Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God . . .?

america-repent-perish-battaile-politics-1353334621Almost two years ago now I was in bed sleeping when my wife came up and woke me at about one in the morning.  She said that her brother had just called and said there had been a large earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region of Japan.  Her grandparents live in that region, so I sprang up wondering if they were ok.  They only sustained a little bit of damage, but when I turned on CNN, I could see this massive wall of water traveling at over 500 miles per hour and destroying everything in its path.  15,880 people died in that natural disaster including my friend’s cousin and his family.  He was at work when the earthquake hit and being concerned about his wife and three month old baby he left the office which was up in the hills and, as you might have guessed, was taken along with his family when the tsunami reached their home.  His dad – my friend’s uncle – who was a very happy person who liked to tell jokes, was left with the task weeks later of walking through rows and rows of bodies looking for his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.  When he returned home after finding them and after seeing so much death and destruction he locked himself in his room and still does not talk very much to this day.

When such tragedy strikes, we can’t help but ask ourselves why such things happen.  I guess when we think about it this disaster makes sense in a way.  After all, only about one percent of Japan’s population is Christian.  So, it only makes sense that God would want to punish such a heathen nation and give them a wake up call to turn to Christianity.  Even the text in Luke 13 talks of God’s wrath.  Repent or perish!  Just to prove the point even further, Jesus tells a parable about a tree that just takes up space.  This obviously is talking about humans who do not obey God and God’s desire to wipe them out, but Jesus the gardener becomes our intercessor and pleads our case for us.  Oh well, there’s nothing much that we can do about it other than start evangelizing as much as we can so that God does not become too angry.  God is God and God can do whatever God wants, we will just have to learn to live with it.

Or will we? Maybe this isn’t what this passage says at all.  The word repent in the  original Greek actually means to change one’s mind and as a result change one’s actions.  When Jesus is asked if those who died did so because of the degree of their sins, Jesus says “No!”  That’s not how God works.  He warns them, however, that if they do not change their minds and therefore their actions, then they too will meet a horrible end.  Jesus is not talking about divine retribution, he’s talking about natural cause and effect.  If you go around ticking off the ruling powers and go do things that you are not supposed to, you will eventually be crushed.  Jesus knew this.  He knew the end that he would fall to as a result of his challenge of Roman authority.

And the fig tree?  Jesus was a first century Jew.  He understood the Levitical laws that forebode harvesting before the fourth year.  A fig tree, once planted, was supposed to give off its first fruits on the fourth year!  So, if God is anywhere in this parable, it is not as the mean illogical master, but in the gardner who reassures us by saying, “I wouldn’t do that to you.”  This passage is teaching us that God does not expect the impossible from us, but loves us and supports us to be the best that we can be.

We learn a certain way of seeing things we start to build frames and walls around ideas.  Eventually, these frames become so solid and unchanging that they become absolute truths.  Reading this text is proof of that.  We read this and we hear God saying something that God NEVER says to us.  But, because we were taught a certain way, we are afraid to chance seeing things anew.  We are afraid to repent, that is, change our minds, because it’s scary territory and what if we’re wrong?

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only text that we misinterpret.  I think the Church – the universal church – can stand to do some repenting.  In the 5th century, one of the church fathers named Cyprian declared that there was no salvation beyond the church.  It made sense that he would say this because it was not long before that Constantine declared that the Roman Empire would be Christian.  The Roman occupiers were tired of contending with those hard-headed Christians who weren’t afraid to die for their faith, so they decided if they couldn’t beat them, they could own them.  The church and the government became one and in order to ensure that the people listened, church leaders who were controlled by the government such as Cyprian said, in essence, you need Jesus for salvation, you can only find Jesus through the church, and we hold the keys to the church.  So you better listen to and obey what the church says!  Such thinking of the church as a rule-making body in the name of God has almost made the church disappear in North America.

I think that the Church needs to start changing its mind and actions about long-held beliefs.  Many who are leading the transformation in the worldwide church have said that it’s time to rethink what church means.  Many people outside of these walls see churches and think – “There’s another judgmental institution that wants to tell me how to believe and has sunken into the abyss of irrelevance.”  We have an amazing opportunity here at Tri-C.  We have the opportunity to be a beacon of light to the community around us and start asking ourselves, what does it mean to be the church anyway? We have the chance to show them that they’re wrong and the church still is relevant today.  It just may not be as a bastion of legislating God’s laws and enforcing them, but it may be some amazing expression of love that we never could have imagined.  WE have the opportunity to say we are willing to set a new standard, to say that we are willing to change our minds and start seeing things the way that God sees them.  NOT necessarily the way that we were taught growing up.  Who knows, the ONA discussion may just be the place to start.  We have been blessed with this calling to show that we realize that the God who made creation and loves creation and who is constantly flowing toward the greater good still has some wonderful things to do – through us.

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