Monday, September 8, 2014

Blinded by Culture

Sometimes when we live in a new place, experience a new stage of life (like marriage or becoming a mother) or meet a new challenge, we gain insight into a Biblical truth.  My years of living abroad were rife with these.  Walking through the outdoor market, I could imagine Jesus's temple - smelly, bleating and filled with sly dealings.  Meeting in homes in secret, I could imagine the joy and terror of being a first century Christian.  More than these imaginings, I also learned a lot about eastern culture and its connection to the world of the Old Testament and the New. 

Some things are so deeply ingrained in our culture, our "worldview," that we can't even recognize or identify when someone is thinking radically differently from us. I'm not talking about eating bugs versus eating pork chops; I'm talking about the hidden and underlying worldview that colors every word and idea.  We forget that our Bibles come from one of those cultures far removed from our own, and if we're not careful as we read we'll skip right over the message God wanted to share with us.

One of those bone deep things that color American thinking is individualism. We believe from our constitution forward that the rights, needs and desires of the individual are the highest good.  You see it expressed in the way we date (vs arranged marriages), we choose our future (vs our parents choosing for us), and the way we organize our government (democracy vs. a collectivist system). There's good and bad in individualism.  And certainly in our Bibles we can find elements of individualism especially in the New Testament.  The Old Testament, on the other hand,  is a very Eastern document nearly entirely collectivist in its thinking (with a few startling breaks in Ezekiel).

One of the issues where we can be blinded by our individualism to God's message is salvation.  We tend to focus on the passages that emphasis that God saves us one by one.  (For example the story of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) or our names being written in the Lamb's book of life (Revelation 20:11-15). Our culture bias however keeps us from seeing how often God talks about our salvation in terms of the people around us.

For example, I ran across this passage in 1 Peter.
Did you see it?

Let me ask you a question. Don't worry; it is multiple choice.

1. Why do we purify our souls? 
 A. To get to heaven
 B. So we can be obedient
 C. In order to love our brothers
 D. Cause we're tired of being sinners


The answer is always C. 

If we dive into Peter's dense sentence (especially by comparing translations-an excellent study technique) we can see that the Christians responded obediently to the truth by purifying their souls. However the point of the verse is why or maybe to use a country phrase "what for?"  The "what for" is the sincere love of the brethren.  Peter thinks a primary reason that we have been purified is so that we can become loving churches.   We don't often think of our purification being for someone else's good!

For another example consider Ephesians 2:8-10 and your next multiple choice question.

Why were we created in Christ?
A. God was lonely
B. God felt sorry for us
C. So that we could do the good work God had planned for us
D. Cause we were tired of being sinners.


I told you the answer was always C.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
We were created to do good stuff for others, like visit nursing homes, care for sick relatives, make clothes for the naked and feed the hungry.  We were saved because God intends to make the world better in us. 

Let's not be fooled.  Although clearly God loves Christians one by one and sent Jesus after us like the shepherd in the parable chased the sheep, we need to understand His plan isn't about one Christian.  We don't do good works because its good for us individually. He created us to do them.  We don't love others because it blesses our lives individually, it's the very reason we were purified.  Individualism or not, it's not about me; it's not about you; it's all about us! 


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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