Sunday, March 06, 2005

Theology 101

Alright, I'm not a theologian, but hey, neither am I sitting at a University. It seems to me though, that as I travel through this life, I find religious folk that don't really grasp what they're supposed to be doing, and non-religious folks who don't quite understand Christianity as well as they think they might. So, here's a layman's introduction to God. Well, what our response to God is to be.

It seems to me that the Commandments can be broken into two types. One of those types deal with God and the other deals with other people. So we see that we are to have no other Gods before God and we are to be considerate and kind to other people. The Commandments though are not arbitrary rules this God of ours dreamed up some Tuesday morning. No, they illustrate (granted, negatively) the very character of God. Why is this important? Because as we will see later, the Christian's job, the Christians mission on this planet is to let God mold them into His likeness. As such, God has provided for us in the Commandments views of His character. At it's base we can detect that God is concerned that we honor Him as God and be concerned about other people. The reason we are to be concerned about other people is simply because it is God's character to be concerned about other people. If we are to be like Him, we must be concerned about other people.

Why should we not murder? Because there is some cosmic rule that says we ought not? No, but because if our character is like God, if we are concerned about other people, we cannot murder them. It seems impossible that if we are putting other people's interests ahead of ours, we could wontonly murder them.

Why should we treat God and only God as the only god? Because He said so? Again, no. We worship God as God because of the kind of God He is: compassionate, giving, loving, and faithful. That kind of God deserves our following simply because of who or what He is.

Le's look at a couple other ideas. In the Prophets, we see the prophetic message containing two themes. The first is that the audience has not been honoring God as God and have either corrupted their worship services or have failed to conduct them at all. Secondly, especially in the Minor Prophets, the prophetic message includes charges that the people and their leaders had become themselves corrupt. They sat in church and conceived ways to cheat their brothers. They violated every social rule and became only concerned about what was in it for them.

In the Gospels Jesus tells us what His mission was. In a nutshell, it was composed of three interconnected themes. The first was to glorify God by directing all the attention and praise that Jesus received back to God. Secondly, Jesus came to reveal God in more detail than had been previously given. Jesus says on more than one occasion that "if you have seen me, you have seen the father." His life was spent showing us what kind of character God has, what God thinks is important, and the kind of people we are to be. Thirdly, Jesus came to set us free from our sin which is another way of saying from ourselves. If we can surrender ourselves to Him, we become free to become the people God intended for us to be - those that reflect Him to others. Lastly, Jesus came to relieve suffering in this life. Jesus, in Luke, reads a scroll and applies it to Himself. That scroll says He came to relieve the oppressed, heal the sick, and a few other things. So Jesus' mission was not just to save us (John 3.16), but to provide release now. We see then that in the Gospels, God's concern is for the same two issues. We must recognize God as God and in so doing, we must become like Him in character. Anything less is not what God wants.

In the Christian Epistles, we see the same progression. Paul's letters include observations as to who God is and then apply that to his readers' lives. The other writers follow similar themes. Paul writes letters for the same reasons that the Prophets spoke to Israel and Judah. The recipients had either forgotten who their God was and/or had become hard hearted, inconsiderate, or abusive of each other.

We see then that the Christian's purpose in this life is not to get to Heaven, but rather to become the kinds of people God would have them become. Those people are characterized by thankful worship of God and the desire to become other focused.

If we can grasp that lesson of Theology 101, most if not all of the world's problems would vanish.

Thielike and the Supreme Court

Having heard all the hullabaloo about the Supreme Court's decision concerning the death penalty and folks who are under 18 years old, it seems that Thielike's book A Little Exercise for Young Theologians might apply. In this book T addresses both fledgling and experienced theologians. For our purposes, we only need to look at his instructions for the experienced ones.

Thielike urges theologians to always remember that it is the church that provides the conscience and that theology, appropriately done, is done in and for the church. In fact he will make a distinction between diabolical and sacred theology by evaluating the faith and faithfulness of the theologian.

This is not said to put theologians in straight jackets, but to have them remember that they are members of a community of faith that holds various principles as core beliefs and understandings. A theologian who goes beyond the faith and becomes overly academic or theoretical loses contact with the church and is in danger of becoming no more than a gong in an ivory bell tower.

Thielike's arguments it seems to me can be applied to almost any social undertaking and this is where the Supreme Court's decision has erred. If it is true that the decision has been made based on what other countries hold to be "normal," punishments, the majority erred in various points.

a. simply because other countries do not practice capital punishment on people below 18 years of age does not make the punishment cruel or unusual. It might make it rare, but that word is not the same as unusual.

b. the age of accountability is an arbitrary one and does not convey any cognitive, moral, or maturity value in and of itself. Any age chosen within a legal system is simply that - an arbitrary selection of an age at which various rights are conveyed.

c. the jurists need to remember that they practice their art within the American society, not a global one. American society is a unique one that holds personal responsibility in high regard, perhaps more so than other countries. If a state has decided that a seventeen year old, judged guilty of such a heinous crime deserves to die for that crime, that is reasonable within our history, our culture, and our forms of government.

The Supreme Court decision, if based on global standards of justice, is misguided.

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