If______, then _______!

Once again my young friend Berkels got me to thinking (although I don’t understand a word of what he writes in his own blog…the closest thing to Anime that I ever watched was Battle of the Planets which rocked! G-Force!). battle-of-the-planets.jpegBut when he starts to talk about faith issues I pay attentionbecause he usually has something thought provoking for me — even if it does include a little poke in the ribs every now and then.

So much of what has been taught when it comes to faith and following in the way of Jesus is skewed because we understand it from a certain point of view and we don’t understand how that point of view colors our understanding. In other words, I see what I see because of the point in history that I see it from, but I never take the time to notice the process of seeing. My view is colored by my experience, the time in history in which I live, my understanding or paradigm, and an endless list of other factors.

So much of what is discussed in the “Christian conversation” these days sounds more like social exchange theory than gospel. It reminds me of back when I too my first computer classes. Back in the days before Windows we were actually taught how to work in DOS. (Back when the cursor was a little green horizontal line rather than the skinny black vertical line!) One of the first commands that I was taught was the “If, then” command. Basically, it was a statement of input and output. “If x=8, then print “correct.” So that if the user puts in the right answer the computer answers, “correct” on the screen. Pretty simple — input = output.

I see a lot of people approaching faith this way as well. The reason is that we (as Christians) have sold it this way for WAY too long. “If you’ll be good and go to church, then God will bless you. If you ask for forgiveness, then God will forgive. If you pray for something, it will come true.” (In my mind I hear Jiminy Cricket singing, “When you wish upon a star.”)jiminycricket.jpg

This sets up a scenario where God becomes this cosmic vending machine that requires a certain amount of input to generate the correct amount and type of output. And just like when we’re “cheated” by the machine when our Funions get hung on the Peanut M&M’s, we want to kick the crap out of God when He doesn’t live up to his end of the bargain.

What I’m beginning to understand (although I don’t always live like it) is that following in the way of Jesus is not about an “If, then” kind of faith. Jesus doesn’t promise me healing or forgiveness or anything else to lure me into a relationship only to renege on the promise when I really need Him to come through. Following in the Kingdom way is not about doing what God wants me to do so that God will do what I need him to do. It’s about acknowledging the present reality of who God is — YHWH (I am; The One who Is; The Source; The Creator; Love).

Think about the epic poem called Job in our Bibles. Job did all of the “right” things. He was a “righteous” man. He “should have been” blessed, right? This story looks like a cosmic game between God and The Accuser with Job as an innocent game piece (like the poor little guy on “Operation” who’s nose lights up every time someone makes a wrong move). But the story is actually a call for Israel to acknowledge that God “IS” whether their circumstances point in a positive direction or a negative one. God reminds Job (and Israel, and us) that He is the foundation, the creative force that is working in history to draw us toward himself.

Jesus does the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes are not a “check list” of “if,then” statements. (i.e. IF you’re poor in spirit, then you’ll get to go to heaven when you die; IF you’re meek, THEN you’ll inherit the earth.) They are a statement of a present reality — BECAUSE you’re poor in spirit, you’re blessed to be a part of the kingdom NOW…not through any act of your own but through a relationship with the King who is standing in front of you!

We ask for forgiveness, because forgiveness is already available. We beg for mercy, because mercy flows always. We long for grace, which is right there at our fingertips. The “asking” is not what gets us there, it’s simply a part of a larger process. My kids don’t ASK for my love, but it is a deeply moving experience when we both acknowledge that love is already there. We grow together.

There is too much CRAP in this world for the “If, then” kind of God to be someone worth believing in…to be quite honest. But to believe in a God that is an “ever-present” reality that is working through history to draw all of his creation back into divine relationship with himself is totally different.  The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t something you do or an exchange that you make with God — “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-22)

It IS.

And faith then is stepping into the presence of that reality.  It then shapes me and invites me to become a co-participant.  It re-frames my story to fit (and start to make sense) in a larger Story.  So that somehow, both the good and the bad that happens in my life draw me deeper into the One that Is.

“Let your will be done on earth (in ‘real time’) as it is in heaven (where you reign always)!” 

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~ by Chris Green on January 29, 2008.

12 Responses to “If______, then _______!”

  1. absolutely! The hardest thing I have ever tried to change is the “view” from which I see and understand things. But a change in perspective changes a lot!!

    Thanks for sharing…and for the prompting from your friend Berkels!

  2. well chris, you cut to the core of me again

    I suppose this is a direct shot at my comment on your last post, and thats to be expected. I probably sounded like a whiny little baby in the last one. I mean one little man expecting the “creator of the universe to do as i please”. But without proof of his existence, he is a rumor to me. thats not to say he might not exist, but theres no way to prove he exists, and if you could it was nullify the point. So if God were to act in our lives in a blatant way, we would know he was there and it would no longer be faith, but instead common sense.

    neat post, i particularly enjoy the “‘ever-present’ reality” theory. I’ve never heard that particular way before. I was raised on “pray hard, wait hard, then god will answer your prayers.” Hearing god as an ever present being thatperhaps wants to see if us humans can ever understand him is intriguing. It begs the question,”is god a masochist or a sadist?”. Does he hope for our “return to his love”, while meanwhile reeling in laughter at our attempts at philosophy or theology.

    p.s. sorry for being so weird and attempting to debate with you during that “love/in-love” thing. Its just that the questions seemed so dumb to me, but its your class and i had no right to infer that you are underqualified

    p.p.s. thanks for referencing me I will post a pure philosophical debate soon, I’ve just been distracted by anime a lot lately.

    p.p.p.s did you hear about the battle of the planets movie coming out

    -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_Ninja_Team_Gatchaman_%28film%29

  3. Awh Berkles got a reference. It’s like Chris Green acknowledges that children do exist outside of the classroom.

    I never knew you were such a nerd. Relating popular views on faith to DOS “if, then” commands. lulz, Chris Green.

    But srsly, I agree fully on this. I feel like a cheap flake out whenever I say I agree, but heck! I do.
    What I don’t really get is how to change this point of view. I was raised to look at things this way and just suddenly trying to think of a way to look around a mountain without taking a step is a little bit too complex for me.

    If you tell me how to look at things differently, then I will erect a second altar in your name.

    -Btw we need to get the girls in class to shut up in class so we can get back to talking about these types of messages and the deeper theological aspects of the Bible.-

  4. First for Leeson…I LOVE it when I hear the words “I agree with you” come out of your mouth because for the most part you are successful at remaining a mystery to me. However, don’t get too frustrated at the prospect of getting around the mountain when the mountain may be there for a reason. Instead of taking a step, zoom out and see the larger picture (photography reference, in case you missed it).

    Now for Berkles…hear me VERY clearly on this one. I would NEVER poke at you in a place of pain. Some of the stuff that you’ve gone through in your young life should never be placed on anyone. When I heard you questioning, I got frustrated. But not AT YOU — at the system that puts you in a place of questioning. The way of thinking about God that you have been given backs you into the “sadist or masochist” question. What if the answer is “both” and “neither?” This idea that good and evil exist in different spheres is a dichotomy that may or may not be Biblical — Isaiah 45:6-7 (KJV): I am the LORD and there is none else. I form light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

    When we (church-folks) divide life into either/or categories we tend to do both God and ourselves a dis-service. He gets our praise for being “all powerful” but we think he’s hedging on us when he “allows evil to happen.” So the best thing that we can do is to take some of the control back and say “I must not have enough faith,” or “I must not be DOING it RIGHT.” God simply calls us to step into a new way of framing it all — a different controlling story.

    Your heart has taken a beating. You need someone to acknowledge that. Your hurt is VERY real and the way that you protect it is understandable. I could never attempt to take that away and would never attempt to poke at it just to see if it really stings. (If you even thought that, I have to say I’m sorry.) It was in the middle of my own pain that the Story started to make sense to me. When my pain is re-framed as a part of the Kingdom way of living I’m reminded — “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope…”

    Berkles, you’re blessed when you get right down there in the middle of the hurt. Don’t hover over it with philosophy to try to explain it from a distance. Get right there in the middle of it. Then invite that echo of a voice that “may or may not be real” to be there with you. He’s not going to take it away, or make it all better, or even tell you to get over it. But he MAY say, “in the middle of ALL of this, I still AM…trust me.”

    And when the G-Force movie comes out…I’m THERE on opening night ready to watch the Phoenix burst into flames!

  5. Yeah Chris I was going to comment earlier, but then I contemplated over writing a post on my own blog about the steady decline of America due mostly to the media, but it seemed to cliché. I might do it some other time.

    I’m surprised you used DOS and coding language in this, but I’m more surprised that I know exactly what you’re talking about with the “If, Then;” stuff…

    I remember as a kid when they taught me the whole “God answers prayers, and he’ll do it once you get baptized/go to church more, etc” (I believe that’s the vague idea of it) And then as I grew and amassed the mountain of knowledge you see today, I realized that that’s pretty much all BS. I mean, sure, coincidences happen at the right time, and it instills some faith in you, but for the most part He isn’t going to go “As you wish, young one” and breathe life into a dead dog or whatnot. And then I see those guys on TV talking about how god is here to serve YOU. And that if you’re persistent enough (and of course just send $10,000 to this address) than you can become a millionaire! And they tell some story about a coincidence where a person actually DID become a millionaire, but what about everyone else? I’m sure if more than one person became a millionaire, they’d have more than one story. But I digress.

    I tease Berkles about a lot of things, and sometimes do poke at his painful spots. I don’t know why exactly, it really doesn’t help anyone. I guess it’s just sort of a thing we do, when someone’s feeling down we do stuff to make them feel worse. Thinking about it now it’s a terrible thing, but it helps them get over it faster because after a while they start laughing as well. However, this only helps with the short-term stuff like if James is having a bad day because of…certain…immediate family members…. Deep-seated pain takes much longer to go away, and picking at it doesn’t bring it up to the surface and extinguish it, but rather just makes it dig deeper in and makes you remember something you’d rather not think about.

    So back to the post, I’ve pretty much learned to not expect too much from prayers anymore, or pray for small things that were bound to happen anyways. I haven’t really been in any position to need a hardcore “saving” prayer or anything yet though. No one close to me has died or anything, and it’s going to suck later in life when it inevitably does happen. Praying for guidance is usually recommended, but that just seems like a fluff prayer or something to me. I mean, let’s say you’re out of a job and need some money, you pray for guidance, and the next day you find a newspaper with a job ad in it. Do you give God the credit for something that most likely would have happened anyways? The prayer didn’t let God open your eyes, but since you prayed, you yourself were more aware and finding an ad in the newspaper was fresh on your mind.

    I really have no idea about the point I’m trying to make, I tend to do this a lot. I just write about stuff that comes to me at the time, but it doesn’t really tie in or lead anywhere. It’s more like a conversation between myself than a thought-out-beforehand idea. So I guess I’ll just leave it at that for now….

  6. Mr. green this wasn’t a poke at my “place of pain”. thank you for the kind words, but that whole cut me to the core thing was just a conversation starter

    I see nothing wrong with asking the sadist/masochist question. I mean why can’t it be either/or? No one knows the answer to that one. sure it could be both, but who’s to say its not either/or?

    Also I don’t really buy into that whole “god lets evil happen to us.” different cultures define evil differently, so that theory’s kind of thrown out of the book. A common atrocity people use is how can god let us take other lives, then those people go right around and support the war. People are stupid and hypocritical like that.

    Also I don’t think of philosophy as a means of distancing myself from serious questions, I see it as a way for me look at a problem then look at it another way and another till i find the answer as i see it correct. I realize that there are a million different theories out there and they are all both plausible and implausible. I like to try them out to define my life and opinions on things. I see it as a way for me to go and crawl inside of a problem and turn it on its head till i find the answer that feels right to me.

  7. Berkles,
    I never saw you as one that would run from the “serious questions,” what I see is someone that distances himself from his own emotions. To some extent, regardless of the philosophical slant, this human experience we call life is a heart-level experience. I think that those of us that tend to like an explanation of things and how they work avoid the messiness that emotions add. Love, hurt, joy, courage, grace, wonder, amazement, and even hatred are a part of this experience and they have to have a place in our explanation as well. Allow them to have a voice.

    I agree with your assessment of the “god let’s evil happen” issue (at least to some extent). It bugs me when people say that they are “pro-life” and “pro-war” all at the same time. When you have time I’d like for you to look at some of the stuff that N.T. Wright has on evil and at least hear another of those views (I think it’s more historically rooted as far as the Biblical frame of reference goes). Also, I think you would like to read this guy’s stuff — http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com. He’s a deep thinker who looks at things in a different light and isn’t afraid to ask the philosophical questions.

    I hope you know that as far as I’m concerned the “goal” of this conversation isn’t to convince you of my point of view. I think you’ve had enough people try to “convert” you in some way. I look at the conversation as an end in and of itself. A process. Quite possibly a participation in the very essence of what is Kingdom. Keep thinking and talking — and throw in a dash of feeling every once in a while — because you help others around you grow when you do.

    I look forward to seeing where your journey takes you. Anything I can do along the way would be a bonus for me.

    Pace e bene,
    (Peace and all good)
    (an old Fransciscan saying)

    Chris

  8. Chris,
    Excellent post brother.
    I enjoy your blog to my list of favorites.
    Keep up the great blogging.

  9. I agree totally.. :]
    like james..

    If God is an “If___ then____” kind of God then would we not be able to figure him out. He would be a lot less complex than he really is. It wouldn’t be hard for anyone to understand.

    See I’m resorting back to your bible notes with the word complex.. that was last semester though.

    It is almost like people are bribing you towards Christianity. They want to sell it to you. Religion is no sales propoganda. If you be good you will get good things in return. But if you do good without Christ does it change the circumstances? Is Christian good any better than Atheistical good?

    Thanks.
    Joe. :]

  10. Chris,
    I couldn’t help but leave a reply because this very day, a woman that I worked with more or less said she wanted us (myself and the othe rChristians there) to prove to her there was a God. So I’ve kinda been working on that all day. I can prove that God is real just in the ways He has delivered me– the ways I have changed/am changing. I definitely think that counts for something. But if I could answer her now, I’d tell her that the trick is to believe in God first and then He opens your eyes. God is not mean or spiteful in any way, but He is under no obligation to “prove” anything to us. The lesson I’ve learned the last couple of years is that God is anxiious to work in our lives but we do have to believe him first. When I go out on a limb and say I trust you, I don’t know what else to do, He’s come through every time. But I had to trust him first.

    My other response is that, I kinda agree that God doesn’t let evil happen. I think it certainly seems that way from some perspectives. Especially if there’s been no distance of time between your bad circumstances and where you stand now. I think some people have a choice or make a; choice to stay there. But I think with some distance and some perseverence you see that God is GOOD ALL THE TIME. I live in this constant, great mystery that is between the now and the knowing, and I love it. It’s a great mystery, I don’t know any of what’s in store, but finally I can see that it’s in His hands (if only I leave it there) and He knows what he’s doing. All of us, Christians or not, are these circles that come into contact with and bounce off of each other and God uses the circumstances in our lives just to help guide us into that contact. He orchestrates it ALL. It amazes me.

    Finally, tha fact that I can say and fully believe all that amazes me. You know the stuff James and I have been through the past seven years. Kidney disease is still uncertain. And yet I wouldn’t trade one painful minute of it, if it cost me where I stand with Jesus today. Whatever He had to do to get my attention and bring me to the freedom I have now, it’s worth it. I’d do it all again.

    Thanks for letting me post,

    Leslie

  11. Today, I was confined to my house because of a nasty little fellow named influenza. You know me Chris, I have a hard time with the whole “Staying still” thing and had to do something constructive with my time. I thought (After spending about half an hour on facebook to find, with overwhelming joy, that berkles joined), why not check Chris’ blog? I am most certainly happy I decided to check it out (And I have a few thoughts)

    I think most Christians get that “The vending machine stole my funyuns” feeling from God, much like Berkles described. They feel like God didn’t care enough, so they have to settle for chicharones (lol…another ode to berkles, but I digress).

    I believe that Christians buy into this so much, that e as a whole have become spoiled 5 year olds. We ask mommy for ice cream for breakfast and are shocked when she says no. In our naivety and downright stupidity we equate this with our mommy not loving us.

    If we took the time to mature from the mental state of a five year old we would realize that God has the right to say no! He’s God! He doesn’t steal your funyuns, he realizes that maybe those are not the food to be eating at 7:30 in the morning and maybe you would be better off with a croissan’which (another berkles/chrissles reference).

    When God answers no, or ask again later (like a cosmic magic 8 ball with a brain), he has a darn good reason.

    Now…I’m late for my afternoon Dayquil dosage. See you guys in class 🙂

    Brianne

  12. Excellent post, brother. in regards to your comment about our point of view of Jesus, I have often thought that some view Jesus as a caucasian, 21st century, Bible belt, conservative Christian from the south! After all, it is the caucasian, 21st century, Bible belt, conservative Christians from the south that are going to heaven, right? (please insert sarcastic tone whilst reading).

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