Thursday, July 27, 2006

Grace and Justice in Society

I was at a friends how the other night playing poker (gasp!). One of the things I love about poker is that it is so interactive. If you are simply playing for chips, or even nickel and dime poker, you can have several hours of great fun getting to know people more deeply for less than the price of a movie with popcorn.

Regardless, this blog is not about the poker game but the conversation after the poker game. It was great. It was political. It was great because it was political. I think that the devil (forces of evil, etc.) have scored a great victory in defining polite conversation. What two topics are off limits in polite conversation: Religion and politics. These are are two of the most important subject a group of people could ever talk about. Our relationship with God and our societal relationships with each other. By moving religion and politics out-of-bounds, we have virtually ensured that we will continue to have greater conflict and deeper misunderstanding because we can't or won't discuss two of the things at the very roots of our lives.

So the game ended and the conversation turned to politics. The political leanings of the people around the table varied significantly. I will probably talk about my own political leanings at some point. Not tonight, however.

One person at the table said he was a Democrat because he believes that they are more grace-filled. Bear in mind that this is a table of Lutherans. We believe that the three cornerstones of our faith are grace alone, faith alone and scripture alone. So his following the party that seemed to offer more grace into people's lives makes sense.

Here is my struggle: is 'grace' the proper posture for a government? Will a grace-filled government lead to a more grace-filled society or to a more chaotic society? In the sphere of Christian faith, individuals are absolutely called to -- even obligated to -- be grace-giving toward others because of God's grace to us. Is this the sphere in which the government operates, however. This especially needs to be thought through in a country like the U.S. wherein the government is constitutionally prohibited from establishing a religion.

My current thinking is that grace is not the government's job. The government's job in the US is to protect us from external enemies and maintain justice within our country irrespective of a person's color, creed, social status, etc. I would call on people everywhere to be gracious, to feed the poor, etc. But to do it voluntarily. As soon as we, the citizens, recruit the government to do our charity (that is our loving of others), it ceases to be love because it is compelled. By using the government to feed the poor, we institute a system of compulsory charity (an oxymoron if I've ever heard one). It is possible that this compulsory charity actually makes our society meaner. Instead of people having to face the poor among us, we can be sure that there is a program somewhere to care for them and as long as we pay our taxes we are doing our part. Instead of having to think about others and make decisions about charity (about love), feeding the poor becomes one more deduction on the pay stub, not worthy of consideration because there is no choice in the matter any way.

Criminals are another matter for another time.

May you recognize God's blessings in your life.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

BOOK: "Rumors of Another World" by Philip Yancy

Just finished reading "Rumors of Another World: What On Earth Are We Missing?" I really enjoyed it. It's sort of a post-modern look at natural theology (natural theology is discerning the existence and character of God simply through our observance of thing in an around us and without primary reliance on any sacred scripture as authoritative).

Unfortunately or fortunately, I have a fairly skeptical nature. This often pokes at my faith. In "Rumors," Philip Yancy takes a look at what we see in the world to see if it matches what the Bible teaches. He also looks at several "natural" phenomena -- such as sex, guilt and altruism under horrific oppression -- and sees in them rumors of the spiritual world around us which is not available to direct observation.

One great point in "Rumors" is how to view the commandments of God. If we live a purely materialistic existence, many commands of God seem on the surface to be dictates of the cosmic killjoy. If we only look forward to our spiritual existence in heaven, then we are putting off today's pleasures for tomorrows joys. Yancy's assertion is that this is generally a false dichotomy. God's instructions come to us not only -- or even primarily -- as rules defining sin but more as instructions toward the best life. God made sex. God wants us to have the best sex possible. Sex is best experienced in marriage. Guilt (properly) is a sensitivity in our soul alerting us to areas of brokenness or weakness just as pain in our physical bodies is a gift from God that keeps us from damaging ourselves further. God's instructions bring the best life in every sense, not just in the 'spiritual' sense.

The end result of this book is Yancy's assertion that we need to see life with "stereoscopic vision." The question is not whether earthly live matters more or heavenly life matters more. They are both intricately intertwined. We can see this when we have eyes to see. Both worlds exist. Both worlds matter. We live in both worlds right now, even though we see one with our eyes and one with our spirits.

I highly recommend "Rumors of Another World" by Philip Yancy. If you are in the area, you may borrow my copy.