THE APPLE OF GOD’S EYE

A Fourth Awakening of Christianity may be coming –

postmodern Christianity started in the 1960s and is more

pluralistic/egalitarian/experimental/environmental.

Harvey Cox, a Harvard sociologist/theologian thought

a 1500 year “Age of Belief” was ending

and an “Age of Spirituality” was beginning.

Some think the 300-year-old “Enlightenment” has fizzled:

people no longer trust science for all the answers.

Phyllis Tickle described an ongoing “Christian rummage sale:”

every 500 years or so everything changes –

500 AD Christianity became the Holy Roman Empire

1000 AD the Western and Eastern Churches split

1500 AD the Protestant Reformation

20th Century: the Second Vatican Council.

 

“In the monomyth of the Hero’s Journey

the normal rites of passage are magnified: you separate

from ordinary life and enter a world of supernatural wonders/

overcome fabulous challenges/return with boons

for all mankind.” – Joseph Campbell

 

After the first millennium, the “wandering ascetic”

was abolished – monks were ordered to “leave the world”

and live in monasteries. However, now we see

that ordinary, everyday life abounds with fabulous challenges:

opportunities to practice holiness/honesty/commitment/

trust/compassion/patience/forgiveness – we used to think

holiness consists of heroic deeds somewhere else

but it is all right here/right now.

 

Canadian folk music legend Bruce Cockburn:

“If you don’t see beyond normal sight

you can get trapped forever in the fraying-rope/

uneasy/anxious treadmill our culture is on.

You never see that the whole world is full

of the Spirit’s light/life/love.”

 

It is true that in the cosmic scale you are nothing

but “Do you not know that your name

is written in heaven?” (Luke 10:20) –

to God you are everything – the apple

of God’s eye – the strawberry of God’s “I.”

 

 

 

LGBTQA HAVE GIFTS TO GIVE CHURCHES

The criticism by Pope Francis of laws criminalizing homosexuality (London Free Press, January 26) was hailed as a new milestone by gay rights advocates, but it fits with his overall approach, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that gay people must be welcomed and respected by the church rather than marginalized or discriminated against. “We are all children of God and God loves us as we are” he said. 

    Personally, I find it helpful when thinking about this issue to keep in mind Richard Rohr’s tricycle. Rohr, a Franciscan priest, says that the front wheel is your own personal experience: does this religious teaching make sense given what you have experienced? Then you check your experience against the back wheels of scripture and tradition.

    My own experience of life is that God loves diversity – there are so many varieties of plants, animals, and birds. No two moons, planets, stars, or galaxies are exactly alike. The same holds for people, we are all different. Perhaps God loves sexual diversity too.

    Some of my own life experience with sexually diverse people is as follows (with names changed to protect confidentiality).

    Walter, who was not interested in sex at all, fits the new category, asexuality (the ‘A’ in LGBTQA). Ronald was a devout Catholic I met in the early 1980s. Among the staff where we worked, the heterosexual married and single staff were all jumping from one bed to another. My wife Grace and I, and Ronald and his gay partner, were the only monogamous couples. This blew apart any stereotypes I had about gay men. Arnold, a devout Lutheran, seemed to be a woman trapped in a man’s body. He had the voice and all the mannerisms of a woman.

    Lawrence, a youth minister, told me he wasn’t sure he was gay. We were both concerned that if he came out of the closet, he would lose both his job and his marriage. So, for two years we explored all the reasons why he might not be gay. Finally, we concluded that he was in fact gay, did not choose it, and was born this way. He said he knew it all along but wanted to double check it with a trained spiritual director.

    My experience with gays is most of them would love to be straight so they could fit in with the majority, but they cannot deny how they were created. As Ronald said to me “I did not choose to be gay – why would anyone choose to be persecuted?”

    Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest whose book Building a Bridge addresses how the Catholic church and the LGBTQA community can get along, has had positive meetings with Pope Francis about this, and spoke in London a few years ago. He started off by asking “When did you choose to be white, heterosexual, male or female, short or tall?”

    He also made many suggestions about how any religious community could constructively approach LGBTQA people. First, like all of us, LGBTQA people are much more than their sexual lives, so do not reduce them to this. For Catholics, he reminded us that if a LGBTQA person was baptized as a Catholic as a child, you don’t have to try to get them into Catholicism. They already are Catholic and part of the church.

    Not only that but LGBTQA people bring a lot of gifts to any church. They know the suffering of the marginalized and therefore can minister more effectively to outsiders than a straight person can. So, they should be included as part of the church’s ministry.

    As far as the back wheels of the tricycle go, although the scriptures contain a few verses some interpret as anti-homosexual, they also contain many other things we now see as outdated, such as stoning to death people who work Saturdays (the Sabbath)!

     In general, the scriptural message is one of love and inclusion of everyone. Jesus never said anything about homosexuals and repeatedly reached out to the marginalized – prostitutes, the crippled, blind, and lepers. It is no stretch to believe he would welcome LGBTQA people. And Christian tradition has always taught that we are to imitate Jesus.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. www.brucetallman.com/books

 

   

 

INTEGRALISM A WAY OUT OF POLARIZED WORLDVIEWS

It goes without saying that debate is polarized today. The left is convinced they are right. The right know they have the truth. Going beyond both into underlying worldviews might create understanding and help alleviate the conflict.

    Currently there are three predominant worldviews at work in our society: traditional, modern, and postmodern. Each has its own strengths and pathologies. A fourth approach, integralism, takes the best from those three and lets go of the negative stuff.

    People in the traditionalist worldview hold positive values like fairness, honesty, duty, honour, patriotism, making sacrifices for the greater good, and traditional religion. These are the good people who voted for Donald Trump, not because they liked him personally but because he spoke their language about tradition. He was going to restore things to the way they used to be, and “make America great again.” They felt it would be hard to bring this about and so they needed a tough guy like Trump to make it happen.

    The pathology of this worldview is that it tends to be ethnocentric. It focuses on “our group” being totally right and everyone else being wrong. It is an “us versus them” mentality. This can result in racism, homophobia, and xenophobia, that is, fear of strangers or anyone different than us. So, it is not surprising that it is against having a never-ending influx of immigrants. People here can get stuck in rigid law and order.

    The second worldview, the modern, also has many positive values, mainly about independent thought and empowerment of the individual. The modern worldview is in favour of science, rationality, freedom, democracy, capitalism and global markets.

    The shadow side of modernism has been an insensitivity to minorities and those who through no fault of their own cannot keep up with the competition. It is marked by over-consumption of the world’s resources and resulting environmental degradation. And as the individual triumphs, there is no sense of community and the greater good.

    The postmodern worldview began around 1968 according to Richard Rohr, Ken Wilber, and others. On the positive side, postmodernism is obsessed with human rights and the absolute equality of all people, particularly women, blacks, indigenous people, people of colour, LGBTQ and the handicapped. It is sensitive to minorities and the marginalized. People who hold this worldview tend to be world-centric not ethnocentric. They want to include all groups, including the natural world, and so are extremely environmentally conscious. People who believe in progressive religion would fit in here.

    The pathology of this approach lies in the tendency of every new level of development to be overly-critical of the worldview that preceded it. So, postmodernism tends to be anti-modern. It is anti-capitalism, ignoring all the good things capitalism has brought us. It is wary of all hierarchies that could create inequality and believes there are no absolute, objective truths. In a post-truth world, people can get stuck in chaotic relativism and disorder.

    Those who hold the integral worldview try to live by Wilber’s dictum of “transcend and include.” This means that you keep developing, constantly working on transcending your previous worldviews, but also try to include all the positive things from each earlier stage of development.

    Integralists try to escape rigid order and chaotic disorder and bring about a healthy reordering of things. There are many people who are trying to do this such as Jeff Salzman with his podcast, The Daily Evolver,and Steve McIntosh with his book Developmental Politics. In religion, besides Rohr, there is Catholic bishop Robert Barron with his Word on Fire podcast, Brian McLaren, a major Protestant thinker with books like A New Kind of Christianity and Pope Francis with his “integral ecology” outlined in his 2015 encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home.”

    What the world needs now is to respect and include the positive values behind others’ worldviews, let go of the negatives and learn to work together to bring about a new post-pandemic reordering of society and life.

 

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. http://www.brucetallman.com 

   

   

 

A PROPER VIEW OF GOD PROMOTES MENTAL AND SOCIAL PEACE

  The mistaken interpretation of the wrath of God in the Bible, the foundational book of western culture for most of its history, has caused many to live their lives in fear and guilt, moral rigidity, narrowmindedness, and a feverish need to proselytize (force their beliefs on others). In fact, some have used it as a justification for violence – if God is violent, violence against others must be acceptable in God’s sight.

    Is it possible to undo all this harm without simply throwing the baby (the scriptures) out with the bath water (the wrath of God)? An intelligent approach to biblical wrath of God would be a major way to promote mental health and social peace.

    Although many believe the Bible is inspired by God, it is important to understand it did not drop out of heaven. It came to us through human beings who were influenced by their culture, and so there were often two steps forward and one back in understanding what God is like, until we arrive at Jesus, who many believe gives us the best means of understanding God and the Bible.

    Humans have often lived in ego-based, divisive, reward and punishment cultures. There is a movement in the Bible from a vengeful God, which is what the ego wants, to the merciful God of Jesus, which is what the soul hopes for, a God who is gracious, overlooks human foibles, and responds to wrongs not by punishment but by love.

    Much of the wrath of God in the Bible was due to human authors failing to separate God and nature. Floods or poisonous snakes killing people must be from God, the authors believed, since they had no other explanation except that everything that happens must be from God. This mentality is still with us today when insurance companies refer to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes as “acts of God.”

    However, God and nature are not the same. These so-called acts of God are not God’s will, but rather nature obeying natural laws about water, wind, and tectonic plates. The biblical writers knew nothing about science and the laws of nature.

    Despite occasional verses about the wrath of God, there are many biblical examples of God’s desire for restoration not punishment. In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And the prophet Micah declares “Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity? You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18). Isaiah 53:5-6 prophesied that God would restore us to love, peace, and justice through a Messiah.

    What then do we do with the “hard sayings” of Jesus that seemingly speak of God’s wrath? He says, for example, that it is better to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin, than to end up in hell (Matthew 5: 29-30) and the sheep (who took care of the poor) go to heaven and the goats (who didn’t care for the poor) go to hell (Matthew 25: 31-46).

    Context is important here. Jesus was speaking to Jews, Romans, and Greeks who were masters of rhetoric – the art of dramatic speech to make a point. Jesus knew it was not the hand but the heart that caused sin. He didn’t expect people to actually cut off their hand, as if that would solve anything. He is speaking dramatically here to make the point that sin and not taking care of the poor are extremely serious. They destroy human community and create hell on Earth. He knew people do not change easily, so he had to speak dramatically to make his point.

    Jesus also said other hard, countercultural things such as love your enemies, which is the essence of restorative justice: God conquers his enemies by loving them and making them his friends, not destroying them. This is the essence of wisdom not wrath.

    In conclusion, the proper interpretation of scripture leads us to a God of pure love, not a false god who is a mixture of love, punishment, and wrath. Approaching the Bible this way will eliminate a major source of fear, guilt, and violence and so be a great boon for mental health and social peace.

 

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com btallman@rogers.com

A TIMELY REVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN THINKING

There is a revolution slowly happening in Christian thinking and it is very timely as it focuses on the sacredness of the planet. This revolution has come about due to the theory of evolution and the rediscovery of a 14th century mystic, Meister Eckhart.

    The theory of evolution has been integrated into Christian thinking by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, and the rediscovery of Eckhart has been largely due to Matthew Fox, a former Dominican priest whose radical ideas caused Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became Pope Benedict) to force Fox to leave the church. Fox is now an Episcopalian (Anglican) priest, and still has a huge following.

    The revolution has been the gradual replacement of “fall/redemption theology” with “creation spirituality.” Fall/redemption theology in brief is the idea that human beings are broken due to original sin and need a redeemer to save them. Creation spirituality in brief is the idea that the universe is glorious, an original blessing, and that should be our starting point, not the fall of humanity.

    I think Fox’s mistake, and the reason creation spirituality has only gradually caught on, is that he put it in opposition to fall/redemption theology. Fall/redemption theology has a lot of backers since it is realistic about human sin and our five-thousand-year history of wars and corruption; it has been the dominant theology for the whole history of the church; and the Bible and most church services are full of it.

    On the negative side, it starts with the negative – we are fallen; it is based in Augustine’s warped theology (according to Fox) of original sin; and if we don’t repent of our sin, we are cut off from God and bound for hell. So, it is guilt and fear-inducing.

   Based on Meister Eckhart, Fox by contrast starts off with the goodness of creation as witnessed by the first chapter of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, in which God created everything as “very good,” including humans. Fox’s creation spirituality is joyful, focused on our fourteen-billion-year-old universe, instead of on human sinfulness, and is realistic about four “vias” or ways of spirituality that are found in Eckhart.

    In summary, the “via positiva” is about our universe as an original blessing and our awe when we contemplate it; the “via negativa” is about our fallenness, evil, and suffering; the “via creativa” is our recovery from sin and destruction; and the “via transformativa” is about communal social justice.

    A breakthrough occurs when one realizes that it is not the case that fall/redemption theology is not true, it is just that it is too narrow. We are broken and need a redeemer, and creation spirituality includes that but is much broader in its scope.

    Not only that, but creation spirituality is thoroughly biblical. The via positiva takes in not only Genesis 1, but also the celebration of nature throughout the Bible and by Jesus – his parables are full of the flowers, birds, animals, and harvest. The via negativa is not only in Genesis 3 but also throughout the Bible in the Jewish people’s subjection to slavery and exile, and in the crucifixion of Jesus. The via creativa is in the ongoing recovery of the Jews from hellish situations and in the resurrection of Jesus. And the via transformativa is in the social justice teachings of the Jewish prophets and in the era of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s resurrection, which formed a church community built on the sacred value of each person and on social justice.

    Creation spirituality is found, according to Fox, not only in Eckhart. It is latent in Thomas Aquinas, who was the major Christian theologian for centuries. In the past sixty years it is clearly in prolific writers like Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Ronald Rolheiser, Elizabeth Johnson, and Ilya Delio. It is obvious in “On Care for Our Common Home,” a major encyclical by Pope Francis. It is also in popular Protestants such as John Philip Newell’s rebirth of Celtic Christianity which is very creation-centered.

    Rather than putting creation spirituality in opposition to fall/redemption theology, Fox should have noted it does not negate it, but rather includes and transcends it. Creation spirituality is simply a broader, more biblical theology than fall/redemption.

 

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com

     

WORLD NEEDS ADULT FAITH

  Fundamentalism, in terms of people having a simplistic faith, has become a problem for all of us. As a person’s world view progressively narrows, they become more and more judgmental, intolerant, and even dangerous. In some cases, people are willing to kill themselves and others for their religious cause.

    As our world becomes increasingly complex, people seek simple answers in order to cope, and so fundamentalism is spreading everywhere. The solution is for people to develop an adult faith.

    By integrating the thinking of James Hayes, a former Catholic archbishop, Friedrich Von Hugel, a nineteenth century theologian, and Gordon Allport, a Harvard psychologist, we can outline ten characteristics of an adult faith which could apply to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bahais, or any other faith-based tradition.

    First of all, a mature faith is open. It honors the basic freedom and autonomy of other adults, knows that our world is complex and ambiguous, and therefore respectfully listens to others and tries to understand their viewpoint. Then it speaks its own truth freely. This “dialogical” rather than argumentative approach represents a middle path between saying nothing and being authoritarian, that is, trying to impose our faith on others.

    Secondly, an adult faith is searching. The adult believer distinguishes between constructive questioning (the search for truth) and destructive questioning (the desire to disprove the truth). Constructive questioning is essential to progress in faith and normally produces greater clarity, broader horizons, and deeper ownership of one’s beliefs. The adult believer is wary of anyone who tries to shut down the quest for understanding.

    A mature faith is also informed and comprehensive in its world view. Ideally, adult believers know the scriptures of their tradition well, and supplement this with ancient and modern spiritual classics. Adult believers should also become familiar with at least one science, and scientific methods of investigation, to keep their faith from becoming superstitious and ungrounded.

    An adult faith is humble. It is a pilgrim faith that never believes it has fully arrived. It is open to ongoing learning and conversion, rather than the faith of someone who has all the answers.

    Fifthly, a mature faith is critically evaluative. While it immerses itself in its culture, it critically evaluates the social order in light of the demands of human rights, responsibilities, and justice.

    An adult faith is also decisive. Despite cultural complexity, the mature faith is not paralyzed. Rather, it can make sophisticated judgments and take appropriate action for the common good.

    Seventh, a mature faith is integrated, that is, it integrates the sacred and the secular, faith, and life. It acts the same whether inside or outside the synagogue, church, mosque, or temple. It is consistently moral and just.

    Adult believers also have a differentiated faith. That is, they don’t believe that all religious traditions are the same, so that it doesn’t matter which one you belong to. They make critical discernments about the different truth claims between major world religions and also the diverse claims by the various branches within each tradition. At the same time, the adult believer focuses on similarities more than differences and builds bridges between and within traditions.

    Adult faith is also personal. Adult believers struggle to come to their own conclusions rather than just simplistically accepting what is handed to them by religious authorities. They wrestle with whether or not assertions by those in authority make any sense to them based on their own personal life experience.

    Finally, knowing their own limits and the limits of others means that the adult believer’s faith is simultaneously compassionate and communal. They know that they and others cannot do it all alone, they need human support. They know that being a part of, and being accountable to, a supportive religious or spiritual community is essential to maintaining an adult faith.

    What the world needs now, if we are going to combat fundamentalism and religious terrorism, is not just love, sweet love, but also adults with an adult faith.

 

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. http://www.brucetallman.com

HOW TO INTELLIGENTLY APPROACH GOD’S WRATH IN THE BIBLE

The Bible, although inspired by God, came to us through human beings, and so there were often two steps forward and one step back in understanding God, until we arrive at Jesus, who is the best “hermeneutic” or “means of understanding” the Bible.

    In approaching God’s wrath in the Bible, we ideally would move from a vengeful God, which is what the ego wants, to the merciful God of Jesus, which is what the soul wants. However, humans have always lived in ego-based, divisive, reward and punishment cultures in which wrongs should be punished. On the other hand, God is soul and grace-based and responds to wrongs not by punishment but by love.

    Much of the wrath of God, in the Old Testament at least, was due to human authors failing to separate God and nature: floods killing people, poisonous snakes biting Israelites in the desert, bears mauling children, must be from God, since everything that happens is from God. This mentality is still with us today when insurance companies refer to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes as “acts of God.”

    However, God and nature are not the same. God is in all nature, but these so-called acts of God are not God’s will, they are due to nature obeying natural laws about heat, gravity, and tectonic plates. The Old Testament writers knew nothing of these laws.

    Despite this, there are many instances in the Old Testament of God’s loving restoration. It was prophesied that God would restore us through a Messiah (Isaiah 53:5-6). In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And the prophet Micah declares “Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity? You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18).

    We also find God’s restorative justice in the New Testament. Zacchaeus was hated because he collected taxes from his fellow Jews for the occupying Romans, but Jesus tells Zacchaeus he wants to have dinner with him. Zacchaeus is stunned by the grace of Jesus and says, “Behold Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor,” and Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, because Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus thus restored him to the Jewish community (Luke 19:8).

    What then do we do with the “hard sayings” of Jesus? In Matthew 5:29-30, he says it is better to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, than to end up in hell; the sheep (who took care of the poor) go to heaven and the goats (who didn’t take care of the poor) go to eternal torture in hell (Matthew 25: 31-46).

    Context is important here. Jesus was speaking to Jews, Romans, and Greeks who were masters of rhetoric – the art of dramatic speech to make a point. Jesus knew it was not the hand or the eye but the heart that caused sin. He didn’t expect people to actually cut off their hand or pluck out their eye, as if that would solve anything. He is speaking dramatically here to make the point that sin and not taking care of the poor are extremely serious. They destroy human community and create hell on Earth. He knew people do not change easily, so he had to speak dramatically to make his point.

    Jesus also said other hard, countercultural things such as love your enemies, which is the essence of restorative justice: God does not punish his enemies, God destroys them by loving them more and making them his friends. This is the essence of wisdom.

    This spirit of restorative justice carried on in the early church. “If anyone has caused sorrow, you should forgive him and reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2: 5-8) and “If anyone is caught in any trespass, restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).

    This idea of God as a God of love not punishment has continued in the modern church. The largest Christian denomination, Catholicism, has never said that anyone, even Hitler or Stalin, are definitely in hell. On the other hand, it has said that many people are definitely in heaven: the saints and martyrs.

    Jesus was all about restorative not retributive justice. His great commandments, to love God with all your heart and to love others as you love yourself, were meant to restore the original unity between God and humans found in the Garden of Eden. And as I concluded in an earlier article, the healthiest image of God is that God is a God of pure love, not a mixture of love, wrath, and punishment.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. btallman@rogers.com

HOW RELIGIONS CAN LIVE IN PEACE

If we want world peace, it is becoming increasingly crucial that Christianity and Islam get along. However, how can any religions get along? Religion, by its very nature, tends to take things to the limit, to globalize its beliefs and absolutize its truths. If my truth is absolutely true, your different truth must not be true.

    This attitude generates conflict not only between religions, but also within religions. For example, Sunnis and Shiites have a long history of conflict in Islam, as do Protestants and Catholics in Christianity.

     One attempt to solve this dilemma is the annual World Day of Prayer wherein the major Christian denominations try to pray together. Another effort is World Religion Day, usually in mid-January, in which the major religions get together and speak their truth about peace.

    However, these approaches, while salutary, do not address the basic problem of how to handle conflicting truth claims. On the one hand, the Koran tells us that Islam is the true faith, Buddhism maintains the Buddha taught the true path, Christianity claims the absolute truth is Jesus Christ is Lord, and Hinduism asserts that Lord Krishna was divine.

    On the other hand, every world religion also teaches wisdom, compassion, prayer, fasting, taking care of the needy, and avoiding evil. Given this, no one can say that every major religion is all wrong or all evil. All of them have at least some truth or goodness in them. So, how do we reconcile all this? There are four basic approaches to truth.

    The first approach is that all religions are equally true and valid. However, this choice has to be rejected when you compare say rabbinic Judaism to Aztec religion with its human sacrifices in order to keep the sun-god rising, or when you compare say Voodoo cults with the sublime theology of Thomas Aquinas.

    The second approach is that no religions are true. This is the stance of the atheist or the person who cannot reconcile all the competing assertions of absolute truth, and therefore decides that all religion must be nonsense.

    However, this choice is not very satisfying either. Religion expresses the deepest insights of the human heart. To say there is no truth in any religion is to leave humanity in a truly hopeless situation.

    The third approach is black and white religious truth. This is the attitude of “we are saints, you are sinners,” “we have all the answers, you don’t have any,” “only Catholics will be in heaven” or conversely “all Catholics are going to hell.”

    This approach, when taken to its limit can result in self-righteousness and endless division, hatred, and war between religions and within them. Truth as black and white eventually disintegrates when you start to notice the shortcomings and sin in your own community and the virtue in others.

    The fourth approach is degrees of truth. This choice has as its basic premise that there is truth in all the major religions, but some religions are truer than others.

    This choice forces you to really study and weigh where you can honestly find the most truth, rather than just accepting or rejecting everything wholesale. This approach also allows you to be completely committed to your own tradition while at the same time being open to whatever degree of truth you find in other traditions. In fact, everyone could enrich their own tradition with the truths they found in other traditions.

    Catholics could learn a lot about humble service and justice from the Salvation Army, peacemaking and community from Mennonites, preaching and Bible study from Baptists, and joyous worship from Pentecostals. Protestants could learn from Catholics about the riches of the sacraments, contemplative prayer, the saints, and church history.

    Christians in general could learn from non-Christians: love of God’s law from Jews, detachment from Buddhists, a spirit of poverty from Hindus, and zeal for God from Muslims. These traditions could similarly learn a lot about forgiveness from Christians.

    An objection from evangelical Christians might be “If we admit there is truth in all the major religions, why reach out to them with the good news of Jesus Christ?” The answer is simply that, if you believe Christianity to be truer than other religions, you will want to reach out to them with your greater truth. In the process you might learn why they believe they have the greater truth, and so understand each other better. This can only be good.

     In a degrees of truth approach, every person is given the human right of freedom of religion and is free to believe that their religious tradition is truer than other traditions without absolutizing their tradition as the one and only truth.

    “All religions are true” has great tolerance, but no commitment; “no religions are true” has no religious commitment or tolerance; “black and white religious truth” has commitment but no tolerance; only the  “degrees of truth” approach has both the religious commitment and religious tolerance which together can lead to world peace.  

  

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. btallman@rogers.com

 

HOW TO APPROACH THE BIBLE INTELLIGENTLY

There are two basic approaches to Bible reading: faithful and unfaithful. The faithful approach, as Augustine wrote, is “faith seeking understanding;” the unfaithful approach seeks to tear down faith.

    The fact is that truth is interactive between the text and the reader. If no one ever read the Bible, it would become a museum piece that people looked at but never picked up. On the other hand, if people read everything in it literally it would seem absurd: talking snakes, rivers clapping hands they don’t have, hills shouting for joy, a great red dragon sweeping a third of the stars from the heavens with his tail.

As Richard Rohr says, the literal approach is important, but it is the least useful approach and misses so much of the deeply meaningful symbolism in the text.

    It is important to realize that the Bible is full of different genres: poems, history, wisdom writings, romance stories, gospels, letters, apocalyptic writing. If you took everything as the same genre, it would be like reading the newspaper comics as if they were the same as stories on the front page.

    In fact, the Bible is so rich, so packed and varied, you can find anything you want in it. you can find God as a monster who sends poisonous snakes to kill 30,000 Israelites for complaining to Moses when they have no food in the desert; God killing everyone on Earth in a flood; God condemning people to eternal torture in hell. This is the biblical God atheists like Richard Dawkins find.

    Or you can find God as a good shepherd taking care of his flock or God as a loving mother nursing her child on her lap. The question is: what did you want to find before you even started reading the Bible? That’s what you will find because it is interactive.

    The Protestant Reformation, which started in 1517 with Martin Luther, attacked the authority of the pope and so the Catholic church made the pope infallible, that is, incapable of making erroneous statements. Protestants reacted by making everything in the Bible inerrant, that is, without error. However, Protestants interpret the Bible in many ways, and without realizing it, it is their own interpretation they take as inerrant.

    The Bible did not fall out of the sky, it was written over about 1300 years by about 40 human authors who had different personalities, different life experiences, and who were affected by their own culture’s history and understanding of reality. So, they were capable of writing things that, with our greater knowledge, we know were inaccurate.

    There are thus two basic mistakes in approaching the Bible: to take everything in it as equally true, as if there are no scientific or historical errors in it, as fundamentalists do, or to take it as just another book and not inspired by God as some Protestants do.

    It is challenging to keep the tension between the Bible as both the inspired word of God and as written by fallible human beings. The Bible was meant as a faith and morals text not as a science and history text.

    There are no math or physics equations in the Bible, but there is an evolution of peoples’ understanding of God. Things develop from all the laws in the early books, some of which are humanly made, such as not combining two different fabrics in clothing, to prophets who criticize God’s people when they get off track, to Jesus who fulfills both the law and the prophets.

    So, when Christians approach the Bible, they need to take Jesus as their hermeneutic, or means of understanding what is written in the Bible. We need to always look at scripture through the wise and compassionate eyes of Jesus who was selective in his use of biblical texts, that is, he considered some texts to be more inspired by God and some as less inspired. He largely ignores the less-inspired parts.

    Faithful interpretation of the Bible necessitates a lot of prayer for guidance by God when reading it, as well as the need to listen to faithful Bible scholars who can help us understand what Jesus meant.

    If with their help we can discern how Jesus interpreted the scriptures, then we will get the proper interpretation.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. btallman@rogers.com

HOW CAN GOD ALLOW SUCH PAIN?

  In the past twenty years wildfires, famines, hurricanes, tsunamis and floods have killed hundreds of thousands of people and left many more without homes and means of livelihood. Given all this, how can anyone say God is a God of love?

      Whenever we are overwhelmed by the evil and suffering in the world, we should always remember that evil is only a corruption of something that was originally intended to be good. For example, illness is a corruption of original health. War is a corruption of original peace.

       So goodness is original and foundational, evil is only secondary. According to the Jewish scriptures, God made life and everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

       God provides for us most of the time. The oceans God made are good to human beings 99% of the time: the source not of tsunamis and hurricanes, but of fish and of rain that makes the plants thrive that animals and humans eat. God constantly provides air, food, water, and shelter for us, but this is so commonplace we normally don’t think about it.

       God does not want or cause suffering. The laws of nature, and misuse of human freedom, are the twin sources directly responsible for suffering.

       Normally, natural laws serve us well, create order in the world, and allow us to predict what will happen. However, nature just obeys its own laws. It doesn’t matter to nature if people are in the way of an avalanche – it is going to obey the law of gravity anyway.

       If God kept interfering with natural laws to prevent our suffering, life would be totally chaotic and unpredictable.

       God allows suffering for higher purposes. Through suffering, we learn compassion for the suffering of others, and wisdom: how we and others can avoid even worse suffering. Also, service to others, self-sacrifice, courage, and heroism emerge. If God eliminated all suffering, life would lose its’ profundity.

       Suffering, to some degree at least, is an inescapable part of life because suffering is a continuum, all the way from stubbing your toe to the massive tragedies of famines and war.

      We have to ask: should God eliminate all suffering from life? And if not, what degree of suffering should God allow?

       As Helen Keller once noted, “Life is full of suffering, and it is also full of the overcoming of suffering.”

       God allows suffering, but God also motivates us to overcome suffering. Thus, all the helping professions and agencies arise: medicine, psychology, social work, churches, mosques, synagogues, the United Nations, Red Cross, etc.

       God always brings greater good out of any tragedy or evil. Through God working in them, people all over the world respond generously to disaster relief.

       The pandemic has caused people all over the world to examine their own lives and priorities: are material things that important? Any of us could be gone in the blink of an eye, so maybe God, taking care of each other, and what happens to us in the afterlife are the important things.

       Perhaps the biggest answer to suffering is this: if God had not created human freedom (and therefore the capacity to do harm), and natural laws, there would be no suffering. Therefore, while God is not directly responsible for suffering, God is indirectly responsible for it. Given that God indirectly causes suffering, one could say it is necessary that God suffer with us, that God not be in heavenly bliss while people on earth suffer.

       If God is ultimately responsible for suffering, the cross is a necessity, if we are going to maintain any idea of a compassionate God. The cross is the great symbol that God suffers with us, that God is, indeed, a compassionate God.

       Where is God in the face of natural catastrophes? God is right there suffering with the people who are suffering. God is always right in the center of human pain, trying to alleviate it. God is a God who cares and is close to the brokenhearted. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures say this over and over.

       The cross in turn demands resurrection and heaven. It wouldn’t make any sense that an all-powerful God could be ultimately defeated. It is another necessity of faith that God ultimately must triumph over all suffering and death, and there is a place where all suffering is wiped away forever. Resurrection and heaven are necessities.

       Suffering is ultimately a mystery beyond explanation. We could talk to the victims about all the points above, but it would still not take away the pain of those who have lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods.

       Sometimes all you can do is hold, cry, support, and try to be present (either physically or in your prayers) with those who are suffering.

       Besides giving whatever aid you can, sometimes all you can do is feel people’s pain with them. This is what a loving God does.

 Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and author. btallman@rogers.com