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

     

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 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

CLEARING UP RELIGIOUS MISUNDERSTANDINGS

 

 Stories move people more than reason

because they transport us right into the living context.

The Jewish and Christian scriptures are full of stories

that bring God into the richness/messiness of life.

 

Meister Eckhart knew that stories promote understanding

more than logic, and he defined ‘understanding’

as ‘deiformity’ – conformity to the mind of God –

when we rightly understand how the world works

we are drawn into/formed in the mystery of God.

 

There have been many misunderstandings in Christian history –

Saint Paul has been grossly misunderstood 

as anti-marriage/pro-patriarchy/anti-Semitic/pro-slavery.

In all this he did not betray Jesus or invent Christianity.

What he did was: challenge Jews to new ways of thinking

and confront Roman patriarchal theology by proclaiming

Jesus not Caesar is Lord.

 

More misunderstandings: some theologians think

the doctrine of original sin is optimistic –

it does not teach humans are evil by nature

but that evil in humans is unnatural/a disorder/a sin.

If evil were natural to humans

we would be perfectly happy in evil

but evil people are not happy

or if they are, it is not natural.

 

Misunderstandings caused his fellow monks

to treat Saint John of the Cross harshly.

After eight long months in prison/a dark closet

and constant beatings by other monks

he escaped in 1585 and wrote his spiritual classic

Ascent of Mount Carmel.

 

Misunderstanding Bible verses such as

“Be perfect as God is perfect”

results in perfectionism/fear/legalism/hypocrisy

but the context is: God exhorting us to love everyone

just as “God makes the sun rise and the rain fall

on the good and the evil” (Matthew 5:45-48).

Perfection therefore consists in 

unconditional love not moral flawlessness.

 

THE DIVINE FEMININE RISING

Jesus: God is nowhere

exclusively.

But religious power-leaders

maintain vested interest 

in (unconscious) dualism: 

We (superior) versus them (inferior)

“We have true religion, they don’t.

(Our pay depends on this).”

The Bible: do not fear.

But religious power-leaders 

invent code names for fear:

reasonableness, prudence

loyalty, obedience.

Reinhold Niebuhr: sin manifests in

power-pride

intellectual-pride

moral-pride

spiritual-pride:

“I am holier than thou.”

Curia: Church is hierarchical/juridical.

Second Vatican Council Fathers:

Church is historical, dynamic, biblical

vitally alive.

William Johnson: civilization is destroyed

by violence to the feminine:

endless war, rape, oppression of women

slaughter of the unborn 

of Mother Earth.

Friedrich Nietzsche: now the horizon of meaning

within which people lived and moved and had their being

now that God

is gone

masculine and feminine mythologies 

collide.

Authentic obedience: 

grows out of freedom, to hear

make a conscientious decision

and where appropriate, say “no.”

False obedience: 

knuckles under out of fear.

Authentic nuns lead the revolution

against curia.

David Bohm: a change is needed: 

the Divine Feminine needs to rise

because consciousness 

is more fundamental than matter

the unmanifest quantum memory network

builds matter around itself

from molecules to humans –

the unmanifest knits the universe together

like a child in the womb.

Diarmuid O’Murchu: change and decay 

surround us

but at the unmanifest quantum level

nothing is ever lost –

continuity in a transformed state

is the rule.

Uncentered people are easily hurt

their lives filled with

drama and tragedy.

Saints are hard to upset

because their unmanifest center is God

they have no need 

for protection.

Richard Rohr: We have no access

to who we really are

except in God.

John Chrysostom: Nothing

is equal to prayer, for prayer

makes the impossible 

possible.

Prayer makes sinners saints.

John XXIII: The Church is meant to be

the Mother of all people

spreading the fullness of Christian charity 

everywhere.

The Church is meant to be

the Divine Feminine Rising.

3 Big Ideas for May 1, 2019

  1. The modern worldview is that because our universe is so old and so vast, humans are totally insignificant. A more helpful and meaningful approach is that because of our intelligence and creativity, which it took the universe so long to produce – 13.7 billion years – we can say again, as people did before astrophysics, that humans are not only significant but central to the entire universe.
  2. Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian physicist and priest, first postulated that, as in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, there must have been a beginning to the universe. Then George Isamow, an American-Russian physicist, postulated the Big Bang Theory, the current view among scientists. Since scientists have proven that everything is expanding outward, if you go back in time far enough, it must have all begun from a single point. Science has to be materially based, it can’t start with spirit, and therefore Isamow further theorized that the universe came from a tiny particle. However, this idea that all the matter of the universe as we now know it was somehow packed into an infinitely small particle seems absurd and is an untestable hypothesis. As such it is a myth. I am not anti-science, in fact I think science is an incredible tool that reveals even more of God’s glory. But I also believe it is important to understand that science is based on this myth. It is just as logical, in fact I believe more logical, to say that the whole universe came from an Almighty Creator.
  3. Ignatius of Loyola invented the prayer method of inserting yourself imaginatively right into scenes from the Bible. For example, you are in a boat with the disciples in a raging sea. You feel the rocking of the boat, the spray of the waves, and then you see someone walking on the water. You feel the fear of the disciples who didn’t recognize it was Jesus and thought they were seeing a ghost. You feel amazement and relief when Jesus calms the wind and sea and gets into the boat with them. Many people have found that this method of imaginative contemplation leads them beyond “head-knowledge” to “heart-knowledge” of God and emotionally transforms them through a direct experience of God.