It has come to my attention that the Queen of England, more so, the Queen of the British Empire and the British Common Wealth has died.
Now, how does that affect me, a Brazilian raised in America who now resides in Canada? Not much. In truth, Queen Elizabeth’s death has little to do with my day-to-day responsibilities. Her life, spanning back to the 1920s, if I’m not mistaken, has had little to no consequence to mine and I was born in 1990. (64 years difference!)
The lady died at the ripe and overdue age of 96. She was four years short of becoming a centenarian. That does not bug me one bit. Anyone who lives to see 80 has lived much, perhaps too much, and any years beyond that are a gift on top of the miracle of life itself.
Her life was one of luxury, royalty, fame, affluence, and influence. Although her seat of power had been sapped of its executive effectiveness long before she took over, she knew her name, more so her bloodline, meant and still means much to those who consider themselves subject to her reign. A reign now passed on to the next monarch, King Charles (73).
And listen, the long history of British Imperialism is something I will continue to critique and condemn until the day God calls me to the beyond. I will, without a shadow of a doubt, and with a healthy comprehension of historical context and respect for the facts concerning events researched, under the resolute guidance of humility and learning, continue to condemn the evils of colonial and imperial greed, racism, nationalism, and devastation until I die.
Great Britain, the chief of all imperialist nations, and its disgruntled landed neighbors, namely, Spain, Germany, Belgium, France, and others who ventured west and southwest in the Atlantic to “discover and conquer” “uninhabited” lands have much to answer for. In fact, to this day, I believe they are still answering for their national and international atrocities of centuries past. The inequity, inequality, and disparity between colored and white peoples of the world today were heavily exacerbated in these last four to five hundred years of human history alone. Lest we forget that Britain is what it is today because of what it did to the Americas, the Pacific, and the African nations centuries ago.
One cannot plunder for centuries only to end up broke in the end. Britain is rich. Ridiculously so.
Britain is rich with the spoils and fat of its previously conquered peoples and the nations it now still holds a heavy gavel over.
Regardless of that marred and devilish history, we must not, in the face of today’s events (as I am writing this on September 8, 2022, the day the Queen was declared deceased) build within ourselves this insatiable lust to tear a woman down in her deep sleep, well knowing she was the least busy cog in the machine we now know as Imperialist Britain.
If anything, she was either an incompetent imperialist monarch or one divested of desire to conquer more lands or promote expansionist sentiments in the lands already conquered.
Queen Elizabeth II, knowingly or unknowingly, is the last or rather, the penultimate of her kind. Once Charles expires, which from the looks of it, may be sooner than we think, the cultural identity of imperialist Britain will die with him.
The next level of successors is too ingrained within a post-modern, justice, and socially conscious culture to proceed in conquering that which has no need to be conquered or ruled; in practice or theory. They will be called monarchs, yes, but they will not behave as monarchs. Social media influencers have more influence and authority than British monarchs. Our world is heavily influenced, still, by capital gains, and between King Charles and Christiano Ronaldo or Kim Kardashian I believe Coca-Cola would side with the two younger cash cows; whose appearances in branded material or slogan slapped billboards have a greater effect on our psyche and financial decisions than the moorings of a dried grape looking Anglo-Saxon ruler who is two years and six days shy of a heart attack.
Regardless, the noise on social media is focused on maligning a dead woman, a woman many of them cared very little for while she lived, and a woman who they spoke nothing of just yesterday. These reactionaries are very much impressed with the attention they garnish from mob rule or rather mob misrule in throwing tomatoes, dislikes, and misplaced bitterness at the grave of a woman who isn’t even buried yet.
The comments and thoughts are many, and many of them varied as well, but they fall under the same cloud of “racist old lady is dead and everyone is happy about it,” or “who else remembers this video about this racist old lady?”
Insert video with or without context.
Again, I am not dodging nor excusing the queen’s misgivings, misjudgments, or mortal sins. I am challenging the echoes that only sound loudest once the aim of their ire is dead.
Where were these sentiments when she was twenty years younger? In her 70s, fully capable of engaging with some of these criticisms, perhaps with her wit in one hand and a lance in the other? The lady was not a dunce. She was very intelligent and from what I’ve read, somewhat impatient about idiocy at home and abroad. So I’m sure a formal critique or a formal presentation of dissent would not have been ignored.
So why now?
The metanarratives that ebb and flow through social media, giving credit to just about every opinion imaginable as if every thought were itself a conviction which in turn becomes an unrefutable truth claim that must be respected, accepted, and celebrated even if it contradicts every law of reason, logic, common sense, physics, and table etiquette conceivable.
Boomers with access to social media, Gen Xers, Millennials, Gen Zeds, and whatever that monstrosity is that comes after Gen Zeds, have access to social media and by access alone they, myself included, believe that every post, this one included, is as valid or more valid than opposing or similar ones.
All this to say that the ire against the dead queen does not stem from honest dissent, honest anger, honest inquiry into wrongs, or an honest desire to have healthy dialogue that can lead to change.
The lady’s corpse has yet to cool and people are demanding a chunk of her flesh not knowing they don’t even eat human meat. The vitriol and invective are coming from a place many people cannot even verbalize when asked to give a reason for why they believe and think the way they do. They think they are challenging white supremacy by channeling mob mentality tactics on social media in the wake of a woman’s death.
We must, at this moment, reflect on her life, pay respect where it is due, and when the time is right, our heads screwed on properly, and our arguments clear as day, we can present them to one another with solutions to the ills we condemn so as not to just breathe hot air into one another’s face on Twitter.
Let the queen die in peace. Let her body rot in her grave. She will. So will we. Let her face God in the beyond and present to Him her accomplishments which He will laugh at with the greatest amusement. There are no records of the incarnate God ever laughing but I believe He will be splitting atoms at some of the hubris He’ll have to listen to at the end of days. Her only saving hope is the Grace, Mercy, and Benevolence of the Brown Skinned Messiah her earthly kingdom turned into a white man and in the process made others believe He, too, was white like her and her lineage. She’ll be shocked. Wish I could be there to see it.
Nevertheless, dismiss, if at all possible, the initial, and potentially the second wave of misguided disgruntled comments launched at a woman who was at the end of something we are soon to see the desolution of, namely, an empire.
The puppet show has grown somewhat boring and outside of a museum, it seems dated. Speaking of museums, it is time Britain returns every bit of archeological find they “discovered” and “readily hid” in their museums for safe keeping from Africa and other non-African nations.
There is much to be said about a person who is mourned almost singularly by white people and shunned almost singularly by people of color. More than I can ever say in one article.
I won’t ever say, “Long live the Queen/King…” of whichever nation. I pray they die sooner and that monarchy dissolves into a liberal democracy instead.
But here, here, to the now dead queen, Queen Elizabeth II, I will say, you have lived long and I pray your life has taught your progeny to live with humility, honor, altruism, philanthropic goals, and a heart turned toward people, not stones, not mythical bloodline superiority theories, or God-given permission(s) to reign supremely over God’s people.
I pray your life has taught the next king or queen (sans Charles) to love and serve, well.
And when the time comes, when the Brits realize that their next monarch, King or Queen, will look more like a member of one of their previously or currently subjugate nations, namely, a brown or black monarch, they will sooner demolish the institution than allow a person of color to reign over Anglolandia.
Then, yes, we can put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, to bring this devilish greedy kingdom to an end; once and for all.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
“What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:1-3 CSB
James delivers a blunt rebuttal to the question many in Jerusalem were asking: why aren’t our prayers answered?
If God were a genie He would have to be devoid of his moral code or His innate and intrinsic sense of righteousness to then give any requester of wishes what their heart most desired. Unlimited wealth to one, unrestrained sexual experiences to another, impunity to another yet, and the dismissal of charges of crimes against humanity to another.
For God to be a genie He would have to suspend the eternal laws of Goodness to offer the requestor whatever was on her mind.
Aladdin’s genie has his set of rules to prevent a lucky wish maker from abusing the rites of the wish-making business.
Practically, the Blue Mist Genie cannot:
1. Make someone fall in love with you
2. Kill people
3. Bring back the dead
4. Give out more wishes
So, from the list produced it seems as if the wisher cannot wish for much other than money and fame, perhaps the occasional relief from disease and sickness, or even the altruistic effort of feeding an innumerable number of people who would have otherwise gone without food.
But James explains that the absence of answered prayer is not necessarily a disregard for rules God has set up but more so one’s intent behind that request and secondly how one intends on using her requested blessing or answered prayer in the immediate world.
What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?
Albert Barnes, an American theologian, and abolitionist commented on the nature of the word “passion” which in other translations is rendered as “lust” or “lusts” in his commentary of the same passage:
“Is not this the true source of all war and contention? The word rendered “lusts” is in the margin rendered “pleasures.” This is the usual meaning of the word (ἡδονὴ hēdonē); but it is commonly applied to the pleasures of sense, and thence denotes desire, appetite, and lust. It may be applied to any desire for sensual gratification, and then to the indulgence of any corrupt propensity of the mind. The lust or desire of rapine, of plunder, of ambition, of fame, of a more extended dominion, I would be properly embraced in the meaning of the word. The word would equally comprehend the spirit which leads to a brawl in the street, and that which prompted the conquests of Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon. All this is the same spirit evinced on a larger or smaller scale.”
James explains and Barnes expounds that supplications presented before God but derive not from a place of purity and altruism, will go unanswered because they ascend from lust. Namely, unrestrained selfish pleasure-seeking desires that can and often disregard the well-being of those we exploit for pleasure and gratification.
A notable observation is that Barnes adds that “lust” is not limited to sexual gratification alone. It implies the pleasure a Nazi Gestapo officer derives from torturing an incarcerated dissident. It implies the pleasure a boss derives from harassing a staff member by threatening to terminate their employment if she does not finish more projects by the end of the week than she is physically capable of. Pleasure, like Hitler, Mussolini, Alexander, and Genghis Khan derived from conquering people and land and filling the latter with the blood of the former.
Our passions and lusts are in place to ingratiate no one but ourselves and when we use this vice to accomplish our ends for no one but ourselves God will not honor that request.
The results are damning:
“You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war.”
Is anyone surprised by the outcome of an “everyone gets whatever they want” philosophy of prayer? Hedonism eats at its beholder until there’s nothing left. A community of Christian hedonists is bound to become a haven of violence, destruction, and death.
Therefore, prayer, petitions, and supplications presented to God that stem from debased selfish desires will not be answered, and that is to our benefit, because what would that say about our God? A God who gives all who ask whatever their lustful heart desires is dangerous.
He would not be God but a destroyer.
The main preventer of answered prayer is you, me, not God.
“You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Consider then not only what it is or who it is you will pray for next and determine if that request comes from a place of Christ-honoring selfless askance that does not dishonor God nor those created in His image.
God is in the business of redemption, restoration, liberation, and sanctification. Selfish petitions that stem from lusts and passions are antagonistic and hostile to the efforts of God, therefore, it is unmistakably futile to pray for that which you now know will not be answered.
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy — dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8 CSB
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
When we infuse ourselves into a story where we do not belong we disrupt the narrative, interrupt the characters, and disparage the intent of the author of that story. Its structure changes to fit us into a tale, a poem, or a lesson we have no business being connected with, save our proximity to the story as a reader. But we make this mistake every time we open our Bibles and throw ourselves at the feet of the story, hoping that God sees us in the same light he saw Hagar, Joseph, Daniel, and that brave Bad-Negro. Correction. Abednego.
But listen, we’re all guilty of seeing ourselves as the heroes of our stories; and we like to see ourselves as the heroes of the Bible, as well. Their sufferings, however much greater than our own, remind us of the time we dealt with a flat tire, hoping God would swoop in and help us soar like eagles over traffic on our way to work.
We’re quick to place ourselves in Daniel’s shoes, as the prophet endured displacement, exile, and ethnocide at the hands of the Chaldeans because a fellow citizen bumped into us at Starbucks, making us spill our latte and with it, an avocado toast. This disruption; the ruined latte and avocado toast, turn a banal task into a spiritual maelstrom.
Why are we so pressed to identify with Biblical characters, wishing their successes were ours. We hope we’re privileged enough to open the Red Sea; we dream of waking up one day to rule Egypt; we buffet our bodies in preparation for a wrestling match with God in the desert; we dive into any murky river we can find in hopes of ridding ourselves of a dermatological ailment.
Forever seeking to relive the stories we read about like hopeless romantics forever lost in the past but we grimace at the thought of being associated with anything in scripture that does not portray us as devout, pious, and disciplined in ways of the Lord.
But our ignorance, once mixed with hopeless romanticism, drives us further down a path of biblical illiteracy. And this is only amplified by preachers and teachers who, instead of informing their congregation of the wealth of narratives within scripture, fuel their individualistic hysteria with stories that make them the center of the world; all this is made possible with the absence of historical and literary context.
Pastor Rohan Samuels of Freedom Life Church covered ten possible narratives that can be found within the Bible in his sermon titled, Don’t Miss The Vision Because of the Miracle. In these ten, one can see them intertwine, mix and match, or simply allow the reader to enjoy a story as told by first-hand account. If one is unaware of this, they may see one literary approach as another, thus confusing themselves in the process. The damage here is that a reader may approach, say, the book of Leviticus in hopes of acquiring life-altering principles for their marriage only to walk away dismayed and distraught by the content therein.
We need to better understand the books we are studying, what the author intends to portray, to who(m), when, and why. Without this, we’re primed to become victims of men and women who use the bible as a means to subjugate people into cultish environments and stupefied states of being.
I.e., Christian fundamentalism.
Let’s do better.
Again, here are Pastor Rohan’s ten, what he calls, genres, found within scripture:
Narrative Law History Genealogy Poetry Wisdom Prophecy Apocalypse (Eschatological) Parables Epistles
Now, let me try to give you an example of each.
The Believers Share Their Possessions – Acts 4:32-37
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
The Ten Commandments (Abridged) – Exodus 20:1-17
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
“You shall not murder.”
You shall not commit adultery.”
“You shall not steal.”
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”
The Fall of Jerusalem and Exile of the Jews – 2 Chronicles 36:15-21
15 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he pitied his people and his dwelling place. 16 But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. 17 He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. 18 He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. 19 They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.
20 He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. 21 The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.
Christ’s Genealogy – Matthew 1:1-17
From Abraham to Christ.
1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
From Abraham to David.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
From David to the Babylonian Exile.
7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
From the Exile to the Messiah.
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud, 15 Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
The Mountains and Fragrance of Lebanon – Songs of Solomon 4:8-11
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon. Descend from the crest of Amana, from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon, from the lions’ dens and the mountain haunts of the leopards.
9 You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice!
11 Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon.
Advice to a Prince. – Proverbs 31:2-9
2 “O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows,
3 do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.
4 “It is not for kings, O Lemuel– not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer,
5 lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
6 Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish;
7 let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
8 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Seventy Years In Babylon – Jeremiah 25:7-11
7 “But you did not listen to me,” declares the LORD, “and you have provoked me with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves.” 8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
Christ defeats the beast. – Revelation 19:11-16
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:30-37
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Greetings from Paul.
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Prayer for the Philippian Christians.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
The Bible employs various literary devices to get its point across, in telling or retelling a story, in portraying kingdoms and kings as beasts to explain a mode of military operations, and in using poetry to get a life lesson across. Literary devices are numerous, but here is a list of some we use or witness in film, theatre, and literature more often than we know.
I won’t detail each device but I want you to know that you are susceptible to using one if not a combination of these in your everyday conversations without evening knowing it. That’s how language works. And that’s how we have developed or at least better understood different literary styles and modes in the past, and present, and will understand them in the future.
Without a healthy or at least a neophyte’s understanding of these literary devices and how the Bible employs them to explain, teach, inform, relate, or narrate biblical truths, we risk misunderstanding and also misapplying scripture to our detriment.
Just one short, albeit constantly misused example, is a passage from Jeremiah 29:11.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Reading this text, as is, helps us see the benevolence of God in scripture but we also risk adding ourselves as the recipients of those words. Of course, who wouldn’t want God’s plan for their life to come to fruition? Who wouldn’t want prosperity, wealth, stability, and economic freedom? Who wouldn’t want to live free of harm, violence, theft, and homicide? Who wouldn’t want these existentially reinvigorating blessings of hope in their life? Life, without hope, is no life at all. And who wouldn’t want the peace derived from knowing there is a future ahead of them? No one wants to live with a death sentence looming above or a terminal disease followed by several days or weeks left to live. We want to know that there is longevity and progeny ahead of us and that we haven’t exhausted our days so soon.
It is not wrong to want better. It is not even wrong to want the best from God. It is simply a God-given desire to seek that which we believe is best for us.
But that is not what this verse in Jeremiah is about at all. It isn’t about 21st-century North Americans who spent too much on a car or a house and now struggle with their mortgage, uncertain of whether they’ll be able to keep their house or not. If the bank will take the house from them or not.
This verse, within context, better explain God’s relationship with the nation of Israel, and more to the point, his relationship with the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem.
Let’s add context to this verse by citing a verse before it and a few after it.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29-10-14
Now, with a better view of this passage, the dynamic of it changes. The narrative changes. The recipient(s) of those words, those promises, changes, rightly moving the story away from us and onto the subject within the text, within context.
The southern nation of Judah, its capital Jerusalem, had squandered its God-given edicts, laws, and worship rituals by seeking gods, idols, and mystics from the surrounding nations. If you know anything about the Jewish faith and the Ten Commandments, to seek any god or deity other than Yahweh is a major breach of Israel’s spiritual contract with God. When God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, they signed a pact with Him in the desert, promising, with their lives and their posterity, that they would serve Him and Him only until the end of time. And in that contract, they understood that if they deviated from this relationship to serve other gods they would be liable to the consequence of exile from the land God had promised them and also bound to slavery, once again, to a pagan totalitarian regime.
“7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.” Exodus 19:7-8
And sure enough, they did just that. One of Judah’s kings, Manasseh, in pursuit of mediums, mystics, necromancers, and idols, offered his children to the fire as sacrifices to local gods as a means to appease them and gain spiritual and physical blessings. This was the last straw for God. And not too long after Manasseh’s heinous crimes, another group of Jewish monarchs invited Babylonian princes into the city of David and showed them all of the city’s gold and gems, which resided in the Solomon Temple, for clout, of course.
“To whom much is given…” You know the rest.
So God made the Jews a promise. He said, in so few words:
“Because you breached our relationship and betrayed my trust, numerous times, even after the multiple times I forgave you and took you back, I will send an agent of destruction to destroy the temple and city you have spurned. I am sending Nebuchadnezzar and his Chaldean army (Babylonians) to Jerusalem and they will raze that city to the ground and everyone left alive to witness its destruction will go into exile in Babylon for seventy years.”
And after this promise, this prophesy, uttered through prophet Jeremiah to the Jews of his day, God then promises them that he will not abandon them in Babylon forever. Just long enough for this problematic generation to die off and for the land of Israel and Judah to rest, after being abused by agricultural over-use.
Not: On Sabbath, the people and the land would rest. One day out of the week. And every seventh year, no one was allowed to plant anything, so that the land could rest, per se, and be reinvigorated. But the Jews had forsaken the purpose of the Sabbath, their weekly day of rest and worship. And their greed had ushered them to dismiss the seventh year of rest cycle, thus ruining the land they pulled crops from.
This enraged God.
So for every seventh year of rest they ignored, God made them stay a year in Babylon.
Crazy. I know. But the land finally got its rest. And the people who had sifted the land of its resources had all died out.
So Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t about us. It isn’t about our comfort, our wellbeing, our financial success, or whatever you want to attribute that verse to in your life today. That verse pertains to God’s promise of redemption for the Jews once they had endured seventy years in exile.
Here is a passage that God relayed to king Solomon long before Jeremiah ever graced the plains of Jerusalem. God spoke with Solomon about the risk and consequence of falling away from His edicts and how the people and the land could bounce back from their backslidden ways.
13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
Hundreds of years before the destruction of the city and its inhabitants, God produced a path of redemption for these people and that is exactly what happened when Daniel began to pray while in captivity in Babylon. The man had lived through the various exiles of the Jews into a foreign land and reached Babylon as a youth. Having spent his life in the service of Babylonian and Persian monarchs one day he set his heart to pray for his people and was reminded of the promise God made through Jeremiah.
Outside of this context, which, decontextualizes this passage, we destroy its meaning by infusing ourselves into a narrative, a historical narrative, a prophetic narrative, we do not belong in.
“In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.” – Daniel 9:1-6
The confirmation of God’s promise took place when Ezra was granted a leave of absence by Cyrus the King of Persia (Medo-Persian Empire) to return to Jerusalem in hopes of rebuilding the Temple of Solomon. Not long after that, Nehemiah, a cupbearer to King Xerxes, was given a leave of absence to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city’s walls.
Note: When the Babylonians laid siegeworks against a city, invaded it, or killed or enslaved its inhabitants, they would destroy that city’s walls in the process. One Babylonian commander by the name of Nebuzaradan burned the Solomon Temple down (some believe he used the tree trunks and barks that surrounded the city to burn down the temple, melting the temple’s gold into its foundation). And the same commander destroyed the city’s walls.
In conclusion, Jeremiah 29:11 is about a Jewish audience who, short on time, are about to face their worst loss since kings David and Solomon passed away. And this loss will be a stain on their history for decades as they languish and then die in captivity in Babylon. God is telling them through Jeremiah that the next generation or two, the remnant of these people who survive the exile, will be rescued and they will prosper. God had a plan for them. God had a plan for their future. He wanted to give them hope.
Outside of this context, which, decontextualizes this passage, we destroy its meaning by infusing ourselves into a narrative, a historical narrative, a prophetic narrative, we do not belong in.
But 21st century Christians do this all… the… time. All the time.
Attributing passages from apocalyptic (Book of Revelation) writings to their current predicaments. They find descriptive passages from a Pauline epistle and transform them into prescriptive writings for 21st century Christians in Edmonton, Alberta. They pull promises God made to Abraham, the patriarch, and add these to their lives as if the promises will hold.
But oddly enough, the same people who infuse themselves into scripture as heroes and recipients of God’s benevolent promises to them rarely infuse themselves into the story or stories they read as the villains or malefactors therein.
They never read themselves into the Pharisees who crucified Christ. They never read themselves into Judas Iscariot who betrayed our Lord. They never read themselves into Pharaoh, who hardened his heart time and again against God’s request that he deliver the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt. They never read themselves into the sexually depraved rapists from Sodom and Gomorrah. They never read themselves into Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit and were struck down where they stood.
And this is a sign that all they care about is making themselves the centerpiece of God’s story. It’s a rather recent phenomenon within Christendom, considering the hyper-awareness and favoring of an individualistic faith in our time, whereas the Christian faith, for almost two thousand years, has been about equal parts personal salvation and communal liberation.
But I rest my case here.
All I want to do with this post is remind the reader, the Christian reader, the secular, the Muslim, and the spiritually curious, that when you read the Bible you must invest yourself into the context of the passage you are about to read to get a better grasp of who the author is, their audience, and what is happening in the peripherals for this narrative to be taking place? What are the geopolitical ramifications going on within the text? What are the religious qualifications attached to this verse or passage? Is this passage relegated to the Jews and the Jewish state alone? Is this a Levitical law only pertinent to Jewish priests? Is this a cultural law? Is this a moral law?
Outside of this, we become victims of ignorance and selfishness, pride working its way through our hearts, making God our servant and slave. And whenever these promises fail to come to fruition in our lives, we blame God for failing to uphold His side of the bargain (which was never between us and God).
What we ought to take from these passages when we read them in context, as we should, always, is what we learn about God’s character toward human beings. In understanding His heart for justice, we also see His undying pursuit of redeeming humanity. He brought the Jews out of Babylon and back into the land of Israel so that Jesus could be born into it. And the story about Jesus goes from there. Redemption then becomes available to the world, not just Israel.
So when we read these passages, our overall take should be a more wholesome understanding of God’s personality, character, and goal, not just for the people He is speaking to within context, but, also for how He navigates events and people through history to bring about His ultimate plan for redemption, deliverance, and forgiveness of sins for all.
Please, for the love of your spiritual formation, stop reading yourself into the Bible.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Note: This post was originally used as a sermonette for Freedom Life Church’s Good Friday service. The topic of the night was the Seven Last Words of Christ. I was asked to speak on one of Christ’s sayings that depict his vulnerability, his humanity, and anguish in the face of unimaginable horror enacted upon his body on crucifixion day some two thousand years ago.
Our Lord, The Crucified Christ
Two Thousand Years Ago…
Last week, Jesus entered the small village of Bethpage on a donkey. Those present welcomed him with opened arms, waving palm branches, saluting Jesus as the next best thing; as the long-awaited Messiah sent to oust the oppressive Roman Empire and restore Israel to its former Davidic glory.
Jesus then spends his week focused on a series of adventurous events, cursing fig trees, and sharing parables about children, tenants, wedding feasts, virgins, and talents.
He encourages religious leaders to pay their taxes. He expounds on the realities of the resurrection to men who deny the possibility of an afterlife.
He issues seven woes, public condemnations levied against the corrupt religious leaders of his day. He speaks fondly of Jerusalem, weeping over her as if the city were a helpless orphan, and then proceeds to prophesy its imminent destruction. He spoke authoritatively about his second coming, the end of the world, and the final judgment.
Jesus then disappears from the limelight to a more private setting in the home of Simon, a former leper who Jesus had healed earlier in his ministry, and in that house, he is honored and anointed by Mary, who pours a priceless balm over his head, to his disciples’ bewilderment.
One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, the treasurer, plots against him, and in return, Jesus washes Judas’ feet and then feeds him a satiating Passover meal.
The Lord’s Supper is instituted, promises of fealty and loyalty to Jesus are made by Peter, only to be broken hours later. Judas Iscariot is possessed by the devil to finalize his betrayal of our Lord. Jesus then leaves Simon’s home and settles in Gethsemane where he wars with the spiritual world in prayer, and struggles with thoughts of discouragement, at the horrors to come.
Judas arrives with armed men in tow, a kiss is exchanged between the Rabbi and the traitor, and in return, Jesus calls him “friend.”
An arrest takes place, a beating, mockery, spit, and harassment follows Jesus as he is dragged into a kangaroo court in the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest. He is then tossed at the feet of the Romans, and a demand for his execution is made before Pilate. Pilate resists and tosses Jesus to Herod where he is humiliated further, and once done, they send him back to Pilate where he is flogged with a lead-tipped whip in hopes of appeasing the bloodlust of the Pharisees. A choice is made, Barabbas goes free, and Jesus is forced to carry his cross to Golgotha where he is to be crucified.
After hours upon hours of suffering, beatings, floggings, abandonment, nakedness, hunger, thirst, and pain, Jesus now hangs on the cross, the shame of his day, for all to see.
It is here, upon unimaginable pain and horror, after hanging on the cross for at least three hours, Jesus experiences debilitating loneliness, however minute, however indecipherable to us it may seem, he feels, under the weight of asphyxiation and impending doom, isolated from the joy of the presence of the Father, his heart is given to absolute destitution.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
The Hebrew-Chaldee pronunciation exclaimed by Jesus from the cross was the first few words of the twenty-second Psalm, a song of David. Both David and Christ had exclaimed that which simmered in their hearts in a time of utmost desperation in the face of insurmountable odds. In a moment of utmost anguish, Jesus utters words only those familiar with the local language would understand. Some presumed he was calling out to Elijah, the prophet, or perhaps, Jesus’s throat was so dry and his body so weak that his words were unintelligible to those present at the foot of the cross.
“Why?” Jesus asks from the cross. “To what end? For what reason?” Was he deserted and left to feel so helpless and vulnerable to the mercilessness of man? Jesus’s humanity was in full view for all to see.
Dualists, Gnostics, and Manichaeans would have us believe that Jesus was a spirit who worked through the motions of a man, who only resembled a human being on the cross, thus making him unaffected by the cruelty of a crucifixion. But the gospel narratives inform us that he bled, he wept, he felt pain, and here, at this particular moment, after hours of torture and excruciating pain, he felt anguish. He was under severe physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual duress.
“We have here, however, the purely human feeling that arises from a natural but momentary quailing before the agonies of death, and which was in every respect similar to that which had been experienced by the author of the psalm. The combination of profound mental anguish, in consequence of entire abandonment by men, with the well-nigh intolerable pangs of dissolution, was all the more natural and inevitable in the case of One whose feelings were so deep, tender, and real, whose moral consciousness was so pure, and whose love was so intense.” – Heinrich Meyer
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15
Our Lord, the crucified Christ, demonstrates to his audience then and us now the frailty and fragility of his human nature on the cross, reminding us that we are free to express our hearts to God in the most honest ways possible because he understands our brokenness.
David uttered the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And God rescued him from his enemies.
Jesus uttered the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And on the third day, he rose from the tomb, resplendent and triumphant, as Christ eternal, King of the Jews, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Jesus teaches us from the cross that we must not be weary nor afraid of approaching him with our brokenness for He hears us.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18
I recall spending hours upon hours of my free time either consuming Left Behind books, second-guessing who Nikolai Carpathia was intending on killing next, or listening to Grace To You sermons and teachings. I was twenty or twenty-one, highly impressionable. I’m still impressionable today. You place bacon in front of me and I’ll eat it. It doesn’t take much to convince me. But things were different then. I had little to my name; not that I have much more now, but I was fine-tuned to be led somewhere by someone because I had nowhere to be and no one to go ‘there’ with. What does a religious-minded twenty-something do with his or her free time? There were no summer camps to attend. Some of them were far more expensive than I could afford and the nightlife did not suit me. I thought alcohol was an avoidable pitfall that needed forgetting so life became rather glib. Hard drugs were never an option either so I threw myself into learning more about God and the Bible. Little did I know, the man from whose biblical foundation I intended on learning from was a religious sycophant who belittled Christians, mocked Catholics, maligned Muslims, and disregarded the plight of the oppressed and disadvantaged for the sake of preaching heaven-onlyism to avoid confronting the issues of the world, and had a personal mission against homosexuals. An obsessive agenda against homosexuality to the point of auditory discomfort.
After years of listening to his teachings, I became like him. Not like Jesus, of course, because Christ was and is different. Christ ventures into murky waters to seek and save that which is lost. He does not distance himself from the filth of sin for the sake of clout. Jesus dives in headfirst to deliver. This man, on the other hand, seemed more willing to stand aloof, above it all, supercilious and unapologetic, deriding the failings of others, to the point of becoming famous in Christian circles for doing so. After listening to his teachings for as long as I had, I began to exhibit the same behaviors as a means to accomplish the same level of status and respect in my Christian circles.
My tone changed. I would go from curiosity about other religious groups and their teachings to showing contempt for them. I was no longer willing, in my heart, at least, to sit down with these wonderful unknown people and their concepts, philosophies, and ideas to discuss life, love, joy, and soccer. I wanted nothing to do with their ideas and the worldview that made them who they were because, I was taught, I was informed, I was trained to believe, without wavering, that to associate with them in peace and fellowship, absent my public and outspoken denigration of everything they believed, was a sin.
I was so incensed by this new desire for God, or so I thought it was God, that I went out of my way to seek more of this man’s teachings. I tuned in to his radio show on my way to work, I listened to his ministry’s podcast while I worked, and I looked up YouTube videos of him publicly confronting or shaming other public figures, Christians and non-Christians alike. I spent well over one hundred dollars on the purchase of a study bible he published (New American Standard Bible) with his notes along the bottom of each page. I craved his intellect on so many passages of scripture as if he were the only reliable source of biblical truth outside the bible and the Holy Spirit. I also bought his bible commentary, which espoused well over one thousand pages of his notes and thoughts on biblical knowledge. While at the register at the Christian bookstore, the clerk asked me why I was purchasing a bible with MacArthur’s notes and a commentary written by MacArthur since they’re essentially the same thing. I simply said why not? I was too ecstatic about the possibilities, the opportunities, the chances I would get to devour this bible teacher’s ideas and concepts so that I could regurgitate them to the Mary worshipping Catholic next door, the hellbent homosexual at work, or the satan oppressed Jehovah’s Witness from school, and the bomb-strapped radical Muslim who attended mosque every week. I couldn’t wait.
And I didn’t.
I went through my social media accounts spewing every which type of condemnation against just about anyone who believed differently from me, or rather, from MacArthur. I publicly condemned gay people and engaged possessed dissenters in the comment sections of my posts as if I were a crusader on a mission from God. I joined Meta (then Facebook) groups that espoused satanic ideas. What I didn’t know was that those Satanists in the group I joined were not the theistic kind of Satanists that American media and sensationalist Christian circles had taught me about. They were atheistic Satanists who only used the dark prince’s name or title as a means of philosophical rebellion against institutionalized religious and irreligious systems. I am not vouching for the concept, I’m simply stating that I was misguided about their intentions and their philosophy. I proselytized to these random faces and names on my screen as if I were the spawn of Billy Graham, wishing every which one of them a gospel-filled weekend, hoping that at least one would venture onto Christ’s path for my sake, or rather, their sake. Hubris, you see, had hijacked my intentions. Knowledge, however, crippled by hate and youthful zeal without guidance, had dominated my mind, and with it, corrupted my heart.
Perhaps my heart was already corrupt and I just so happened to find a medium through which I could disseminate my corruption further.
I met some lovely people in those groups. People who love gaming, metal, and movies. We argued a lot. I have private messages that could, with a bit of Hollywood glamour and TBN cringe, be turned into a classic Christian movie that would rival the unlovability of the God’s Not Dead movie series. I was living, in my mind and my social media life, the certified rottenness of Rotten Tomatoes movie rankings. I was living the life of a Christian superhero, damning one pagan to hell via Facebook at a time.
Damned was every person who challenged me. And I damned them. Laughing through it all, of course. Amicable, of course. Because I was taught to share the truth with people even if it meant leading them to existential suicide and philosophical implosion. I mean, didn’t Christ disrupt apostle Paul’s life in the same way by blinding the man on his way to Damascus? Who was I to present a different way? If I had to burn every bridge to tell someone that they were going to hell then I burnt the bridge with a smile on my face.
Granted, my fundamentalist upbringing within the Brazilian Assemblies of God (Bethlehem Ministry) did not help. Fundamentalism in any state, philosophy, political group, or ideology is problematic, and in many cases, deadly, so it did not help to listen to the likes of MacArthur, at all.
I mean, I consumed just about everything made by Grace Community Church, Grace to You, the Master’s Seminary, Strange Fire conferences, and Q&A sessions, and its partnerships with other churches, like that of the great late R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries. (Still fond of R.C.’s work)
By the way, there are 72 million registered Democrats in this country who have identified themselves with that party, and maybe they need to rethink that identification. I know from last week’s message that there was some response from people who said, “Why are you getting political?” Romans 1 is not politics. The Bible is not politics. This is nothing to do with politics; this has to do with speaking the Word of God to the culture in which we live. It has nothing to do with politics. It’s not about personalities. It’s about iniquity and judgment. And why do we say this? Because this must be recognized for what it is: sin – serious sin, damning sin, destructive sin.
You say, “Well, our society cultivates tolerance, and you’re giving hate speech.”
What I’m saying is not hate speech. What the Democratic Party is saying is hate speech because they must hate the homosexuals if they will allow them to go the direction they’re going, affirm that, knowing that it’ll take them to hell. That’s hate speech; this is love speech. You either warn them or you affirm them. And Romans 1 warns them. And any faithful Christian warns, “This is dangerous; this is deadly.” It’s better to warn them than to affirm them. You might be the nice guy to affirm them, but that’s not love speech; that’s hate speech.
I would listen to MacArthur for hours on the topics like the bible’s authority, inerrancy, sufficiency, primacy, and immutability as it relates to Divine revelation. I listened to him speak on creation, the Godhead, providence, sovereignty, Calvinism, baptism, glossolalia (or rather, his derision of anyone who practiced the gift of speaking in tongues), the crucifixion, and the virgin birth of Christ. I would spend eight-hour workdays, sometimes longer, listening to him speak on sexuality, single life, engagement, marriage, homosexuality, manhood, womanhood, and how to raise one’s children. He spoke authoritatively on the value and benefit of a family unit where the man of the house obeys Christ, the woman obeys the man, and the children obey their parents; but the man’s decisions ultimately trump the woman’s decision in any matter every single time. Always. Anything other than this God-given hierarchy of submission in the Christian household was considered demonic. Women were never allowed to speak over a man, and God help the church where a woman was allowed to teach and preach to men. It was likened to the devil’s work, MacArthur espoused. Anti-biblical heresy.
Nearly all the teachings distinctive to the Charismatic Movement are unadulterated mysticism, and nothing illustrates that more perfectly than the way charismatics themselves depict the gift of tongues. They usually describe this gift of speaking these ecstatic syllables that have no meaning as a sort of ecstatic experience that has no equal. They would tell us that it’s a way to experience an emotion and a feeling that is beyond anything else that you will ever experience.
Well, on the one hand, there really isn’t anything particularly evil or immoral about it. If you just disassociate it from the Bible and disassociate it from Christianity, and if you get some pleasure out of standing in a corner all by yourself, or sitting in your room alone and talking gibberish to yourself, and that does something for you, then I suppose in and of itself, from a psychological standpoint, that’s – it’s not a moral issue; it may be harmless. If something makes you feel good, or makes you feel somehow better in control of your life, or like you’ve had some warm experience, so be it. But don’t call it intimacy with God; don’t say it makes you spiritually stronger; don’t say it makes you delirious with spiritual joy.
I learned about angels, demons, and the devil, about dispensationalism at work, and how it was the only way I ought to teach eschatological events in scripture. Any other interpretation of end-times texts was heresy. Seldom were varying ideas discussed authentically. Mid-tribulation or post-tribulation teachings were never tackled honestly, nor were the adherents of those teachings, reliable teachers trained to discuss those interpretations in a professional setting, ever quoted within context. The hearer was simply taught to believe that dispensationalism was taught from the book of Daniel, through the gospels, through Revelations, and up to date. Whoever veered from this teaching was better off facing the Anti-Christ himself.
Regret lives in my heart over just how much contempt I held for Muslims and other Christian sects. I recall listening to MacArthur, in my mind conjuring the model of an archetypal Muslim in arms, ready for jihad, Qur’an in one hand, the decapitated head of a Christian in the other; Allah, the mysterious deity of the faith, ever distant and hate-filled, calling his servants into submission through fear and intimidation. I recall mocking Mohammed. I cannot recall whether I mocked him on social media or from the pulpit, but I spent so much time mocking him. I, of course, knew little to nothing about Islam other than what was taught to me by MacArthur and a select few other prominent figures, all Christian, of course. I couldn’t reconcile the hatred of Muslims I held with the select few Muslims I had met and befriended. They were amazing human beings, better than me, in many ways. But, without cause, illogically, I always suspected they were one step away from converting me or killing me. I mean, Islam was Christianity’s mortal enemy, was it not? I had no idea that the geopolitical structure of Islam in antiquity was not hostile to Christians but to Christendom. The two are radically different ideologies, but I was never taught that. Christendom sought to use Christ’s name to conquer the ancient world through violence. I was never taught the difference. I was never taught, well, MacArthur is no historian therefore he never ventured into contrasting biblical Christianity and the nefarious geopolitical nightmare that was the Holy Roman Empire and its colonialist grandchild, imperial Europe. But here I was, destined to win a war, by debate or martyrdom, against the Muslim girl on my friend’s list who had no idea I viewed her in that light, and the way she treated me as a friend instead of as a mortal enemy, made things more complicated than I wanted to admit.
Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the already ecumenical climate in America has reached new heights. In an effort to distinguish between the extremist Muslim terrorists and the mainstream Muslim population, the media has called for an even higher level of tolerance and acceptance of the religion of Islam than usual.
Sadly, the influence of this sentiment can be seen even in the church. In fact, in a relatively recent Christianity Today article, Wheaton College professor James Lewis recommends that Christians “seek Muslim prayer partners and together beseech the true, one and only God to have mercy on us” (“Does God Hear Muslims’ Prayers?” Christianity Today, February 4, 2002, p. 31).
When evangelicals capitulate and attempt to soften the offense of the gospel in this way, they blur the lines between the god of Islam and the God of the Bible. But now is not the time for blurring lines. Now is the time to draw lines—lines between truth and error, and between the one path to heaven and the many paths to hell.
It doesn’t make sense to me now but it sure as hell did back then.
MacArthur spoke with authority, an unchallenged and what seemed like divinely inspired attribution of homiletic anointing to do just what he did. He is the nephew of the great white American World War II general Douglas MacArthur who helped tilt the war in the Pacific against the Japanese in America’s favor. So the spirit of strength, grit, pride, and ‘nobody gone tell me nothing’ runs through his veins. And this astuteness would cost him, his listeners, myself included, greatly very soon.
He taught against charismatic movements, once saying he was forcibly removed from the pulpit at a charismatic church he was visiting for telling them that speaking in tongues was mumble-jumbo fool’s talk. Not sure if that ever really happened. Here’s why. He spoke about participating in Civil Rights marches and gatherings. Many people have called his accounts into question considering where he was, his age, and his sentiments toward the continual struggles for Civil Rights to this day. So if one story does not add up you begin to question the man and his integrity with it.
MacArthur maligned the emerging church, prosperity movements, seeker-sensitive church environments, word of faith movements, and the young, restless, and reformed craze that swept America in the 2000s. And I was there with him, condemning the living and breathing essence of everything around me if it didn’t match up with how I saw the world, through MacArthur’s lens.
Psychology, Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, Christmas, abortion, racism, feminism, crime, and just about anything you can think of, MacArthur covered it and I consumed it like a seminary student on Adderall. I was a disciple of Jesus but a graduate of MacArthur’s biblical interpretation school. Unapologetically so. Deplorably so.
I recall moving to Canada and befriending my boss at my first job in the Maple leaf country and experiencing an existential crisis. My boss was a Muslim fella, my age, just about, and one of the most down-to-earth personalities you will ever meet in your life. I mean, he was chill. Great family, wonderful wife, and now they have a beautiful little daughter and he has a sense of humor that rivals mine. We were meant to meet and annoy each other. And this friendship helped me better understand that a lot of what MacArthur had been saying about Muslims was in fact nonsense. It was white American folk religionist hysteria amplified by the presence of innocuous immigrants and brown people mixed with religious rhetoric, Jesus sayings sprinkled in between, and nationalist propaganda regurgitated as godly patriotism. I had generalized an entire faith and grouped an entire race of people, well, now looking back, I hadn’t realized that Muslims were white, black, brown, Asian, and Latino as active terrorists or terrorists in the making. Muslims were everywhere, in every facet of life, living and striving for a better life, just like me. But I hated them for existing… not entirely sure why.
The facade began to break but it hadn’t shattered entirely until 2019-2020. Listen, my religious fanaticism goes back a long time, and my newfound faith in Christ, aside from its flawed fundamentalist foundation, is rather new and recent. I was a slave to Christian fundamentalism of every stripe for a great deal of my life. I had learned to hate (not people, per se, but everything they believed) from my religious leaders, and that hatred shaped much of my interactions with people of other faiths and people who do not subscribe to any faith at all.
I was fortunate enough to have the personality of an amicable individual so I was blessed with the grace of maintaining so many of the friendships my fundamentalism worked hard to destroy. Atheists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, agnostics, Muslims, and more, all amazing people (not all, some were jerks, but that had little to do with their beliefs and more to do with their personalities) who I had met, befriended, cherished, and still converse with to this day. Many of them quite forgiving of my religious idiocy in its most fervent and damaging phase, whereas others were, rightly so, offended by my bigotry at work.
I regret it. I regret so much of what was said because it came from a place of ignorance, on my part. But little did I know then was that much of it came from a man, a man with an agenda, a religious empire, who used his platform to indoctrinate people into hate, suspicion, ignorance, and tribalism, all in the name of Jesus.
And listen, as to my Christianity? It is firm in the person of Jesus Christ. I am more confident in the work of Jesus today than I was then. Living in religious fear, want for control, want for religious dominance, believing I was sovereign enough to tip someone else’s eternal scales and my failure to do so would fall back on my head was a cyclical waking nightmare.
I’m not there anymore because I have come to the assured realization that Jesus has more knowledge, more power, more know-how, and a better grasp of how to convince someone of His love for them, in his own time, in his way… without the presence of a cantankerous fundamentalist to interrupt his beautiful process of inner transformation and redemption.
I am not Jesus. Thankfully.
Today, I can look back at MacArthur and see him for what he is:
A privileged old man, a white man, of wealth and prestige, who was smart enough to master a craft, use it for hubris and financial gain, and continues to deny the efficacious redemptive work of Jesus Christ in his life by refusing to repent of his many, many, many, many wrongs done as a pastor, bible teacher, counselor, and seminary president.
MacArthur is now in hot water because in the early 2000s he excommunicated a woman from his church, shaming her from the pulpit, quite publicly. After all, she refused to reconcile with her husband and refused to accept the man back into her and their children’s lives.
A woman at GCC was living in sin, MacArthur alleged. And though shaming her publicly was “sad,” MacArthur said it was necessary to maintain fidelity to God and His Word.
So, as men were distributing the elements for communion, MacArthur stated: “I want to mention a sad situation, a person who is unwilling to repent. And the church bears responsibility before God to be the instrument of discipline. . . . This is what the Lord wants. He wants discipline . . . to be put out of the church, to be publicly shamed, to be put away from fellowship. In this case it applies to Eileen Gray.”
The problem is that her husband was a prominent figure in the church who, for years, had abused his wife and also abused his children. Police reports were filed. Confessions were made. The man was eventually arrested for his criminal conduct and is now serving twenty-one years to life sentence for his violent behavior against his wife and kids. This same man is the man MacArthur and his staff wanted this woman to go back home to so that he would continue beating the living hell out of them. Her refusal to accept the man back unless he dealt with his issues professionally, was seen as a spiritual rebellion on her part and the church excommunicated her for it.
Grace Community Church paid for the abuser’s bail, and his legal fees and they continue to assist him, in many ways, even now as he is behind bars, a convicted felon who abused his wife and kids.
MacArthur also attempted to violate local health and safety state mandates by opening his church and maintaining the usual steady flow of programs and services in the middle of a global pandemic. His attitude toward the virus is that of a man who is unafraid and unaffected by the coronavirus. Members of his church were hospitalized, some possibly died, others were in critical conditions as a result of the virus, possibly acquired at his church, but MacArthur refused to adhere to measures that could have kept many in his congregation safe. Having one of the world’s most advanced television and online teaching networks, it would have been the easiest thing for MacArthur and their church to progress with their programs via online/virtual settings. But hubris keeps a man before his people because he feeds off of them. Not to mention the money made from it all.
“Our pastor and the conference team is committed to your health and safety at all the conferences we host,; consequently, we want to update you concerning the 90-year-old Shepherd’s Conference guest who recently passed away. The doctors confirmed that he passed away from COVID-19.”
MacArthur also contracted his son-in-law’s audio-visual firm to run his church’s AV team. This creates an aura of him and his church favoring family members in a setting where doing so only creates more problems. Financial and ethical problems for the church as a community and Grace Community Church as a business.
In 2017, the auditor highlighted as a “significant deficiency” that there were several instances of management overriding or circumventing controls that were in place to process payments or contracts outside established policies. Further, the report noted that there was the appearance of conflicts of interest with the President’s son-in-law supervising a contract from which he benefits, as well as institutional aid being awarded to related parties exceeding typical award amounts, but there was no evidence at the time of the visit that these concerns had been addressed in more than a cursory manner…
MacArthur told prominent bible teacher Beth Moore to “go home” because one, she was a woman; two, she was a bible teacher; and three, she was a female bible teacher willing to challenge the unbiblical teachings in the church that portray women as second-class Christians. His anti-women teachings, sentiments, and pride, (mind you, he said this in front of a packed conference auditorium) are more reasons that his idea of Christianity is shaped more by white American toxic masculinity than it is shaped by the proper biblical interpretation that honors members of both sexes instead of pitting them against each other with improperly interpreted texts from scripture.
He was speaking at an event meant to honor his 50 years of ministry called the “Truth Matters Conference,” but things took a turn when the panelists—including MacArthur—were asked to a play a sort of word association game. They would each be given “two words” to which they had to react to. The first words given to MacArthur were “Beth Moore.”
MacArthur responded, “Go home.” The audience laughed. Another man on the panel accused her of being a narcissist because of her preaching style.
MacArthur then launched into a diatribe about how “the church is caving in to women preachers.” He went on to compare her to a TV jewelry salesperson and then went on to criticize the #MeToo movement.
MacArthur admitted to failing to study for his many teachings, multiple times. Pride is evident in his speech, because, according to him, he is so comfortable with bible knowledge that he could stand in front of a crowd and preach on just about any topic for an hour without breaking a sweat. Not the fruits of a spirit-filled man whose reliance is on the Spirit of God but the fruits of a man who has perfected a craft for personal gain and clout.
News later came out from a former member of his bible commentary team that MacArthur never edited nor added much to the commentaries and books he landed his name on. In some meetings, he was seen entering, looking over notes other scholars put together, agreeing to the structure and content therein, and then taking all the credit for the entirety of the commentaries in question. The commentaries I spent all those dollars on wasn’t even put together and written by the man whose name was on the cover and that’s embarrassing.
Its a well known fact that John Macarthur’s books are not written by John Macarthur, but by Philip R. Johnson at GCC.
I don’t see anything wrong with having research assistants or with making a concerted effort at marketing a book, that’s fine. I have students proof read my own stuff, I ask friends and colleagues for feedback, and get advice from editors. I also work hard at promoting my work on the blog, you.tube, social media, and the like because I hope what I have to say will influence and help others. However, there should be limits.
If you’re name is on the cover, then it means you wrote it, not your staff, secretary, assistants, lieutenants, executive officer, or minions. If you had help in putting the book together, then at least acknowledge the hard working men and women who worked so hard to make you look good.
If you’re book gets on a best seller list, its because people other than you, your church, and your lackey’s actually went out a purchased a copy for themselves.
MacArthur also hired ghostwriters to write his books. Not all of them but some. This creates an idea that MacArthur is a pastor, teacher, president, counselor, and scholar who isn’t much of any of those things at all.
John MacArthur, the man who I had shaped my biblical formation for years, nearly a decade of my life, was himself a ghost of something or someone else. Perhaps he is a victim of his own doing, a victim of his pride.
Or, he is as culpable as the rest of them, those who take from widows, orphans, abuse victims without remorse. Trample the weak, malign the immigrant, minority, and women. Who mock and deride theologians who hold to different interpretations of the same texts. Who belittles media personalities because they’re famous. He stands tall above the church to inform his congregants that to mask up, social distance, receive a life-saving vaccine, and attend virtual services is to give in to fear.
As if Christ did not inform the woman at the well that worship is done in the Spirit and in Truth, not in a temple or an edifice.
But hubris is a hellish thing and MacArthur thrives on it.
This isn’t necessarily a case against MacArthur because he is simply one of the more prominent figures in a line of men just like him. And his disciples are everywhere. I mean it. Unapologetic brute force in the name of Jesus is the strategy and damned be anyone who thinks different.
Had I not distanced myself from this man’s anti-Christ teachings and habits, I would have possibly lost my faith in the true Christ of scripture and tarnished the image and name of my Lord even further with my unabated, unrepentant, unapologetic, unexpected, and unnecessary religious fundamentalism, which, thanks to MacArthur’s teachings, was sharpened just enough to cut everyone out of my life.
Jesus saved me. No doubt. MacArthur’s teachings, however, helped amplify my fears and my ignorance, pushing me onto the path of destructive hate for people that God loves and cares for.
The hate you teach, MacArthur, is not of God.
And if it’s not Godly, then it’s… well… I’m sure you know.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” – Matthew 17:22
On Palm Sunday Christ entered Jerusalem with one goal in mind: the cross. Short on sleep, high on stress, and seated on a donkey, Jesus enters the city on a hill to the shouts of jubilee, joy, and celebration as Jews welcome him with open arms. They wave palm branches the same way Jews generations before waved them for Judas Maccabeus who organized a successful rebellion against Seleucid tyrants and demigods, ousting them from Israel. This sign, this extended branch, was a show of hopefulness in the face of oppression. A desire for national sovereignty in the face of Roman imperialism.
“Hosanna!” They shouted. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!”
What the Jews signaled to Jesus on that day was that they were eager for him to be their messiah, the deliverer who would take on the Roman empire and free the Jews from an oppressive regime. A Jewish leader who would restore Israel’s glory and national splendor. A man sent by God to wage war against the Roman fiefdoms of the day.
Little did they know, the same people who were waving palm branches on Sunday would soon be deriding and cursing Jesus on Friday, as he walked, bloodied and bruised, carrying his cross out of Jerusalem and onto the destitute calvary hill on which he would die.
“It’s such an interesting experience to sing happy songs and songs of celebration even on this side of resurrection when we know that Jesus entered Jerusalem with the shadow of the cross-bearing down on him.” Dan
Those are the words of my friend and brother in Christ, Dan, who struggles with the realities of the cross (as do I) and our posture to it this most important week of the year. Our culture has made Holy Week into Dollars Week, in the sense that we have industrialized religion for the sake of capital. Bumper stickers, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, leatherette bibles with initials engraved into them, personalized bedazzled “Jesus Lives” jean jackets, and the ubiquitous presence of the cross on just about everything marketable and sellable.
We’re like the money changers hanging around temple grounds, selling commentaries instead of pigeons. Anything to make a buck off of God’s people for the sake of Mammon.
But how are we measuring our understanding of this event, the crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God, with our very limited perception of pain in light of festivities and celebrations that only last a week. Things that distract us from the brutality and finality of death. Why have we made the greatest event in human history, according to Christians, at least, only something we focus on for one week out of the year. For some of us, we only think of the Via Dolorosa, that dreadful walk from Jerusalems center to the outskirts of the town, the path Christ walked to be crucified, on a Sunday morning for forty minutes. That’s if we don’t doze off for twenty of them.
What must we do with the grandiosity and the tenebrous nature of the cross?
The shadow of the cross stretched over him, a reminder that death had a bounty on his head.
I cannot imagine his mindset then. Having traveled with his disciples for three years, covering a great deal of Palestine on foot, ministering, teaching, sleeping outdoors, or having to lodge at a stranger’s home for safety and security from exposure and low temperatures without pay or recompense. Jesus healed, preached, operated miracles, restored sight to the blind, stopped hemorrhages, brought men and children back from the dead, and forgave sins. He fed hundreds, and another time he fed thousands. He spoke to the masses from a boat that sailed easily along the shore so that all could hear. He sat with widows, welcomed children, embraced the diseased, and uplifted those caught in sin. Jesus spoke lightly to those whose burdens were heavy, asking that they let them go and take on his yoke, his burden, which was light and consisted only of love and the transformation of the heart. He spoke firm words of rebuke to religious clerics whose goal was power, dominance, and control. He chided them for their hypocrisy which led them over land and sea to make more disciples who would only resemble hate and bigotry. Jesus reprimanded priests and high priests, informing them that their religion was their food and their god their gut. They fed on the destitute and produced misery in the process. Unwilling to lift a hand to help the widow and the orphan, only demanding of them more subservience under the threat of expulsion and derision.
Jesus was, in all, God in the flesh, standing up for the forgotten and abandoned people of Israel.
But here he stood, past the gates of Jerusalem, under the shadow of the cross, looking forward to nothing more than death.
We mustn’t run from this painful scene, Jesus didn’t. We have the habit of slithering our way out of the gravity of the pain on the cross. Pain in general. And this is not something we ought to fetishize either, as some fundamentalist churches have done. Nor is it something we use as a cultic indoctrination tactic, fearing people into heaven, as Great Awakening preachers attempted to do.
We must look at the horror of the cross because the cross begs us our attention. Knowing that death was imminent, looming over him, as people celebrated his ascendence, must have been tormenting for Jesus, yet Jesus walked toward his destiny, not away from it. He confronted the cross, even though in the garden of Gethsemane he asked if there was a better way, a way in which to maintain the constant awareness of the presence of the joy of the Father without interruption was possible, for the cross did interrupt that presence, even if for a split second. The cross would sap Christ of joy, it would ruin his body, it would wound his soul and pierce his heart. The cross would show the world who was a devout follower of Christ and who had abandoned him. The cross demonstrated to the Romans that no one, not even an innocent man, would survive this monstrous machination of execution. Not even the so-called Son of God, the King of the Jews, would evade the painful flesh-tearing realities of the wooden cross. Christ did not shun the imagery of it, he welcomed it. He did not run from the height of this task, he walked toward it, breaking bread with a traitor and deceiver, teaching Olivet discourses to spiritually corrupt clerics, and healing people as he went, ever so humbly, to the cross.
The shadow of the cross has not disappeared. It echoes through eternity.
The cross is the constant reminder that Christ could have walked away from it all, from us all, and he would have been justified in doing so. The cross is there to remind us that there is no distance Christ will not travel to prove his point, his mission, and his love for humanity. The cross stands tall, bloodied, bits of flesh glued to its structure, fixated on us as much as we are pulled to its enormity, to remind us that we deserve its punishment.
A reminder that God opted instead to make us vessels of his love.
Shadows never shift but we do.
Love will remind us of Christ’s commitment to this grotesque act of inhumanity, namely, the crucifixion. Love will remind us that the shadow of the cross now whimpers in the light of the resurrected Christ. We needn’t worry about the presence of the shadow that killed our Lord. We must confront it, we must walk toward it, we must see it for what it is, it is ours, it has our name on it, and yet, it does not.
I pray we spend more time ruminating on the consequences of Christ’s cross. The instrument on which Christ’s life was extinguished.
It is perfectly fine to mourn the beginning of the end of Christ’s life on earth. We needn’t focus on the resurrection just yet, per se, for we are the product of the resurrected Christ already. We are transformed, quickened in the spirit because of his selfless love.
But for now, we can live in the morose reality of Christ’s impending lynching.
We too must consider walking in the shadow of the cross for it is only there, in that paradox of life for death and death for life that we truly understand the love of God for the world.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
If you grew up in an evangelical setting, you must have heard of white American globe-trotting evangelist Billy Graham. If you are unchurched but alive today, chances are, you’ve heard of Billy Graham. Graham was for the white American evangelical world what Elvis Presley was for white American Rock n Roll in the 50s. A myth, a legend, a star, and also, many forget, human.
Billy Graham traveled the world over speaking about the restorative and redemptive work of Jesus Christ and preaching a gospel of personal transformation. You too, he would say, can be born again. Your sins will be forgiven if you will accept Jesus into your heart.
“Come as you are.” Was quite the famous line in his crusade. Always a welcoming environment for people seeking change, seeking religious reformation.
A very personal gospel message that beckoned the individual to turn her life over to Christ for eternal security and reconciliation between the person and God.
Graham’s sermons were beautiful and if you listen to them today you’ll find they are just as convincing and powerful as they were then. If the man had anything he had conviction.
Thankfully, I am not here to discuss Graham’s gospel preaching or his evangelistic efforts. For that, the man deserves credit because his ministry has produced a plethora of testimonies, many of which, we shall only understand and rejoice over in Glory.
But I am here to discuss how white American culture, more so, how white American 1950s and 1960s culture and its understanding of gender norms and expectations formed a set of social rules then that impact us in the evangelical sphere to this day — negatively so. Around the same time, Billy Graham and his team, assisted by Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson, met in Modesto, California to develop a ministry morals standard for themselves and other evangelists and leaders in their vocation. This was put together to reduce the number of scandals in the evangelical world and produce an inner and outer appearance of moral rectitude, which had been missing or compromised by felled religious leaders of the day.
Now, considering the acceleration of Christian circle scandals that riddled the news, it seemed appropriate for a group of believers to come together with a better understanding of what is required of them in modern times throughout their ministerial undertakings and personal responsibilities. And in this meeting, the men came up with four ideas or metrics by which to judge the health of their ethics and ministry.
The Modesto Manifesto
The first was financial transparency in an age of Christian greed; the second, sexual purity in an age of sexual liberation; the third, ecumenical efforts in an age of fundamentalist tribalism; and the fourth, the accuracy of events, numbers, and credentials in an age of duplicity, lying, and dishonesty for popularity’s sake.
Again, these are honorable efforts put forth by the group to make sure that their ministries, and their personal lives, were above scrutiny, as the Bible demands of followers of Christ.
But sometimes, not always, sometimes, certain corrections, without nuance or clarification, when they generalize and offer little explanation as to how those corrections were formed over cultural and traditional, national and racial lines, can become over-corrections, thus, creating even more problems for those who adhere to them.
The second rule in Graham’s Modesto Manifesto deals with sexual morality, or rather, one that grapples with the temptation of sexual immorality. It is the rule that this entire segment became known for, a rule Billy Graham followed to the very end, if it was up to him, while he was in control of his mind. This rule would be followed by numerous evangelical leaders and ultimately make national headlines again when Donald Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, would celebrate it from the White House.
“We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: “Flee … youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV).”
It’s interesting to note that from that day forward, Graham did not travel, meet, nor did he, according to him, eat alone with a woman other than his wife ever again. This is revealing, one, because of the level of commitment, it takes a man to avoid being alone in a room with someone of the opposite sex, whose sex estimates well over three billion people on the planet. There being three billion of anything is cause enough for awareness, but isolation and separation? Impossible.
Graham’s second rule, where a man is not to be alone with a woman other than his wife, is ripe with condemnation without even knowing it.
One, this rule generalizes women as sexual deviants who, left alone with a man in a room, no matter the room or the setting, work, campaign trail, lunch meeting, or as a nurse in a doctor’s office, will, without that man’s consent, ravage him. This notion is asinine because it portrays women as agents lacking self-control, moved by licentious desires, unashamedly promiscuous, according to those who adhere to Graham’s line of reasoning.
Women are not vessels of unrestrained lusts. Women are entirely in control of their thoughts, actions, compulsions, and desires. They’re not animalistic brutes who descend to sensual madness at the opportunity of being alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex.
What a farce.
Two, this rule, again, places the blame on women. This is age-old escapist nonsense men have plagued women with for centuries, if not millennia. If something does occur between the two individuals who are left alone in a room, it must have been the woman’s fault. As the only one able to consent or resist — because men are unable to restrain their boyish desires — if they fail to scream out for help or fail to stop things from progressing, they are solely at fault.
Once the ministry leader’s sexual scandal makes the airwaves, he’ll peg the woman as a “seductress” whose “promiscuous” advances were too powerful for him to resist. Resembling the work of a “she-devil” she entrapped him, grabbing him by the “unmentionable,” and from there, it was all history. And that’s why we are taught to forgive the man because he’s the victim here, his assailant, a 110 lbs sex witch that caught him alone in the lunchroom and proceeded to violate him while he sipped his tea and read his Bible.
It’s nonsense. I’m using sarcasm and humor here because blaming women for men’s inability to control themselves is a sad and resilient virus that refuses to die in our culture. So to cope, I make light of a grave and grievous situation.
Three, a man ought to be in control of his moral compass. In control of his faculties. If a man, especially a man of the cloth, cannot control himself when alone with a member of the opposite sex, then, by God, he ought not to be in ministry. He should not be in a position of influence, power, or authority ever again. He’s a predator in the making.
I cannot imagine Jesus, meeting the Samaritan woman at the well and thinking to himself, “Maybe I should wait for my apostles to get back before conversing with this woman. I mean, she might trip on that bucket l and land in my arms, where we kiss, romance, wed, make dozens of babies, until, the next woman I meet at the well comes around and trips on something else.”
That’s so stupid. No, I’m not sorry.
Jesus met with that woman alone because He had integrity, even if, EVEN IF she did not, He would have remained integral. And I’m not suggesting she was a sexual deviant or a saint, she could have been one or the other, it would not have changed Jesus’ posture toward her while the two sat and conversed by the well about faith, God, life, water, worship, and relationships. Jesus upheld His part of the ethical bargain, independent of the same being reciprocated or not.
Therefore… therefore… there… fore…
As I conversed with a friend via Instagram about the Billy Graham Rule, specifically rule number two, we got into discussing that the rule would have been more helpful and wise if it required individual integrity over distanced suspicion and isolation.
You see, when someone is integral, they’re complete, whole, satisfied, undivided in their attentiveness to honoring people made in the Image of God. They’re honoring, just, and kind, in the face of someone else’s vulnerability.
“If you, being a pastor, are counseling a woman who is experiencing a great deal of trouble in life and in the middle of a counseling session she stands, begins to undress, is nude and vulnerable before you, and the two of you are alone, where does your mind go? Where does your heart go?”
The question, I admit, is answered in two different places.
One, we answer this question publicly and openly, “I would tell her to dress up and get out of my office! That temptress! Damn her!”
The other, we answer in our hearts, in the place no one but us and God can see, and God knows what our answers tend to be. Too often, we have read reports, cover-ups, and lawsuits concerning what happens in these situations. Men in power, men with influence, men with authority, instead of portraying the likeness of Christ in the presence of the vulnerable, become the devil, ravaging and devouring people looking for help.
“Come to me,” Says the morally complicit pastor counseling the vulnerable woman. “And I will give you rest. But keep this between the two of us or else…”
So we must admit that Billy Graham’s Rule is problematic. It’s an over-correction, not a solution. It’s an escape, not a confrontation. It displaces blame, shifts blame, and generalizes women as sexual deviants, who, as I said earlier, given the opportunity, according to Graham’s rule, will devour men whenever alone with them.
There is, of course, wisdom in not placing oneself in a situation where, without a doubt, it seems suspicious.
Houston, We Have A Liquor Problem
Hillsong’s main pastor, Brian Houston, has been caught in hot water because he attended a meeting of some sort and after this meeting, he went for drinks and after drinking himself nearly blind, he went up to his hotel room for the night. Once there, he either misplaced his room keycard or was unable to properly use the keycard he had in hand to access his room. Under this fog of inebriation, Houston proceeds to a church colleague’s room, a woman, knocks on her door and then enters. There they remain alone for more than forty minutes. Both denied anything happened. And we have no evidence of anything having happened, because, no evidence was ever produced. Nor has the woman admitted or come forward with the fact that the two engaged in anything even remotely sexual.
But this scene, of course, is the extreme any married AND single person has to avoid because it does create an aura of suspicion. I mean, considering our current hook-up culture and the history of evangelical sex scandals, Houston should have known better. It is without a doubt that it was possible, in those forty minutes, that one’s moral compass could have wavered, their ability to resist temptation, dissipated, and there, a sexual act or several, could have taken place. And the truth, no one knows.
Brian admitted to the idiocy of his choices that night, having drunk too much, and then mixing sleeping or anxiety pills with his liquor, before proceeding to his coworkers’ hotel room. The two of them alone. His wife was nowhere in sight.
The curiosity here, and I’m being frank, not critical, even if I do end up sounding critical, for that I apologize, because there are certain things I do not understand and that’s fine because my intelligence is limited and finite. But here’s the thing, why blame moral failings on alcohol, drugs, anxiety, mental illness, and the opportunity of that woman being there.
“Abusers and abusive organizations may concede the basic reality of the wrong—“Yes, this happened”—but quickly add statements that either soften their responsibility or promote their integrity: “We value all people and only want what is best for everyone involved.” If these concessions do their job, the accused will stay in power, stay in favor with the community, and stay far from the shame their actions deserve.”
And listen, I’m not here to say that people are beyond redemption and reconciliation, but we must better understand what those things mean when people fail, morally, I mean.
One, take responsibility for your failings, instead of, say, blaming some agent or narcotic. Or worse, blaming your victim.
Here’s a healthy, albeit imperfect example I’ve come up with in my mind:
“Listen, everyone, I was sexually repressed or sexually uncontrolled and I enticed my coworker (or classmate, students, etc), under the guise of trust, bypassing the reality of our power-dynamic relationship, and I engaged in what I now understand as a non-consensual act with her. I am now resigning from my position to seek counsel, professional counsel, and I do not look forward to returning to leadership, but to fellowship, in God’s time. I’m sorry to all, and most all, I apologize to the victim of my uncontrolled passions. You did nothing to deserve this. It was my fault.”
Now, that sounds dreamy, almost, to consider someone admitting to the reality of their intentions and the gravity of their actions with such brevity and transparency, and that would do wonders for us instead of covering our mistakes over with alcohol, Ambien, seductresses, etc.
Graham’s Rule would and could be revised to state:
“No matter what situation you are in and who you are with, for however long, you must reflect the character of Christ in that environment. If the person you are with fails to live up to Christ’s calling, more so, His admonishments on sexual ethics, that is not an excuse, nor a vote of confidence, for you to forego your integrity. In every situation, interaction, relationship, friendship, and meeting, whomever you are with, man, woman, or child, reflect Jesus.”
That seems more prudent. More wholesome. That way, whenever someone does step out of line, should they ever, it will not be a woman’s fault or society’s healthy understanding of social interactions’ fault.
Every woman we meet, no matter the situation, deserves to see Christ reflected in us. And this does not mean we proselytize or evangelize every woman we meet, say, a woman stopping by a vending machine for grape soda only to have Mr. Jenkins show up to ask her if she has sipped from the fountain of life yet or not.
No. That’s creepy.
It means we reflect Christ’s integrity in every interaction. We befriend, we respect, we listen, we learn, and we… well… we act like normal people. There’s no need to sexualize everything in the world, conversations with co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and strangers of the opposite sex.
If you’re afraid that any or most interactions with a member of the opposite sex will devolve into a sexual act, then, my friend, the issue here is within your heart, not with socially acceptable interactions and meetings between two people of the opposite sex.
You need professional counseling and spiritual advice to help you determine why you see women (or men) as sexual objects to be perverted and abused by you. From there, professionals will guide you further toward recovery.
And we must, at all costs, as Dr. Diane Langberg states, combat the notion that we must return flawed characters to power. We must strive and strain to hold wrongs and sins accountable in hopes of restoring that person to fellowship, not power.
We’re often plagued by this lust for power and results that once our most talented advocate succumbs to a scandal we want nothing more than to see them forgiven, celebrated, and restored to their position of mass production. It’s the temptation of the evangelical industrial complex.
But that is unbiblical and to be honest, it fails to bring that person to a state of true repentance and change. They’re just re-platformed and given a new license through which they will abuse and tarnish the sheep again.
In all, allow Christ to be in your heart and mind when with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Do not, under any circumstance, use that situation as an excuse to compromise your morals, ethics, and faith, for the sake of fleeting passions, only to then blame a substance or a woman for your very personal and spiritually compromised decisions.
“Don’t rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with all purity.” 1 Timothy 5:1-2
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
“The Nazis were not the first to burn children. God’s people did so long before.” – Dr. Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power
“Then the Lord said to me: ‘Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:
‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’
‘I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,’ declares the Lord, ‘the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds and the wild animals to devour and destroy. I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem.’” Jeremiah 15:1-4
Those of us familiar with Old Testament literature understand the tragic history surrounding Jewish monarchs who ascended to power only to squander their name, leadership, and faith in hopes of attaining favor with local sovereignties or in pursuit of fleeting pleasures.
King Manasseh began his rule over Judah at the age of twelve. A boy, an adolescent, with the keys to the kingdom. The son of a popular and well-liked king Hezekiah, whose honorable religious reforms had spread throughout Judah had died and left the young boy-king with large shoes to fill. Set on leaving behind his distinct legacy, Manasseh set off to accomplish the necessary tasks required of every Jewish king since David. Love God, learn God’s laws and commandments, observe those laws, protect God’s people, the Israelites, more so, those belonging to the southern kingdom of Judah (and Benjamin), and under no circumstance break any of the edicts listed under the Ten Commandments.
When Manasseh began to instill the opposite of everything required of a Jewish king, his legacy would be riddled with wickedness. He incensed the people’s desire for idols, gods, and spirits that other nations worshipped and sacrificed grain and animals to for the continuance of blessings over land, wealth, and fertility. The young king went on to rebuild the “high places” his father, Hezekiah, had torn down during his reign. These hills, mountain tops, and cliffs served as prominent places of worship, where people would visit them, build structures, and serve at their altars and the feet of obelisks erected for Semitic deities, Baal and Asheroth. They worshipped the “host of heaven,” more firmly, they worshipped spiritual entities, celestial beings, spirits, and wraiths, serving them however the spirits influenced them.
Understanding Jewish theology, you must remember that the only place in which the Jews were allowed to worship God or at least offer sacrifices to the Creator God was in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Anyone who dared worship anywhere else was considered an outcast, a heretic, a pagan. So the fires that littered the horizon of Judah; abhorrent symbols of worship and service to other gods in the land of monotheism, were an affront to everything the Abrahamic faith and Mosaic laws stood for.
Manasseh went on to further incense the pious clerics he was sworn to revere by erecting altars for the “host of heaven” in the two courts in the Solomon’s Temple, where sacrifices and worship were offered to the omnipotent Yahweh. A sacrilegious act, forced upon the people of Judea at the hands of their king. Unchallenged and relentless, the young king would not listen to his pious counselors, nor the priests in the temple they ministered in.
What came next was, at the time, previously unheard of, even for a morally compromised Judean king.
Manasseh, the young king, would grow, would wed, and father many children. A number of these, the Bible does not state how many, were offered as a sacrifice in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. Although historians question the explicit meaning of “offering one’s children to the fire” we can understand that whatever process that ensued was not for the benefit of Manasseh’s children. Other historians dictate that a particular sect in that region would start a fire in a pit, and at the mouth of the pit stood a bronze bull or a statue with its arms extended over the fire. Once its extended arms turned red hot from the heat emitted by the flames, a child was tossed on them, burned, and then rolled into the pit as a sacrifice to the deity in question. This process, the barbarity with which religious zealots killed their children seems a bit far-fetched if we didn’t have evidence of similar grotesque sacrifice rituals taking place in other, more recent cultures as well.
It seems inconceivable that the leader of Judah, the people after God’s heart, selected from the many, reduced to such a small, albeit very powerful and geographically strategic location in Palestine, could be known for worshipping the God of deliverance and protector of life whilst sacrificing children in the fires of paganism in the valley of death.
Manasseh went on to seek seers, fortune tellers, omens, sorcerers, and mystics as if there were no prophet of God in the land, nor words etched in stone by the fingers of God for guidance and encouragement.
The young king sought the spiritual advice of mediums and necromancers, people who delved into the dark arts, the mysterious aspect of conversing with the dead to gain influence over the living. A practice punishable by death in some cultures, the Jewish one included. But who could challenge the young king? Who would dare speak up against the monarch whose power and influence was unmatched and rarely questioned?
If he was willing to throw his children into the fire what then could he do with a serf? A peasant? A religious cleric?
The last knowable defilement Manasseh brought to his name and his people was instilling a carved image of an idol in the temple of God. Previously, he had left some altars, however large or small, in the outer courts of the temple, but here, he progressed, not just in depravity by killing his children, but also killing his spiritual well-being but outing Yahweh from the throne of his heart and substituting the Divine with something less, something mundane, handmade to suit his desires.
Again, Dr. Langberg’s quote rings true in history and haunts us in the present.
“The Nazis were not the first to burn children. God’s people did so long before.”
Those of us who are students of history, however amateur our endeavors may be in the science, understand that what Nazi Germany accomplished via the Holocaust will stick with humanity for eons, until, that is, something more nefarious and systemic replaces it in our history books.
Is it too difficult to believe that what happened under the Nazi regime will never happen again under a different regime? Are we so blind to our humanity to believe that we are beyond that level of hatred for a neighbor today?
We want to believe that what the Nazis did was unique to Germany in the 1930s-1940s. No other civilized group has ever devolved to such a horrendous sequence of murders to that scale. But to understand human beings we must understand the perpetual human potential for violence and that it is never beneath us to devolve or perhaps evolve to that level of violence again.
Dr. Langberg makes an accurate observation that we want to avoid at all costs.
“God’s people did so long before.”
The people of God would never!
We always say.
They would never harm children! But they offered them as a sacrifice in the fire to Baal.
They would never harm the poor! But they exploited them for the sake of wealth.
They would never harm women! But they raped them, in the village, in front of a house, in the king’s palace.
They would never harm someone of another faith! But the European crusades.
They would never harm someone who believed differently! And the Catholic inquisitions.
They would never harm a mystic! But they burned them at the stake, drowned them, threw them from buildings, and stabbed them where they fell.
They would never discriminate based on race or ethnicity! Sir, have you not studied the doctrine of discovery, manifest destiny, chattel slavery, Reconstruction, or Jim Crow? Better yet, have you not studied the last four to five hundred years of European imperialism and Western colonialism?
They would never harm women! What of the hundreds, if not thousands of years of sexist traditionalism that has become canon in the church? The numerous cases of protecting wife beaters by not believing women when they come forward with the stories of their abuse?
They would never harm children! Have you not studied the abuses of the Catholic church? The Houston Chronicle’s investigative report on the Southern Baptist Convention’s willingness to hide, protect, and platform predators? Have there not been volumes upon volumes of lawsuits against religious institutions for hiding the criminal conduct of sexual predators against children?
The Legacy of Burning Children at the Altar
Yes, Manasseh’s series of depravities indeed forced God’s hand into destroying Jerusalem. He used the Assyrian kingdom to lay waste to the ten kingdoms of the north, known as Israel. And then he used Nebuchadnezzar and his nearly indomitable Babylonian army to decimate the two kingdoms to the south, Judah and Benjamin, and take their remaining survivors into captivity for seventy years. One king’s efforts, his collective influence, Judah’s gullibility, and their religious clerics’ lack of integrity, and the overall national embarrassment of being known as God’s chosen people only to behave as the opposite would be the legacy Manasseh left behind.
God’s people were people who burned children alive.
But we burn people on the altar too.
Fair, we aren’t bowing before beasts made of bronze, silver, or gold. Those are the idols of the ancient world. No. Today our fires burn in the pits of systems, institutions, and celebrities. We sacrifice our women at the altar of male leadership, our children at the altar of predatory youth ministers, our corporate integrity at the altar of political syncretism, and our evangelistic outreach at the altar of doctrines formed by culture and geo-political events.
Like the young Jewish king, we seek the advice of mediums and necromancers, but we don’t use those names, we call them secular humanist life coaches spewing pantheistic teachings for gain and astrologists keeping the masses idiotized by looking up instead of forward, whose varied advices usher us toward a search for meaning and purpose in a finite universe with nihilistic philosophies.
In her book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, Dr. Diane Langberg mentions the sad events of the Rwandan genocide. She visited Rwanda to help, assist, and be part of the recovery process which followed the nightmare situation that unfolded in Rwanda as nearly a million people were slaughtered in less than one hundred days.
The world stood by and did nothing as thousands were hounded, rounded up, and massacred, at times, in front of cameras.
She mentions how churches opened their doors to victims only for those refugees to be slaughtered inside. The church, the safest place in a community, second only to a police station or a healthy home environment, became a tomb for people seeking refuge from bloodthirsty machete-wielding mobs. Church leaders considered the victims subhuman (cockroaches) and an unworthy, filthy ethnic group that deserved annihilation. Clergy and laity sanctioned the killings while others participated, some in their churches, lifting axes and machetes or whatever sharp utensils turned to weapons they could get their hands on to destroy the lives of innocent neighbors whose only crime was being born a Tutsi.
The church became a slaughterhouse and not just one church in an isolated event. Throughout the one hundred-day massacre, multiple church sites were used as entrapment areas to lure people seeking safety to their doors only to kill them when they arrived. If machetes did kill them from within, up close and personal, a barrage of bullets would pepper them from without, at a distance.
The sanctuary was a place where men, women, and children were offered up to the fire.
What I want us to be aware of is the ease with which we can offer our neighbors to the fire today.
Manasseh sacrificed his children to Molech, Baal, Asherah, or the host of heaven. He stood and watched as his offspring, the babies made of bone, flesh, blood, and life, filled with potential and a future, body covered with nerves and skin, perfect in their development and their progress, thrown in a pit of flames, its yelps and screams swallowed by scorching flames.
A man responsible for overseeing the nation God, this man, this leader, in the most influential position of the land descended to the darkest stretch of Jewish history for the sake of religious blessings. False religion to be exact.
So what makes us believe that we are not just as capable of committing such atrocities within our circles? We have created our fiefdoms with our varied denominations. We have gatekeepers watching for who is in and who is out depending on how one interprets a select passage of scripture. Others use ex-communication as if it were the only tool in the box of church disciplinary action.
The church is ripe with abuse of power and new idols.
Systems that invoke power, influence, dominance, and control. Systems that were produced initially to benefit some have been used to exploit others. Church bodies become oppressors instead of siding with the oppressed, just to get a piece of the power pie. To challenge political systems, policies, and concepts is to challenge the very church because the line between the two systems is non-existent now. Those who speak up are called anti-this or contra-that. Iconoclasts and disgruntled apostates. Not realizing that the very existence of the system-hungry church is apostate in theory and practice.
Institutions, colleges, seminars, faculties, and colleges that do no wrong. Teachings and teachers who hold on to their traditions and doctrines formed in one region of Europe are held as the only sound method of interpreting and understanding theology, killing anyone on the altar who dares challenge those precepts. The killing, here, isn’t done with sword or gun, it is done with derogatory statements, degrading comments, dismissive tones, and mockery.
Celebrities, in form and habit, take center stage, their victims not far behind. Bodies pile up beneath the altar, as worship bands play louder, smoke machines work in overdrive, and song bridges are repeated ad nauseam to dampen the lucidity of the sheep. Churches are plagued with the idolization of talented men and gifted women. Favoring the results-driven ministries over those focused on discipleship and integrity. Number build churches into megachurches, and megachurches become empires in their cities and states. Buildings and churches are made in the image of their teachers, following their every word as if it were the words of God. And when the truth of their misconduct, their wrongdoing, their coverup comes to light we cover for them because their giftedness supersedes their flaws.
In the same breath, we are more willing to restore broken men and women to power than we are to restore them to fellowship.
Damned, be power. It corrupts. Those who are corrupt already and take on the mantle of leadership further corrupt everyone around them.
The churches they lead become mass graves, spiritual mass graves as abuse runs rampant behind celebrity leaders.
From apologists to hipster Manhattanites to Quiverfull proselytes and televangelists hucksters, the cult of personality, celebrity status pastors and teachers, the Jesus 2.0 apostles, are surrounded by corpses.
They stand knee-deep in the blood, suffering, and spiritual disillusionment of the people they were called to serve but who they have delivered to the fires for the sake of power, influence, network time, conference seats, book deals, and front-page newspaper exposure.
What is a celebrity leader without a scandal? Who is the celebrity leader without a very public failure by which to round up the most ardent and loyal disciples around him? If failure will not unite the corrupt, success will. And a redemption story rakes in cash and new friends does it not?
Rwandan churches had compromised their integrity for political and cultural gain, but what is to be said of the German church that existed comfortably throughout the Nazi regime’s reign of terror?
What is to be said of the church in Germany where Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, wanderers, and those struggling with mental illnesses sought refuge in the church only to be loaded into train carts instead by clergy and laity?
The connection between the German church and the Nazi party was so well established that many avoided the church for fear of being apprehended by clergymen with ties to the Nazi regime.
Can you imagine men and women fleeing the church because it represented capture, imprisonment, torture, deportation, and extermination?
Before Hitler asked that children be burned in the fire, God’s people were burning people in the fire.
Things have yet to change, except, how we kill one another has advanced to the point of perfection. Our hands are often absent of ash and blood but still, the trail of bodies stretches behind us.
The young girl who was subjected to volleys of sexual assault by the talented youth leader is told to keep quiet because she probably deserved and enjoyed the “interaction” between them. The youth leader will be protected from law enforcement, vindicated by the church board, and later re-platformed as a champion of Christian ethics because look at the spiritual assault here endured! Consider how the youth program has swelled with new and fresh faces over the years! Should we now hamper this progress?
Consider the young woman who is the victim of constant battering and physical abuse at the hands of her husband, a choir director at their church, who will come forward with her abuse and be thoroughly silenced by the church board. How dare she go against her husband so publicly. Plus, the bruises she incurred were probably self-inflicted. Who are we to believe? The successful and charismatic choir director or the reclusive and embittered wife who seldom attends church anymore? The church will side with the husband when the wife contacts law enforcement, the church will even pay for his lawyer fees and bail. The church is here to care for those behind bars is it not? So it will financially support the wife-beater, pray for his soul, pray against his disgruntled wife, shame her from the pulpit before the congregation, and finally excommunicate her for not forgiving her husband as a godly wife is expected to.
Consider the young black minority member in the church, who, after enduring years of overt and covert racial animosity from fellow church members, is asked to leave the church or shut up about racial inequities in the world. The church does not condone such divisive talk. Anything that references racism is most likely a Marxist ploy to undermine the church anyway. Therefore, that member will be ostracized and blamed for the racial uproar in the church, although their only sin was believing a church-run by racists was capable of repenting of its hatred. Racist church members will grow fat with hubris as they pat one another on the back, explaining to everyone how there isn’t a racist bone in their body, nor one of racial animosity toward any member of a minority group. They say these and other things, of course, from the comfort and safety of their racially monochromatic church body. White pastors, white teachers, white choir directors, white board members, white worship band members who sing worship songs written, produced, and recorded by white people who live in white people’s havens. They will claim ignorance because they are ignorant and damned be the colored person who dares accuse them of racial awareness. To them, being color-blind, blind even to their race, is their safest bet in the world. Should anyone point it out, they will have to deal with the reality of their surroundings and the many people they have kept away from their church.
The bodies pile up. Their scent festers. Their rot is laid bare for the world to see.
Is this what the church does to people? Is this what God’s people are capable of, in the name of Jesus?
What To Do With The Bodies
The church sites in Germany where many were carted away from, led, usually, under the threat of corporal punishment if not death, were either destroyed by allied forces firebombs or demolished after the war. Those that survived the war were rebuilt and remodeled. Some that were razed to the ground were rebuilt. There is seldom a memory of the horrors that occurred within them because those sites are either home to new churches that have different goals or they have become visitor centers where services to God are seldom held but tourism and picture taking are welcome. A sitting priest or cleric welcomes all in, to gaze at the marvels of ancient cathedrals, walking to and fro, from stainless glass window to spire, in awe of a structure that once represented lofty piety and later horror and now ambivalence and distant memories.
German churches have moved on from their horrid complicity of yesteryear.
Church sites in Rwanda, however, have remained mostly untouched. Some of them house pyramids of skulls within. Bones of the deceased litter the inside of the church, piled up, some, five bodies high.
Their gaunt, skinless, lifeless structures gaze back at us as we look at them. We, of course, walk into the church, watch them watching us, and we leave, minding our next destination, not caring much for the gravity of the mass grave found within the church.
It’s easy, is it not, for us to move on from such a sight. How we look on, our minds barely touching the surface of the screams, the blood, the severed limbs, ruptured skulls, and crushed bones. Did boots stomp on those tiny skulls to deform them? Were those tiny skulls deformed before they died? How about the bones that are split in half. Did that violent act take place before that poor soul expired or after? What about the bullet holes found in the back of skulls? Were those mercy killings, to save the person from the horrors of rape that often took place before the altar? Did that bullet, hurling faster than the speed of sound, fired from no more than several feet away from the victim’s head, travel across that bridge of space and time in an act of love? Bullets travel with love too, you know. Love of country, family, race, and political party. They travel to stop the evil-doer next door. Evil with a name and a face, a family, and a future. Evil, of course, is a minor ethnic difference, in this case. One that doesn’t elevate nor diminish, it is something, well, determined merely by local leaders and national politicians. A whim. They determined who was evil and who deserved a hug from the projectiles launched from their guns over several days.
What do we say in the presence of such horror? More so, what does such horror say in the presence of God?
If one looks to the walls in these churches they will see pictures of saints, crosses hanging from nails, and the occasional scripture etched into them but in the center of the room you find bodies, dead, long dead, but still speaking.
Who will speak for us? If not God’s people then who?
If fact, I ask the same. If God’s people, the ones who have been ushered into the world with a message of hope, love, restitution, conciliation, redemption, and more, fail to live up to those admirable virtues only to turn on them, taking up instead, the mantles of hate, violence, power, oppression, armaments, machetes, and rape, what then?
If the children of the light are more depraved than the children of darkness, what hope has the world?
If the church, a symbol of hope, of love, of Christlikeness is hellbent on murder, rape, assault, abuse, and coverup, where are we headed?
Where Will God Go?
I’m reminded of the sequence of events in the Old Testament where Israel’s perpetual backsliding leads God’s Spirit to exit the sanctuary because God would not tolerate the worship of a wayward and corrupt people. He would not sit idly by, sanctioning intrepid idolatry, male prostitutes offering their services from the temple grounds, the poor growing poorer, the wealthy growing fatter at the poor’s expense, the Laws of Guidance and Fruition serving no other purpose than enslaving the masses and empowering religious autocrats.
It is to our benefit that God distances himself from the corruption of the soul.
He will either annihilate us all or distance Himself from us for a time, for our benefit.
Hope In The Face of Desolation
A strange thing happens in the life of the young king. Toward the end of his misery, the life of wickedness no longer suits him. The sin that festered in him began to chip gnaw at his soul.
After living with such depravity for so long, a person learns that there is no glory, no fame, no existential fulfillment at the end of it. The seeking after the wind, pursuance of sounds in the shadows, and the hope that the dead speak back to us are all, in the end, futile ventures.
Manasseh had sold his soul and his children to Mesopotamian spirits, searching after something only Yahweh could provide: rest for a weary soul.
He prays a prayer we have no record of, recorded only in the “records of the seers” and some presume the recorded prayers that have withstood the test of time are apocryphal, thereby not authentic and extra-biblical.
We have no resolute and accurate idea of the prayer but attempting to reach his mind in that state of repentance, we can come up with an idea of what his prayer might have sounded like.
What Have I Done? – A Prayer by Manasseh
“O, God, my God, Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Creator and Deliverer, Life-Giver, Rescuer of my soul. How I have sinned against you, My misery fills the air around me, Wickedness chokes the joy from me. Where will I go to find relief? Who will hear the complaint of a murderer? I have sought the death of my children for gain, And have lost more than I ever dared and wanted. I sought the council of witches, seers, and the dead. I have yet to hear the truth. I have yet to see light. O, God, my God, What have I done? Is there forgiveness left for me? Am I destined for the end I surely deserve? No matter how harsh, how grim, how destructive, I have merited it, and more! Destroy in me the me who sought after idols, Those of stone, wood, silver, gold; Of jade, ruby, and pleasure. Burn up from within me the lust for power, The greed for control, the haste for disobedience. My children, my children; How I wish I could join you in that fire, That the flames would consume me and deliver you, How I long to be by your side and you by mine. Will there be an end to my suffering, Lord? I hope not, for I surely deserve more. Forgiveness, I need it, but I am undeserving of it. Hear the rending of my heart, the failing of my soul, And relieve me, O, Lord, of the burden of life itself. From you, from all, I deserve woe. I deserve woe.”
We know not what it was Manasseh said but prayers, however intelligible or not, lucid or mumbling about, baby-like, are heard by God. He seeks and searches the depths of a man’s heart; He understands the wallows, fright, and desperation found in a woman’s heart; He comprehends the unspoken-ness of brokenness derived from sin and He bends down toward us and heals.
Where God finds it in His being to forgive such ills, I do not know. I cannot know for I am not God but I know that I seek this love, this selflessness, this giving of liberation, daily in my life.
God restored Manasseh to glory, respect, and honor. Not without temporal consequences, of course.
And God can restore the church too, you know.
The residence of bones and dried blood can be a residence of restoration and hope, again.
The structure where babies were massacred can be revitalized as a place where babies are saved and protected.
They can, yes, they can, if we dare, if we will, if we decide to return to God.
And this isn’t a televangelists’ call to open air-tent preaching with hell-fire and brimstone invective.
This is an opportunity to see the church be that which we all expect of it. To behave as the world demands it. As Christ commanded it.
Outside of this, outside of this hope, namely, Christ’s love reflected on His people, we will see nothing more, nothing less, than bones and death in the church of “god.”
Not Yahweh the Deliverer, the I AM, but the god of death.
If we change not, we will be servants in the slaughterhouse of god.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Have you ever met a Christian who speaks fondly of a place he or she has yet to visit? Say, heaven?
And no, I am not referring to the place Americans go to get hefty tax cuts; avoid communing with brown immigrants; where they get to sip diesel cocktails and bathe in nuclear waste just because they can.
No. That’s Texas, sir.
I’m referring to the people who attend religious gatherings at least once a week all around the world, lifting hands in worship, singing their hearts out to God. Those people. The ones who carry Bibles, read Christian literature as if it were the news, and listen to contemporary worship music as if it were canon.
Have you ever heard them speak about the glorious hope that awaits the faithful once they step into the void of death and cross the bridge of hopelessness into everlasting light?
Yes. Christians. More so, Western Christians.
And by “Western” I mean North, Central, and South American.
We (western Christians) sometimes discuss heaven like kids discuss Disney Land or Disney World. Or the way parents discuss upcoming holidays and steakhouses and burger joints we want to visit. You know, “I can’t wait to try the triple-deck bacon extravaganza at Honkies. It has sixty thousand calories and that’s just the burger. The onion fries are fried in bacon grease! O, the heart attack! Honey! Bring my Tums tablets. No, the extra strength ones!”
Listen, I’m not dismissing the beauty of heaven. I’m not dismissing the undecipherable blessings that await us in the beyond either. I very much look forward to the day in which I will no longer have to pay taxes to a government that seldom assists the disadvantaged with the funds it deprives me of. I will no longer have to see people go hungry because of greed or famine or drought. I will no longer be a witness to the horrors of cancer, AIDS, plagues, war, and genocide.
I mean, no more death. That is amazing.
What a beautiful hope. A dream, almost, to live in a place where suffering no longer exists. We become immortal hedonists. At least that’s what some Christians make it sound like.
But seldom do we reflect on the direct cause and purpose of heaven: Christ.
I want us to consider the validity of a Christocentric understanding of heaven and life here on earth instead of a heaven-centric understanding of existence.
What I mean is that far too many of us succumb to an idea that heaven will just become a hangout, a place where we kind of, well, just hang out. Where we can walk over to a celestial ice cream parlor or a sanctified bar (no alcohol for the Baptists) wherein which we get to indulge without gaining weight or suffering through hangovers the day after. But this line of thinking is ludicrous. We have turned heaven into an eternal amusement park whereas others have turned it into an eternal choir show where we’re compelled to worship God, together, forever.
The issue here is the compulsion, not the fact that we’re worshipping God or lack of time involved in it. Also, yeah, the concept of time won’t even be a thing once we cross over the threshold of life and death, and time into eternity. There’s no such thing as time in a place where time does not exist. It’s strange, really, but frightening. I won’t know whether I’ve rested for an hour or six centuries. It’ll be something new to us but we will adjust… without time.
Our understanding of the beyond, of heaven, has been warped by medieval artwork, American consumerism, pop culture, and the seeker-sensitive evangelical industrial complex (EIC) mania.
This myopic view of heaven prioritizes our comfort over our relational posture toward God, not just that, but it diminishes the value of Christ in our theology. The collateral damage from this line of thinking also diminishes our willingness to focus on temporal matters, namely, our neighbors and our environment.
I recall listening to minister, John MacArthur, I cannot recall which series it was but I recall his sentiment about environmentalists, condemning their efforts to stymie pollution and stall environmental disasters caused by human activity because, according to MacArthur’s interpretation of eschatology, the world was going to be incinerated by Jesus someday anyway. So, considering the finitude of our planet, in MacArthur’s mind, there was no point in attempting to stall current events or endeavor at a combined venture to make things better for people now or the next generation because the planet, as he saw it, was doomed.
Others have avoided the push for racial equity because racism, in its interpersonal and its structural state, would only be remedied in heaven. Some have thwarted efforts to dismantle exploitative systems that historically disadvantage the poor and racial minorities. They believe, and erroneously so, that because Jesus said to his disciples a week before his crucifixion, “You will always have the poor with you,” that by that we needn’t strive to end world hunger and poverty.
Theologians and ministers have shunned the idea of combating sexual abuse in the church and sexual abuse outside of it because sexual deviancy will only be corrected if not outright annihilated in the afterlife. What’s the point of pushing for policies, laws, cultural and systemic changes to our institutions here on earth if they will always fail because of man’s sinful nature? Shouldn’t we focus on heaven and heaven alone where these problems will cease to exist?
Man’s sinful nature is only corrected by supernatural transformation therefore the complete redemption and transformation will only take place in heaven so until then we need to focus on the gospel message and that alone.
Forget about poverty. Forget about racism. Forget about sexism and misogyny.
I understand this escapist and apathetic (also pathetic) line of reasoning because I lived it. I used to disseminate it. Again, as you read above, I used to listen to John MacArthur and his cadre of heaven-onlyists for years, thinking that any attempt to remedy current problems was a waste of time. A waste of “God’s time.”
I believed that because this world would one day cease to be and I would escape its demise and destruction that the only thing for me to focus on was to get as many people into Noah’s Celestial Ark as soon as possible before a world-altering cataclysmic event unfolded. Anyone unfortunate enough to get stuck outside of that cosmic redemption carriage was, well, lost. Not just lost in eternal separation but also lost in their current state here on earth.
“Damn the earth,” I thought. “It’ll be reborn anyway.”
The poor would remain poor, because, well, heaven was better.
The battered and sexually abused woman would remain, well, battered and sexually abused because heaven was her only hope. I mean, her abusive husband would soon dispatch her to heaven, along with her kids, (thank domestic abuse for that one) so there wasn’t much to worry about. She’d have cake, beef stew, and another patriarch to rule over her in heaven.
The black teen who was racially profiled by police, handcuffed, beat, and tossed behind bars on false and trumped-up charges, with an unnecessarily lengthier sentence than his white counterparts, would not need to stress about the system that disadvantaged him because heaven has no racism. All the racists from earth would then become race-loving Teletubbies in heaven. The policeman who beat him with a club on earth would greet him with cake in heaven.
The absurdity of this mindset, which removes the focus of our life and goal from Christ and places it in a place instead is such a perversion of the gospel yet we endure it. We drink its filth, swallow its bile, and defecate its heresy for millions to follow.
Heaven-onlyism turns us away from the blind, the naked, the battered, the prisoner, the downtrodden, the outcast, the immigrant, the refugee, the widow (and widower), the elderly, the sick, the vilomah, and the orphan. It creates an escapist mindset where we’re not that much interested in Christ nor that interested in people created in His image but focused on a place where we are delivered from our responsibilities for our neighbor and our planet.
We’re more focused on getting the ‘hell outta dodge’ than we are on living as Christ lived. More focused on allowing the ship we’re on to sink to the throes of misery because we believe we’re promised safe passage through murky waters, unstained by obligations of selflessness.
The problem is… and what many people fail to understand, is that God commands us to care for our neighbor and our planet. He commands us to care for our land, the land we share with our neighbors. He commands us to be the good Samaritan, well knowing those in our care may never pay us back. He demands that we visit the “least of these” lest we be forsaken on Judgement Day.
We need to focus more so on Jesus than on WHAT Jesus will do with the planet and WHEN.
No one knows the day nor the hour and until then, we need to work. We need to move mountains. We need to open seas. Part them in half with what God has given us as gifts and talents to help our neighbors. We need to care for our surroundings and our environment not as if we idolize or personify nature but because God has given us this bucolic planet for us to enjoy, not exploit.
There’s a difference.
God does not bless exploitation and He does not merit individuals the grace of salvation AND the right to exploit. Once saved, our responsibility to live like Jesus is immediate, from here through eternity and that will demand we confront the wrongs of our time.
“Jesus never confronted the Roman empire, nor did he abolish slavery.”
But Christians did. Real Christ-followers refused to bow a knee to imperial power, greed, and exploitation.
Heretics and exploiters bent the knee at the river of exploitation by enslaving men and women in the name of Jesus and then telling the same groups to expect relief and redemption in Heaven only.
“Endure your chains. Save your soul!”
That’s a damnable offense in the eyes of God and His people.
Be wary of ministers, pastors, theologians, and clergymen who speak so lofty of heaven and its many gifts but turn a blind eye to God’s people here on Earth. Admonish them to focus on Christ and not on escapism, because, as we have seen through history, many of them have come to faith in Jesus not for the love of the Lord but because of their fear of hell.
The fear of eternal separation, whatever that may entail, has done more damage to the Christian psyche than it has led people into a loving and eternal life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
Heaven may be full of people who will wander the streets of gold not knowing who exactly it is they’re there to meet.
And that is an embarrassment. Of course, I’m exaggerating, playing coy, but please entertain this next thought for just a moment.
Image a man named John entering heaven, having suffered some calamitous death on earth, and now he graces the fields of the beyond the same way Maximus dreamed of walking through his field of grain. He wanders here and there, seeing joy-filled faces, laughter, peace, tears of relief, and restfulness everywhere. He watches people who have made a perilous journey from one end of the universe to the other, losing thousands, if not millions of their numbers, having since reached safer shores in God’s eternal rest.
John comes across this blinding light, a man, or at least someone in the shape of a man walking toward him, surrounded by resplendent glory.
“Welcome, John.” Says Jesus. “Oh, uh, hi.” “I’m glad you made it. I’m so happy to have you here.” Jesus continues. “Yeah, uh, hey, where’s the fluffy cake stuff we were promised back on earth?” “The what?” “Excuse me. I think I see a poutine waterfall over there.” John bumps into Jesus on his way to what he presumes is a waterfall spewing gravy, cheese curds, and french fries.
How daunting a sight.
But that’s how many of us see heaven and operate as such.
Others yet see themselves dressed in white robes singing, for ions, possibly innumerable songs.
“When will we get a break from this singing to finally grab some cake or something.” Said Sandy, in singsong. “Not sure, but here’s the 1,045,095th repetition of the bridge.” Said another heavenly apparition, in falsetto. “Right. Sorry. ‘And on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…” For eternity, they sang.
Our minds are so fixated on sanctified mundanity that we may be shocked when we get to heaven and realize that we’ll still be required to relate to one another and also with the Principle Host of it all, Jesus.
Granted. Our newness will remove from us the selfishness that is so prevalent in us here on earth but I cannot imagine the face of thousands of redeemed folk looking around expecting plush couches, white robes, and cake everywhere until they realize that heaven is much more, more than what we think, more than what we can comprehend.
But heaven’s main focus isn’t the place, the timelessness, or the absence of pain and suffering.
Heaven will be Jesus. Jesus will be Heaven.
And if we’re not focused on Jesus here on earth, not in the sense that we want to escape from the troubles of the world kind of mindset. No. No one wants to be in a relationship with someone who is just with them because the alternative, namely, singleness or some less entertaining lover was the option or whatnot.
No. We want to be the focus of their love and adoration. Their time. Their friend, best friend even.
But we’re not focused on befriending Jesus. We’re focused on the benefits that relationship grants us. No different from friends with benefits here on earth. Except, instead of trading up sexual favors we want to trade up for celestial cake.
And damned be everyone left behind.
Please, for the of Jesus and your neighbor. Direct your attention to Christ and you will then be forced to confront the issues still happening here on earth. The people still need food, shelter, medicine, rescue, and love. Be sure that you develop of healthy and evident relationship with Jesus while here on earth. That relationship, or rather, the health of that relationship will be evident in how you treat Earth’s citizens and the planet they inhabit.
Now go and some eat cake.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT