Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Degrees of Faith?

Stories of escape from the attacks on Westerners at hotels in Mumbai (Bombay) have been going around. I've heard two full reports now and some brief accounts as well, some miraculous escapes in some cases, such as near misses, odd circumstances keeping a person out of harm's way and so on. There were many such stories about escape from the WTC towers on 9/11 too, stories showing God's hand in various rescues, faith-building stories. I appreciate these stories. They are inspiring.

But they also raise a question in my mind whether saving our lives is of such high priority in the Christian life. The emphasis is always on the saving of the life, you see. A hero's death may also be inspiring too of course.

Both of the stories about escape from Mumbai (Bombay) emphasize the person's focused aim of escaping. They don't claim to be Christians exactly, but they do mention God, and there's no doubt that God saved them. I don't doubt that for a moment. But I do wonder about being focused on escaping because Jesus said we are not to try to save our own lives but to lose our lives for His sake.

Didn't He? But people will object if you point that out to them. They will say that maybe we are to try to save ourselves to be of use later or something like that. I think that misses the point of Jesus' teaching.

I'm not talking about the immediate aim of avoiding sure death. I don't think that's what Jesus meant -- unless you have a clear leading from Him to be doing something else in the situation rather than avoiding death of course. I'm talking about the exclusive focus on escape as opposed to seeking God's will in the circumstance.

God may use us whether or not we are being obedient, but obeying Him and dying to ourselves should at the very least mean that we aren't seeking to save ourselves from a calamity but putting His will above our own and seeking what He wants of us in that situation. If we are seeking Him then we can know in our spirit what He wants of us, we don't have to be blind to His will. We may remain blind to His will of course, that's up to Him, but we may not: He may show us something clear that He wants of us. It is possible He simply wants to lead us out of there, but more likely He would have us serve others in some way, as He did when He walked this earth and still does from heaven. This would involve self-sacrifice of course, even if we are protected from harm and eventually escape. It is by definition a sacrifice of self to put others ahead of ourselves.

I've been mulling over lately how easy it seems to be for this kind of teaching to be misunderstood, indeed not even recognized at all by Christians. Someone may accuse me of "seeking martyrdom" by simply quoting Jesus' saying we are to lose our lives for His sake, even if the context is clearly circumstances over which a person has no control. Someone else may think I'm denying that God is in control of whether we live or die if I say that saving onself is not to be our priority, based on the same quote. I'm never quite prepared for such misunderstandings. It makes me think that the Sermon on the Mount is not really taken seriously.

This was the response of a couple of people to what I wrote in response to one of the Mumbai stories, here:

What a story. Touching to hear of all the Indians helping him. I wonder if Alex or his friends were killed or let go?

I'm sure I'd react with full-bore adrenaline too (which would probably give me a heart attack but oh well), but these stories usually make me wonder how as a Christian I SHOULD react, and saving my own life shouldn't be top priority. Of course it sounds impossibly idealistic but Jesus' teachings ARE counterintuitive, clearly aimed at overcoming our natural self-protective reactions by His power, as He overcame when He went to the cross for us. We're to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors for instance, forgive our enemies and not call for their death. It's the Spirit-powered Christian response that wins people, not anything we do in the flesh. Better to convert a terrorist even while dying at his hand than escape. Truly. We're to die to self and saving our lives will lose our lives, but losing them for His sake will save them. Jesus' teaching is full of such paradoxes. We're to fear nothing, not those who can take our physical lives but only Him who has power over our eternal lives. "Perfect love casts out fear." We're to put others ahead of ourselves, those who were milling around dazed for instance. If we really lived like this, something impossible to us and possible only by God's own power, Ducky could have nothing to say against us ever.

I know this is all talk coming from me, and the walk would be an adrenaline-powered run same as the writer's unless God gave me an infusion of grace at that moment to obey Him, and I'm truly glad for this man's escape and the story he has to tell, but I can't help at least KNOWING what God would want me to be doing instead. I truly believe that this is the Christian life as God wants us to live it, in His power, and I'm well aware of my own failure to do so. What power the church would have if we learned this life as Jesus teaches it.

I believe this. I yearn for this power, this total self-giving to God's will. Most Christians, however, seem content to recognize God's hand in their lives. I don't mean to minimize such a recognition; it's wonderful. It's faith, it's belief, it's salvation.

But is the Sermon on the Mount to be regarded as something beyond normal Christian life? What gets called the "Higher Christian Life" is really just obedience to Jesus, it seems to me.

President Bush is no born-again Christian

A couple of reports on Bush's admission that he's not a literal Bible-believer, from a site called The Apostolic Report and another from AOL. He doesn't believe the Bible is literally true and he believes that other religions worship the same God Christians do.

Is it possible he is a born-again Christian with such beliefs? He had convinced many of us of that when we voted for him. But can you consider God's word to be inaccurate or incomplete in any way and be His child? Can you consider all religions to be true worship of the one true God and still belong to God? I don't see how. Isn't this denying the exclusivity of the sending of God's own Son to die for us, which is known only in the Bible? If you deny the Son Jesus says you will be denied by God. If Jesus said He is "the way, the truth and the life" and that "no one comes to the Father but by Me," then all those who deny that He is the only way to the Father but hope to get to the Father some other way are not God's.

This ought to have been apparent at the point Bush declared Islam to be "a religion of peace" or even more particularly, when he allowed a Muslim leader to pray along with other clergy in the National Cathedral after 9/11. Having a Jewish leader or a Catholic pray there is really already the same thing of course. 9/11 was already God's judgment on this nation, and there have been more judgments in the form of disasters since then as well, but including false religions in the National Cathedral, instead of mollifying God's wrath against the nation can only invite more. It is no different than the worship of the false god Tammuz in Solomon's Temple as reported by Ezekiel in the Old Testament, or any of the worship of false gods by the Israelites, done along with the true God, as reported for the people of Israel at various times, including King Solomon. We were given the Old Testament as admonition but who is paying attention? This is direct disobedience of the Commandment to "have no other gods before Me." Who can be God's child who does such a thing?

Obama's "Christianity" is even worse, but then Obama's winning the Presidency is God's judgment on the nation in itself (Well, so was Bush's, so was Clinton's etc. etc. etc). Sin begets sin.