Monday, April 29, 2013

God's goodness is the basis for our peace

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount asks us to focus on God's goodness not only when we pray, but whenever we think about our daily needs.

He tells us to focus on God's goodness when we wonder what we will eat: 
Look at the birds of the air: they do not plant fields or harvest them or store their produce in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)
He tells us again to consider God's goodness when we wonder about our other needs: 
Consider the lilies of the field. They do not toil, they do not make cloth, but not even Solomon in all his splendor was arrayed as one of these. If that is how God cares for the grass of the field which is here today, but tomorrow is used as fuel for the fire, then how much more will he care for you, oh you of little faith?
He reminds us here of the same thing as when he taught us to pray: to trust God's goodness, that he knows what we need. 

So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.
"Do not worry," he tells us time and again. God's goodness is the basis for our peace.

Monday, April 22, 2013

God's goodness is the basis for our prayers

God is good. That is one of the most basic messages of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, we remember the words of that prayer and we pray them. But first Jesus made sure his disciples understood why he taught us such a bold but simple prayer:
"Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8).
Jesus taught us to call God "Father" when we pray, so that every time we pray our first thought is that our heavenly father knows what we need before we ask him.
"If you, even though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?" (Matthew 7:11)

To connect the dots: if even evil people can give good things to their children, then how much more will God, who is good, give good things to his children.

Jesus teaches us to have this mind when we pray: That God is good.
"This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven ...'".

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A cheerful thought (personal)

Next year, April 1 2014 does not fall during Holy Week, or on the Resurrection, or on Easter Monday, or on anything else that I can foresee interfering with a seasonal post on that day. I have restrained myself in some years (like this one) and lost the opportune moment when a topic would have worked on that day. (One year I lost the opportunity to comment on the New-NIV; another year, on whether the Mormon Missionary Program was really a secret Tour de France training initiative. Oh well.) Here is hoping that nothing will stand in the way of a timely post next year. The date itself doesn't look to be a problem, next time around. :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The fatal flaw in works righteousness

There are people who think works righteousness is impossible because our souls just aren't that pure. There are people who think works righteousness is a bad goal because it takes the focus off of God and his goodness. Then there are those who don't apologize but set their goal as working toward their own righteousness. If we are going to do anything at all, surely we should do good things. So shouldn't our own righteousness be exactly what we're working for? Is there actually anything wrong with setting our highest goal as working towards our own righteousness?

Yes, actually, there is -- if you'll bear with me, I'll explain where I see a contradiction, a fatal flaw in the premise there.

For a Christian, righteousness is not something we define, but something God defines. That is to say, we do not pick our own goal and call that "righteousness". For those who acknowledge God, we allow God to name our goal. Paul sums it up like this: what counts is "faith which works by love" (Galatians 5:6). Jesus said that the highest laws, the most important commands, were the commands to love God and neighbor. His famous saying "Be perfect" was said about loving not only our neighbor but even our enemy. So for a Christian, righteousness is all about love, and works of love: it is all about others.

If our highest goal is attaining our own perfection or sanctification, then it is about ourselves, not about others. We will never reach God's goal by pursuing our own separate goal, one that is different from it, one that sets us on a different path in a different direction. We may do similar things -- help the poor, for example -- but if our goal is our own righteousness, then love is sabotaged by that self-seeking goal. It hardly matters whether we reach our goal, if our own goal is not God's goal for us.

Pursuing our personal righteousness risks turning religion into a self-help program, and God into little more than our personal trainer. Where is the neighbor we're supposed to love? (Has he become nothing but a means to improve our own righteousness?) If someone has too little work in loving their family and their neighbor, let them try to love their enemy.

It's easy to get confused about striving to be good. What goal is "good"? Are we trying to be perfect to be seen by men? We have our reward in full. It is not much better to want to be perfect just for ourselves; it's still a self-centered goal. Or do we want be good -- and become better -- so that we help our neighbor, and so that our lights can shine and glorify God? The focus is not so much on ourselves. There is nothing wrong with striving to be good for the sake of God and neighbor. The closer we come to God's goal, the less I'd expect us to think of ourselves and our own perfection, and the more I'd expect us to look to others and their well-being. In that case we will set our hearts on loving God and others, and act accordingly.

I could have easily titled this "Another fatal flaw in works righteousness", and there are more that I haven't mentioned here. But there is a time for focus, and that seemed best.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Minor point about the prodigal son

Last time I read the parable of the prodigal son, I noticed something I hadn't seen before.

As background, here is something that had been plain for awhile: when the son asked for his inheritance while his father was still alive, it was the same as saying his father was nothing to him, that his father might as well be dead for all the son cared about him, and the only thing he wanted was his inheritance. (It also meant his brother was nothing to him.)

What crossed my mind this time was how that connects to the father's response, when the son comes home seeking reconciliation. The father says, "This son of mine was dead and is alive again" (Luke 15:24). The same thought is brought up again when the father speaks to the older brother who had stayed home, "This brother of yours was dead and is alive again" (Luke 15:32).

If we assume the father's view is right, then when the prodigal son wishes his family dead and cuts himself off, the one who is "as good as dead" is actually the prodigal. In considering other people "dead to him", he's the one who dies inside.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Can we know God: Seeking a thoughtful Christian who says "No"

I mentioned before that, to continue the controversies series, I was going to solicit some help because there are some controversies where I simply don't understand the other side. Here is the first: On the question, "Can we know God?" -- I have no idea why people would answer "no" -- Christians in particular, that is. I've heard people say that we can't know God, but not in a situation where I was welcome to strike up a conversation on the topic and really get to understand that point of view. So I'd like to strike up that conversation now.

If anyone is of the view that we can't know God, could you help me understand what you mean by that?