The Pearl of the Antilles

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29 (NET)

They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people.” – Titus 3:2 (NET)

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”               – Proverbs 21:23

 

Eight years ago today a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside. The earthquake took over a hundred thousand lives, destroyed countless homes and displaced millions.

Haiti holds a very special place in my heart and in the heart of my family. I’ve had the privilege of having many Haitians in my life, as friends and as family. I’ve also had the privilege of visiting the island-nation of Haiti a number of times. My father lived in Haiti for seven years as a missionary and is fluent in Creole.

The Haitian people are a joyful people. You can feel it in their music and see it in their smiles.

The Haitian people are a resilient people. You can see it in their eyes. And you can see it in their bodies, which pick themselves up again and again after each new calamity and hardship.

The Haitian people are a generous people. You’ll feel it in their homes and in their presence and with the gifts they give, both physical and spiritual.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Many just assume that this is due to poor self-government on Haiti’s part, but from the birth of the nation in 1804, the forces of white imperialism and racism did everything they could to prevent Haiti from surviving and flourishing.

Haiti was the first black republic in the world and the second free republic in the world (The first was the United States). Haiti’s foundation came as a result of a successful slave revolt against the French. However in order to discourage slaves in the US from revolting the US imposed a total trade embargo enforced by a naval blockade to choke the life out of the newborn nation. Throughout Haiti’s history, it has faced unjust treatment from Western Imperialism, particularly America. This injustice has come in the form of embargoes, sanctions and foreign interventions, both militarily and covert.

But against all odds Haiti survived, and in spite of many internal and international blows against her, Haiti remains a proud nation, strong in spirit.

So it is especially sad and appalling that our current president, who is the descendant of immigrants and whose ancestors joined countless others who left their poor, struggling homelands to come and bring their gifts, talents, heritage and hard work to “make America great” has now insulted America’s own heritage by referring to Haiti (and other nations) as “s***hole countries.”

What has truly “made America great” has been the rich and diverse tapestry of nations and cultures which have all been brought together. Haiti was once known as the pearl of the Antilles and what our country needs more than ever is to see and appreciate the beautiful jewel that each and every people and culture is. Every jewel is created and formed in God’s image and we are to embrace and treasure them as such.

 

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Blade Runner 2049

Aesthetically brilliant. Sonically gorgeous. And these are understatements.

Blade Runner 2049 is what cinema artistry is all about.

The pacing, the videography, the score, the dialogue have all been crafted to a degree that clearly denotes the passion driving the makers of this film. Careful, poetic detail has been given to all aspects of this film. The world of Blade Runner 2049 feels real. This is rare in cinema. And under-appreciated by most. Most contemporary films lack true artistic flair. They lack world-building, thoughtful character development and creative, visually enthralling cinematography.

Perhaps many of us lack the ability to appreciate a film that stretches the boundaries of our normative movie-going experience. We settle for movies centered on overwhelming CGI/special effects and non-stop action that purvey the myth of restorative violence and vengeful justice. We settle for movies that reinforce our collective assumptions about the exceptionalism of America.

Movies far too often portray war and violence in and abhorrently unrealistic manner. But even films that refuse to shy away from blood and gore, often ignore the real scars of psychological trauma. Furthermore they perpetuate false dichotomies that present clear, but often misleading boundaries between good and evil.

Now, I’m not implying that a movie must be devoid of all violence for it to be profound or insightful or even entertaining. Nor am I saying that there can’t or isn’t ever good or evil people on either side of a given conflict.

And Blade Runner 2049 contains its share of violence, retributive or otherwise. But what sets a movie like Blade Runner 2049 and the original apart is that the violence isn’t what makes this story so compelling, in every respect. And even if the film is about a “Blade Runner” who “retires” (a euphemism for killing) replicants, the film does not use action simply for the sake of action at least not gratuitously or casually. Rather, the movie is centered around the humanity or perhaps inhumanity of its characters. And in it’s careful focus on these characters and their stories, the film brings out the beauty and darkness of existence. It’s forces the audience to ask poignant questions about science, technology, sexuality, progress and nature.

At some level, all movies can produce thoughtful philosophical and existential insight, but not all movies make this their starting point. Blade Runner 2049, like its predecessor is art for the sake of art, as opposed to entertainment for the sake of profit.

And that is what separates the master film from the amateur one.

The ability to pace a plot, the ability to know when more is less and less is more, this skill is what defines something that is truly magisterial.

Many movies can have moments or stretches of brilliance that resonate with us deeply. But when each successive moment, every scene, every second of pulsating music or silence or tension, resonates with our eyes and ears and hearts, that’s when a movie has earned the title of a magnum opus.

And Blade Runner 2049 has earned that title.

 

The Dialectic of the Two Ditches

Greek mythology tells the tale of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who construct wings so that they may flee from their captor King Minos. As they prepare to leave, Daedalus warns his son that he must not fly too high or too low in order to protect the wax of the wings from being melted by the heat of the sun or soaked from the spray of the waters below. However Icarus fails to follow his father’s advice, foolishly flying higher and higher until the sun melts the wax holding his wings together. Icarus falls into the sea, to his death.

It was also the Ancient Greek philosophers who coined the term “golden mean,” or the notion that every virtue was a balance between two extremes, not unlike walking a tightrope. In a sense, life is a lot like walking a tightrope. It’s a delicate balance where if you lean a little too far in either direction, the result is equally disastrous. I have come to see, along with the ancient Greeks, that in many if not most cases in life, the true path of wisdom is a matter of avoiding the two ditches of partial or incomplete truth which lie on either side.

To avoid the two ditches is to live in a tension between two apparent opposites. That is essentially what a dialectic is. In life each individual must navigate their own pathway. Every person walks a unique path, but like our roads, every path is paralleled on either side by a ditch. The two ditches represent polar opposites, the radical extremes on each end of a spectrum. There are some who choose to walk in these ditches, entirely aware of where they are. Others unintentionally fall into one of the ditches and keep on walking as if they’d never left the path. They become oblivious to the damage they are inflicting on both themselves and on others.

There are many reasons we fall into these ditches. In order to illustrate let me use an example from theology. Christians confess that Jesus is somehow both fully human and yet at the same time fully divine. These apparent contradictions must be kept in tension, or we risk falling victim to either the over-emphasis of Christ’s humanity (the heresy of Arianism) or the over-emphasis of Christ’s divinity (the heresy of Docetism).

But the danger regarding the two ditches isn’t just about avoiding two extremes, it can also come in the form of setting two truths against each other. When we pit a position on one end of a truth-spectrum against a position on the other end of that spectrum, polarization occurs. This is most prevalent in American politics. What are sometimes meant to be truths held together in tension are instead seen as incompatible ideas that cannot be reconciled with each other. One is seen as the correct way to do things, while the other is seen as the antithesis of what should be done. Perhaps we need to start seeing some of the seemingly conflicting ideologies as complementary pieces of a more comprehensive and balanced perspective.

This polarization is most widely illustrated in the broken two-party political system here in America and particularly in the culture wars being waged around various issues. It often can seem like the conservative and progressive ideologies could not be further apart from each other. In some sense they are. However I would like to suggest that this is not always the case. For example, it is not uncommon to encounter a more liberal leaning person who will tend to advocate for individual freedom. Conversely, many conservative leaning people, will tend to advocate for individual responsibility. Likewise, those on the left tend to support social or collective responsibility, while the right supports social or collective freedom. Both sides consistently claim that they are in the right and that the other is sorely mistaken, often caricaturing and demonizing each other. But can it really be said that either side is entirely wrong? Or exclusively right? Perhaps in clinging to an either-or paradigm instead of a dialectical view, both sides end up in opposing ditches, in unnecessary conflict with each other.

Of course, it is also true that this polarization is spurred on by legitimate differences. Sometimes these differences are generational. When a previous generation has taken a particular stance on an issue, one that leaves them in one of the ditches, the pendulum is bound to swing towards the opposite direction at some point in the future. The next generation rightfully rejects the one-sided extremism of their predecessors and rushes to the other side and ultimately embraces a new extremism. Some would argue that this explains the contrast between the extremes of over the top political correctness and the corresponding rise of “PC pushback” that has emerged recently. My primary contention with the analogy of the ditches is that often in our rejection of one extreme, we simply replace it with another.

But there is another way, especially for those of us who follow Christ. Some call it the third way, or perhaps the narrow road. This way is a way that should be guided by the fruits of the spirit. Somehow, Jesus called both a far-right tax collector, who upheld the status quo, and a far-left zealot, who believed in overthrowing the establishment, to come together and abandon their extremist ideologies. The truly wise will try to see the validity of opposing views and to discover the understandable concerns beneath what seem to be distasteful or wrongheaded opinions. There are of course times when a line in the sand has to be drawn, but that does not mean we have to leave the middle way in favor of either one of the ditches. Most importantly our journey on this path should always err on the side of mercy, of justice, the side of peace and self-sacrifice. Jesus called Matthew and Simon to follow a middle path of mutual acceptance and understanding in addition to being a prophetic voice of cultural challenge. The Gospel and the teachings of Christ compel us to follow this example. May we reject the ditches in our lives and in so doing, show the world something radically distinct.

– A shorter version of this article was published in the online Bethel University newspaper The Clarion:

The dialectic of the two ditches

Undredal, Norway

There is something deeply compelling and sentimental in remembrance. Remembrance recreates a memory or even reshapes it. Often memory is formed into something new. A creation based on something true, but where the good is exaggerated and the bad forgotten. But perhaps that is the beauty in bringing the past to the present. Sometimes the only way to truly recreate the past is by romanticizing and idealizing it. Thus remembrance can be a spiritual endeavor.

It is a dangerous game to play. The game of revising the past, that is. But it is also rewarding. Once you learn to balance the extremes of remembrance, it can become a true gift, something others will never quite understand.

An Ethos of Creation

God has given us, the human race, stewardship of the earth
And yet ultimately the earth belongs to God, not us
God has given us a great task. To tend, cultivate and protect His garden
Not ours
This earth is wondrous. Immense. Perilous
This earth is fragile. Delicate. Precarious
The earth gives us much. Beauty. Inspiration. Life.
The earth gives to us out of abundance
But we should receive with a humble heart. A gracious heart. A prudent heart.
Only taking what is necessary.
For if we are greedy, if we are covetous
The soul of this earth will be ravaged and plundered, raped and pillaged.
The earth is like Christ. The bride of the Church.
The earth is our bride too. The bride of humanity.
Thus, we should treat it as such.
With humility. With selflessness. And with simplicity.
For all the beasts, all the trees, the mountains and the seas
They too are part of creation
Man is not their master
But their shepherd.

A Letter from France

The day after the election my mother received a poetically written letter of encouragement in an email from our sweet, dear friend Brijit. She and her two cats live in France, in a two-tiered chalet tucked along the slope of a mountain in the French Alps, the silhouette of Mont Blanc visible on the horizon. Her words brought me much comfort.

Hi my love

I can’t help thinking of you on that day.

The Donald duck has won with money and horrible ideas.

such is democracy …..

in France, next elections won’t be better…..

I’m  dreaming of a better world
with people like  you and me.

yes we can love each other !

a lot of kisses

I miss you, I miss people so lovely than you

your friend,

brijit

It isn’t hard to imagine the sound of her adorable broken English seeped in a thick, rich French accent. I’m so thankful for beautiful, kind souls like hers, during a time like this.

Merci beaucoup Brijit.

Are Millennials really so bad?

Self-absorbed, narcissistic, lazy and uniformed. These are the first words that come to mind when I think of my generation. Others have christened us the “Me me me generation.” (The ‘baby boomers’ were also called the ‘me generation.’)

Do these labels so often used to describe millennials seem fair?

It’s highly likely that most millennials probably wouldn’t take the time to read an article in the New York Times about the geopolitical significance of the Syrian civil war or the conflict occurring in Ukraine. They’d just skim past it with disinterest before clicking on a BuzzFeed link like this one called “13 Potatoes That Look Like Channing Tatum.”  In fact, it’s fairly safe to assume that most millennials likely couldn’t find either one of these countries on a map.

Millennials are the generation that thinks that being an Instagram model is a real job…or that everyone can be a professional photographer and still make a living, even if every other person and their aunt has started a “photography business.” Millennials are the generation that will post a poem or quote from someone like Walt Whitman or George Orwell without reading a single line of O Captain, My Captain or 1984. 

Millennials are the generation that turned selfies into a raging, crazed global catastrophe (The fact that numerous people have been injured or killed while taking a selfies or by someone else taking a selfie, should make you seriously consider never taking a selfie again).

Millennials are the generation that has turned the English language into an incomprehensible monster with words, acronyms and phrases like “bae,” and “I can’t even.” Millennials are also the generation that will spout all their opinions and self-aggrandizing reflections on life on their personal blog as if anyone in the world actually cared. (Okay now were getting a little too close for comfort ;))

Millennials aren’t entirely clueless however. Some have dubbed millennials “Generation nice.” In fact, studies show that millennials are in fact more open minded, inclusive and compassionate than previous generations. Surprisingly, millennials are actually very frugal and cautious about how they spend money. Millennials are also quite communally minded. Interestingly enough, more than half of millennials are humble enough to admit that they are perhaps the most narcissistic and self-absorbed generation.

It’s important to remember that millennials have a lot on their plate. Raising children is more expensive now. Millennials pay an average of $3000 more a year to raise children than the previous generation did. The gap between the rich and the poor is larger than it has ever been. College tuition has skyrocketed and incomes for graduates have dropped. In fact, contemporary college students often pay as much as $30,000 more in tuition than their parents did. So the next time your uncle says that millennials need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, just remind him that bootstrap-pulling may be harder than it used to be.

Many make a fallacious comparison between the downfalls of millennials and the greatness of previous generations. In truth every generation has its strengths and weaknesses. The baby boomers had problems and so did their predecessors. To idealize or romanticize any generation is an egregious mistake, one that borders on historical revisionism.

Often you’ll hear an elderly person reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ and how the generation that lived through WWII was the golden generation of America. You might hear something like, “Back in my day, we didn’t take nothin’ that we didn’t earn.” But the truth is millennials aren’t any lazier or more entitled than previous generations.

Let’s not forget that racism and misogyny were the norm a half century ago. “The Greatest Generation” was far from great. Lynchings of African-Americans like fourteen year old Emmett Till, who was brutally tortured and murdered for catcalling a white lady,  were commonplace. His face was beaten into a bloody pulp to the point that it was unrecognizable.

“America’s so-called Greatest Generation is great only in comparison to the rubbish that followed them, which frankly and literally they begat.” –Stephen Masty

It’s important to nuance history. We shouldn’t overlook that the WWII generation certainly overcame many obstacles. Similarly, we shouldn’t overlook that sexual and racial discrimination was rampant. The “greatest generation” also confined Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, enforced the Jim Crow laws, firebombed Tokyo and Dresden and segregated schools. The greatest generation was responsible for creating the most destructive force known to man, nuclear weapons, which gave humanity the ability to annihilate itself.

Yes millennials have given us the horrors of selfie-sticks and pseudo-connoisseurs. But we aren’t responsible for the monstrosity that is the 2016 election. We aren’t responsible for the endless series of pointless and immoral wars and government coups that the United States has instigated.

Every generation has its evils. Every generation has the power to rise up against injustice and every generation has done it in their own way, however flawed that may be.

Millennials aren’t any worse or any better than previous generations…the legacy of the next generation, on the other hand, remains to be seen…  😉

Shalom,

Josiah

I stand(and sit) with Colin Kaepernick

The early church would be utterly baffled by the idea that future Christians would shame someone for not swearing allegiance to the empire.” -Rachel Held Evans

If this place really were the “land of the free” someone would be able to sit during your song and not be endlessly harassed for it.” -Dr. Benjamin L. Corey

If Jesus had come to us in the 21st century in America rather than Palestine two thousand years ago I’m convinced that he would be seen in much the same light as Colin Kaepernick. His words and actions were prophetic and radical in Palestine two thousand years ago and they are prophetic and radical for us now.

A recent firestorm of harsh criticism and even shocked outrage was sparked after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem to protest racial issues in the U.S. The same cultural conformity police that hates any kind of non-compliance to what they perceive as faithful devotion to the creeds and rituals of the national civic religion, has gone nuts over this so called unpatriotic and offensive action. God forbid, someone stand up for the oppression of minorities by blaspheming the sacred idol of America.

As someone who has, since elementary school, chosen not to recite the pledge of allegiance or put my hand over my heart and sing the national anthem, I would like to voice my solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and others who would do the same. While Kaepernick might not share the convictions and beliefs that drive my choice not to participate in such activities, I admire his decision to do likewise.

There is no shame in refusing to stand for the national anthem or choosing to abstain from placing your hand on your chest or reciting a pledge of allegiance to a piece of cloth. If America is truly ‘free’ then its citizens should not have to fear backlash for their choice to abstain from oaths of allegiance.

And for us Christians, we would do well to remember the countless Christians who were martyred by the Roman Empire for their refusal to say, “Caesar is Lord.” The Early Christians were dubbed as, “atheists” by their contemporaries because they refused to swear loyalty to Rome and to its Emperors, who were seen as divine representatives.

Rachel Held Evans correctly noted that early Christians would be shocked to learn that future Christians would shame someone for refusing to pledge their allegiance to a nation. But as I see it, early Christians would be more shocked to learn that modern Christians would choose to declare allegiance, or ultimate loyalty, to nations and empires. Such power structures are fundamentally committed, by the very definition of nation or empire, to promoting their own advantage and survival through the use of force and coercion and even killing of perceived “enemies”.

It’s important to distinguish that for the Early Church saying “Jesus is Lord,” was not simply a spiritual mantra, but an overtly political declaration. It amounted to taking a subversive, counter-cultural stance of allegiance for the kingdom of God.

I stand (and sit) with Colin Kaepernick, not just because I believe there is racial disparity and injustice in America, but also because I believe my true allegiance is not to America, but to Christ and his kingdom. Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom that has no condemnation, no judgement, no chains. A kingdom that speaks for those on the margins of society, the oppressed, the poor. A kingdom that rejects injustice, violence and hate. It is for all peoples and all nations. There are no borders, there are no flags. Only the emblem of the crucified lamb. And in Christ’s kingdom there is only one Lord, one King, and only he merits our true allegiance. All else that we do in this world must coincide and look like Jesus.

Jesus is Lord.

 

For Jesus’ words on serving two masters and taking vows:

*Matthew 5:33-37, Matthew 6:24, Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17

 

 

Friendship: Beautiful & fragile

Friendships are beautiful and fragile things. They have to be nourished and tended, just like a garden. If you don’t give them enough time, attention, and affirmation they wither away and die, becoming forgotten and lifeless. And if you give them too much challenge, push-back or resistance they will pull away or shut you out. Living things, whether plant life or relationships, do best in the Goldilocks zone, where things are neither too hot or too cold. Relationships need a place where both people can be themselves no matter the dialogue.

During one of our many opinionated conversations after class, a friend and I had been discussing military matters in Iraq and the middle east when he expressed his desire to return. He was a veteran of Afghanistan. I wondered if I would be able to keep my thoughts to myself. I bit my tongue and let him continue on uninterrupted as he explained how the war had been a success. “We killed thousands of ‘them,” he said proudly. My stomach churned, the familiar revulsion rising within me. Now I had to respond. I challenged him politely, bringing up my concerns: firstly the massive number of civilians, killed directly or indirectly by America. This seemed to irk something in him and he quickly reprimanded me: “The Military doesn’t kill civilians.” He said and continued to lecture me. What does he know? I’m sure he was thinking. After all, I hadn’t fought in Afghanistan. How could I possibly know anything? His condescending tone irritated me. I’d heard his arguments before and they didn’t convince me, they infuriated me.

I was reminded of the horrifying footage of children in Fallujah, born with terrible birth defects and cancerous tumors as a result of the intense bombardment of the city with white phosphorous and uranium-enriched weapons. I remember the sick feeling I felt upon discovering how white phosphorous melted the skin off its victims, slowly burning them to death. I’m still haunted by these images and I suspect I always will be.

I decided not to push back too much more on his statements. They always say we are supposed to avoid two topics at all costs: religion and politics. This conversation had a mix of both, so it was particularly loaded with explosive potential. I began to realize that I valued our friendship more than winning an argument. At least I wanted to. The conversation ended amicably and we moved on to the subject of his pet lizard, a topic we could find common ground on no doubt.

We’ve had many conversations before, all of them filled with respectful dialogue amidst controversial subjects that we are both opinionated about, but I sensed that this time I had triggered something in him and in me. I began to realize that I wasn’t going to let this keep me from sharing my beliefs and my sincere anti-war principles. This was a part of me. What did I know? If only he truly knew how much torment and sorrow wracked my heart. Every story of collateral damage flooded into the catacombs of my soul, drowning me in a strange heavy sadness, like a raft filled with too many survivors, slowly becoming engulfed by the waters of the ocean. The screams of the innocent now fill my imagination, becoming something that has overflown into the novel I’m writing. I discovered a dark side of my thoughts that I hadn’t realized existed. But it came from a reality that I knew really existed. The iconic picture of the little naked Vietnamese girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, burned by Napalm dropped on her village seared into my memory. The remains of the Urakami Cathedral, incinerated, along with its congregants, milliseconds after the Plutonium bomb, Fat Man, fell, hardly a block from the church.

I’ve seen the documented cases of civilian casualties and I’ve read the testimonies of mothers who’ve lost children, sisters losing brothers, husbands losing wives. What of the countless stories that have gone untold? The stories smothered in dark clouds of willful ignorance, the stories hidden by corrupt governments and jingoistic military officers and politicians, unwilling to face the ugliness of our own violence. Who speaks for them? Yes we’ve heard the unrelenting, innumerable praises of the the military and their bravery, how they protect our freedom. They have enough advocates. Where are the advocates for the Iraqi mother whose son was shot by an American soldier while crossing the street to buy bread? Where are the advocates for the the Yemenis killed as their wedding convoy approached the groom’s village?

I cannot claim the same direct experiences as my friend. I have never fought in Afghanistan or Iraq and would never willingly do so. I cannot claim to have experienced anything remotely close to the horrific experiences of the untold numbers of men, women and children whose lives have been decimated directly or indirectly by war. All I can say is that I feel their pain and I feel it deeply. It is a responsibility that I’ve chosen to shoulder. If I can somehow be an advocate for those who have no voice or who have had theirs taken from them, I believe I must.

I really respect and love my friend. I disagree with him on a great deal. He has a huge heart. Which is why I want him to see and feel what I do. Yet I’m learning more and more that sometimes you have to speak through silence. I may not be able to convince him that he is mistaken and maybe that’s not what I should be trying to do. And I may have to sometimes sacrifice my pride in an argument to protect the friendship. As our friendship grows, I can still find opportunities to respectfully challenge his assumptions as he challenges mine. Still, I find myself unable to truly feel that I am being myself without him fully understanding how much weight my convictions carry. My staunch anti-war beliefs are a core part of who I am. How do I maintain an authentic friendship without voicing who I really am? At the very least I feel like I am called to be a voice for those who have none. I have felt the weight of these convictions for many years. I’ve never fully understood it myself, but in a strange way, I’m grateful for this responsibility.

I think what friendship has come to mean to me is neither parroting one-another’s opinions, likes and dislikes, nor silent accommodation of each other’s values and convictions.  What it means to me is mutual honesty, understanding, and acceptance and also loving challenge and push-back. Not to make the other conform to our wishes. But to help each other see other points of view, and to either adjust these or to at least have better reasons for maintaining them. Friendships are beautiful and fragile, yes, but just like plants in a garden that have been well-nurtured and have matured, they can be hardy and resilient. To do this we must learn the delicate balance between unconditional acceptance and loving challenge.

-Josiah

This was from my final essay in an essay writing class I took this semester at Bethel University  with April Vinding (Author of Triptych).

 

Christian Karma?

‘…Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied …’ 

These lines, found in the popular song, “In Christ Alone,” often strike me in an unpleasant way as I listen. The idea that God’s wrath must be satisfied is as revolting as it is unbiblical. Let’s keep it real here: the theology of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, that God must make people pay for evil, is really in my mind just a form of Christian Karma.

Side note-In the NASB, nowhere do the words “wrath”, “satisfied” or “appeased” appear together – The NASB is the most literal Bible Translation.

The book of Job tells an ancient story that captures perhaps the most common and deeply rooted religious assumptions of humanity about the basic posture of God or the gods toward humans.  When evil and misfortune fall upon Job, his friends tell him that he must have sinned for these kinds of things to be happening to him. Suffering is punishment for sin. However at the beginning of Job, in the prologue, God declares that no one on earth is as righteous as Job

All the most ancient religions seem to have similar beliefs that God/gods/or the transcendent forces of the universe reward creatures for good and punish creatures for evil. Essentially, bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, and this is how the universe or the gods exact “justice.”

In the book of Job, all the main characters (Job and his three friends) share this same sentiment, that God must punish evil in order for justice to be served. By the end of the book of Job, God himself states that none of the people have spoken rightly about him, calling into question the notion that God is somehow required to punish evil in order to remain just or good.

Though we don’t know when Job actually lived, it was most likely between the time of Abraham and Moses, which was around the time that Vedism began to emerge and spread to India (around 1750 BCE) before later evolving into Hinduism.

Aside from the faith relationship that the Old Testament patriarchs had with God as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, and the various forms of primitive polytheistic beliefs that can be traced as far back as recorded history, Hinduism was the first major organized religious tradition to emerge in the Ancient World.

The earliest, most primitive religions and ideas of the sacred were all polytheistic and not organized into a religious system.  All shared the idea that humans needed to placate or appease the gods in order to get blessings or avoid misfortune. If they didn’t do that, bad things would happen.

So the universally accepted picture of God or the gods was that they were reluctant to bless, but quick to punish, that all human acts of wrongdoing simply had to be punished tit-for-tat.  This basic assumption that every bad deed must be punished or paid for is essentially what the Hindu concept of “karma” is all about.

There’s a clear illustration of this widespread notion that all evil must be punished by the gods, and that all suffering is punishment from the gods, in the book of Acts. In chapter 28, Paul has just survived a shipwreck off the coast of Malta. While gathered around a fire with the locals, Paul is bitten by a poisonous snake. The locals, who were adherents of Greek religion, exhibit this karmic mentality when they say, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live” (NASB). In the Greek, the word ‘justice’ used here is the word, δίκη (Dike), which was the name of the goddess of justice in Greek religion. Dike was the daughter of Zeus, and according to scholar Ben Witherington, she “kept watch over injustices on the earth and reported them to her father, who dispensed final justice” (Commentary on Acts, pp. 778-79).  Witherington points out that the ancient Phoenicians also had an equivalent deity who functioned in the same manner.  This story clearly illustrates how entrenched the idea of justice as the punishment of evil by the gods was in many, if not all, ancient cultures, apart from that of the Hebrews. The Hebrews appear to be the one exception to this in that their concept of justice was not, punitive, but restorative.

The fundamental premise of Hinduism, is that there are many gods that inhabit both the intermediary realms between the world and the ultimate force behind everything, called Dharma.  Hinduism states that Dharma must punish wrong-doing, and that the punishment occurs through karma, which is the explanation for all the bad things that happen on earth or to people.  Put simply, karma is the required punishment that the justice of dharma requires for all wrong doing.

The concept of dharma in Hinduism, translates this primitive idea into a more sophisticated concept, but the essence of it is still that the universe itself must and will punish all wrongdoing, therefore all bad things that happen are punishments for wrongdoing. People must pay in some form for justice to be served and the universe to be balanced. This is precisely what Karma is. Just punishment for wrongdoing.

The other major eastern religions all share this same basic belief.  And so apparently did Job’s friends, but as we have shown above, God himself rejects this theology.

Many Christians hold this assumption about God and what justice means in the Christian tradition. But is this an accurate theological understanding of the Bible and Yahweh? Does this correlate with the traditional understanding of atonement and Jesus’ death on the cross?

The premise that God must punish humans, or that Jesus’ death on the cross was a required payment to God to satisfy justice is a common assumption, but I argue, as many others do, that it is wholly unbiblical and not theologically honest. It is essentially “Christian Karma.”

There are many problems with this traditional belief (which by the way was not held by the Early Church). In fact the great author C.S. Lewis rejected the idea of penal substitutionary atonement in Mere Christianity, arguing that the common view of the time, known as Anselmic theory, was mistaken.

“According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem quite so immoral and silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

C.S. Lewis parallels Jesus’ death on the cross and shows how it is not about satisfying God’s wrath, but rather expressing the nature of God’s love, which is about defeating sin and freeing us from sin but not making someone pay for our sin, (Theologian and author Brad Jersak summarizes the beauty and symbolism of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. See article here http://www.ptm.org/16cwrm/spring/index.html#31/z )

Many assume that God must punish and cannot forgive unless someone pays for the wrong … but this goes against the logic of forgiveness itself, which means precisely that a debtor is released from their debt without having to pay … BECAUSE, the one wronged assumes the debt, which means he himself “pays it” by simply accepting and absorbing the loss himself.

The idea that God must make someone pay also goes against the teaching and example of Jesus on forgiveness, in which he repeatedly makes it clear that forgiveness is not something extended only if or after some payment is made, but something offered without any required payment.  Here are just a few examples:

Luke 23:34 – Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.  Jesus asks God to forgive those who were crucifying him, with no requirement of repentance on their part, and this is before his death was completed on the cross.

Mathew 18:21-22 – Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.  Jesus instructs his disciples to offer unqualified forgiveness on an unlimited basis to all others.

Matthew 18:27 – And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.  Jesus tells a parable of a slave being forgiven a huge debt by the king, simply based upon the king feeling compassion.

John 8:10-11 – Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”  A woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned for her sin, being made to pay the price for her wrongdoing.  Jesus extends unconditional forgiveness to the woman with no reference whatsoever to wrath or penalty needing payment.

So, why do so many insist that God can only forgive humans if a sin-payment is made, in spite of the fact that this goes against the logic / meaning of forgiveness as well as the teaching and example of Jesus?

Again, it reveals the deep-seated assumption of “karma” – that “justice” is a balancing of the scales of the universe where all wrongs are accounted for in the heavenly ledgers.  This is a misunderstanding of biblical “justice” … what if scale-balancing is not the heart of justice, but instead grace, mercy, and shalom are?

What if the scales are balanced another way, not by “two wrongs making a right” – i.e., I do something bad so something bad must be done to me … but instead by every wrong being countered by an equally weighty “right” or good … of which self-sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion and the like are the good?

What if justice and scale-balancing are about “overcoming evil with good”?

Christ’s death on the cross is certainly atoning … in ways we may never understand, it removes sin and guilt and frees us and reconciles us to God.

And it is certainly substitutionary … Christ fulfills the covenant for us, living our covenant life and dying our covenant breaking death in our place and representing us to God as our covenant representative.

But it is not in my view “penal substitution” … God making Jesus pay for our sin so that he can forgive us.  Forgiveness is the choice to NOT make someone pay a debt owed … it needs no prerequisite to “make it possible”, it is a free gift.  Karma is the age-old, mistaken idea that forgiveness cannot be offered for free and that all wrongs must be paid for and all guilt must be punished.  This is neither an Old Testament nor a New Testament idea but rather an ancient deception by God’s adversary to malign God’s character and to keep God’s people in fear and alienation from him.

It is my deeply held conviction that the theology of Job’s friends is detrimental to the true gospel of Jesus. I don’t believe God punishes us for sin and I believe the Bible rejects this theology, both in the Old Testament and in the full revelation of God through Jesus. These notions of God are condemned by God himself as a misrepresentation of his nature by the end of the book of Job, calling into question the fundamental assumption that God must punish evil and wrong-doing in order to be God.God’s justice setting all things right and making all things new. He restores, not punishes, his mercy triumphs over judgement. God desires our wellbeing, just like a father desires the wellbeing of his children.

We must to reject ‘Christian Karma.’ 

Jesus did not take a bullet from God, but from us. We killed Jesus.

Shalom