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Insights into the world, human nature, Jesus Christ, love, religion and prayer. (I cut out “God;” it was just too much; maybe later.)

1. the world

If by “the world” we mean what my three-year-old grandson knows, his world, “the world” is big enough to him but a pretty small place to us: home, parents, school, teachers, church and daycare folks, and some spaces in between. Sometimes people equate “the world” with the planet or the earth; however, this equation causes all sorts of problems when reading the Bible. God may destroy a given “world,” but never the earth. The fallen earth, I have discovered, is exactly what God told the original parents (as he was showing them out of the garden) it would be: a tough and sometimes even painful place, but a wonderful place to be redeemed! “Cosmos” is the English version of the Greek word which means, essentially, “an order imposed on (what is otherwise) chaos.” So “the world” is whatever social order we humans construct on the earth. Living in “the world” is better than anarchy, to be sure, but “the world” as we know it is a far cry from what will be.

2. human nature

Are people innately evil or are they basically good? I think the biblical answer is, people were created very good but humans have been caught up, by default, in serving themselves and thus in working for idols. That does not make people evil but it does make them broken and lost and in need of salvation, redemption and transformation. It is not habitual now to serve God. The human pattern is pretty well set and it leads from unbalanced fear and insecurity, not from centered, rested holiness. People do not naturally care. In our particular society we are all pretty busy because we choose to be and that means we do not have time to care much for or about others. Which is, I think, the way we want it mostly, whether we admit it or not.

I believe people were created to live in community and that we have built a society which avoids real encounter and genuine fellowship as though it were the plague. Most people are pretty lonely and I think it is because we were never intended to live such busy, lonely, isolated lives. My most vivid memories of growth and change and pleasure all derive from some form of community.

3. Jesus Christ

At some point I realized that “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name. “Kristos,” a translation of the Hebrew word “meshia,” is a noun which describes someone who has been anointed, usually with oil. As Jews and later Christians used it, it was a covert and careful title which left the Romans puzzled: what does it mean that they say the guy has had oil poured on his head? Jews could have no-other king but Caesar according to a deal they had made with the Romans centuries before. So how could you talk about the one you hoped and prayed God would send to replace, to conquer the Romans? You did not call him “melech,” the Hebrew word for king unless you had a really strong death wish. You used a word which your scriptures often used to describe him: the anointed one: the Christ.

Brian Mc Laren correctly notes that people today tend to look back on Jesus and see Jesus through what others have said and written about him since his time on earth. That’s how Jesus gets to be the Sacred Heart of Catholicism or the nice, smiling, young American savior of modern evangelical protestantism. Mc Laren also correctly asserts, the way to really understand Jesus is by seeing him in the light of the one whom most in Judaism were expecting when Jesus actually showed up. Who did Jesus turn out to be? How did he utterly fulfill what it meant to be the visit of God, the glory of God, the servant of God, the long-expected prophet of God, the reconciling blessing, come from God? We have to cut though all our domesticating tendencies to get to Jesus the Christ.

Jesus was my way to God. When I was young I figured Jesus was not too upset with me but that his father did not like me at all (I was apparently wrong about this). The spirit? Well, what does a spirit think? Do spirits have opinions? I am still not sure I know. I just figured if Jesus had gone to all that trouble of dying for me, along with all of creation, he probably would listen to me when I prayed and not blow me off entirely. At least a call from me would not cause him to instantly hurl chunks. I still hope so. (I have entered into the rest of peace with God rather slowly and fitfully, at best. Can you tell?)

4. love

What a crazy, squishy word! I mean, the Greeks have four words for love: agape (unconditional love), filios (close and affectionate friendship), eros (sexual attraction and passion) and storgae (dependent love [of children and pets]). Yet we try to use just one word for almost all those conditions and actions, and also for our delight with music, food and other amendments and amusements. We do not know what “love” means because it means just too many things.

If we are just talking about agape love, then I guess I have learned that love is wanting the best possible life, growth, destiny and whatever for the object of my love. I love my daughter. I want the best possible, the most fulfilling life for her. I also love the Bible. I want the Bible to be understood in the most accurate, the most liberating possible way. It is not hard to want all that for someone or something but it is hard, over time, to not get in the way of those good intentions with less well-meaning agendas. Sometimes, although I love my daughter, I think I know what is best for her, regardless of what she thinks. And sometimes my interpretation of the Bible does not lead to the liberating truth toward which it was always intended the book should direct God’s people. We do not love perfectly, whatever our intentions may be.

5. religion

Here is another word that means just many too many things. Is “religion” a small or maybe middle-sized part of some people’s lives or is it the whole of everyone’s experience? Is “religion” something you do once in a while or is it your entire response to God and the world around you? I know Christians who love the word “religion” as a description of their experience and Christians for whom “religion” is the word for what people do who do not “have a relationship with Jesus.”

Some words need to be put away for a long while in a time capsule until their many and confused meanings have been largely forgotten. Then, perhaps a word like “religion” could be unearthed and used to mean something meaningful, maybe 250 years from now.

6. prayer

People wonder if prayer is really us changing God’s mind and therefore, the outcome of something or whether prayer is really a process by which we who pray come around eventually to God’s agenda? I think the answer is, “Yes, of course!” Why would we assume that prayer does not actually change things on the earth? Anyone who believes there is no power for change in prayer is not taking the prayers of those we read about in the scriptures very seriously. I have seen great answers to prayer and occasionally, I have even been one of those who prayed.

I have never been any good at having a special time for prayer but I do “pop-corn” prayers, shooting up this or that word of praise or petition fairly frequently. Okay, several times a day, at least. Often, someone’s name from last week or from four decades ago will pop into my mind and I will ask God’s blessing on that person. On some of those occasions I will try to get a sense of the urgency and the tone behind the prompt to intercede.

Is this a final prayer for someone who is passing
away or for one who is in turmoil or pain?

Should I be rejoicing with this person I have not
seen in thirty-five years?

I think I do get a sense sometimes or maybe I am fooling myself. Maybe in the end, I will ask in glory about these prayers I have always prayed and I will be told there was nothing to them; what I thought were heavenly prompts were really just acid reflux or strange figments of my own imagination, with nothing substantive behind them and that no blessing came to anyone from any of it…

I do not think that will be so, however. I am going to keep on praying. In fact, I’ll pray for you if you will pray for me!

Next week: The sufferings which have seasoned me.