Work of God, God's Work and the Work of the Satan

In the previous post I shared a bit of what I saw to be the difference in the Work of God and God's Work. As a reminder here is the short list:

  • Healing (Work of God)  ----  Resurrecting (God's Work)
  • Guiding (Work of God)  ----  Influencing (God's Work)
  • Sustaining (Work of God)  ----  Abiding with (God's Work)
  • Reconciling (Work of God)  ----  Transforming (God's Work)

In a couple of emails I was asked if I could identify the role of Satan in all this. Regardless if you believe in a literal being or not, I think everyone agrees there is evil in the world. Christians personify God as a way to talk about God but Christians also know that God is beyond the personifications made. For instance God is not male or female but we talk about God being so in order to express something about the nature of God and humans. Likewise, many Christians personify evil in the character of Satan. Christians also know that evil is not limited to the personifications expressed. For instance, Satan is not a half man/goat hybrid with a pitchfork. 

Taking the above list of the work of God and the Church, I added the work of Satan:

  • Healing (Work of God)  ----  Resurrecting (God's Work)  ----  Hurting (Satan's Work)
  • Guiding (Work of God)  ----  Influencing (God's Work)  ----  Dictating (Satan's Work)
  • Sustaining (Work of God)  ----  Abiding with (God's Work)  ----  Abandoning (Satan's Work)
  • Reconciling (Work of God)  ----  Transforming (God's Work)  ----  Dividing (Satan's Work)

In some ways, the distinctions of these different "works" can also be seen in the difference in symbolic, parabolic and diabolic.

Doing the Work of God is Not the Same as Doing God's Work

The Church universal is an institution that attempts to do the Work of God. Among the number of specifics the Church does, there are at least four areas of the Work of God the Church engages in: healing, guiding, sustaining and reconciling.

However, doing the Work of God is not the same thing as doing God's Work. 

Take the four areas of the Work of God and consider how God's Work is related but distinct:

  • Healing (Work of God)  ----  Resurrecting (God's Work)
  • Guiding (Work of God)  ----  Influencing (God's Work)
  • Sustaining (Work of God)  ----  Abiding with (God's Work)
  • Reconciling (Work of God)  ----  Transforming (God's Work)

For example, the work of God is to be about healing, which is why the Church participates in hospitals and funerals. Healing is not the same as curing, which is why the Work of God is not about curing for there are things that will happen. The Work of God is toward healing (not curing) and God's work is resurrection. The Church trusts that death does not have the last word and the Church trusts that God will do God's work to bring resurrection.

Guiding is also the Work of God, which is why the Church participates in teaching and preaching. Guiding is not the same as directing, which is why the Church values mystery and questions. The Work of God is to guide and God's work is to influence. God does not coerce or threaten. God's power is expressed through vulnerability and thus God's work is to influence creation toward Shalom. 

Sustaining is also the Work of God, which is why the Church creates small groups and fosters community - in order to sustain us through the dark times. Of course there are times when the Church fails at her job and we abandon one another (see Jesus' trial). The Work of God is to sustain and God's Work is to abide. Because there are times and places that the Church is not able to be in and with, the Church trusts that God will abide with everyone - even when the Church fails. God's presence to abide with everyone at all times (omnipresent) is something that the Church can strive to do, but is never fully able to achieve.

Finally, reconciling is the Work of God, which is why practices of repentance, confession and forgiveness are critical to the Church. While the Church can work toward reconciliation, there are some cases where reconciliation may not be possible because of the depth of the wounds. The Work of God is to reconcile and God's work is to transform. It is by God's grace that we are transformed and where reconciliation was once impossible it is transformation that makes reconciliation possible.

Being a part of a Church is to engage in the Work of God, it is not to do God's Work.

How you know you have a healthy relationship with the Bible

There is a little tool called the Johari Window which is used to "help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others." It looks like this:

While it often is thought about in terms of human relationships, I believe it is also helpful to think about it in terms of our relationships with the Bible. In the above window, if we replace "others" along the "y axis" with "Bible" we have a slight variation to consider.

If something is known to the Bible and self, then this is what is "open". It is things where the evolutionary process and the Bible overlap. For instance, prohibition of homicide is an area of overlap in both evolutionary and Biblical terms. 

If something is known to the Bible and unknown to self, the this what is "blind". These are the things we might identify as the cultural context of the scripture writers. For instance, there are a number of cultural assumptions lost to time and translation when we read stories from the scripture. 

If something is hidden to the Bible and known to the self, this is what is "hidden". The hidden things in this context might include what the Biblical writers were unaware of, like scientific advances and discoveries. Scripture writers never could have known about the forces of thermodynamics or the dinosaurs. 

If something is hidden to the Bible and hidden to the self, this is what is "unknown". At least one thing in the "unknown" box would be the complete nature of God. Both scriptures and current humans cannot ever know the complete nature of God.

You know you have a healthy relationship with the Bible when you are always aware that the "unknown" box is much larger than most of us like to think that it is. Humility is important in interpersonal relationships. Humility is also important when in relationship with the Bible. If anyone teaches that the "unknown" is smaller compared to the other boxes (specifically the Open and Blind) chances are they are more blind than they think.

The WCA's LMP Problem

The Wesleyan Covenant Association is a group of United Methodist clergy and laity. For anyone who has heard of the WCA but is not aware of what it is, the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) stated purpose open with the following statement:

"The Wesleyan Covenant Association (“WCA”) is an association of congregations, clergy persons, and laity who desire to cooperate in the mission of the WCA to promote the ministry of the gospel from a Wesleyan theological perspective within The United Methodist Church and kindred bodies."

Like all organizations, the WCA uses particular words to define what it is. Some of the words that are most commonly used in the material that I come across are "Wesleyan", "orthodox", "evangelical", and "covenant keeping". Like any organization who defines itself, there are critics who say the WCA is claiming sole ownership of what it means to be, say, "Wesleyan" or "orthodox." I am thankful for the WCA giving members of the UMC to consider again what it means to be "evangelical" and/or "covenant keeping." Just as the no one Church has the exclusive rights to claim "Christian" so to the WCA does not have exclusive rights to a number of other defining qualities of the UMC.

In all the discerning work on what it means to be Methodist, there is one descriptor the WCA uses that gives me the most concern and frankly is, from my standpoint, the cause of a great amount of tension in our world.

The WCA has a "like-minded people" (LMP) problem.

Is surrounding ourselves with LMP a form of egocentrism? 

Is surrounding ourselves with LMP a form of egocentrism? 

In the WCA "statements" page the LMP problem shows up a half dozen times. In a recent video put out by the WCA, Rev. Madeline Henners lets the listener know:

“Of course everyone is welcome to attend the Wesleyan Covenant Association Conference, however I do want to make two specific invitations. The first is to pastors and congregations of small to medium-sized churches. Depending on which conference you’re located in, sometimes you may feel like your voice is not heard or even dismissed. We want you to know that your voice matters to the Wesleyan Covenant Association. I’d also like to personally invite any young clergy who are in the process of being ordained or recently ordained. We want you to feel connected and supported to like-minded brothers and sisters, who not only are seeking to restore integrity to our covenant, but are seeking to belong to a vital Wesleyan movement.”

It seems that LMP is a feature and not a bug in the WCA system. I believe this to be a problem.

If the current state of U.S. politics teaches us, it is that we all are falling short and missing the mark (AKA: Sin) when we surround ourselves with only agreement. Confirmation bias is part of the human condition. However, the Church is the place that understands that the Grace of God works in and through us to open us up. The Grace of God reminds us that God loves all people -- even if they are not like-minded. 

I am working to repent of the LMP in my own life. I have subscribed to a web browser extension (Escape Your Bubble) which puts news stories from "the other side" directly into my Facebook feed. I have begun to access most of my news from allsides.com - "Unlike regular news services, AllSides exposes bias and provides multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant." Finally, I have been intentional on listening with curiosity to people in my congregation that have a completely different values than I do. 

Lent is the season to repent. It is the season to embrace, once again, a humble posture to the reality that we see through a mirror only dimly. It is the season to die to self and be reborn (not just a change of heart but a completely new heart).

Can lent 2017 be the time we cure our LMP problem?