There You Were

We had the honor of Dr. Greg Boyd and Dr. Paul Eddy leading  a seminar on God, Evil, and Spiritual Warfare at school this week. The following is an edited version of the paper I was assigned to write prior to the class. Greg Boyd has had a massive influence on my life, not just my spiritual walk, but rather on my entire worldview (I encourage checking out his website I have often wrote about the work of people who have had influence on me, but I tend to shy away from writing about Greg’s work for fear of undermining the weight of it’s beautiful integrity and intelligence. With that being said, I’m sure this reflection is far from encapsulating the message of living within a Warfare Worldview–not to mention my clumsy attempt to weave it together with his more recent work on how to view God in the face of things such as OT violence. Regardless, what it does contain is a vital lesson on how we view our Father when we face suffering and pain. I pray you’ll see what I have learned to see once more, the loving gaze of our Heavenly Father.

There You Were

I was driving down Hwy 169, on my way home after a visit to my parent’s house. The snow was melting, and apart from the massive amounts of sand and dirt peeking out along the roads, it was a beautiful scene. The air, not yet warm, carried on it’s breath a reminder of a new beginning. A feeling of anger welled inside me at the scent of rebirth revealed in the wind of that spring. I could hear my father’s gentle words still echoing in my mind from our visit, “Stephanie, God didn’t take Matt.” I knew that, but it isn’t what I felt. If God hadn’t physically ripped my husband from Earth—from his children, from me—He certainly hadn’t stopped someone else from doing the tearing. Regardless of who was to blame, my flesh that was once fused to my husband was now no more than a gushing, bloody wound I was forced to live with.

I have dealt with spiritual warfare in very tangible ways throughout my life, both before and after becoming a widow. The night I was attacked by a demon who was determined to keep me addicted to cocaine more then I was determined to get sober comes to mind. I think about the day I realized the person I had been listening to in the mirror for years—the one telling me I wasn’t worthy of love— wasn’t actually me. The day when my five year old daughter fearfully told me about her nightmare that contained evil beyond her knowing is my most hated of all. In light of this, it is easy to understand why the average American would rather plead ignorance than try to face the reality of the evil that lies just beyond our five senses. For me however, it was the night I lost my husband that I had to finally face my own ignorance about serving an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God in light of a world filled with pain, evil and suffering.

My husband died of pneumonia at the age of 33. He was a healthy man. The night of his death, he went to bed early due to a bad cold he had come down with that day. Before sunrise the next morning he would be dead. During therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I rewrote the story of my husband’s death in a way my brain was able to handle. For me, this process meant I had to re-walk through that horrific evening, but this time with Jesus by my side. When I now flashback to that evening, Jesus is present throughout the memory. Jesus was there and warns me of my husband’s waking and subsequent asphyxiation. Jesus cries out to our Father while I call 911. Jesus kneels beside me, snot and tears pouring into the carpet, as I hear the paddles being charged and recharged and recharged again. Jesus has become a physical part—as I believe He was—of the night my husband died, but where was God?

I knew God was there, I was certain. Why was it I couldn’t recognize Him? It wasn’t until over a year after my husband’s death that I learned I couldn’t see God because I was looking in the wrong places. I couldn’t see Him because I hadn’t fully realized the price we pay for the spiritual war raging all around us. I believe, in part, I couldn’t find God because I was only able to see a shadow of His imprint on that night. I had mistaken God’s shadow for His true self and that can be a costly mistake.

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.                                                       Colossians 2:17

If I hadn’t been sitting in a chair at Woodland Hills on July 15, 2012, I believe I wouldn’t be quite as capable to answer the question of where God was the night my husband died. Dr. Boyd’s book God at War allowed Spirit revelation into my life regarding God’s intervention, or lack thereof, in Matt’s death. But, it was through Greg’s message “God’s Shadow Activity” that things really began to click. I don’t think I would have the peace I now have regarding my internal dilemma of God “taking” my husband from me if it wasn’t for that sermon. I was at Woodland Hills that night though, and the peace that surpassed understanding for me in those first months of grief has more recently taken on an applicable peace that not only surpasses, but lies within understanding.

So as I sat there that evening, in my church seat, I began to peel away the lies I had been telling myself about God’s role in Matt’s death. I decided to think on that night one more time. This time I understood. This time I finally saw what I hadn’t seen before. I imagined that hellish night. I remember how I fell to my knees in our old hallway. I envision my face planting into the floor. I see myself crying out to my Heavenly Father with the most unearthly noise that had ever left my body. And then I remembered, Christ was there with me. So, I look up from the floor and meet eyes with my Savior as I had so many times during this re-enactment, but this time it was different.

My mouth, just barely able to move, utters in a hushed tone …. “Abba.”

God was there—right there—the whole time. It was only when I looked to the love, found on the cross, that I was able to see the true nature of God … regardless of the light (or darkness) in which I was looking through.


You Can’t Handle the Fruit

The creation story was opened up to me in a new way this week.  In particular, the very source of original sin; the fruit … the tree.  In my life, I’ve pondered how Adam and Eve were suddenly shamed by their naked bodies.  I’ve tried to imagine the fear they felt as they hid from God.  I’ve lived through the curse of painful childbirth … twice.  But up until this week I hadn’t given the name of the tree as much weight as I should have.  I don’t know how I could have missed this, or how in the 32 years of my life (on and off) in the church this has never been exposed in a more deliberate manner.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This fruit gave them wisdom to [believe they could] know between light and dark.  The incite to [think they could] see what was right and wrong.  The [in]ability to lean on their own understanding of sinful nature.  Adam and Eve literally ate the obsession to bring justice.  They tasted shame, fear, and judgment.  It wasn’t just Adam and Eve though; we are still eating the fruit.  We are ignoring the origination of sin … taking it upon ourselves to play God, to determine, to decide another’s fate.  We have pridefully had the audacity to pretend to know another’s heart condition.

The first thing our gentle, loving creator asked of us was to leave this in His hands.  He knew – as He still knows – that when we feebly attempt to pass judgment, the result will always be the same …. our own further separation from Him.  And worse still, the separation of God from others.  Those people that we should be directing towards Him, not leading away.

Who have I steered away from God?  Who have I led astray because I felt complied to determine their shortcomings?  Upon understanding the depths of this truth, what must it feel like to be a priest in a confession booth … determining the weight of each and every sin, then handing out the answer for forgiveness?  How could a Christian resist repentance in the light of this? What actions have I taken part in that may have drove others away? All due to selfish fear, pride, and this fruit; this fruit which leads to the [mis]understanding that we know what only God can fully know?

Lord, help me to avoid ignoring your first request of us.  A request made out of Truth, out of love, and out of sympathy for our weak minds.  Open my eyes to see when I fall into the sin of desiring to judge another’s life.  Allow the Holy Spirit to refine the sin in my own life.  And give us all the faith to let the Spirit refine sin in the hearts of others as You see fit.

I am the only son

This video only has some 30,000 views on YouTube.  I’m certain a couple thousand are my own.  It’s just so good, so very good.  Mumford and Sons are at the center of my musical world.  I don’t know with any certainty they are Christians, but I assume they are and don’t care if they aren’t.  Every song has a underlying message of grace, suffering, forgiveness, and love that are undeniable.  And not a romantic love; it’s love of a Christ-like nature.  Love that is immeasurable and unconditional.  I often view their music through the lens of my Christian heart and it’s something that produces hope in me.

Most of their songs are easy to see with a Christian viewpoint, but this one poses a challenge.  The Dust Bowl Dance is the song, and it’s a favorite of mine.  The core of the lyrics are in reference to the Grapes of Wrath, but it goes further than that, and I’ve had fun thinking over the possibilities.  The song is full of passion, incite, and justifiable anger.  This part always stands out to me:

Well you are my accuser, now look in my face,
Your oppression reeks of your greed and disgrace,
So one man has and another has not,
How can you love what it is you have got,
When you took it all from the weak hands of the poor?
Liars and thieves you know not what is in store.

There will come a time I will look in your eye,
You will pray to the God that you always denied,
The I’ll go out back and I’ll get my gun,
I’ll say, “You haven’t met me, I am the only son”.

Now, just to be clear, I have no factual reason to believe the only son is a figure of Christ.  But I like the picture it paints when you place Jesus into the end of the song as the only son (and yes, some lady in the audience is holding a song with incorrect lyrics).  But picture it … it’s judgment day.  There are people lined up to face Christ, realizing what they thought to be untrue is actually true, knowing they fell short (the same way we all have), hoping for redemption, and what does Christ do?  He goes out back and gets his gun.

Through the lens of a conservative Christian idea of judgment, Jesus pegging off non-believers with a gun could be the compassionate choice.  And yet, when I imagine judgment I don’t picture Jesus with a gun shooting people down, I don’t imagine him physically picking people up and throwing them into a fiery hell to burn in conscious never ending torture for all eternity.

How can there be a promise of an eternal kingdom that is free from pain, suffering, and tears (Rev 21:4) when eternal torture will still be present in that place after d-day?  I’m not staking any claims on my beliefs here, but it’s the thoughts that I thought today … and I thought I would share.

Religion is not a four letter word.

I’m not too familiar with Jeff Bethke.  And if you somehow have been living under a rock and missed his spoken word piece, which has gone viral this week, you can see it here.  My hope in writing is not to tear down a Christian brother.  My heart is telling me that Jeff loves Christ, that he longs to be Christlike, and that he is very talented (which may be part of the reason people listen past what he is really saying).

The definition of religion has changed over the past years, this I understand.  There are people who see the religious structure as a legalistic hypocrisy.  There are people who call themselves Christian, possible attend church on Sunday, and yet don’t live as Christians at all.  And so a shift begins.  People who are religious sever ties with the term and cling to the core of what makes the structure beautiful.  This isn’t the answer to our problems though.

If it wasn’t for ‘religion’ I wouldn’t be blessed with a new pastor who has come to a broken church family and lovingly said to us, “We will mend this together”.  If it wasn’t for ‘religion’ I wouldn’t be blessed with elders who guide and lead me in a gentle and loving manner so that I do not stumble in my walk.  If it wasn’t for ‘religion’ I wouldn’t be blessed with a denomination, who in the wake of my young husband’s death, came around me to help with the physical, spiritual, and financial needs of my family.  I wouldn’t have a small group of women who I consider sisters.  I wouldn’t have a place to worship our God, who I love so much.

Let us not so quickly forget that Jesus was religious; a very devout Jew.  And so, I too, am religious.  I would like to say I’m not a hypocrite and that I’m a Christian the other six days of the week, but as Paul says in Romans, “For I don’t do the good I want to do, but instead do the evil that I don’t want to do.”  I do the best I can, but it is far from perfect.  This doesn’t mean I’m ready to throw the baby out with the bath water.

My fear is that we are trying to have an internal conversation with the whole world.  It is not that what Jeff, and others, have been saying for some time doesn’t have relevance in a changing world.  I understand people have been hurt by the structure we have built, and for those who have been I am sorry.  Do we take that pain and turn people away from the church though?  I think the answer is to build communities that don’t hurt.  Communities that when hurt does happen grace and forgiveness is worked through together.  These communities do exsist, I am part of one.

We can not undermine the importance of our communities, and I don’t believe that is what Christ wants for us.  We must tread lightly when we label people, and it doesn’t matter the label that you use … religious/legalistic, orthodox/heretic, conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat, Catholic/Evangelical . . . Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female.

You see, because we are all one in Christ Jesus.  And a label is ALWAYS a label, no matter how trendy it might be.