I had another blog in which I wrote about my faith a lot more explicitly. I thought that by creating another blog, I could compartmentalize that side of me that waffles over into faith and somehow really “be myself” on this blog. I mean, let’s face it, I’m all over the map when it comes to faith. That other blog is now no more, but I managed to export some posts using the “export xml” function on the Dashboard. I’m glad I did, because I wrote some of my best stuff in the throes of the Spirit over there. So I thought I’d “reprint” my favorite posts from that other blog. Here’s one (I believe I titled it “Sermon on the Mount”):
Of all the passages in the bible that record what Jesus taught, the Sermon on the Mount is the most difficult. Yet, with Dallas Willard’s help, I think I finally understand it. Matthew 5:1-11 is a oft-quoted passage. The implication in reading it is that somehow we are supposed to “do” something that will bless us. But Willard says, “not so” in The Divine Conspiracy, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Let’s look at Matthew 5:3 in the New Living Translation. Now I’m quoting the most accessible translation here, without regard to anything but readability and clearness of meaning. Arguments over translations are fruitless in the Christian walk. We are focusing on the message, not the bible itself (see Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus for an excellent analysis of textual criticism). Anyway, Matthew 5:3 reads, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” I have always assumed that in order to be blessed we must realize our need for God or be “poor in spirit” as some translations read, but Willard writes that, struggling with the translation of this verse:
reflects our intense need to find in the condition referred to something good, something God supposedly desires or even requires, that then can serve as a ‘reasonable’ basis for the blessedness he bestows. But that precisely misses the point that the very formulation of the Beatitudes should bring to our attention.
Jesus did not say, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit because they are poor in spirit.’ He did not think, ‘What a fine thing it is to be destitute of every spiritual attainment or quality. It makes people worthy of the kingdom.’ And we steal away the much more profound meaning of his teaching about the availability of the kingdom by replacing the state of spiritual impoverishment–in no way good in itself–with some supposedly praiseworthy state of mind or attitude that ‘qualifies’ us for the kingdom.
In so doing we merely substitute another banal legalism for the ecstatic pronouncement of the gospel. Those poor in spirit are called ‘blessed’ by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because, precisely in spite of and in the midst of their ever so deplorable condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Christ (page 102).
What a wonderful exposition of the verse! So many of us are legalists at heart. I know I have a tendency in that direction myself and must fight it daily. We want to read scripture and say, “if this, then this” and voile! we are blessed. It’s the particular sin of prosperity gospel preachers like Paula White and Joel Osteen when they cry, “God wants you wealthy!” or “God wants you to prosper!” What they are doing is using the bible as a divine dispensing machine, where you plug in this or that verse, say this or that prayer, and God cannot HELP but bless you, not to effect your salvation, but to bolster your self esteem or to enhance your personal wealth. What a bastardization of the gospel of Christ! Sure it may make YOU feel good, but that’s not what the gospel is for. The gospel is not a new set of rules that needs to be “put into action” or pasted over the “old rules.” In fact, there is NOTHING we can DO at all. Even the social gospel which emphasizes feeding the poor and clothing the naked falls into the same mindset when it mistakes the presence of the grace of the Kingdom of God for a utopian vision of salvation merely from physical need.
No, the beatitudes, writes Willard, are “explanations and illustrations drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus” (page 106). It’s a relationship, not a divine “to do” list! It’s easy for me to write about it, but all too often I slip into that legalistic mode, wondering what it is that I can DO to effect my salvation. But, that’s just it, I don’t have to DO anything. It’s already been done. So what is Jesus doing with the Beatitudes then? Willard tells us that Jesus is using these illustrations to show the state of our hearts AND to show that “no human condition excludes blessedness, that God may come to any person with his care and deliverance…The religious system of his day left the multitudes out, but Jesus welcomed them all into his kingdom. Anyone could come as well as any other. They still can. That is the gospel of the Beatitudes” (page 116).
Amen to that! God loves you and me whether we “name it or claim it” or whether we learn “his principles to prosper” or not. In fact, God loves us more and more as you consistently fail to live up to a prosperity gospel or to a legalism born of fear. And that’s precisely the point of Jesus’ mission; to show us the state of our hearts so that we might realize our complete inadequacy in saving ourselves. And the remedy? Why, complete and utter dependence on the Spirit of Christ. Complete and utter abandonment and a willingness to be molded into a loving, caring, merciful human being. That’s it. Who doesn’t want to be that?
I’m so full of faith in this post. I wonder where that goes sometimes. I wonder that I’ve wandered (nod to Heather) far afield many days. Where is that comfort and joy now? I want to be that faith-full again. I want to experience that peace that seems to exude from those posts. Deleting the blog seemed like a childish attempt to eradicate that part of myself that still had faith. It didn’t feel like the “most me” at the time and yet, at other times it did feel like the real me, but maybe that’s the point. I want to bring the two together. I will never forget these lines from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love:
God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are. God isn’t interested in watching you enact some performance of personality in order to comply with some crackpot notion you have about how a spiritual person looks or behaves. We all seem to get this idea that, in order to be sacred, we have to make some massive, dramatic change of character, that we have to renounce our individuality… To know God, you need only to renounce one thing–your sense of division from God. Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your own natural character (page 192).
I agree with this, to a point. If you are an angry murderer or love to rape children, please, by all that is holy, don’t stay the way you think you were made! ! But when it comes to personality; if you are a boisterous, aggressive, loud laughing, bull in a china shop type of woman (as I am), it’s ridiculous to try to turn yourself into a quasi-feminine, wispy-voiced, obedient-to-the-last caricature of a wife that fundie Christians seem to love and worship. It ain’t gonna happen! Hopefully, this will mark a new point of authenticity for me. Faith when there’s faith and honesty when there’s not. Blessings!