On the Sharp Edge is the Tension of a Narrow Path in the Natural and Spiritual Realms


Andy Bannister writes in the Bad Theology Gap about the danger of sliding off one side or the other of theological constructs that Scripture holds in tension. For a visual, he describes the Sharp Edge of Mt. Blencathra in northern England that he hiked with his bride on their honeymoon. The way is “perfectly safe” to take the Sharp Edge to the top of the mountain, he says,

“provided you keep to the very top of the arête and don’t start fooling around trying to veer off to one side or the other. Keep your balance and keep a straight line and you’ll be fine.”

I have written before about the theological narrow road – the road that requires remaining in the center of the tension between two theological constructs – in the past. It is a theme that I see running throughout Scripture.

To be fair, the context in which Jesus uses the concept of the narrow path or gate is more pointed:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

But, I don’t think the way Jesus uses the narrow gate/way concept is antithetical to the way I am using it here.

It is a theme we see in the universe that reflects God’s design with the fine tuning of physical constants. Those constants were set to razor thin parameters from the moment after the so-called Big Bang, such that carbon-based life was inevitable to form on a planet we call earth. Any slight deviation in those constants, and the Universe would expand too quickly and collapse back in on itself, or it would expand too slowly and lack the energy to spawn life.

This fine-tuning is (perhaps) like the narrow path (or narrow road) in that any deviation off a narrow path takes us into the woods, or weeds, or worse – down a steep mountainside!

A narrow road or (arête) is like the fine-tuning of the cosmological constants in God’s universe that were set just so, within very small tolerances that were necessary to produce life as we know it.

I see these principals in the sweep of Scripture that began with one choice that dooms mankind to futility, setting the stage for another choice that leads to the redemption of the created world. One choice that allowed us freedom doomed us to separation from God, but it was necessary to set up another choice (Jesus) that requires that same freedom to love God – not out of compulsion, but because we want to love God.

Andy Bannister sees this narrow path (arête) in the “classic example” of “the balance between God’s sovereignty and human free will”. The Scripture holds these concepts together, while we tend to want to simplify them and, in so doing, pull them apart.

“Rather than stick to the theological arête, we delight in plunging down one side of an issue or the other, sliding like a mountain goat with greased hooves as we suddenly discover the cliff is sheerer than we thought.”

While the Bible holds in balance the sovereignty of God and a substantive freedom of will for human beings, Bannister observes that people have struggled to hold on to one without letting go the other:

“[T]hroughout church history factions have formed, denominations have split apart, hostilities broken out, and nasty emoticons deployed in anger on Twitter by people who want to play off divine sovereignty versus human freedom.”

I see the same tension in a recent sermon that focused on the difference between childlike love and childishness, which displays a lack of love. Jesus called us to be like little children in our faith, but not childish. Other tensions exist, such as the necessity of faith and works. These are not contradictory concepts, but paradoxes that need to be harmonized.

These paradoxes don’t only exist in metaphysical realms. The reality of quantum mechanics seems to stand in contrast to the constants of classical physics, yet we don’t dispose of one set of principals to hold on to the other. We don’t favor one over the other, because we find the truth lies in holding both. We hold both sets of principals together, even though we might not see how they can be harmonized.

Interestingly, the idea of holding apparently contrasting things in tension is an ancient, biblical principal.

“It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other….” (Ecclesiastes 7:18 NASB)

How Important is Love in Your Theology?

Where does love come from?

What is love?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

“This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:15)

What is the source of love?

“[L]ove is from God”

1 John 4:7

“God is love.”

1 John 4:16

How important is love in the Bible?

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

How James Speaks to the Authenticity of His Brother, Jesus

As the story goes, when Mary was visited by an angel who told her she would conceive and give birth to great man who she would call Jesus, though she had never known a man, she was thoughtful, questioning and even troubled, but said she was willing. (Luke 1:26-35)

When she visited her cousin, Elizabeth, at the angel’s direction, and what the angel said was corroborated, Mary was thankful and happy. (Luke 1:39-47) She believed what the angel told her and gave thanks to God, but that is a mother’s response. Right? Siblings and strangers are a different matter.

On the subject of claims about Jesus, skepticism has always existed. We even find it in the narratives of the four Gospels, themselves. The Bible is candid that way.

The Pharisees and Sadducees (the Jewish religious leaders of the day) largely did not believe the claims of Jesus. Most of the Romans certainly didn’t believe them. Even among the common people, we get the sense that some people wanted to believe Jesus, but their good will toward him changed over the span of his public life.

Jesus was not initially well-received in his hometown, Nazareth. When he read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue and announced that the words he read were fulfilled that day in their hearing, they didn’t take kindly to him. (Luke 4:14-21) They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Lk. 4:22), and they took offense at his assertions. (Mk. 6:3)

It wasn’t like Jesus tried to soften his approach. We might even say that Jesus provoked their skepticism. (Lk. 4:22-27) They changed from curiosity tinged with skepticism to anger as he presumed their rejection of him. (Lk 4:28) They became so angry, they drove him out of town and up to the brow of a hill where they threatened to throw him off a cliff. (Lk. 4:29)

During another encounter with a crowd in the wider area of Galilee, Jesus caused such a stir by the things he was saying that the people accused him of “being out of his mind”. The religious leaders even accused him of blasphemy.

When his family heard what people were saying, they went to “seize him”. (Mk. 3:20-21) His mother and brothers would not even enter in the house where he was talking to the crowd. They stood outside calling to him, but Jesus refused to respond. (Mk. 3:31-35)

Jesus caused such a stir in Galilee that the Jewish leaders sought to kill him (Jn. 7:1) claiming that Jesus was “leading people astray” (Jn. 7:12). In the midst of the stir that Jesus was causing in Galilee (his home region), we learn definitively that “not even his brothers believed in him”. (Jn. 7:5)

His brothers did not merely not believe in him. The challenged him to leave Galilee and go to Judea to make his claims and prove himself there. (Jn. 7:3) It wasn’t that they believed him; they were provoking him, likely hoping he would stop the nonsense: “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (Jn. 7:4)

His brothers certainly knew the angry reception Jesus was getting in Galilee would be nothing like the wrath he would experience in Judea where the High Priest and Sanhedrin were headquartered.

After the initial controversial stir that Jesus made in the area in which he grew up, we don’t hear much about the family of Jesus, as Jesus spread out to other areas. They are largely absent from the narrative after that. The highly skeptical religious leaders never softened up to what Jesus was saying, but crowds of more common people did begin to believe him.

The height of his popularity among the crowds was, perhaps, the day he entered Jerusalem on a donkey on what we have come to call Palm Sunday. We get the sense that the crowd believed this was the beginning of their long awaited dream of taking back control from the Roman occupation and the climactic overthrow of Roman rule. It was actually a long awaited beginning of a different sort.

The arrest of Jesus on charges of blasphemy, and his silence in the face of those charges led to a dramatic turn in the perception of the crowd. By the time he was arrested in the garden and hauled before the Sanhedrin (the religious council) and then before Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor), the tide of popular opinion had turned against Jesus.

He wasn’t who they thought he was.

The Sanhedrin had Jesus arrested, looking for evidence to put him to death. (Mk. 14:55) Jesus was silent until the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mk. 14:61) When Jesus said, “I am” (Mk. 14:62), they had the evidence they wanted. They accused him of blasphemy and condemned him to death. (Mk. 14:63-65)

The religious council turned him over to Pilate for sentencing. (Mk. 15;1) The charge of blasphemy meant nothing to the Roman governor who believed the Sanhedrin was acting out of self-interest and concern for their own religious influence. (Mk. 15:2-10) Yet, the crowd was stirred up against Jesus, and they demanded that he be crucified. (Mk. 15:11-15) The rest is history.

Up to this point, the little we know about the brothers of Jesus is that they didn’t believe in him. The last we hear of them, when his family came to call him out of the home where he was causing a stir, Jesus seemed to have turned his back on them. When Jesus was told his family was there calling to him to come out, Jesus said,

“[W]hoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”. (Mk. 3:32-35)

This is the backdrop for some key observations about the family of Jesus, and particularly his brother, James, that speak to the authenticity Jesus and of the Gospel narrative.

Continue reading “How James Speaks to the Authenticity of His Brother, Jesus”

The Life and Death Reality of the Gospel

From hatred to love, from death to life

I murdered him for Allah but God raised him up to forgive me…. SHOCKING STORY OF REDEMPTION!! One for Israel: Israeli Arabs and Jews. United in the Gospel

The Gospel is a matter of life and death. A religious person might understand that statement in a metaphorical, “spiritual” sense. A non-believing person might understand this statement in the sense that is important to the believing person. Neither sense, however, captures the utter significance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the testimony to follow about a Muslim who hated Christians and Jews, and the one after that about a Jew who hated Muslims, the utter significance of the Gospel is brought home in a way that abstract ideas simply cannot do. The Gospel is Living Water in a wasteland of hatred and death.

The following testimony of a Sudanese Muslim who hated everyone who was not Muslim will make your skin crawl as he speaks of a brutal, unprovoked attack by him and others against a Christian classmate that left the man broken and bleeding on the threshold of death. His reaction was pride in what he had “done for Allah”.

An encounter with two Coptic Christians whose prayer healed his cousin who lay on his own deathbed opened his eyes to a new reality. When they told him, “The real miracle is that God wants to change your heart,” his world changed forever.

The decision he made to embrace Yeshua who lives cost him his family and life as he knew it. He was dead to them. They even performed a ceremonial funeral for him. The life that he knew was over, but he received new Life.

You will want to watch and listen to him tell his story in his own words, not just to describe this journey. You will want to hear him tell the rest of the story about the man he left for dead. The power of the Gospel is so much more than a matter of mere metaphorical importance.

In the following testimony of her life, this woman grew up in a world in which Arabs “were the enemy”. She grew up in the complex political struggle all around her or war and death. She did not live in a safe world.

She was terrified of Arab people who lived in villages surrounding the settlement in which she grew up. The Arabic language was a reminder to her, when she heard it, of shooting, rocks flying and people dying. She learned to hate Arabs.

The Rabbis painted a picture of the God of the Bible as “a very cold and distant god, almost robot-like, a type of God that wouldn’t think twice before he would strike you down with a lightning bolt if you dared to tear a little piece of toilet paper on Saturday, which is forbidden in Judaism”. What she saw of God in the Bible, however, seemed different to her.

She grew up in a world of hatred and fear. When she was introduced to the God of love and hope, her world changed completely. She no longer hates or fears Arab people. The Lord of life is the God of Arabs and Jews alike.

Risky Living: Tempting Death

Most of us try to avoid risks, but the risk of death for all of us is 100%!

Evel Knievel (Robert Craig Knievel), an American motorcycle daredevil and entertainer. Photo from http://cliffordsphotography.com/

This is a continuation of Risky Living: God Risk and Bad Risk. In that piece, I explored the difference between good risks and foolish risks. I was prompted to begin writing on the subject by a dream that I explained in the previous piece and the “lockdown” order covering most of the United States in April of 2020.

It is now April 2021. Much has happened, though much remains the same. This article I started a year ago has evolved. The path these thoughts have lead me down end in death, which is where the path of each of us will end. Before we get there, though, I will pick up again with the subject of my reckless youth.

I should have known at a young age that I had an affinity for recklessness. As a pre-teen, I loved the idea of somersaulting from a high dive, and I was even tempted into thinking I could jump extremely close to the edge of a concrete pool from a high dive without hitting the edge. Fortunately, I never attempted it, but no one who knew my thoughts or inclinations would be surprised at the series of unfortunate misadventures I experienced in high school.

I was no Evel Knievel, but I totaled two cars before I was 18. I climbed three water towers in the dark after nights of drinking. I don’t remember driving home after some of those nights of drinking. I once jumped from a dead tree overhanging a cliff into the dark waters of a quarry in rural Vermont. I was run over by the car I was riding in driven by a 15-year old with no license.

There is more, but the point isn’t to glorify anything that I did. The point isn’t to beat myself up for it either. I was seeking. Maybe I was seeking a little harder than other people. It may have started out as attempts to gain attention, fit in and be noticed, but it became much more than that.

I was trying to fill a void. I was fighting back against the apparent meaninglessness and purposeless of the world. I just didn’t know it, then.

I thought that gaining the attention and what I thought was the respect of my peers at the time would be fulfilling. I thought the thrill of overcoming fear would satisfy me. I thought that drugs and alcohol would fill up the emptiness in me and drown out the self-loathing.  None of the things accomplished those nebulous goals (or much of anything for that matter).

Evel Knievel took risky living to a whole new level, of course. My run-of-the-mill recklessness doesn’t hold a candle to Evel Knievel and the fame, fortune and international attention he gained by his precipitous endeavors (at significant cost to his own body). But, for what purpose? For what ultimate end?

I don’t presume to know what his answer might be if he was still alive to tell us. According to Wikipedia, Evel Knievel died in 2007 of pulmonary disease at the age of 69. He wanted a museum to be built in his name that would contain all of the memorabilia from his career, but that dream was never fulfilled. His memorabilia is scattered among transportation museums and private collections. In a generation or two, he will likely be just a footnote in history.

Continue reading “Risky Living: Tempting Death”