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Quick Follow-up to Righteous Violence Post

Just a very quick note to say that if you took an interest in the questions I posted about violence and Christianity, you might take a look at the comments on “Struggling with the Concept of Righteous Violence.” https://daretodelve.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/struggling-with-the-concept-of-righteous-violence/

They are fairly long, but worth the read! And a big thank you to Crystal for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully.  🙂

Spirituality

Struggling with the Concept of Righteous Violence

The concept of righteous violence has been on my mind. I would really like some feedback on this topic! I’m working very hard (hehe. Probably way TOO hard) to sort it all out, so I apologize if my train of thought is hard to follow.  🙂

I recently finished reading and discussing Paul’s letter to the Romans with a fellow blogger. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Romans 13, but in verses 1-5 (subheading is “Submission to the Authorities”) there are some difficult words for someone like myself who feels passionately that non-violence is the best way to approach everything… even for those in authority. (Before I go any further, this post is not intended to offend or criticize those who are serving or have served in the military. I have deep respect for people who support their convictions with actions and are willing to make sacrifices on behalf of the people and principles they love.)

Romans 13: 1-5

1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

On the surface, this seems political and quite unfair. There have been so many oppressive leaders. Surely we shouldn’t follow and submit to the authority of those we know are doing evil things. But my study leader shared a helpful perspective with me. She feels that this passage defends the office of authority, not specific rulers. I agree. God gave us a system of hierarchy, perhaps to address earthly chaos.

But I still have a hard time with this text when I read it sandwiched between Paul’s non-violent, “love your enemy” recommendations. And Paul was hardly submissive to the authorities. For that matter, neither was Jesus. So who are these “rulers” God has appointed to wield swords of righteousness? Do they know who they are? Do they have some kind of divine permission to read this passage from a position of power or should we all be reading it assuming that we are servants rather than authorities?

Jesus exhibited anger, yes, but didn’t advocate violence. Are we not all supposed to model our lives’ after Christ’s? Maybe this is an odd question, but do we actually take this advice too far sometimes? After all, Jesus had the ultimate authority. He tells us, “I and the Father are one.” John 10:30. If we can’t claim the same authority and knowledge, perhaps we shouldn’t always act as Jesus did – from a position of power. Although, if we should follow Jesus as closely as possible, then even the powerful must note that Jesus had incredible power, and yet chose to give himself to humanity as a servant.

In King’s Cross, Timothy Keller intimates the opinion that a God of love must also be a God of wrath. I agree completely. When you love, you become angry at that which harms or destroys the object of your love. But where do we draw the line? If your anger is righteous, are violent actions ever justified? Every fiber of my being shouts, “NO!” But even in the New Testament, God chose to end lives. Jesus did not. How do we reconcile these different facets of God’s character?

I guess I’ve always felt that God, in his power and intimate knowledge of all things, can take people out of the world if he sees fit, but as we do not have the benefit of… well… being God, we can hardly feel justified doing the same. So what do you make of Romans 13? Do you think it seems contradictory to other biblical themes?

Spirituality

Redecorating the Soul

I am not a do-it-yourselfer. Whenever some project comes along that requires tape measuring, hammering, screwing, leveling or any other tool-related activity, I let my husband take the lead. Well, truthfully, I let him do it all. I usually have to leave the area because my impatient and irritable nature can hardly stand the set-backs and slow, careful work. He always does a beautiful job. When I do embark on some project, I take short-cuts and the quality of my work reflects them. Afterward, they bother me… remind me of this flaw in my nature. Fortunately, the older I get, the more patient I become.

This week, I decided to start a project and I wanted to do it myself. It required disassembling shelving, pulling an absurd number of plastic wall anchors out of drywall, patching holes, painting, removing doors and assembling furniture from Target (pretty sure Lamentations was written as a direct response to “assembly required.” ***).  But I did it! It isn’t perfect, but five years ago, I don’t think I’d have had the patience or drive.

Surveying my work, I felt very proud of myself indeed. It was a small personal victory. Now, though, I’m feeling reflective. The “I took a shortcut and I’m dissatisfied with the results” problem is not exclusive to do-it-yourself projects. It applies to every area of our lives. From parenting to preparing a meal, when we don’t commit to making our best effort, we suffer both the practical and psychological consequences. And to fulfill our potential we have to invite God in. If he created us, then we would in a literal sense be nothing without him. And if he has the power to form the universe, to create humanity in all of its staggering beauty and diversity, then I could ask for no better help.

When I said, “I’m not a do-it-yourselfer” earlier, it was an admission of laziness. I want to be able to use that expression in an entirely different way; to change it to mean that I’ve committed to working hard… with God’s help. My hunch is that learning to recognize his guidance and accept his help, will require some demolition. I will have to expose and acknowledge my flaws and ask him to fill those holes I haven’t patched, to smooth over the rough edges. In short, I want God to redecorate my soul.  🙂

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Colossians 1:29 – For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

1 Corinthians 15:58 – Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

*** Post-publication Edit: I’m leaving that quip about “assembly required,” but I couldn’t help but feel like a terribly spoiled thing after re-reading it. I apologize if it seemed like I was making light of the very real pain and suffering in the world.

 

 

 

Spirituality

The Limits of Human Understanding

I am easily seduced by beautiful words and music. My brain seems particularly susceptible to the images evoked by them. The hymn  “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a good example. When I hear:

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…”

I immediately get a bird’s eye view of a lone wanderer standing in the midst of green valleys and hills.

“Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee…”

brings to mind delicate gossamer tethers that stretch from the heavens to each of us.

To some degree, I think we all do this. When we hear or read words, we internalize and interpret them based on our own tendencies and experiences. When we hear that God is “good,” that he provides “comfort,” that he is “jealous,” our minds create a picture or idea about who he is. And indeed we should. The Word gives us these attributes for a reason. It seems that God wants us to have some understanding of him, to know him.

But when we use words to describe him, we also limit him. Perhaps God has attributes we don’t know about. I can tell you that my husband is a gentleman, a hard worker and a good father. You might get a basic idea in your mind about him, but that concept would change and deepen dramatically if all the other facets of his character were revealed to you.

On the flipside of this coin is the assumption that we can’t possibly know or understand the vast mystery that is God.

I think that both of these tendencies (to define or to assume we can’t) can lead to complacency or laziness. You’ve heard people use pat expressions about God that sound cliche or have lost their meaning. “It’s all part of God’s plan” or “Everything happens for a reason” are popular. And then you’ve heard people chalk tough questions up to the unknowable nature of God. We may not ever quite “get it” but that should never be an excuse not to search. When you really think about some mystery of life, give your entire self over to understanding it, learn all that you can and then find that you still can’t make all the pieces of the puzzle fit, it can renew a sense of wonder. It might be frustrating, but its humbling, too. I can’t say I’ve ever committed that fully to any search, but I’ve still experienced incredible awe.

And when we limit God, we limit the things that we can do through him. The Bible is full of verses about just how amazing we are, and we think of them as nice little inspirational quotes. I feel like we need to be jolted out of our complacency sometimes.  Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” All things? What does that mean exactly? It seems that today we don’t seriously consider that through God, we are capable of things beyond our wildest dreams. We are downright cynical when anyone mentions miraculous healing or speaking in tongues… myself included. But Jesus tells us that we will do greater things than even he did (John 14:12)! I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think we should rule anything out, either.

Here’s to opening our minds and hearts to miracles. Happy Sunday!

 

Spirituality

Quicksand: Musings on Depression

Happy New Year, all! I know this post seems bleak at the outset, but bear with me!

Although it isn’t something I’m entirely comfortable discussing, today I feel compelled to address depression from a biblical standpoint. The word “depression”  is thrown around today in a casual way that really disturbs me. I know that anti-depressants are widely used and that everyone seems to know people who are or have been depressed. But that doesn’t make the associated feelings any less real or horrible. It doesn’t mean that the people asking for help are necessarily more self-absorbed or less capable than anyone else. Yes, depression can be sinful and selfish, but most of us battle self-absorption… it just manifests in different ways. It does seem particularly relevant in the first-world. Maybe there are cultural variables that make us more likely to become depressed, but I don’t think so. You only need open your Bible to see myriad verses addressing fear, anxiety, mourning, tears, oppression and darkness.

I don’t know exactly how depression makes others feel, but I’ve had just enough experience with it to care deeply for those who are really struggling. For me, it had very physical effects. The feeling of removal or isolation was positively palpable. On a beautiful, sunny day the world could appear (literally) quite dim; A heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach made me feel anxious, like something was truly wrong. Irritability was always bubbling in my chest. It never seemed to be situational – I couldn’t point to any external circumstance that was affecting me. Many people can relate to these feelings – it is no picnic when they are all present for an extended period. I apologize if that sounds melodramatic, I’m only trying to help those who haven’t been there to understand on some level.

But recently when I begin to feel low or angry in a non-constructive way, I am aware of a fork in the road. I experience the feeling and then I face a conscious decision: I can give in and wallow in these feelings, or I can acknowledge them and choose to act in a positive way. I don’t ever remember recognizing this choice before. I think it is a gift, an opportunity to avoid negativity, but where there is choice there is also burden. It should be simple: I want to feel happy, so I should choose the happy path. I don’t want my loved ones to suffer because I’m unhappy, so I should choose the happy path. But ironically, in the moment, I WANT to let the anger or depression in. I don’t always choose correctly.

When describing these feelings, I’m afraid I have used the excuse, “I can’t help it.” It is my resolution for the New Year to stop using this insipid expression. I may not be able to control the feelings, but I CAN control my actions. I can accept God’s offer to help me out of that quicksand trap. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” The overwhelming theme in the verses that address the feelings I’ve been talking about is that through God people can receive solace, strength, hope… My new-found awareness of these spiritual gifts leads me to an understanding that to refuse them is to deliberately turn away from God; something I’d like to avoid! 🙂

Would that we all could someday joyfully pray:

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,” ~Psalm 30:11

Take care, everyone!