This past year, my “one word” was “Reduce”
I made many changes in my use of time, purged my home of a lot of unnecessary items and clutter. I focused on one ministry, and intentionally reduced screen time and social media and replaced it with increased study of the new Mirror translation of the Bible. Retirement has afforded me more time for prayer and meditation.
I also began asking the Holy Spirit to walk me through an inventory and purging of my faith (read: western evangelicalist theology), deconstruct the ideology which has been troubling me since I was a child. This journey was sometimes painful and brought me to tears – both tears of regret and tears of an emerging joy.
I came to realize that the great stain in my western evangelicalist religion is the lie of separation…that being a sinner separated me (and the rest of mankind) from God at the moment of birth. This led to a concept of substitutionary atonement mandating an even more troubling theology of the Father forsaking the Son when Jesus submitted Himself to our our darkness on the cross. The religion of exclusion, election, privilege and church hierarchy was something I just accepted but I never understood nor embraced fully. Until now, I did not have the time or resources to challenge what honored men and women with impressive credentials had passed down since the first church council. My motto was “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Besides, I love my church family and where else could I go?
Still, I could never believe God said “I love you but if you don’t love me back I will roast you in Hell forever.” Even though there were a handful of verses in the Bible about Hell and the wrath of God, it looked more like distorted visions of Dante’s inferno and for me, resulted in a schizophrenic view of God.
My journey of deconstruction actually started in 1975 when I looked into the beautiful face of an amazing creation – my first child. Her beauty and innocence took my breath away. At that moment it made no sense that what God imagined, loved and purposefully had in mind from before the foundation of the world, would come into existence separated from Him. That only by her indoctrination of the four spiritual laws , and encouragement to say the “sinner’s prayer” would keep her from eternal conscious torment in the fires of Hell…seriously? is that what the Bible really teaches? The same thought came back with successive children and grandchildren until at last I determined to ask God Himself to teach me.
This year, I read the Bible again without the lens of my theology.. I read it from page one as Dr. Tim Mackie suggests, a “unified story that points us to Jesus” rather than an inerrant rule book dropped from heaven to make us behave, or a prophesy of doom to scare us into submission. I asked a LOT of questions. I trusted that God would work out the troubling passages for me, or if not, He would move me on, accepting that I would understand later.
In the case of that troubling passage of sin separating us from God, learning that much of the Old Testament language was poetic and metaphoric rather than literal.
My main focus was to see Jesus in every story, every book. I also googled the historical setting of each book and the cultural language used to describe what happened. I listened to hours of YouTube classes on Jewish literature, the writing of the earliest church fathers, creeds and doctrinal statements of my “churchianity” from both secular and religious sources. I’m an information junky so I really had to be disciplined in that area.
The revelation of Jesus was remarkable and everywhere! From the first “In the beginning God created” of Genesis to out of the garden with humanity, clothing them, providing for them, never leaving them when they sinned. He put a mark of protection on Cain, the first murderer, He appeared and spoke with another murderer Moses, to deliver His stubborn and rebellious people from Egypt, crowned an adulterer and murderer as king over Israel (David), kept bringing His people prophets to warn them often saving them from the consequences of living against His love.
The Torah, the Psalms and prophets spoke of the coming Savor.
In the fullness of time, He became human and entered our darkness. He connected with and touched those whom His own people called outcasts, He healed the sick, offered living water to an adulterous Samaritan, forgave a prostitute caught in the act, embraced the doubters, the betrayers and forgave those who murdered Him. Finally He called a man (who formerly persecuted the very church He began) to carry the good news to the all the world.
Jesus who became more than a scapegoat or sacrificial substitution. He became sin for us, allowed us to participate in His murder, and never being forsaken by God, He took all to hell with him in dying our death, raised all together with Him in His resurrection and brought all humanity into the Kingdom of God. He there invites us enjoy the unbroken fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I found that the “gospel” is not that we need to receive Jesus…the good news is that He has already received us. He was never willing that any should perish but planned our redemption before creation!
Mankind’s only contribution was to murder the Son of God. But His love was more powerful and conquered death. His light overcame darkness. His holiness made the consuming fire of Divine love redemptive rather than retributive. As a loving Father would fiercely prevent anything harmful to his child at any cost, so fierce was God’s “wrath” against evil, not mankind.
John chapter 1 explains how all things were created through, for and in Jesus, the Word made flesh. He is the source, He sustains ALL things in Himself…
“In the last of these days He has spoken to us in [the person of a] Son, Whom He appointed Heir and lawful Owner of ALL things, also by and through Whom He created the worlds and the reaches of space and the ages of time-[that is] [He made, produced, built, operated, and arranged them in order]. He is the sole expression of the glory of God-[the Light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine],-and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature, upholding and maintaining and guiding and propelling the universe by His mighty word of power…” (Hebrews 1:3-4 Amplified)
I saw clearly that no atom or cell in the universe can be separated from Jesus or it would cease to exist. “If I make my bed in Hell, You are there” (Psalm 139)
I am now certain that I was created in Christ and I was accepted unconditionally by the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit even before I prayed the sinners prayer at 6 years old. I believe all people and all creation are held together by the inseparable and most stable relationship in the cosmos – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Whom all things were created and forever exist in His divine love.
At the end of this journey, it was beautiful to read the closing sentence on the last page – “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with ALL, amen” Stunning!!!
Happy New Year, with Love.