Someone recently asked me to answer some questions regarding the Bible, Sin, and judgment. I thought the questions were good ones, and I thought that others might benefit from the discussion. I’m not claiming to be the definitive word on this, of course, but this is where I’m at currently in my journey with Jesus. Enjoy!
Is God’s word a rule book or a guide book?
Simple answer: it’s a guide book. It guides us into a dynamic relationship with the living God. True, it has lots of rules listed in the Old Testament. However, the Law of Moses was a specific document for a specific group of people in a specific time given by a loving God for the physical and spiritual protection of a very young, newly freed nation. The people took the law far beyond its purpose and worshipped it. Jesus came to deconstruct the distorted view of God and God’s law that the Jews had constructed through centuries of tradition, fear, and hatred and replace it with the indwelling Spirit that cannot be bound by rigid documents or doctrines. Additionally, the letters of the New Testament are not a new law for the church. They are the directives given by a pastor to a specific group of people in the context of a place and situation. We can learn a great deal from how the teacher handled the situation, but the letters were not meant to be law for all time.
What is your interpretation/understanding/commentary of the following passages:
The Sermon on the Mount has a simple, overarching message. It was spoken to Jewish hearers who believed that God judged them based upon their external obedience to the laws of Moses. The message of Jesus was, “It doesn’t matter what your external behavior is, it is the condition of your heart that is the issue.” In other words, you can technically obey all the laws, and still have a rotten heart. That is the point of the specific passage highlighted here. Jesus says, “True, you haven’t murdered, but you still hate, so your heart is still sick.” Jesus wants to transform us from the inside out. If your heart is cleansed from self-loathing, shame, pride, envy, etc. and you have been set free to experience the love and grace of God, then your external behaviors will simply be the natural overflow of a clean heart.
Children have clean minds. They look at the world with awe and wonder. They don’t have prejudice or doubt or fear or hatred. They are free to imagine and believe in the power of God to do anything. It is culture that beats them down and teaches them — both through instruction and experience — that people are scary and unreliable. Jesus calls us to become like children again and reach out to each other in openness.
The only people that Jesus ever condemned were the religious leaders who made it their business to condemn everyone else. Think about this: Jesus was kinder to the legion of demons in the Gersene man than he was to the self-righteous Pharisees. Why? Because these men had taken the grace of God, the message of God’s kingdom, and turned it into a shame-based system that kept people in fear and exalted themselves into positions of power. They had completely misrepresented God and, in so doing, stolen the people’s rightful inheritance of freedom and love in the presence of God. Ironically, the only time Jesus talks about Hell (gehenna) is when he talks to the Pharisees. That’s because they used the idea of God’s eternal damnation as their power tool to drive people down and manipulate their behavior. That is not the way of God found in Jesus.
I recently had this passage completely turned on its head for me. (Or more accurately, I was turned right side up to look at it differently). We’ve always been taught (and I have taught) that this is a stewardship passage where God punishes those who don’t use the gifts he’s given. That has always been difficult for me to completely accept in light of the rest of Jesus’ teaching. What if it is just the opposite? What if the only one who does the right thing in this parable is the one who hides the money? In the parable, the landowner represents the corrupted system of Israel and the Roman Empire. Jesus continually tells his disciples to not buy into that way of thinking, even if it means you will be punished by that system and thrown out in the trash heap (that is the inference in v. 30). By burying the money the servant defies the corrupt system and has the courage to face the consequences. As Jesus neared the end of his ministry he was preparing his disciples for a life of hardship and persecution. That is the nature of this parable.
What is the answer to Sin?
Don’t. How’s that? Seriously, I need to understand more clearly what the question implies. An “answer” implies a question. What is the question? Is it “Why is there sin?” or “What is sin?” or “How do we break the bonds of sin?”
The answer to all of it is Jesus. He taught us how to live the life of the Kingdom of God; a life of love and freedom. The key to all of it is forgiveness and self-sacrifice; looking to the needs of others before self. Jesus demonstrated this kind of love in laying down his own life. It is only when we are willing to lose our own life that we can ever truly find it.
What is God’s standard for sin?
Once again, I need clarification on the question. “Standard” means “measurement.” Is it asking, “how does God measure sin?” The word “sin” literally means “miss the mark.” So, the question is, “what is the mark?” Is it perfection? Then we’re all doomed. This goes to the next question…
How can we live up to that standard?
You and I were raised as children of Modern Protestant Fundamentalism that, in reaction to a couple centuries worth of theological debate, got fixated on the idea of “sin management.” Ironically, it is very similar to the trap that the Pharisees had fallen into that got Jesus so upset. They — we — tend to see God as a great big judge that counts up all of our infractions — based upon a list of rules that the church has extrapolated through a particular set of lenses from the scripture — and condemns us for them. We all deserve to die and suffer forever in Hell because we blew it so badly. But, because of God’s love he tortures his son in our place.
Under this construct, no matter how you slice it, God is pretty vicious. Well, he’s either really mad and likes to condemn people (because, after all, he invented the law, right?). Or, he is actually powerless because he is bound to the law and is forced to torture us because the law demands it. Think about this… If God is bound to the law, then doesn’t that make the law greater than God? Wouldn’t that make the law God and the being we associate with the Father just a lesser being that succumbs to the same universal forces that we do?
I think there are serious problems with this system. It produces pain, fear, shame, and self-loathing within certain personality types, and self-righteous condemning power mongers in other personalities.
Jesus didn’t come to pay off Satan, or get tortured by God in our place. Jesus came to set us free from all the hatred and fear that we continually dish out to one another. He came to show us that it is possible to know God, to experience God’s love, and to live in peace with God and other humans. He taught that to us, He demonstrated that to us, and he showed us the ultimate example of loving others, even when they want to nail you to an execution stake.
The greatest Hell we live in is when we keep score in life and hold on to bitterness and grudges and don’t forgive others. Or, perhaps even more difficult, we don’t forgive ourselves.
God loves us. God wants us to be free to love Him back and to love others. Through experience we have learned that not everyone wants to play that way and we get hurt. So, we retreat, self-protect, and live in fear, bitterness, and hatred or self-loathing. God relentlessly pursues us, like a lover bent on knowing us, and brings opportunities into our life on a regular basis where we have to look to God for everything. When we release it all, then we can be free to receive what God wants to give and to love others the way God loves them.
Ok, I think I’m done preaching.