Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint

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Featured: FAITH WITHOUT ILLUSIONS – Andrew Byers [Vol. 4, #11]

He offers a path of faith paved with hope and healing in the footsteps of the best models of Scripture. Byers is a humorous, unassuming and sympathetic guide, one worth following down the better road. The pop Christianity of our time is a narcotic but not an answer to the deepest yearnings of the rising generation. Andy Byers surveys this landscape with a sharp analytical mind and with sails trimmed to the biblical gospel. An important and timely book of hopeful realism. It's also the way of Faith Without Illusions. With wisdom and grace, Byers inspires discerning Christians to move beyond cynicism for the purpose of challenging the church, instead, with love.

Right now, it's where Byers's work is moving me. John's College, Durham University. He has spent twelve years in pastoral ministry, most recently serving as the Chaplain of St. Mary's College, Durham University. IVP Academic. Special Offers. IVP Book Club. They often exhibited sympathy and were at times personally grieved over the pain and turmoil of their tough messages.


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Though shoved to the fringes, they were called to embrace and even embody the plights of the people they served, occasionally identifying with forthcoming national sufferings by way of symbolic actions: Jeremiah strapped a yoke to his back to symbolize the coming lordship of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar Jeremiah 27 ; Ezekiel laid on his side eating food baked over dung to personally represent the siege of Jerusalem Ezekiel 4 ; the New Testament prophet Agabus bound his hands and feet with a belt to show Paul the fate awaiting him Acts These dramatic actions served as visible means of instruction and required the prophet to physically identify with the impending misery of God's people.

Even when the prophets did not overtly sympathize with the misery of their hearers Jeremiah was told at certain moments not even to intercede for them! Jeremiah ; ; , they were nonetheless called to sympathize with the misery of God himself. It is difficult to care about a belief system that seems to have left us empty. Without a vested interest in the health of the church, cynics sneer at the shortcomings and tragedies in organized Christianity rather than plodding from the fringes into the fray to somehow bring salutary correction.

There is an absence of pathos apathy rather than a participation in the pathos sympathy. And sometimes apathy is simply the prelude to a cruel antipathy that delights in seeing the bubbles burst or the city consumed with fire from the sky. When God is angry with his children, it is not divorced from compassionate grief. Reading Hosea is a bumpy journey through the conflicting emotions of One who is not only full of wrath but also full of longing for his wayward people Only if our anger is sourced in the slow and conflicted anger of God is it justified.

Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint by Andrew Byers

The hope offered through the prophets was the hope that God himself would make all things right, that God would be the shepherd Israel's leaders failed to be Ezekiel 34 , that God would be the King no mortal son of David could be Zechariah And this hope is conjoined with a passionate love not only for God but also for the troubled people whom he intends to redeem. This phrase 'the fear of the L ORD' opens and closes the first m ajor section of Pro verbs see Proverbs ; , and it is found at the book's closing Proverbs , forming in both cases what in literary terms is called an in clusio.

This w orshipful reverence cannot be underestimated; without it, the cynic's pursuit of insight will be doom ed to failure from the start. Biblical wisdom is never divorced from a human and godly disposition — 'He stores up sound wisdom for the upright ' Proverbs , emphasis added. If we want to be numbered among the wise, then we must subordinate our academic careers, our late-night readings, our early morning studies and our sparring dialogues bene ath the ultimate obj ective of fearfully honoring the One who has no need for anyone's instructions.

But when we get to the end of the book, God rebukes them, because they 'have not spoken of me what is right' Job In his moment of greatest need Job is barraged with an idealizing misuse of wisdom that was as unsustainable in Uz as it is today. Good things happen to good people, Job. God helps those who help themselves. God will never give you more than you can handle.

The popular wisdom that Job's story is written to silence is centered on ancient ideas regarding 'retribution' — the righteous will experience blessing and the unrighteous misfortune. If we live a clean life, then we won't get cancer and our business will thrive. If we do get cancer, if our business falters or if our marriage or ministry crumbles, then there must be unrighteousness somewhere in our lives.

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Each of Job's friends express this oversimplified, popular wisdom that bad things do not happen to good people who faithfully follow God. The uncomplicated god of Job's friends plays by the rules, blessing those who do good and afflicting only those who do wrong. Contrary to the aphoristic and vapid theology of Job's idealistic friends, God presents himself as one who defies all attempts at domestication, as one who knows no limits as defined by human convenience.

The God of the book of Job is free , that is, free to act as he deems appropriate on the basis of a wisdom too profound for mortal minds. And this divine freedom can sometimes seem to impinge on human existence. What does it do to our theology to know that Job's suffering can be traced back to a little wager God made with Satan in the opening chapters of Job?

What does it do to our theology to know that God keeps a great, fire-breathing dragon as a pet? This God we serve and worship keeps monsters as 'plaything.

Category: Faith Without Illusions (the book)

But he does not eye his friends in contemptuous annoyance for long. Though God would not hear the idealists' prayers, we find in the final chapter that Job is instructed to intercede on their behalf. After all that pop theology, after all those rosy comments, Job prays for them.


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  • Would a cynic have prayed for mercy to be shown to his idealist friends? To draw near to listen is better than to of fer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doi ng evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your word s be few' Ecclesi astes 5: In a brilliant work interfacing Ecclesiastes' wisdom with the claims of postmodernism, theologian Peter Leithart argues that Qoholeth here 'Solomon' teaches an eschatological perspective that embraces hopefulness.

    This is not a pessimistic statement but an expression of trust in the character of the mysterious God who will one day set straight the human frailty and the cosmic chaos that makes everything under the sun appear vain and senseless.

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    But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tosse d by the wind' James Later, James offers an important descri ption of this biblical wisdom: 'But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peacable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of r ighteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace James Much Christian piety is romantic and unreal in its positiveness.

    As children of the Englightenment, we have censored and selected around the voice of darkness and disorientation, seeking to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory. But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience. The Jewish reality of exile, the Christian confession of crucifixion and cross, the honest recognition that there is an untamed darkness in our life that must be embraced — all of this is fundamental to the gift of new life.

    At times it will appear as though God has failed us. Where will we go when we've turned to him who is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, and he is either nowhere to be found or, even worse, the one who seems to be the source of our affliction? For vocabulary and grammar suitable to such dark and bitter pain, we turn to the despondent laments of tragic poets who, before us, suffered from disillusionment with God. Though most of those haunting cries are found in the Psalms, we have already encountered some cries of the poets — the prophet Jeremiah and the sage behind the book of Job were certainly familiar with the Hebrew language of lament.

    When we find ourselves in spiritual shambles, quaking in our disappointment with God, these tragic poets and their tumultuous words help us navigate our way through the murky waters. Scholars have identified various categories of our psalms, and the largest of these categories is the lament , representing roughly a third of the entire Psalter.

    So within the worship book of Israel, within the pages of that collection designated as 'Praises,' there is mourning. There is pain. There is groping in the dark. S omething must be amiss if praise of God has a place in Christian worship but lamentation does not. The cries and blunt questions directed to God in the Psalms, however, are only appropriate within the context of worship.

    How can we ultimately be more like Jesus as his disciples?

    The voluminous presence of laments in the Psalter show us that just as our responses to victory and divine deliverance must be acts of faithful devotion, so also our expressions of pain and misery before God must be acts of faithful devotion, however discordant the tone. At some point along the way the Western church stopped associating weeping with worship.

    Because of this, we have become less hospitable to the dispirited and injured individuals for whom the church should serve as a haven for healing. When the depressed and the disconsolate are in our midst, do they feel free not to answer 'fine, just fine' to our greetings? Are they silently shunned when they talk of God as though he is their oppressor rather than their Deliverer?

    Does the worship service provide them with a context in which they are encouraged to express their pain and not just their joy as an act of worshiping God? When the church fails to provide some outlet for crying to God from 'out of the depths' Psalm , then broken souls will turn elsewhere. Again By minimizing — or worse, eliminating — the biblical role of lament in the life of the church, we are communicating to the world, as well as to members of our own congregations, that they must take their struggles with God elsewhere.

    This God-ward orientation places the complaint within the context of worship: 'The lament is not a mere venting of emotion intended primarily to provide emotional relief to the psalmist; rather it is a supplication of divine assistance, and in this it is an implicit statement of faith. If pain and disillusionment are removed from the realm of personal communication with God, then further bitterness is inevitable. In exposing their wounds to Yahweh, the stricken poets were presenting themselves before a person God who had entered into a sacred covenant with his people.

    The direct divine address of the lament psalms encourages us to approach God in our own anguish, though we must do so as worshipers who have such a personal relationship with him that we can call him by his revealed covenant name. Eugene Peterson observes of the psalms: 'Every skeptical thought, every disappointing venture, every pain, every despair that we can face is lived through and integrated into a personal, saving relationship with God.

    see url The opening address of God in the psalms of lament demonstrates that, in spite of the emotional turmoil of their tortured speeches, these tragic poets were vigorously God-centered. We must therefore bring our disillusionment with God to God, and this address is worshipful in that it acknowledges God as the one audience who matters most: 'O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you' Psalm Almost every lament psalm has at least some inkling of hopefulness. In many cases, the shift from complaint to praise is found at the end of the psalm.

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