Unconditional Forgiveness?; Seeker Services?; Broader Emergency Prayers; Literacy and Advancement; Uninteresting Source Criticism; Solidifying Who You Are; God or D.C. Collins?

1. William P. Young, The Shack, pages 224-225:

“So what then?  I just forgive him and everything is okay, and we become buddies?” Mack stated softly but sarcastically.

“You don’t have a relationship with this man, at least not yet.  Forgiveness does not establish relationship.  In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.  Mackenzie, don’t you see that forgiveness is an incredible power—a power you share with us, a power Jesus gives to all whom he indwells so that reconciliation can grow?  When Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross, they were no longer in his dept, nor mine.  In my relationship with those men, I will never bring up what they did, nor shame them, or embarrass them.”

Page 227:  “Son, you may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.  And then one day you will pray for his wholeness and give him over to me so that my love will burn from his life every vestige of corruption…”

These quotes interest me for two reasons.  First, they discuss whether or not forgiveness means that I have to be friends with the person who wronged me, or con myself into thinking that he did nothing wrong, when he did.  According to these quotes (and their context), forgiveness doesn’t have to mean fellowship, even though it can lead to that.  Rather, it’s ceasing to clinch the wrong-doer by the throat, trying to move on, and giving him over to God’s love, which can entail discipline.

Second, these quotes may touch on Young’s views regarding universalism.  They seem to suggest that God in Christ has forgiven everyone, whether they choose to believe in Jesus or not.  As far as I can tell, Young deems that forgiveness to be unconditional.  God freely holds out his hands to the world, inviting it to fellowship with him, without holding anything against it.  And the reference to God’s love burning corruption from the sinner reminds me of the Christian universalist teaching that hell is a place of temporary (yet long-lasting) cleansing and discipline.

Is this biblical?  I think of II Corinthians 5:19-20, which affirms that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing sin to it.  That is why we serve as Christ’s ambassadors, encouraging the world to be reconciled with God: God has done his part and taken the first step towards reconciliation, and now the world is invited to respond.  This seems to correspond with Young’s view.  Yet, other passages suggest that forgiveness from God is conditional on repentance, faith, and baptism (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 10:43; 22:16).  Still others say that it’s conditional on us forgiving others (Matthew 6:14-15), or our confession of sin (I John 1:9).   

Young refers to Jesus’ prayer that God forgive those crucifying him, for they know not what they do.  Does this suggest that God’s forgiveness is unconditional?  Some would argue “no”.  John MacArthur has pointed out, for instance, that those responsible for the crucifixion went home beating their breasts (Luke 23:48), a sign of repentance (Luke 18:13).  For MacArthur, God answered Jesus’ prayer by giving these people the grace to repent—by convicting them of their sin. 

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Heinlein refers to “seeker services” for a religious institution.  This is odd, because this book came out in the 1960’s.  I thought the push for churches to become “seeker-sensitive” came about in the 1990’s-2000’s.  Am I wrong on that?

3. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 102:

In M 4.4 and T 3.7, yet another reason is given for a short prayer, namely time of danger.

I checked the references, and the short prayers in times of danger (from bandits) do not relate to personal deliverance, but rather to God granting ease to those who fear him, or God delivering the nation of Israel.  I admire the rabbis for telling people to think beyond themselves even when they are being robbed by bandits: to long for God’s justice in general, which will come about when Israel is restored and the Messiah rules.  This reminds me of the mourner’s Kaddish: when a Jew mourns for his departed loved one, he prays a prayer that doesn’t explicitly mention mourning.  Rather, it expresses hope for God to set up his kingdom over the earth, praises God, and asks that God might bring peace to Israel. 

In the Bible, people certainly pray for personal deliverance.  But the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer also invite us to think beyond ourselves, to acknowledge God’s broader agenda, and to express our desire that God will bring that agenda to past.  That will take care of problems such as bandits and death! 

4. Michael H. Floyd, “‘Write the Revelation!’ (Hab 2:2): Re-imagining the Cultural History of Prophecy”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, pages 106-107:

The social theorists who elaborated this basic scheme assumed that universal literacy was characteristic of the most advanced form of society, and they identified oral tradition with the most primitive form of society.  The transition from a predominantly oral to a predominantly written culture became regarded as the primary indication of progress, on which any society’s advancement in all the arts and sciences depended.

Floyd talks about how literacy leads to hierarchy, according to the social theorists whom he is critiquing.  But there are advanced societies that prefer oral tradition, or the oral to the written.  The rabbis were one such example: they resisted writing down their teaching because orality preserved the passing on of tradition from master to pupil.  If pupils could simply go to the library and read the tradition, why would they need to receive it from a teacher?  Ancient Israel had a hierarchy of priests, king, etc., but its prophecies were only written down when they had to be.  Otherwise, they were orally proclaimed.  (Yet, this is the debate that occurs in the book.)  So I’m not convinced that orality means a society is primitive, whereas literacy indicates it is advanced.  Sure, there may be truth to this, but it’s not an absolute rule.   

5. Steven L. McKenzie, “The Oracles against the Dynasties in the Book of Kings”, in Reconsidering Israel and Judah, page 398:

“The one belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the open country the birds of the sky shall eat…”  The uniqueness of the curse and the rarity of [certain] expressions [in it] have led some scholars to contend that the language of these verses is not typical of the Deuteronomist and therefore betrays the existence of a predeuteronomistic version of the oracle…

To be honest, I really don’t care.  But apparently some do, which is why this article exists.  I’m interested in source criticism in that it can present ideas as to the different theological viewpoints in Scripture, who held them, and why.  But I don’t think much is at stake—or interesting, for that matter—in the issue of who wrote the curse that dogs and birds will eat people.   

6.  I read a review of Saul Lieberman’s Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, and it said that Hellenistic Jews were quite vehement against idolatry.  This, even though they drew from Greek ideas!  This reminds me of a post on Lawson Stone’s new blog, “Five Smooth Stones”: Thursday Thoughts.  Lawson talks about Daniel and his friends, and how they went above and beyond Jewish dietary laws in their refusal of the king’s food and wine.  After all, the Torah didn’t say that they had to eat only vegetables, or that they couldn’t drink wine!  In this case, they chose to proceed in an extreme direction.  And yet, they also studied the Babylonian religion, which was a rather liberal move on their part.  Why were they ultra-conservative in the area of food, but liberal in what they studied?  According to Lawson, they wanted to reinforce their Jewish identity before they learned about the Babylonian culture.

Similarly, even as Hellenistic Jews borrowed from Greek culture, they made it emphatically clear that they wanted nothing to do with Greek idolatry!  They were trying to avoid corruption from outside sources, while picking up aspects of those sources that may enlighten them.  

7.  Gary Coleman has passed away.  You know, I’ve actually been thinking about him for the past week.  When I was little, there was a movie called The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins, in which Coleman played a kid with a rich fantasy life—which was managing to intersect with his intriguing real life!  My dad told me to say my prayers during this movie, and so I rushed to my room during the commercial break and did so.  My dad then asked me if I was rushing through my prayers so I could return to my TV show, and I said “yes”.  He then told me that I should go back to my room and tell God that I’m sorry.

This is how I remember that, and you know how memories can be!  They’re not always accurate.  But this memory got me thinking.  Was my dad trying to teach me to love God more than the Fantastic World of D.C. Collins?  And which did I love better when I was a kid?  I’m not sure that I loved God at that time, since prayer for me was merelya ritual that my parents told me to perform: I basically said a bunch of words, and that was that!  So, while D.C. Collins was on, of course I loved that show more than God!  But the show came and went.  I may find it on YouTube at some point and enjoy it, but I don’t attach any ultimate significance to that movie.  It’s just a fun way to pass a few hours.  But I do attach ultimate significance to God.  So I’d say that I love God more than the Fantastic World of  D.C. Collins.  

But I’m not too big on “tests” to see whether I love God more than something else.  I’ll tell you: I did not feel compelled to turn off the TV and say my prayers during the last episode of LOST, just to show God that I love him more than LOST!  I’d rather pray to God when I choose to do so, rather when I don’t want to—even though, yes, I do pray every day, in order to keep my devotional life from disintegrating into complete chaos!

And I highly doubt that my dad would make me pray during D.C. Collins if he were to relive that moment.  Something else I can say for my dad: he did a good “What you talkin’ about Willis?”

In any case, R.I.P., Gary Coleman.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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