Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Discussion on Hubris and Hermenutics

It seems like some of your assertions are approachingself-righteousness. I doubt you mean them to, butthat's how I read them.

In responding to Larry Eby about the judgment of NewOrleans, you said, "I understand that this seemscontradictory. It is not. If you can't understandit, I respectfully recommend that you meditate on it. Otherwise the Bible and the God of Jesus just makes nosense."And in your response to me, you said, "I understandthat you have probably heard quite a bit of preachingon the prodigal son, but, of course, what we shouldmost be interested in is what Jesus' point is, not anygiven pastor's point."The first example demonstrates an attitude that if wedon't understand the Bible the way you do, it "justmakes no sense". And we should all endeavor to takethe time to understand it the way you do.

Maybe youcan't see it making sense another way, but thatdoesn't mean it can't make sense for others.In the second example, the implicit attitude is thatwhat you are about to exposit *is* Jesus' point. Thisis hubris. Every preacher I've ever heard is"interested in Jesus' point" and is attempting todiscern it. The way you pose "any given pastor'spoint" against "Jesus' point" is specious. For inthis age, 2000 years after he walked the roads ofGalilee, none of us has perfect knowledge of Jesus'point. We're all interpreting. If you cast yourinterpretation as "Jesus' point", this doesn't changethe fact that it's still your interpretation.

In fact, I think the passages you described thataccompany the prodigal story actually support *my*interpretation, in that they say *nothing* about Godor the angels in heaven "accepting" the repentant onesafter having rejected them before. They simplydescribe the joy and rejoicing in heaven now that theones who were lost have repented. Remember, I saidthat repentance is critical to our being able toaccept God's forgiveness. I assert, however, andthese passages don't contradict, that our repentanceis not a prerequisite or requirement for God to acceptus.I don't see how it could be otherwise. For why wouldanyone *want* to repent, if they are facing only thewrath (non-acceptance) of an angry Father God. Howcould they trust that God would -- bing! -- becomeimmediately loving and welcoming only *once we decidedto be good*? Rather, I think people repent becausetheir brokenness allows them to recognize that God isstill there, loving them and welcoming them backwhenever they are ready to come.

On simplistic interpretation...It's risky to take any one passage as toorepresentative, and I know this happens from allsides. But as an example, your passage cited below tosupport the fact that Jesus judges (John 5), actuallysays that the Father does not judge, but that only theSon does. What? Then, does this mean that God does*not* judge? Well, yes, on its face. I'm sure manypeople have bent over backwards to reconcile this withother passages, but I'm not sure why they bother.

Thetake-home point I get is to be a lot more humble aboutinterpretation, seeing through a glass darkly and allthat. Anyone out there claiming there is *ONE RIGHTINTERPRETATION* and that *THEY KNOW IT* is full ofthemselves, not the Holy Spirit. There may indeed beone right interpretation of every part of the Bible,but I'm not sure any of us can fully know it.As it happens, I agree with you that the dialectic ofa God who shows mercy and a God who judges seemsreadily apparent in scripture. Yet that doesn't meanwe can know how or where that judgment is occurring,nor should we try to participate in it. (And I thinkthe key point here is that by claiming to know whereit exists, we are actively participating in it.) "Judge not, lest ye be judged." "take out the log inyour own eye" etc. etc. God may judge the wicked, butI don't think any of us is capable of unbiasedlyidentifying who God considers wicked, unless it isclaiming our own wickedness.

I certainly don't think that a singing "prophet" fromSouth Africa who makes vague Nostradamus-likeprophecies and is considered by many *conservative*Christians to be a "New Age prophet", is the voice ofGod in the 21st century. (Did you know, Steve, thatthe "prophet" you cited that started this whole thingoff has been criticized for not preaching the need forrepentance?! http://letusreason.org/Popteac14.htmIn light of this discussion, that's highly ironic.) But this is all just my opinion.Apologies to the peacemakers among us for all thistheologizing.Shalom,Dave

I think this "theologizing" is significant, because it gets to the heart of why we do peacemaking, and how we do it.

If repentance is not necessary for forgiveness, then we do peacemaking because it is the "right" thing to do, and we accomplish peacemaking by helping people see other people's sides. If repentance is necessary for forgiveness, then Jesus is essential in peacemaking-- not just to tell us to do it, but to accomplish the repentance necessary for peace. This is because repentance is impossible without God's Spirit to empower us to repent. Creating peace between people (especially individuals) is easy compared to helping people live a right lifestyle before God. Only God can do that.

As far as my arrogance, I apologize for that. I AM arrogant at times and I will do my best, with God's help, to alleviate that. However, hubris-- a terrible sin in Greek morality-- isn't a terrible sin biblically. Yes, pride is rejected as evil, and humility is certainly exalted. But pride is described in Scripture as attempting to take a higher social position on one's own power and authority, and not being grateful to the one who gives one position (namely God). Humility is described as taking a low position, and doing the actions of that position-- such as Jesus enacting the role of a slave in John 13. Thus Jesus, Paul, Peter, the Pharisees, James, etc all exhibited hubris, and yet were considered very humble. And their hubris was no sin.

The problem with hermeneutics is unbelievably huge. From my understanding, the key to understanding Jesus' message is to look at what Jesus' says, in the first century cultural context. Like you said, Dave, it is not a matter of taking one verse and looking at that, and then deciding what it says, solo. It is a matter of looking at a consistent body of literature, and determining the message as a whole. The core of my understanding, my belief, is the synoptic gospels. I will use the rest of the New Testament to assist with details, but Jesus' message-- as a whole-- is found in the synoptic gospels. I will not take just a part of it-- such as just love, or just purity-- and say it represents the whole. I must accept the whole, or else I do not have any of it.

I have attached a file listing verses that show that God's acceptance of us, as well as the church's acceptance, is dependant on repentance, according to the gospels, with supporting verses in the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament. As I said before, this forgiveness is not the same as God's general "love" of all humanity. Forgiveness is equivalent to being welcome in God's presence, having the blessings of God's kingdom, and no longer having God's punishment. Forgiveness is the equivalent of salvation. I didn't put it all on this email, because I didn't want to make it longer than it already is. But if you are interested in my full argument on repentance, it is there.

Reading over your email once more, I wanted to talk about a couple more things:

First of all, I think that there really IS "one right interpretation"-- and I think you do, too. Otherwise, you could accept that God can either require repentance for forgiveness or not require repentance for forgiveness. That either interpretation is acceptable. However, we are having this discussion because we feel that one interpretation is correct. That's the way thinking works-- God will not give us a contradiction. Interpretation is trying to understand that which isn't clear to everyone.

However, our interpretation must be based on evidence. We cannot say, "I think that Jesus supported war" based on no evidence. And the statement cannot be supported by saying that Jesus accepted soldiers, welcoming them with salvation, either. There is inadequate evidence for that interpretation. I think we all agree with that. And we also agree that Jesus' statement "Love your enemies" speaks against Christian participation in war. Others would disagree with that. But is it just a "matter of interpretation"? Or is there evidence one way or the other? Well, we can look at other passages of Jesus to confirm one way or the other, and we can look at the example of his life-- whether he made choices for war or against it. And we can look at the rest of the New Testament to see if that body of literature supports our theory or stands against it. And looking at the New Testament as a whole-- interestingly enough, in opposition to the Old Testament-- that it stands against the Christian participation in war. The position may need to be nuanced, but it stands firm.

Even so, we can look at Jesus' message and life as a whole concerning the issue of repentance and forgiveness. We know for a fact that Jesus' message is deeply concerned with repentance. His basic message, according to Matthew is to prepare for the coming kingdom of God by repentance. When asked forthrightly about how to gain God's kingdom/eternal life, he responded by saying to obey the ten commandments, to sell one's possessions and give to the poor, and to follow Jesus. He did not say, "There's nothing for you to do-- just accept God's forgiveness." And he was very concerned that those who did not repent would be punished eternally (Luke 10:13; Luke 13:1-5).

In the passage we were dealing with (Luke 15), the Pharisees were complaining about Jesus because he was eating with "sinners"-- those who have failed the covenant treaty with God through their continuing disobedience. They didn't want Jesus eating with them because it implied covenant brotherhood with them-- which the Pharisees rejected. This brotherhood was tanamount to "forgiveness"-- acceptance, despite their past sin. Jesus then tells three stories about God, who goes out of his way to seek out and accept certain people. But in all three, Jesus qualifies the acceptance to sinners who repent, not sinners in general. God seeks the sinners in general, but only accepts the ones who repent.

Theologically, we have to say that repentance is difficult, even impossible, in many cases. It is for this reason that in Jesus we can receive the Spirit who will assist us. But repentance is first of all turning to God, and receiving his assistance in overcoming sin.

Those who do violence and kill another are in sin. Those who continually threaten and do harm to others are in sin. And we need to warn them about the judgment that is coming on them because of their sin, even as Jesus did-- "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." And we also talk to them about the God who loves them so much that they will forgive their sin, if they would but turn to Him and turn away from that sin. Then the murders will be forgiven. The soldiers will be accepted by God. The warmongers will be converted. And Jesus will have created peace. Not just through carte blanche "forgiveness". But through the power of forgiveness and repentance in unison.

Steve Kimes

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