“What we find when we read the story of the wilderness temptations closely is that Satan is not so much tempting us to disbelieve as to believe unfaithfully. Again and again, he entices Jesus to use God’s word against him, to claim God’s truth in a false way. And the same holds true for our temptations: Satan wants us to take God’s promises to mean what they do not in fact mean, so that we are confused about what we can and should expect from God.
Perhaps that is where we too often find ourselves: believing strongly — but in misunderstandings of God’s word. We trust God as provider, but rely on our own sense of need. We trust God as healer, but assume we know what health is. We trust God as deliverer and protector, but expect that deliverance to come on our own terms and in our own time. In these and in countless other ways we are so much of the time taxed by false expectations and bad desires, waiting on God to do what God is not going to do — at least not in the way we expect it to be done. And so we move from suffering to suffering, from frustration to frustration, from disappointment to disappointment, not because God is unfaithful, but because our expectations of God are stubbornly perverse. We have turned the bread of God’s promises into stones of distrust.
What are we to do, then? How do we right our expectations? We must contemplate the living God as he has made himself known to us in Christ. And we must give time for that contemplation to convert our imaginations, to free us from the illusions that blind us and from the passions that enslave us.” – Chris E.W. Green
[From Surprised by God: How and Why What We Think about the Divine Matters, pp.39-40. These short theological essays are devotional, wise, and challenging. I highly recommend this book for all.]
In our union with Christ we will be
clouds with life-giving rain,
trees bearing luscious fruit
and fountains of cold steam-water for thirsty travelers.
– Robert Richardson, 19th Century Disciples of Christ writer
I was invited to say a few words at a funeral recently. I was not very close to the family – which made it both an honor to be invited and also meant that I wast not involved in any of the planning of the ceremony. During the course of the service, many prayers were offered and many of them were directed towards the recently deceased. The helpless theologian I am, I couldn’t help but begin the mental conversation over this classic question:
Should Christians pray for the dead?
It’s vital to realize that this is a very personal and pastoral question, as well as a theological issue. While I was thinking this question over, I ran across the following thoughts about prayers for the dead from two classic Church Fathers:
Cyril of Jerusalem: “We pray for the holy fathers and bishops who have fallen asleep, and in general for all those who have fallen asleep before us, in the belief that it is a great benefit to the souls for whom the prayers are offered… In the same way, b offering to God our prayers for those who have fallen asleep and who have sinned, we offer Christ sacrificed for the sins of all, and by doing so, obtain the loving God’s favor for them and for ourselves.” [4th Century text on Eucharistic Liturgy]
John Chrysostom: “Let us help and commemorate them (the dead). After all, if the children of Job were purified by the sacrifice of their father (Job 1:5), why should we doubt that our offering for the dead bring them any comfort? … Let us not hesitate to help those who have died, and to offer our prayers on their behalf.” [Homily at the very end of the 4th Century]
What do you think about Cyril and John’s beliefs about the effects of prayers for the dead and the reasoning they offer for the practice?
What do you think: Should Christians pray for the dead?
Why or why not?
“With every generation, the church is in danger of extinction. There may be no church after the deaths of living Christians: those things that demonstrate what it means to be a Christian are always one generation from loss unless they are renewed by those who come next. Christian living, worship, the regard for Scripture, the demonstration of reading it – these are all practiced in partial view of the fact that those who will learn them today will teach them to others tomorrow. If there are no more learners, tomorrow will be absent the church of God.”
– Craig Hovey, To Share in the Body, pp. 29-30.
“The Gospel narrative is thus one in which Jesus takes on our sins. We are characters in this story, and Jesus is. Neither the Father nor the devil is. Thus the two classic theories of the atonement both go beyond what Mark offers us. In contrast to Anselm, Mark does not present a “Father” who accepts the death of his Son as recompense for human sin. If anything, Mark’s story would imply, as Barth says, ‘primarily it is God the Father who suffers in the offering and sending of His Son, in His abasement.’ At the same time, there is no devil in this story by whom we are entrapped and who has any legitimate rights over us.”
– William C. Placher, Mark (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible), 233.