A Theology of Forgiveness: Hope, Sin, & Humanity

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I’ve spoken and written a disproportionate amount on what forgiveness is not. And for good reason. I have found that on a fundamental level, many Christians around me do not know what it is. The term has been loaded with inadequate, vague or simplistic notions that end up oppressing those severely hurt by evil, preventing the Christian community from being lights in a dark world while becoming obstacles to true forgiveness. And this is more than tragic because forgiveness is part of our birthright as Christians, it is the gift of Christ within our hearts that we can give freely to those around us. It is a powerful weapon we all have within us to fight the powers of darkness. It is a visible proclamation of the Kingdom of God over and against those with a zero-sum conception of power that simultaneously invites them also into new life or condemns their continued rebellion against God.

When we hollow out the term “forgiveness” and replace it with merely “letting go” (of what?), not being angry or making friends with vicious predators, abusers or those who, for whatever reason, wish to continue to hurt us or our loved ones, we functionally support a kingdom of unrighteousness, injustice, and social system where might makes right. Ironically, by insisting that an abuse victim “forgive” the man who just raped her 5 seconds ago, we have despised the Son of God who stood up for and became one with the abused. We have heaped inappropriate and oppressive burdens, and messages on targets to not bother us with their pathetic cries of pain, desperate pleas for solidarity and desire for a world of true peace where they are seen, heard and safe.

Instead, we have opted, inadvertently, to maintain the hold of the one who thinks they should be in the place of God and that they have the right to mangle, warp and rape the image of God. And ironically, by our own simplistic understandings of forgiveness, and like the servant in the parable of the forgiving King, we have refused to “forgive” targets of abuse for sins the perpetrator and community committed. That is, we have insisted targets pay in full a debt they never accumulated both making them reconcile or make right the sins of the perpetrator and by wrongly insisting they harbor a “sin” of bitterness in their trauma thus releasing the rest of us from the responsibility of setting right what we allowed to happen or placing the task of restitution squarely on the one who exploits. We the community further abuse targets as we project onto them the labels of “bitter,” “unrepentant” or “unforgiving.”

That said, before I get further into a theology of forgiveness built off of how I understand biblical teachings on forgiveness, out of necessity, here are some things which forgiveness is not: limited to the ambiguous “letting something go” (the PTSD & traumatized brain will replay the wrong over and over again and this is a brain change and injury not a heart problem), reconciling, enabling further abuse, putting oneself or others in harms way, becoming unjust, denying, pretending or conveniently forgetting something happened rather than do the hard work identifying or sorting through the wrong, always a one time instance that magically makes all the trauma go away, lack of consequences on many levels, automatically restoring one to their original status, remission of ingrained habits and patterns, or impersonal or purely distributive. Additionally, note that forgiveness is one of many things Jesus did AND not everything Jesus did falls under the term “forgiveness” i.e. reconciliation may be related to or made possible sometimes by forgiveness, but is not itself forgiveness.

And now we turn to forgiveness: what it is, why we do it, and how it can be accomplished.

Forgiveness

What is forgiveness? Forgiveness may be defined as, “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” This is not a bad definition. I prefer the following based on how I understand the Scriptures: “Forgiveness is giving up one’s right to hurt another for hurting you. That is, it is forfeiting malice, hate and revenge for specific wrongs committed (whether by commission or omission, on accident or on purpose).” If the conditions are right, forgiveness might serve as a starting point enabling reconciliation, restored or new positive relationships, or, at the very least, prevent a spiral of vengeance on top of vengeance. And if anything, forgiveness as an outworking of the fruits of the Spirit identifies those who are in Christ or are responding (even progressively) to the Spirit’s work.

Forgiveness is rooted in God’s goodness and love that embraces all people without exception. Hence human dignity, value and accountability are also embedded in the forgiveness process and are key to justice. Legal Justice (in a just society or organization) may still hold you accountable for murdering my nephew to ensure more murders do not happen and to identify your behavior as wrong, but I will not be killing yours as payback. You may spread lies about me to my neighbors, bear false witness to authorities or try to tear be down, but I will not do the same towards you. I will not seek to tear you down nor undermine you, I will instead seek your good ‘and’ speak the truth. You may not deserve anything from me, but I did not deserve anything from Christ. I have been given a gift and a new way of living and so I give this gift to you and invite you to join me in doing the same. You grabbed for power, sought to harm and lacked compassion and restraint. I will act out of love, mercy and grace even while still hurting and even when there is no justice or safety for me. I will do this even while seeking safety and well-being for myself. Martin Luther King Jr lived by this while facing abuse, death and racism. Still, he consistently sought “constructive ends” over destructive ones towards those who sought to harm him in a context where he could not get justice for death threats, beatings and murder. He both lived and died by the Gospel of peace both seeking justice and exercising forgiveness while looking ahead towards God’s reconciling work that was possible in even in his time.

A necessary component of forgiveness is identifying, illuminating or voicing the wrong committed internally and ideally, externally. One must recognize a wrong has committed in order to forgive it. This may occur in an instant or over a “pilgrimage.” Many abuse survivors enter into the process of forgiveness as they spend years figuring out what was done to them in the first place, declaring forgiveness anew as new layers of pain and injury are recovered. Additionally, sometimes hurt comes up again and for some this hurt can start to sow bitterness (best not to assume pain = bitterness) and one simply needs to forgive again. To feel these things are not sinful, but they can become so if they are not put under the power of Christ and re-purposed. Forgiveness is both a spiritual battle and a sacred process as one embraces safety in Christ, while delving into moments of pain, suffering the material reality of being unsafe.

Naming the sin empowers those who are injured because it identifies it as something wrong done to them. It is a step in the right direction of justice. Enabling the target to vocalize the wrong committed allows the one who was wronged to stand up straight and say: I am a someone, a person who is worthy of respect. I matter. As such, there are constraints on you to act rightly towards me. Its important to allow this publicly because it also marks a change in community values from protecting the perpetrator to the reintegrating and coming alongside the one wronged. The basis of this ability to name or illuminate the sin is the imago Dei, just as it is also the basis for forgiving another.

In Matthew 8 for example, where it speaks of forgiving one’s brother 70x7, it also says in v15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault…” and includes layers of others gradually getting involved if the person will not stop their behavior. The immediate basis for this in the text, is God being on the side of the “little ones,” taking great pains as a shepherd to not lose even one, and it being better not to have an eye if it will cause one to stumble. In turn, since God takes great pains to care for, protect and restore his sheep we are warned against doing the opposite to the vulnerable: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” In other words, God is watching and refusing to care for those who are vulnerable or outside the circle will not go unnoticed.

God’s Word further conveys the necessity of one who wrongs another having to face the wrong committed (and not sweeping it under the rug) with this command: “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matt 18:17). In other words, those in charge and the community are not to support or buddy up with the perpetrator in order to display an unbiblical form of “grace” or “forgiveness.” This is called marginalizing the target and promoting injustice. This is not what Jesus did when he ate with tax collectors and prostitutes (the underdogs of society). Rather, the community and leadership are told to visibly side with the target or one wronged and not associate with the one who demonstrates 1) they will not acknowledge their specific sin or 2) change their behavior.

Interestingly, in Revelation 2:20 the term for “forgiveness” is used, but in such a way as to indicate how one should not exercise forgiveness. Note, ἀφεῖς or “forgiveness” is the term used in many other passages on forgiveness (cf. Mark 11:25, Matt 6:9-15, 12:31-32; 18:15, 21-22, 27; 26:28…ect). In Revelation 2:20 the church has “forgiven” or tolerated very wicked behavior, in this case idolatry and sexual immorality, from a false prophet Jezebel who was given opportunities to repent, but wouldn’t.

But I have this against you: you ἀφεῖς that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.

We have multiple indications that a biblical practice of forgiveness is not “wiping the slate clean” or “forgetting” the wrongdoing of someone who persists in sin. The community is not to act as though no wrong is committed when it continues to be committed or when there are not concrete indicators (described above) that the person has repented. “Forgiving” in this unbiblical manner will continue to influence others. In the case of ongoing abuse, one also has a person to defend, protect and restore on top of not allowing someone who will not repent to keep doing evil. Part of what forgiveness is involves the community publicly siding with what is right and with the one who is vulnerable and not publicly acting as though no wrong has been committed in the name of peace. Doing so is not promoting peace, but saving face at the expense of others, and it is acting against God’s expressed wishes.

Further, in my opinion, it is a good idea for a target not to associate with someone who demonstrates perpetual, targeting and destructive behavior towards them since we are told not to associate with those who persist in rebelling against God who call themselves believers, but also because doing so puts you at risk and may serve to further allow them to abuse you. From another angle, don’t help them sin! Limit contact as much as is safe and possible. Unfortunately, this is often not possible when you are not kept safe by or kept safe from the wider community when they side with the perpetrator in their actions.

Truth telling and the naming of sin is necessary for the good of the perpetrator(s). Jesus said, “the truth will set you free,” in the context of his identity and connection to the Father (John 8:32). In this passage, he is referring to those who have held to his teachings and are not enslaved to sin. Those who sin or wrong others are in bondage to sin and cannot be free until they embrace truth in a multifaceted way. They must recognize their sin for what it is and actively pursue a different path, the way of Christ. One who is repentant and actively Christian will demonstrate remorse in the context of acknowledging the wrong without minimizing it or manipulating. I.e. not a letter someone shared with me from an abusive mother where years of physical and emotional abuse were cloaked in an “apology” for an inability to adequately “express her love.” I’ve gotten plenty of these types of letters before too. They belong in the trash.

That said, the target or receiver of a wrong does what is best for themselves and the community and the perpetrator when they name the sin. Without facing sin, there is no transformation and no freedom in Christ. We all need Jesus and we all need each other. Even the well known “sinner’s prayer” involves admitting one is a sinner. Identifying sin allows another person to rectify a wrong and change their heart. It may also help the one wronged avoid festering bitterness or resentment that morph into malice and revenge which are sins. The corruption and nihilism of one person does not necessitate the corruption and forsaken hope of another.

Forgiveness is expressed commitment to God’s values, future, kingdom and fruits of the Spirit even when tempted by others to abandon them. The former holds true even in the absence of wrongs committed against you. Forgiveness is an instance of exemplifying the values of God’s vision of humanity whether those who betray us acknowledge it or not. We seek to be conformed into what God wanted a human to be, the image of the Son. The Son full-heartedly embraced God’s vision for humanity with his ethics even to the point of death and so we also will be willing. In Matthew 26 Jesus acknowledges one will betray him even while saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness in God’s reality remains constant whether or not the one forgiven ultimately choose forgiveness or personal destruction as was the case with Judas. Forgiveness reaches out to the other, but does not force the other. Forgiveness is not based on the merits of the one committing evil, but on the merits of Christ and one’s active agreement with his new way of living (faith). All the better when the one who does the wrong decides to enter into this kingdom reality with us!

Yes, forgiveness has the potential to wipe the slate clean on a relational level, though it is not to be equated with wiping the slate clean interpersonally. And, we can always wipe the slate clean in terms of not holding grudges or seeking revenge (no eye for an eye). However, it is not always possible to do so in the sense that the relationship is restored depending on the level of trauma committed or the unrepentance of the perpetrator (i.e. the ultimate act of forgiveness is not always the person who becomes best buds with her rapist afterwards). Forgiveness has occurred to the ultimate degree by Christ and yet not all forgiven receive eternal life. Some do not want to enter into that kingdom reality like Judas above. There is indeed tension between God’s kingdom reality and things not being quite right in the here and now, yet no contradiction when it comes to following after Christ. Hebrews 10:17 recalls, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” for those who the law of God is written on the heart and yet also, “he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool” (v13). And even in Numbers 14:18-25 we get a lengthy expression from Moses on God’s forgiving and merciful heart. God decides to forgive Israel for their wrong, but still rules that those who tested him will not enter the promised land. It turns out, God has boundaries.

All of this to say, yes the Bible speaks of hurling sins into the sea, but not without context or qualification.

Still, relational restoration is often possible when there is forgiveness and whenever possible should be pursued! When everyone cooperates with God, amazing things happen. I can see in the face of each person the potential of God’s love to transform them into the person they were meant to be just as I can be transformed. There is hope for every person in Christ. It is this hope that led Martin Luther King Jr to speak of his oppressors as brothers! And to look ahead to the day when they will walk “hand in hand.” He did not only see murders, de-humanizers, and racists, but also sick brothers who although they claimed the cross, still needed the cross. They said they worshiped a crucified Christ and yet nailed and hung black men, women and children, loved by God and agents of his world, to trees. He did not deny reality, but saw more into it.

Even when one looks in the face of another who is full of hate or fear or power lust we can see hope for the present and if not the present, overcoming someday…in the Lord’s day if they will give their lives to God and renounce their demonstrated allegiance to Satan and the world. This drive can inspire us to forgive again and again 70x7 through trauma, through continued slights, disrespect, dehumanization, and destruction and through loss. Forgiveness is our offering to Christ even if a restored relationship will only be realized in the eschaton. “See you then!”

Forgiveness is compatible with safety and distancing.

When someone has slighted me, I am generally quick to overlook it. I generally also make tons of allowances for extenuating circumstances, disorders, people being deceived, immature, dropped on their heads as children…etc. And really, its not like I am perfect either and I hope others will forgive me when I have been grumpy, selfish, desperate, or misinformed. I also tend to have a quick bounce back and am not easily injured regardless of how “mean” someone is, and so I am generally able to resume as normal even if someone does not do the right thing and own up to it. Frankly, I usually do not even remember what they did a couple of hours or minutes later. Sometimes, forgiveness can be forgetting especially if the slight need not be significant. But then there is prolonged abuse and trauma which creates changes in the brain that are out of one’s control.

When someone has caused me severe damage (no, not hurt feelings), habitually abused me or exhibited patterned behavior and I am in a context that is safe to have boundaries, I gauge whether someone is ready for reconciliation or whether I should believe them when they make overratures before I restore relationships with them. Although, it does not mean I will never try and restore baseline friendliness if they still hate me, are angry or hostile. Contrary to popular belief, most people who cannot “let it go” are those who hurt others and won’t own up to their actions. They want to keep believing the people they hurt are the problem or attempt to force subservience and silence in the name of peace. Far from the good Samaritans, they are the thieves that attack the vulnerable and leave him on the side of the road to die and prefer he remain out of sight and out of mind.

That said, here is what I look for if someone who has done something habitually and extreme enough wishes to be friends or have a relationship that goes beyond casual, baseline friendly or required professionalism:

1) Have they named their specific sin? Or have they owned up to something much smaller, minimized it, avoided, or denied it?

2) Have they apologized for their specific sin? Not: “I am sorry you feel that way” or other variations that avoid actual responsibility.

3) Have they indicated remorse and committed to not doing it again?

4) Have they actually made restitution or attempted reconciliation?

That is, have they attempted to set things that they made wrong right? If they told lies about you have they set the record straight? If they injured you have they paid your medical bills? If they stole X have they replaced it or if unable to directly undo the damage made an effort to help in a way that they can?

In the context of those exhibiting predatory and abusive behavior, further:

5) Have they bound themselves with an outside force of accountability so that they will not easily be able to hurt you again?

6) Have they gotten help? Abuse is a habitual pattern of behavior based in problems with the love of power (i.e. sexual abuse is not about sex and physical abuse is not about anger). They need professional help to address this.

Without these, I do not trust they have repented or that I will be safe with them so I keep them at an arms length. Some of the above I apply towards a community or group that exhibits sexist, racist, or marginalizing behavior on purpose or not, but it depends on the pervasiveness and severity of the marginalization or joining/buying in on abuse or siding with the predator if there is one. One size does not fit all.

Some red flags that you should try and keep even more distance from the person if they exhibit these in the context of your attempts to lay down some basic boundaries or if they do these when “apologizing:” Go on a psychotic rant or fit of rage about your inferiority and their superiority (trust me, it happens), attempt to manipulate you or keep you in line, attempt to confuse you by making it all about you and your issue somehow somehow, attempt to make themselves your “resource” for recovery (power play). If you see/hear these, stay away and seek further protection. Head over heart here. Yes, they may indeed be hurting, had a sad life, have extenuating circumstances…etc. but that is something for them to work out with their therapist, not you. Don’t be their power drug “supply.”

Scripture calls us to be oriented towards peace, not revenge. The former should be our active disposition regardless of any wrong committed. We pray for everyone so “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim 2:2). Still, although we may seek peace, not everyone will. Some will seek the destruction of others for their own gain and some (including ourselves) will have moments of vice and selfishness. Romans 12:14-21 tells us how to treat those who wrong us in the context of a general Christian disposition of recognizing the value in others and not seeing ourselves through an inflated lens: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse,” “Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” live in peace as much as others will allow for it, and seek the good of those who seek what they think is their own good at your expense. The entire passage is as follows:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

A last word on this before moving forward, those who have a distorted view of themselves will not like it when you meet their evil with loving-kindness and decency, when you do not regard them as superior, but as an equal and when you treat yourself as a fellow human being. They will be enraged and insulted. But there will also be those who will be grieved and want to make changes, even if it takes a long time. The Bible consistently calls for those considered “low” to see themselves as higher up and those who perceive themselves “high” to lower themselves so that we can rightly see one another face to face. Many who habitually hurt others are unable to grasp this reality for whatever reason. They are like rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was unable to “see” Lazarus while alive and so was not truly a child of Abraham. Even while in hell, perhaps connected to his way of life, he still could not perceive “Lazarus” rightly, demanding that Lazarus leave Abraham’s bosom to come and serve him! Its absurd, but it is the prison many live in. If you are in the right frame of mind, have pity on those trapped in a hell of their own making.

The key here is to continue on proclaiming a new kingdom with new social norms and continue to be transformed into the image of the Son. Others can take it or leave it, join in or not. Let God deal with it.

Why Forgive?

Why forgive? Because, in keeping with the wording of Romans 12 (some of which is quoted above), it is the logical or natural (λογικὴν) response for a life oriented towards worship of God and transformation (12:1-2). The Spirit has worked in us to bring about a different character and way of navigating through life than those around us. The world patterns itself in such a way as to elevate the self, whereas we pattern ourselves after Christ. How we act at our jobs, churches, online or in person matters. We do not start to live our “real” lives once we leave work. How we worship God in our treatment of others defines us in all places.

Our overall disposition must be one of loving others. Who we serve whether God or the world, is evident in who we associate with and how. Put another way, those who want to move up the ladder in organizations to accumulate power, position and wealth for themselves position themselves towards this end by associating with and flattering those above them. Those pursing a calling and future with the Lord, associate with and lavish on others based on their inherent worth as human beings. This includes those who others discount, those who cannot “repay” them. Biblicaly, it is more imperative to associate with the latter given the example of Christ who also pointed out that God notices when one invites “friends” who can pay us back while leaving the poor out. Forgiveness is an extension of the general principle of giving without strings attached, and without expecting anything in return since we are “storing up treasures in heaven.” Our actions reveal what we have invested in whether God’s future or the worship of the self or idols.

We forgive because we desire the thriving of others whether friends or enemies. In 1 Timothy 2 we are told to pray for others on the basis that God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of him. Additionally, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what love is: patient, kind and that it does not envy or boast…really it paints a picture of one who values others and does not value themselves at the expense of others. Unlike worldly conceptions of power, one’s position is not viewed in zero sum terms in Scripture. When someone wrongs us and we are in a position to hurt them with or without them knowing, we refrain. When someone is repentant and has demonstrated it, we do not attempt to shame them by reminding them of their wrong. When the other must be held accountable for their actions, we do not try to shield them from it, but we do use self-restraint and not try and inflict maximal or as much damage as possible. Maybe we do on occasion refrain from having them face the consequences (be careful here). One size does not fit every situation.

There is generally no reward for helping someone who has proven they will keep being your enemy, but we can do it out of love. Often those we must forgive will not accept forgiveness. They might. But often they won’t. Either way, we continue on in our worship of God whether wronged or just going about our day. Our bodies are offered to God as “living sacrifices” hence we follow a different path than others that is consistent with out life orientation. We have bought into the vision of God’s kingdom and walk accordingly.

Ultimately, alongside the inherent worth of a human being, our basis for forgiveness moving forward is that we were forgiven by Christ. In Ephesians 4:31-32 we are told to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” God knew we would crucify him yet he still came to live among us and show us a better way. God wanted us to see how far he would go to forgive us and asked that we would follow in his footsteps. We owe forgiveness towards others to the God of love.

What about anger? Well, sometimes we get angry. Jesus was angry at times. Its human. Jesus was human and without sin. And it is ok to be angry at someone and certainly at a horrible situation. The sentiment we should follow in the above passage (if we do not want to contradict with other passages) is not to cease to be angry perse, but not harbor it in a way that wants harm for the person or resents them. Just right above this statement we are told how we are to be angry. Ephesians 4: 25-28

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Interestingly, the behavior attached to anger in these verses is a slew of outright sins all associated with the consequences of not regarding others as part of oneself: lying, deception, brooding, and stealing. In the place of negative actions are positive things: telling the truth, working instead of stealing so that one can share with others. The idea here is not to remain in a perpetual state where one entertains hurting another person or sinning. And note, most of these sins in the context of not being angry seem to easily go with the one who wrongs the other! Sometimes in our quest for vengeance (a twisted form of restitution) we have failed to see that we are actually the perpetrator!

We are to look upon others with compassion. They are a person and people make mistakes, sin on purpose and can also be quite cruel. None of us were not made for those things, but it is what some do. Those who continue to sin, refuse to be reconciled with those they wrong or repent are described as enslaved to sin (see discussion further above). They are not free. They do not know that life in Christ is worth all of the punishment they can dish out and more. Often, they are not easily able to do other than sin because they have not been liberated. They have not pledged their allegiance (faith) to Christ or are not listening to or working with the Spirit. If they did, their life would be so much better. They would not need to try and survive with layers of pacifying lies and manipulations, with power plays, by hiding and avoiding, by stealing, by projecting their faults onto others. They would not need to live drowned in their own torment and guilt offset by compensating “greatness.” They would not need to become their narcissistic masks. And all of us sin. No, not all sins are equal (the Bible describes degrees of punishments depending on wrong doings and has a list of what God hates the most), but we all have those parts of us that are not surrendered yet to God. We all have work to do and it is an honor to enter that process with another person. When we forgive and restore relationships (where possible) we have opportunities to grow ourselves.

How to forgive

How does one forgive? Maybe it will look different for different people in different situations. Ideally one forgives almost automatically out of the abundance of the life and hope given even in those days where one is flooded with fear, despair and depression. When days seem darkest and one is plagued by horrific images: the flash of the eyes, the patterns on the wall and the years of personal deconstruction from years past (people go through many things over the course of a life time). Or when that person(s) you helped turned on you even after swearing they would never do it again. When you just got back from the ER and those who helped marginalize you snicker behind your back as you struggle through the day. When others did not do all that they could or thought it was ok for your health to decline because they had other priorities. Or when you have been traumatized and act traumatized and the people who caused it use it as proof that you were X all along or lacking in character and you feel helpless.

For me personally, I see through a lot. I’ve also been tricked. I have trusted people I shouldn’t have, people I had no choice but to and in varying degrees. I’ve been let down in major and minor ways. This is part of life. I’ve seen a million and one apologies and “apologies” made to various people including myself. Many were manipulative, some by those who merely felt bad and wanted to save face after exposed (they did not apologize again when it mean exposing themselves), some from people who felt they meant them (even had me fooled) and then did it again, and some by those who made real changes. I’ve been told by this or that person through the years that they were going to help me in X way, make X changes…etc. One even looked me in the eyes and said “I can tell you don’t believe me, just watch.” Nothing changed. They checked in to make sure I was saying “hello” to my predator.

Given life experience for major or minor things, when I forgive I generally do not believe the people I am forgiving will change. Often I don’t feel anything when I am severely wronged or when someone tries to turn it around, too much has happened over the years. But somehow the promise of the kingdom and participation in it and with it forgiveness, seems greater than the consequences of the hurt.

And I speak generally of no one instance in this space.

Generally, I try and think about how to get through or survive another day. To be honest, forgiveness at this stage in my life is not something I struggle with much. I’ve had years of practice. I am not saying it was not easy or that I am perfect. What has helped me in the past that has been internalized was seeing Christ in the dark. To see beyond the painful and dark present and into the light that will be manifest. I would think of the love of God that both embraces me as an individual in all my particularity and also wraps around and covers everyone around me. It was understanding that although I was the lonely child who did not have anyone to sit with at lunch that had Jesus visited my school he would have sat with me and simultaneously being taught by the Spirit and Scripture that I was to do the same. It was the Spirit teaching me over the years how much he loved all of us and wanted us to be with him. I’ve bought into the Incarnation, his life, death and resurrection. Ultimately, I want what he wants and believe anything is possible in the present because of God’s future.

I have learned that one is emboldened to forgive when they want more than anything to be like Christ, are open to the work of the Spirit—and ask for it often—and take a good look at themselves sorting through and working through everything not of God. Even now, I try my best to own up to personal failing, mistakes and those corners of the self one would like to hide from, cover or pretend do not exist and expose them inwardly, bringing them to God and continuing to ask for help. It is being mindful of that feeling that one is frozen and scared of that inner darkness and slowly releasing it and thinking “its ok, God is with me.” It is being able to go to others to admit wrong doing whether normal mistakes and imperfections or moral failings and trusting in God and his formation. That way, when someone comes to me for forgiveness or slights me in the moment I can let go of that same part of the false “self” that wants to hold tight to a false image or hold tight onto a twisted form of status or ego and instead open my hand and then take theirs. Love in the context of forgiveness both insists those “above” are really your equals in the Lord (it perspectivally lowers them if they are in power), but also attempts to raise those who feel low, up.

For me, having empathy for another person and trying to see things from their perspective, their internal walls and obstacles also helps with forgiveness. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with their actions, outlook on life or reasoning, but it helps to bring those who anger or hurt me into perspective. Personality wise, I already tend towards “liking” people. On the downside, when I misjudge people it tends to be for the better and this can be dangerous. Still, on the advantage, I find it helpful to perceive and bring out their good qualities which are God given and formed and be constructive when interacting with them when I can and where possible. I do not make up good things or pretend good is there when it isn’t, but everyone is made in God’s image and there is usually some good. And where it is not perceived there is always Jesus to remember.

So, to sum up how I forgive: I use what was developed and learned from my relationship with God to recognize the human in myself (both in terms of what I was created to be and what still needs formation), in others and in Christ and let the latter animate and re-contextualize the good and bad of the former. Despite my tendency to try and snatch joy and happiness from snippets of life, my life is not always happy. But I find it worthwhile. I know very well what it is like to be an injured human who does not always feel good and my understanding of forgiveness informed by Scripture helps me to be patient with myself and others going through hard times. And I am able to see suffering, lack, deprivation and shortcomings great and small through the lens of the Crucified Messiah who rose again and will raise us up with him one day. Life is not easy, but I see forgiveness as an opportunity, one of those good things we can do in the name of Christ and hope that others will do the same for me.

-AQ

Jesus, The First Born of Creation: An Offer of Peace to a Hostile World

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The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.

He is the head [i.e. source of life] of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything.

Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,
and he reconciled all things to himself through him—
        whether things on earth or in the heavens.
            He brought peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Identity

The story of our relationship with Jesus does not begin in a manger. In Colossians we learn that the story of the Incarnation in relation to us goes back further than one might have first thought—to creation. Our access to God and life has always come through Christ, Jesus and we were in fact, created by, for and through him.

Regarding the latter, an interesting way to understand in what way we were created through the Son is to consider that something “other” than God can exist because there is distinction within the Trinity. Creation and humanity can exist on the basis of the Son’s free self-distinction from the Father (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Vol 2, 30). Further, our existence as image bearers has always been based in the natural image of the invisible God—Jesus—and of course that gets into some very odd, yet highly plausible understandings of time.

*Exiting the Dr. Who universe now.

That said, we have always had access to God in Christ. Our very identities as image bearers are premised off of his identity and ultimate unity with us by nature. We were called to represent God in this world of whom Jesus is the perfect representation.

In the beginning we were created to be like priests or divine images set up in God’s temple, the earth (Genesis uses Near Eastern temple language to describe creation such as for example the 7 days/time periods among other things) . We were told to rule the earth together and to see one another as counterparts (i.e. the correspondence language all over Genesis).

And yet, we rejected God’s vision for us. We rejected our calling.

Rebellion

Our ancestors and the rest of us when we pattern ourselves after them, choose “wisdom” apart from God. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not an “evil” or bad tree, but we were told to depend on God and not partake of it at the time. We thought we could live well apart from the source of all life and wisdom. We decided to rebel against the God we were supposed to represent, the one whom all rule and authority was created for and as a result we sought to dominate one another, avoid responsibility, exploit and even murder.

The earth itself suffered. And continues to. Romans describes creation itself as groaning.

God sent us many messengers and envoys and made many accommodations to our warped understandings of power (i.e. Israel insists on a King and God finally relents). Yet we killed his messengers and refused to follow his ways again and again. And we all suffered. And most of our suffering comes from other humans.

Finally, the true and perfect “image of the invisible God” was sent to offer us peace and help us pattern ourselves after him. We killed him.

But what hate destroys, love resurrects.

God Shows Us How To Be Human

The birth , life, death and resurrection of Jesus stand concretely as a declaration of God’s power and love and hope for our future. While we were “estranged and hostile in mind” to God’s purposes, he reconciled with us with his own body. He showed us a new life orientation, one that surrenders zero-sum understandings of power, grandiosity and self-love at the expense of others.

Our egos and desperate efforts to have pride of place at the table were met by the true owner of the table who took the last place and welcomed those we looked down upon to it. He dared to side with the marginalized in front of us. He found those people we exploited and labeled as undesirable “sinners” and not only welcomed them but told "telling” stories in front of us all where they were set as the heroes, true sons, or valued and we were cast as the “sinners” or in rebellion against God (i.e. the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, The Two Sons, The King and Debtors…etc). He named our sins in front of everyone. He outsmarted us as we tried to trap him into saying something to get himself killed. It didn’t work and so we made stuff up and found him guilty in secret so no one could call us out for our evil.

He not only valued and raised up the marginalized, he became the marginalized. And he knew he would. He knew what kind of people we were when he came. He knew how tightly we held onto power and our false gods, ourselves. He kept living, modeling how we were called to act and would not stop. He did say that in order to truly live one must be willing to be brutally killed for living the way we were supposed to live—pure allegiance and devotion to our true calling.

In the end, we had to crucify him. We had to humiliate him, distort who he was and get rid of him so that we could continue what we were doing. People liked him too much and they started to think in ways that were not so beneficial for us. And really, he did say he was willing to pay this price. But nor our evil narratives nor the crushing power of Rome would have the final say.

God Unveils His Future

The physical body of Jesus was brought back to life but in such a way that transcended even a prefall state. God had sent us an offer of peace in human form and we more than rejected it. Jesus’ resurrection not only vindicated his message (he was not cursed by God), stood as God’s answer to injustice, but renewed the offer for peace. He lived the life we could not live as God’s representative and paid the ultimate price for it uniting the human with the divine and opened up the doors for us to also live as he did and except the offer of peace with God by the Holy Spirit. His resurrected body is also the first of many. His resurrection is a sign pointing out our own future and what it could be and look like, a reversal of the damage and transformation into something godly.

Our next move?

Resisting Evil Part 3: Masks, Disillusionment & The Light

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. -Ephesians 6:12
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If we are being formed into the image of Christ, darkness within and directed at us is transfigured in light of the work of Christ and his promise of resurrection. At our core identity, we are also people of hope for those with spiteful disillusionment and even iconoclastic tendencies. We may, with the help of the Spirit, lift the mask and see the face of another under the grip of evil (personal evil or otherwise) and yet love the person in all their pain, misplaced hope, and even disillusionment. We can also have joy recalling our own dark past (perhaps present?) and yet perceive ourselves as belonging to God, understanding that this same hope, although painful, can also transform the iconoclast.

To finish my short meditations on resisting evil I will now zero in on directly battling against the powers of darkness with weapons of light and even placing oneself at risk for the sake of God's kingdom. Please note, this post is not about personal survival (I have other work in that direction), but of risk. Even still, I do not advocate for self-dehumanization or codependency as these ultimately benefit no one and do not reflect God's future. However, at the end of the day, prayer and formation are not meant to be private nor separate from our vocational calling to love the Lord in our everyday actions. We love and sacrifice for those around us even those bent on destroying us because we are people of hope.

Ultimately, risking oneself and standing against evil in the world are not added Christian bonuses to a life of prayer and Bible study, but are integral to our life purpose. Otherwise, why pray and why read? To think we are called to pray and not get involved misses one of the key purposes for prayer in the first place: formed obedience to God whereas the Spirit fills every crevice of our will and sense of self thus enabling us to act as agents of God's world yet to come. Our place in time requires risk by virtue of the world currently being under the control of the evil one, since we are under the power of the Spirit (hopefully!) and thus opposed to dark purposes. We must see this and recognize that we must fight our enemy as God places us in positions to do good whether it is forgiving or blessing an enemy, standing our ground, exposing evil behavior or putting even our own bodies at risk for another.

God Has Called You To Fight

We are called to resist darkness from within and without. The powers of darkness try and sell all of us a pile of lies that we must preserve ourselves at any cost. Lies that hope and loving-kindness are weak. And darkness deceives us into believing one is enlightened in disillusionment! But it builds us up just to tear us down and take us away from the God who knows our dark world intimately--who entered into despair & powerlessness--and became the light that the darkness could not overcome (John 1). Christ subverted the dark world in the form of being crucified thus giving suffering and unspeakable, horrifying evil new meaning turning our gaze towards resurrection. The amount of power we as little ones have to fight against the powers of darkness depends on how much we are dependent on the all-powerful God of love. Hope is vulnerable yet necessary to defeat evil. The key, however, is hope in God, on God's terms.

We Fight the Iconoclast

The iconoclast and others are not directly our enemies (even if they are in terms of position), but the dark powers that have ensnared them are. Often those trying to destroy us have themselves been destroyed by evil and continue to be used by their false gods even as they try and gain mastery over others.

In resisting the iconoclast we fight for both ourselves and ironically, for the iconoclast! The iconoclast thinks in zero-sum. In order for this false image of myself to persist, I must destroy you. The iconoclast both hates and admires the image they smash because the image of God is a threat to their god--themselves whether in the form of an idol or directly, ego. The existence of the divine image is beautiful and powerful and thus a threat to the iconoclasts' power. The divine image may be evident in one's personality, gifting, character or other abilities. In contrast to the iconoclasts vision of power, God's economy is one of interdependence and the diffusion of power. We resist the iconoclast by, with kindness, seeing through their mask and loving him or her as we worship the living God. We do not pretend the iconoclast has beauty he or she does not have, but we do recognize the light of the divine image whenever we do see it in them and if we fall short and are not able, then at least the potential of Christ within them.

Because we worship God and love him with all our hearts and out of this love the iconoclast, we do not make ourselves easy for the iconoclast to destroy. We say, "No, I will not let you destroy me because I bear the image of our Savior!" This further threatens the iconoclast's false image as one further represents Christ. The iconoclast is then in a bind. The more they mar the image of Christ in you the more you may resemble Christ exposing their behavior for what it is, evil in opposition to the good. Please note, the key here is not you uncovering faults with the iconoclast, but allowing the power of God manifested in your love and formation of character to do it, and allowing the Spirit to convict their hearts. The goal is to point towards the one you represent and in the process surrender one's own desire for revenge and ego thus becoming more animated with divine life and beckoning the iconoclast into this life. However, this will not be easy. False images masquerading as persons and objects of worship must be painfully torn down and surrendered by individuals entrapped by them and this is often a horrifying and threatening--even if necessary--prospect for the iconoclast.

How does one love an iconoclast? Romans 12 gives some excellent insight as do other parts of Scripture. Put simply, when they harass us we refuse to take revenge and instead try and bless them (vv. 13-21). We desire their good. I once had someone constantly trying to sabotage me at one of my jobs. I not only refrained from doing the same, I defended her when she was unfairly accused and praised her when she did good work. When she was sick I gave her medicine. I did this while refusing to let her walk all over me. This person would actually grind their teeth when I would show empathy towards her and once cried when her attempts to destroy me failed. She wanted me to wither away and be revealed as evil and after ultimately accomplishing neither of those things (though at first successful), all she was left with were her own actions and heart.

In terms of identity, we match the iconoclast's ego with our humility. We delight in the gifts of others even when similar or superior to our own and we joyfully lift up the strengths of others truly believing we are part of one another (vv.3-5). We utilize our gifts as best as we can even though it stirs the iconoclast's jealousy because we see them as gifts from God and use them worshipfully since this was why we were given them in the first place (vv.6-8). The world gives and "loves" with strings attached, we must do so out of the abundance of our hearts from the Spirit (vv.9-11 cf. 5:5). Welcome those around you who do not have social capital and provide for those in need without thinking you are better (vv.13-16). We do not give because we are "the bigger person" but because God is.

Lastly, stand your ground and pray (v12). Pray for the iconoclast. Ultimately we go where and do what God tells us to. Prayer is the way we connect ourselves consciously to the Spirit as agents in God's world. God often wants us to be consciously involved in his process and wants us to come to him with self-emptying obedience with our hearts directed towards him. Sometimes he even tells us or gives us clues for what is to come, but often not. The key is to act with God and not against or independent of him. Really, none of us can save anyone! To think so would be to retain a false image or idol doomed to fail and be exposed. All of us are saved by the power of God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. At best we are the child given a small package by a parent and told "see that person over there?" go give this to them!

We Fight For Others Enslaved to Darkness

A friend of mine was in the process of earning his doctorate in addition to full-time ministry when he noticed a younger disabled man in his community being harassed by a violent man. The man would stalk or hunt him and then beat him up. The poor guy had no family and was especially vulnerable. My friend decided to call him his "son" and protect him. He helped him through the court system and when asked by the judge why he was involving himself the minister answered, "I am a minister of the gospel and this man was harming my son." Although he was busy, he could not avoid getting involved even though the harasser was now confronting him too. The minister battled the violent stalker for years and would not back down. You are also ministers of the Gospel.

If you are in a situation where you can stand up for another, give aid or give of yourself in some way then probably God has called you to the task. Don't wait to "pray" on whether to do good or manifest a slice of God's kingdom. God tells us in Ephesians that he has gone ahead of us and prepared good works for us to do ahead of time (Eph 2:10). Sometimes he matches us with peculiar situations suited to our own special abilities.

I test high on the empathy, forgiveness and patience scale, but also tend to have a highly strategic mind. Most of the time this manifests in my ability to come alongside others in more of a counselor role or make their day in little ways which I love to do, but sometimes God is sneaky. I do not especially like it when he does this, but he will sometimes interrupt my own flow of life and place me in very strange, even psychologically dangerous situations. Sometimes it has been to help liberate someone, but really, it could be anything he wants to do at the moment and most of the time I am in the dark. However, I can usually recognize God is using me for something specific when: 1) God has prepared me ahead of time emotionally and spiritually in some way, 2) often there is some sort of sign/knowledge of what is to come that I otherwise do not have access to, 3) God gives me the tools I need, and 4) After the event I can look and see that God accomplished a particular thing by giving me X knowledge and Y tool. 

For example, he had shown me a particular person in a dream before I met them the next day so that I would notice them and dig deeper. On the surface, they seemed rather nice and unassuming and I am already prone to liking everyone, but was bothered for months about the dream (I am not in the habit of seeing people I have never met clearly in a dream a day before I meet them). Long story short:  she had my friend trapped in a morbid web of lies! She had made him think he was personally responsible for her being raped by someone 3 times, having a stillborn baby she supposedly named after him (she was never pregnant) and a whole lot of other weird stuff all aimed at keeping him with her. It may sound ridiculous from the outside, but if you are in the middle of a manipulative person's web of deceit, you will gradually believe anything. She would also pretend to know extended network connections to get close to people. I ended up exposing her. God had seen the mess my friend was in and used extraordinary means to free him. I got to be part of it.

Sometimes we also need to pray directly against demonic spirits. We are not alone. Tied to and entangled with an entire host of familiar problems whether of character, systems or illness are also dark forces that love to feed off of the inflated and vulnerable. Once when I realized four individuals were doing everything in their power to destroy me, I immediately started praying against evil spirits, in this case spirits of deception and lies, asking the Holy Spirit to be manifest in that place. Immediately all sorts of truths began to surface that were otherwise hidden. Also, those who give themselves over to evil thinking they will have mastery over themselves and others, are not only ruled by it, they often have some not so welcome "friends" hanging around them that they are unaware of. Pray for God's peace and that you will be a good agent of his peace.

Why Do We Resist Darkness?

We resist darkness because we can't not! The more we surrender ourselves to Christ the less possible it seems to hand over anything to darkness. We are horrified when we find darkness within ourselves not out of dread, but out of love for the one who did so much for us. When we see evil in others we do not feel better or superior but have a deep desire for their good, God's destined shalom. When we see others being mistreated or harmed and are in a position to help (even if it involves risk), we hear the call of God on our lives. To resist doing good would be to dim the transforming image of God and miss an opportunity to become more like Christ. Basically, our end goal or telos is entirely different from the world's and its focus on survival and amassing good objects, status and perceptions for itself. Our goal is love from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). God is our inheritance and if we have him, that is enough even if we die in obscurity or a pool of character slander.

An ugly symbol of dominance, gore and humiliation signifies our hope and something to strive towards. And this is just as absurd to the world as our willingness to risk and sacrifice for the kingdom of God, our future. The cross is an ugly symbol and one that Christ appropriated in order (among other things) to explain to us how we gain new life in him. He does not ask us to do what he did not do in his every day life struggles or death. In Matthew 16:24-28 Jesus attempts to explain this. We try so hard to preserve what we call "life" trying to gain the world, but to what end? To follow Christ and be under his power is the reverse: to say no to oneself (because we go, do and move towards new ends) and instead exchange our selfish ambition for a symbol used of totalizing gruesome subjugating power at a victim's expense. But in embracing the cross we show ourselves to be agents of the kingdom of God and belonging to God, we realize we have gained life from the source of life who will resurrect even our mutilated bodies from the dead.

Embracing the cross and with it, the resurrection means that we look at others who harass and try and destroy us with love. And we fight--we stand our ground--refusing to die because of who we represent, but not despairing if we must die. However, our weapons are of the Spirit--prayer and formation--not returning evil with evil. After all, we see in our self appointed enemy possibility in the Spirit. Just as Eve was pregnant with hope, so also God's kingdom reality is just around the corner for those deceived and being used as tools by the enemy whether they identify as "Christian" or not. 

At the end of the day, we can be filled with delight (or at least not despair), during persecution, suffering, and trials because we see the Spirit's work in our hearts and we desire the good for our enemy (Rom 5:3-5). We revel in our belonging to Christ, realizing we are truly under his power and influence. The seed of the kingdom has grown into a tree and we may almost be distracted with this underlying reality, though perhaps only in moments.

God's kingdom in, with and through us. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resisting Evil Part 2: The Incarnation and the Iconoclast

“And do not participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them.” (Ephesians 5:11.)

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So often the call to stand against evil comes from a triumphalist position of power. We are asked to rise from our lofty position of comfort and offer a hand from above to the unfortunate. More often, the stand against evil is thought to be against “known” agreed upon evil. Too easy. Minority group or person X is evil and hence they must pay.

But often the need for warriors and knights require material and social risk and when knights turn their backs, the one called to fight is the one being crushed. This brief reflection on the incarnation and the iconoclast reaches up to the discussion on resisting evil from below. It is especially for those facing destructive hostility on a prolonged basis and presents the audacious call to oppose evil from the ground.

The Iconoclast is a figure representing a power whether personal, institutional or mob. Often, it is an actual person who wants to destroy you for any reason: whether to feed their own ambition, greed, ego, sense of order or because they hate what you stand for. They may hate you for your faith.

...And yet, the cross is a symbol of the victory and power of God over sin and death that radically reoriented human history. Any attempts the iconoclast made to mar the image of God was subverted and their power inverted.

Read the rest at Tim Fall's blog.

Or check out Resisting Evil: Pt. 1 “Forgiveness” Versus Stepping Out in Faith or, Resisting Evil: Pt. 3 "Masks, Disillusionment & The Light"

 

Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation

“But she will be saved (σωθήσεται) by the childbirth (τς τεκνογονίαςτς) [of Christ Jesus], if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. The saying is trustworthy.” --1 Timothy 2:15-3:1a

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Soon I will be giving two presentations based on a longer 35-page paper titled Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation where I will argue that Eve may be viewed as a type of Christ (similar to how Adam is a type in Rom 5 & 1 Cor 15) in 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a. The conferences I will be participating in are: The Duke Graduate Conference in Theology (September 29-30, 2017) and The Interdisciplinary Theology Conference (October 20-21, 2017) arranged by CATA--like ETS--but better. :)

Below is a taste of my upcoming presentations. Enjoy~

Scholarly interaction with the position of Eve in relation to Christology has tended to relegate Eve to an absent, subordinate or implicit position from the standpoint of the typological significance of Adam.[1] For example, Benjamin Dunning describes Paul’s typology as one that tethers together two men, Adam to Christ.[2] The result is a question framed with the assumption of the presence of only a particularly male representation of salvation with an inadvertent question mark when it comes to where a female body fits in the scheme of salvation.[3] That is, the discussion is approached from the standpoint of the assumed presence of Adam and the “problem” of Eve’s placement as a representation of humanity as whole.[4] It is my contention that the difficulty of whether a male Christ can represent humanity is an artificial difficulty conceived with a lens that from the start erases “Eve” (i.e. women)[5] and then either mourns or celebrates her absence.

            It is time to approach Christology and gender from a fresh perspective yet without ignoring the historical exclusion of women on the basis of biblical, primarily Pauline, texts. For this reason, I will be delving into the discussion of how Eve figures Christologically, and may subsequently transfigure our notions of the embodiment of salvation. The question of where “Eve” figures in the theological world both reflects the inner world of worship and has the power to transfigure how one relates to the world as a whole. I will be arguing that far from her being absent—or merely present as an absence—Eve is a type[6] of Christ whose existence serves to undermine the prevailing notion of male domination in the Christological representation of embodied humanity. I will accomplish my thesis by first offering a change in lenses from an emphasis on both historical reconstruction and patriarchy as the frame for understanding Eve’s place in salvation, to the utilization of varied gendered language in the Pauline text to exemplify embodied faith, and how this undermines various gender hierarchies that may be perceived. This thesis will also involve considering the “correspondence” language of the Genesis text, to which Paul appeals, and how early Christian writers used gender language to describe the struggle of faith, embodied existence and future hope. The point here is to provide a plausibility lens or starting point from which to be able to conceive of an Eve Christology and open the doors to re-imagine the place of Eve in our theological world.

Second, I will attempt to launch a uniquely Eve Christology. Far from being absent or implicit, it will be argued that 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a with 2 Corinthians 11:3 offer Eve as a type to Christ (comparable to Adam-Christ typology) and representation of humanity. I will work out how the text understands Christ as a representative of humanity and lastly, briefly wrestle with whether Christ ‘as male’ reinforces gendered power structures or serves to diffuse them. Does the idea that a woman is merely a deformed man who must “become male” to enter into salvation best capture the figures of Adam and Christ presented by these Pauline writings? 

Switching Lenses

How one approaches and/or experiences the larger question of gender in the Christian world will shape what is noticed or goes unnoticed in the Pauline corpus. Does one approach Paul with “a distinctly ancient logic of sexual difference, one that conceptualizes this difference, not in terms of an ontological and incommensurable binary, but rather on a single sliding scale, oriented towards maleness and deeply rooted in variables of status?”[7] Or, does one approach the question of gender and representation from the vantage point of only or primarily passages considered exclusionary making them universally applicable only to women? Does the mention of Adam as a type of Christ in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 suddenly indicate a logical universal such as only Adam or only a men can represent humanity?

It is not my desire to contend there is never the assumption of male priority in the background of the Pauline texts or to argue that everything fits neatly or perfectly into a modern feminist scheme. However, I would like to offer the following interpretive possibility: There exists a unity in diversity in Christ that relativizes power structures which allow for men, in a metaphorical sense, to become women in the context of these structures and women to become men in relation to gendered power structures. This lens which will be used as a starting point for approaching the position of Eve in relation to Christ comes out of the following brief points: 1) gender correspondence language in Genesis, 2) a sampling of Paul’s use of feminine and masculine language in regards to himself and spiritual growth of believer toward their telos in Christ, and 3) how some early Christians used gendered language to describe themselves in relation to Christ.

...the rest will be available at the two upcoming conferences! :)

[1]C.f. Benjamin H. Dunning, Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher's Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

[2] Benjamin H. Dunning, "Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher’s Paul," n.p. [cited June 8, 2017]. Harvard Divinity School. Online: https://hds.harvard.edu/news/2014/10/16/video-christ-without-adam. October 16, 2014: 10-minute mark.

[3] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (Cross Roads: New York, 1983).

[4] C.f. the influence of Mary Daly: "Exclusively masculine symbolism for God, for the notion of divine 'incarnation' in human nature, and for the human relationship to God reinforces sexual hierarchy" in Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston: Deacon Press, 1973), 4. 

[5] From henceforth I will be using Eve as shorthand for women in general in the spirit of her typological significance. Gradually, I will expand this type to encompass humanity in general.

[6]In this article I will be using type in a comparative sense. For example, Eve from the Genesis narrative can be a type of Christ as a representative but not directly in terms of imitation. However, as we will see, Eve can also function as an antitype in the sense that as a representative of women in particular and humanity in general “she” can fulfill her vocation of being formed in the image of Christ connected to the divine telos of humanity. I believe this future looking sense is present in Eve being “pregnant” with the Christ child in 1 Timothy 2:15.

[7] Dunning, Christ without Adam, 18. C.f. Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul, loc 654.

Tokenism: Remaking Human Beings into an Image of Distortion

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

I was looking for a non-tokenizing picture to represent tokenism when I found this gem. I apparently represent diversity as a repeated blurred image. None of us but one are from another country or are in this program. We just signed off on letting people take pictures of us for marketing purposes as part of our existing job.

I was looking for a non-tokenizing picture to represent tokenism when I found this gem. I apparently represent diversity as a repeated blurred image. None of us but one are from another country or are in this program. We just signed off on letting people take pictures of us for marketing purposes as part of our existing job.

One of the greatest difficulties I have had as a woman pursuing leadership and higher education in the Christian world has been navigating the tightrope between survival and compromise in a context that continually distorts who you are for a vision not in line with God's purposes, both overtly and implicitly. It is also facing the reality that when others see you, they see a picture or type alien to how you understand yourself.

 I don't want to be invisible or voiceless, but I don't want to be paraded on stage as a mere empty symbol of the inclusiveness of [fill in the blank]. The constant struggle is to survive, to not let your voice be wiped off the map by naysayers and lack of resources, but also to escape being crushed into an empty mask or symbol serving the interests of others. It is fighting to have a place at the table without becoming an empty tool for the voices of those in power. The latter is perhaps worse because one's voice is snuffed out while being given the illusion of its value.

What is Tokenism

What is tokenism? Tokenism is when a group or person in power uses human beings from an underrepresented or minority group in order to appear diverse and benevolent or to avoid looking bad when in actuality the inclusion is extremely minimal and the token(s) lacks any real authority or value beyond perceived distinctive characteristics. Translation: people are used as part of a mask creating a portrait that in reality does not exist.

A token's value is generic. "We need a black person. We need a woman. We need an Asian woman....ect." Note value does not extend far beyond a limited set of qualities. A friend of mine applied for a leadership position. She was highly qualified and was frankly good at her job. She was flat out told she probably would not get the job because they needed an "Asian female" not just a "female." This is unusual as it is just asking for a lawsuit. Lucky (or unlucky?) for her, they could not find an "Asian female" so she would do. The token is interchangeable. "We need to fill our black woman slot." In this latter case, any woman who meets the "black woman" criteria is acceptable. Once they have a "black woman" they don't need "another one." Qualifications either have no, little or incidental value.

I was once told "I don't need another one" when I had initially turned down an offer to be on a podcast (ironically because I thought he wanted a token) but was talked into it by a friend. "Another what?" "We already found a woman." He needed a woman with any theology degree whatsoever so that his podcast could be diverse. He was also happy that this one was a "complementarian" (she wasn't). I awkwardly told him I was glad he found "one of those" realizing he would not get that I was pointing out his objectification of women. Unfortunately, my replacement was met with a barrage of stupid "go make me a sandwich" jokes and asked to represent all women constantly. As it turns out, tokenism worked so well she left the podcast.

Often, the token is asked to comment only or predominantly as the ethnic, gender or other role they are representing--since this is their primary value. I was once asked about the "snuggery" since I was a woman. Oh, what opinions I must have had...on the snuggery? I had none and threw a private fit once I found out what it was.

Tokenism is all about appearances. It is to make the organization look good and affords the token (whether group or individual) a false or shallow voice or representation. This is common on t.v. series or movies. It is easily found in the form of the generic "gay friend" whose only function is to be the best friend ever, but is otherwise a hollow as a character not interesting developed character in his or her own right. His or her only value is being "gay." Generally the gay friend speaks or acts in a stereotypical way or a character is awkwardly made "gay" just because it signals the virtues of the producers. In pictures, it is found in "that one black guy" appearing in every frame. Not because he is a stellar student, employee, head of department or leader but because he is the only person with that skin color and the organization wants to appear more diverse than it is. In my experience when it comes to schools, the students on campus see through the guise quickly when reality does not cohere against the picture. The place wants to look good, but has not expended the finances or resources to be good and thus have more representation.

Tokenism also appears in the form of "centers," "projects" and "initiatives" within organizations. A school, church or organization might create something like "Center for African American Studies" yet not give it sufficient influence, funding or resources afforded to others. It represents diversity and inclusion in name only and exists almost entirely to make the foundation or school look good. Sometimes these start out with the best intentions, maybe a vision with limited funding, but often times funding comes down to priorities. Rhetoric is one thing and action is another. Where do the money and resources go? This will tell you what an organization's real priorities are.

Scholarships can function as a "token" of support rather than real support for a minority group. I have suspected that even I had a token grant or scholarship from a school at one time zeroing in on my Mexican heritage ("Hispanic" in their words). This can be tricky depending on how funding for the program functions. For example, many schools offer a large variety of scholarships where one gets funding piecemeal. I once had a scholarship like this from TEDS for being a female leader. It was not a huge amount but significant and functioned within their broader system to be a source of real financial support in combination with other offerings. On the other hand, in some contexts one or two is all you get and if the goal on paper is to support X underrepresented group it becomes a mere token of support if it does not help them in any meaningful way. 

Tokenism appears in assigning authoritative roles within a church or organization. Sometimes identifying it can be muddy, especially when other factors are involved. A good way to identify the possibility of tokenism is if qualifications are not top considerations, are low considerations in practice, or are selectively applied depending on who is being promoted and to what level of authority. For example, although promotion criteria for higher authority positions may be more strict against the token while less strictly applied for those who aren't (maybe one criteria is deemed not to matter so much), lesser or token roles may have concrete requirements waived. It's all about what exactly is being valued by those in charge. This all gets more tricky when it is unintentional.

I was once part of an organization whose leadership was dominated primarily by white males. They knew this was a problem, knew it made them look bad and yet could not figure out why the small circle of white men who formed a tight click were the only types of people who seemed to be in leadership positions (I had been processing this instance among many when writing 10 Ways Men Can Fight Sexism).

Not surprising to those on the outside looking in, when it came time for promoting someone to the top it was decided that the top performer, a woman with more experience would not get promoted to the desired position and instead get a lesser one with little pay. This is even after it was clearly stated she was not interested in a mid-level position and had voiced from the very beginning that desired to lead and in what capacity. The one from the inner circle with far less experience, little time commitment and less than ideal performance would automatically advance to the highest position even when all criteria were not technically met--namely, a stellar performance for a certain amount of time. Thankfully for them, they found another female to take the less desired position after the first one quit. The position required an individual who demonstrated excellent performance for a certain amount of time and involved training new people. The replacement was brand new, inexperienced and I am told was in need of training.

I can at least vouch that there were indeed many excuses, rationales and perceived technicalities in this case along with "miscommunications."

But enough distancing and illusion, I know the person who was shortchanged on a job because I was that person.

Moving Foward

Tokenism is an ugly thing. Why? Because human beings have inherent value as made in the image of God. God does not show partiality or favoritism (C.F. Col 3, Rom 2, James 2:9). He likes to use those others see little value in (i.e. David, Deborah, Moses...etc), sees individuals for who they are and what they are going through (Gen 6:13), identifies with oppressed people groups (C.F. The EXODUS!) and became one of them. He does not see societal roles or stations as limits on participation (Gal 3:28). We are called to be like God and not have different standards depending on social standing (C.F. James & Paul on how not to show partiality towards rich vs poor).

Jesus was the ultimate icon, not mask, of God. In Him, we see the Father's face. He modeled self-emptying to the greatest degree and if we are in power sometimes we are called to give some of it up for the sake of our brothers and sisters and especially the Lord. Of course, to give it up we must acknowledge and see the power differences. At the very least we are called to love others as much as we love ourselves. Many "love" those in their group. That is very human. Jesus came and showed us that our "neighbor" is also the "other." The Good Samaritan is subversive because we are called not simply to love him as our neighbor, but model him.

For those without power, it is a fine balance one has to walk. I have not done so perfectly, have not had it as bad as others, and possibly contributed to objectification without realizing it. My only advice is to not hate yourself if you must play the token, but if you can afford not to, give up the slight or perceived benefit and refuse! Say no and walk away. They may replace you, but they have lost the vision of the kingdom of God in a moment and our God is the God who sees.

 

 

 

AQ