Thinking Out Loud

December 1, 2015

God Talks to Bob, The Angel

One of the lesser-known angels, Bob works in the Issues Department that reports to the head of the Helping Them Work Out Their Salvation With Fear and Trembling Department. (They exist somewhat outside of linear time there, so departments can have long names.)


 

God: Hi Bob, I haven’t seen you for awhile.

Bob: But we exist somewhat outside of linear time, so what’s ‘awhile?’

God: You know what I mean. What have you been up to?

Bob: You’re omniscient. You know.

God: Work with me here, Bob; I’m just trying to have a conversation.

Bob: Well, things are settling down on the gay marriage file. I think people have decided where they stand and there’s less venom flying back and forth.

God: I’m not sure about that; the Mormon thing about refusing Baptism to kids of same sex couples kinda stirred up the debate a little lately.

Bob: Okay, so now that you mention them — the Mormons — are they part of our whole operation here?

God: I guess you’ll have to wait to find out… So what other files you working with?

Bob: Well there’s always issues involving just war versus pacifism, especially with the whole ISIS thing and what happened in Paris; and the Americans always have a unique take on things given the whole “right to bear arms” thing you gave them.

God: Bob, you’re doing it again. I gave them the ten commandments. You’re always mixing it up with the U.S. constitution.

Bob: Well, they seem to think the right to have guns is God given, and it divides Christians and non-Christians alike.

God: So maybe the Americans are up for something else to debate. What else ya got?

Bob: How about coffee cups.

God: Coffee cups? Seriously?

Bob: Well, red ones actually.

God: Next!

Bob: Okay, never mind. I’ve got them also wrestling with whether or not they should be taking in refugees from Syria. Again, even in the local churches, people are divided on this one.

God: That’s why it falls under your job description, Bob.

Bob: There are some really solid arguments on both sides, and until the refugees start to arrive, it’s hard to say what the whole process is going to look like. It’s really got them thinking and maybe a little worried.

God: And that’s why you’re in charge. This is a real test of how much they are thinking about what it means to follow me and know my ways and sense my heart on things like this.

Bob: But sometimes I think both sides make sense. I mean, no disrespect God, but if I were down there with them I don’t know which argument I would find more persuasive.

God: What do you think I would choose?

Bob: So there’s one clear and obvious answer? Let the refugees in? Keep the refugees out? Both are problematic.

God: I know. Your job is to make sure both sides of the debate have an opportunity to really consider what the other side is saying.

Bob: I just wish it wasn’t so complicated. There’s so much hanging in the balance for them of getting this decision right; both now and in the future.

God: What else you working on?

Bob: Well, I’ve been thinking also about something personal. I mean, I like my job and everything, but there aren’t a lot of angels named Bob and I was wondering if you had something a little more distinctive to offer…

 

 

 

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November 7, 2015

When You Find Yourself in a Worship Service of Another Faith

Contradict

My wife and I enjoy touring the worship facilities of other religions. We’ve been in a variety of these, including two Muslim mosques, a Hindu mandir and a Hare Krishna temple. At the temple we were served some deep fried cauliflower. Did “breaking bread” in that sense possibly mean something to them that we missed? Did we inadvertently partake of cauliflower communion?

Okay, scratch the last sentence; but sometimes — even in the cases above where we were simply visiting the facilities on non-holy days — you could find yourself in an unexpected situation.

Many of you know the story from 2 Kings 5 about Naaman being healed of his leprosy. Naaman was an army general, but was also a man under authority, serving the king. Here’s a link to the story from The Message Bible.

Because he’s healed, Naaman wants to give Elisha a gift, but of course, the prophet will have none of that. Naaman pledges himself to worship [the] God [of Israel], but before he leaves, he asks Elisha if he can be forgiven for one transgression; something from the past, that he expects to also arise in the future.

CEB 2 Kings 5:17b Your servant will never again offer entirely burned offerings or sacrifices to any other gods except the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master comes into Rimmon’s temple to bow down there and is leaning on my arm, I must also bow down in Rimmon’s temple. When I bow down in Rimmon’s temple, may the Lord forgive your servant for doing that.”

The NIV (see further below) says the king is “leaning on his arm” while The Message version seems to make Naaman a little more complicit than the NIV indicates:

“…When my master, leaning on my arm, enters the shrine of Rimmon and worships there, and I’m with him there, worshiping Rimmon, may you see to it that God forgive me for this.”

Elisha tells Naaman to “Go in peace.”

The God he is concerned about having worshiped is “‘Rimmon’ (lit. ‘pomegranate’) is a parody of the name Ramanu, the Syrian storm god corresponding to Baal. This chief deity of Syria was also known by the name Hadad (Zech. 12:11)” [Reformation Study Bible]

I was unfamiliar with this aspect of the store Naaman’s healing until I was listening to a discussion two weeks ago on a Christian talk show* where the guest was Dr. Paul Metzger, a professor at Multnomah Bible Seminary. Not having been able to record the reference, I wrote to him for clarification.

…In the interview, I referenced Naaman, who was a military commander of the king of Aram’s army. Naaman was also a leper. He came to Elisha for healing, and God healed him of his leprosy. Naaman devoted his life to the God of Israel as a result. I alluded to the account in 2 Kings 5, as it pertains to how Christians might engage others in multi-faith settings today. Naaman asked Elisha if he would be pardoned for going with his Master, the king, into the pagan temple and bow when the king leaned on him. Elisha gave him his blessing. Here is the text in 2 Kings 5:

17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” 19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. (2 Kings 5:17-19; NIV).

I made use of this text in response to [program host] Drew [Marshall] concerning the matter of what one should do in a worship service in a diverse or pluralistic context. I said it is a case by case matter of intent. Naaman’s heart intent was to honor the God of Israel, not the pagan deity. Thus, Elisha gave him his blessing. It is not the bowing as such that is the issue, or the praying, but to whom is one praying in one’s heart. Again, I don’t think it is a matter of bowing or not bowing, praying or not praying, but the object or intent of the bow or prayer.

There is the danger of taking too much liberty from this passage however. Again we turn to Matthew Henry who takes a more hard-line approach:

He owns he ought not to do it, but that he cannot otherwise not do it, but that he cannot otherwise keep his place,—protests that his bowing is not, nor ever shall be, as it had been, in honor to the idol, but only in honor to the king,—and therefore he hopes God will forgive him. Perhaps, all things considered, this might admit of some apology, though it was not justifiable. But, as to us, I am sure,

(1) If, in covenanting with God, we make a reservation for any known sin, which we will continue to indulge ourselves in, that reservation is a defeasance [voiding or undoing] of his covenant. We must cast away all our transgressions and not except [make an exception of] any house of Rimmon.

(2 Though we are encouraged to pray for the remission of the sins we have committed, yet, if we ask for a dispensation to go on in any sin for the future, we mock God, and deceive ourselves.

(3) Those that know not how to quit a place at court when they cannot keep it without sinning against God, and wronging their consciences, do not rightly value the divine favor.

(4) Those that truly hate evil will make conscience of abstaining from all appearances of evil. Though Naaman’s dissembling his religion cannot be approved, yet because his promise to offer no sacrifice to any god but the God of Israel only was a great point gained with a Syrian, and because, by asking pardon in this matter, he showed such a degree of conviction and ingenuousness as gave hopes of improvement, the prophet took fair leave of him, and bade him Go in peace, 2 Kings. 5:19. Young converts must be tenderly dealt with.

I have four takeaways from this.

  1. The Bible is wholly adequate to speak to issues which arise in a 21st century context, especially with increasing religious pluralism.
  2. You may indeed find yourself doing more than “touring the facilities” but actually being asked (because of work or family commitments) to attend a service of worship of another faith.
  3. As Dr. Metzger points out, it is the attitude of the heart that matters most.
  4. As Matthew Henry indicates, this situation ought to be the exception and not the rule, and we’re not granted permanent indulgences to participate in such worship events, but need to trust God that he will provide alternative arrangements so that we’re not doing this on a regular basis.

The graphic is a response to the popular Coexist graphic found in a 2012 blog post at the apologetics website Stand To Reason. Click the image to read more.

*Scroll down to October 24th, the “Pub Crawl” segment at this link.

October 6, 2011

Link List Themes Revisisted

Yesterday’s link list was posted just before 6:00 AM EST, and as of 11:00 PM EST, while there had been many page views representing hundreds of unique visitors, there wasn’t a single comment.  Actually, that’s pretty standard here, but this was a particularly ‘heavy’ list of stories and I’m wondering if people are missing the larger themes:

  • Tennessee teachers aren’t being told they can’t pray, but they can’t pray in public, as (my words now) they are in an advocacy role and would be setting some kind of example that apparently is a negative example.  Can you say, “slippery slope?”
  • A teen leading the charge for social change is told he’s not exactly doing “wrong” or “bad,” but he should focus on preaching the gospel.  Haven’t we spent the last several decades deriding those who preach the “social gospel;” and while so criticizing them from our lofty theological perch, we did absolutely nothing to deal with poverty and injustice. 
  • A pastor — who may have crossed a line with this — invites another pastor to a seminar where the purpose of the seminar is stated from the outset as being to discuss the things on which we disagree and perhaps tend to sweep under the doctrinal rug.  While it’s a bit on the edge, it would finally clarify once and for all if this other pastor’s position on the trinity is the deal-breaker some of us believe it to be.  But it will never happen at all if certain conservative reformers simply boycott the seminar.
  • Mexico’s proposal on marriage could be the germination of something that is, long term, more insidious than the adoption of same-sex marriage.  It makes marriage modular, reinforces serial monogamy perhaps, but with an air that is more reflective of polyamory.  With simple divorce, there was always an opt-out if it didn’t work; but with Mexico’s proposal, the termination of the marriage after 48 months is really the default setting.
  • Switzerland adopts anti-tolerance.  Again.  The message is clearly, this is our country, our customs; if you don’t like it, leave.  Without commenting further, I wonder where this — or a backlash against it — leaves both the Swiss and more tolerant North Americans in the next 10, 20 or 30 years?
  • Isn’t the Texas oil-change shop’s John 3:16 verbal coupon idea enough to set Christianity back about a century?  If you have to have a license to work on cars in Texas, they should also require a license before you can go public with wacky evangelism schemes.
  • Does it bother anyone that Cathleen Falsani wrote 200 pages about Justin Bieber’s faith without ever sitting down with either JB or his mom?  Sure she has seven pages containing 211 footnotes, but…

Anyway, these are the big picture items from yesterday.  IMHO anyway.  So are TOL readers simply passive on these things, or were you just too busy to catch the links?

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