fbpx
Is Reconciliation Possible? A Lesson from Africa

Is Reconciliation Possible? A Lesson from Africa

On December 26, 2021, one of my personal heroes passed away. Desmond Tutu was the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and he died at the age of 90. Tutu led the church through a time of intense suffering, and also led the way in offering reconciliation and forgiveness.

Tutu was a leader of the church in South Africa during the time of apartheid, which means “apart-hood” or “separateness.” Apartheid was essentially a racial caste system with the white South African minority at the top and the black South African majority at the bottom. Land was stolen from black South Africans, cities were segregated into rich and poor based on skin color, and the system was enforced through state-sponsored violence, in particular by a brutal secret police force. The system lasted from the late 1940s until the early 1990s.

When the apartheid system fell and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, South Africa was faced with the problem of how to deal with their past. One option would be to hunt down all the perpetrators: those who had upheld the system by passing unjust laws and overseeing sham trials, and those who committed violent acts in order to enforce it. This option was rejected because it would likely hinder reconciliation, and potentially continue a never-ending cycle of retribution.

Another option was to simply move on. To proclaim amnesty for the perpetrators and get on with life under a new and better political system. But this option was also unsavory: it would provide no accountability, no justice for the victims, no repairing of what had been broken.

South African leaders settled on a third option. They formed what was called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and Desmond Tutu was tabbed to lead it. The goal of the TRC was to uncover truth and foster reconciliation and forgiveness. All perpetrators of apartheid violence, even those who had committed the most heinous acts, were given two options: make a full confession of your crimes before the Commission and receive amnesty, or be liable to criminal charges if they were eventually uncovered.

There was one more important element for those who chose to confess their crimes before the TRC. The confession would be televised live across the country, and families of the victims would be invited to attend in person. In order to be forgiven in the eyes of the new political regime, the truth had to be publicly proclaimed.

When I think about the unfolding war in Ukraine, about the challenges here in the United States that have to do with increasingly clashing worldviews, or how to move forward from the various injustices that mark our own history, I see the principles behind the TRC as an intriguing model.

This is not to say that the TRC fixed all the problems in South Africa. Or that it would be realistic to set up the same kind of commission in the United States. I’m not offering a solution to the problems that plague our country. But I do want to spark our imagination. For reconciliation to happen, the truth must come out. Reconciliation involves both confession and forgiveness. It involves examining ourselves and confessing the role that we have played. And what’s so interesting about the TRC is the role that the church played.

Desmond Tutu was picked to lead the TRC in part because a proper theology, a right understanding of both God and humans, was needed to pursue the work of reconciliation and forgiveness. Hear him describe the role of theology in the work of the TRC:

 

So frequently we in the commission were quite appalled at the depth of depravity to which human beings could sink and we would, most of us, say that those who committed such dastardly deeds were monstrous because the deeds were monstrous. But theology prevents us from doing this. Theology reminded me that, however diabolical the act, it did not turn the perpetrator into a demon. We had to distinguish between the deed and the perpetrator, between the sinner and the sin….  If, however, they were dismissed as being monsters they could not by definition engage in a process that was so deeply personal as that of forgiveness and reconciliation…. 

 

I realized how each of us has the capacity for the most awful evil – every one of us. None of us could predict that if we had been subjected to the same influences, the same conditioning, we would not have turned out like these perpetrators. This is not to condone or excuse what they did. It is to be filled more and more with the compassion of God, looking on and weeping that one of His beloved had come to such a sad pass. We have to say to ourselves with deep feeling, not with a cheap pietism, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

 

And mercifully and wonderfully, as I listened to the stories of victims I marveled at their magnanimity, that after so much suffering, instead of lusting for revenge, they had this extraordinary willingness to forgive….This is a moral universe, which means that, despite all the evidence that seems to be to the contrary, there is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word. For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.

 

 Those who had strutted about arrogantly in the days of apartheid, dealing out death and injustice… had never imagined in their wildest dreams that their involvement in machinations and abominations hatched out in secret would ever see the light of day…. Now it was all coming out, not as wild speculation or untested allegations. No, it was gushing forth from the mouths of perpetrators themselves… Those ghastly and macabre secrets might have remained hidden except that this is a moral universe and truth will out.


And the victory was for all of us, black and white together – the rainbow people of God.”  (Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, 83-87)


The work of reconciliation is costly. It is costly for perpetrators, because it means confessing the truth about what we’ve done, and the harm that we have caused. And it is costly for the victims, because it means revoking our claim on justice and retribution. Oftentimes what is lost can never be replaced.

But we follow a Messiah who bore an inconceivable cost to reconcile us to himself. Who, while hanging on the cross in great physical agony, asked for his Father to forgive those committing the greatest act of injustice of all time (Luke 23:34). 

The Apostle Paul tells us that we who trust Jesus are now agents of his reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). May we learn from the humility and creativity of Desmond Tutu and our South African brothers and sisters in Christ as we go about that work in our world today.

Learning to Trust (and Love) the Bible

Learning to Trust (and Love) the Bible

My relationship with the Bible has always been one of intense love…and at times almost crippling doubt. And it all began for me with a fairly lukewarm prayer.

Jesus, I’m going to try to take you seriously for a while. As best I can remember, these are the words I prayed down in the basement of my childhood home when I was 18 years old. It wasn’t a very poetic prayer, and it even seems a bit half-hearted, but it was enough. That night Jesus grabbed onto this reluctant convert and nothing for me has been the same since.

That moment set me on a path–a lifelong quest–to learn how to trust and love the Bible.

I’d grown up in church. My dad was a pastor during my formative years. I knew the Bible pretty well, and if we were doing a Bible trivia night, I could dominate. But it wasn’t until that lukewarm prayer that I began to hear God’s voice through its ancient pages. I could see God’s love for me. I could see myself in His words. A life and a love and a joy calling out to me from its pages.

Weird, right? As a senior in high school, unsure of my future, lonely and depressed, God found me and He used His Book to do it.

I couldn’t get enough.
Almost instantly, I couldn’t get enough of this Book. It was like food and I hadn’t eaten for years. I’d read it in the morning before school and at night before bed. Sermons (at Christ Community no less, vintage Pastor Tom) came alive. I began discussing it with friends and a few months later even began leading a Bible study with my peers. 

I wanted to know it and understand it and trust it and obey it and build my life on it. I wanted to know the One who’d made me and there He was on these dusty pages.

But then doubt settled in.
I don’t know if you know this about the Bible, but it is a hard book. Once you start reading (more than just the inspiring soundbite), questions surface. Brutal, sometimes seemingly unanswerable questions. And then, of course, doubt.

The next fall I headed off to Bible college (I told you, I fell hard for this book!), yet the more I studied and read, the more questions I had. In fact, the greatest season of doubt in my life (so far) happened while in Bible college and then seminary. Could I really build my life on a Book so old, so often confusing, so very difficult at times, with so little certainty?

Can we really trust (and love) the Bible?
Well, no surprise, I’m going to say yes. Let me go ahead and name my bias. Big shocker that a pastor says we should trust the Bible. But it has never been easy for me. Doubts still surface. Regularly. As I said, my relationship with the Bible has been one of intense love…and at times almost crippling doubt. To some extent, that remains true today (though thankfully less debilitating).

I know that there is nothing I could say to instantly make you trust and love the Bible. Faith is still required. But I want to share with you why I believe. Or perhaps more importantly, why I keep believing. Why do I keep returning to this beautiful, difficult, mysterious, ancient Book? Here are the three most important reasons for me personally: the person of Jesus, the character of God, and the testimony of its pages.

But first, a few warnings.
This is not meant to be exhaustive and it should be noted that everything here has been the subject of countless blogs and books. There are people smarter than me if you want to dig deeper. I also want to acknowledge that my reasons can easily be questioned. I don’t have any unassailable arguments and some of what I’m going to say is clearly circular in its reasoning. (Trust the Bible because the Bible tells you to trust the Bible–it’s great logic, I know.) 

Here’s the deal. If you don’t want to trust the Bible, there is nothing I can say to convince you. Faith is still required.

That is exactly right. My goal is not to convince those who don’t want to believe but to encourage those who do.

The Bible is a difficult book. It’s ok to admit that. Yet being difficult to understand isn’t the same as being untrustworthy. There is a lot I still don’t understand about the Scriptures, and a few things I just don’t like. But I keep coming back for these three reasons.

  1. The Person of Jesus

Everything in my faith comes down to the person of Jesus. Everything! I answer each of my doubts with this: did Jesus rise from the dead or not? If He didn’t, I’m out. But if He did, everything changes! If Jesus actually rose from the dead that is the most important truth the world has ever known, making Jesus the most important person. You see, one day I’d like to rise from the dead as well. So if He did, I want to hang on every word He said and all He did. 

There is good historical evidence (not just the Bible tells me so) supporting the validity of the resurrection. While much could be said, until someone more compellingly answers the following questions, I will continue to believe Jesus did come out of the grave alive. 

Questions like:

  • Why was the tomb empty and why couldn’t anyone find the body?
  • What about all the eyewitnesses who saw Him alive?
  • If it was a legend, why would the inventors make women (who couldn’t even testify in court in that time period) the first eyewitnesses? And why would you make all the men doubting cowards?
  • How do you explain the transformation of the eyewitness, from doubting cowards in hiding to literal martyrs for their faith that Jesus was alive?
  • Where did the church (and this crazy movement of His followers) come from, in the midst of so much oppression?

If Jesus rose from the dead, then it doesn’t matter if you like what He said or not or whether or not you find Him personally compelling. If He rose from the dead, He wins, and I’m listening.

Jesus believed the Old Testament.
And Jesus believed the Old Testament. I struggle with the Old Testament. I love the stories and poetry, but I find it much harder than the New Testament. Not only did Jesus believe it, He loves it! He quotes it and makes references to it constantly. You can’t even really understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament.

He said things likeScripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), referring to the Old Testament. In His most famous sermon, considered to be a kind of summary of His main passions, He says: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18).

He even referred to Himself as the center of the Old Testament Scriptures and the key to their understanding. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me… (John 5:39).

...beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself… Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead… (Luke 24:27, 45-46)

The one who defeated death believed, taught, loved, obeyed, and even revealed Himself as the focus and fulfillment of the Old Testament. I’m siding with the One who defeated death—every time.

Jesus commissioned the New Testament (sort of).
It also seems like He commissioned the writing of the New Testament through the work of the Apostles. The people who knew Jesus best were the ones who wrote these things down for us.

Jesus told them: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:12–15).

It is reasonable to believe that Jesus wanted His Apostles to write these things down, and promised that His Spirit would guide them in it.

Jesus reveals the character of God.
Jesus also shows us who God is. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9). And what does Jesus reveal to us about God the Father? 

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us that God wants to rescue. God wants to love and be loved. God wants a really big, beautiful, diverse family. God wants a relationship with His creation. Our God wants to be known. That doesn’t prove He gave us the Bible, but it does give us a motive. Jesus shows us that it is God’s heart to communicate with His people. 

Hebrews begins with these words, making a similar connection: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (1:1-2) The Apostle John does the same when He refers to Jesus as the Word of God (John 1).

If God so wants to be known that He would send His own Son, it’s at least plausible that He would find other ways to reveal Himself as well. I trust the Bible because I trust the person of Jesus.

  1. The Character of God

I also trust the Bible because I trust the character of God. Jesus shows us the character of God, but so do the Scriptures. You cannot read the Bible without the overwhelming sense that God wants us to know Him. The reason we exist is to know God and be known by Him. Here are just a few such scriptures:

Exodus 6:6-8: I am the Lord… I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians… I am the Lord. 

Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God. 

Proverbs 8:17: I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

John 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Jeremiah says it perhaps most beautifully. What is the most important thing any human can do? Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (9:23-24)

And what is God’s goal for humanity? I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

God wants to be known. This doesn’t mean the Bible is His Book but it does show us a deep motivation for self-revelation.


God cannot lie.
It’s also important to note here that God cannot lie. He wants to be known and, as God, He has the power and creativity to reveal Himself. But how can we trust Him? We can trust Him because He can only be truthful. He can only be faithful and honest. 

1 Samuel 15:29: The Glory of Israel [meaning God] will not lie.

Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

If God is real and if He wants to be known, He will reveal Himself accurately and honestly. I trust the Bible because I trust the character of God. 

  1. The Testimony of Its Pages

I also trust the Bible because I trust the testimony of its pages. If the Bible is not God’s Word, it is perhaps the most arrogant, self-confident, full-of-itself book ever written.

If it is not God’s Word, it is not just a nice book with nice stories and nice morals. If it is not God’s Word, it is evil, because it claims to hold the very words of God, and to be the greatest, most important, most sacred book ever written. Trust it or trash it.

The claims it makes.
Listen to just a few of its claims:

2 Samuel 7:28: Now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are truth…

2 Samuel 22:31: This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true.

Psalms 12:6: The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

Psalm 18:30: As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is tried…

Psalm 19:7: The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Proverbs 30:5: Every word of God proves true.

2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

2 Peter 1:19-21: And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 

Revelation 22:6: And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.

The Story it tells.
The Story it tells also nudges me toward belief. I can’t tell you if its words are true, and perhaps I’m only speaking from my own experience, but the Story of Scripture has a ring of truth about it. Yes, it is easy to get lost in the details or all the individual stories, but when you see its grand narrative, many of our questions and longings find compelling answers. The grand Story can be summed up in four chapters: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation.

Creation. The world had a beginning. It was made with purpose and significance, with humans made in the image of God. Regardless of what you believe about how or when God made the world, the fact that He made it answers so many questions. It compellingly explains why we live as if our lives matter, why beauty touches us so deeply, why love and relationships are so essential, and why, even now in the 21st Century, we just can’t seem to shake our longing for a Maker. The Bible shows us how we were created with these things in mind.

Fall. But everything is broken. We hurt the people we love. We run from God. We choose self-destructive paths. We break the things we touch. And despite all our effort, we can’t fix it. Then add to that cancer, viruses, tornados, infertility, pain in childbirth, loneliness, depression, anxiety, terrorism, war, racism, trafficking, and eventually death. We know in our bones the world shouldn’t be this way. The Bible tells us why.

Redemption. Yet we long for things to be better, and we work to that end. We strive toward self-improvement and we long for it in the people we love. We celebrate stories of forgiveness and reconciliation, rescue and redemption. These things are hard-wired into us by a God who offers them to us, and we see them on display through the climax of this Story in His Son. The Bible explains these longings.

New Creation. One day things will finally and completely be made whole. We want utopia. We want to live forever. We want to be reunited with the people we’ve lost. We want to see God. All these longings find fulfillment in the Story of Scripture.

No, none of this proves the Bible is true or that this grand narrative is the narrative we’re living. Yet, it gives me just one more piece of confidence in believing. It tells a compelling Story.

The way it speaks.
And if you thought that last point was too subjective, you’ll hate this one.

The way this Book speaks to my heart reinforces its veracity. When I read it I can almost hear God’s voice. I feel comforted in my heartache, convicted of my sin, and exposed at my deepest level. I don’t just read this Book. It reads me! It knows me and speaks directly to me. I trust the Bible because I trust the testimony of its pages. 

So what now?
So what are we supposed to do with all this? I want to end with three action steps.

  1. Bring Him your doubts

First, bring God your doubts. I know I didn’t answer your questions and I realize there are fair reasons to doubt the Scriptures. Don’t sweep your doubts under the rug. Take your doubts seriously enough to look into them.

Sometimes people say things like “the Bible is full of contradictions” without actually looking at any supposed contradictions. Or sometimes we reject the Scriptures not because of any logical argument, but simply because we don’t like what it says. I don’t want to obey this so it must not be true. There are also times when we assume the Bible must be false simply because we haven’t taken the time to properly understand it in its cultural context.

Instead, take your doubts seriously enough to do some of the work to really understand. I discovered early on that many of my doubts had more to do with a lack of understanding or an unquestioning loyalty to my own cultural assumptions than with anything inherent in the text. Do the work. Bring Him your doubts.

  1. Trust that God knows better

Second, in all matters, trust that God knows better. Easier said than done I know, but if God has spoken, trust that He has spoken for our good. His Word is for your good. I love how the statement of faith for our denomination the Evangelical Free Church of America summarizes what we believe about the Scriptures. Pay close attention to how it ends.

We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.

Believed, obeyed, and trusted. Not just read or studied or proclaimed, as important as those things are.

Jesus said: Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Trust these words. Obey them. Build your life upon them. They are for you from God. Trust that He knows better.

  1. Make this Book your food

And finally, eat this Book! Make it your food. It is strange to me how regularly the Bible refers to itself as a kind of food, sweeter than the best dessert and more satisfying than the richest feast. For Jesus while fasting even chose God’s Word over bread. He said, quoting the Old Testament: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

 So eat up, Church! Read it regularly and systematically. Memorize it and meditate upon it. Learn to study it and dig deeply into it. Know it so that you can trust it, love it, obey it, and build your life upon it.

Where else can we go?
I love this Book and I want you to love it too. It has been twenty-three years since that half-hearted prayer in my parent’s basement. Twenty-three years and I still feel like I’m just barely at the beginning, still struggling, still doubting, but still growing.

Whenever I’m wrestling with my faith (which is more often than I care to admit) I often think of one of my favorite stories from the Gospels. Jesus was at the height of his popularity but then preached a really hard sermon. After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:66-69).

I often feel like Peter. For I am often burdened by doubt and unanswered questions, tempted, like the crowds, to walk away. But where would I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life! So here I am, learning to trust (and love) the Bible.

A Simple Yet Profound Question

A Simple Yet Profound Question

In my years of ministry, I have found myself asking this one question many times, in many ways, and with many people. It is a question that appears to be quite simple at face value, but when it is honestly considered and responded to, it is one of the most profound questions that can be asked. I have found no other question to be as efficient in getting to the heart of a person’s personal faith and spiritual formation. And one of the beautiful things about this question is how it can be universally asked and applied to both Christians and non-Christians.

Ok, I think I have built up the suspense enough. Here is the question…

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Now I know what you are thinking…”Reid, you clearly had a deadline and just threw this Sunday School question together last minute.” This question actually comes straight from the words of Jesus Himself in Matthew 16. Jesus first asks His disciples in a general sense who the people say that He is.

This first question is not that dissimilar from a question someone today might ask inquiring about the various views, theories, and opinions that are out there about Jesus. The disciples proceed to share with Him what they have heard from other people.

Then Jesus turns to His disciples again and asks the question in a more pointed and personal way.

“But who do you say that I am?”

It’s almost as if He is saying, “Ok, those may be some of the views out there about me, but I want to know what you think. What is your view of me?” There is something about this question that, when understood and asked clearly, prevents us from giving a pat answer. It almost demands that we open up and give a very honest reply. A reply so real that it surprises you when you hear your own answer.

You see, it is one thing to have a theory about God, or a view of Christianity, or even an interpretation of some of Jesus’ teachings. But when you get down to brass tacks and ask yourself, “Who do I say that Jesus is?”, what you find is that the answer you give reveals more about your heart and your very life than perhaps any other question can.

And here is the beauty of this question. It doesn’t have a shelf life. It is a question that can, and indeed should, be asked for the rest of our lives. The other great thing about this question is that it is a question generator, in that it will inevitably lead to further questions and conversations.

So if you are looking for a way to diagnose your own spiritual health, facilitate a meaningful conversation among other believers in your life, or engage in thoughtful dialogue with someone who is skeptical of the Christian faith, consider adding this question to your tool box. But be sure to ask it of yourself first. Who knows, you may find your own answer to be surprising.

In the Beginning, God…

In the Beginning, God…

The book of Genesis is perhaps one of the most controversial and contentious books of the Bible. Not only between theists and atheists, but also among people of faith who believe in the divine inspiration of the first book of the Pentateuch. For some, Genesis is a book filled with great implausibility at every turn. The opening verses themselves are filled with ideas and assertions that for many modern thinkers are either outrageous claims at best or poisonous ideologies at worst.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Right away we find a defeater belief and barrier of entry for many people in our culture. The Bible opens up with the claim that there is indeed a God who exists outside of time. So, within the first four words we find people already putting the book down. Even if they continue reading, they find another word that just doesn’t seem to be reconcilable with modern scientific findings. To claim that the world was “created” flies in the face of many modern minds which operate from the starting point that nothing exists outside of the material world. This would include God and these heavens that the Bible is referring to.

We can dismiss the book of Genesis as antiquated mythological literature. To do so would not only be a failure to understand the purpose of Genesis, but it would also be a failure to see the profound impact this book has had on human culture throughout the centuries. Even if one doesn’t believe that the book of Genesis is true, much less divinely inspired revelation, one cannot deny the significance and importance of this book in human history. For that matter alone, this book should be taken seriously and read thoughtfully.

Even if one decides to reject the claims of Genesis and the notion of a divine being, one still has to provide some tenable claim and explanation to the major questions of life. And perhaps none is more vital and necessary to answer than the question, “How did we get here?”

This is more than just a question of origins. This is an inquiry into the meaning of life, the purpose of humanity, the problems of the world, and the direction of history. While humanity has put forth many attempts to answer these questions, it is clear that a pervasive confusion still remains in our search for who we are and why we exist. Perhaps our confusion is a result of starting from the wrong place. We are tempted to find the answer within ourselves.

But what if the answer was never meant to start with us?

What if, instead, the better answer starts somewhere else or with Someone else? This is precisely why we want to look back at the timeless book of Genesis in order to live forward in our cultural moment. And as we do, may we discover who we’re meant to be by encountering the One who has always been.

We are excited to walk back to the beginning as we explore this ancient book in our sermon series, Genesis: In the beginning, God.

If you’d like to dig deeper, here are a few suggested resources that you may find useful as a supplement to our time in the book that shows us where it all began.

SUPPLEMENTAL RESOURCES:

Genesis for Everyone

Tyndale Commentary on Genesis

Genesis Unbound

The Lost World of Genesis One

The Bible Project (Genesis 1-11)

Confession Hurts and Heals

Confession Hurts and Heals

There is a story that is attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle where he anonymously sent a telegram to a handful of wealthy and influential men in London. The telegram simply read, “Flee at once! All has been discovered!” According to the story, each of the men left town and were never heard from again. The point of the story, regardless of its veracity, is that you can count on the fact that everyone has some kind of secret that they are painstakingly attempting to keep under lock and key.

We all suffer from this peculiar problem, which Dallas Willard refers to as sin management. Instead of confessing and repenting of our sin, we seek to either cover it up at best or ignore it at worst.

In a world of Photoshop and Instagram filters, the pressure to maintain an image of perfection is overwhelming. We do all that we can to convince others that our lives are great, our relationships are void of pain, and we always wake up looking like we are heading to a magazine cover photo shoot.

As a result, we find the idea of confessing sin to be antithetical to the good life that we are trying to find, because we believe that it jeopardizes our reputation and self image. When this is the way we think about vulnerability, transparency, and confession, it so easily leads to us developing a pattern of hiding and managing sin that we carry throughout our lives.

We find that the effort and energy we expend to cover up, manage, and hide our sin and shame can often be more exhausting. Not to mention it can bring about more shame. We feel trapped.

But it gets worse. The choice to remain silent about our sin creates an inner turmoil that impacts us not just on spiritual levels, but physical as well. A clear example of this is found in the words of Psalm 32:3:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

God has created us as wonderfully integrated beings; the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives are impacted by one another. Thus, it is no surprise that when we keep silent about our sin and attempt to bury our shame, we find that it has physiological ramifications as well.

But even though we know that hiding our sin is not good and that it will only create more problems for us, we still choose to hide and manage our sin. Because somewhere along the line, we convinced ourselves that the cost of others knowing our sin is greater than keeping it to ourselves.

The great irony is that freedom and deliverance are found in the bittersweetness of vulnerability, transparency, and confession. Which is what the psalmist declares in Psalm 32:5:

I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not cover my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”

and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

When we talk about confession, we are referring to the practice of being open and honest about our sin with God and with others (James 5:16). It is about admitting our brokenness with sincerity to God as well as inviting others to see our brokenness so that we might find healing and hope. While we can trust that God will love us and forgive us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9) we don’t have the same assurance when we open up to others. This is why we must be wise and discerning with whom we choose to share “the fine chinet of our life with,” as David Powlison puts it.

Now, it is not difficult to see how the practice of confession is simultaneously appalling and appealing. As Frederick Buechner once said, “What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.”

In our desire to live whole and integrated lives, these practices of confession and repentance are not simply “things that Christians should do,” but are vital habits that bring healing and freedom to our lives that we could not experience by managing on our own.

May God grant us the humility and strength to confess our sins with one another in such a way that we find healing and wholeness. And may it also create a sense of plausibility for those we encounter in our everyday life to see that while confession hurts, it does so in order to heal.

Doubting Our Doubts

Doubting Our Doubts

For most of my life, I did not believe in God. I simply had no use for someone I could not see, could not hear, and could not touch. In the same way we shed foolish beliefs in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, I thought mature adults can (and should) outgrow their need for a mythical father figure who lives in the sky. And even in the moments when I was tempted to believe, I could always fall back on my doubts. I always had an explanation, or a question, or a cynical thought, that could help me explain away my need for God to be real. The fever would break, and I could go back to my rational life.

Until one day, my doubts failed me.

I was 16, in a hospital room with my unconscious father. He had gone in for surgery, only for his surgeon to discover cancer. He was quickly diagnosed with lymphoma, and it was serious. I realized my dad was probably going to die.

Death as a concept was not new to me. And in the moments that snuck up on me, when the reality of death caused me to fear, or to wonder, about the true nature of this life, my doubts were there to comfort me: Well, no one really knows what happens when you die. Death is nothing to fear. It’s a natural part of the process. When death was an acquaintance, these were enough to keep him out of the living room.

But when death became a presence in my life and threatened to take away someone I loved, I turned to the only place I had ever found answers: my doubts. They talked a lot, but explained very little: Don’t be sad. Your dad, like you, and everyone you love, is a collection of cells and electrical current. When the switch turns off, it isn’t tragic. It’s inevitable. Live it up now! Your turn is next.

I knew in that moment that all of these thoughts, as disturbing as they were, were a logical conclusion based on my premise: there is no God. But deep within my soul, everything in me knew that was wrong. My dad was more than chemicals. And my love for him was more than a biological illusion. When I raised the point with my doubts, they shrugged.

A new thought occurred to me: should I doubt my doubts? Were the basic assumptions I had made about life and truth and God actually as trustworthy as I had been led to believe? It was a dangerous question, and for years I wrestled with the unsettled feeling it caused. But even in the moment, I realized it was the most important question I had yet asked in my young life.

Doubting my doubts did not make me a Christian (that’s another story). But it did make room in my mind and heart for the idea that I might be wrong. My father’s diagnosis (and he’s fine today, by the way) had led me to a conclusion I knew was false. Doubting my doubts allowed me to re-examine the premise. Maybe God was a better explanation for my experience of reality.

Doubt is not an enemy of faith. In fact, even in my own story, it was a catalyst in my journey for truth. But we should never take our doubts at face value. They are not nearly as trustworthy as they tend to present themselves. If you are reading this and you find yourself full of doubts, I understand. But take a minute and turn all your questions against them. You may be surprised by what they say.