Placing Ourselves Through the Narrow Door

A couple of weeks ago I heard a sermon on Luke 13:22-30. The story seems to be about how many people will seek to be saved, but only a few will actually make it through the narrow door. Now I’m not going to go into the passage too much, but something struck me as I was listening to this sermon. The one preaching usually always places themselves as one who has made it through said narrow door.

It’s strange that we can preach on a passage that says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to,” and still come from a place from certainty that we are one of those who have entered. Everyone else may be questioned, and in this particular sermon it seemed that everyone else was, but the speaker is exempt. Is it not possible that we are mistaken?

I realize that functionally we all move forward in life with the knowledge and beliefs that we have the best that we can. I don’t think having a continual crisis of belief is healthy, but I wonder that always being certain that we’re “in” is any healthier. It seems to me that this is usually held on to and used as license to dictate who is in and who isn’t.

The ironic thing is that often people who think they’re in, will be excluded by someone else who also thinks they’re in. In a very real sense it doesn’t matter what we think. We can think we’re in and be wrong. We can think other people are out and have them be in. Our perspectives are so limited, only God is able to truly evaluate who is in and out. While we may be able to make educated estimates, there is nothing binding in our proclamations of who is in and who is out.

So where does this leave us? I find myself again drawn to the answer of humility. Humility in our own walk with God as we seek to follow him as best as we are able to. Humility in our interactions with other that displays the grace and love of God to those we may disagree with.

This sounds easy, but can be a very difficult thing to practice. Not everyone will respond to our disagreements, even rooted in humility, with that same grace. We may even be placed outside of the door by our stance. We can also not always do the best in displaying love to those who disagree with us and seek to ostracize them as well.

I guess I have just found myself more skeptical of those who want to set themselves up as the bastion of truth. While some like to point fingers towards conservatives or the religious in general, it seems to be something that many people regardless of their particular label do. We always want to set ourselves up as right and anyone who disagrees as wrong.

This isn’t to say that I have no views on what is right, or what is wrong. It is simply the willingness to admit that my perspective is limited, and that I could very well be wrong. In terms of my faith, I certainly hope I am through that narrow door. I believe in God and rely on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, yet I also know my failings and sin. Even if I am through that narrow door, it does not make me the gatekeeper of that door. There is only one who that door belongs to, and it is not us. I think we’d all be a lot better off if we remembered that.

The Sin of Sodom

Dealing with times of God’s judgment relayed in the Bible is difficult business. There seem to be some who want to interpret these stories as having the potential to happen anytime for even the slightest infractions. Some want to dismiss them as being too disconnected from the message of Jesus to be too useful. Most of the time though, I feel that we just ignore them and hope they go away or that someone doesn’t shed any light on these passages.

A lot of the issue, at least in my understanding, stems from a conflict between the ideas of God as love and God as judge. If God is love and loves human beings, how does that not conflict with God’s judgment that sometimes takes human lives? This kind of conflict is what makes passages like the one I’m going to look at today so difficult. The passage we’ll be looking at is Genesis 19 which is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Last week we saw God speaking with Abraham about the upcoming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this story we see the details of what goes on before its destruction. We see Lot sitting at the gate of the city when two of the angels/men who were with Abraham last chapter enter the city. Lot insists they stay at his house instead of spending the night in the town square as they planned.

However, all the men of the city come out and surround Lot’s house. They call for him to give up the two men to them, so they may “know” them, which is often a way to refer to sexual acts. Now it’s at this point where I think we need to step back and ask, what is the nature of Sodom’s sin?

A popular view is that the sin that led to Sodom’s destruction is homosexuality. While that makes for a convenient weapon to fight with in the wars going on around that issue, the truth is that the sins of Sodom might be broader than that. As Walter Brueggemann puts it, “…the Bible gives considerable evidence that the sin of Sodom was not specifically sexual, but a general disorder of a society organized against God.” While I agree with Brueggemann that, “It may be that sexual disorder is one aspect of a general disorder,” to isolate any specific issue out of this is sloppy work.

I think this can be seen just by looking at the context of this chapter. When God spoke to Abraham of the judgment on Sodom, it was due to hearing an outcry against the city, as well as Gomorrah. In other words Sodom and Gomorrah seem to have been creating victims on a consistent enough basis to warrant judgment because of the outcry against them.

While Genesis 19 may have been an example of how that victimization looked, it may not have been the only way.  To reduce this down to homosexuality, seems to be ignoring the mob’s intention to victimize those who they should be hospitable and welcoming to, like Lot is exemplifying. Would the mob’s actions be perfectly fine if the angels had taken the form of women? If you answer no to that, then the problems are something much broader than the way some would like to treat this passage.

The idea that this victimization of travelers (if it is even only contained to travelers) has been recurring may have been evident in the actions of Lot himself. He is sitting at the gate of the city. Maybe this is simply due to chance, but I wonder if it could have been intentional.

Could this have been his way to save people from the victimization that has been going on? He seems rather adamant to have the men stay at his house instead of the town square. This could just be his desire to be hospitable, but it could also be due to a knowledge of what may happen to these men if they stay out in public. There isn’t any way to know this for certain, but it certainly doesn’t seem too far-fetched to consider this possible.

Now it doesn’t really seem that Lot’s efforts here are going to work. If it weren’t for the actions of the men/angels he would have simply added himself to the victim list, and seemed quite willing to add his daughters to it as well. It is this kind of attitude and environment that is bringing the judgment of God upon these people. Even when stopped before doing something wicked, they do not flinch from it in the least but continue in it and scoff against anyone who would judge them.

So does this still warrant God’s judgment? To some that may be an illegitimate question. God is above us and who do we think we are to question his judgment, I get that train of thought and honestly, to some degree, believe it myself. However, with so many people who struggle with this kind of thing, it is worth asking the question in honest.

I think my biggest conundrum is this. Could there be times where God withholding judgment could reap more negative consequences than God actually passing judgment? Take this example. It seems that Sodom had been producing victims of some sort and that God heard the outcry against the actions perpetrated by these people. If God did nothing to stop this would that make it better? I’m not really thinking it would.

I still don’t have everything figured out about how God’s judgment works and especially how it works in conjunction with God’s love and mercy. However, what I do know is that love and mercy isn’t just overlooking victims and the real pain that has happened to them. I have to ultimately trust more in God’s ability to know when to judge and show mercy than by my ability to understand it.

In some ways I feel like Lot in this story. I know enough to know what Sodom is doing is wrong, but he’s not untainted by wickedness and his judgment on things aren’t the best. He tries to offer his daughters up to the mob, which to me is just as bad as offering the strangers. He becomes paranoid in Zoar and gets drunk and sleeps with both of his daughters. While I obviously have not done these exact things, the idea is that we can be a mix of both good judgment and poor judgment at the same time. Lot appeared to know that what the city of Sodom was doing was wrong, but had his own blind spots. His judgment was imperfect.

To me the only one capable of perfect judgment, perfect mercy, and perfect love is God. In our blind spots we may not recognize that at times, but that is ultimately what I trust in. I may not have everything worked out and I will act accordingly in that, but I will trust that God does. It’s about all I can do.

Debating Destruction

I know I’ve missed a couple weeks in my progress through Genesis. I’m hoping that I can get back on track and be more consistent on it, but getting this out will at least be progress in the right direction.

I was last going through Genesis 18:1-15, where Sarah is informed of how she will soon have a son. Coming out of this passage, we move away from the story of Abraham and Sarah’s son for a bit. Within Genesis 18:16-33, the focus begins to shift towards the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for a couple chapters.

It’s an interesting passage for sure. We start things off with what appears to God’s inner monologue. The men (who are connected to and referred to as God) are getting ready to leave and God wonders if Abraham should be made known of the plans in store for Sodom and Gomorrah. Here we have a reiteration of how Abraham will be a great nation and how all nations will be blessed through him. All this is because God has chosen him and that because of that Abraham will seek for his children to follow the way of the Lord.

God must convince himself to let Abraham in on the plan. I’m struck though that God puts this whole situation in a very strange manner. God speaks of hearing an outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. God is going to investigate this outcry and see if it is deserved or not. This seems strange, because often our idea is that God knows all.

Does God personally verify any claim of wickedness before passing judgment? Is this just an extension of God’s mercy to go and try to experience this wickedness firsthand? What’s going on? I wish I had a solid answer, but I’m fairly sure that God knows whether the claims of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah are accurate or not.

In response to this news, Abraham begins to debate a bit with God. He wants to know if God would still destroy the city if there were fifty righteous people amid the wicked. God says that he would spare the city if there were fifty. Abraham continues all the way down to ten people and God confirms each time that he would spare the city even if there were only ten righteous there.

This whole exchange is just rather interesting. We see Abraham fulfilling, at least partially, what God spoke of at the beginning of this passage. That Abraham would be a blessing to the nations. Abraham is wanting to make sure the righteous are not being punished alongside the wicked, because that would be wrong on God’s part.

I’ve typically taken this passage, and still do, as Abraham’s concern bringing this up to God, but God already being on the same page. God agrees with little hesitation or qualification to Abraham’s hypothetical situations. God agrees that if there is even ten people who are righteous in the city it will not be destroyed. Despite Abraham’s questioning God does not seem taken off guard or indignant at this line of questioning. This back and forth only seems to highlight the justice and mercy of God, how the righteousness of few can protect the many, and as will be seen in chapter 19, the pervasive wickedness of Sodom.

In reading up for this post though I ran across another thought from Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis. While it failed to convince me, I will admit that it was interesting. This position was that Abraham was acting as a teacher to God, and presenting to God, for the first time apparently, that God should not simply destroy the wicked if there were righteous among them. The thing is I’m just not sure that it jives with what comes before and after, even if this is a later story (as Brueggemann believes), I still think we need to take the story as it is in the final form.

Even within Brueggemann’s own framework of God bringing Abraham and Sarah’s barrenness and offering an alternative way of life (in more than one way), it doesn’t seem to fit. God has been the one trying to get Abraham to have faith in the way that God is doing things. This seems to be another one of those times, only with Abraham actually speaking God’s heart a bit more than usual.

Abraham has been so slow to catch on to what God is doing and how God operates, that it seems unlikely that Abraham is getting  a leg up here and instructing God. Abraham seems to understand that if God punished the righteous then He wouldn’t be God, but how does he really know this unless he is basing it off of what he knows about God in the first place? Other religions didn’t always make that claim, so it’s not like we’re dealing with a universal concept of God or anything.

Even then, Abraham’s questions here could be just as much from the same type of doubt he has displayed regarding God’s promises to him. He has had trouble wrapping his head around God’s promise of an heir. I don’t think it is too far out there to think that he is stuck in a similar conundrum here, He knows the goodness, mercy, and justice of God, but perhaps doubts that Sodom could be that bad and that there is nobody worth saving there (I know those are so often my thoughts on issues like this). So he questions God to make sure he understands God’s heart in the matter.

Yet all of this serves to stress, at least in my opinion, that God is not doing this act of judgment lightly. There has been an outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, which I would assume comes from victims of their wickedness, and God is investigating it using these two men he is sending there. He even agrees that if there were ten people in the city who were righteous that he would spare the city. Then before the judgment we see the messengers of God take Lot and his family out of the city, not based on their own righteousness, but because God remembered Abraham (Gen 19:29).

Now even though that is my conclusion, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have this whole judgment thing figured out. It makes me uncomfortable either way. I’m a bit uncomfortable jettisoning judgment, because there are those out there who are simply out to hurt other people and make victims, some of which wear the label Christian. I think turning a blind eye to that is not good at any level.

Yet, at the same time I’m a bit uncomfortable with judgment too. I rely on grace and mercy because I mess up and hurt people too. I want to be able to extend that love, grace, and mercy to others. So I live in this tension, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Even if it is coming out of some doubts about how God does things, I think we need more people to ask the questions Abraham does here. Instead of delighting in judgment or being quick to proclaim any natural disaster or human attack as God’s judgment, maybe we need hearts that care about the ones who don’t deserve this getting mixed up in it. Hearts that even seek repentance for those who do, all while trusting in the God of the universe as a just judge– which is sometimes the hardest thing of all.

Morality: Friend or Foe to Christianity?

Soon after I became a Christian I remember an exchange that I had in defense of my new found faith. During that exchange I stated that even if what I believe in is wrong it would still help me be a moral person. My line of thought, at that time, was that Christianity at its heart was about making people moral.

Over the years my line of thinking has changed on that. I can certainly see why my young Christian mind viewed things the way it did, but I think that Christianity is about a lot more than simple morality. In fact sometimes I wonder if morality is a friend or a foe to Christianity. That may seem a strange way of putting it to some, but let me explain what I mean.

Let’s first start with the idea of morality as friend to Christianity. This is probably a more comfortable place for many of us to start. I don’t think it is a hard case to make that Christianity is related to morality in a positive way many times. A popular example of this would be the Ten Commandments.

We often view The Ten Commandments as the bedrock of morality in following God. There are ideas in there which are also reflected in our more popular culture, like not murdering, stealing, or committing adultery. In addition to these ideas, there are also a morality, of sorts, that is unique to the Bible which refer to only following God, not taking the Lord’s name in vain and keeping the Sabbath.

These aren’t the only laws that are found within the Old Testament or the Bible as a whole, but it is a fairly well known example that morality is part of following God and is displayed as something that we should strive after. It also displays that following God has it’s own peculiar sort of morality. There are aspects of the morality that would have broad appeal and can be found outside of faith, but at the same time there are parts of this morality that is very unique and focused in on the life of faith.

Moving out of the Old Testament you can still see morality presented as a positive by Jesus and in the Epistles. The Sermon on the Mount often builds off the morality of the Ten Commandments, but seeks to drive things much deeper than the surface. For example Jesus talks about even hating someone as being equivalent to murder in Matthew 5:21-26. He takes something that many people might claim to have never done, like murder, and reveals that even what we’ve been thinking and feeling about other people matters just as much as the actual physical act.

I’m could give you more examples of how morality is positively connected to Christianity, but I think this should be sufficient to lay out some groundwork for that position. What about the idea of morality as an enemy to Christianity? Is there any evidence of that being the case?

I would argue that there is. Even with Jesus’ comments in the Sermon of the Mount, is his equating of hatred to murder, simply to get us to be moral people or is there something else that he is getting at? What if the whole concept was to strip away the idea that we could be moral in the first place? That even if we haven’t murdered someone we may have still broken that commandment in our hearts and minds. Is this simply to get us to control our minds and feelings better? Maybe, but maybe it is showing us that complete morality, at least according to God, will always be out of our reach.

If this is true, this changes the landscape quite a bit. If this is what Jesus is getting at, then if we think we are moral individuals, we are going to have a hard time understanding the need for Jesus in the first place. This is what happened with a few people who Jesus interacted with. They appeared to think that they were moral, but this made them blind to their own need and the limits of their morality.

One such group that seemed to often demonstrate this kind of attitude were the Pharisees. An example of one of these interactions is Mark 2:13-17. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees were wondering why Jesus was eating with them. Jesus responds to this question by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” I’m not so sure that Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are healthy or righteous, but more that Jesus has come for those who are able to acknowledge their sin and illness.

Another example, although it is slightly more complicated, is the rich young ruler seen in Mark 10:17-27. Here is a man who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments. The man responds by saying that he has kept all of these since he was young. Yet Jesus tells him he lacks one thing, and that he needs to give away all of his wealth and follow him.

Now as I said this is a more complicated situation, but I think we see a situation similar to the Pharisees. I would say the young man is sincere in his question to Jesus, and is also sincere in his belief that he has kept the commandments since he was young. The young ruler also seems to be wealthy and powerful, which has been taken, both then and even now, as signs of God’s favor. Yet, despite all this, Jesus is saying that he still lacks something. Jesus isn’t denying the man’s morality or sincerity, but saying that even with what he has he will not earn eternal life on his own terms.

In these cases, morality seems to be a hindrance to the life of faith. It hinders us from seeing what God is doing around us. We begin to believe that our own efforts are good enough. It can even cause us to view those who don’t share our morality as beneath us. This morality can develop into an illness, even though we think we’re perfectly healthy.

So is morality ultimately a friend or a foe? It honestly seems to me like it can be both. If we begin to think that morality is the goal of the Christian life, like I did when I first became a Christian, then I think it can turn into a quite deadly foe. It will lead us to pride and a reliance on our own efforts. It can lead to judgment and an overall lack of grace to other people.

While morality can become a great foe, I personally think it is impossible to divorce morality from our faith. Striving to be like Christ is a goal put forward to us by the Scriptures, and holds a certain morality inherent in that goal. Yet, at the same time our following of Christ involves two conflicting realities about morality.

One reality is that we should desire to follow the laws and commandments of God. The other is that we are incapable of doing this fully. We have our areas where we may succeed more than others. We also have our own particular struggles. It is here that we need more than just morality, rule following, and our own efforts. What we need is the love and grace of God that Jesus came to demonstrate in its fullest.

If we hold onto that love and grace, then morality can be a great friend to our faith. If the love and grace of God is absent from our faith, then morality can turn into a great foe. One who will burden our own lives under missed expectations, and cause us to be severe to anyone who fails to live up to the standards that we are able to keep.

Pointing Out Sins or Providing a Solution?

I know I’ve mentioned before how I don’t always know why some stories are included in the Bible. They just seem strange, and particularly not like the family-friendly, clean-cut, very moral, straight-laced version of Christianity that is so often presented in our weekly gatherings. Genesis 9:18-29 is one of these passages.

What is in this passage you may ask? Well the title above kind of says it all. Noah and his sons have survived the flood, but we get this last little story before moving on to the next generations. During this time we have Noah planting a vineyard, drinking a bit too much of the wine that vineyard produced, and next thing you know he’s naked in his tent.

Things become a bit stranger though as one of Noah’s sons, Ham, sees Noah naked in his tent and runs off to tell his brothers. Unlike Ham though, Shem and Japheth go to great lengths both to cover Noah’s nakedness and not look at it themselves. When Noah awakes, he curses Ham (well truthfully he curses Canaan, Ham’s son, but there seems to be a connection here) and blesses both Shem and Japheth. Then with little in between Noah dies.

So what is all this about? I wish I entirely knew. It just seems like a very strange story. Let’s look at some possibilities. Is it focused on Noah’s indiscretion with alcohol as some kind of indication that even righteous men fall? Potentially, but I see very little to center this story being about Noah’s failure. I mean he did get drunk which is viewed negatively at other places in Scripture, but at the same time if we’re reading Genesis as a whole there has been no prohibition against this so far.

Plus, we see little negative response directed towards Noah here. Some want to compare him to Adam that after the new creation that the flood has produced we see another sinful action showing the taint of sin in the world. I understand the desire to do this, but a few things make me uncomfortable with using this logic.

We were never told that human sin is gone in the first place, just that God won’t destroy the world because of it. We are given no introductory comments on how drinking wine is a sin or any confrontation afterwards to indicate Noah was wrong as we do with the Adam narrative. Sure later on drunkenness is indicated as sinful, but we have to go quite a bit further along in the Bible to see that spelled out.

In addition to this, Noah is naked in his own tent. Now maybe his tent was wide open or something that made it every easy to Ham to see, but still Noah’s not exposing his nakedness outside where anyone could see. What we are given is that he’s naked in his tent, which I’m guessing happened at times even without alcohol. Do I think Noah showed  wisdom in getting drunk? No, but I’m not sure this is a place to pile on Noah and launch into a talk about how the Bible speaks against drunkenness (as if getting naked and passing out in your tent is the worst thing alcohol could bring).

So I’m just not convinced that we’re supposed to be focused on Noah sinning some great sin and ruining his reputation. Not to say there isn’t parallels between the Adam story and Noah story, the planting of a garden/orchard, the eating of that garden, and the presence of nakedness. However, there seems to be a different focus in these stories. Unlike in the story of Adam the focus seems to be on the behaviors of the sons in response to Noah’s nakedness, not on Noah’s sin itself (if his action is being considered sinful).

Now honestly Ham seeing Noah’s nakedness doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Even if the situation is that Noah and his wife were having sex as I’ve heard proposed before, it still makes it hard to think that such an incident is worthy of cursing. This has led to speculation that something more was done to deserve this punishment or that because sins against ones parents and family were more serious at that time.

I’m not sure about either view, but I like the way that John H. Sailhamer puts in in the Expositors Bible Commentary on Genesis. He says that, “Whatever the details of the actual act might have been, taken at face value the sons’ actions suit the author’s purpose quite well. What he apparently wants to show is simply the contrast between the deeds of Ham and those of Shem and Japheth. This contrast becomes the basis for the curse and the blessing that follow.”

So we’re supposed to be looking at the deeds of Ham and the deeds of Shem and Japheth. Ham saw his father’s nakedness and proceeded to tell his brothers. We have no words on Ham’s part to know what was said or how it was said in this story, but we can gather it was not positive. After all he is not included in the deeds of Shem and Japheth. All we know for certain is that Ham points out Noah’s compromised position.

When Shem and Japheth hear this they take a garment of clothing into Noah’s tents with their backs turned and cover the nakedness of their father. Instead of simply spreading news of Noah’s state they take steps to cover it. If we’re wanting to focus on parallels between Adam and Noah it is interesting to note that God covers Adam’s nakedness and Shem and Japheth are the ones to cover Noah. It’s hard to say if that is intentional or not, but it is clear from the blessing and the curses that Ham did not do what was right and Shem and Japheth did.

This has made me wonder how often are we like Ham? We find someone who we don’t agree with, who fails, who is sinful, or who is simply found to be an imperfect human and we point it out to anyone who will listen. When we look at this passage and want to deride Noah for his sin aren’t we doing exactly what Ham did? Noah’s potential sin here is really very minor, but some point it out with great enthusiasm and many words.

If you compare this to the action of Shem and Japheth, they are part of the solution to this problem not just mockers on the sideline. They covered Noah with a garment and went on their way. It is so easy to point out the shortcomings and sins in people, it can be much harder to go in and be part of a solution to the issues (including sin) they may be facing.

I’m not saying that there is never a place to call out sin. We are all sinful, we are all imperfect, and the truth is we need to have it called out. There are people who are abusive and manipulative and they need to have their sin addressed personally and even publicly. I guess what I wonder is what do we do after we tell others about somebody’s sin?

Do we simply exit the story like Ham did or go on our way to find the next person to expose? Do we actively seek to cover the exposed sin with garments like Shem and Japheth? These garments may not be real clothing or covers like in Noah’s story. They may simply be garments of love, grace, and forgiveness, but those can be powerful garments. This isn’t always easy, because sometimes the one who needs these garments are people we can easily label as an enemy.

I know I can simply want to point out the sins or imperfections of other people. To sit on the sidelines and point it out. However, I don’t just want to just be a mocker. I want to be able to cover the shame and sin of those who I encounter with grace and love. Primarily because that is what I claim, the grace, love and forgiveness of God. This may not be what this passage was trying to get at, but it’s where it took me. What do you think?

Wickedness, Righteousness, Destruction, and How it All Fits Together

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these posts about Genesis. Last time I looked at the idea that Genesis 6:1-4 may not really be part of the reason why the flood took place. So in my post for today we’re going to be looking at Genesis 6:5-13. Here we’re given a direct reason for the flood, although even here we’re not dealing with too many specifics.

Here we see God looking over his creation and finding that every inclination of the human heart was evil. This fact causes God to regret making mankind and describes how he is grieved, troubled, or even in pain as John H. Sailhamer renders it in his commentary on Genesis for the Expositors Bible Commentary series. This passage always seems to create some discussion.

Such discussion tends to revolve around questions like the following. How can God regret? Doesn’t this go against the idea that God always the same and can’t change his mind? How can God regret his creation of humans and subsequently decide to destroy his entire creation because of their wickedness?

I don’t entirely know how to answer all these questions. I don’t necessarily find answers that deny the events of the passage or simply saying that God can do whatever he pleases particularly helpful. To be honest I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea that God regrets that his creation is saturated in wickedness than I am with the idea of Him sending a flood to destroy all of them.

To me a God who is able to feel regret and pain due to our sin, rebellion, and wickedness is one who cares about us and has an investment. At the same time destroying humanity because of that wickedness seems an odd way to show you care. This aspect of the story of Noah always seems to be overlooked or rushed by a bit fast.

In the popular children’s version of Noah all we’re typically given is that there was a flood, God told Noah to build a boat, so Noah built a boat and there are lots of nice animals on the boat getting saved from the flood. For some reason the purpose of the flood is usually neglected in this telling. God just seemed to think it was a good time for a flood or something and decided that Noah should be saved as well as two of each type of animal.

Even in the more serious treatments of the flood we tend to move a bit too quickly past this whole setup and say as Sailhamer does that, “The central themes… in these opening verses are God’s judgment of man’s wickedness and his gracious salvation of the righteous…” While I don’t necessarily disagree with this assessment, it just seems so casual. Yeah there’s judgment, but they deserve it and then we’re on to Noah.

It’s at this point where I don’t entirely know how to progress. For one there is a tension in this passage that isn’t easy for me to diffuse. I mean a few chapters ago when Cain killed Abel we didn’t see God act with swift justice, but grace. He even put a mark of protection on Cain. Yes, God did exile Cain, but his wickedness could have warranted death if we take what’s written later in the Old Testament or even Genesis into account. So we see grace with Cain, but here with the nameless multitude of the wicked we do not see that grace given to them, it is only given to Noah and his family, because of the favor Noah found in God’s eyes.

The second is that no matter which way you move on this passage it is troublesome. If you think that the flood happened the way that it is told then God was involved in sending a flood (be it world-wide or local but I’m not even going to get into that) because of the wickedness of mankind. To some this is one of the events of the Bible that turns God into some violent monster. You can’t really believe that this happened, after all look at Jesus and what he preached and how he lived. Jesus was the greatest revelation of God, so this stuff can’t be right.

It’s a tempting line of thought for me, but there is a tension between grace and this justice even within the first six chapters of Genesis, you don’t even have to get to Jesus. Sure he may up the ante quite a little, but I also don’t remember seeing Jesus saying, “You know the Torah that you believe in? Yeah, most of that you just made up.”

Instead most of the time I see him affirming what would have been the holy scriptures of his day, which would have been our Old Testament and the half of the Bible we have the most trouble with. He made laws apply to the heart just as much as the actions, he tweaked the way that interpretations of the law had been made, but Jesus never really just tossed everything aside and said that stuff is worthless and makes my Father look like a monster. That should give us some pause, at least it does to me.

However, if you think that this wasn’t up to snuff, that God really didn’t do this it is troublesome in different ways. If you lean this way you have a different set of people coming out with the pitchforks and torches saying you’re a heretic or you don’t believe the Bible or whatever. Any human element of doubt or questioning is a reason for great suspicion and we’ve got to try to root that out as fast as we can, often with poorly implemented methods and attitudes.

You see I kind of get this reaction though, even if I think the attitudes and ways that doubt and questions are handled in some Christian circles are harmful and poisonous. I mean if the flood and the reason for it are not real, why do we have it in the Scriptures? Why didn’t we see Jesus condemning certain passages as distorting God’s image and character? Is it only to tell a symbolic story about God’s justice and mercy? If that’s the case the example is still pretty extreme and, at least in my eyes, conveys the same message regardless of if it actually happened or not.

So yeah, I feel the tension and discomfort of a passage like this, but I’m not willing to push it aside or discard it completely. I don’t have a perfect way of removing that tension or discomfort, but I do have some thoughts that at least help me. It may or may not help anyone else, but this is what I have to offer at the moment.

First, if I’m going to believe in a God that’s bigger than me and can see much more perspective than I can, I have to acknowledge that I don’t have a complete perspective. I mean even on this passage, we’ve given very little information other than the people were wicked enough to cause God regret and pain in his heart. Do I trust that a God who showed mercy, at least the way I see it, to Cain a few chapters ago has a good reason for doing what he’s doing here? Who am I giving more benefit of the doubt God or my own doubts and discomfort? (I admit that here I am believing that the story is truly about God either in the events actually happening or being a story or allegory that accurately describes God’s character.)

Second, I find no place here rejoicing for the wicked being destroyed. Sometimes that seems to be the tone that some Christians take as they talk about the “wicked.” “They deserve it”; “they had it coming”; and “that’s what they get”are phrases that sometimes get tossed around or come into my own mind at times, but I find no place for it here. God is pained to have to do this, it seems like a last resort kind of thing to me. God is not cackling manically like some super villain, but seems rather painted tragically as given a choice between doing something like this or allowing even worse to go on. It may make me or us uncomfortable, but God’s not exactly pictured as enjoying the whole thing either.

Third, I’m willing to admit that I don’t have all the facts. Whenever the flood might have happened I know one thing, I wasn’t there. If it did happen and I was, well my name isn’t Noah, so I imagine that you’d know how that would have turned out. There are people who, for reasons I can understand, view Genesis 1-11 as non-historical stories telling us important things about God, but not really happening as historical events. I’m not completely one of them, but I’m not willing to dismiss them quite so quickly.

We’re all wrestling with something much larger than ourselves here, even if some of us aren’t so willing to admit it. To simply dismiss people who take one view or the other seems a bit like jumping the gun to me. Trading barbs or talking points back and forth seems to get nowhere. There are issues with both interpretations we have to own. Is one right and one wrong? Yes I imagine so, they might even both be wrong somehow, but I certainly don’t know with any kind of certainty which it is.

This has gone longer than I hoped, but it wound up being a challenging topic for me to approach. I don’t come as an expert and having all the answers. I simply come, hopefully humbly, and say I’m not sure but this is what I’ve got. If you’d like to share your thoughts or opinions on the passage or surrounding issues I bring up here, feel free. All I ask is that it is kept respectful even in disagreement.

A Family Vision

Vision has been a word I have been interacting with and thinking about a decent amount recently. Mostly because it is an issue the leaders of our church have been discussing a lot. At this point perhaps it is best be honest and say that vision is not a word that I particular enjoy. Not because I have anything against the word itself, but it is a word that can hold a certain amount of expectation with it. In my limited experience with the word it seems that vision requires the development of a detailed plan by a leader and that it is to be given to the people under that leader. Not only does it seem that the leader is expected to develop the detailed plan, but also to implement it.

This seems so daunting to me. It seems like it is attempting to climb Mt. Everest with shoestring and a bit of chewed bubble gum. To me the ideal image of a vision, which is perhaps an ironic way of stating things, is one of figuring out what values are most important. It is not so much about making a set detailed plan, but more about figuring out what is or should be important in the life of an individual, group, or larger organization and then making real changes in that general direction.

With this background Kristen and I had a discussion this past weekend about what we wanted the “vision” for our family to be. What did we want to have be important to us? What things are the things we want to be known for? It is the first time we’ve really articulated the question and thought at all about it. It is a good question to think about. Here are the things we came up with.

Hospitality and Generosity – We want to be known as generous and hospitable people. We want our house and lives to be open to others. This is somewhat of a challenge for us to advertise considering that I’m a bit of a strange mix of introvert and extrovert and my wife is very, very much an introvert. However, we do want people to feel like they can come over at any time that we’re available whether it is for the need to talk about something important or just to have fun. We got a lot of exercise in this sort of thing from our good friend Andy, but sadly since he’s left we’ve fallen into not being nearly as good at that. Perhaps this is because not many people just call up on short notice and say that they’re coming over and that they may have a friend or four tagging along with them.

All of that probably falls more under hospitality, but I think generosity is a component of that as well. Generosity also includes being willing to help those around us going through tough times. This could be helping merely in being there to talk to or helping in a more tangible way. However, this is something we want to be known for as well.

A Graceful Spirit – Another value we want to have important to us is one where people can feel free to be who they are. Let’s face it on Sunday mornings we play a game of masks and deception. We try to put on our perfect Christian smiles and mask what’s going on in our lives. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and sadly despite knowing we do it, we still do it. I guess ultimately we want people to feel like they can be themselves and are not going to be hit with a judgmental attitude.

The picture that comes to mind is Jesus eating and drinking with the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus does this without displaying a judgmental attitude towards those who he is eating with, in fact the very act of eating with them is showing them they are accepted by Jesus. Now does that mean that Jesus agreed or encouraged everything that they were doing? Do we think he viewed prostitution as legit or that he wanted the tax collectors to continue to extort money out of people? No, but he didn’t let that get in the way of accepting them and relating to them.

Granted the reality is that neither Kristen nor I are Christ, but we do have the knowledge that we are not perfect. We are sinners just like every single person on the face of the earth. All of us may be in different places, but there is no room to be able to look down on anyone in the face of that reality. We want to be there for people even if their views differ from ours. Those issues are not what make the whole person in our eyes. We want people to feel safe with us and not simply feel like a label or that their existence is reduced to one dimension.

Open Communication – We want our communication to be open and honest. Whether this is between Kristen and I as husband and wife, between us and our son Ryan, or between us as a family with other people. This can take shape in many ways. It can simply be in being honest about struggles we face. Being honest about our failures, our sin, our feelings, and our need for God.

I think this is also important as we raise our son. Having the ability to talk things through with him, or have him know that he can always come and talk with us through things is important to us. we don’t want to be known for simply pulling the “because I said so” card, not to say I won’t ever do that, but about striving for communication and giving honest reasons for things, but also being willing to listen to his reasons. We don’t simply want to micromanage Ryan’s life or the life of any of our other kids, but we do want and need to be invovled and interacting with his life as his parents, his guides, his fellow travelers, and his friends.

It is also about being able to discuss things, instead of simply debating things. It can be things as non controversial as these values and why we think they’re important. To our reasons behind our faith or even more controversial issues. Honestly the communication regarding some of these things may simply be the humility to say “I don’t know entirely,” but still being willing to say it clearly.

Balance – This is vague, but one that is a big one for me and one Kristen has been drawn more and more to. This idea of balance can be seen in a number of ways. It is the idea of seeking a balanced view of the tensions of Scripture. Free will vs. God’s sovereignty; faith alone vs. works; what we know vs. what’s in our heart; grace vs. truth; and the list could go on. So often we lift one up at the expense of the other, when scripture usually presents a both/and picture.

This is not just relegated to approaching scripture, but also in other circles. We have a tendency to drift towards extremes. Whether in our politics or even in our value judgments. For example the idea of claiming to be tolerant, yet being intolerant to people who have a different view than you. In other ways this is just about living life and not trying to sterilize it or only turn it into a big game. It is about being able to be mature and immature as the situation calls, to be among groups of people, but taking time for yourself and those closest to you.

Some may be concerned that I have not listed being Godly or some similar type of language. Honestly, I believe that these things are part of what it means to be Godly and I can only hope to achieve these values by being connected to and rely on God. Quite frankly, I get tired of trite sayings like being Godly or spiritual and would rather not use that language but yet be practical in my saying what I think following God looks like. That is the root of all these values a following of God and a reliance on his grace and mercy.

This is the vision we have for our family at this point. It may change over time, but this is where we are now. We may not have everything listed perfectly out. Anyone else thought of the vision of their family and what they want to have be known as important in their lives?