Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

I was visiting another church the other Sunday and the pastor was discussing stewardship. This led him to the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler where Jesus drops the famous line about it being ‘easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter the Kingdom of God.’ It started off well enough, the pastor pointed out this was a metaphor and of course rich people can go to Heaven. He explained that it was like when people say they are so hungry they could eat a horse. Then he said it could be something a little different, that there was a gate that was small, so it received the nickname “eye of the needle” and that it was so small in fact, that horses had to get down on their knees to get through. I’ve heard something of this before but decided to research it a bit.

This interpretation is somewhere between 200 years old to over 1,000 depending on who you talk to. There are also a few more interpretations that include a mistranslations so that it’s not a camel but a rope (possibly made of camel hair, in at least one thing I found) and instead of gate, it was a well known mountain pass named ‘eye of the needle’. Of course, none of these are very good interpretations, so bad, that I’m not going to even bother arguing against it because it has been done (and better) many times(Blue Letter Bible), including this Wikipedia entry that points out the idiom in other languages (it was an elephant) and even the Qur’an.

Now, I have no idea what this pastor believes. He may have read this in a commentary or somewhere else and was simply trying to educate and give more background. So, the point in not to say anything about him, but instead about this idea. How unwilling are we to accept this parable from Christ Himself? That’s what I think of when I read these other takes on it. What is wrong with us that we would take obvious hyperbole and try to downplay it? I don’t know if the fear is greater that we would offend the rich or (as American’s tend to think) one day we will be rich and perhaps risk being kept out of the Kingdom. This isn’t an attack on wealth. The rich young ruler is looking for God’s favor, he has kept all the commandments (but for God’s will or to secure his place in Heaven?) but that still isn’t enough. You can’t earn your way to Heaven.

It was common in those times for the Jews to believe that their wealth came from God’s blessing because they were good. So, for Jesus to tell him to sell everything is also counter-cultural. If he gave up his money, how would he know he was good? The more common reading, also, is that he loved his money more than God (he went away sad). We are told no one can serve two masters. If someone seeks money and not God, it is literally impossible to spend eternity with Him. It is only though Christ that we can do that. Generally, we are fine with that message, aren’t we? But there is just something about discussing money that we don’t like. We want to be able to keep out love of money and still serve Christ.

Now, maybe you can’t blame some of the pastors who perpetuate these interpretations, maybe they don’t know it was a common saying in the A.N.E., but I haven’t read commentaries that downplay the mountain that our faith moves. So we are least alright with some hyperbole and metaphor from Christ, it just shouldn’t be about money.

-MMT
Edit – Colbert quotes this parable in a story, has his own take on it: http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/yxerhp/the-word—see-no-equal

 

Fathered by God

I first read Wild at Heart about 10 years ago. I remember being pumped up and ready to roll and even mad at a buddy of mine who had read it but never recommended it to me. The more I grew in my faith and knowledge, the less I liked the book. Eldredge is more charismatic, while I became more Reformed and my theology could never get behind his.
That being said, I recently read one of his other books, Fathered by God: Learning What You Dad Could Never Teach You, on the recommendation of a friend of mine. Overall the book was alright, not great, but I do think his stages of manhood are worth noting:

Boyhood – This is fairly basic and self-explanatory. Essentially, this is when you are a young child and you look up to your father as someone to model after.

Cowboy – I found this to be one of the more compelling chapters, mainly about kind of a rebellious or wild period in your life. I’m not entirely sure this is true for everyone, though the guy who recommended this book told me he feels he missed out on this stage of his life and has something of a void from it. The stage isn’t ‘wild’ in the broader worldly sense of drunk and disorderly, you could also call it the ‘explorer’ stage. I do feel most people I know had this, including myself, sometimes it was a few months, sometimes a few years or even just a few instances sprinkled in during another time period (like college) where you did things/tried things you wouldn’t have normally and certainly wouldn’t again.

Warrior – Maybe you could also call this one the ‘fighter’ stage. This was one I couldn’t get behind as much. He writes some about learning to stand up for things as well as a time to test yourself. I’m not sure I’d really separate it out as a different stage, but might combine with some of the other attributes and experiences of ‘Cowboy’.

Lover – This is another stage I wasn’t sold on, mainly because I didn’t really see it as a distinct phase. I don’t have much to say about it, but it is basically the time you learn to love something, which is important for loving your wife, children, etc. later.

King  –  Another pretty interesting chapter, this stage is about basically being the head of something. He writes mostly from the perspective of successful career achievement, which he obviously has, but also mention it could be something like being a homeowner or having a family; really anything you could rule over or be in charge of. In a lot of ways, it wasn’t always applicable due to the focus on career; not everyone will be a CEO or run ministry or be lead pastor of a church. However, he does have great Biblical points about Godly leadership.

Sage –  Easily my favorite chapter and unfortunately the one we probably do worst at as a society or church. He points out that not only can you not rule (as ‘king’) forever, but that you shouldn’t. At some point, you must step down and let the next generation of leaders take over. That last point is something I could write a whole posts on, especially as it relates to the Church, but I’ll try to stay on point. He goes on to write about how, after stepping down, the ‘Sage’ shouldn’t just go off to retirement in solitude, but instead should stick around and help mentor, grow and disciple either the next ‘king’ or some of the future (‘warrior’ & ‘cowboy’) ones.
I don’t I can really stress enough how important and overlooked this stage is. Could you imagine the impact if every Christian were to mentor someone else coming up the way they did? A pastor retires after 40 years in the pulpit, joins a church and offers to meet with a young pastor to discuss his life in ministry. A retired business owner sees a young college guy who is a bit rebellious and sees it as an entrepreneurial spirit, decides to mentor him and helps get him on the right track. The list could go on and on. He acknowledges that not everyone will be open to being mentored or to taking advice, but I still think it is important that everyone try. If every man stepped up and did this near the end of their life, it would have an immeasurable impact on the Kingdom.

 

So, that’s a pretty condensed summary of the book. It is a quick and easy read and well worth it, if for nothing else it forces you to examine your own life and the impacts certain stages and events had. In each chapter, he discusses how to raise the person in that stage and how that stage can go wrong, which can be very useful for someone raising boys or getting ready to mentor or disciple someone in an earlier stage.

This was also my first attempt to do a book review, hopefully more to follow.

-MMT

 

Christians and Mental Health

Mental.Physical Illness

 

I just listened to a great podcast from the Whitehorse Inn at the gym and it reminded of this comic. This is from a secular perspective, but unfortunately, I think Christians are even worse. Go listen to the podcast, there is not much more I can say that she doesn’t, but I’ll hit a few points. She mentions most Christian think of mental illness as schizophrenia or other more dramatic illness that are actually quite rare (about 6%). She says that 26.2% of Christian have a mental illness, mostly anxiety based (general anxiety, OCD, etc.). Autism spectrum and ADHD are also discussed. Interestingly, when discussing anxiety, she left out my affliction, social anxiety.

They go on to discuss the failure of the church to properly address this issues as well as what churches and Christian communities can do to help and support people who are suffering from issues. I want to talk a little about the former as it is something I have experienced myself. Actually, just listen to podcast, there really isn’t much I can add to it. They get in how the church views it as a lack of faith or that as Christians we just shouldn’t be depressed. They refer to this as prosperity gospel light, have faith and think positive and you’ll be alright. I prefer the Smileyface Christianity, where we are all just a bunch of happy people walking around smiling like idiots and if we truly believe, we should feel no sadness. She makes a great point and lack of knowledge in the theology of suffering.  It really is a good listen, go now, there are even other resources and documents on that page.