Is God mad at you? Part 4

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Jokes are only funny if we possess the required categories of understanding. Without which we are like children who cannot grasp adult humor in movies. In the same way, if we lack certain categories in our discussion about God, we will not be able to reconcile our present knowledge with the wider understanding presented in this series. I say this because without a particular piece of the puzzle, the bible will always be subdivided into binary compartments. Since most of us were taught a win/lose paradigm, I now share this.

The piece I’m referring to is that of the False Self. The journey to God is impossible without the journey through oneself. John Calvin said in his Institutes: “Without the knowledge of the self, there is no knowledge of God.”  All spiritual considerations are essentially assumptions about who we are, or what we are. These assumptions are the bedrock of every culture, tribe, institution, and system of faith.

We all go through life trying to convince others of what we think we are. We adopt behaviors and longings in keeping with that assumption. We live under a mask so to speak, because our institutions tell us that only certain parts are acceptable. This good/bad divide gives birth to the false self. Spiritual infancy is that period in our lives when we try and convince God and others that we don’t have a dark side or we have overcome it. The true self is honest about our imperfections and embraces them as necessary for our maturation process. Since we can never live better than we think (stage of consciousness), it’s the false self that unnecessarily appraises and presents itself as better than we are.

Then something beautiful happens…suffering. Pain enables us to get REALLY HONEST. We see and own that our motivations are not pure. We gain self-criticism for the first time and instead of deflecting, we acknowledge that we are not that good. The bible calls this metanoia (changing the mind) or repentance (2 Cor 7:10). Humility enables us to see everything differently. Our pain, confusion, loss, and even our gravest sin is requiring spirituality to exist within the context of our broken humanity, not despite it. The false mask of perfection gets tossed out as we follow the Christoform pattern through a dark dying process and into a new, risen life.

So far so good?

Thomas Merton says that the false self is the only self that God knows nothing about. Hold on to this because it is a vital key in this series. This is your new lens through which you can finally see the bible teaching about Hell and separation from God. God is perfect truth and as such can have no fellowship with falsehood. Perfect knowledge cannot know something false. Perfect love cannot love something that doesn’t ultimately exist, or that is not permanent, and is not true.

In the spiritual growth process, all false things are tossed out as we grow into conformity to the truth. False is refuse or trash. It is burned off as slag in the crucible of life and light (Isa 48:10). It is trash and as such is to be burned and consumed in the dump, or Gahenna (our word for Hell) as the bible refers to it. Now we have a context for the stern words of the Lord telling religious people to “depart for I never knew you” (Matt 7:23).

Thus the false self has no future, but it has an extremely noisy and confusing present. True spirituality gives us the eyes to see our overgrown ego’s, our tenacious self-focus, our over self-reliance, and our false distinctions that feed them. Our true self by contrast is humbly discovered through our pain and is permanently found in the perfect wisdom and love of God. It preexisted our creation and will outlast our death because it abides perfectly in God. This is the image of God that all humanity possesses. Those that begin to see the true self that is deeply loved and found in God, will see themselves as a loving God sees them.  It is the false self that believes they are what is wrong with them and creates systems of self-righteousness to escape from themselves.

Now you are prepared for the other half of Jesus story with a sobering tale of an angry God.

 

 

Is God mad at you? Part 3

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We’ve been exploring how our dualistic distinctions have created religious systems by which we score other people and determine if we think they are valid or not. It’s part of our human propensity because this is how we learn about the world as a child, it’s how most of us came to understand God and his/her sense of justice.

Jesus tells a parable in Matthew chapter 20 about workers in the vineyard. It’s a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. The story tells of a master who starts the day hiring laborers who agree to work in his vineyard for a day’s wages. Every couple of hours, the master goes out and hires more for the agreed wages until the very last hour of work. At the end of the day, the master lines all the workers up and gives them their pay starting with those hired last.

When those first hired realized they were getting the same as those last hired, they get mad at the master of the vineyard. Why, because they are looking at this as unfair. Thus this story is about injustice. As a metaphor for heaven, it tells us about the justice of heaven, and its not what most of us were taught.

The justice system of God is not based upon the work of the individual, but on the generosity of the master. Each person agrees to the terms. Each person accepts the labor to be done, each is required to do their work, but its not a meritocracy.

Those who had labored the most became trapped in their distinctions.  They forgot that they were jobless and broke prior to the masters offer. Inequality only emerges when viewing this from the bottom up. From the top down, all comers were generously made whole with a days wages. Those who came last were closest in proximity to the weight of this generosity. Those who came first were farthest in proximity. The story ends with these familiar words: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

It doesn’t say the last won’t receive generosity. It also doesn’t say the first will get more. Justice based on restoration closes the gaps for all people, both near and far, and completes each one. Justice based on retribution always has winners and losers. Restoration realizes that winners are as far away as losers, and generosity (grace) is the ultimate equalizer.

The application couldn’t be more clear. However, much of religion desperately clings onto an angry God who is full of retribution, making our life one of appeasement. Most Christians and Muslims today believe that God is primarily mad at people and is therefore sending the majority of human history to Hell. Is that what you believe? Deep down, do you feel that God would be unjust if he restored everyone to wholeness? If so, your belief is like that of the first hired and it begrudges the generosity of God. Do you now see the sliding scale?  If you think you will go to heaven before others, then you are further in proximity to the kingdom and its system of restorative justice.

So what about Hell? What about sin? This is kind of a big pill to swallow if we have spent our lives in a win/lose paradigm. Do we just throw all distinctions out the window? Absolutely not.  I’d like to invite you back next week for the conclusion of this series. The story continues and the master returns with a greater lesson about our distinctions and the price we pay for underestimating them. We learn that while God may not be angry, his love can certainly be severe.

 

 

Is God mad at you? Part 2

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I’m amazed at how many people really want or need an angry God. Of course, no believer wants such a God to be mad at them, they just want to know that God will be mad at others. It’s how most people understand JUSTICE. When viewed this way, the anger of God is somehow kindled at those who are most different from us, those who share differing opinions on politics or religion or social issues. This is precisely what many atheists or agnostics find unbelievable when viewing things from the outside. Each religious tradition believes it is on the right side of God, thus making other perspectives on the wrong side by default.

A clear sign that we haven’t matured spiritually beyond our childish dualistic paradigm is that we divide the world into binary compartments. It takes wisdom and maturity to find the third way of “Both/And” instead of “Either/Or. Even David lost sight of this reality and often defaulted into binary thinking in his times of stress and weakness. “I hate the double-minded, but I love your law” Psalm 119:113

The bible is full of verses where God’s people, or shall I say children, reflect their myopic, tribal, win/lose paradigms and ascribe them to God. This paints God as temperamental, angry, moody, or harsh. If your pastor, priest, rabbi, Imam, or guru has not grown up spiritually, if they lack the ears to hear as Jesus often says, they will not see sacred text as the reflection of immature spirituality-in-progress, but instead as the dualistic benchmark by which they will divide others into innies and outies, valid or invalid, thus making God into their own image.

It’s sad to say, but our religious world is like a romper room of toddlers arguing over their toy (view of God).  God likes my denomination best, God is on my side, God only loves my religion, God hates all those who don’t get it like I do.

When we live in duality and miss the fundamental principal of oneness or unity as seen:

  • In the Shama; “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One.” Deuteronomy 6:4,
  • Or by Jesus; “I and the Father are One.” John 10:30,
  • or through Paul; “For in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:13

Once we depart from oneness with God and others, we default to a two-story system where God is “up there” and we are “down here” and I am completely other than you. If we lack the maturity to see ourselves in others, we let our arguments go farther than they should and then we need an angry God as our back up, to prove we are in the right. Angry God is also needed to help leaders gain compliance with their flocks. Once we see this, liberation from it is right around the corner, but it requires an exile.

Politics can easily expose this thinking for us. Would God be a republican or a democrat? Both sides (who are trapped in their distinctions) think God is on their side. If God in his/her vast wisdom would never completely align with one side, why do you suppose those who claim to follow God are so willing to do so? Angry God always enters the debate.

Next week I’m going to share with you a story that Jesus told which decimates our petty distinctions. Like all parables, it’s purpose was to tell us what it’s like in the Kingdom of Heaven. He’s not describing some far off place that one day we will find after we die. He is describing life, here and now, in the context of daily living. He uses a scenario that gets at the heart of why our religions need God to be mad, namely: injustice.

When we view this story from spiritually immature eyes, it is the most unfair, unjust situation that cannot be reconciled. It turns out that the justice of God is not about an angry God getting retribution, but about a generous God restoring all things.

I said it last week and I’ll say it again. If you are trapped in your distinctions, and missing the heart of oneness with God and others, then you will hate the kingdom of God and its form of justice.

 

Is God mad at you? Part 1

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I’ve never met anyone who has not formed some idea about God. If it’s barely formed or if it comes from a bad experience, their God-story is never favorable. If it is formed in a religious structure, then often our God-story is favorable. Either way, this story shapes what we do next in our faith.

Would it surprise you to learn that the God story given to most people is that God is angry, harsh, or exacting? Most atheists are presented with this God prior to them dismissing God altogether. Nearly all religions in all human history stem from our need to appease such a God.

We are told the Bible is a great way to get to know God, but just a few books into the Old Testament and it’s easy to see that the depiction of God is not a God modern people desire to follow.

  • God rescues Lot from Sodom because he was righteous. This man who is “right with God” offers his two daughters to the groping molesters at the door in order to appease them. (Gen 19:8)
  • When Lot escapes to the mountains, he copulates (supposedly unknowingly) with his daughters and brings forth the Moabites and the Ammonites. (Gen 19:30-39)
  • God tells Abraham to kill his son, but stops him at the last second. (Gen 22:1-19)

We aren’t even through the first book of the bible yet and we can all see the trend line. Or can we? 

When someone concludes that God is a specific way because of the words in scripture they are applying a LITERAL interpretation of the bible. The irony here is that atheists so precisely what fundamental bible teachers do with the literal translation. The only difference is that atheists reject such a mean God while fundamentalist have embraced him (it’s always a “him” for literalists)

Scripture teaches that the Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10, Prov 1:7, 9:10, 15:33) I used to believe that meant “piss your pants” fear. Hundreds of verses depict how humanity kindles the anger of God. What happens to awe? Why is fear always translated fear? Especially when every time God or an angel appears in scripture we are told, “Do not fear.

But does God really get angry, or is this an anthropomorphism? Is it really conditional? Is God moody and ill tempered that we must be on good behavior or else? Or are we making God into our image?

If we start as Jonathon Edwards says as “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, then the trajectory never gets off to a positive start.  Sadly this is the God we are given.

An angry God only creates religions of appeasement. Are you in one? Appeasement requires atonement and the only one offered is substitutional atonement. Yet even within this perfect appeasement story, most religious leaders continue to teach us that God is still mad or at least easily upset by us.

Fear is the lowest form of motivation, but it is highly effective. People groups that employ fear of a Sniper God, haven’t grown up enough to read between the lines of scripture. Fear is a convenient lever pulled by those in power.

God’s justice is not retribution. It’s restoration. I was privileged to supplement Richard Rohr’s scripture library on this very topic by supplying him with 133 verses throughout the corpus of Old and New testaments that prove this reality. In other words, the outpouring love of God to all people, to and in all things, is not only the place that the bible begins to tells us about God, but is the place scripture returns to over and over, and is the trajectory of all things.

“His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

If you are a part of a faith system that has convinced you that God is or could easily become mad at you, then you need to know that you are a part of a fear based sub-culture and that fear has been installed to keep you in the system.  Such words are likely to be criticized and even grounds for heresy because the herd in power must vilify the stray.

I hope you know that the love that God has for each and every one of us is not dependent upon us. It doesn’t come and go based on our behavior, but based on God. God is not a dysfunctional super-parent with a stink-eye. I am here for all of you who find this Good News a little too hard to believe.

If you find yourself asking about sin, or the willful, the unrepentant, or the God-haters? If it angers you that a person who is not as devout as you would receive the same reward as you, then I want you to tune in next week. If you think the distinctions we create will last forever, then you will hate the Kingdom of God.