Sunday, March 13, 2016


Sunday Reflection: A Faith That Troubles

I once asked a minister what in the Gospels troubled him. He answered that he found none of it troubling. I tried to clarify the question, by telling him about my own discomfort with the fact that Jesus knew his followers had swords at the time of the arrest, but did not prevent the violence that happened there. He reiterated that he wasn't troubled by anything in the Gospels.

That exchange has, well, troubled me for months. It seems inconceivable that anyone could have reconciled everything that happened in the Gospels with their own beliefs and experiences. Jesus's teachings are radical and deeply challenging: He taught that the poor were blessed and the rich almost completely barred from heaven, that people should leave their families to follow him, that we are not to resist an evildoer, and that those who remarry after divorce are sinful adulterers. And that's not even the things he implied or just suggested through parables-- those were straight-up directives.

Perhaps I am wrong, though, to see constant challenge in the Christian faith. I'm not trained in theology, and I certainly know an awful lot of good people who don't see their faith as challenging their lives and comforts. 

Some of the things Jesus said need to be understood in context. For example, in that day, a man could divorce his wife, had virtual life and death power over her, and could not be forced in court to feed, clothe, house, etc. her. She was powerless in the relationship. A woman could not get a divorce, and a divorced woman was unlikely to find a marriage partner. It was a very abusive system that Jesus was condemning.

Today in many churches, a man be shown to have been very abusive of his wife, his wife can finally give up and leave him, and he will be welcome in the church and she will be shunned.
I am reading Richard Brookhiser's brief but provocative intellectual history of Abraham Lincoln: FOUNDERS' SON (I hate the title).

Brookhiser offers up a young Lincoln very much troubled by the protocol of atonement (a la Thomas Paine). That is, what was forcing God into sacrificing his son on the cross and the humiliation of living and dying at the hands of the state as a creature? Why wouldn't an all-powerful God just forgive humanity and start over without all the blood and torture and dying?

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