Tension with Others

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101You have heard that it was said, 

You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 

But I say to you, Love your enemies and 

pray for those who persecute you, 

so that you may be sons of your Father 

who is in heaven. (Matt 5:43-45)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we become Christians, tension with others can arise in two ways. First, when we draw closer to God, the gap between the biblical values we are growing into and the cultural values we are leaving behind widens, and people notice. After I started seminary, for example, I noticed that some of my saltier friends stopped using profanity in my presence. Second, because God loves people, when we draw closer to God and become more like Jesus, we cannot help but love people too (John 13:34–35). Although sanctification creates a gap between us and others, God’s love flowing through us works to bridge this gap (Jas 2:15–16).

Abraham and Lot

Consider the story of Abraham and his nephew, Lot. God blessed Abraham and then revealed plans to destroy two sinful cities, Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:17–20). Set apart from the world, Abraham then prayed to God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous living there (Gen 18:23–32), presumably including his nephew, Lot.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Lot showed no problem living in Sodom or compassion for his neighbors. Quite the contrary, Lot displayed bad judgment in choosing to live in Sodom (Gen 13:10) and only left Sodom on the urging of angels sent to retrieve him (Gen 19:16). Lot’s wife found it even harder to leave Sodom and disobeyed the angels by looking back at the flaming city (Gen 19:26).

Reflecting on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the church can position itself relative to culture in three ways: working to redeem the culture like Abraham, inattentive to the culture like Lot, or beguiled by the culture like Lot’s wife. Jesus commends Abraham’s approach (Luke 9:52–56), but the grace extended has limits, as Jesus instructs his disciples:

And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matt 10:11–15)

The disciples are to offer peace (that is, to preach the Gospel) to everyone for the sake of others willing to listen, but those unwilling to listen should have their wishes respected (Matt 10:14).

The Gap

The gap between others and ourselves is the focus of the last three Beatitudes:

Honored are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Honored are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Honored are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matt 5:9-11)

In these Beatitudes, Jesus neither denies, nor excuses, nor runs away from persecution. Instead, he treats persecution as a ministry opportunity—“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44)—and he offers consolation for those suffering it. The implication is that tension with others is the norm, not the exception, for Christian disciples

Tension with Other

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

No two doctrines of the church are further from the hearts of Americans than the doctrines of election and judgment, as Richard Niebuhr (1937, 137) characterized liberal Protestant theology: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross.” Without judgment there can be no election because the two doctrines are mirror images of one another. Still, election is misunderstood as a kind of holy huddle, when it is at the heart of salvation and the antithesis to judgment.

Blessed to be a Blessing

McDonald (2010, 190-191) observes that the holy huddle is a modern myth writing:  “…election is the expression of—and the chosen means to further—the triune God’s purpose of blessing.” The interpretative verse arises in the covenant of God with Abraham:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)

Notice how this covenant begins with a stipulation: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.” In modern parlance, Abraham, grow up and stand on your own feet. If Abraham is willing to take the risk of becoming an independent adult by leaving his father’s protection, connections, and wealth, then God says he will bless him to become a blessing to others. Even before the establishment of the Nation of Israel, God has laid out his plan to evangelize the world, anticipating the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) . 

It is interesting that the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-15) depicts the son that “took a journey into a far country” as the son who eventually comes to love and appreciate his father. Thus, the inward looking church—the “holy huddle”—appears more like the spiteful, older son who stayed home and, in terms of the covenant, refused to be a blessing to others.

Sodom and Gomorrah

It is interesting that in our generation, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is interpreted primarily in terms of the judgment of God on these two cities for their sexual sin, including homosexual sin. Yet, the context of the story is a dialogue between God and Abraham that begins with: 

“The LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Gen 18:17-18)

While the judgment of the cities is certainly topical, the focus of the story is on Abraham’s handling of God’s disclosure. What does Abraham do? Abraham immediately begins to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah knowing that his self-absorbed nephew, Lot, lives near Sodom. 

The key phrase in Abraham’s intercession is: “Will you [God] indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23) God does not spare the cities, but he does send his angel to rescue Lot and his family.

What is interesting about this passage is that God reveals his judgment to Abraham, a stand in for the rest of us, to see how Abraham will react. In this example, Abraham passes the test when he exhibits compassion for the cities and engages God in intercessory prayer. 

The Reluctant Prophet

How many of us would pass Abraham’s test? In scripture the counter-example to Abraham arises in the story of the Prophet Jonah. In this short story, we read:

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

God’s disclosure to Jonah is similar to that of Abraham. Nineveh is another evil city that God that God has basically hinted to Jonah will soon be destroyed. But unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, God offers the city an alternative by means of Jonah who is sent to “call out against it.” 

Knowing that Nineveh was the hometown of Sennacherib king of Assyria who had seized all of Judea, except for Jerusalem (Isa,. 36:1), Jonah hated the Ninevites and, instead of going to preach God’s mercy to them, he got on a ship to escape from God and his mission. Then, as every Sunday school kid knows, a storm came up, the sailors tossed Jonah overboard, and he is swallowed by a whale who, after three days, spits him up on a beach. God then repeats his request for Jonah to go to Nineveh. Listen to why Jonah refused to go:

“And he prayed to the LORD and said, O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jon 4:2)

In this response, Jonah recites Exodus 34:6, which recounts God’s character traits. Knowing God is merciful, Jonah refused to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but later does so reluctantly and they do repent, averting God’s wrath, much to Jonah’s consternation.

Judgment and End Times

Knowing that we are blessed to be a blessing and that God shares his plans for judgment with us through scripture and revelation, our attitude about those under judgment has to change. Judgment of those outside the community faith comes as a test of the hearts for those inside the community. Think about John’s prophecy about the end times:

“The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” (Rev 11:18)

Do we cheer on the destruction of sinners, like Jonah, or intercede in prayer, like Abraham? Scripture is clear that God’s heart runs to mercy quicker than ours.

References

McDonald, Suzanne. 2010. Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others & Others to God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1937. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 

Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019

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