Friday, 16 April 2010

Everything's not lost

I'm reading Tim Keller's The Prodigal God at the moment. It looks in depth at the story of lost son(s) in Luke's gospel, which I led as a bible study on camp this week. When I have doubts about the Christian faith, I find I always come back to the person of Jesus and I just cannot ignore him and the things he said - this parable and Tim Keller's comments on it are reminding me why.

"Here, then, is Jesus's radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life..."
"... We must admit that we've put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things. (p. 78)"

I love how Keller makes it clear that doing good things is not the same as having a relationship with God, and that self-sacrifice is often no sacrifice at all - often we do good things only for rewards or reputation, or for God's blessing or so we can make demands of God (like the elder brother with his father in the parable)... We do not do things for the sheer beauty of them, or because we love people or because we want to please God as the end in itself. 

I think Keller's comments on the elder brother in the story, and the cost of forgiveness are particularly striking.

"There are many people today who have abandoned any kind of religious faith because they see clearly that the major religions are simply full of elder brothers. They have come to the conclusion that religion is one of the greatest sources of misery and strife in the world. And guess what? Jesus says through this parable - they are right....  In his parable Jesus deconstructs the religiosity that is one of the main problems with the world. In this parable Jesus says to us, "Would you please be open to the possibility that the gospel, real Christianity, is something very different from religion?"..."

- because Christianity is about the father, pleading for the elder brother to come in, running to welcome the younger brother home... and it is about the elder brother who is not mentioned:

"Over the years many readers have drawn the superficial conclusion that the restoration of the younger brother involved no atonement, no cost. ... That is an oversimplification. ... forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting forgiveness. ... The younger brother's restoration was free to him, but it came at enormous cost to the elder brother. ... But Jesus does not put a true elder brother in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost. It is heartbreaking. The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead. But we do not. ... Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place."

I don't usually write overly Christian-themed posts on here - they usually get written elsewhere - but this book has really given me a way to approach how I look at lots of other things that have been going round my head. 

I've also been really enjoying Matthew Paul Turner's blog, Jesus Needs New PR. I like it because he's a Christian, but finds christian culture mostly cringey like I do, and likes to laugh about it. He also writes about things that lots of Christians try to avoid talking about or explain away, and he writes in a way that doesn't make out that he has all the answers.

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