February 11, 2010
Reflecting on a recent speech by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, Kathryn Jean Lopez warns that “Christianity will be history if we cut ourselves off from our roots” [“Losing Our Religion,” National Review Online].
While she frames this as a call for Christians to fight for the preservation of religious freedom, I think scripture gives us a different answer. Jesus warned that anyone who follows him “will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death” not to mention “hated by all nations” (Matthew 24:9, NIV). A couple decades later, Paul reminded his pal Timothy, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, NIV).
The world always has and always will hate the message of Jesus, for the gospel is inherently subversive and counter-cultural. Ms. Lopez seems to think that political animosity towards the church is a novel phenomenon, yet thousands of martyrs – ancient and modern – prove that the Church not only persists but even thrives when threatened.
Perhaps Christians should welcome a “secular” West; a little heat might do us lukewarm Christians some good.
February 1, 2010
James Wood’s op-ed is shallow and insulting; invoking statements by Robertson and Obama on Haiti, the author of The Book Against God insists
… either God is punitive and interventionist (the Robertson view), or as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent (the Obama view). Unfortunately, the Bible, which frequently uses God’s power over earth and seas as the sign of his majesty and intervening power, supports the first view; and the history of humanity’s lonely suffering decisively suggests the second [Between God and a Hard Place, New York Times].
Wood is wrong; the Bible’s theodicy is much more nuanced. When Jesus’ disciples encounter a blind man, they assume he (or his parents) must have done something evil to deserve this fate. Jesus refutes this:
- Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. [John 9:3-4, NAB]
The Greek is the aorist passive – Jesus says the blindness is, but does not ascribe agency. In the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom explained that Jesus is not saying the man is sinless, but that his sin did not cause his illness [Homily 56]. I believe that God does not cause natural disasters or diseases, they are the sad reality of an imperfect world. Fortunately, God’s love and mercy can transform tragedy into triumph.
January 11, 2010
In this week’s New York Times Magazine, Roger Lowenstein seems to encourage homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth to default on their loans and abandon their properties (Walk Away From Your Mortgage!). Mr. Lowenstein, a director at the Sequoia Fund, argues that mortgage default is a “calculated” decision of economic self-interest void of moral implications.
Jesus seems to hold Christians to a higher standard, where decisions (financial and otherwise) are based not primarily on self-serving desires, but on responsible stewardship of what has been given. In Christ’s “Parable of the Talents,” the master (arguably God) applauds the servant who invests his money wisely and returns to the master more than he was given. The master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, NIV).
Could the one who defaults on his mortgage be like this faithful servant? If she owes more than her house is worth, shouldn’t she walk away and find a better way to invest her money? Or is the one who relinquishes his financial responsibilities more like the “wicked and lazy” servant in the parable who is rebuked and rejected by the master for burying the money?
January 7, 2010
The New York Times reports this week that approximately six million Americans survive exclusively on the support provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps (Living on Nothing but Food Stamps). While scripture reminds us to “not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27, NIV), the records of the early church show that the apostles believed giving food assistance to those in need was a core component of the Christian life. Soon after Christ’s ascension, he apostles realized that they had been so busy distributing food to widows and children that they were neglecting the spiritual side of their ministry. Rather than ending their charitable work, they asked the group to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4, NIV). The legacy of these seven, known as the first deacons, persists in many Christian churches. May we remember that providing food to those in need is an essential witness of Christ’s presence in the world that is particularly needed today.