Thursday, February 4, 2010

Utopian Visions, Part 3

In the paradigm of Jesus, we have a notion of murder, destruction, and hatefulness...

I'm going to keep this short and (bitter)sweet. Let me unpack that first sentence.

The paradigm of Jesus is the reflection and manifestation of his sacrificial personality in our own lives. We are to live lives of love, forgiveness, charity, and selflessness, and depend on God to meet our needs. Even for people who don't believe in the Godhood of Jesus, there is often a selflessness and a caring for their fellow human beings. Where does this heart of charity come from?

A notion of murder springs directly from words of Jesus. From Matthew 5:21-22 we hear: "You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell." [All citations from the NET Bible] What are we doing nowadays? We're calling those with whom we disagree fools, or worse. We have an attitude of murder toward these people. This is just as true of people on the left as on the right -- we're murderers in our hearts, all of us.

Destruction is what we seem to be bent upon. By ignoring the plight of the poor, by turning our backs upon the world as the climate changes (in part because of our own insatiable appetite for "stuff" to decorate our hovels while we entertain ourselves until we die, by thinking that we can just discard this world that God created and saw was good, by bulldozing Eden and strip-mining our own home, all we evidence is the minds of plunderers and molesters.

Hatefulness is more or less redundant, but I've added it for completeness. "God Hates Fags" is the strident message of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, home of Fred Phelps and his small mob of fundamentalists. Why is Fred so certain of this? Might it not be that God hates Fred? Or perhaps God loves him, and lets him go his own demented way, out of respect for his sovereignty as a person.

What is the "love of God" like? I'm pretty sure we don't often think about the nature of this tough love, but I think it's best represented by the parable of the Prodigal Son. From Luke 15:11-32:

"Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Hurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again – he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’”

The salient feature to me is that the father loves his younger son so much that he lets him go his own way. He doesn't mount an expedition to get the son back; he is ready to receive him with welcoming arms when he approaches on his own. Everything in this tale speaks of the forgiveness of the father -- the actual injured party here -- toward his son. The door was always open for the son to return, but the son had to discover that he needed to be there. In some sense, the father loved his son so much that he was willing to let him go to a hell of his own making rather than force himself on the son.

There's a saying that if you love something, set it free. That's demonstrated by this parable, don't you think?

So, what does all this have to do with a utopian vision, care for the world around us, and paradoxically, a desire to just let the world go to pot? And what about those harsh accusations I've posted above? I'll have some words about all that in the next post.

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