The Vice Nobody Can Escape

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty of themselves.” What is the vice that C.S. Lewis is talking about here? It is the vice of pride.

Pride is something that I’ve been increasingly interested in as I’ve grown older. Both because it is somewhat complicated, I believe there are both positive and negative aspects to pride, and because pride seems to be one of those things that is commonplace, but as Lewis says, not often identified in ourselves. I’m not even convinced that the bulk of Christians realize their pride all too often.

For whatever reason pride is something that we fail to take very seriously today. Earlier Christians warned of Pride as being the most deadly of the seven deadly sins and the sin which all the others sprung from. Yet, today pride seems to hold a much lower place on the list of sins we care about. As Lewis has stated, we don’t like it when we see it in others, or have been hurt by the pride of others, but that doesn’t necessarily cause us to turn from it ourselves.

So what exactly is pride? Well as I said earlier there is a positive and a negative aspect to pride. On the positive side, which this post is not so much about, it can be a feeling of accomplishment either in yourself or those around you. You can be proud of yourself for cleaning the house or proud of your kids if they did well on a test or behaved well in a trying situation. These are positive examples of pride.

The negative side of pride has been defined by a number of people over the years. Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy, wrote that pride was “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for ones neighbor.” Personally, I like this definition, but I might include apathy and indifference to ones neighbor as well. Pride, in my mind, doesn’t always take an active route. It can manifest in animosity, but it can equally manifest itself in simply not caring about what anyone else thinks beyond yourself or a particular group you may identify with.

I also think that for the Christian, it also takes another dimension. It is about our interactions with God. We can place ourselves over God, in which we simply mold God into a form that is appealing to us. We can show contempt for God maybe by believing we could do a better job with this world than God’s doing. Or we simply show apathy by disconnecting God from having any meaningful impact on our lives at all.

It is sometimes easy to point to a particular group, whether in the church or outside of it, and treat them like they are the source of pride, but the truth is it’s more complicated than that. I’ve certainly run into pride in the church. I’ve heard statements from the pulpit that indicate that if you don’t believe what we do, you don’t have a place here. I’ve seen people make power plays because they believed they were right and were going to use all the power they could muster to get their way no matter what.

I’ve also seen the stories of pride in other churches. Places where saving the pastor’s or church’s reputation was often more important than looking into claims of abuse. Pastor’s whose ego seemed to eclipse the mission of the church they claimed to espouse. It’s there, and we’d be blind and foolish to say that it isn’t.

Yet I’ve also run across pride outside the church as well. There are people with no organized religion who are just as willing to dismiss you if you don’t believe as you do. I’ve seen people who question all authority, at all times, thinking that somehow they’re the only accurate authority.

The point I’m trying to make here is that pride isn’t a product of religion or even a product of a secular culture, it seems to be something that is in us all. It is ultimately even in me. It is ultimately the “vice of which no man in the world is free.” What I would like to see though is that it is a vice we call out a little more, particularly in the church.

Instead of embracing pride so thoroughly, like we seem to do in some corners anyway, it would be nice to see a bit more humility. Of course, humility seems to be something that is much more difficult to define than pride. That’s what I’ll explore a bit next week.

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?

Why Does God Send Rainbows and Not Just Walk Away

I’m really not that far into the Bible yet since I’m only writing on Genesis 9, but so far the story hasn’t exactly been what I call uplifting. I’m only through a little portion of the story and it’s already been established that humanity is going to continually mess this whole living in relationship with God and His creation thing up.

Adam and Eve are presented as not even being able to follow one restriction and resort to blaming everyone else (justified or not); Cain murders Abel, his own brother, in jealous anger; and I’ve just finished with the flood which presents the idea that humanity was so wicked God wiped most of them out. Sometimes in all this I wonder why doesn’t God just walk away from it all?  It seems like the smart thing to do, to let the flood overtake or to simply say “You know what Noah, enjoy your life and grow your family, but I’m done trying to have anything to do with humanity. You guys are on your own.”

Truth be told I feel this way even without having to read up to Genesis 9. I mean I feel I’m still living this story. I feel like I fail and flounder  to even keep up to human standards of what people think I should and shouldn’t be doing or thinking, let alone what God may desire from me. It doesn’t take long to look at the news to see stories that make it all too clear that we aren’t exactly living in harmony with each other, let alone God.

So when we get the end of the flood and God is interacting with Noah, we don’t see him turning his back. We don’t see a God who says “You’re on your own.” Instead we see a God who makes a covenant with Noah and by extension all creation in Genesis 9:8-17. Instead of breaking off relationship, God re-establishes it.

Now you could say that this isn’t too big of a deal, all God is saying here is that he won’t destroy the world by the flood again and using the rainbow as a sign of this agreement. However, the reason for the flood in the first place was the wickedness of mankind. It isn’t that everything is now going to be great and wickedness will never show it’s face, because it does and it doesn’t even take long to see it again in Genesis. I’m willing to bet that God knows this will be the case, but still says that He won’t take action like He did with the flood.

This isn’t the only time that God tries to re-establish a relationship with humanity either. It happens a number of times through the creation of the nation Israel and in their history. The pinnacle of this attempt to connect with humanity is seen through the person of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection. God doesn’t give up on us, he doesn’t walk away. Even though it can seem that way at times, he is still attempting to have humanity be connected to him as much as we are able to be.

This attempt to connect with humanity may look like a rainbow (which I find interesting because rainbows are made from rain which could produce a flood) or may look like Jesus. I’m pretty sure that both examples are signs that God is not turning his back on creation and humanity, but rather moving forward and hoping that there will be those who reciprocate his love and desire for relationship.

It may seem misguided to keep seeking after us sometimes when we look at the history of humanity and the present state of humanity, but I’m also glad that is how God acts. I’m glad that God hasn’t washed his hands of us. I’m glad that he is seeking to be in relationship with his creation. I’m also glad that this attempt to establish relationship doesn’t seem to be coming from naivety, but rather a God who knows what we’re like and what we’re capable of.

 

The Words of Eve – Genesis 4:1-2

I’ve decided to slow down a bit. Tackling whole chapters just wasn’t quite achieving what I wanted out of these posts. I wanted to have room for reflection and a bit more than just the facts, but doing a whole chapter at a time made the length longer than I’d like.

So instead I’m just going to do parts at a time. Yes it will make things go slower, but I feel that I’ll be able to think about things a bit better and reflect a bit more. I’ll also be focusing on parts that intrigue me, not every one is going to be only about two verses like today. Doing it this way may even make the posts shorter… maybe.

It’s kind of funny if you think about the transition between Genesis 3 and 4. The Bible moves fairly quickly from Adam and Eve’s removal from Eden to the next generation. We get almost nothing about how Adam and Eve became used to living outside of the garden. The only information we do get is about how they made love; became pregnant with their son, Cain; and then had another son, Abel. Talk about moving right along eh?

For some reason the words of Eve here have always intrigued me. Eve says after giving birth to Cain, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” It just seemed very positive, especially after just being removed from Eden by God. I guess I thought that she might hold a bit of resentment between the exile and the indication that child birth was going to be more painful due to their sin. It just always struck me odd.

Reading John H. Sailhamer’s commentary on Genesis in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary series, I found that there is another way that you can translate Eve’s quote. He says that you can also translate it as “I have created a man equally with the Lord.” He believes that this gives the impression that “Eve’s words are taken as a boast that just as the Lord had created a man, so now she had created a man.”

While he favors this translation and posture regarding Eve’s statement, and gives his reasons, he also says that “Within the immediate context it would be difficult to decide between two such diverse readings of the passage.”So depending on your reasoning you can turn Eve into one who despite the events of the Garden of Eden, was still looking to God as the creator of life while realizing that she is playing an active part in it; or you can turn Eve into someone who hasn’t learned their lesson from Eden and is still trying to seek equality with God.

I guess personally I lean a bit more towards her words being positive, but I honestly think you can find potential support for either reading. While I have reasons that are more contextual, one of my reasons is that I’d like to think we can learn from the consequences of our sin. That our only reaction isn’t to be angry with God or to simply repeat the issue that got us into trouble in the first place.

The positive response is what I want to have. It’s all too easy to be angry at the consequences we receive or to continue in our error. Due to this fact, both of the potential responses of Eve are certainly possible. They are both very human. We can learn from our mistakes and continue to praise God and we can easily fail to learn from our wrongdoing and continue that road even after consequences are felt.

Am I the only one who’s ever found Eve’s words here intriguing? Which way do you read her words? Positive? Negative? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

 

That’s Just the Way I Am

Few things hurt more than being rejected for who you are. In my experience this often takes place when people call your interests or approaches wrong out of hand. You are dismissed as immature, rebellious, stupid, or some other negative name just because you don’t have interests or views that line up with them. We want to be liked and loved for who we are. We cry “That’s just the way I am” to a world that we often feel rejects who we are. I know that I can feel that way sometimes, but as I examine my own feelings and thoughts about this I’m not sure if I can leave it that simple.

I think the trap that saying “That’s just the way I am,” is that we don’t think we need to change at all. Even if that’s not what we mean, it can be interpreted that way pretty easily. Before I get into the trap aspect of the phrase, I’d really like to start with the positive behind the phrase.

The reality is that no two people are exactly alike. We all have a different combination of passions, thoughts, talents, personalities, ways of expressing ourselves, and interests. This probably doesn’t come as any surprise to people. There are people who are creative, musical, analytical, good at working with their hands, and many other traits. This mix of people allows for a fuller and richer existence.

In my experience as a Christian, I think that there is an idea that we all have to be uniform. That we all need to look the same way, have the same interests, think exactly the same way, and have the same gifts and talents. While obviously anyone claiming to follow Christ has to believe a certain number of things, there is a lot of room for our uniqueness within that relationship. Without people who are passionate and talented in music our worship may not sound too great, without people who are gifted to teach or to preach our Sunday schools, small groups, and sermons would probably fall flat. Without people who love to work with children or youth whole portions of the congregation would be ignored. I could go on, but I hope that the point is made.

There is a danger that lurks in this idea of uniqueness though. I think that there are two ways that clinging to this idea can be misused. The first is that we can use it as an excuse to limit ourselves. There are things that we are naturally drawn to and talents for. However, when we find those talents, interests, and points of view we can use it as an excuse to not be involved outside of those things. If we’re faced with something that we don’t know how to do or doesn’t come naturally to us we can easily cling to the identity that we’ve become comfortable with. This can limit us from finding other things that we enjoy or are able to learn well. We also limit ourselves due to this because we only surround ourselves with people who are similar to us and this too can not allow us to grow and develop because we have a very limited experience with people who have different points of view.

The other danger here is the minimization of sin and responsibility. When we say that we are a certain way and don’t think we need to change or we think that we simply can’t change the push then is to find acceptance for the way we are. The person who has always had a short temper is just that way, there is no need for them to change and maybe they really can’t change. While there may be an element of this that is correct it doesn’t mean that it is a good thing or that it should be fully accepted. It doesn’t mean that there should be judgment, but help offered to help someone with their temper, lust, greed, selfishness, etc… There can’t be help if there is no acceptance of something not being right or any holding of responsibility for parts of who we are.

To wrap up I’ll put this whole point in more of a theological framework. I believe that we have to hold to the idea that we have value in who we are. We are created by God and He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins so that we may have a relationship with Him. We have an innate value. We are made with gifts, talents, and personalities and we should not disregard or discard them frivolously. However, we also have the reality of sin. None of us are fully good just the way we are. We all do wrong and that is a part of who we are. It is a part of who we are that we seek forgiveness for from God, but also it is a part that we try to battle in order to grow more into the unique person that God desires us to be.

I think these two realities are held in tension and both must be accepted. It is easy to hold one at the expense of the other, but both are present. Our uniqueness is God’s gift, but it is not a free pass that validates all that we are prone to do, think, say, or feel.

Surprised by Sin?

Sin. It is not a word that is used very often outside of a Christian context. The idea behind sin is much broader than I often think we give it credit for. We often equate sin to active evil, like murder, robbery, drug addiction, child abuse or molestation. While this is certainly included in a definition of sin, it goes much beyond that. It is essentially when we miss the mark of God’s expectations. To put it in a relational context, it is when we fail God in upholding our side of our relationship with Him. This can be done with the severe acts of murder, theft, addictions, and child abuse, but it can also be done by being proud, self-righteous, bitter, spiteful, and just not caring about what God has to say about anything.

For some reason I think we have some sort of disconnect with sin in our culture, even our Christian culture. I have talked with many people who easily say that they are not perfect and that they struggle in their walk with God. Sin seems to be present in the church, that is easy to see. What is harder to figure out, for me at least, is how to deal with such sin.

If sin is primarily the act of being unfaithful either in action, thought, or attitude to our relationship with God, I can say that I still sin and probably always will. It also seems from my observations that this is the state of the church whether in “young” or “old” Christians. That is not to say that I haven’t met moral Christians, but if sin is more than just morality and that our morality can sometimes even lead us into sin, then how much does that mean?

This leads me to my deeper questions, what sins are acceptable in the church? Is pride okay to struggle with while lust is not? Is hypocritical self-righteousness okay while honest brokenness is often chastised? Does our inability to correct a sin that we constantly struggle with mean that we are just not loving God enough or that we aren’t wanting to change in our heart? If we can easily say that we are not perfect, and in that admitting that we are sinners, why do we get so surprised by sin?

I wish I had answers to these questions. And I surely hope that being perfect is not the final requirement. I will fail that so hard. My hope and life only rest on the sacrifice of Christ. I don’t have much more than that. Does that mean I will not try to follow and be faithful to God in my relationship with Him and simply only follow after my own desires? No, but I do know that I am not perfect, I am a sinner still. I am only righteous by the work and blood of Jesus, never my own.