One of the most disturbing things I have read recently is this lengthy article by Kathryn Joyce: The Next Christian Sex Abuse Scandal: By Grace Alone. Joyce writes about the work of Boz Tchividjian and the group he leads called GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in exposing and rooting out sexual abuse in the church — particularly in the evangelical world. Boz Tchividjian himself is the grandson of the famous evangelist Billy Graham and teaches law at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The article (as I said) is long, but it is well worth reading.
The fact of the matter is that sexual abuse is a problem in the church and has been for many years. I was shocked by the revelations in the article about the mission field and mission agencies — but I can’t say that I am totally surprised. (more…)
There are times when God seems absent. It seems that direction and blessing are gone. We have no sense that our prayers are being heard. We may be in a time of stress and trial, where there seems to be no relief in sight. Service that formerly brought us joy becomes dry and unrewarding. And we ask: Why?
At this point, the theological knowledge of God’s Omnipresence doesn’t help. This tells us that God is theoretically present. But, since the evidences of God’s favor seem missing from our life, this theoretical knowledge is no comfort. If God is present, why does God seem to be standing apart from us?
The Psalms often speak of these times. There is no denial here. The reality is that God’s most devoted followers sometimes go through dark times when God seems absent.
I have often reflected on this. It seems strange to me, but it is true: there have been seasons of blessing and seasons of darkness. I don’t know why. There have been times when I seemed to be living under a curse. Then, there have been times of blessing. And, it often doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ve never been able to connect these times of curse with moral faults either — something I notice Job’s companions tried to do for also him — and failed. Times of darkness happen unexpectedly, without warning or underlying reason. (more…)
Yet, it is also such a difficult issue. When there is a deep wound, the pain is still there, and the anger still arises. In times like this, we wonder: do the words mean anything? When time and time again, you have to pray “Lord, give me the grace to forgive my enemy” you have to wonder if there is ever hope for you. There have been many times, when I have wondered this about myself.
And, I know I’m not alone in having this problem. Those people who have done things that have caused wounds — especially those who have done it quite deliberately and knowingly — are hard to forgive. There are people I know who have been treated unfairly and unjustly. There are people I know who have been abused. And, the problem with forgiveness is that it seems to say that all that was okay. To let go of the anger and the outrage seems to give in to injustice — to give permission for their abuser to do it again to someone else. (more…)
Here is a nice quote from Scot McKnight’s book A Community Called Atonement. This appears on page 69, at the end of Chapter 9 on the Crucifixion theme in the New Testament account of atonement. I changed the formatting so that the first part appears as a list.
I suggest that we see the achievement of the cross in three expressions:
- Jesus dies “with us” — entering into our evil and our sin and our suffering to subvert it and create a new way;
- Jesus dies “instead of us” — he enters into our sin, our wrath, our death; and
- Jesus dies “for us” — his death forgives our sin, “declares us right,” absorbs the wrath of God against us, and creates a new life where there once was only death.
Not only is this death saving, this same death becomes the paradigm for an entirely new existence that is shaped, as Luther said of theology and life, by the cross. A life shaped by the cross is a life bent on dying daily to self in order to love God, self, others, and the world. And a life shaped by the cross sees in the cross God becoming the victim, identifying with the victim, suffering injustice, and shaping a cruciform pattern of life for all who follow Jesus. The cross reshapes all of life.
In this passage Jesus is continuing the series of antithesis statements he began in verse 21. In these he fleshes out what he means by coming not to to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He goes beyond the law — not relaxing it, but pushing it further — pushing it toward its spiritual fulfillment. Jesus forces us to consider more than just outward fulfillment — he challenges us at the level of our motivations — our inner lives.
In verses 21-37 the issues were: destructive anger, covetous sexual desire, divorce, and the swearing of oaths. Here the issues are vengefulness, enemies, peace, and universal love for all. Here the issue is how we treat — and think about — each other. This passage can be seen as a unit because of its closely related themes.
This is also one of those passages in the New Testament that uses the word τέλειος — often translated “perfect” — which gave rise to the phrase “Christian Perfection”— often used by John Wesley (and his followers) to talk about the spiritual life. The phrase was misunderstood from the beginning and still is today — and it’s easy to see why. Looking at verse 48 in its context may help to sort out some of the confusion.
But, our goal in looking at this passage is much larger than that one issue — it is to understand how Jesus interprets the Old Testament law and applies it to life. (more…)