Monday, 7 July 7777
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Thursday, 1 April 2021
There are two passages I referred to that speak deeply to me, and today I'd like to explore the theme of love and sacrifice, using these passages as a focus.
"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister."
1 John 4: 7-21
I think it's safe to say John cares a lot about love. In those 4 short paragraphs, he mentions love almost 30 times!
I have often referred to the short phrase "God is love" from this passage, because it speaks powerfully to me. God is more than just loving, he is the source of all love.
However, within this passage, we see the phrase "[God] sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." Those who believe that God required sacrifice in order to forgive will point to this verse as evidence. It seems clear-cut.
And yet, to think that John is here making a theological teaching point that focuses on sacrifice is to miss all the context of what he is doing in this carefully crafted wording. John begins with an echo of the greatest commandments - that we are to love each other, precisely because God IS love. To know God is to know love. As John says, we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother or sister.
Saturday, 23 January 2021
I am a member of various online theology and Bible discussion groups.
I have met some really interesting, educated and passionate people. I have also met people who informed me that my family and friends were going to hell because I didn't evangelise properly to them. Lovely.
One thing I have noticed over the years, is that most people value integrity of ideas. They don't hold a view unless they think it makes sense to them. This is true of most people, religious and non-religious. Debates can get quite fierce, as having someone tell you that your currently held view is wrong is very painful and can be pride-damaging.
This is why HOW we debate is so important. Creating a safe environment of respect for others can go a long way, along with holding an attitude of humility that shows an openness to changing our own opinion. I have my own confession to make - at times, when I meet someone so sure of their own opinion and so hostile towards others, I feel a mission to prove them wrong on some point, just for them to experience what it's like to be wrong and to show humility.*
(*it doesn't work, and I don't recommend it.)
Today I was musing on how I interpret my own ideas. When presented with a concept or a theory, how do I weigh it? What measure do I use?
Many in the various groups I belong to would answer that by saying "we believe what the Bible says." However, you don't have to go too far to find another person with a strongly held view, armed with their own Biblical arguments.
The problem with using the Bible to defend your views is that the Bible is such a diverse collection of works written over centuries and you have to select parts of the Bible to make your case, whereas another person will use different parts of the Bible to counter your claims. This might make it sound like the Bible is unreliable, but it's not so unusual if you were to make an analogy. My father died almost two decades ago. My memories of him are varied. Depending on my mood at the time, I can recall him as a gentle, kind man who loved music and had a sense of humour. On other days, I remember him as a man who struggled to show emotion, who frequently criticized and who didn't seem to understand me. This doesn't mean my father didn't exist or that some things I write about him are true and others false. It means that it is hard for me to be entirely objective, as all my evaluation is flavoured by how I feel and my own subjective experience.
I think many of us do this when we read the Bible. If you live under genuine persecution and fear for your life, as sadly many Christians do in this world, then seeing passages of God rescuing his people from oppressors, of restoring justice and of punishing those who harm you can bring words of hope into your life. It is easy for me to write about loving everyone when I haven't seen my wife, daughter, sister getting raped or my best friend being murdered for his beliefs.
In my own experience, while brought up in a loving home, I did often struggle to feel accepted and understood. For me, this is why I was drawn to a loving God who created me and rejoices in me. We all have our own needs, and our own experiences will always shape how we view God. Even atheists who don't believe in the likelihood of God existing can hold emotional views about how they would feel IF God DID exist. That can present a double barrier to belief. Again for me, this is why HOW we discuss is so important. It's not just about being right. It's also about being loving.
I want to share one of the lenses I use when evaluating different theological views. I am not a trained theologian, but I have talked with enough to know that each has their own deeply held views and each can use Scripture to make their case. We all need a framework to help us interpret and navigate ideas. Below is mine:
"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God, and all who love are fathered by God and know God. The one who does not love has not known God, because God is love."
These words come from 1 John 4: 7-8. I heard a speaker once point out that this is not just a statement about God being loving (an adjective), but is a rare description of God as a noun. God IS love.