Posted by: minnow | June 22, 2010

Happily Ever After

Often in the spiritual discussions I have with friends and acquaintances the phrase “the infallible word of God” surfaces.  As soon as it does a knot begins to form in my stomach.  Another topic which causes a similar reaction in the pit of my stomach is end times prophecy.  Often these two topics go hand in hand, for as soon as I start questioning the latter I begin hearing about the former.

Now, I can agree that the Bible is infallible in that it does not fail to reveal the character of God.  Nor does the Bible fail to show God’s unconditional and unending love for His creation.  It also successfully offers  creation a part in God’s plan of reconciliation and relationship, if it chooses to participate.  Unfortunately, when most people use the phrase “the infallible word of God” they mean the Bible is inerrant, without error.  Some would even go so far as to say their favorite English translation of the Bible is without error.  And, with this point of view they preach about end times.

As my friend Clothman would say, the position that the Bible is without error is misguided at best.  Even if we all agree that God inspired the original writers of the Bible, we have none of the original writings.  We do not even have copies of the original writings.  In addition, most of us are not scholars of ancient cultures, nor fluent in ancient Greek or Hebrew.  What we hold in our hands in today’s western culture is at best, at best, a translation of copies of copies of documents that were scripted at the earliest almost 2000 years ago.  Not even all the translations agree and some do not even agree on which books to include in the single book we call the Bible.

The notion that the Bible was meant to be taken literally word for word is equally ill-conceived.  Parables, revelation, apocalyptic writing, allegories are meant to be interpreted.  They are illustrations to make a point, or symbols that carry layers of meaning.  When we understand the culture in which, or the circumstances under which, a given part of scripture was written we are better able to understand what the author’s point was and how we can accurately apply it to our own lives hundreds, even thousands of years later.  Specific letters to specific churches might not make sense in light of the rest of scripture until we realize what was happening at the time they were written which is partly what makes end times prophecy so troubling.

What is the purpose of the doom and gloom type prophecy?  To predict a future that is set in cement?  No!  At least not always.  One purpose is as a warning.  Why did Jonah not want to give God’s prophecy to Nineveh?  He was afraid the people would repent and God would then have a change of heart and not destroy them which is exactly what happened.  I can not tell you how tired I am of hearing how God is unchanging (despite evidence of a rather dramatic change toward Nineveh), that the destruction He wrecked on pockets of the world in the past He will once again wreck in the future.  Only this time He will lead the charge mounted on a white horse with vengeful fire shooting from His eyes and a sword thrust out from His mouth.  It will all end in a dramatic blaze of glorious special effects that destroys the world after the chosen have been magically transported to heaven and the POWs cast into a lake of fire where they will burn for all eternity while the rest of us live happily ever after. 

I do not know about you but unless God smites my memory I could never live “happily ever after” knowing that two-thirds of the world is always burning but never-dying.  Some of those people are people I have known and loved.  Some of them have loved me, cared for me, helped me in times of trouble, been Jesus’ hands and Jesus’ feet in my life.  A god who has the power to create such a place and the will to utilize it does not deserve to be worshiped and could never be called loving.  The god depicted by taking those images literally and applying them to a deity is not my God.

Jesus told His disciples that the Kingdom of God was at hand, not some distant dream. Sadly, most of the Church treats the Kingdom of God like a fairytale land where we will someday live happily ever after.  They use that attitude to ignore the here and now, to create a nearly impassable gulf between a us and a them, to justify spending all of their time locked up in their prayer closet and none of it meeting needs in the streets.  Jesus taught His disciples to pray that God’s will be done here just like it is done in heaven.  Then He showed them the way to reach the Father by how they lived their lives.  They were not earning their salvation through their works, even the work  of testifying to their faith.  Salvation is a gift, a gift we are to walk out.  In the world.  Making a difference.  In people’s lives. 

In Deuteronomy 30 and Joshua 24 God’s people were given a choice between life and death, blessings and curses, the God of Abraham or the gods of the land He had promised them.   They were told to choose.  I believe we have the same choice today.  We can choose the God of heaven or the gods of hell.  We can not serve both.  But if we choose to serve the God of heaven I believe He will walk with us through hell so that by our hands and our feet others might see Jesus and believe.

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