Friday, January 25, 2008

What I learned this week

It's been a while since I reported learning anything at school, so I thought I should give a glimpse into what the ol' seminary has been putting in my brain.

But first, I will tell you that I've learned that even in California, you need some manner of heater in your apartment. Some days, like today, even blankets and cats don't do enough. Plus the selfish cats are snuggled together on the bed at the moment. Curse them. I am in the other room wearing long underwear under flannel pj's under a sweatshirt, 2 pairs of socks, and a hat. I am considering gloves. I need to make some tea.

OK, water is on. I also learned that my stovetop pot is almost the most inefficient way to heat water (at least I have gas burners; electric is worst). Better are electric kettles and the microwave. But I haven't had an electric kettle since college (ah, ramen from a kettle) and I just got a nice teapot as a gift, so I hate to waste it.

I just realized I really wanted to be naughty I could turn on the oven. That heats the apartment really well. Hmmmm....

Anyway, ok, what I learned.

Well in Hebrew we did a paper on Amos 7, which is an interesting little passage where God gives the prophet a vision of destruction (two, actually) and then Amos says don't do it and God feels bad and says OK, he won't. That got us all into the discussion of whether God changes his mind and if prayer actually changes God. Or does God change God? Or did Amos? And so we looked at Exodus, where Moses does pretty much the same thing (gets God to repent of planning to kill everybody), and a bunch of other uses of this term "naham" which when used for humans is translated "repent" but when used for God is usually translated other ways. It was interesting: most of the class were OK with saying God "relented", a few were OK with "changed his mind," but very few were OK with God "repented." Even tho, really, the word means all those things, and they're all in the same semantic domain.

So then you start getting into conversations about whether God can be planning to do something evil, or had done something evil (in Jeremiah he repents of a disaster he brought on the people), or is it not evil because it's God? We're learning about the difference between bringing your ideology to the text and just reading what's actually there. And when you read what's there, you often find some really surprising things that challenge your theology. Now in order to do this, you have to be able to read the original language, not a translation which will have theology already put in it (which is clear when you see how the different translations interpret this one word in so many ways).

Anyway it was fun, and I felt like people were being challenged and offended, which is always really a treat for me. Usually I'm just offended or am offending others. This time, the freaking Bible was doing it! ha ha! We had a good discussion, and it was all about digging into the text. And you know, I don't think I'd get that at most seminaries, sadly. Either they don't bother with the original languages, or they do but they make it a point to teach ideology. So chalk one up for Fuller, that they actually are willing to face the scary truth of what the Bible reveals about God. She's so much more complex than we imagine.

Then in my other class, which is actually an at-home class that I listen to on the computer, we're talking about why Jesus suffered and died. The prof has this interesting theory about God's most loved ones suffering the most (see Israel), because that reflects who God is. He talks about Jesus' death in such a way that it's starting to make some sense: I'm starting to understand that in fact it may have been necessary, but not for a forensic reason. It may have just been necessary because of who God is. It's hard for me to explain because I don't completely understand it yet. But for a while I was in the camp of it being a big sad accident, and now I'm leaning back away from that. So it's an interesting journey.

Then in chapel the speaker talked about the cross as being when we were saved from our sins, which is totally normal Evangelical speech, but I remembered that my at-home prof reminded us of - I think it's 1 Cor or Romans? - where it says that without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless. And he says that we are saved by the resurrection, not the cross - that the real defeat of death is when Jesus rises, not when he dies (which is kind of "duh" when you think about it). Of course I really like this b/c I'm all about the positivity of the resurrection instead of the despair of the cross. I like me a good happy ending, especially when it's a happy ending for everybody (in the sense that the act saved everybody...but then he'll try to dance around how not everybody accepts it so not everybody's going to heaven, but it's not really based on what we do but on our having the Holy Spirit, and it gets into this funny circle where you try to hold on to God being in charge but not allow for universalism. I gave up on that dance long ago and decided to just be a universalist. God can explain why it doesn't work that way, if it doesn't, to me one day and I'm sure his reasoning will make more sense).

So I got to thinking when was I saved, if I were to be asked that question? And of course it depends on what you mean by "saved." Because if "saved" means when did I find the path towards the best life, the meaning of life, then it would be when I was born into a Christian home and at multiple turns ever since. I think I was saved again when I started understanding how God has reached into the world through many other religions, too. For me, it's the Christian path that I believe will provide me with the answers, but I don't think that universally applies, at least not the way our church presents it. Ideally, Jesus' teachings can apply to everyone, but Christians have mucked it up enough that I don't blame people for not being interested. Anyway, I am rambling.

The point is that on one level, I am saved by my baptism, in that it initiated me into God's family (in my tradition). But on a more universal, less personal level, I am saved by Christ's resurrection, which defeated death. And I am also saved by the cross, because it showed the world how far God would go to prove how much She loves us. And I was saved when Jesus was born, because that made God available and accessible in a way he'd never been before. And I was saved when God decided to have a relationship with Israel, because bless them, they are the guinea pigs who taught us all how to work with God (and who made mistakes and did things right, both of which we learn from). And I was saved when God decided to create this world and play a role in it, when God decided people should live in community and not be alone, when God came looking for the people every time they tried to hide. So I guess I - and everybody - am just saved because of who God is. If my "salvation" is wrapped up in God's character and person, which is defined as "love," then I am definitely going to be OK.

Isn't it nice to find a complex answer to a simple question? Or at least prove that the question is far from simple? But in the end, the answer was pretty simple, wasn't it. Cool.

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