Monday, April 05, 2010

Fighting Jesus' battles (Sunday Reflections for April 4, 2010)

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26)

When I was a kid I loved to play war games, read about famous battles, and dress up like a soldier. In grade school, my neighborhood friends and I would have mock-battles through the yards on both sides of our street. These came to an end when suddenly everyone decided to fence in their back yards. (You don't think there was a connection between those two things, do you?)

After a pacifist period in high school, my warlike habits had a brief revival in college when I joined in pitched dart gun battles that broke out regularly in the dorm. Now I only play a very occasional computer war game but do still enjoy a good war movie (Patton is one of my favorites). In any case, I am certainly aware of the appeal pretend soldiering has for many people (admittely mostly male). I suppose it goes all the way back to the first chess set, if not earlier. A more recent expression which developed after my interest peaked (but which I suspect I would enjoy) is paintball.

It does happen unfortunately (and in a variety of ways) that people get fantasy and reality confused. Sometimes people’s play gets way too serious.

We’ve seen the adjective “Christian” added to a lot of things in recent years: Christian radio, Christian rock, Christian schools, Christian counseling, Christian aerobics. This week we got a new example: Christian militia.

Nine arrested members of the Hutaree militia are charged with conspiring to kill law enforcement officials. (“Hutaree” is a word the group made up to mean “Christian warrior.”) Allegedly militia members hoped their attacks would spark a popular uprising against the federal government. Their purpose was to fight the forces of the Antichrist which they believe are working to establish a “new world order.”

Their inspiration comes from an area of theology called eschatology (“study of last things”) and the book of Revelation, as well as other apocalyptic biblical books and passages. This subject has had a lot of popularity over the past forty years, as well as at various times throughout church history. Probably its most well known recent manifestation is the Left Behind book series by fundamentalists Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

Interest in “end times” theology always increases in time of social upheaval and anxiety. People who are suffering or are afraid of the future become a ready audience for preachers and writers who say God is about to intervene on their behalf. Some focus on an upcoming “strategic withdrawal” orchestrated by God’s angels (the so-called “rapture”) to rescue his people from danger. Others, like the Hutaree, hear a heavenly call to arms to fight the forces of Satan.

Leaders for such movements are not known for expertise in Bible and theology but rather for big egos, vivid imaginations, and talents for manipulation and propaganda. One unfortunate characteristic of Christians over the centuries has been a sense of entitlement and privilege. If we’re God’s chosen people (this thinking goes), then things ought to go our way. When they don’t and the world around us looks too awful, then God is just going to get rid of it—and we’re going to help Him do it. This is not unlike the child who can’t get the toy blocks to cooperate and so knocks the whole building down in frustration.

One of things that makes the Bible a great work is that it contains the whole range of thinking and feeling of the ancient people who were loyal to the God of Abraham and of Jesus. Within these very human words--but with real effort--one can hear that God speak. This certainly doesn’t mean, however, that every word the Bible contains is “God’s word” on this or that subject (if only it were that simple).

Revelation has some great passages but much of it is simply very, very strange. It is certainly not a road map for the end of history or for God’s shutting down the operation called planet Earth. As former evangelical Frank Schaeffer (writing on Huffington Post) bluntly reminds us, Revelation is

… a bizarre pastoral letter that was addressed to seven specific churches in Asia at the end of the first century by someone (maybe John or maybe not) who appears to have been far from well when he wrote it. In any case, the letter was not intended for use outside of its liturgical context, not to mention that it reads like Jesus on acid.

The story of Holy Week, of course, contains a great deal of violence. Its central events are Jesus’ arrest, sham trial, torture, and death by crucifixion. Jesus, however, never participates in the violence and rejects others’ use of violence to defend him. Rather he goes to the cross without resistance, to use the scriptures’ metaphor, like a lamb led to slaughter.

Confronted by the overwhelming evil of Rome, Jesus calls not on armies of angels but on faith, hope and love. “My kingdom is not of this world.” But his kingdom is in this world, manifested in the faithful lives of his followers. The gospels’ stories of Jesus’ resurrection are the early church’s bold proclamation that no earthly power can stop the power of God’s love. Living in that faith, Jesus’ disciples embrace hope rather than the anger and fear that so often tempt us to follow them on their path to despair and death. They join him in affirming the eternal goodness of life, God’s greatest gift. For that reason we proclaim, Christ the crucified one is risen.

1 comment:

Montana said...

I love that they asked for “Public Defenders” (and they thought they could bring down our government), undercover FBI agent, sweet. The simpleton Tea baggers keep missing the point. These are the same whiners that were crying when the McCain/Bailin ticket lost. Now they are crying again because their yelling and screaming (because they are haters not debaters or as others have dubbed them screamers not dreamers) did not stop the health care debate or the bill from passing. They think they can scare, intimidate and force others to go along with them by comments like “This time we came unarmed”, let me tell you something they are not the only ones that are armed and not all ex-military join the fringe militia crazies who don’t pay taxes and run around with face paint in the parks playing commando, the majority are mature and understand that the world is more complicated and grey than the black and white that these simpleton make it out to be and that my friend is the point. Do not cry when regular people openly laugh at your group when they see on TV that your leaders are Sarah Bailin, Orly Taitz, Victoria Jackson, Michele Bachmann and your own turn coat Glenn Beck from the LDS. They do more to discredit you group on TV (powerful) than any of comments on the blog sphere. Yee Haw!