Glimpses of the Creator

Beautiful thoughts from my sister-in-law, who is serving a short-term medical mission in Philadelphia.

SMI Philly Blog

Everywhere I go today, I know there will be people. Particularly here in an urban setting, humanity is inescapable and that can make it seem ordinary – commonplace even. And perhaps because of this, it is all too easy to lose sight of the beauty, wonder, and complexity that is bound up in another human existence.

 In the past year, I began my formal medical education and in this process I have frequently found myself in awe of the intricacy of the human body. Our bodies are a continuous whirling dance of precisely timed and choreographed chemical reactions occurring in inextricably intertwined organs that work in concert to the tune of complex rhythms and steps.

 And while all of this is beautiful and profound, we are so much more than our chemistry. As elegant and convoluted as our chemistry may be, it seems minor in complexity when placed alongside the…

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Are Murder, Rape, and Genocide Morally Christian?

The Jesus Eraser

I got caught up in a comment thread a few days ago in which an agnostic and a fundamentalist Christian argued about the nature of good and evil. At one point the agnostic posed this question:

“We also know that a minority opinion does not make a morally Christian act, objectively moral.
It is morally Christian to kill your son because God asked you too. It is morally Christian to offer your daughters to rapists to protect angels. It is morally Christian to kill thousands of people because God decided they were not worth him. Do you condone these acts or are you glad to live in our « fallen secular world »?”

The Christian answered with this response:

“YES I would condone all of those acts if commanded by God. Absolutely. Because God is the lawgiver. He is the moral standard of truth. Your opinion on right and wrong is irrelevant as is mine. When you fully grasp that God created the universe we inhabit and holds it together moment by moment in delicate balance, you will realize that his thoughts are SOOOO much higher than ours (as scripture says). But humans have a tendency to think they can know better than a God who created them. Yet we cannot even make our own hearts beat.”

The thread went back and forth for awhile, but both this particular question AND the response bothered me. I felt it was important for me to try and clear up a few things, if I could.

So I wrote the following response. It was probably tl;dr as it’s gotten no feedback whatsoever, and the thread itself stopped in its tracks. That is the nature of the internet, of course. But because I put so much time into thinking this out, and I wanted to be able to share these thoughts with others should they come up again, I’m going to reproduce my comment here.

The full thread and the original (quite good!) post can be found here: “Do Christians Indoctrinate Their Children?”


 

([agnostic commenter], I know this will bring some bloggers’ hellfire down upon me, but I just have to let you know–not all people who try to follow Jesus agree with what [Christian commenter] is saying. In fact, with regard to the murder/rape/genocide, I am hopeful that the majority of us very firmly do NOT. We would, however, disagree that “It is morally Christian to kill your son… offer your daughters to rapists… [and] kill thousands of people.” None of those things are morally Christian.

Christianity–the understanding and following of CHRIST, Jesus–did not exist in Abraham’s time. Abraham’s interaction with God as recorded in Genesis should therefore not be construed with the relationship God has with people through Jesus now–that Old Testament interaction had a different purpose. I should also note that 1. God never actually had Abraham kill Isaac, 2. God only asks Abraham to **offer** Isaac up, never gives an actual command to kill, 3. God in fact loudly and absolutely condemns child sacrifice elsewhere in the Old Testament. See Genesis 22, here for the account of Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac, and see Psalm 106:34-39, Ezekiel 16:20-22, and Ezekiel 23:36-39 for God condemning child sacrifice (you can search them on BibleGateway as well; I don’t want to clog up this comment with links).

If you read Psalm 106 and those Ezekiel chapters, this actually provides a good segue to your third point about genocide. Obviously, in those passages, wiping out other nations is referenced–very, very firmly within the context of due justice. Those nations were thoroughly murderous, sacrificing their children as a way of life, and they passed on that practice to ancient Israel. If we can agree that child sacrifice is unacceptable, even to the Christian God, then I think we can agree that a culture that formally enforces it as part of a religion is extremely dangerous and toxic–and that that everyone who committed murder in that society, which must be the vast majority of people, deserve death themselves.

However. It is important to note that God never “decided they were not worth him.” Having hand-made every single human with infinitely loving purpose and care, God loves every single one of us–even the ones he instructs authorities to kill for the sake of everyone else’s protection and stop a horrifyingly destructive practice. He mourns every person lost when a people group is wiped out, absolutely regardless of the reason. And in fact, Psalm 51:14-17 and Hosea 6:6 say outright that God does not desire sacrifice, but rather mercy. He will not back down from crushing a threat when innocents are being wantonly slaughtered; neither does he ever WANT to have to do such a thing. And, in fact, that is why he sent Jesus: so that even murders would have a way to turn away from their wrongdoing and be forgiven, rather than be killed in return. This is ALSO why Christians are NEVER justified in recreating that OT scenario and crusading or committing genocide themselves. God has NO USE for that now. Jesus wasn’t around in the OT, however, so it makes sense that God’s solution to systemic mass murder was damage control: eliminating the murderers themselves. That’s the ONLY reason Israel had the instruction to kill off other nations–because they were such hideously bad mojo–and it does NOT MEAN God didn’t love and care for and mourn those lives lost, too. This is the atomic bomb ethical dilemma that all of us can appreciate, now having that in our fairly recent history: destroy several thousand lives in an instant to end a war, or sacrifice untold quantities more–including and especially the very people you are sworn to protect as your first priority–by letting the war drag on instead. Which would you choose?

We argue that none of us can play God, that the best answer to this dilemma is passive non-decision; but if anyone does in fact have the right to play God, it’s God himself. Here is the point where I concede a bit of common ground with [Christian commenter]: if God has a solution, regardless of how terrible the fallout, you can believe that it is a just solution, and you can believe it is in fact the best solution. If you cannot see the justice in God’s work, and you cannot equally see the love, then you are not following a God that is truly worth worshipping, are you? May I also add, that if you are having a hard time seeing love and justice in the Christian God, you might well be mistaken about who he truly is, what he says, and what he does.

Finally (and I know I’m going out of order, but bear with me), offering Lot’s daughters to rapists to protect angels was not God’s idea, or even the angels’ idea; it was Lot’s, and he in no way receives commendation for it. It’s simply recorded that that’s what happened. See Genesis 19 here for the account: Any sane Christian today would look at that and say, “Well gee, I’m not trying that any time soon!!” God absolutely condemns rape. He absolutely condemns child abuse. He absolutely condemns going rogue on “doing the right thing” because you think you’re doing him a favor even while you’re harming other humans. I could pull you up passages for these principles, too, but again, I don’t want to clog the blog.

So, then, all this is to explain that “moral Christianity” is not at all what you think it is. There are evils that are obviously evil to the vast majority of humans, and when Christians get confused about that, that’s their fault, not God’s. It an absolute shame when we represent him so poorly, and I’m sorry for that. But I hope you will take the word of one of us who agrees with you that child sacrifice and rape and genocide are bad when I say that God wants none of these things from us–that practicing such is not “moral Christianity.”


 

If you made it to the end, gentle reader–what are you thoughts?

–GM

 

I always believe the ideal is waiting just over the horizon.

Escape From the Ideal

I always believe the ideal is waiting just over the horizon.

 

All the places you ever wanted to escape to

are always

Here

in the end.


 

I published this poem on my “professional” blog a week or two back just to demonstrate that, yes, I actually am a writer… in the unlikely event any of my “serious” work is ever accepted for publication by any (established) journal. But I also wanted to talk about it here on this blog, which is much more interactive/conversational.

First off, a shout-out to valdelo of Silently Screaming for the simple encouragement to keep writing. That little nudge prompted me to see if I had anything in me tonight… and voila. (More about the power of nudges in a future post!)

Anyhow. This poem popped into my head as I was contemplating my pronounced tendency to look to the horizon for salvation. I have the *worst* time practicing mindfulness–i.e., focus and attention fixed on the present, experiencing and appreciating all it has to offer, not lingering in the past or endlessly planning out the future. The Yercoviches refer to this tendency as “reviewing and rehearsing,” a behavior practiced by vacillators (such as myself) who tend to devalue or idealize events (this is just the link to a summary of the “core pattern” handout where they describe these tendencies, which you can also find available for purchase on their site). I.e., I tend to feel that the past could have always played out better, so I rehash it endlessly trying to “troubleshoot” for future improvement–or I believe that a future event can be perfectly managed if I only plan it out carefully enough, so I overthink constantly (and heavily).

This leads to endless annoyance or discontent or discomfort with a new place or relationship or experience or accomplishment once I’ve finally arrived at it and it has become familiar. All of a sudden, my daydream of freedom and hope and life and possibility has been replaced by obstinate reality grounded in simple, uncomfortable, less-than-ideal facts. It’s not even that reality is really that bad–it just doesn’t match up completely with my daydream. For a vacilator, this loss of the ideal is crushing.

So I have to learn not to value the ideal so darn much.

This is made easier when I realize how many downright stupid, unimportant things I idealize (like not having crumbs on the floor, or having clean bathrooms [honestly, isn’t it far more significant to realize the incredible blessing of HAVING a fully functional bathroom–or even more than one?!], or keeping runny toddler noses off all the furniture)?

It’s harder when I’ve idealized things that *seem* more important, though–like having firm, stable, relationships with loved ones. But firmness and stability don’t look or feel exactly like my imagination tells me (since I don’t have a lot of experience in those areas compared to some, idealized imagination sets my hopes and expectations–not reality). Letting go of these imaginings and finding the courage instead to emotionally experience the reality I’m in–good, bad, and everything in between–is a huge challenge.

It’s deeply intimidating particularly because the reality I experienced for so long taught me *not* to trust, feel, or seek communion with others when relationships have even a whiff of going south about them–in large part because it was never demonstrated to me that doing so *could work*. I also had basically no idea where to start: what does trusting, feeling, and seeking communion look like in a relationship that’s actually worth it–where it’s safe, advisable, and even necessary from a mental health perspective?

However, finding myself in truly worthwhile, long-term relationships has shown me that the old way of relating isn’t going to work here; I need to develop a new skill set.

Fixing all my hopes for happiness and security on the imaginary ideal place, situation, or companion will only leave me despondent when I finally reach my destination–and realize it’s not *everything* I made it out to be.

It will always end up being the experience I’m left to engage with in the present–the current, immediate moment–the one place I’ve had small confidence and found little comfort in for so long.

I will continue to do just that–as long as my expectations are that my ideal *should be* the reality.

The truth, however, is that I can’t change the reality in front of me–but I can, gradually, change my perspective on it and how I interact with it.

The details of this elude me constantly, but I’ve found one mantra from the How We Love website quite helpful. To paraphrase:

“It’s not as bad as I think it is, and it’s not as good as I want it to be.”

Accepting this as unchangeable truth helps me to regulate my expectations and, thus, avoid getting too working up one way or the other. It requires me to let go of my own demands upon reality and exchange them for trust, instead, that my needs will be met–perhaps not how I’d like them to be, but they will be met–by the people who really *do* love me, as they have tangibly and consistently demonstrated over an extended period of time, through the providence of a God who has demonstrated enormous care and love for me over a much longer time frame.

This is the proper way to reflect upon the past: to search it for all the good and love I’ve received, practicing a new, unnatural approach to reflection–rather than picking through it for the parts that didn’t match my original skewed ideals and ruminating over the uncomfortable bits.

And it’s the proper way to envision the future: with calm, simple confidence that my idealized plans will not come to fruition, and are not worth the time I spend on them, but that whatever else happens instead will still be manageable and even full of blessing from a divine agent I can’t possibly anticipate or control–which terrifies me, which reminds me that I need to sink deep into reflections of his steadfast, unshakeable love once more. Because “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NKJV).


 

Lord, well over a decade ago I wrote about this, seeking to experience the unfathomable love you have for me, because I needed to be free from fear. I still do. I fear constantly–big things, little things, imaginary things that feel too much like the actual reality of times past to be ignored. Lord, please–free me from torment. Free me from fear. Cast me into perfect love: love based in reality and well-founded expectations, that it may cast out every fear caused by unmet, idealized expectations. Exchange my broken mindset for your healing way of thinking. Help me to be patient with the process (avoiding unrealistic expectations yet again!); lead me to all the tools I need, and bless them with your presence. Thank you for loving me, even when I can’t fully sense it. Especially then. Amen.