God is a Mystery

While talking with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu commented on the greatness of God, saying, “The glory of God is a mystery.” In a world where lives, families, communities and nations have been built upon our knowledge of God, where this information determines our politics, our ethics, our beliefs, and how we treat our sisters and brothers of humanity, Tutu reminds us that God is a mystery.

It is his following reflections that really begin to make us think: “God is actually quite incredible in many ways. But God allows us to misunderstand her…but also to understand her.”

“He can watch us speak, spread hatred, in his name. Apartheid was for a long time justified by the church. We do the same when we say all those awful things we say about gays and lesbians. We speak on behalf of a God of love.”

It is the Christian that can do (and has done) the most damage to the faith of another, or the faith of multitudes. We have watched Westboro Baptist Church drag Christ’s name through the mud, and we’ve watched Christians committing hate crimes, burning down mosques and treating the LGBT community with the kind of hatred only found in the self-righteous Christian.

As Tutu reminds us that part of God’s glory is in God’s “incredible reverence for [our] autonomy,” we are reminded that we can use this freedom and our knowledge of God to oppress God’s people, or we can use this freedom to liberate God’s people.

In these instances and thousands of others, Christianity is used and abused for the sake of power, to control, to maintain the status quo, to promote and sustain the elite. Isn’t it ironic—a little too ironic (sorry)—that God has created a world in which we are given autonomy of thought, belief and speech even at the hindrance of God’s work, yet we use this precise freedom to control and create power structures over others, stifling this God-granted autonomy.

Our God is omnipotent and chooses to love us in a way of pure sacrifice. We, in turn, choose to run with this love and freedom to create and gain power, which our loving God is relinquishing. Ironically, these are our feeble efforts to imitate our loving God…to hate, to oppress, to attack. These are our efforts? This is our legacy? This is our impact on our communities?

In following his thoughts through, Tutu sheds light on religion, “And you have to remember that religion is of itself neither good nor badReligion is a morally neutral thing. It is what you do with it…Religion is good when it produces a Dalai Lama, a Mother Teresa, a Martin Luther King.

He asks, “What does your faith make you do? Make you become?

This is the question to ask of our faith. The fruit of your vine is your witness and the glory of God.

 

Find the full story of Tutu’s interaction with the Dalai Lama in THE WISDOM OF COMPASSION: Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan.

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Cheapening Faith for National Debt

Recently, evangelicals have solidified their political seats next to right wing fiscal conservatives through a new avenue that doesn’t fit the traditional social issues they lean on heavily. That issue? National Debt.

As both mainline parties race to offer solutions to the growing national debt in an attempt to gain the support of the wavering American public, religious and moral obligations have quickly been incited to up the ante of this high-stakes debate. It is an interesting shift that is unfolding, to watch first the Tea Party push hard line national debt rhetoric followed by religious rhetoric and biblical usury addressing the same crisis.

The growing U.S. national debt is exceptionally problematic as it reaches the $14.3 trillion dollar “ceiling,” but is it a “spiritual issue” as some television personalities and certain evangelical leaders are wanting us to believe? Turning political issues into spiritual issues can be quite dangerous, and we need to walk with caution when we implore our Christian heritage, our sacred texts and our faith to do our political bidding.  Your Christian faith should inform your political views and actions, as it should the entirety of your life; however, it is critical that the reverse is not occurring, that your political views are not informing your Christian faith.

Before proceeding, we need to take a deep and honest look at our motives, because we are treading the line between faithful theological application and abusing our faith to grasp at worldly political power and to manipulate fellow Christians for political gain. Take this seriously!

Biblical Use

A number of different texts have been used as proof-texts to defend the recent statement equating the national debt with spirituality. This is of primary concern for me as many debates on “theological issues” include the misuse or abuse of our sacred texts.

Nehemiah 5:3-5 is cited by Billy McCormmack, founding member of the Christian Coalition of America, as being the clearest textual guidance in this discussion. Nehemiah 5, however, is a social justice text oriented toward power-laden, unethical and oppressive lending practices. You cannot stop at verse 5 to avoid Nehemiah’s anger with the wealthy and powerful who were charging their own people interest, and you cannot skip verses 1-2 that shows borrowing necessities based on hunger, life and death. The lesson may be applied to predatory lending practices, oppressive powers and others, but it is a stretch to hinge concern for the growing national debt on Nehemiah 5.

Passages from Deuteronomy have been quoted as “borrowing from none, and lending to many,” which is a lovely statement out of context, but it was in reference solely to the prosperity of Israel and not applicable to our current discussion.

Others quote Proverbs 13:22, as a more legitimate source, ” The good leave an inheritance to their children’s children,” and we are certainly failing at that. To be concerned about our children’s sustainability is appropriate and healthy, but even this passage is a long way from the heart of the gospel and cannot explain the intense and immediate passion of conservative evangelicals regarding the national debt.

Christians and the National Debt

Certainly the U.S. should be aggressively attacking the national debt and finding a way to balance annual budgets. It is both responsible and ethical, and it will ultimately make way for a healthier future.

Certainly some Christians have been concerned about the national debt as a religious and biblical sticking point for years. And again it is indeed favorable for your Christian faith and theology to inform your political beliefs and actions, even if we disagree.

It is on the other hand unacceptable to misuse and abuse Christian faith and theology to push your political agenda. The rise in Christian concerns for the national debt as a “spiritual issue” appears in large part to be informed by partisan politics and political gain. The “action alerts” to evangelicals regarding the national debt were absent while President Bush was making large tax cuts for wealthy Americans, and they were absent when he waged costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When your faith informs your life, values, politics and actions, it illustrates consistency, non-partisanship and integrity. When your political agenda informs your faith, it cheapens my Christian title and reputation. When you implore Scripture for political gain, you cheapen the Gospel and the life of Jesus. Take this seriously!