Tag Archives: Evil

REVISITED: Antichrist Superstar

Read Matthew 18:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” (Mark 3:28-29 NLT)

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It was October of 1996, I was 18 going on 19 years old, and I remember the religious fervor that was being struck up by a band that had just hit the mainstream airwaves a year before with their cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These).” Though this band came out in 1994, it was clear that this latest album would become it’s defining moment; for some Christians, choosing to listen to that album would be a soul-damning moment, one that had eternal consequences, and this is just what the band Marilyn Manson was banking on.

It’s not that they were banking that their album, Antichrist Superstar, would send people to hell; however, Marilyn Manson were banking on the religious fervor that inevitably ignited against it, and they rode that money train all the way to the bank. The album, to date, has sold over 7 million copies, with 1.9 million of those copies being sold in the United States alone. That’s probably not what the protesting Christians were hoping for, but it was an unintended consequence of all of their protests.

One of my favorite songs off of the album is the title track, “Antichrist Superstar.” In it Manson writes, “You built me up with your wishing hell, I didn’t have to sell you…cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” Many Christians feared that Manson was the Antichrist, that he was leading kids to Satan and ultimately to hell, and that the end of the world was near with the rise of someone who seemed so blatantly Satanic. But when you look at the lyrics, we find some substance beyond all of the theatrics. It is Christians who created this “Antichrist”, and it is Christians who were now protesting his rising like a star.

Brian Warner grew up going to a Christian school that taught him all about the devil. It taught him to fear Satan, but to fear God even more. He was taught that if he didn’t do the right things, think the right things, say the right things, and pray the right things, he would end up going to hell. He grew up having nightmares of the Antichrist coming and devouring him, he grew up having nightmares of God damning him to hell for not living the “good” life. This was what Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson) grew up believing Christianity was. The lyrics to his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” are a mirror of how Christianity represented Christ to him. It was Christianity that had built him up to fear, it was Christianity that taught him God was a God of wrath, and it was Christianity (sadly enough) that helped drive him away from Christ. Of course, it was only a certain brand of Christianity; however, it was the brand he grew up knowing and fearing. Though he attempts to show he’s broken free of that fear, his album is really more of a reflection of how that fear still consumes him.

As Christians, we are not called to be driving the “fear” of God into anyone. Satan only has as much power as we give him. If all we do is focus on evil, on the possibility of misstepping, of the possibility of damnation, then we imbue power into our fears of such things. God has not called us to do that; rather, God has called us to focus on the hope, healing and wholeness that comes through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. What saddens me is that Marilyn Manson, and countless others, have not gotten that memo because the ones who were representing Christ were too busy pushing fear rather than love and acceptance. Let us not be such a people. Let us not fail the little ones who look up to us and model themselves off of us. Let them see within us the light of God, rather that the fear of darkness. Let us not build up antichrists by our wishing hell, but let us build up Christians by showing the love and the light of heaven in all we do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the culture you’re raising your kids in. Don’t be surprised if it blows up in your face.” – Brian Warner

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to move beyond fear and into your eternal arms of love. Help me to grow in that love and share it with others. Amen.

REVISITED: Ixnay the Cliché

Read Micah 6:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:15)

highway-to-glory

The end justifies the means. That is a cliché that I think is predominant in our society and/or culture. The end justifies the means. All we need to do is turn on television and watch any of a plethora of television shows, all we need to do is to go to the theater and watch any given movie and we will see a whole lot of that cliché being played out. We see heroes compromising their values in order to bring about some supposedly better end…and using any means necessary to make that happen.

Beyond television shows and movies, politicians will often use any means necessary to bring about what they believe to be a better end. Politicians who cut people down and use political action committees to destroy the reputation of their opponents, simply because they believe they’d make the best leader. Businesses who look at the bottom dollar as the end goal and use whatever means necessary in order to make the bottom dollar work out in favor of the company. Often times, the means to attain that end involves coldly getting rid of people and treating employees as expendable numbers, rather than being compassionate and not treating people as if they are expendable.

We also see this cliché play out in our communities. We see our government take people’s homes and property away, declaring it as eminent domain, in order to better commercialize and bring more money into a town and/or region. We see people who will cut people off on the road to ensure they’re not going to be late getting to work, or to a play, or to the nearest roadside coffee shop. I have even witnessed people cutting around funeral processions in order to avoid getting stuck in those situations.

The point here is this, in order to live by the cliché of “the end justifying the means,” we have to ultimately compromise our character and our moral code. The cliché certainly, and explicitly, announces that. The end justifies the means. That is really a nice way of saying the following: while normally taking this action would be deemed bad and/or immoral, it is okay to do so here because, in the end, things will work out for the better. The end justifies the means. Whatever means it takes to reach the end is justified by virtue of the end that is trying to be reached.

The end justifies the means…or does it? When we look to Scripture we see a ton of examples as to how the end never, ever justifies the means. David is, perhaps the most compelling and obvious of people to look at in this regard. David would do just about anything to be king, and once he became king he did just about anything to keep himself and his family in power. He slept with Bathsheba and to avoid scandal had her husband killed. He offed his political rivals with shrewd and shady expediency, looking as if he had nothing to do with it. He knew he was God’s chosen king and that God was going to establish his kingdom forever, and he let that go to his head. As a result his kingdom, his reputation, his power, and his entire family came crashing down.

Not only does the end never justify the means, the reality is that often times the means changes and/or destroys the end. What’s more, the means changes and/or destroys us in the process. Let us not be a people who justify any and every means to reach an end. Let us not be a people who justify evil by the end we are trying to reach. Remember that our call, first and foremost, is to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, regardless of the end. In fact, there should be no other end but that, and that end will dictate the means. Live justly, love mercy, walk humbly. It’s simple, it’s honest, and it’s the narrow way that leads to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Jesus, the Christ (Matthew 7:12-14)


PRAYER
Lord, I want to follow you in all that I do. Lovingly hold me accountable to your way and steer me clear of sin and evil. Amen.

REVISITED: The Face of Evil, part 3

Read Romans 12:19-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NLT).”

Continuing on with the Halloween Franchise, we come up to a whole knew era of the Michael Myers Saga, where he gets a fresh new look from an metal icon turned film director, Rob Zombie. As was mentioned previously, Halloween was based on the film Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, based off of the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch. In that film, we follow Norman Bates, a deranged, mentally ill man who murdered his mother and assumed her identity. It was scary, and Norman did monstrous things; however, you can’t help but pity him because he cannot help himself.

In Halloween, John Carpenter removes the sympathetic side of the killer out. The film starts with what we believe to be a human being…a six year old boy. We then find out that all humanity has left that little boy as he brutally murders his sister. When he finallyreturns to Haddonfield fifteen years later following an escape from a Mental Health facility, he is no longer a “human being.” Rather, he is a “shape”. The mask he wears is a ghostly shape of a face, and he lingers in the dark, awaiting for someone to pass by him in the shadows. In the original 1978 film, and subsequent sequels, Michael Myers is a rage-filled, unrelenting killing machine with no soul, no moral compass, and no awareness of self even. He is evil incarnate.

Rob Zombie, on the other hand, rebooted the original and took it into a different realm. Instead of dismissing the notion that evil is an evolution, Zombie challenges our understanding of what is evil and how it develops. In his film, we see a young Michael Myers, who is ten years old in this version. We see him at first playing with a rat and then we pan downstairs to see his mom ccoking dinner for her husband and kids. You can tell that they are a lower income, working class, and somewhat dysfunctional family.

When we see young Michael again, he’s washing blood off of his hands and a sharp instrument. He had killed the rat. Clearly, this young child is mentally ill. As we learn more about his home and school environment, it becomes clear that Michael’s behavior is a result of surviving abuse and neglect. His step father is abusive and his mother, who is also an exotic dancer, does her best, but that is not nearly enough for her children. Alcholism, sexual debauchery, and abuse exist in the Myers house.

At school, Michael is bullied and is constantly getting into trouble for writing and drawing distrubing things. The point is, the first third of the film were spent establishing Michael’s back story. The second third of the film is spent showing an adult Michael in the hospital as an adult, his eventual escape and his return to Haddonfield, the final third fo the film is spent the usual way, people running for their lives, blood, guts, mayhem and, eventually, Michael is defeated…but not really. There’s always a sequel, and there was a sequel for Zombie’s film.

In this, Rob Zombie is taking us beyond just sympathizing with a sick person and he is taking us beyond seeing evil as just this unpreventable, unstoppable force that we could never participate in or become; rather, Zombie is reminding us that, while evil does exist, human evil does not exist in a vacuum. Things aren’t always so black & white and, frankly, evil begets more evil. Had Michael grown up in a functional, loving, nurturing environment, his mental illness might not have taken the violent turn it did; what’s more, the household he lived in was so eroded by sin that evil was the natural result…and once evil is unleashed, it becomes a nearly unstoppable force that MUST be eradicated.

This should challenge us to not only avoid being so quick to make judgments, but it also should challenge us to really reflect on the ways we might be contributing to the sin and evil in the world. That is not to say that such mindfulness will result in nobody slipping through the cracks, but it would help us to ensure as few do as possible. Let us be a people who not only avoid being overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Let’s reverse EVIL and by turning to God and beginning to trust him to help us LIVE the lives we were created to live.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid evil but also help me to confront and resist it when it presents itself. Give me the courage and the strength. Amen.

REVISITED: The Face of Evil, part 1

Read Romans 3:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21)

One of my all-time favorite horror films is John Carpenter’s Halloween, which was inspired by another one of my favorite horror films, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The two films have been monumentally impactful in the horror genre. What’s more, the two films are connected to each other because the two lead actresses are literally related to each other. That’s right, Janet Leigh, who starred in Psycho, is Halloween star, Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother. In fact, in 1998 for the 20th anniversary of Halloween, both Jamie Lee and Janet Leigh starred together in Halloween: H20.

Trivia aside, there’s a lot we can learn from Halloween; however, before we do, we need to look at it’s predecessor, Psycho. In that film, Anthony Perkins plays a seemingly kind but socially awkward motel owner who incidentally meets Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as she stops for the night due to the rain being so bad. Seeing that the Bates Motel had vacancy, she pulls in and meets Norman (Anthony Perkins) who checks her in and offers her food.

What Norman doesn’t know is that Marion had stolen $40,000 from her employer’s client and was on the run. Her boyfriend didn’t know she was going to pull this off, nor did her sister. So, no one knows that Marion is at the Bates Motel, let alone where she might be. What Marion doesn’t know is that there’s more than meets the eye at the Bates motel and, as a matter of fact, we find out that not only is Norman a perverted peeping Tom, but his “mother” is super jealous of other women.

That last fact, sadly, cost Marion her life. While taking a shower, Norman’s “mother” came into the bathroom slowly and silently, ripped open the curtin and stabbed Marion to death with a large kitchen knife. The scene was more than memorable, it literally scarred some people enough that they refused to take a shower again. Of course, Hitchcock being the brilliant director he was, the scene was pulled off without ever showing the knife connect with the body and, in pure Hitchcock fashion, the blood shown going down the drain was actually Bosco Chocolate Syrup because Hitchcock discovered that it looked more red in the Black & White format. Even shooting in B&W was purposeful, as Technicolor was widely available at the time and Hitchcock chose not to shoot it that way.

Of course, I put the word “mother” in quotes because we learn that Norman’s mother is really dead. Norman was into taxidermy and, after poisoning her, he preserved her well and kept her in the basement. To compensate for the loss of his overbearing mother, Norman dressed up like her, imitated her voice and assumed her identity.

As it turned out, Norman was a very sick man who had Dissociative Identity (formerly known as Multiple Personality) Disorder. He was Norman some of the time, he was Mrs. Bates the rest of the time. As Norman, he was a frail, lonely, insecure, awkward boy in a man’s body. As Mrs. Bates, he was cold, demanding, cruel and, as we find out in the film, jealously murderous.

The beauty of this film is how forward thinking it was in terms of mental health. It’s shocking conclusion, with Norman completely gone and Mrs. Bates being completely the dominant personality, really forces the viewer to come face-to-face with mental illness. One cannot hate Norman at the end of the film. Sure, he horrifies you, but there is a level of pity you have for him. His victims should not have died, not even his cruel mom, but he is a victim in all of this too and he cannot help himself.

In our society, we often look at killers such as Norman Bates as being the “Face of Evil”, but Psycho challenges this. Was Norman evil? I mean, yes…what he did was evil, but was Norman Bates, the man, evil? Or was he a sick individual who slipped through the cracks only to turn up when it was brutally too late? Psycho was a very 1960s way of looking at what we call “evil” and trying to put the humanity back into it.

Overall, that is a great thing because, as easy as it would be to view Norman Bates as less than human or a monster, he really is not much different than you and I. The only difference is how his mind works and, truthfully, all of our minds work a bit differently. Norman Bates was a man who was created and loved by God. No, God did not wish for Norman’s life to go down the path it did; however, since when did that give us the permission to BE GOD and judge?

In fact, one of the many faces of evil is JUDGMENT. People who think they are God enough to pass judgment are putting on evil as their way of life. That does not make THEM evil, but their judgmental attitudes are evil for sure. So, before we start getting all self-righteous, we really do need to take a back seat to God. Let us remember that, no matter how awful a person may be acting, they are still a child of God and we are called to love everyone…not judge them.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Evil is as evil does.

PRAYER
Lord, lead me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.” (Romans 8:7 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

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WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity. I just got done watching the film, “Selma”, which was about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The film starts off with the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, where four innocent Christian girls were literally blown to bits by a bomb planted by four Ku Klux Klansmen. This evil, tragic, and horrific event caused an outrage in the public that aided the cause of Dr. King and those seeking equal voting rights for the black community. Segregation laws and and other local laws often prevented those who were black from being able to vote, though they technically had the right.

When looking back on the civil rights movement, and even looking at the racial divide in the country today, I can’t help but think of the word enmity. Enmity is a state of being actively hostile and/or opposed to someone or some group. Looking at our government, some politicians, its laws, and a system that favors some over others, it is easy to see that in many cases our system has embodied enmity. Sure, it has improved over the years and a lot of change to it has occurred rather quickly. With that said, many of the changes have been peripheral and not systemic. We have changed it so that all people of all colors can vote; however, in order to be a candidate one must have a ton of money and financial backing in order to have even a remote chance of winning. As a result, such candidates are often far removed from the poor and disenfranchised and are more representative of the privileged (even if they, themselves, don’t intend to be).

The church is notorious for being filled with enmity. While one can see how enmity could creep up into any government, where the rich rule and the poor are ruled, it is hard to imagine how enmity could possibly show its ugly head; however, enmity has unfortunately found a breeding ground in  the body of Christ. Like a cancer it has spread from person to person, from group to group, from congregation to congregation, and from denomination to denomination. The enmity found in Christians have led them to love some and hate others within the church. White Christians have hated and lynched black Christians. Straight Christians have hated and degraded LGTBQ Christians. One committee within a church has found itself opposed to and at odds with another committee. And so it goes on and on like a cancer, spreading and killing the souls of many.

Christ calls us to be rid of enmity. We may not always agree with people, we may not understand them or even want to understand others who are different than us; however, that does not give us an excuse to be hostile and actively opposed to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, Christ is our Lord, and we cannot serve two masters. We will either love the one and hate the other or vice versa. We cannot love Christ and enmity. To bear enmity against anyone is to also bear enmity against God, their creator. So be rid of enmity. Drop your hatred. Let go of your bitterness and let God fill you with eternal, unconditional love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” – Ezra Taft Benson

PRAYER
Lord remove from me any enmity that I may possess within me. Fill me with your eternal, unconditional love. Amen.

REVISITED: WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.” (Romans 8:7 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryE

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity. I just got done watching the film, “Selma”, which was about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The film starts off with the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, where four innocent Christian girls were literally blown to bits by a bomb planted by four Ku Klux Klansmen. This evil, tragic, and horrific event caused an outrage in the public that aided the cause of Dr. King and those seeking equal voting rights for the black community. Segregation laws and and other local laws often prevented those who were black from being able to vote, though they technically had the right.

When looking back on the civil rights movement, and even looking at the racial divide in the country today, I can’t help but think of the word enmity. Enmity is a state of being actively hostile and/or opposed to someone or some group. Looking at our government, some politicians, its laws, and a system that favors some over others, it is easy to see that in many cases our system has embodied enmity. Sure, it has improved over the years and a lot of change to it has occurred rather quickly. With that said, many of the changes have been peripheral and not systemic. We have changed it so that all people of all colors can vote; however, in order to be a candidate one must have a ton of money and financial backing in order to have even a remote chance of winning. As a result, such candidates are often far removed from the poor and disenfranchised and are more representative of the privileged (even if they, themselves, don’t intend to be).

The church is notorious for being filled with enmity. While one can see how enmity could creep up into any government, where the rich rule and the poor are ruled, it is hard to imagine how enmity could possibly show its ugly head; however, enmity has unfortunately found a breeding ground in  the body of Christ. Like a cancer it has spread from person to person, from group to group, from congregation to congregation, and from denomination to denomination. The enmity found in Christians have led them to love some and hate others within the church. White Christians have hated and lynched black Christians. Straight Christians have hated and degraded LGTBQ Christians. One committee within a church has found itself opposed to and at odds with another committee. And so it goes on and on like a cancer, spreading and killing the souls of many.

Christ calls us to be rid of enmity. We may not always agree with people, we may not understand them or even want to understand others who are different than us; however, that does not give us an excuse to be hostile and actively opposed to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, Christ is our Lord, and we cannot serve two masters. We will either love the one and hate the other or vice versa. We cannot love Christ and enmity. To bear enmity against anyone is to also bear enmity against God, their creator. So be rid of enmity. Drop your hatred. Let go of your bitterness and let God fill you with eternal, unconditional love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” – Ezra Taft Benson

PRAYER
Lord remove from me any enmity that I may possess within me. Fill me with your eternal, unconditional love. Amen.

REVISITED: WORKS OF THE FLESH: Sorcery

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. (Proverbs 26:24 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryS

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Sorcery. Well, hello Paul! I mean out of all of the possibilities out there, you choose sorcery?!? I think the past thousand years of European history, and the past 323 years of American history, has given us ample reason to steer clear of pointing the finger at people and crying “witch!” All I need do is mention the Inquisition, the European Witch Craze, and the Salem Witch trials to know that we Christians have a bad history of attacking people we believe are “sorcerers.” Even today, there are “Christians” who protest Harry Potter books and the like because they believe that they promote sorcery and witchcraft.

Since I have an affinity for all religions in general, and have studied Neo-Pagan religions such as Wicca, I am not about to go down that road. Not to mention, one of the works of the flesh that is implicit in some of the other works Paul names, is “judgmentalism.” Not to knock Paul, but I find it to be a tad better to look at one’s own religion rather than trying to hurl stones at a religion one doesn’t practice, know, or really understand. After all, Jesus practiced the same humility with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.

So how can we look at sorcery in a way that will speak to us as Christians? How is it that we Christians are practicing sorcery? What if we replaced the word sorcery with deceit? While that might not make sense at first, please hear me out. Many Christians, and people in general, are guilty of being deceitful and putting on a false “charm” in order to manipulate people into doing what they want them to do. Oh, we are so good at that sometimes, aren’t we? You know, we get into a group at church and we just work our “magic” to spell-bind people into thinking this or that. We purposefully lay the charm on thick in order to persuade people to think our way, and we are even good at spewing out Scripture in deceitful ways to support whatever we want. I have seen such “magic” worked within church cliques in ways that are injurious to individuals and to the health of the congregation as a whole.

Christ is calling us to put an end to all deceit. False charm is the worst kind of sorcery because it lures people away from Christ and the kind of LOVE he is calling us to LIVE. Sorcery, in this sense, is certainly a work of the flesh and there is no room for it in the spiritual body of Christ! If you are such a person, or if you are being falsely charmed by such a person, remember that we are all children of God and God does not desire to have any of the children brought to harm by deceit or false charm. Remember what Jesus warned his disciples about harming God’s children: “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin” (Luke 17:2 NLT).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

PRAYER
Lord, steer me clear of false charm and deceit so that I may continue to walk in the footsteps of your truth. Amen.

REVISITED: Wrath of God, part 6

Read Ephesians 2:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NRSV)

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If you have been reading this series of devotions on the wrath of God, we have certainly been dealing with a subject that most people avoid like the pestilences found in Egypt and Revelation. With good intentions perhaps, many clergy steer clear of talking about the wrath of God so as to not “scare people off” and/or because they themselves are uncomfortable with the topic. The very clergy who organized the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) have often focused on the “happy” and/or “positive” images of God, only to skip over many of the wrathful images.

Of course, there are some clergy and some Christians who ONLY focus on the wrath of God. These Christians often sit on their perches like hawks, looking down on whom they can throw the Bible at and whom they can warn of hellfire and damnation. Unfortunately, these Christians (and not the Scriptures) are largely responsible for scaring people off and for the bad image that God has received throughout the years. Equally as unfortunate, the silence of responsible theologians on the subject of God’s wrath have also served to be a detriment to the image of God because in the silence the unsilent extreme have been given an unfettered platform to define God through their theology.

It is because of the outspokenness of the Christian extreme and the silence of the more responsible Christian majority that anti-theists, and a growing number of people in our world, have come to reject God and some have even deemed religion to be an evil that the world needs to be rid of! For example, prominent anti-theist Richard Dawkins has written, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” He also has written, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”

Of course, while I respect Dr. Dawkins’ opinion, one could say that his simpleton, straw-man, and heavily skewed understanding of religion can and has led to dangerous folly as well (e.g. any communist nation, take your pick). So, in light of all the terrible things happening in this world, some of them indeed happening in the name of God and/or Allah, I have found it necessary to talk about God’s wrath and I feel is it fruitful for all people to wrestle with what “the wrath of God” really is.

For me, it can be summed up in this manner. The God we worship is the God who created all that is out of love and a desire to be in relationship with that creation. As such, it pains God to see creation suffer and it angers God to see creatures do harm to other creatures. God’s anger can be felt burning in the souls of humans as they witness suffering as a result of sin and evil. That anger is heard in the voices of those who protest against the injustices in the world. I would even say, dare I say it, that God’s anger can be heard through Richard Dawkins whose opinion has formed out of a disgust with religiously motivated ignorance and evil.

God’s wrath, on the other hand, is not something that GOD is bringing upon people! I want to make that clear. Yes, the Bible has articulated it that way, for sure! Yes, people tend to understand it that way; however, that understanding is also countered in the same Bible by the reality that the wrath that was experienced was brought about by the wickedness of humans. God does not punish, nor does God need to. Humans, far too often, punish themselves. Their wickedness brings destruction upon themselves and, unfortunately, upon the innocent as well.

Our God, on the other hand, is grace, mercy, compassion, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. Our God, through prophets, humanitarians, and good Samaritans alike, is actively working to bring about hope, healing and wholeness in the world. God’s wrath is spoken through the voices of prophets, but the consequences are the result of human wickedness and NOT God.

The good news in all of this is that we serve a God who is EMPATHETIC to our suffering, a God who stands in solidarity with those suffering, rather than an aloof God who simply does not care God who simply doesn not exist. Like Elijah, like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, let us call upon our God in times of distress that we may be given strength to voice God’s anger and wrath, as well as God’s grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, to those who have strayed into wickedness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The hallmark of intelligence is not whether one believes in God or not, but the quality of the processes that underlie one’s beliefs.” – Alister McGrath

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the strength to speak against injustice, rather than remain silent. Amen.

REVISITED: Wrath of God, part 2

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So the LORD was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart.” (Genesis 6:6 NLT)

broken-heart

In the Beginning, God desired to create a world in which God could raise and nurture all of creation. So God set about in that Creation and saw all that was created as divinely good. Finally, God decided to make a creature that would be fashioned in the very image of God. In God’s image (imago Dei), human beings were created and set apart from the rest of Creation.

Now, humans were not set apart so that they could feel superior to God’s creation, for God loved all of Creation; however, God hoped to have a special relationship with humans, a mutual relationship that would be founded on the love of which God created them. God gave them everything they could ever need, and God made sure that they were cared for and nurtured.

Created in God’s image, humans had sharp intelligence and were filled with the creativity of their Creator. They were filled with compassion and a profound sense of their connection with the rest of Creation, so much so that they first people began name the creatures God created and began to be there caretakers, just as God was the care takers of them. Thus, they were living into that very image in which they were Created. To God, everything seemed perfect.

Unfortunately, humans quickly grew to resent their dependence on God and they became bored and complacent in their relationship. Like young adults seeking their independence from their loving parents, they first people chose to do things their own way and to make their own way in the world. They sought out their own wisdom and disregarded the wisdom God had already given to them. They ignored the warnings of God and, as a result, humanity fell into a state of sin. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate. Perhaps this was the final step of Creation, where humans could “fully mature” and could now choose for themselves to have a loving and mutual relationship with God. Perhaps, this was more of a fall than a blessing as humans began making poorer and poorer choices. Or, as I have come to understand it, it was a little of both.

Regardless, overtime humans when from being in a loving, mutual relationship with God to being in a tenuous, and often dysfunctional relationship with God. This was sadly reflected in the dysfunctional relationships that began to plague the relationships humans had with each other. Patriarchy started to develop, where men saw themselves as better, superior, and in control of women. Brothers rose up against their other siblings out of competition and jealousy, murdering their siblings in cold and sadistic blood.

All of God’s creation began to suffer as a result of this terrible imbalance in the world God had created. People started owning animals, owning land, owning other people, ruling those they conquered, and killing all who stood in their way to attain absolute power. The green fields, the deserts, the streams, ponds and oceans went from pure to running red with the blood of the destruction humanity was reigning upon the earth!

God, seeing the terrible turn that creation had taken, began to grieve so deeply that God began to question why God even created anything at all! God’s grief moved from questioning to remorse and that remorse grew into anger. God was angry that Creation had fallen into such a state of disrepair. God was angry that humans were killing humans, that they were denying their divine connection to Creation, and that they were denying their divine connection to and relationship with their Creation. In that deep anger, God also found compassion, and set out to redeem this Creation that had become so tragically broken!

This is, obviously, just the beginning of the narrative of God we find in the Bible. This is just the Genesis, if you will. I fully admit that lots of theological questions pop up in regard to how a perfect God could create a world that went so tragically wrong. I also fully admit that there is no answer out there that fully satisfies those types of questions. But this narrative shows us that God’s reaction to the evil in the world is not unlike ours and that our righteous anger over the brokenness of this world comes from that divine image of God within us. Let us reflect on that for today, and in the days ahead, just as surely we will reflect on the evil that is currently and consistently plaguing this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the world, in its brokenness, through your eyes. In my anger, help me to discover the compassion from which it stems and allow it to fuel me to be even more compassionate. Amen.

REVISITED: Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

TheWitch01

The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like seraded steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.