Theology made simple
Jesus repeated Hebrew law when he taught to love your neighbor. He took it further in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) when he said to also love your enemy.
Saint Paul, for all he’s accused of being full of law and of not being Jesus summed up Jesus whole teaching in one verse:
Galatians 5:14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
One of my favorite passages in the epistles is from Saint John:
1 John 4: 16-21 NIV
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Keep that in mind, “God is love.”
Now let’s try a little thought experiment. First let’s take Paul’s famous “Love chapter,” read at a lot of weddings and on Christian Valentine’s Day cards. It’s so well known, lots of non Christians are familiar with it. Only let’s replace the word “love” every time it occurs with the word “God.” This will tell us about God’s character and personality.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV 4 God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. 5 God does not dishonor others, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. 6 God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Interesting, huh? I know, it may be easier to use the name Jesus instead of God because many of us imagine Gad the Father as stern and just and someone who enforces law. But remember, Jesus teaches that God’s greatest commandment is to love, even to pray for those that persecute us. And of course John says that God IS love and Paul says that love is patient, kind, doesn’t envy, etc. So….
Okay, one more. There’s a big movement going around in fundamentalist, or at least Evangelical, Christian-nationalist circles that says that we’re supposed to fight a big culture war for God and thereby dominate everyone else (non Evangelicals). They even talk about seven areas to “take dominion” and compare them to the seven hills around the city of Rome: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government.
First off, as a devout follower of Jesus who’s studied the Bible for many years, I could’ve sworn that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus, not to me or us. In fact, in Philippians chapter 2, Paul makes it pretty clear that in spite of being entitled to all authority, Jesus instead chooses humility and that we should follow that example. In other words, Christianity is supposed to be love, not power, kindness, not control. Mercy should triumph over judgment (James 2:13).
If you don’t get that love is supreme, I’m not sure you really get Jesus.
One last thought experiment. Let’s take a passage that the dominionists like to use, only where we replaced the word love in 1 Corinthians 13, let’s replace the word “God” in 2 Corinthians 10, after all love isn’t just God’s name, it’s really who God is.
2 Corinthians 10:5-8 NIV5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of love, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to love. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.7 You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to love, they should consider again that we belong to love just as much as they do. 8 So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the love gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, plenty of people claim to believe in Jesus, but do they believe what Jesus believes? I for one believe in love.
Oh Mercy! This is a Test
______ 1. How you respond to God testing Abraham in Genesis 22 says a lot about you & your belief system. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, which was God testing?
a) Abraham’s obedience
b) Abraham’s faith
c) Abraham’s priorities
d) All of the above
e) None of the above; it was foreshadowing, sacrificing Isaac was a “type” for the coming Christ.
f) None of the above; it was foreshadowing, sacrificing Isaac was a “type” for the coming sacrifice which God would make of His own son Jesus
First the ringers- If you chose “f,” you’re probably some kind of theologian. If you chose “e,” you’re probably an English or Literature teacher.
If you chose “g”- either you don’t like tests, you may not like organized religion, or you have a great deal of compassion for Isaac. I totally get it. I’m with you. What kind of God would demand child sacrifice? Try to be patient. Not only does it not make sense on the surface, it doesn’t make sense in context either.
The Bible claims that God hates child sacrifice, that’s one of the reasons He tells the Israelites to wipe out the tribes when they take possession of the “promise land” later in the book of Genesis, because the tribes there sacrificed their babies to their gods.
Look- I like you’re thinking. It’s not blasphemous or disrespectful to question God, especially if you see Him as illogical, cruel or brutal or hypocritical. But give me a chance and keep reading. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (okay, pun intended).
At any rate, I like your thinking. You don’t think it’s fair of either God or Abraham to kill poor Isaac. I appreciate that. Look, even if you’re an atheist, an agnostic or some kind of pantheist- keep reading. You may get just get something out of this.
IF YOU’RE PUT OFF BY EITHER MY LANGUAGE or my affinity/empathy for those who choose “g,” 1. You probably chose “a” 2. I won’t use too much more language and 3. please keep reading, even if you feel offended- you might just get something out of this too.
Next, the obvious- Of course the best answer is “d.” Anyone who’s ever taken a multiple choice question knows that if a teacher gives you the ‘ol “all of the above” option, you ought to take it. Notice I didn’t give you the classic Sunday School best answer, “Jesus.” That would have been too easy- although, let’s face it, in this case “f” is pretty much the same as “Jesus.”
So now let’s do some thinking and reflecting. I hope this really gives you something to chew on.
If you chose “c” priorities, you might have made a good Sadducee. You may either have a strong sense of tradition or you may believe in perspective and ethics. You might just believe in social justice. You may see the core of Scripture as Micah 6:8, love mercy, act justly, walk humbly. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were progressive.
Some people seem to think that God was making sure that Abraham put God first, even before family. Abraham had become very wealthy and powerful. In the next chapter, we see that he’s considered a prince by his neighbors. Which was more important to him, serving God, or the promise God had given him of “becoming a great nation?”
Whereas, if you chose “a”obedience, you might have made a good Pharisee. You have a strong sense of legalism. You like authority, whether it’s exercising it or the secure feeling of having to follow it. Between philosophers Rousseau, Locke and Hobbes, you’d probably pick Hobbes every time.
You believe in security and tradition, am I right? Can I just say something to you? Just because the trains don’t run on time doesn’t mean that we’re all going to Hell in a hand basket. We’ve always been going to Hell in a hand basket- and probably always will. So chill.
But seriously: What if you chose “b” Abraham’s faith? Ah, now you’re learning Boy-o. Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, and 4:22 all talk about how Abraham had FAITH and it was credited to him as righteousness.
If you chose a, c, or g, alone, you’re barking up the wrong trees.
“A” people- God doesn’t want slaves or robots without free will, although that would make things easy.
“G” people, if you’re pissed off at God for demanding a sacrifice- you aren’t seeing that not only does God want Abraham to trust Him, but He trusts that Abraham trusts Him. The test (as people who answer “F” might tell you) was more for us, the readers than for Abraham. Abraham may not have known with certainty that God would stop him at the last minute, but he trusted that God could bring Isaac back to life if he did end up killing him.
(You think you’re pissed off at God. Really you’re pissed off at we “A” and “C” people- and I don’t blame you. But, nothing personal, but you really don’t “get” the “B” people, so try not to assume you’re better than them. If you think you’re pissed at them too- maybe the issue is not whether or not there is a God or whether religion is just a bunch of spaghetti monster mythology, or whether they’re wrong- maybe the issue is your anger. Just sayin’.)
[Sorry again for the language “a” people, please keep reading, not more profanity, I promise]
And “C” people, don’t think we’re somehow superior than the “A” people because if we think that our values and choices are morally superior to someone else’s, we’re still trusting those “rules” more than we’re trusting God. It’s a relationship, not a “religion.”
Sadducees had a “religion” or tradition and identity too. Adherence to justice is still following a set of disciplines rather than trusting a loving parent.
Pharisees had a “religion” of rules and identity. Entitled as the chosen tribe but demanding that everyone follow the letter-of-the law while sometimes losing sight of the spirit of the law.
But both groups were tribal and both groups had a frail grasp on the big picture. So one saw the forest and one saw the trees- neither were seeing the creator of those trees.
If I’ve lost you because of this alphabet soup, the bottom line is this- God doesn’t “test” all of us every day, but He may allow us to be tested from time to time and He does want to know our priorities, whether or not we’re willing to sacrifice our will to His AND above all He wants to know that we TRUST Him because He loves us.
So what IS His will? What does he expect from us? Well…
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.'” ~Matthew 9:13 & Hosea 6:6.
FYI– “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” ~Matthew 5:7