Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Hidden Question

In the early fourth century, Arius brought the proposition that the Son was begotten and not eternal, thus creating a divide between the nature of God and the Son.  This proposition and the ensuing controversy that followed set the young church on fire.  It is said that merchants on the street of Alexandria would debate with their customers the nature of God, and whether the Son was truly, fully God.

And thus the church was changed forever.  To this day, Arius is refuted in churches, attempting to revive the old debate that was, in every way it could be, won by Athanasius and the majority of bishops. Unfortunately, in the focus of the church to hammer out the nature of God and the relationship between the Father and the Son, instead of the focus of the early church.

There is a debate about the nature of God in the NT, but it contains almost nothing about the nature of God's being, but is strongly debating the nature of God's character.  Is God a force of karma, pouring out judgment on those who deserve it?  Or is God ultimately merciful, forbearing to the point of allowing his reputation to suffer so he can bring sinners further into love?

In understanding the character of God, we also understand our own goals as individuals and as societies.  If God is karma, we need to bring harsh justice onto those who do evil.  If God is love and mercy, we should be forbearing and allow people to take advantage of us because in the end it makes us all who we ought to be.

If we focus on the being of God, we neglect the question of character, God's and our own, in order to explore that which we ultimately cannot know.  The being of God is the more interesting question because it requires in depth analysis, some imagination and curiosity.  It is the question that our human nature wants to explore because it does not require us to change, it allows us to be who we are.

But this is not the focus of Jesus or the rest of the New Testament.  They are constantly telling us to change, to be more merciful, loving and peaceful, both as individuals and communities.  They are telling us that it is hard work and requires our whole focus.

We are so easily distracted.

The proper study of God is his nature as displayed by his actions through Jesus, not his being.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

9 Biblical Principles to Exorcise our Greed

I have a secret to tell you: 

If you are reading this blog, you are probably wealthy.  

I’m not saying absolutely, because I know a number of people who are homeless who might be reading this, and I also know people who are living on the edge of poverty, by their own choice, who scan blogs to read.  But, probably, you have more than you need. 

The Bible makes a difference in their definition of “people who have wealth” and “the rich”, while in English we tend to put the two together.  “Wealth” in the Bible is anything we have that goes beyond what we need.  So most of us reading this essay have “wealth”, something more than what we need.  We might have sentimental trinkets or extra food in the house or items we keep “just in case” we might need it someday.   “The rich” are those who keep such items in order to accumulate their wealth, what used to be known in English “hoarders”, “the stingy” or “greedy.”  Nowadays, “hoarders” are people who collect mostly useless items to their own detriment.  And the other two terms are used to speak of people’s motivation, not what they actually have.

The Bible, when speaking of moral matters, is very clear about having actions that display a moral or immoral attitude.  If a person has covetousness, it is accompanied by a “look of lust”, which in the ancient world was also called an “evil eye”, or a lingering gaze of desire.  Even so, greed is indicated by a mass collection of possessions, whether it be silver, horses, wives, or grain.  These possessions could be excused by a desire to protect one’s retirement, to provide security against future attacks or to empower oneself in the world, whether for good or ill.

This means that, in all probability, we are “rich”.  We keep and save wealth against a future of calamity, like getting old.  A few of us have more than ample possessions or monies for ourselves or our family.  We want to protect ourselves against “love of money” or worship of “mammon”, but the fact is, many of us have every indication that we dove into a sea of that love and can’t recognize that we are drowning in it.

Thankfully, the whole Bible gives us a path to escape such immoral love.

1.       Don’t cheat
In all our ways we should have integrity.  Not just honesty, not just faithfulness to our promises, but integrity.  We should never take from someone what we want for ourselves, unless they openly give it to us.  We shouldn’t take for ourselves what doesn’t really belong to us, but belongs to the public or the poor.  We should be careful with possessions or money whose ownership is questionable.  This goes especially for donated money.  We must be above board, careful.  We don’t have to prove our integrity to the world, but we should be able to prove it to God.

2.       Don’t harm the poor
In gathering wealth, we should do nothing to harm the poor.  Many companies and governments are careless about how they help the poor, harming them without knowledge so that they might obtain wealth.  Many companies and non-profits actually target the poor, using them as pawns or as dupes in a long-range con game.  This includes banks who charge the poor but give to the wealthy, police who ticket the homeless but give more “important” citizens a wink.  We must not invest in these groups or support them in order to obtain our wealth or possessions.   Those who participate in scalping the poor for the sake of wealth are called “oppressors”.

3.       Don’t take short cuts
The book of Proverbs frequently warns against “hasty” wealth.  This isn’t because one might get cheated in a con (although that is certainly true), but because hasty wealth is often a cheat and we may not even know where the wealth is coming from.  This could be buying a bicycle inexpensively on the street corner or investing in something that is “too good to be true” to buying out a company for a quick turnaround and profit.  Get rich quick schemes always leave victims.

4.       Be content with little
Often we think about having a huge house with all the food we could want with people to help us clean the fridge every once in a while.  We want a movie collection and a video game library and… well, you know.  And some of us actually get what we want.  Or quite a bit of it.  And because we have dreamed about it for so long, we hold these items very precious.  But the Bible counsels us to be content with what we need.  This doesn’t mean to be happy with less than we need.  We shouldn’t be content with starvation or living out in the cold.  But if we have what we need, we shouldn’t keep wanting more.  We shouldn’t keep striving for needs that are already met, whether that  be possessions or security or good relationships.

5.       Trust in God
When the Bible tells us to trust, it isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky spiritual mumbo jumbo.  It is specifically telling us to trust God in the very areas we are afraid of.  We are afraid that if we don’t have enough money we will lose our home or our car.  We are afraid that if someone gets a certain political or job position, it places us poorly.  We are afraid for our kid’s future, for our future, for what may happen if a burglar comes in.  The Bible tells us not to fear, but to trust in God for all of these things.  This is important to avoiding greed because we collect many things, not because we need them, but we are afraid of the consequences if we don’t have them.  To trust in God is to give Him our future, our worries and to rest on being content with what we actually need.

6.       Share what you have
Okay, now it’s time for the rubber to meet the road.  To not be greedy means specifically not to grasp onto things someone else could use.  This means, first, to share what we own with people who need to borrow them.  Yes, this may mean that your possessions could be damaged or taken.  But this is where trust comes in.  If someone actually needs an item, we need to give them the use of it.  We could loan our car to someone who needs to move.  We could take a spare room and loan it to someone who needs a place to crash.  And if we have anything extra, we should be willing to share whatever that is.

7.       Be generous
The Bible tells us that it is key to our humanity to be generous.  If we give someone wages, from an employee to a tip at a restaurant, we should give more than we need to.  If we give to a beggar, we shouldn’t be stingy.  We should be generous with compliments, generous with thanks, generous with encouragement.  If we have extra food, extra clothes, extra time, extra time, extra space in our house or building, we should be thinking about who should be given these things, who needs them the most.  And then we should give cheerfully.

8.       Seek out the poor
“The poor” in the Bible is anyone who has need of something, whether they put themselves in the situation or they fell into it.  The “poor” are those in need, not those who look like they are in need or those who pull your heartstrings, but those who really lack food, clothing, respect, security, love, hope.  When we run across these people, we are to give.  We know this.  But more than this, we are to seek these people out.  Along with a generous spirit, we are to seek those who have need.  Many of us don’t know anyone who is desperate.  Then we should go out of our way to find them.  This may mean we need to contact people out of our town in order to be generous to those in need.  It may mean we need to open our eyes and ask people about their needs.  But even as Job or Lot wouldn’t allow a single person in his town to be without shelter, we should seek people out who might need our help. Jesus tells us to make friends of the poor, so they are loved by us and we can be generous to them-- thus the poor are saving our souls. 

9.       Do everything with love

For a long time, I followed these principles above.  And I tried to do them with love.  But I had no balance in my life, so love was often lost.  But without love, we might be devoid of greed  but still lack true generosity of spirit.  It is better to be giving than to be stingy with what we have.  But it is far better to allow the Spirit of God to infuse us with God’s love, mercy and generosity.  It is not enough for us to avoid greed.  We must also be surrendering our love at every turn. 

If you're one of those Bible thumpers, here's some verses to get you going on this subject:
Luke 19:1-10; Luke 12:13-34; Psalm 37; Mark 10:17-27; Matthew 25:31-46; Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 6:19-24; James 5:1-6; Proverbs 22:16; Prov 11:24; Prov 28:22; Prov 23:4; Proverbs 13:11; Luke 16; I Corinthians 16:14.