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Eve restored

I was reading an article about women in the Church today. And as I was talking about it to my husband afterwards, a thought struck me.

You know Peter, he of the three denials? Remember all those sermons you’ve heard about how Jesus said “Peter, do you love me?” three times, thus showing he was forgiven and restored to full relationship with God and no less than the disciples who had not deliberately denied Him three times?
Probably you do. It’s a popular theme, and a good one.

Here’s the thing.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.*

And then:

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”**

Eve brought sin to the world. And the Gospels, without exception, tell us that womankind brought the first news of the resurrection to the world. Forgiven, restored, no less than.

Truly,

there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.***

*Genesis 3:6, NIV
**Matthew 28:8-10 NIV; see also John 20:18, Mark 16: 7 and 10, and Luke 24: 9-10
*** Galatians 3:28

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Jesus on heaven and hell?

A dear friend (whose blog I thoroughly recommend) sent me the following words of Jesus in answer to my previous post. You can see her comment there. My reply is below:

Luke 16:19-31:
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

I’m not yet sure whether my friend is making the point that Jesus spoke of heaven vs hell, or some other point. But I’m going to assume the former for the sake of debate. 🙂

The interesting thing about this parable is the one thing Jesus does not say but we somehow assume he did:

Jesus does not specify that the rich man was a non-believer, or that the beggar was a believer of any sort. So this division into suffering and rewarded was not done on the basis of faith – at least Jesus doesn’t say so. And if he doesn’t say so, presumably that wasn’t the point of his story.

You could of course quite reasonably argue that as Jesus is speaking to a mainly Jewish audience, we can assume that his characters are all Jewish believers too. But even assuming that, we still have a situation where this is not about faith at all.

Now, the character of Abraham does specify that the rich man received good things in his life, whereas the beggar did not. I receive good things in my life. So do you, if you’re reading this. So do most Westerners, Christian and non-Christian alike. So is this parable telling us that you and I are going to hell, while many poverty-stricken (non-)Christians in Africa and India will be with Christ (or possibly Abraham) in heaven?

I hope not.

But more on that in a minute, first let’s look at a couple of other things.

– It appears that in Jesus’ story there could be communication between “heaven” and “hell”, which is something that most people’s mental version of heaven does not include – the ability to see our loved ones in torment? Or alternatively to see them enjoying themselves, from our own torment? Why does our vision of the afterlife not include these elements?
– What of the verses that state that Jesus went and preached to the souls in captivity, after his death? What was the point of that if, as the character of Abraham says, no one can cross over?
– The parable of the shrewd or dishonest manager almost immediately precedes this one. That’s the one in which Jesus appears to recommend acting dishonestly with our boss’s funds. Yet we Christians usually have a sense that we should avoid dishonesty in our business dealings. What’s the deal here?

The answer is obvious, and of course you’re way ahead of me already. Not every detail of a parable is meant to be analogical. Heaven and hell may not be exactly how Jesus describes them, but if the rich man can’t see Abraham or talk to him, the story doesn’t get to happen. And if Lazarus could cross over, the story might end there, or there would have to be some other reason Abraham couldn’t send him, so as to move it along to the final discussion, which is the essence of the parable. Parables are all about the punchline. Jesus’ point in the dishonest manager parable is to use our worldly wealth wisely – like the “pagans” do – because it will be of no use to us in the next life otherwise. And in this parable, the issue is not who is rich and who is poor – as Dumbledore might say, who you are is down to your choices, not your circumstance.

So here the clue lies in the final lines about listening to Moses and the Prophets, and, finally: “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.
Who is “they”? Well, the wealthy (perhaps powerful) brothers of the rich man. And by extension, the rich/powerful in general.
Convinced of what? Of the existence of heaven/hell? No, because Abraham originally responds that the brothers should listen to Moses and the Prophets, who were distinctly hazy about what happens in the afterlife, but extremely clear on how one should treat others, especially from a position of power. Some of those prophets even specified that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was in fact oppressing others (check out Isaiah 3) and being “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49)*

I conclude that this parable is about treating others how God commands, or perhaps about using our wealth to help the poor and needy. Not about what the afterlife looks like, or what happens if you don’t believe in Jesus, or even what happens if you are rich (or not). Many non-Christians treat others more like God commands than many Christians do (sadly, I can include myself in this rather damning report). Many non-Christians use their wealth at least as well as “we” do, sometimes better. This parable does not give us any reason to believe that God will shut “them” out of heaven while letting “us” in, because this parable does not mention faith but only *gasp* works.

Finally, we mustn’t forget the final punchline, in which Jesus accurately predicts that just as the rich and powerful of his day (and throughout history) didn’t listen to Moses or the Prophets, they would also not listen to him, even after his death and resurrection. What did he tell us after his resurrection? Well, interestingly he did not warn us against hell. But you can read it for yourselves in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20.

In conclusion, this parable does not prove or disprove the existence of a fiery hell for unbelievers. And I hate the idea that there is a clear, visible-to-us in-crowd and an equally clear and visible-to-us bunch of rejects. A “them” and an “us”. Something we can use to keep other people away from us, to declare them unclean, not-worthy, less-than. Jesus appears to have felt the same way, based on the company he kept and people he was willing to touch. Which is why I very much like the response given by Brian McLaren recently to a question on the current (post-death) whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden:

(…) I think OBL’s destiny is to face the living God who is ultimately and absolutely and beautifully just and loving. (…) Whatever is wrong and evil in OBL will, I believe, be named, exposed, revealed, and dealt with appropriately, in the perfect light of God’s justice and love. Whatever remains of God’s good image inside OBL will be distinguished from the rest and dealt with appropriately, again in the perfect light of God’s justice and love. Whatever from his story can be healed will be healed. Whatever cannot will be dealt with in some other appropriate way. Somehow, grace will have the final word. Somehow, love will win – not at the expense of justice, but through and with and in justice. Beyond that, I have no desire to speculate … only to live my life in harmony with God’s justice and love.

(You can read the whole post at his blog here.)

*The idea that sexual perversion was the main problem in Sodom comes from Jude in the NT – Genesis does talk about them trying to rape the angels who came to see whether their sin was as great as God had heard, but does not say that this was their only sin or even the main one. Even Lot doesn’t appear to think that rape is a problem per se, since he offers them his daughters instead, but rather that raping his visitors is inacceptable. Elsewhere in the Old Testament punishment is meted out for raping a woman, so the issue here is not necessarily homosexuality either. This is not particularly reassuring for us, since being arrogant, overfed and unconcerned is just as rampant in Western society as “sexual perversion”, if not more so.

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Happiness is…

Watching my four-year-old chase my just-turned-one-year old so he can snuggle her, then seeing her turn round and throw her arms round his neck delightedly.

Snow sparkling in the lamplight outside our bathroom window.

Time to do lots of reading (most recently John Ortberg “Everyone’s normal till you get to know them”)

Nutmeg having her check-up and MMR jab without crying or complaining at all, then waving her cookie happily at the doctor afterwards, as if he hadn’t just stuck a needle in her arm.

Froglet finding words for me to help him read wherever we go.

Lying on the floor with a happily-squeaking Nutmeg crawling all over me.

Froglet stroking my arm and saying “I love you Mummy”.

Nutmeg wandering about saying “yeah, yeah” and “oo-ah-oo”. If she says it fast enough, it sounds like wow.

Getting a little box to store paperclips in, complete with paperclips, as a free gift from the pharmacy. I’m always short of paperclips.

Watching Nutmeg dance to the strains of Cuban music.

Nutmeg following Froglet wherever he goes.

An elder brother’s love for his baby sister: “She is my little sister, Mummy. Don’t smack her.”
(For the record, I had no intention of smacking her. I must have looked like I was gearing up to it though!)

Going to our first German-language parent-teachers’ meeting to find out what school will be like for Froglet when he starts in mid-August. Evidently it will be wonderful. The Swiss are remarkably Waldorf in their attitude to education. (In fact the school down in our cantonal capital is named after Pestalozzi, who once worked in the canton).

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Conversation with Froglet

We had this conversation at bedtime after reading Guess How Much I Love You.

Froglet: I love you as far as the moon and the sun.
Mummy: I love you as far as the moon and the sun and back again.
Froglet: How much else do you love me?
M: I love you enough to make your breakfast, and make sure you have clean clothes, and wash your hair even when you don’t want it washing. How much do you love me?
F: I already said I love you as far as the moon and sun!
M: Well I said that too, but you still wanted to know more.
F (thinks carefully before answering): I love you as far as God.

One happy Mummy. 🙂

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Interview and baby

Questions from Vixx and Guiltyangel

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