As phrased by a friend, I “disappeared from the internets.” this is true and the best I can give by way of explanation is that this has been a very busy month of speaking engagements, social commitments, and a pronounced dearth of topics. This is not to say that there is nothing worth talking about, but that nothing seemed interesting enough to me to talk about. Most of my blog fodder comes in the form of good questions posed to me here and there. This last month has yielded very few questions. This week however the good questions have been piling up, though until now that pile has not been sufficient to outweigh my laziness.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nobody ever has nice questions. Everyone wants to talk about the hard stuff. I’m not afraid to talk about the hard stuff but after a while it gets a little burdensome. All this is to say I have greatly enjoyed my hiatus.
A few great topics have come to my attention which could use some discussing, God commanding the annihilation of the Canaanites, restorative justice with regard to the Church and the homosexual community, and tangentially gay marriage, shifting World-Church demographics, thinking about capitol punishment practically and theologically, and last but certainly not least gainers (obviously a Robot Dinosaur post). The one that finally tipped the scale and prompted me to get back to the keyboard was the topic of capitol punishment with regard to a recent and poorly executed attempt on the President’s life. However I have no desire whatsoever to dig into these topics without first laying some ground work.
At the risk of lowering myself to the feeble tropes of politicians, I will give an answer to the question I wanted you to ask. Why does it even matter for us, and specifically for Christians, to address questions like these? Most of the world seems very happy to function by the principle of, “unless it effects me I don’t care.” I didn’t live 4000 years ago so why do I care about the intricacies of a Loving God commanding exterminations? I’m not a high level Church leader let alone one with any power over policy changes so why should I care about the way the Church treats gays? I’m not gay and I can get married whenever I want so why should I care about those who can’t? Western dominance of world theology still has a few more decades left in it so why should I care that the balance of World Christianity is no longer white? I’ve never known anyone on death-row so why should I care who gets the rope and who doesn’t? Basically why should I invest the effort to step out of my immediate need and into the needs and concerns of others?
I was teaching a class not too long ago and we discussed this question several times in relation to other topics, and one of the ladies told me about her brother who lives by the philosophy of “benign self-interest.” This man refused an invitation to his niece’s wedding, which wasn’t very far away from where he lived, on the grounds that there was nothing in it for him and as such he had no need to go. Logically this is quite true. Nothing about attending his niece’s wedding would provide him with profit, make his life easier, or ensure his physical well-being. And yet any sane person will immediately identify this man as a colossal git, whose concept of living has little life in it. This is an example that clearly illustrates the difference between essential need and elective need.
I need food, water, and shelter to live. These things are essential to my survival. But there are elective needs I choose to foster that make surviving have a purpose. I need love, friendship, and a relationship with God to give survival meaning, but I can choose not to foster these needs by focusing only on my essential needs or selfish elective needs. If left to my own devises my instinctive desire to meet these elective needs will prompt me to at least a mediocre nourishment of them. But for me to truly live I must work to launch myself, sometimes at great risk, into the nourishment of these needs.
The early Church fathers were set in a context of dismantling idol worship among the pagans and found a strong argument in exemplifying God’s sufficiency, ie. His need for nothing. Pagan gods were very needy, always requiring placation and sacrifice in return for blessings with which they were always very stingy. This is very different than the atonement system required by worship of Yahweh. The Church fathers wrote extensively on the absolute self-sufficiency of God, who, existing before the universe, requires nothing beyond himself to survive. Without an understanding of essential need versus elective need it becomes impossible to understand God or the purpose of living.
God doesn’t need us or our love to exist or to maintain His full essence. And yet God has chosen to love us to the point of need. His need for relationship with us was sufficient for Him to sacrifice His own son for us. His need for us was sufficient to prompt Him to incarnate into wretched poverty and oppression in order to embrace all the struggle of the human condition. Through this willingness to invest in others completely He also entered into all the joy of this world and brought with Him all the joy of the next.
Thus it falls to us as humans, and most especially to us as Christians, to think not of entering what issues effect or intrigue us, but of entering into issues which most effect or intrigue others. We must not shrink from the questions or concerns of others but, in view of God’s elective need and love for us, we ought to elect to fling ourselves into whatever phenomena are relevant to the lives of others. Especially those different from ourselves. In so doing we expose ourselves to the risk of other people’s problems,struggles, and baggage, but we also open the doors to a flourishing of mutual love.
So, why do I care about discussing the above issues? Because I choose to, and I think God chooses to as well.