Sunday, February 18, 2018

#5 God’s Main Desire for the World is the Realization of the Kingdom of God

Assuming that God created the world in which we live (but certainly not assuming that such creation was accomplished in six days some six thousand years ago), what was God’s reason for creating this world and what is God’s main desire for us humans who inhabit it?
God’s Purpose
In keeping with what we know of God through Jesus Christ and the witness of the Holy Spirit, we can say that God created the world because of love and only because of love. 
And God lovingly created this world with the purpose of there being a realm of existence filled with persons who would love God and each other. That realm is known as the Kingdom of God.
Yes, there are problems with the use of the word “kingdom.” It can be criticized for being “sexist” or archaic. Perhaps some other term would be better—such as “realm” or the creative word “kindom.”
But since “kingdom” has been used for so long and is still used even in most newer translations of the Bible, I have decided to stay with it—and to focus on what it means as an expression of God’s purpose for creation.
God’s Kingdom
In many Christian circles, there has been a widespread belief that the kingdom of God is mainly something coming in the future.
But I have long liked the both/and approach of Georgia Harkness in her book Understanding the Kingdom of God, published in 1974, the year of her death:
The Kingdom of God is both present and future; both a growth and a final consummation by God. It is our task and our hope—our task which we face with the power of Christ; our hope that the last word will be spoken by God and that that last word will be victory. The Kingdom means both acceptance and action, a gift and a task. We work for it and we wait for it (pp. 61-62).
This is consistent with the emphasis of Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), who placed strong emphasis on the idea that the kingdom of God is both here now and also coming in the future. “The kingdom is always but coming” is a (somewhat awkward) phrase he often used. 
Words of Walter Rauschenbusch
God’s Desire
If God’s main desire for creation is the realization of the kingdom of God, beginning now, it should be evident that God’s primary desire for us humans is not just the happiness of individuals (although that may be an important spinoff).
Much of Christianity over the centuries, perhaps especially in the United States, has been much too other-worldly and much too individualistic.
Other-worldly views of the Kingdom of God have not placed enough emphasis on life in this world and the responsibility of Christians to wrestle against sinful societal structures that harm so many people now.
Similarly, individualistic views of the kingdom of God means focusing on one’s “soul” being saved for eternal life in Heaven after death, with little concern for life in a community of love in the “here and now.
If we understand, though, that God’s main desire is the realization of the kingdom of God, beginning now and culminating in the realm beyond earthly history, then we are freed from the errors of excessive other-worldliness and of individualism.
Thus, one thing that everyone needs to know, and act upon, now is that God’s main desire for the world is the realization of the kingdom of God—beginning in this world now.
Next, we need to consider the primary characteristic of the kingdom of God, which is shalom (peace), the main topic of the next chapter.

[Click here to read the entire fifth chapter of Thirty Things Everyone Needs to Know Now.]

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Japan: 1868, 1945, and Now

It can easily be argued that 1868 and 1945 were the two most significant years in Japanese history. The events of 1945 are widely known, but let’s consider what happened 150 years ago in 1868.
The Significance of the Meiji Restoration
The beginning of Japan goes back to February 11, 660 B.C.E., when Jimmu, a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu (according to Shinto mythology), became the first emperor. Even now February 11 is observed as National Foundation Day, a national holiday.
As an island country, Japan long existed with minimal “foreign” influence, developing as a unique country and accepting only what it wanted from near-by Korea and China—and much later from distant European countries.
In the 16th century, merchants and missionaries from Europe arrived in Japan, but in the 1630s most Westerners and their influence (including Christianity) were expelled and kept out of Japan until the 1850s.
In 1853 American Commodore Matthew Perry and his “black ships” arrived, and soon Japan was forced to open to the West.
Only fifteen years later, the country that had been virtually closed for nearly 220 years made major changes, “modernizing” in order to compete with Western countries as an equal.
The pivotal year was 1868 when drastic domestic changes resulted from what is called the Meiji Restoration.  
In February 1867, 14-year-old Prince Mutsuhito succeeded his father, becoming the 122nd emperor of Japan. Since 1192 Japan had been under the political control of a shogun (military dictator), but in November 1867 the shogun resigned and in January 1868 the new emperor ceremoniously proclaimed the “restoration” of Imperial rule.
Then in April 1868, Emperor Meiji promulgated the “Charter Oath,” which dissolved Japan’s traditional feudal structure and established the legal stage for Japan’s modernization.
Kyoto (meaning “capital") had been the home of the Japanese emperor since 794, but the shogun had resided in Edo Castle since 1603. In September 1868, the Emperor announced that the name of the city Edo was being changed to Tokyo, or “eastern capital.” Emperor Meiji moved there the next year. 

The Rise and Fall of Japan
The modernization/industrialization of Meiji Japan was rapid and thoroughgoing, at least in its outward manifestations. The sweeping changes to become more like the Western (imperial) countries led to increasing expansion of Japanese territory.
Hokkaido, the large northern island of present-day Japan, was consolidated in 1869. Ten years later the Ryukyu Islands (including Okinawa) were annexed. Then at the conclusion of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan.
The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 was the first modern war in which an Asian country defeated a European power—and that war ended with Japan gaining control over Korea, which it fully annexed in 1910. Control over various southeast Asian countries followed.
What in Japan is called the Fifteen-Year War began in 1931, but the Meiji Restoration which had achieved so much for 75 years, came to a tragic end in August 1945. The changes of that fateful year were more dramatic and of more significance than those of 1868.
What about Japan Now?
After Japan’s remarkable recovery from the devastation of World War II and “miraculous” economic growth into a leading country of the world, Japan faces an uncertain future on this 150th anniversary year of the Meiji Restoration.
Economic conditions have been stagnant for many years now; the population is aging—and declining in number; and now there is understandable anxiety in the land because of the proximity to an unpredictable and potentially destructive North Korea.

Let us hope and pray that 2018 won’t become as significant, and as catastrophic, as 1945.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

TTT #4 The Holy Spirit is God’s Universal Presence in the World and is Not Limited to Those Who Know Jesus

Christians have traditionally understood God as being “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The first two chapters of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now [TTT] were about the “Father,” and the previous one was about Jesus Christ, the “Son.” Now we turn our attention to the enigmatic “Holy Spirit.”
Grasping at the Wind
Trying to understand the Holy Spirit is like grasping at the wind—and, indeed, the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma can be translated “breath” or “wind” as well as “spirit.”
Some Christians tend to think of the Holy Spirit being active in the world only after the resurrection of Jesus. This is largely because of Jesus’ promise of the coming Spirit (such as in John 15:26) and the events recorded in the second chapter of Acts.
There are many references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, however, and some even think that the first reference to the Spirit is in Genesis 1:2. (Is it the Spirit, or just the wind, moving over the waters in the creation story?) 
The Church’s creed of A.D. 381 spoke of the Holy Spirit proceeding “from the Father.” But in the sixth century, the Church in the West added one (Latin) word: filioque (“and the Son”).
That word became a point of division between the Church in the West (Roman Catholicism) and the Church in the East (Eastern Orthodox). But the eminent German Lutheran theologian Jϋrgen Moltmann rejects the addition of filioque—and for good reason (see his The Spirit of Life, 1992).
The Holy Spirit is linked from the beginning to the eternal Word (Logos), and not just to Jesus.
The Go-Between God
John V. Taylor, a distinguished Anglican missionary and theologian, was the author of the seminal book The Go-Between God (1963). Taylor convincingly contends that all of creation is a result of the movement of the Spirit and everything is related to God because of the Spirit.
That certainly doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of their relationship to the Spirit. But the Spirit is aware of everyone!
Here again we are confronted with the problem of the universal and the particular—and again I agree with Taylor when he avers that “the Holy Spirit is universally present through the whole fabric of the world, and yet uniquely present in Christ and, by extension, in the fellowship of his disciples” (pp. 180-1; italics in the original).
The Holy Spirit, we might say, leaves footprints of God all over the world, and people from all ages and in all parts of the world, to varying degrees, see those tracks.
The Spirit of Truth and of Freedom
Three times in the Gospel of John we find the words “the Spirit of truth,” and also according to John, Jesus declared that “the truth shall set you free.” Further, the Apostle Paul also declares that “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (1 Cor. 3:17).
In the first chapter, I indicated that “all truth is God’s truth.” It can also be asserted that because of the Spirit, all freedom is God’s freedom. Thus, the work of the Spirit can be linked to the core assertions of the theologians of liberation.
Black theologian James Cone, for example, avers that “God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is identical with the presence of his Spirit in the slave community in struggle for the liberation of humanity” (God of the Oppressed, rev. ed., p. 181).
Thank God that the Spirit, known uniquely through Jesus Christ, can also be known universally throughout the whole world!

[Please click here to read the entire fourth chapter of TTT.]

Sunday, February 4, 2018

On Not Watching the Super Bowl or (Much of) the Olympics

While I have no desire to put a damper anyone’s enjoyment of today’s Super Bowl or this month’s Olympic Games, let me share with you some reasons why I won’t be watching the Super Bowl or much of the Olympics.
What’s Wrong with the Super Bowl?
In January 2015, I posted an article titled “Super Bowl Idolatry.” I don’t need to repeat what I wrote then, although I would be happy for you to read (or re-read) that here. I still think about the same as I did three years ago—although now I am having serious thoughts about not watching any NFL games next season. 
One major reason for giving up watching football is the “violence” that is part of the game. In the first half of their last game of the season, it was painful to see Travis Kelce, the Kansas City Chiefs’ star tight end, get up wobbly and helped off the field after a hard hit caused his second concussion in three months.
So, in addition to my objection to the over-hyped, over-commercialized, “idolatrous” nature of the Super Bowl, also because of the violent nature of the game that injuries skillful athletes such as Kelce, who is just one of many, I will not be watching again this year.
What’s Wrong with the Olympics?
But what's wrong with the Olympics, whose participants are amateurs rather than over-paid professionals? Well, I’ve written some about that before, too, and I invite you to read “Questioning the Olympics,” the article I posted (here) on Feb. 15, 2010.
Added to the misgivings I had then, there is now the sordid story of the sexual abuse of U.S. Olympic female gymnasts by the team physician. More than 150 women accused the doctor of sexual abuse, but he was not sentenced until this year although charges against him go back to 1997.
And then there is the Tonya Harding story. I haven’t seen the new movie about her, but I do remember the sordid events involving her prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics. It seems that she was psychologically abused by her mother, partly to get her into the Olympics.
The pressure on (especially?) girls to get into the Olympics and to win a medal is so strong that psychological abuse is largely overlooked, and even the response to sexual abuse has been shamefully slow.
Isn’t North Korea’s Participation Good?
One of the noteworthy aspects of this month’s Olympic Games is the participation of North Korea. For athletes from both North and South Korea to march in together under one flag and for the Korean women’s ice hockey team to have players from both countries is remarkable and perhaps a sign of hope. But maybe not.
I would like to be as positive about this as the college student who wrote “The Olympic Truce: Giving peace a chance,” a Jan. 31 piece posted on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Sadly, I think that North Korea’s “Olympics rapprochement” is likely to be a “global scam,” as explained in this Jan. 24 article on The American Conservative website.
As you regular readers know, I don’t usually cite TAC (or agree with most of their articles), but I’m afraid the author may be right in this case: Kim’s action is likely “a ruse . . . designed to give North Korea more time to get to the only thing it really does want: a nuclear weapon.”

So, sadly, these are some of the reasons I won’t be watching the Super Bowl today or (much of) the Olympics this month. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

TTT #3 God is Fully Revealed in Jesus, but the Christ is not Limited to Jesus

This third article in the series “Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now” (TTT) presupposes the content of the first two articles, but reading those previous pieces about God are not prerequisite for reading this one.
How Can We Know God?
One of the basic assertions of Christianity, especially in its traditional Protestant understanding, is that knowledge of God is not due primarily to human effort. Rather, our knowledge of God results from God taking the initiative to reveal Godself to us humans.
God’s self-revelation took place primarily through Jesus of Nazareth, Christians claim. This means that the universal (God) is known primarily through the particular (Jesus) – an assertion that is sometimes called "the scandal of particularity."
This in stark contrast to the ancient spirituality of India—or to late 20th century New Age spirituality—which emphasizes that God, or some alternative designation such as the Absolute or the Eternal, is universally available to all persons and which, it is often avowed, exists in all persons.
Is there any way that the emphasis on the particularity of traditional Christianity and the universality of Indian religiosity can be brought together?
Perhaps that is possible by realizing that God is fully revealed in Jesus but that the Christ is not limited to Jesus.
Knowing God through the Logos
The first chapter of the Gospel according to John begins with the affirmation of Jesus as the eternal Word. That term is the English translation of logos, a term pregnant with meaning.  
Greek word logos.

In the Greek world before and during the time of Jesus, logos was considered in somewhat the same way as tao (dao) was in China and dharma in India.
So the first chapter of John begins with this statement of great significance: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
What is most significant, and problematic for many people, is the assertion that follows in verse fourteen: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
From this passage we are told that the universal is known in the particular, the eternal is known in the temporal, and God is made known through a single human being.
Further, John 1:18 states, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” God is fully revealed in Jesus.
Knowing God apart from Jesus
Is the logos, which can be legitimately called the cosmic Christ, limited to Jesus, though? Probably not. Even in the first chapter of John, there are the enigmatic words about the logos being both life and light, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (v. 9).
Yes, the Word (Christ) became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, but that Word is the eternal logos, understood, for example, as the tao in China and as the dharma in India.
The light of the logos/Word has enabled the Chinese to speak of Heaven, the Asian Indians to speak of Brahman, the Native Americans to speak of the Great Spirit.
If the Word is the true light that enlightens everyone in the world, there must be some (or considerable) knowledge of God which is not directly related to Jesus of Nazareth—although indispensably related to the eternal logos/Christ.

Not only is God greater than we think, or even can think, by means of the logos knowledge of God is also broader than most traditional Christians have thought through the years.

[Click here to read the entire chapter.]

Thursday, January 25, 2018

In Praise of a “Half-naked Fakir”

A tragic assassination occurred seventy years ago next week, on January 30, 1948. That was the day that Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed by a right-wing advocate of Hindu nationalism. This article is written in praise of Gandhi, whom Winston Churchill called “seditious” and a “half-naked fakir.”
The Life of Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869. He came to be called Mahatma, which is not a name but rather a term of respect. (“Mahatma is Sanskrit for “Great Soul” and is similar to the English term “saint.”)
After studying law in England for three years, Gandhi returned to India in 1891 but then two years later went to South Africa where he lived and worked as a civil rights activist until 1914.
The first part of the movie “Gandhi” depicts his struggles for justice in South Africa. (My respect for Gandhi was so great that I went to a showing of the movie on its opening day in Japan, where I was living in 1983; it is still on my list of “top ten” movies.)
Following the end of World War I, Gandhi began to protest Great Britain's control of India. By 1920 he was the leader of the movement for Indian independence, which he finally saw come to fruition on August 15, 1947—just 5½ months before his assassination.
The Work of Gandhi
The lifework of Gandhi was multifaceted, but perhaps of greatest importance is his role in leading India’s struggle for independence from Great Britain.
In 1930 he launched a mass protest against the British salt tax, including civil disobedience activities such as leading the Salt March to the Arabian Sea where they could make their own salt by evaporating sea water.
That march galvanized opposition to Britain’s rule over India, and it resulted in Gandhi and some 60,000 others being arrested.
In 1931 Gandhi was released from imprisonment and allowed to attend the Round Table Conference on India in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress.
Earlier that year, Winston Churchill had referred to Gandhi as a seditious, half-naked fakir. (According to Merriam-Webster second definition, a fakir is “an itinerant Hindu ascetic.”
Upon his return to India, and after being jailed and released again, Gandhi continued his work as the leader of the independence movement based on his core value: satyagraha (truth-force), which basically means non-violent resistance toward that which was considered evil.
Here is a picture of Gandhi in 1946 at an All-India Congress committee meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of India the following year. 
Gandhi’s long, hard, non-violent work led to India gaining independence in 1947.
The Influence on and of Gandhi
Gandhi was a Hindu, and remained so throughout his lifetime, although generally there is little difference between being Indian and being Hindu. But he had great admiration for Jesus Christ and in many ways lived and acted like a follower of Jesus.

A Methodist missionary to India has shared (here) these words he heard Gandhi speak:

I have a great respect for Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings.
As is widely known, Martin Luther King, Jr., was influenced by Gandhi and his practice of satyagraha.

There are many reasons to praise Gandhi, who, like King just 20 years later, was tragically assassinated in spite of his non-violent activities for truth and justice.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

TTT #2  The Better We Know God, the Broader and Deeper Will Be Our Understanding of the Universe and Everything in It

Ten days ago I posted the first of 30 articles of my not-yet-published book titled “Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now” (abbreviated as TTT). This article presents the gist of the second chapter, which is closely related to the first chapter but does not require prior reading of that opening chapter.
An Important Question
Many people seem to think that embracing a religious faith narrows one’s understanding of the world. Some people have even jettisoned religion because they wanted a broader worldview. Such people have viewed belief in God as a straitjacket that limits thought about the world in which we live. But are such views well founded?
It cannot be denied that some types of religion do limit exploration of, and acceptance of, a more comprehensive view of the universe than that has traditionally been held. There has long been, for example,  an anti-intellectual bias among some Christians. Such a position, though, is clearly a perversion of what Christianity is, or at least should be.
The Answer of the Early Scientists
Many people have held the widespread perception that “warfare” between science and religion has persisted through the centuries. But investigation into the true nature of the situation reveals that most of the early scientists in the Western world were people of deep faith in God.
As most of you know well, Nicholas Copernicus initiated a massive change in how people understand the nature of the universe. The Polish-born Copernicus (1473-1543) was a first-class astronomer, but he was also a Catholic cleric and an ardent believer in God.
The striking painting below is titled “Astronomer Copernicus: Conversation with God.” It is an 1873 work of the prominent Polish painter Jan Matejko.  
Is Theology the “Queen of the Sciences”?
There was a time, long ago, when theology was widely considered to be the “queen of the sciences.” It was so called because if God is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe from the beginning to the present and on into the vast future, there is nothing that is not related to God.
So theology, the study of God, must include everything since everything is related to God.
Because of various misunderstandings of God – mostly because of parochial views that failed to grasp the greatness of God  and because of a growing secularization which grew partly as a reaction against the narrowness into which religion had fallen, theology gradually lost its place as the “queen of the sciences.”
Now theology is even seen by many in the academic world as an unwanted stepchild.
Nevertheless, the attempt to know God includes the desire to know everything related to God – and as we have seen, the physical sciences were developed as a means not just to understand the universe better but also as a means to know God better. Thus, the study of God includes the theology of science and the theology of nature.
Rightly understood, the idea of theology as the “queen” of our human quest for understanding the universe is a claim worth taking seriously.
God and the Basic Virtues
In both Western and Eastern societies, truth, beauty, and goodness have long been understood as basic virtues. If we accept the “true thing” explicated in the first chapter, then we can consider the likelihood that God is the basis for all truth, beauty, and goodness.
So, it seems clear that the better we know God, the broader and deeper will be our understanding of the universe and everything in it.

[To read the five-page chapter of TTT #2, please click on this link.]