Rocking the Boat: Random Thoughts on Faith, Church, and the Bible…

It has been months since I last blogged and since I am still near the beginning of the semester, I figured I could spare a few words here before my life becomes almost utter chaos (between my thesis research, internship, and three part-time jobs [TA, writing consultant, student life leader], I will be hard-pressed to find any free time).

It is my last year of seminary. I’ve said that several times and it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I guess I’m not sure it’s really supposed to until I graduate, right? It’s like in the movie Amazing Grace where William Wilberforce asks William Pitt after they’ve raced through Wilberforce’s garden, “Why is it when you stop running you always feel the splinters?” and Pitt replies, “It’s a lesson: we must keep going.” The reality of seminary ending will not likely hit until I have stopped writing the papers and reading the books.

But more on that later.

What has come to mind lately has been where I was when I started this journey. And no, it is not when I began seminary, actually. It goes much farther back than that.

When I met with my internship supervisor (Brian Doak at the Newberg campus of George Fox) right before the first Hebrew class, we talked a bit about where things had begun for me. He had asked me who my professor had been at U of O and I said it was Daniel Falk (now at Penn State). And then I told him how I even got started into Falk’s classes: by way of frustration with my Math 112 class.

Only the Lord knows how I even passed Math 111 when I failed the final (I think I received roughly a 56%), but somehow I found myself two weeks into Math 112 drawing countless circles that weren’t doodles, but instead serious attempts at calculations. Unlike any other math class that I had taken up to that point, I had even met with the professor in her office hours twice in the first week. And by the Thursday of the second week, I was ready to call it quits.

But I needed something to replace it; financial aid would not allow me to take 8 credits at the undergraduate level since “full time” was considered 12. So, at around 3 am (so technically Friday), I started browsing the course catalogues and stumbled upon the Religious Studies section. I knew at least one of my friends was in an Intro to the Bible class, so I thought I’d check it out.

It was completely full.

Yet I knew that the end of Friday was the latest anyone could drop classes and receive a 90% refund. And since I had just eaten an entire box of those Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies, which are loaded with sugar, I figured I’d be up awhile. My math homework was certainly not getting done. So I sat there hitting “Refresh” for maybe ten minutes when, lo and behold, the Red Sea parted and the Intro to the Bible class had an opening!

To this day, it was the fastest I had ever signed up for any class.

Ever.

And that was when this whole journey began. I took that class, then the subsequent Jesus and the Gospels in the following fall. And during my fifth year (or as I call it, the Victory Lap year), I took two more classes from Professor Falk because why not? It was during those final classes that I realized that while my major had been English literature, my true passion was studying the Bible. And I believed that my time studying the Bible beyond the normal weekly Bible study was not done.

Why do I bring all of this up? Well, the two afternoon coffees certainly help, but mostly because within the past two days, I have been reminded twice of a church experience that is difficult to relive. Sunday night I received an email asking about this post, which is my honest thoughts about the closure of Calvary Fellowship, my home church in Eugene for 5 of the 7 years I had lived there. And just yesterday afternoon, a fellow classmate and I chatted about Calvary Chapel and why Calvary Fellowship had split off from it (he had heard about it down in California). And like any break within a church denomination, it boiled down to a difference of opinion regarding key beliefs. This time, the two key beliefs were the doctrines of pre-tribulation (rapture) and inerrancy, the latter of which was the major one that I had experienced while at Calvary Fellowship.

Without going too far into the details of what happened that led to Calvary Fellowship’s final closure (honestly, some terminology that is used around “major doctrines” like these is triggering for me), it is enough to say that Danny believed the Bible to be God’s inspired word – the divine revelation that pointed to Jesus. Furthermore, any critique of the doctrine of inerrancy that Danny had had was not for the purpose of “bringing down inerrancy,” as he once stated in a sermon (by the way, that sermon was the one and only time Danny had addressed personal attacks on him and his family that were based off of his beliefs – I mean honestly, who should have to justify why they follow Jesus to fellow Christians?). Even in the final days of the church, we had plenty of members who disagreed with him on this belief, but loved the community that we had all helped to create.

Little did I know that, when I was listening to Danny defend himself to his own church based off of countless rumors spread about him, I would have a difficult time attending any church.

A year after we had said goodbye to Danny, who moved back down to California to take up a job that would provide for his family, I started gathering with other former members of Calvary Fellowship. I think it was only because of their presence that I was even able to sit comfortably in a church (without feeling like I didn’t belong). I haven’t been able to do so since.

In my one normal class, which is all about hermeneutics (“the art of interpretation”), we’re reading this book by Michal J. Gorman who describes the interpretation process as a spiral – we begin in one spot, circle by critique and deconstruction, and ascend upwards as we construct a new way of understanding the Biblical text. As I read those words I pictured a spiral staircase that essentially gets designed as it is being built (something akin to the staircases at Hogwarts). But I didn’t that it was an apt description of how it feels to strive toward a better understanding of the text as you both deconstruct and reconstruct along the way.

As I found out with Calvary Fellowship, deconstructing to reconstruct can feel like chaos. In fact, it can feel like a shipwreck – like a church closing its doors because a pastor dared to challenge a dominant view of the Bible, but do so in a way that was conducive to a healthy faith and spirituality. Interpreting the Bible often feels like sailing on a boat; sometimes it will be smooth and easy, but others it will be terrifyingly rough and it will feel like the boat is about to capsize.

This imagery of a ship at sea is deliberate: almost two years prior to Calvary’s closure I had written a post about why I had chosen to stay with Calvary Fellowship; because my little individualistic faith had become grafted in with the other members. Or as I had put it then, my little rowboat and been broken apart and pieced back together with the much larger ship of Calvary. So when Calvary was no longer a church, I had to reinterpret what my faith even looked like, let alone where I saw myself in the church.

Where my seminary comes into play is how it has provided a place where I can ask questions and not be afraid of not finding an answer. I can mull over things without feeling the pressure to produce a nicely-packaged response (but of course, there is always the pressure one feels right before a paper is due, but that’s a little different). The interpretive methodologies that I have learned thus far have helped redeem a text so wrapped up in religiosity (a word I often heard at Calvary; not even sure if it’s a real word). I feel more comfortable in exploring a text, especially after having learned its original languages.

As you might guess, I’m pretty excited about this hermeneutics class – not only because I might learn some new methodologies for interpretation, but also because it continues the journey that I began in a night of frustration with a college math class my freshman year. Learning more about the Biblical text is all that I really wanted to do in the first place. But now I can do so without feeling inadequate simply because I have a different method of approach or don’t have the “right” method (which is all that inerrancy really is: a method).

Because it’s okay to rock the boat.

Faith, then, seems to be a byproduct of how well we trust God when we don’t feel like we can trust anything else, like the Bible or the church. God is above and beyond all of that. In fact, no amount of prepositions accurately depicts where, when, how, or why God even is (I know, such an English major thing to say, right? Ugh.). God just is. And sometimes when we come to the Bible, that’s all we have to go on.

And that’s okay.

God bless.

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Embracing Mystery…

Having been in seminary for a little more than two months, I keep coming up against one realization: I don’t know very much. Compared to the average church congregant, I might know more about church history or theology or even about Scripture. But that doesn’t mean that what I think I know can’t be refuted or debated. It doesn’t mean I have all the answers – regardless of how I might feel from time to time.

After every new book I read, I’m led to two or three more books I feel I need to read in order to address the questions that came to mind in that first book. It’s like as soon as I think I’ve figured something out about God, someone asks a question or points something out that wrecks my previous view and I have to start over again. After a while, it becomes rather exhausting.

Although, there’s a difference between my studies now and my studies when I first became a believer. Not sure if it was the culture, the church, or just some belief I developed in my own head, but I had this idea that I had to find all the answers and be able to answer anyone who may question my beliefs. I felt I needed to be well versed in theological self-defense, giving a verbal round-house kick to every question that tried to shake my faith. Heretics near and far would fear my apologetics.

As ridiculous as this sounds, this was my approach. I came to Scripture not looking to be fed something that improved the way I treated my neighbor, but to find a verse proving my point in every argument. The problem with this mentality is that it treats Scripture like an answer book and God as though He could be caged in to our little theology boxes. And once we’re able to quantify and document Him, we’ll place Him on a shelf like a paperback novel that intrigued us for a moment, but that we eventually figured out.

What this leaves out is any capacity for mystery. We don’t allow ourselves to wonder, to allow a question to sit and season awhile. And we don’t allow ourselves to doubt.

“Such doubt is not the enemy of faith but an essential element within it. For faith in God does not bring the false peace of answered questions and resolved paradoxes. Rather, it can be seen as a process of ‘unceasing interrogation.’… The spirit enters into our lives and puts disturbing questions. Without such creative doubt, religion becomes hard and cruel, degenerating into the spurious security which breeds intolerance and persecution. Without doubt, there is loss of inner reality and of inspirational power to religious language. The whole spiritual life must suffer from, and be seriously harmed by, the repression of doubt. – Kenneth Leech, as quoted in M. Robert Mulholland Jr.’s Invitation to a Journey, pg. 148 (Emphasis mine)

Frantically searching the Scriptures for the answer to that disturbing question could mean we are running from, as Leech puts it, “a process of ‘unceasing interrogation’” – a process we may very well need to undergo. What does this process look like, though?

I think it varies from person to person, but I know that it isn’t intellectual laziness. Allowing room for mystery isn’t the same as thinking to oneself, “Well, I asked the question, but I didn’t get an answer, so I suppose it will forever remain a mystery.” Instead it is the unending search – even if no answer is found.

God wants us to develop the capacity for mystery and wonder; not to develop a perfect systematic theology that refutes all the “liberal” questions attempting to undermine our faith. “And if there is no room for mystery there is no room for God, because God is the ultimate mystery,” (Mulholland, 149, emphasis mine).

A capacity for mystery is more about resolve than anything else; never ending in one’s search for whatever God has covered up. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out,” Proverbs 25:2.

Embrace mystery and make room for God. Paradoxically, you might find your faith being strengthened.

God bless.

Wait… Where am I?

After being in Tigard for a little over two weeks, I think I have finally been able to settle down. My roommate has moved in, my room is entirely organized, and I’m keeping up relatively well with each of my classes. What I think I am now able to do since things have become less chaotic is figure out exactly where I am.

No, my geographical location is not what I’m talking about. What I really mean is, throughout the last two-ish weeks, I’ve been focusing on things like where to put my reading chair, how to organize my mini-library, and which frozen pizzas to get. With all those things out of the way, I can finally address the city and the community in which I now live. Every time I go to work at the Duck Store at the Washington Square Mall, I find myself saying, “Back in Eugene, we…” Yet I’m no longer in Eugene. Where I identify myself with has changed. Quite naturally, I feel disoriented.

In Eugene, I knew a ton of different people in different parts of town and almost at any given point I could send them a text or call them (let’s be honest, I sent them a text) and in minutes we could be hanging out. It isn’t as easy here – at least, not at this stage of the game. And quite like my physical community changing, my spiritual community has as well.

I haven’t yet gone to a church here in Tigard, despite one being right across from my apartment complex. And no, it isn’t because I had some falling out with God; the next three years at seminary would be pretty long years if that were the case. It’s been because I wanted to do exactly what I’ve done: get settled.

Proverbs 24:27 says, “Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” In context, I have absolutely no idea what this might mean. But how I see it with where I am in my own context, it means to get settled with being in a completely different city than what I’m used to, and then get involved.

On Monday I got to sit down with A.J. Swoboda to talk about where I’ve come from and why I’m here. At the end of our discussion, he asked me what I needed prayer for and in that moment I realized I really miss the faith community in Eugene. Not to say that it was better than what it is here – I couldn’t even begin to suggest that since I haven’t gone to a church yet. But to say that I grew really close to plenty of really good people in Eugene and they aren’t physically as close as they once were.

What I can’t overlook, though, is the plethora of friends I already have here in the Portland area. They’re friends I made while in Eugene (or Lincoln City) and will most likely be the people I start to branch out with in regards to a faith community. Until all that begins, though, I think I’m supposed to embrace the disorientation. I think I’m supposed to spend some more time in solitude with God in order to get my bearings straight. I think I’m supposed to wrestle with who I am and how I associate and identify with my new surroundings. I think supposed to find out firsthand what Abraham went through.

What can often happen in a time of transition is intense moments of nostalgia – constantly longing for a time that was easier. But it wasn’t easier. It only seems easier because it was familiar. Knowing that is crucial to growing in a new place with new people.

Wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and whatever you’re doing, soak it in.

God bless.

“Biblioblogging” through Seminary…

Something interesting happened on Thursday night during my Old Testament 1 class. We had just finished our last ten minute break (it’s a three hour class) and were each given a copy of a blog post.

Yup.

A blog post.

In a graduate-level seminary class.

Who wrote the post?

Peter Enns.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a big fan of Enns’ work. Whether or not one agrees with him, he at least has the courage to be honest in his posts. But more than that, he’s engaging. He’s a biblical scholar who teaches at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and yet he regularly writes blog posts that, more often than not, relate his academic work and studies with his faith in Jesus.

We discussed what Dr. Enns wrote in his post, which can be found here, and toward the end of the discussion, my professor mentioned how there ought to be more professors (and by extension pastors and seminarians) blogging. Of course this is no problem for me; I love to blog. But what it does mean is that the purpose of this blog may shift slightly.

A scholar like Dr. Enns writing blogs might not seem ridiculous, but, for those of you still in college, how many of your professors blog? How many people do you know blog? Chances are, not a whole lot of people.

Of course, blogs vary in style and content. There are fashion blogs, food blogs, Star Trek blogs, and especially sports blogs. This small space on the Internet acts as our place of intellectual refuge where we can share our thoughts and opinions without ever interacting with anyone who might think or feel differently. One blog written by a prominent pastor here in the Northwest has all comments closed. No questions. No discussions. Peter Enns, however, not only has the comment section open; he replies to a lot of them.

It was a little over a year and a half ago when he wrote a particular blog that spoke to me in a way that I needed. I was still in the middle of dealing with Calvary’s closure and Enns’ post, of which I forget the title, went a long way to help. I remember commenting on it, thanking him for writing it, and then asking him which seminary in the Northwest he would recommend for further studies. Not only did he reply within the hour, but he recommended George Fox (where I’m currently studying).

What does all of this mean for my blog? It isn’t a fashion, food, Star Trek, or sports blog, although I do occasionally write something on each (maybe not fashion; my sense of fashion sort of speaks for itself). For the most part, it’s a blog where I share about my faith. But what it’ll have to become, at least for this seminary season (but hopefully beyond), is what’s called a “biblioblog.”

A biblioblog is a fun word to say. It’s also a blog wherein biblical studies (and anything related) are discussed. What I’ve admired the most about Peter Enns’ blog is that he doesn’t try to separate his faith from his academic work. In fact, much of his faith comes from his academic studies – not that he never goes to church and only resides in his office, but that it is thought-driven. As he dives deeper into his study of the Scriptures, he draws closer to God.

My walk with God operates in a very similar fashion. If the doctrine of inerrancy hadn’t caused such a stir for Calvary Fellowship several years ago, then I don’t imagine my faith in God would have delved very deeply. In fact, I don’t know if I’d still be much of a believer. I’m sure I’d still be attending church and listening to sermons and Christian songs. But there wouldn’t be much beyond that. My “faith” would become like the seed that fell on rocky ground; it grew up quickly, but withered away when trouble came (Matt. 13:20-22).

In essence, I hope to share my thoughts and feelings as I draw closer to God by way of study. So as I work through my classes (“Indigenous Spirituality,” “Knowing Self, Knowing God,” “Introduction to Biblical Hebrew,” and “Old Testament 1”) I hope to share how God’s working through it all. What I really hope for, though, is to a create an online space of discussion where questions are asked and faith is shared.

I may not post as often as I would like  or really with any consistency (school and work come first). And I may write something you disagree with. But that’s a major part of this blog: To discuss faith in Jesus.

As the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-27) shows us, faith in God is every bit of an intellectual journey as it is a physical, emotional, and spiritual one. The tough part is to keep walking.

God bless.

Home on the Road…

About two years ago, a church I was a part of closed the doors and moved on to other things. Well, actually, we sold the building to another church and several members still attend, but for the most part, what we had with Calvary Fellowship is over. At the time that everything came to a close, I was somewhat numb to it all; I didn’t really feel the pain of the loss until some months later. It wasn’t until this past week, the beginning of my seminary career with George Fox, that I was able to figure out why.

At Calvary, I had a strong family of believers. They cared about what I was doing, where I was going, and, most importantly, how I was doing. It was a place where I felt more than known; I felt loved. In the months leading up to the closure, I knew that I would still be in communication with many of the members, so the family aspect wouldn’t really leave. What I didn’t know, though, was how much I’d miss the intellectual environment that Calvary also was.

Not everyone who went their was interested in theology. In fact, most people cared more about football than theology, which was totally fine. I love football. But what I loved about the atmosphere is that even if they didn’t give theology much thought, they wouldn’t think less of you if you happened to believe in something they didn’t. More often than not, they really wanted to hear what you had to say not because they were going to argue with you, but because they were interested in how you processed your thoughts. They were interested in how you interacted with Jesus with your mind.

Calvary Fellowship was a place where I felt safe to think in ways I hadn’t thought before. I doubt very much that I was thinking in ways that had never been thought before, but I knew I hadn’t done the intellectual exercises. When Calvary closed, I think I lost that safe place.

Sure, I was still meeting up once every other week with one of Calvary’s former pastors, but because both our schedules grew busier and busier, neither of us were able to spend as much time as we used to in studying Scripture the way we did at Calvary. We couldn’t have the classes that Danny taught, which beckoned us to see Scripture – and thereby see Jesus – through a different lens. We didn’t have the sermons that promoted communal involvement above communal self-righteousness. And we simply didn’t have as much fervor as we used to.

In the year between Calvary and Emmaus, I struggled to remain engaged with God on an intellectual level. Some might see this as a good thing because intellectualism is a bad thing anyway. But Jesus was clear; we’re to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And Jesus was very deliberate with His words.

Flash forward to a week ago, I was attending my first seminary class. And as I listened to my classmates’ questions and heard little tidbits about their experiences in communities where asking questions is almost shameful, I knew that I picked the right school. I knew that commuting for the first two days of class was worth it. And I know, full well, that I have found a home in seminary.

During each of my three classes yesterday, the professors took a moment to remind the class what George Fox is really all about: formation. One professor said that we could memorize all the answers, get nothing but perfect grades on the tests, but if we don’t emerge from this program formed more like Christ, then we didn’t achieve what George Fox’s primary goal is. The only time I’ve heard a similar message was when I was sitting in the pews at Calvary, listening to Danny share a story about Jesus.

Learning about God has less to do with answers and more to do with questions. When we’re given an answer, we don’t seek anymore. We don’t explore. We don’t put ourselves in a vulnerable position to trust God. We become one of the eleven disciples who stayed on the boat when Peter stepped off. But if we’re given questions, if our curiosity is piqued in some significant way, then we seek. We step out of our comfort zone of “knowing” and walk on the water toward Jesus.

Jesus said that if we seek, we will find. But He never said that how long it’d be before we found that which we sought. In our generation of instant downloads and live-streaming, we’ve grown to expect things immediately. So when we ask God a question, we expect an immediate answer. But God doesn’t work like Google; He doesn’t give us links to instant downloads of love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. Instead, He gives us a map of a journey we’re supposed to take in order to develop all those things.

George Fox Seminary is my map because it is a place where I am free to explore, free to step off the boat and walk toward Jesus.

What’s your map?

God bless.

Ever Present, Ever Patient God…

Not to steal the thunder from the mothers of the world or from my little sister who turns 20 today (Happy Birthday Jessica!), but today is also the day I was baptized. Eleven years ago in a small church in Lincoln City, I stood in swim trunks and a t-shirt in front of some 40 or 50 people (15-20 regulars, the rest visitors) on Mother’s Day dedicating my life to following the Lord. Last year I wrote a post reflecting over the ten years I had been a Christian and in that post, I mentioned how it felt longer. This year, I’ve been wondering why that is.

Believing and trusting in God has had an odd affect on how I think of the fourteen years prior to my baptism. Having grown closer and closer to the Lord over the past eleven years, it is difficult to remember those earlier years without seeing God in the picture. It’s like watching a highlight reel of all the significant moments of my life and finally noticing the Figure in the background, watching over the characters in the foreground. Instead of seeing a fourteen year-old kid sitting alone in his room with a pair of scissors pointing toward his chest, I see the strong, but gentle Hand gripping his wrist and pulling it away until he dropped the scissors.

Simply because I have acknowledged God’s presence for eleven years doesn’t mean He’s noticed me for only eleven years also. He was there all along waiting – waiting for the right moment when He knew I’d be listening, when He knew I’d be paying the most attention. God waited fourteen years just to have these last eleven with me. And He would have waited longer in order to have a shorter time. That is the kind of God He is.

Seeing God in all the horrible moments of my past, in a weird way, gives me courage. Sure, it beckons the question of why He was there during my worst moments, but did nothing to prevent them, but it also tells me He’ll be there when I experience even worse things. And perhaps if I think of those moments long enough, if I freeze the highlight reel and simply notice everything going on at the time, maybe I’ll see how He was doing something – how He was preventing even worse things from happening. Maybe I’ll see and recognize those moments, as Sheldon Vanauken describes them, of “severe mercy.”

Our ever present, ever patient God never stops waiting. Even after we’ve dedicated our lives to following Him and living out His ways, we get busy. We take up jobs and causes or we marry and raise families or all of the above and all our free time is spent on our to-do lists and projects. In these seasons God is often pushed to the back burners, often told – whether we realize it or not – to wait a little longer. But then bills start piling up or a loved one gets hurt and hospitalized. Soon after that some other bad thing happens and we start to worry how we’ll make it through. We become so fixated on what’s happening now that we forget what happened back then and we certainly don’t see how things will happen down the road.

In the past couple of weeks, I have felt that worry. As some may know, I am hoping to attend seminary in the fall of this year and what I’ve been wondering about lately is how much I’ll owe in student loans. And then I think of car expenses and medical expenses and credit card debt and I begin to feel suffocated by worry. Such a time is critical to remember God’s presence in past moments. If He was there that night when I wanted to end my own life, what reason do I have to believe that He would not be there to help me find a way to pay back the money I owe? Why do I have this unspoken belief that I’m alone in this?

God is waiting, even now, for us to turn to Him for help, for guidance, for peace. He doesn’t want to remove our problems and trials; He wants us to hold His hand as He walks us through them – as He helps us overcome them. Believing and trusting that He’ll appear in tomorrow’s highlight reels is tough. Seeing Him again and again in yesterday’s highlight reels, even before I was consciously aware of His presence, makes it a whole lot easier.

Worry, fear, and distrust are all natural emotions. When it comes to trusting God, we feel these emotions all the time because we’re learning how to let go of the control we think we have. We’re learning to wait on God instead of making Him wait on us. Our nature is changing.

This morning Scott shared a message out of John 2 focusing on the wedding at Cana. He told us a couple important pieces of information that aren’t really spelled out in the text. He said that wedding celebrations would often last a week or so, which meant that all the supplies (food and especially wine) would have to last that long. So when Jesus’ mom tells Him that the wedding’s run out, it’s safe to say she was a little concerned for the families involved; they would have both been embarrassed.

Of course we all know what happens next, Jesus turns a bunch of water into wine and saves the party. But, as Scott pointed out this morning, notice what Jesus says to His mom, Dear woman, why do you involve me?… My time has not yet come, (2:4). In other words, Jesus is reminding His mother who He really is and that His public ministry was not ready to begin. So when she tells the servants, Do whatever he tells you, she’s actually acknowledging that Jesus is going to help in His own way. He’s not going to buy more wine; He’s just going to make it.

In the midst of Mary’s concern (and presumably the concern of all those who knew the wine had run out), Jesus makes a lot more and makes it better. He responds to worry with celebration. We’re constantly trying to do things our own way and create our own realities as if we were J. Gatsby, but the real celebration – the one that comes free of worry or anxiety – is the one where God takes control. While we’re trying to create bread crumbs, He’s waiting with baskets full of bread loaves.

In 25 years of living, I have known God. It took 14 of those years to notice Him, but looking back I now know he was there all along. Now the trick is to remember He’s still there when things get crazy, when the wine runs out.

May we never forget God’s everlasting presence.

God bless.

“When the Helper comes…”

I know Good Friday (along with Easter) has come and gone, but my mind has been milling over something I picked up from watching Passion of the Christ. Scott, our pastor from Emmaus Life, encouraged us to watch the movie to help get a sense of Good Friday’s significance – to sense the depth of what happened, but, more importantly, why it happened. I’ve seen it several times before and every time its brutality simply makes me squirm.

What has been stuck in my mind since watching the movie has little to do with Jesus’s brutal death. Instead, it is something His death led to; it is something He says in John 14, but is said in a particular way in the movie.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:15-17, 26

In the movie this verse is modified to help speed the movie along (because Jesus can sure be chatty…), but there’s a way in which Jesus says it in the movie that stands out to me. Right before this passage, Jesus is talking about His departure, which quite obviously saddened His disciples. Yet when He talks about the Holy Spirit’s pending arrival, He seems to counter their sadness with overwhelming excitement at the Spirit’s coming. In fact, He was borderline giddy – like a kid on Christmas Eve.

In our Christian subculture, much of our language and literature is devoted to God or to Jesus, which is not a bad thing at all. But the One Whom resides in us, the One Whom Jesus was eager to see, is the Holy Spirit. We pray over and over and over about Jesus’s return, but yet how often do we remember the Helper has already arrived? How often do we take courage in God’s presence through the Spirit?

In Rob Bell’s latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, he raises this very issue – discussing God as though He were distant. Bell highlights the way in which we describe God’s presence, saying, “It was a God-thing,” or “That’s when God showed up.” Yet if we believe what Jesus says in John 14, that the Spirit will be with us forever, then shouldn’t we believe that God is always with us? Isn’t that the meaning to “Immanuel”? And if that is the case, which I strongly believe it is, then shouldn’t we be a little less worried and a little more confident?

Jesus’s excitement in Passion of the Christ has challenged me. I think Bell puts my challenge beautifully:

“The question, then, the art, the task, the search, the challenge, the invitation is for you and me to become more and more the kind of people who are aware of the divine presence, attuned to the ruach (essentially the substance of life in a living being; “spirit,” “wind,” “breath,” etc.), present to the depths of each and every moment, seeing God in more and more and more people, places, and events, each and every day,” Pg. 110

Christ was excited about God’s ruach coming into the world, into His church, His creation, for eternity. Such a presence, such a life force, will never leave us – not even at our own biddings:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Easter weekend wasn’t about getting our church fix until Christmas. It wasn’t about having the largest, most extravagant church service in the history of church services. And it wasn’t about buying a whole bunch of candy (that’s what the day after is for). Easter is about the entire event of Jesus’s torture, crucifixion, death, three-day burial, and decisive victory over sin and death by resurrecting from the grave. This is what Paul meant when he said, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” (Romans 8:37, but 8:31-39 for full context).

Easter means that if we love and trust God through His Son Jesus, then we’ve received the promise and seal of the Holy Spirit – forever marking ourselves that we belong to God. God and God alone has the power to give life, which means that even if we die in this world, we will rise in the next, following Jesus’s example. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

God is with us in the exciting moments and the boring, the good and the bad, the rich and the poor. He shares in our joy and in our pain. He weeps with us, laughs with us, cries with us, and rejoices with us. Since His Spirit resides in us, He knows what we think and feel. Therefore there is never not someone who can relate to us; we are never alone. Even if everything we ever had and everyone we knew and loved was all taken away from us, we’d still have God. We’d still have more than enough.

That is why Jesus was excited.

God bless.