluebirds, ornamental cheery, towering oak, opossum, fox and walking stick; nova, meteorites, galaxies and constellations; tidepools, mountains, deserts, rivers and streams – it all sings of the glory of the Creator. I preserve it, refuse to pollute it, try to conserve it, and care for it because it is God’s garden.
YHWH is our righteousness – notice the plural pronoun. Right relationship with God, ourselves, others, and nature occurs in community. It occurs collectively. We are one body with one Lord.
Filled with the love of God, I eschew religions and empires and embrace relationships in the Kingdom of God.
Filled with love for God, others, nature, and myself I hear music and see beauty. I dance, celebrate, enjoy.
Tell them to have faith in God, who is rich and blesses us with everything we need to enjoy life. (1 Timothy 6:17b, CEV)
Jeremiah uses almost every conceivable artistic means to convey his message – street drama, costumes, civil disobedience, nonviolent protests, poems, dirges, songs, fiction, and straight from the heart preaching. He’s hated, rejected, persecuted, beaten, incarcerated, laughed at, and mocked. He wears his emotions for all to see – tears, sobs, cries, angry shouts, pleadings, prayers. He suffers with the sinners. He’s captured, bound, and carried into exile. One tradition says they stuffed him in a hollow log and sawed it and him asunder.
Not that we should go looking for persecution; not that there’s anything wrong with seeking to reach as many people as one can; but compare Jeremiah to some of the narcissist entrepreneurial CEO pastors of today. The former is wheat; the latter, chaff. Dreams and schemes are not necessarily bad, but God has called us to be faithful, not ineludibly successful.
Jeremiah 23:25 “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ 26 How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? 27 They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. 29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”(NIV)
Street drama. At one point, Jeremiah planted himself in such a way as to block the entrance to the Temple. (Chapter 7) That didn’t go over well. Religious people who practiced injustice daily felt pious after saying their prayers and offering their offerings in Temple. They had a saying: “The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!” A holy place, a religious place, a place where all malfeasance was justified. You went to worship on Shabbat. It’s ok that you evicted three widows last week. It’s only business – nothing personal.
The Temple was destroyed. Fast forward to Jesus’ day. The Temple has been rebuilt, initially long ago under the guidance of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel, then, much more recently, upgraded with Herod’s money.
Street drama. Jesus disrupts the Temple worship. Tables overturned; coins scattered; chaos as newly liberated animals run amok. Religious people had made the heavenly Father’s house a den of thieves. You went to worship on Shabbat. It’s ok that you partnered with an empire empowered by the devil. It’s only business – nothing personal.
Thieves don’t rob in their den. They rob in the streets, then hide and regroup and count their loot in the den. Many of the religious people were bigots. They despised gentiles; they were misogynists; they cozied up to Roman occupiers in order to gain power; they exploited the poor and manipulated the law; they were rich. On Shabbat and holy days, they made sure to offer sacrifices in the Temple. Like their predecessors in Jeremiah’s day, they hid their wickedness behind religion.
Jesus told a parable in Luke 18. Two men praying in the Temple. One, deeply religious and highly respected – a Pharisee; the other despised as a traitor and a cheat – a tax collector working for the Romans. The first walked right up front and prayed boldly. The other crouched in the back and smote his chest in remorse. They were both broken men, but only one knew it. He went away validated, vindicated, and accepted. The Pharisee just went away.
Sadly, much of the church in the United States currently looks more like the Pharisee than the tax collector. Religious people – white evangelicals, conservative Catholics – like their predecessors in the days of Jeremiah and Jesus, trade moral integrity for political power, wall out refugees, defend police brutality, deny scientific reality, and champion the causes of nationalism, racism, consumerism, and militarism. They are appalled when a high-end store is looted; they shrug when the police gun down another young black man. They applaud efforts to disenfranchise “the least of these my siblings.” With enthusiasm they support the most corrupt president in history. A yard sign near me reads, “God, Guns, Trump!” Having despised and abandoned the poor, oppressed, victimized, and marginalized, they defy the advice of healthcare science, gather in churches, and celebrate their religiosity. Their churches are dens hiding thieves.
God does not want our pious prayers, songs, and sermons. God wants justice. God wants us to wash feet, care for the poor, love one another, forgive and love our enemies, and join with him in making a more just, peaceful, and honorable world. But, if you do so, you might get sawed in half.
The difference between a well and a cistern is the source of the water. While a well is drilled deep into the groundwater, a cistern sits on the surface collecting rainwater. God continuously showers us with cruciform love, unconditional grace, continuous mercy, and wise guidance. The rain falls on the just and unjust. Showers of blessing. Former and latter rain – Springtime and Autumn.
We come to Christ. Jesus storms the citadels of our hearts and apprehends us, binding us to his divine heart with cords of love.
Churches, pastors, teachers, seminaries, and denominations form the cisterns of our Christian lives. Often, they leak. Some of the cracks and leaks in my theological cistern have included:
- Warrior gods
- Civil religion
- A flat Bible in which every verse carries equal weight
- Religious triumphalism
- American exceptionalism
- White supremacy
- Conservative politics
- Secular progressivism
- Pretribulation rapture eschatology
- Limited atonement
- Literal eternal torture
- Young earth creationism
- Intelligent Design (irreducible complexity)
- Biblical inerrancy
- Prosperity gospel
- Guaranteed faith healing
- Routine miracles
- Brands of spirituality not based on the Sermon on the Mount
A cracked broken cistern not only leaks, but also allows pollutants in. The pure life-giving water that fell from heaven becomes tainted, even toxic. A high school student tastes of young earth creationism, then studies biology. She spits out the tainted water and abandons her faith. The native Hawaiian tastes of white supremacy, vomits the toxic theology, and embraces traditional Polynesian gods. The desperate mother latches onto a health and wealth gospel, but her child dies, and she rejects God. A hippie searching for the dawning of an age of harmony and peace comes to Christ and is taught that he will be raptured away at any moment. Nothing happens. He gives up and becomes a stockbroker.
All of them mistake the tainted water in the cracked cistern for the pure rain. They throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
To make matters worse, some churches, pastors, and denominations double down on the cracked cisterns, insisting that they are divinely installed and incapable of leaks.
There’s nothing wrong with the Bible. Often, however, there is something wrong with my interpretation of the Bible. The life-giving water from heaven is glorious, affirming and healthy, but my theological cistern needs to be dug up and replaced.
Thank God for the excavations of the Holy Spirit. I have nothing to fear.