But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
I would be very interested to read your comments on this article, Frank Viola’s interview with Greg Boyd:
It’s a lengthy interview, in which Greg discusses some of the ideas in his latest books, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and its shorter version Cross Vision.
The principal argument of Boyd’s work is that when you read the whole Bible – specifically the Old Testament – through the lens of the cross, all kinds of problems we have with the picture of an angry, violent OT God can disappear. In Boyd’s words
On the cross, God stoops to meet us, and to enter into solidarity with us, right where we are at, which is in bondage to sin and to Satan. And he does this to free us and to bring us where he wants us to be, which is united with him in Christ. The cross is thus the paradigmatic example of God mercifully stooping to accommodate people in their fallen conditioning.
In a similar way, every time we prove ourselves incapable of living up to God’s ideal behaviour, God will Himself “stoop to accommodate” us. This even extends to allowing Himself to be portrayed in the Bible as something other than His “true” self, because culturally His people have been conditioned to believe that this is what a god is “supposed” to look like.
In fact, many passages that exalt Yahweh as a warrior contain phrases from songs that Israel’s neighbors sang to their own warrior deities. The biblical author just switched out the name of the pagan god and replaced it with Yahweh.
After reading the whole interview a few times I’m left with several thoughts. The first is that I want to read Cross Vision, and understand the reasoning – scriptural, cultural and logical – that lies behind Boyd’s claim. Because I very much want this to be true. To finally have a solution to one of the most troubling issues of Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) faith would be beyond exciting.
And that leads me to my next thought, which is that when something seems to be too good to be true, it usually is. This lens of the cross, while on the surface it seems totally Biblical, is surely just too simple. I find myself returning to Isaiah 55.
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
And the most troubling thought of all is this: if I can use God’s “stooping to accommodate” as an explanation for the particular “atrocities” mentioned in the book, why can’t I use it to explain anything at all that I don’t like? And how can we tell the difference between the times that God is pleased with an action and the times that he is accommodating us? And how does this then apply outside of scripture, in our daily lives? What can we trust to be God’s genuine will? Do we just follow the 10 commandments and for everything else do our own thing, confident that God will accommodate us?
There are answers to these questions, the simplest one being that if the Holy Spirit dwells within us we can have confidence in what He says to us. But nevertheless I think Greg Boyd’s ideas are just as likely to unsettle as to comfort us, and if I can be sure of one thing, it’s that his books will not end the debate about the “Old Testament God”.
But I’m very much looking forward to reading more.
I often ask God to speak to me. My requests become more frequent and more yearning as years go by. I try to filter out distractions like the world around me and my own myriad of thoughts, but most of the time I fail. It’s not a bad second best to rely on the ‘straightforward’ text of the Bible, and on the teachings I receive from various sources. And when I pray, although it usually feels like a monologue, I know that in my own description of situations and questions about them, in seeking to understand how to respond to life, God often puts the answer right onto my tongue or into my mind. But sometimes I don’t want to approach God with my own agenda, I just want to sit down and listen to what He has on His mind for me.
Sadly I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve experienced His direct intervention shaking up my thoughts. Probably I shouldn’t be sad. I should be grateful to have experienced any interventions at all, and I should be thankful for the way He ‘indirectly’ directs my life. I don’t have to feel His presence to know He is there, subtly guiding me, at all times.
Recently I’ve been redoubling my efforts to foster the right environment to hear His voice. Yesterday as I decluttered my mind and invited Him in, an image faded into view. I can’t be certain that it wasn’t my own idea, because I had watched my first live Test Match a few days earlier, and the image was a cricketer, but if it wasn’t God who put the image there, He certainly used it to remind me about some sacred truths.
Image credit: http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/shed-59131
The first thing I noticed was that he was a batsman. As I saw the protection he was wearing, in particular his helmet, and the bat which could be used defensively like a shield or offensively like a sword, I thought about the armour of God…
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Then I saw that the batsman was surrounded by close fielders, which told me that the bowler – who I couldn’t see – was a spinner, and that his deliveries might swerve and bounce in any direction to try and fool the batsman…
Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
who have left the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.
I had the sense, too, that this was not a specialist batsman. He was most likely a bowler who had come to the crease towards the end of the innings, and so was weak and vulnerable…
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Ultimately, this batsman’s most likely aim was to keep up a strong defence, stand firm while his teammate tried to make the runs for victory or while his team sought to play out the remaining overs for a draw…
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13
I’m sure that if you’re a Christian who enjoys cricket you could find many more analogies between the game and spiritual life, but I don’t want to labour the point, rather just describe the thoughts that came to my mind immediately. Wherever the image came from, I’m thankful that God has used it to remind me about the patience, resilience, wisdom and strength He has given me, and my duty to use those gifts for His glory.
I’m very impressed with Frank Viola’s analysis of this well-known piece of scripture. Please check it out…