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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"In all the Ways You Understand the Holy ..."

“In all the ways you understand the holy …” that phrase ticked me off this morning.  I am now irritated!

I had clicked on a YouTube link to hear a Bible scholar lecture.  This must be from 2011 at a lecture on a seminary campus.  I don’t know which school and I did not look at the link.  For me the lecture was to be background noise as I puttered around my office. 

The person introducing the lecture said that before they began and the famous speaker came forward, they would have a moment of silence on behalf of what happened in Japan.  I assume he meant the March 11, 2011 earthquake.  He did not say, “Let us pray to the God of Heaven and Earth on behalf of those hurting in the earthquake and tsunami’s aftermath.”  He said, “In all the ways you understand the holy … let us enter a moment of silence.  Let us be strong.”

That prayer would be quite foreign to the Psalms that assert the God of Israel to be the Lord of Heaven and earth (like Psalm 148).  That prayer, “in all the ways you understand the holy” would never occur to Peter and John.  This is how they prayed:  “In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, get up and start walking” (Acts 3:6).  Can you imagine Peter fixing his gaze on the crippled man and saying, “In the ways you understand the holy, stand up and walk?”

The only way Peter understood the holy was as he met God in Jesus.  He knew all other power was impotent in the light of the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not only would it have been useless to cast up a vague, generic prayer, it would have been an affront to the God who came in the flesh. 

How does God feel when God hears someone, a faculty member at a theological seminary, say, “Let us have silence in all the ways you understand the holy?”  This is what gets me so riled up.  The seminarian studies theology and church history and spirituality and hermeneutics.  The seminarian knows how important specificity in addressing God.  The seminarian understands the distinct claim in the New Testament that God came in Jesus.

In the name of a distorted sense of tolerance and in the spirit of affirming all expressions of faith (which leads to diluting and ultimately emptying all expressions of faith), the seminarian, one who knows, sacrifices real pray in order to not offend.  In its place, he offers up a useless silence to a nonexistent unnamed deity who will do nothing and help no one. 

I wouldn’t get as irritated with a nonbeliever saying this type thing.  And maybe this guy on the seminary faculty is a nonbeliever or an agnostic or a Universalist.  But if that is the case, then he should not play at prayer.  He should not make a show of it.  God is too important.  The action of talking to God is an action with everything at stake.  We pray because the lives and the eternity of Japanese men, women, and children are at stake.  And Egyptians; and Syrians.  Prayer matters.  It matters too much to be tacked onto the front of a lecture in a way that ignores the reality of God and instead substitutes a lame, meaningless petition.  

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