This week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE question looks back at the text the Good Book Club had assigned for Sunday. In it, we find Jesus caught up in several different theological confrontations. It began with some wondering if Jesus was harnessing the power of Beelzebul to cast out demons, and somehow, devolved into a series of “woe to yous” against the Pharisees and canon lawyers. Our question comes from Jesus’ strong rebuke of the lawyers, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not life a finger to ease them.”
What burdens does the church carry or load on people today that it needs to ease?”
This question came to mind last night and again this morning as I reflected more and more on that most famous line in
motor racing the Bible, John 3:16. It seems there are two starkly contrasting ways in which this passage can be used. One camp reads “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” and focus on the perish bit. They read this as a pronouncement of God’s judgment upon those who do not believe. Specifically, and quite often, a judgment upon those who do not believe exactly as they do. It is, I would argue, the burden the church has carried since the Enlightenment. As knowledge became the idol and the ideal, more and more religious leaders have focused on the modern equivalent of hand washing routines; getting bogged down, most often, in a specific theory of atonement as the means-by-which-Jesus-saves-us-hands-down-and-to-question-is-to-be-of-Beezebul.
Others choose to read John 3:16 and focus on the love part. The action of God sending the one and only Son wasn’t meant to be an action of judgment or condemnation (cf. John 3:17), but was an act motivated by God’s steadfast love. The measure of belief isn’t one of intellectual assent to a prescribed set of theological tenants, but rather one of relationship. To gain eternal life doesn’t require one to believe in every jot and tittle of Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory, but rather, to believe in God’s never-failing love, to place one’s trust in it, and to live one’s life as a means of sharing it. Eternal life, then, isn’t something we gain access to when we die and are judged worthy, but rather, it is something we are invited to take part in creating. Eternal life is life in the Kingdom of God, and that life is readily available everywhere the goodness of God’s love is believed and enacted.
So, what burden does the church carry or load on people that it needs to ease? Well, it seems in a tradition that prides itself on having learned clergy and a well-educated laity, is to get out of our heads, roll up our sleeves, and believe the Kingdom of God into existence wherever God has called us to be.