Jesus Won’t Give Up on Doubting Disciples

I preached the following sermon at St. John’s Episcopal Church on the passage Luke 24:36-48.

When we moved to our new house, one of our boys suddenly forgot how to close the front door. With a two-year-old constantly on the hunt for new adventures, this became a major safety concern. The two-year-old charged out that open door plenty, and it seemed that nothing we said could help our son remember to close the door.

We didn’t tell him once. We didn’t tell him twice. We didn’t tell him three times. We frankly lost count.

Out of desperation, I finally turned to a right brain activity that I should have tried right from the start. I told him that this isn’t a punishment. It was only a reminder. I simply asked him to draw a picture of a closed door.

He then drew a bright, gleaming, happy closed door with rays of sunshine shooting out of it.

After that, he finally remembered to close the door.

But adults are also pretty good at forgetting what other people have told us. When I lined up for my second dose of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19, my mom warned me that she felt bad the next day. My dad was wiped out for days. One of my sisters had a rough time as well.

After the shot, I braced myself and eventually took some Tylenol in the evening as a slight headache showed up. In the morning the slight headache retreated once again with some Tylenol, and I medically cleared myself for a family outing to Paris Landing State Park. I triumphantly texted a friend who was getting her second shot that morning, “Just a headache! All good!”

I wanted her to know that some people could beat the odds. Maybe she would too.

While our kids braved the icy water of Kentucky Lake by submerging themselves one centimeter at a time, I took it easy on a camp chair. The sun shone bright, but there was no way I was diving into that freezing lake. I felt worse and worse as the afternoon drew on, tired and sluggish. I reasoned that it must be the heat as we drove home–perhaps dehydration.

Yet, even in the comfort of our home, I still felt like I’d been hit by a truck well into the evening. Finally, I remembered that I’d been warned by nearly everyone in my family that I will feel bad after my vaccine shot. I should have known better, but I had developed a narrative in my mind that I only had a headache. It turned out that I stayed off my feet for the following day as well.

In today’s Gospel story, Jesus was trying to get a message across to his disciples that they just weren’t grasping.

The gist of it is this: Jesus knew that he would be handed over to his enemies, his enemies would kill him, and he would triumph by rising from the dead.

In fact, Luke records three separate occasions when Jesus told his disciples precisely what would happen, and Luke carefully notes that they did not grasp what he meant.

The disciples were thinking of thrones for themselves, Jesus rising as the new King of Israel, and the Romans being defeated. They had a picture in their minds of God’s intervention in their lives and in their nation that prevented them from grasping the events that Jesus had precisely predicted.

The disciples could not understand how Jesus could be the king who is starting the rule of God’s Kingdom on earth and yet his most decisive actions would involve his death and resurrection.

They didn’t see how these pieces could fit together with God’s all-powerful Kingdom, and so they selectively listened to Jesus–eager to learn how to perform miracles but less eager to learn about Jesus bearing suffering and death in order to literally rise above both.

Jesus’ victory came through Jesus joining himself with the worst that this world has to offer, defeating it, and then joining himself to his people so that they can experience that victory. It’s hard enough to understand that today, and with so many other hopes and dreams tied to Jesus, the disciples sure didn’t get it.

And so, when the disciples saw Jesus die, most hid in an upper room.

When some women from their group of disciples reported that Jesus had appeared to them and angels had explained his resurrection to them, the disciples still doubted.

Peter ran off to the tomb and checked it out. It seemed that the women were on to something, but a Resurrection? Even though the Jews believed in the Resurrection, which was quite unlike the Greek and Roman religions, something still didn’t click.

Some even set off for Emmaus. They were done, even if the women and Peter spoke of some hopeful developments.

Did anyone speak up and say, “Wait a minute… Maybe you guys should stick around for a day. I think Jesus predicted this would happen.”

Probably not. It sounds like most of them just doubted.

And so the disciples stayed put, waiting around until a knock on the door. The two disciples who had left for Emmaus rushed in to report that Jesus had appeared to them on the road. They hadn’t recognized him at first, but they finally figured it out when he broke bread with them.

We don’t know what the disciples made of this report because it seems that they were then joined by another guest. This time, he didn’t knock.

Jesus just appeared.

Now, remember, the disciples were told by Jesus three times that he would rise from the dead. The women reported seeing Jesus and an angel. Peter confirmed that the tomb was open and empty. The men traveling to Emmaus saw Jesus.

They had all of these predictions and reports. They had a bounty of scriptures in the Old Testament about God’s suffering servant. And yet, their first reaction to Jesus… was to completely freak out.

They thought that Jesus was a ghost.

On the one hand, can we blame them for thinking Jesus was a ghost if he was cutting corners by skipping the door?

And in fairness, it sounds like Resurrected Jesus looked a little different from the Jesus they knew. In fact, the words used to describe their reactions are also used in passages where angels appeared. So he likely appeared in a more magnificent glorified state that threw them for a loop.

Still, they had a mountain of evidence all pointing to a resurrection, and they still hung back in fear. What would it take for them to believe that this was Jesus?

It turned out that Jesus had to use the break glass option, the emergency backup plan of absolute last resort, the one thing that would prove he is the resurrected Jesus in bodily form and not a ghost. Jesus… had… to… eat… broiled… fish.

Now, I’m no stranger to broiled fish. It’s gross. My family used to go fishing all of the time, so family gatherings often included various kinds of fish. We frequented seafood restaurants near the Jersey shore while growing up. I’ve had warm, heavily seasoned broiled fish, and it still tastes gross.

Jesus offered to eat broiled fish, but it was also likely cold. And it was also likely unseasoned or poorly seasoned. Yet, once he scarfed down some bland, cold, gross broiled fish, and the disciples touched his body, they finally relaxed.

It’s as if they just needed to see someone with a stomach of steel before they could believe Jesus had risen from the dead.

*****

Just the fact that Jesus had to eat broiled fish reminds us that the disciples’ joy over the resurrection was mixed with doubt and uncertainty about the future. They were still hiding in an upper room, trying to piece together different accounts from individuals who had seen Jesus.

In a state of doubt, wonder, and confusion, the disciples then just about jumped out of their skin when Jesus showed up among them. And even when they finally received the good news of the resurrection, they had a long way to go before the life-changing moment of Pentecost.

Between Good Friday and Pentecost, there were quite a lot of doubts, misunderstandings of Jesus’ message, and confusion over what Jesus had said. The disciples were in bad shape. If you were going to figure out which movement, the Jesus movement or the Roman Empire, would have a longer lasting impact in human history, Rome would have been the easy choice on Easter morning–even if an empty tomb hinted that things were about to change in a really big way.

None of the disciples lost their spot due to doubts and confusion, but Jesus also didn’t accept their doubt as a static state. He invited his disciples to return to the scriptures, to revisit their past conversations, to consider what they see before them, and to wait patiently for the illuminating Spirit.

Jesus even steeled himself and said, “Hey y’all, watch THIS!” as he gamely scarfed down a hunk of broiled fish.

Doubt isn’t a dead end, and Jesus offered several paths to take after one vision for the future fell apart. Doubt can be a very real and very honest starting point for the journey of faith. It can also be a detour of sorts along the way. Yet I don’t see Jesus abandoning us to our doubts or settling for people who are doubting and confused.

I wonder if this speaks to our own pendulum swings today between prideful certainty and a doubt fest of endless deconstruction. At a certain point we have to ask if perhaps we’ve missed something or perhaps God can reveal something to us in the people around us, whether we can  find fresh insight through another look at scripture, whether we may find Jesus when we take a walk, or whether our faith can be rekindled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe the academic calendar is just burned into our family’s routines right now, but this upper room moment in today’s Gospel sure feels like a final exam where the disciples are still drawing stick figures in the margins because they just aren’t sure about the answers.

Some are likely still clinging to the hope that Jesus will restore the Kingdom to Israel and that he’ll finally be an earthly king with the spiritual stuff out of the way.

All are confused about Jesus showing up like a ghost that can walk through walls but still eats fish. Jesus is unfamiliar enough that two disciples on the road to Emmaus can miss him, yet they can finally figure things out in the right context.

*****

Perhaps this story reminds us that Jesus himself will say things that sound pretty darn explicit and clear, and yet we’ll just completely miss the message. Even when he spelled out the details of his death and resurrection, his disciples just couldn’t process something so terrible happening. When Jesus fulfilled his own prophecy, doubts remained.

We’re going to miss stuff. We’re going to be confused. We will be wrong about things. That doesn’t disqualify us, but if we aren’t humble and receptive, we may miss out on intimacy with God and the deeply fulfilling call that Jesus has for us.

There isn’t a one-size fits all response to our doubts and confusioin. Jesus offers his disciples multiple paths to find him. Jesus appeared to his followers in the garden, on the road, and even in the upper room. Jesus walked on roads and walked through walls.

Jesus knew his disciples feared the future. They weren’t going to get the future for Israel that they wanted and that they read about in scripture. They had to completely rethink the story of their faith and of their lives around a Messiah who conquers and rebuilds the nation of Israel through his death and Resurrection.

This is mystical and mysterious and confusing. It’s a message that they need God’s help in sharing. That, in fact, is why Jesus told them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

If they can’t figure out the Resurrection even after Jesus spelled it out for them, you better believe they were going to need divine intervention.

And here is the crazy thing, even though things appeared hopeless, confusing, and on the fast track to NoWheresville, Pentecost changed everything.

With the wisdom of the Spirit on their side, the disciples staged a dramatic rally. They went from doubting, confused, and fearful to wise, clear-headed, and courageous. They wanted the rest of the world to know that Jesus is present, that Jesus has conquered the darkness, and that the first step is a change of direction toward his illuminating light.

The disciples had light to share with the world, and that same calling remains for us today. That promise of Jesus’ light and illuminating wisdom is ours to claim, to patiently wait on, and to experience. This gift of God’s light is meant to be shared for the benefit of others even as it shapes us from within.

As we wait for Pentecost, perhaps we can examine our hearts, asking which doubts linger, what confuses us, and what we just can’t sort out about Jesus and our faith. Jesus will stick with us whether we’re feeling stuck at a dead end, whether we’re worn down, or whether we’re not even sure where to begin.

Doubt or confusion does not disqualify you. Even the disciples started there.

Jesus loves you so deeply that he has sent his Holy Spirit among you. He is present with you even now no matter what’s on your mind. And Jesus cares so deeply for you and for his people that he even once ate an entire piece of cold, bland broiled fish. Amen.

Prophets Are Always Most Popular When They’re Dead

The following sermon text is from a sermon I preached at St. John’s Episcopal Church on March 7, 2021 on the Gospel passage in John 2:13-22.

Prophets are always at their most popular when they are dead. Their challenging messages that disrupt the status quo have a way of softening in their absence as the original audience for the prophet’s message fades away.

We could describe Martin Luther King Jr. as a prophet  who quoted scripture throughout his struggle in the American Civil Rights movement, advocating in part for voting rights, fair wages, just laws, and equality for all.

Ironically, politicians who have voted against what King stood for annually offer him social media tributes without fail on MLK Jr. Day. One former member of Congress with strong ties to white supremacy even had the gall to share one of the more inspirational King quotes that conveniently avoided any discussion of racial justice.

The Washington Post quoted King’s daughter Bernice on a recent MLK Jr. Day, “There will be an overflow of King quotes today… We can’t, with truth and consciousness, quote my father, while dehumanizing each other & sanctioning hate.”

We may also remember that Pope Francis spoke to Congress in 2015 and honored King, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Abraham Lincoln as  “four representatives of the American people,” using their dreams of justice, equal rights, liberty and peace to make America a better place.

Yet, during their lifetimes, Merton and Day were often criticized, ostracized, silenced, and slandered for calling into question the buildup of nuclear weapons during the cold war. Merton and Day exchanged letters over their frustrations as exiles among the mainstream of Catholicism that approved of war.

Merton wrote to Day with his customary sarcasm,

“My peace writings have reached an abrupt halt. Told not to do any more on that subject. Dangerous, subversive, perilous, offensive to pious ears, and confusing to good Catholics who are all at peace in the nice idea that we ought to wipe Russia off the face of the earth. Why get people all stirred up?”

The Hidden Ground of Love, Page: 74

Merton later griped in his journal about not being able to write about nuclear war:

“I am still not permitted to say what Pope John said… [The] Reason: “That is not the job of a monk, it is for the Bishops.” [But] Certainly it has a basis in monastic tradition. [Quote] “The job of the monk is to weep, not to teach.” But with our cheese business and all the other “weeping” functions we have undertaken, it seems strange that a monk should be forbidden to stand up for the truth, particularly when the truth (in this case) is disastrously neglected.

Intimate Merton, Page: 215

It’s easy to honor a prophet when you’re not the immediate target of the prophet’s message.

At the time of Jesus he noted that his people wept at the tombs of the prophets whom their ancestors had killed. We shouldn’t be surprised to learn what happened to John the Baptist and Jesus when they took up the prophetic mantles of the likes of Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.

Our challenge today is to encounter the message of the prophets and to do our best to imagine ourselves in the same shoes as the prophet’s audience. We need to see how these messages, cutting through the pretenses in their original audience, can convict us as well. It’s not an easy or desirable position to be in!

If we can place ourselves alongside the original audience of the prophets, we may find that the prophets have messages for us about how to draw near to God and how to treat our neighbors with love, kindness and justice.

Today’s Gospel reading clearly presents Jesus as a prophet within the Jewish tradition. In order to better understand today’s reading, let’s begin with a brief look at what a prophet was and how a prophet functioned.

A prophet in the Judeo/Christian sense may be described as a person who conveys a message from God. Abraham J. Heschel writes about the canonical Hebrew prophets like this, “A prophet is… endowed with a mission, with the power of a word not his own that accounts for his greatness—but also with temperament, concern, character, and individuality… The word of God reverberated in the voice of a man.”

We should not view prophets as men and women who merely reveal the future. Prophets reveal God’s perspective. Some call prophets ambassadors for God, and so their revelation may be a message about what is coming in the future, but even that message about the future tends to be more wrapped up in God’s assessment of the present moment.

Jesus frequently imitated the prophetic ministry of Isaiah, Elisha, and Jeremiah with his miracles, messages, and actions. For his original audience that was steeped in these stories and traditions, the prophetic role of Jesus was beyond dispute. Taking a whip into the temple like he did in today’s story is exactly the kind of action we would expect from a prophet.

Jesus’ words in John and the other Gospels were drawn directly from the prophet Jeremiah, even as he hinted at the destruction of the temple:

We read in Jeremiah 7:11-14 NRSV

11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. 12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel…  I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. ”

In other words, a foreign invader will destroy the Jerusalem temple in the southern kingdom of Judah just like what happened to the holy place of Shiloh in the northern kingdom of Israel.

Much like the prophets before him, the words of Jesus are a little easier for us to read today since we aren’t the primary targets of his message. And since we lack any kind of modern equivalent for the Jewish temple, we’ll have to work especially hard to grasp the significance of what Jesus did and what he said.

Setting the Scene for the Cleansing of the Temple

The temple was the religious focal point for the Jewish people. At least three times each year, the Jewish people traveled en masse to the temple for major feasts and holy days. The Passover was among the most important, and we should imagine Jewish pilgrims arriving from not only throughout Palestine but from around the world. There are travelers of Jewish descent and also Greeks who have adopted the Jewish religion as the two cultures interacted together.

There is hardly a united front of Jewish leaders at this time. There are factions and divisions along religious and political lines at the very least. Caiaphas the high priest and the religious leaders in the Sanhedrin have arguments and feuds, and among them is the location where sacrificial animals for the temple and money changers for the temple tax will be located. Historically, these merchants and money changers were located outside the temple grounds in the nearby Kidron Valley, but allegedly, a Jewish Midrash reports that a feud among Caiaphas and other religious leaders in 30 AD resulted in select merchants and money changers receiving a prime position within the temple.

We may imagine that this was likely not popular with the Jews of Greek descent who now had to pray while mingling with nearby animals and merchants. In addition, the entire atmosphere of the temple would have been altered significantly. Perhaps the typical pilgrim was annoyed but also resigned to accept whatever the most powerful religious leaders demanded.

We shouldn’t be surprised to know that Jesus soon earned himself a number of powerful enemies when he drove out the animals and money changers. He likely expressed the opinions of many Greek Jews and of many pilgrims who were likely shocked by this change at the temple grounds.

Nevertheless, Jesus still appeared to be attacking the most important religious institution of his people. First, he attacked the money changers and drove the animals out of the temple who made its functions run smoothly. Even if they had to relocate, there was surely a disruption to the day’s religious practices.

Second, Jesus predicted that the temple would be destroyed. We simply don’t have a comparable institution to the temple that embodied religious and national identity like the Jewish temple. To predict its destruction, even in a prophetic tradition, touched a nerve among the Jewish people. In fact, the paranoia of the Romans coming to destroy the temple was a part of what drove the conspiracy to kill Jesus.

What Does This Prophetic Act Mean for Us Today?

We could spend a lot of time asking what this passage means for us today and focusing on what Jesus may drive out of our own churches and sanctuaries. Are we abusing or misusing our sacred spaces? Are we too focused on our own self-preservation and not on the ministry of prayer and worship?

That isn’t a wrong line of application here, but it’s certainly the low hanging fruit. This is the easy application that frankly doesn’t ask too much of us. Perhaps we’ll uncover some issues that we need to address, but there’s something deeper and far more challenging in this story that we can experience and apply if we’re willing to follow Jesus into the fog of his mystical ministry.

At the climax of this story, Jesus made a shocking, confounding, and ultimately tragic statement about destroying the temple and then “raising it up” in three days. He used a verb, raising up, that applies to both construction and resurrection. John directs our understanding of this statement, saying it refers to Jesus’ death and Resurrection. While commentators have speculated about the many different meanings and possibilities here, I think we can find a lot to ponder if we take John at his word.

What if Jesus wasn’t just challenging the corruption of the temple? What if he was challenging the very centrality of the temple for his people?

His authority to cleanse the temple comes from his place as the new meeting ground between God and humanity. He will unite God with humanity through his death and Resurrection, and that connection to the Father made him the definitive voice on worshipping God.

Now, it’s not a shock to think that Jesus was more or less reimagining the role of the temple around his own body and the significance of the Resurrection. Consider in John 4 that Jesus explicitly predicts the replacement of the temple as the center of worship.

In John 4 Jesus spoke to the woman at the well.

21 “Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

If we take the whole of John’s Gospel about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the significance of Jesus himself becoming a new “temple” or center of worship after his resurrection, then this passage challenges us to go beyond the simple interpretation that only looks at our own buildings and traditions for a point of application.

This is a passage that draws us into the mystical ministry of Jesus where we are united with Jesus through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Yes, we benefit from having a sacred space for worship together, but Jesus doesn’t want us to get lost in the details of where we worship. Our sacred space for worship is within our own bodies since God is present with us. The Spirit is resting within each of us, and so the dwelling of God is with humanity.

Worship is now in Spirit and in Truth, not within stones and wood. Jesus prophetically told his listeners that the temple is irrelevant in comparison to the new Resurrection life he will bring to the world. When the Holy Spirit of God comes, the pilgrimage is now complete. God has made the pilgrimage to each of us, and so the “where” of worship is no longer a central issue.

We could spend our time fighting over the details of sacred space, and we may need to make changes in order to ensure our sacred spaces are houses of prayer that allow people to focus on God the Father. Yet, we’ll miss the bigger part of Jesus’ mission if we only look at buildings.

We need to look into the fog of his shocking message. We need to step into the void where our knowledge and concrete experiences fail us.

And perhaps entering into this mystery will help us ask new questions about what prevents us from praying, what interferes with our awareness of the Holy Spirit? What fills our minds or undermines our ability to be present for a God who is dwelling within us even right now?

Do we need to drive something out of our lives? Do we need to flip some things over? Do we need to let the hard message of Jesus today shock us into a new awareness of God among us?

I won’t say that our sacred spaces aren’t important. Yet, for the audience of Jesus, their resistance to his message was rooted in part in their attachment to the familiar stones and sacrifices they had used for years. They couldn’t enter into the mystical unknown of a God who didn’t actually require temples or sacrifices or temple taxes. When offered freedom to worship God in whatever space they came from, far too many of them retreated to the system that, although corrupt and broken in many ways, felt familiar and safe.

Jesus is offering an invitation to join him in the mystical fog, to trust that the Holy Spirit has been given to all who trust him, believe in him, and follow him. That Spirit is present for you as you pray, as you worship, and as you study. We surely see many benefits from gathering together to pray in sacred spaces together, but we’ll miss out on the great liberation and freedom of Jesus if we reject his prophetic invitation to follow the wild winds of his indwelling Spirit into the places of worship that are as close to us as they are unfamiliar.

Amen.

It’s Always Jesus Plus Something

Jesus plus nothing image

“Jesus plus nothing” is a mathematical impossibility for our beliefs. 

I’ve started watching The Family on Netflix, a dramatized documentary of the Jeff Sharlet book by the same name. I always thought that I wouldn’t need to read Sharlet’s book because I knew enough about the dark underside of American evangelical Christians and politics.

I was extremely wrong.

Sharlet describes something larger than a secretive group seeking to influence politicians on specific policies through their offers of spiritual counsel and support. There is a kind of fraternity of young men who are trained on the surface to be simple devotees of Jesus alone while absorbing an extremely toxic authoritarian theology that believes these men are set apart by God to do great things, placing them on a level above the common person.

I have long wondered why so many evangelicals in politics don’t believe the rules apply to leaders exercising great power. This is because their status as leaders proves their blessing from God and thus overrides the other moral teachings of the Bible in service of the “higher” call to lead.

There is more than enough judgment for a woman who is labeled as a Jezebel or a “loser“ “brother” who leaves the group. Yet, a powerful Christian leader affiliated with the Family who lies, cheats, rapes, swindles, and commits any other sin to satisfy an insatiable pit of greed or envy is above all judgment and rebuke by virtue of his power and position.

This is an extreme form of Calvinistic fatalism that places virtually unlimited power in the hands of those presumed to receive it via divine decree.

The young men described in The Family have a well-meaning but malicious naivety and simplicity about the Bible made all the more menacing because of the rigid authoritarian structure imposed under the guise of brotherhood and fellowship. They claim to have a simple faith that is Jesus plus nothing, but in applying this formula to real life, there is a millstone’s worth of additions to this formula.

No matter how hard we try, something else will always spoil our illusion of clear vision.

If we dare to believe our faith is Jesus plus nothing, there most assuredly will be Jesus plus something.

Since it’s bound to be Jesus plus something, then we need to interrogate what that “something” is that we attach to Jesus. We have roots to our faith. Some roots are deeper than others, but each person who claims to only follow Jesus is living in an illusion of purity and clarity while carrying the obscurity of what has been passed from others.

When I read the story of the Prodigal Son, I don’t read it as a story of immigration and migrant labor. That’s because I read the Bible as a Christian with Jesus plus something, namely American prosperity.

When I read the story of Elisha and his care for widows and mothers in their times of need, I didn’t notice the ways that God was countering the unjust patriarchal systems of the time. That’s because I read the Bible as a Christian with Jesus plus something, namely white male assumptions of power.

When I read the story of the Good Samaritan, I tend to focus on the ways I can be a good neighbor rather than recognizing the ways prejudice and racism in my life prevent me to see how God is working among other races and nationalities. That’s because I read the Bible as a Christian with Jesus plus something, namely the assumptions of white privilege in a culture still influenced by white supremacy.

That isn’t to say that our goal to remove the things that obscure our vision of Jesus is hopeless. And there is still a space for simple practices of spirituality. In fact, I would argue that theology will be more complex than we would hope or believe, while our practice will most likely benefit us most if it’s simpler than we expect.

The people involved in the Family and other conservative branches of the faith tend to insist on keeping the beliefs simple, while imposing complex hierarchies and practices that seem to have a vague biblical grounding. Yet, these leaders insist that they are above scrutiny since there isn’t much to scrutinize. They just believe in Jesus plus nothing–and a long list of practices and rules and hierarchies that allegedly stem from Jesus and dare not be questioned by the rank and file lest they undermine their God-appointed leaders.

Jesus plus nothing gets complicated immediately.

In my book Coffeehouse Theology, I argue that we can have a simple faith and trust in Jesus, but it is necessary to also analyze, if not interrogate all of the other things we add to our faith on our own.

We each add something to our approach to Jesus based on our faith background, experiences, and awareness of other members of the faith. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

If anything, that should leave us humble and aware of our deep need for God’s mercy and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We should ask more questions, not less, about our beliefs, but in the day to day grind of life, we can practice a simple faith and trust in our Lord who is present and with those who call out for guidance and help.

If we have any hope in holiness and conversion, then we will surely need to rely on Jesus alone–although even our practices require discipline to set aside time and attention for God. If we hope to be present for Jesus without our assumptions and cultural baggage clouding our view so drastically, then we need to figure out what those somethings are and address them with clarity.

It’s never Jesus plus nothing when it comes to theology. It’s always Jesus plus something, and that something will change how we see Jesus until we figure out what it is.

 

Photo by StellrWeb on Unsplash

An “Outsider” Can Show Us How to Love Our Neighbors

There is a significant benefit to explaining the Bible to our preschool age children: they ask a mountain of questions that help me see the stories with fresh eyes.

For instance, have you ever considered whether the robbers who attacked the man in the good Samaritan story also stole his lunch? What did he eat while he was stuck on the side of the road? Did he have more food at home? Would someone bring his lunch back to him if the robbers stole it?

No doubt the illustrations in our children’s Bible fueled this line of food-related questions, but as I’ve thought of this story over the past few week’s in light of the American government’s increasingly aggressive and cruel immigration policies on the southern border, my children continued to prompt me to look at this story. Outside of their concerns over the man’s lunch, it truly hit home how this story reveals the Samaritan as the hero.

At a time of manufactured crisis and unnecessary cruelty that has been condoned by far too many Christians or simply explained away with “law and order” arguments, many of us have spoken about loving our neighbors.

Are we loving our neighbors if we send asylum seekers back to their violent countries?

Are we loving our neighbors if we separate asylum-seeking parents from their children?

Are we loving our neighbors if our government shrugs its shoulders about reuniting parents and children?

These are all necessary and important discussions about loving our neighbors. There is no doubt that loving our neighbors will have political dimensions because government policies impact real people. Laws and policies aren’t just static givens that must be accepted with resignation.

Immoral or unjust laws and policies that deface the image of God in others should be countered by those who believe that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” It shouldn’t be a stretch to believe that God cares for the well-being of his creation. However, the Good Samaritan story doesn’t approach love of neighbor from such an angle of advocacy or helping those in need from a majority culture position, let alone privilege.

In this story, the foreign man whose views of the Torah surely offended the listeners in Jesus’ audience was the hero. Jesus brought this outsider front and center, showing that despite his national and religious “barriers”, he had grasped what it meant to love a neighbor well. Love of neighbor extended beyond national and religious boundaries. You could even say that this love eradicates such boundaries.

The man going on the journey in this story is nondescript. His lack of defining features helps us identify with him. He could be all of us.

Any one of us could set out on a journey with certain plans and goals in mind. Any one of us could suffer an unexpected tragedy.

In a moment of need, perhaps I’ll turn to a pastor for help, but he may be on his way to a meeting about electing more conservative political leaders and leave me behind.

Perhaps I’ll turn to the leader of a ministry group, but she has big plans for a revival that she can’t neglect.

Finally, help arrives. It’s not the help I asked for. It’s not the help I expected. The help isn’t from the country or religion that I would have chosen. This is the person who meets me in my moment of crisis and cares for my wounds.

As Jesus sought to pull his listeners out of their national and religious prejudices, he challenged them to consider that the people they tried to avoid at all costs could be the ones who grasped the message of the Gospel best. It could even happen that one day their well-being would depend on the help of one such person.

Politicians seek to inflame hatred and suspicion of immigrants and asylum seekers to ignite the racist, nativist passions of their base for an election.

Jesus asks us to consider that our policies against asylum seekers could keep out the very people who may stop along their journey to help us in our moment of need one day. There’s a good chance that many have already done so on their journey north.

 

 

Jesus Isn’t Convenient

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Some days I can’t imagine what a pain Jesus must have seemed for his disciples.

Here’s Peter and his co-workers after fishing all night with no return. They’re sorting out their nets and just want to get home.

The sun is starting to blaze in the sky, adding to the misery of having to tell their wives and children that they wouldn’t have a catch of fish to sell. In the midst of this disappointment and hard labor walks Jesus.

He’d like to teach a crowd of people who have been crowding along the shoreline. This is the shoreline where Peter and his co-workers are trying to get their nets sorted out. Commercial fishing doesn’t work great as a spectator sport, but Jesus doesn’t just bring along a growing crowd. Jesus asks a favor of Peter.

Jesus wants to teach the people from Peter’s boat.

We could hardly blame Peter for saying, “Nope, the shop’s closed. Can you give us a little room here to wrap things up?”

While we can’t imagine a reason why Peter would say no because we’re used to Peter playing along in this story, anyone who has worked at demanding physical labor all day can hopefully imagine that lending his boat as a preaching platform was hardly a sure bet. Of course with his boat sitting in the shallows as Jesus teaches, Peter sticks around to hear Jesus teach.

Who knows what Peter’s family is thinking about at this point. Why is he taking so long? Is he safe?

At the end of the talk, Jesus has yet ANOTHER request for Peter. We may imagine Peter trying to pull his boat onto the shore so he can get home.

No so fast.

Jesus wants Peter and his crew to take the boat out AGAIN. They had to haul the boats back out in the light of day, a bad time to fish, after failing so spectacularly just a few hours before.

Let’s not forget that they had just cleaned up and repaired their nets. They would have to do that all over again. We may well imagine Peter’s co-workers nearly staging a mutiny or at the very least grumbling among themselves.

Who does this Jesus guy think he is, anyway?

By the time their nets were filled with fish, they realized that they certainly didn’t know who they were dealing with.

Peter knew enough to tell Jesus to leave. He wasn’t a holy man. He saw his sins stacked up, making a case against him.

Of course all of those sins were of no consequence to Jesus. He wasn’t looking for a perfect group of followers. Peter had the one thing that Jesus needed in a follower.

Peter allowed Jesus to interrupt his life. He made himself available, setting aside his plans and goals. He took a small risk and allowed Jesus to change his plans for the morning.

Jesus had a bigger interruption planned for Peter: a whole new career where he would interrupt others as he too had been interrupted.

On his last day as a fisherman, Peter learned that presence trumps perfection.

What God Doesn’t Plan: My Post for A Deeper Story

tracks-God's-plan-for-you

 

I’m surrounded by college students every day at a local café. There’s something different about them, even if they generally behave just as you would expect college students to behave: loud conversations on their phones, enthusiastic conversations, texting frequently, working occasionally, smoking regularly, and drinking large, sweet coffee drinks. I can relate to almost everything about them—well, except for the smoking. And the texting actually, gosh, I’m 35, you know. But besides the texting and smoking, the one thing I can’t quite understand is that the majority of these college students have their Bibles out on their tables next to their school books.

If it was one or two students, I wouldn’t give it another thought. This isn’t something I see with one or two students. This is more like fifteen or twenty students who are regulars at the local café, as well as a few friends of theirs who show up from time to time. Every single one keeps a Bible out in plain sight the entire time, every single time.

Most days the number of Bibles in the café outnumber the guys dressed like lumberjacks with huge beards, which is really saying something for my neighborhood. And I’m totally cool with all of this Bible study, even if it’s always paired with an orchestrated public Bible display and followed with a smoke break. They won’t hear me complain. However, one day I overheard a conversation that reminded me of what’s at stake with all of this immersion in Bible study.

Two young guys who were part of the smoking/public Bible group had a very loud, very anxious accountability meeting a few tables away. As I walked up for a refill, I heard a very familiar phrase: “I’m starting to figure out God’s plan for me…”

Read the rest at A Deeper Story

When Debating the Bible Isn’t Fair for Anyone

Bible debate fight

I’m no longer in the reformed theology camp. That isn’t a shock to anyone who knows me. I left it after being immersed in reformed theology in seminary.

Nevertheless, I would lose every debate to a reformed theologian.

But then every reformed theologian would lose a debate with me.

Here’s the thing: We’re both playing by different rules, and until we can admit that, we’re going to keep talking past each other.

We most certainly begin with different experiences. There’s no escaping the stories that send us speeding off in different directions. Sometimes we crash into each other, able to only see the present, and fighting tooth and nail against what is before us instead of all that has preceded it.

However, the main difference is that I play by different rules when I read and interpret the Bible compared to five or ten years ago. I could handle ambiguity and mystery, but now I’ve realized that comfort with uncertainty isn’t enough.

I needed to understand the role of creatively listening to the ways God speaks through scripture without necessarily looking for scripture to spell everything out.

That is not a very evangelical sentence. It most certainly doesn’t fit with many of the conservative reformed traditions I know.

I use the metaphors of blueprints and paintings in A Christian Survival Guide to describe these two ways of reading the Bible.  Here’s the full explanation:

“Sometimes I’ve used the Bible as if it was a blueprint that spelled out the precise way to live as a Christian. I expected everyone to believe and practice everything just like me. I’m sure you’ve attended churches where you feel tremendous pressure to conform in all areas. I once met a pastor whose church was considering firing him because he didn’t believe in the rapture. Other churches put pressure on families to conform to their specific biblical guidelines. I’ve had my own narrow theological guidelines that I’ve used to neatly divide my friends into insiders and outsiders.

Is the Bible supposed to do that? Does it give us specific guidelines to follow in any and every situation?

I have since found that the Bible functions more like a work of art.

We all know that paintings, poems, or stories have a range of meaning and can be interpreted in several ways within that range. As new generations view a painting or read a book, they can appreciate what it meant to the original author, what it meant to previous generations, and what it means to them in the present.

A painting can accurately portray an actual event. A poem can communicate a truth. Then again, there is a significant difference between a portrait that aims to capture a precise image of a person and an impressionist painting of a wheat field on a warm summer day where the wind gently courses through the heads of grain. In art and poetry, truths aren’t always dropped on us in plain, bold letters. We have to talk about them with others and think about them, returning to them over time to ponder the meaning further.”

There’s no doubt that sometimes a plain, word for word, literal reading of the Bible leads to a direct, unavoidable conclusion. I think we all try to read the Bible like this sometimes.

A conservative may argue that Jesus is fully divine and human because he stated, “I and the father are one,” adding that he was born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A liberal/progressive may say, “Christians should not support war because Jesus commanded us to love our enemies.”

Both adopt simple, literal reading of passages. Neither strikes me as a stretch, and both represent New Testament teachings that are worth affirming.

However, there are ways some conservatives explain away Christian opposition to war. There are ways some liberals explain away the divinity of Christ.

You would think that a clear, easily applied blueprint would lead all honest inquirers to the truth. It’s no surprise that followers of Jesus are fragmented and divided over how to read and interpret the Bible, but if we want understand why we are fragmented so much, we need to look at our starting assumptions about the Bible.

We all believe that the Bible is telling us how to do something, but we aren’t agreed on what that something is. If we view the Bible as more of a painting than a blueprint, then we have a place to begin:

The first and really only “how to” the Bible offers is this: “How to meet with God.” Scripture is a series of paintings that show how people have met with God and points us toward ways we can interact with God—through the mediation of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. However, we aren’t necessarily supposed to duplicate the details of these paintings precisely.

Just as a Picasso would feel out of place with medieval iconography, so too would a series of realist landscapes raise eyebrows in a museum filled with Jackson Pollock paintings and other modern works that defy a predetermined form.

The interpretive work of the Bible is a creative process where the Holy Spirit meets us in the pages of scripture and guides us closer to the presence and, consequently, will of God.

My more reformed friends begin at a different place, arguing that the Bible is God’s revelation for us that tells us how to live—that’s at least what I was told while immersed in conservative reformed theology. If you want to know how to conduct yourself, structure your church, or set up your family, look no further than the words of scripture for your inspired guide.

We’re both starting with different questions and assumptions about what the Bible is and how it guides us. When we discuss these differences, we could sell each other short if we make the mistake of assuming we’re both starting with the same assumptions and expectations about the Bible.

There are pejorative statements like, “Progressives have a ‘low’ view of scripture.” But then it’s really just a different view of scripture.

As my view of scripture has shifted from a blueprint to a painting, I’ve found that I take the Bible far more seriously now than ever before.  I believe that the Bible is a tool of the Spirit for ushering God’s people into his presence. I believe that the Bible is a guide for living, but it’s not necessarily a word for word blueprint for all people at all times.

There are times when we may interpret the Bible in a more straightforward, blueprint sort of way, but that doesn’t negate the fact that oftentimes we can’t simply drop the stories of another people at another time in history directly into today’s context.

If anything, the Bible shows us a God who is always reaching out to all kinds of people, using actions, symbols, and customs that are familiar to them.

Need a temple with sacrifices?  You got it.

Need to switch things up for the exile? No worries.

Want to obey the Law perfectly? Stop worrying about obeying the Law perfectly and just love people, showing mercy and compassion—even if that requires breaking the Law.

Ready for me to welcome all nations? Let’s drop mandatory circumcision and those rules about animals sacrificed to idols.

The Bible does not reveal a God of blueprints.

If there’s any blueprint for how God acts, it’s that God rips up blueprints, sets a table before us, and says, “Hey, let’s talk.”

Pick up A Christian Survival Guide to read more about how and why we read the Bible (see the chapter “The Bible: A Source of Crisis and Hope”) as well as how we interpret the Bible today (see the chapter “The Bible and Culture: Less Lobster, More Bonnets”).

Free Books to Read This Summer

A Christian Survival Guide a Lifeline to Faith and Growth

Paying for books is so last century. This week you have a chance to pick up several of my books for completely free or to enter a giveaway to win a print copy.

For starters, my publisher is giving away 15 copies of A Christian Survival Guide in a Goodreads giveaway.

Just hop over to Goodreads to enter.

A Christian Survival Guide takes on some the most challenging questions in the Christian faith:

  • How do we interpret the Bible 2,000 years after it was written?
  • Is Hell really a place of eternal conscious torment?
  • Is God actually able to deliver us from evil?
  • Do we need someone to deliver us from God’s violence?
  • Are we unworthy of Jesus if we’re “ashamed” to share the Gospel?

These questions and many more are addressed in A Christian Survival Guide. It’s not a book that will give you all of the answers. Rather, you’ll be given a place to think through the options presented from scripture so you can take your next step.

Of course if you don’t want to take any chances, you can pre-order A Christian Survival Guide today so that it will arrive on its July 27th release.

Pre-order on Amazon or from the publisher

 

Over at NoiseTrade Books I’m currently giving away two eBooks:

The Coffeehouse Theology Bible Study Guide

If you’re tired of only reading theology from white North American males, this is the book that will introduce you to the conversational approach I take in Coffeehouse Theology and walk you through a series of Bible studies with insights from historic and global Christian perspectives.

Download the Bible Study Guide Today.

 

A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book

A Path to Publishing is my big picture introduction to book publishing that walks new authors through the basics of book publishing from developing an idea, to writing a book, to marketing a finished book. It’s ideal for commercial and self-publishing, and I’ll answer every question that new writers ask because I wrote it right after I asked all of those same questions.

Download A Path to Publishing Today.

 

If you need some personal interactions, encouragement, and feedback in order to take the leap into publishing, but you can’t afford a writing conference that costs hundreds of dollars, you can also sign up for my Journey into Publishing online community. We start on August 14th and will meet for six online sessions. The cost is only $60

Learn more about my Journey into Publishing community.

Hell Is a Made-Up Place

hell and its eternal flames

What are we talking about when we talk about hell? I’m convinced that many of us don’t know.

Is hell an actual place?

Can we know anything about what happens in hell if it is a place?

Where exactly do our details about hell come from?

I’ve heard from a number of pastors and scholars that we can’t deny the reality of hell as a literal place because Jesus talked about hell a lot. Since I was resolved to let the Bible determine what I believe about hell and eternal punishment, I hardly gave it another thought, even when Rob Bell told us that Love Wins and the collective evangelical church lost its mind over what exactly that means.

WA Christian Survival Guide a Lifeline to Faith and Growthhen I started exploring every topic that has ever shaken my faith or the faith of someone else for my Christian Survival Guide project, I had to face the fact that I’d been avoiding hell. I didn’t want to think about it.

And so I finally let myself ask the question I’d been avoiding, Does God punish humans eternally for a decision made during 80 years (give or take) of life?

I’ve heard the arguments that God’s gift of eternal life is so wonderful that denying it requires eternal punishment since God’s infinite holiness demands infinite torment for those who oppose him. That represents a line of thinking I simply can’t follow, and I don’t think scripture warrants it either. I’d like to offer a brief overview of the chapter on hell from the Christian Survival Guide that delves into the details about hell.

As an evangelical, I can’t help but begin in the most obvious place…

 

What Does the Bible Say about Hell?

Beginning with the question, “What does the Bible say?” hardly settles things for us. The Bible doesn’t even have a single word for hell.

If you’re reading the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Sheol tends to refer to the place of the dead. Jewish scholars later translated Sheol as “Hades” in their Greek translation.

While Hades tended to be viewed in a negative light, that was primarily rooted in the fact that those in Hades were no longer alive. While they weren’t able to enjoy the pleasures of the living, they weren’t necessarily suffering eternal conscious torment.

In fact, the idea of judgment and suffering in the afterlife took on a far richer form in the intertestamental writings. As the Jews suffered at the hands of foreign invaders, they looked ahead to a day when God would vanquish their enemies and punish them. By the time the writers of the New Testament came around, the concept of punishment after death had been evolving. It was far from a single concept that was passed down from one generation to another.

In the New Testament we find two words for “hell,” and neither necessarily demand an eternity of conscious torment. While you can certainly make a case for that based on several passages that mention “eternal fire,” it’s not as cut and dry as many believe.

For instance, Jesus spoke frequently of the Jewish leaders being cast into Gehenna, an alleged garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem that had once been used for child sacrifices by the Judean kings. The word carried a clear implication of being outside of God’s Kingdom and separated from God’s people in some way, but it’s a theological leap to say that Gehenna equals eternal conscious torment in hell.

When Jesus speaks of God’s judgment, he speaks of eternal fire, but that’s not the same thing as saying the people “in” the fire are eternal. While one could argue for eternal torment based on those passages, they don’t demand hell as a place of eternal punishment. And it’s especially problematic to connect the eternal torment passages with the Gehenna passages since those are two different images given to two different people.

(Check out Scot McKnight’s series on hell for a bit more about the relevant passages, especially his overview of Jesus’ statements about eternal fire.)

As the early church fathers parsed the words of Jesus and the Apostles, they engaged in some of their sharpest arguments over the eternal nature of the soul. If your soul has suffered a “second death” and has been consumed by fire, can your soul exist forever?

In fact, the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles fail to clarify things. Rather, they focus primarily on God’s judgment. Mind you, that judgment is a frightening prospect, but we are also far removed from the literary and mythological world of the New Testament.

Even when the book of Revelation touches on judgment, the beast the devil are the only ones who are explicitly tormented forever (Rev. 20:10, NIV via BibleGateway). And let’s not forget that the ENTIRE book of Revelation is chock full of symbols, imagery, and metaphors. Even if we read about people being tossed into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:15), should we really expect a literal lake of fire?

(For more about interpreting Revelation, see my book The Good News of Revelation).

Based on the symbols and imagery connected to God’s judgment, there is no denying that disobedience is serious. Rejecting God’s ways in order to follow our own brings about disastrous consequences. I’m not making an argument for a “There, there,” grandfather-type of God who chuckles about “those kids” down there who are killing, violating, polluting, oppressing, and abusing each other.

Those who reject the mercy of God found in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ run the risk of being “left out.” God is just and sin must be eradicated. Evil and death will be defeated.

Does the New Testament give us cause to speak in great detail about the afterlife, let alone speak of a literal place of eternal torment called hell?

Can we precisely understand how the New Testament writers re-appropriated the Greek word Hades?

Can we dive into the first century Jewish psyche and grasp the meaning of Gehenna, with its burning fire and dark history?

Can we pinpoint what “eternal” or “everlasting” fire is or what its intended to accomplish?

Evangelicals committed to scripture are all over the place on hell:

  • The universalists argue that the fire of God’s judgment is purifying and restorative (I understand that traditionalists argue one cannot be universalist and evangelical).
  • The annihiliationists argue that it consumes the soul, rendering eternal life impossible.
  • The traditionalists argue that this fire means everyone outside of God’s Kingdom suffers eternal conscious torment.

Can you see how big this mess is?

Christians, at least American evangelicals, have become dogmatic about a theological concept rooted in terms we most likely fail to understand.

 

Can We Blame Dante for Our Concept of Hell?

This is something I’ve heard from a few people. While I have yet to see a truly compelling argument that traces the history of hell form the New Testament to the present day and makes the necessary literary connections to back up such a claim, Jon M. Sweeney has taken a strong step in that direction.

Sweeney’s book, Inventing Hell, argues that Dante’s version of hell has done more to influence the way we read the Bible than we suspect. While I felt that he fell short of proving that assertion, he did a masterful job of reconstructing the various ancient views of the afterlife and offers some thought-provoking reconstructions of the New Testament world.

Inventing Hell reminds us that the literary symbols and mythological stories of the past can’t be ruled out when we interpret the Bible. The writers of scripture were reacting against or recycling the ideas and stories of their day. Paul had no issue preaching about the resurrection to unwilling listeners, but he also used mythological figures such as the “Unknown God” and popular poetry to introduce the story of Jesus.

It’s quite likely that interpreters of scripture have allowed Dante’s epic poem to reshape how they read scripture. The Bible says very little about the actual details of hell, so if we think we know what hell is like, we may have to blame Dante.

 

Where Does This Leave Us with Hell?

If anything, I want to remind us that the traditional concept of hell as eternal conscious torment isn’t a done deal based on a “plain reading” of scripture.

I especially want Christians to take another look at scripture without assuming they already understand what words like Sheol, Gehenna and Hades precisely mean.

The truth is that Gehenna and Hades touched on both a mythological and religious way of thinking—a way of thinking that often blended myth with religion in ways that we find hard to grasp today. There were historical places, events, and stories that shaped what people made of these words when they heard Jesus and the early Christians use them.

Sincere followers of Jesus may believe that the fire of judgment is an eternal punishment, a final annihilation of those rebelling against God, or a purifying fire. We’re so far removed from the original languages and cultures, I don’t know how anyone today can claim to absolute certainty here.

Perhaps the most revealing question for us today is this: “Why do we need hell to be eternal conscious torment?”

If you’re convinced that the Bible teaches it, that’s fine. But Christians disagree on plenty of other issues related to biblical interpretation and translation. Why make more noise about this one in particular? Why excommunicate someone who believes God is more merciful?

Perhaps the fixation of American evangelicals with hell as eternal conscious torment has more to do with our desire to make heaven look better and to make ourselves into the ultimate “insiders” for all of eternity.

The afterlife has been evolving throughout the writing of scripture, and it’s fair to say that it has evolved as Christians continue to interpret scripture. God will judge sin and evil, but I have no idea what that will look like. Given that the Bible hardly has a uniform way of naming hell, let alone describing it consistently and explicitly with clear details, it’s far more likely that we’re the ones who have made up the notion that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment.

 

There’s a lot more I could write about this. In fact, I HAVE written more about this.

I’ve been intentionally light on biblical exposition in this post because I did a ton of that in my book. This post is more of a summary of that content. Check out the chapter in A Christian Survival Guide about hell for a more thorough exploration of the relevant passages and some other perspectives from theologians in the church. I spend quite a bit of time pulling together the relevant passages and offer up some points for further reflection, including a suggested reading list.

Order a Christian Survival Guide

There’s Only One Path to the Resurrection

They had to run away from Jesus. It was inevitable.

They could no longer reconcile their hopes and plans for Jesus and the Jesus they had met.

They had to face their doubts, fears, and secret shame. When they finally faced the worst case scenario, they ran away and asked one question after another. Where had they gone wrong? Everything about Jesus seemed right, but then it all unraveled in a matter of days.

When God’s plans aren’t what you think they are, who do you turn to for comfort? Certainly not God.

These two men walked along the road to Emmaus searching for answers as they sought to preserve their lives. They were doing the most logical thing possible by running away, even if running away meant waving the white flag and declaring that all hope was gone.

No one wants to reach that point of desperation and despair. No one plans to run away, and surrender is unthinkable.

How We Process Tragedy

Every time we learn about or experience a personal, national, or international disaster, our first instinct oftentimes is to find someone willing to talk about it. We need to process what we have just witnessed by putting the events into words. We need someone to acknowledge these events and to agree that all is not well with the world.

These men who ran away weren’t necessarily searching for answers. They were processing everything that had fallen apart. In fact, they most likely didn’t have a “next step” or “answer” in mind.

They were on their way to Emmaus because it was just another place that wasn’t Jerusalem.

A Faith Set Adrift

Resurrection is God’s revival of a life that is dead, flat-lined, and beyond all reasonable hope. The person who is still running, limping, inching, wallowing, or gasping for air has no need for “resurrection.”

No matter how bad things may be, a beating heart that is holding on to its own resources and plans cannot be resurrected. In order to reach the resurrection, we must first reach our own ends. Death is what precedes resurrection.

Jesus spoke of seeds dying in order to find life and his followers giving up their lives in order to save them.

There are many ways we could read this, but in my own experience, part of the story is the way that we must pass through our doubts, fears, and secret shame if we want to reach resurrection.

The resurrection demands a leap into the darkness, a stark confrontation where hope slams into a one barrier after another until we fear that all is lost. In that confrontation with doubt and shame, we wait.

Our own plans and resources will be exhausted. Our only hope is that God will enter into our lives with his power of resurrection.

Read more about Jesus bringing resurrection when we doubt…

Download the final chapter of Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus for free today:

The Road to Emmaus