Tearing and Mending

There were at least ten temples to ten different gods in Corinth at the time the New Testament was written. If people had a particular need (money, harvest, fertility, power, hunting, wisdom) they went to a particular god. That temple had a particular group of people, a particular kind of feast, and a particular kind of worship ritual. If that god answered their supplication, they made sure everyone knew that they had the ability to earn that god's favor.

That was how they rose to the top - they earned the grace and favor a a god. That's how they knew they were somebody. That's what made them matter.

Perhaps this dynamic from the old way of life was the reason Paul had to address the first issue in his letter to the Corinthians:

     "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.  My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas (Peter)”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?"
It’s obviously true that Christ is the one we as Christians are to ultimately follow.  Paul’s not disputing that. Paul's main point is that one can follow Christ and follow a representative, spokesperson, or ambassador for Christ too. They were all on the same team.
The people in the Corinthian church had too narrow a vision of the Kingdom of God.

Christianity was not like the pagan religions, whose gods were in competition with each other. God is One, and those who serve Him are on the same team. This claiming of allegiance to one person was not a sign of serious discipleship. It was a a lingering effect of the Corinthian search for power, reputation, and control.

Perhaps you've experienced something similar. You've been in a conversation about a passage of Scripture, and you hear, “Well, Mark Driscoll says this… Beth Moore says this….Billy Graham said…Ravi Zacharias…John Piper...James Dobson…Kay Arthur…Bill Hybels...” Finally someone says, I don’t listen to other people’s opinions, I just read the Bible.”   

Or you've been in a conversation where one person focuses on Israel, another on politics, another on end times prophecy, another on baptism, another on apologetics, another on the gifts of the Spirit, another on church models, another on marketplace ministry.... And they all think that the others are missing the boat because they don't have the same passion for this particular part of the Kingdom of God as they do.

Those kind of conversations can end badly. The problem is not the people or topics who are cited; there are many solid ambassadors for Christ who preach, teach, and live in a way that should be admired and emulated. The problem is that we can begin to build our personal worth and identity by the people or causes we follow – and question the worth (and wisdom) of others by the people they don't. If we are not careful, we will judge the character and content of another person’s heart because they don’t build their knowledge of and relationship with God and His Kingdom in the same way we do.

Paul says that mindset is divisive - schismata in Greek, which means “tear, or rend. ” This is what happens when someone tears a calf muscle or an ACL. I have done that twice playing softball (which is kind of sad, really), and let me tell you, it was no fun at all. It felt like someone hit me in the back of the leg as hard as they could with a bat. I could actually run my fingers through a ditch in my calf muscle.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “That’s what’s happening in your church when you divided your unity in Christ. That's what's happening when pride and sectarianism fragment the Kingdom of God.”

Instead, the church was to be united. The Greek word carries the idea of “joined together,” a medical word used to describe the mending of bones or joints that have been fractured. The variety of people, gifts, and skills in the body of Christ are meant to join us together, not tear us apart. The church may be full of broken people, but the grace of God enables us to find unity, peace and wholeness in the midst of our diversity.

The Death of the gods

      We all worship a god.  By “god” I mean the things to which we give our lives as  we search for hope, meaning, and peace. It’s another way to talk about the things we have leaned on for support, the things that we expect to hold us up. The Bible is full of stories which involve gods with statues; the modern gods do not necessarily have statues, but the gods are still there nonetheless. Using stories from the Bible, history, and pop culture, I want to look at what happens when the gods die.

Story #1: Elisha and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18: 25-29)

   Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

Sometimes, when the gods die, people give in to  self-destruction.  They were so sure that the god they had chosen would hear and respond, they assumed the problem must be their own, not that the god cannot do what they asked. In this case, they hurt themselves to show their sincerity.

This doesn’t always feel like destruction or desperation even though it is.  This happens when:

people know that their lifestyle is eating away at them, but they assume it’s because they just haven’t learned how to really indulge correctly, so they just kick it up a notch. They are empty, but they continue to pursue the next high, the next binge, the next big shopping spree.
people know they should stop viewing porn because it is damaging their mind, attitudes and relationships, but they have to believe that if they just use it right it will all be fine.  But the gods of lust cannot bring them fulfillment, so they continue to spiral downward as they seek greater and more disturbing thrills.  

The “god” can't' be the problem.  So we frantically try harder and harder to “get their attention,” and that story never ends well. This was recently highlighted in the tragic death of Amy Whinehouse, a young lady with such musical promise who spiraled out of control as she offered herself on the altar of drug addiction. One newspaper wrote, after her disastrous attempt at a comeback:

“The question is: how much longer can Amy Winehouse go on like this before she kills herself? And how can the people around her allow such a public car crash to happen...? Winehouse is the architect of her own misery. However, the sight of her flailing around self-destructively while the world looks on, munching crisps, is wretched.”

Or this update from a mission outreach on a beach during Spring Break:

Yesterday was the beginning of the period of the trip when the spring breakers begin to get frustrated and disillusioned with what has been going on. There have been several rapes. There have been at least 3 deaths. People are roasted and cooked from the sun and are recovering from hangovers or drug highs. The disappointment starts to set in because these things, appealing as they are, leave us empty and do not satisfy.   – Austin Gravely

Story #2: The Ark in the Temple of Dagon (1 Samuel 5)

After the Philistines had captured the ark of God…they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.  When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.  But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god…” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel.

     Sometimes, when the gods die, people give in to denial. In this case, even though it was obvious that the Philistine god was being owned by the Israelite God, it did not bring about a change.  The worshippers  just avoided the implications.

     I was recently reading Stephen King’s Full Dark No Stars. The last short story in the collection features a man who refuses to believe his wife is dead, keeping her in his apartment and pretending she is alive until the neighbors finally figure it out.  The story did not end well; it was “full dark” after all.

     In the same way, people can become so attached to a false god that no matter how much evidence is compiled that the things they are hoping will make their lives count are failing them they continue on, blinders up, memories scrubbed, stumbling forward hoping that doing the same things for the same reason will not fail them yet again. This happens when:

People keep trying get-rich-quick schemes time after time, losing money every time, but are still convinced that’s the secret to success –so they try yet another one, in spite of the fact that is has never worked, and they are doing nothing different.
People want to believe a free, open sex life is the way to happiness.  That ignores all the studies and real-world examples that show how we can undermine our own best intentions:  we think we are solving depression, anxiety, and loneliness when we are actually contributing to them.

In the Bible, a world without gods was unheard of.  The rise of atheism as a serious philosophical option is relatively recent in world history, but it didn’t take long to get an idea of what happened when God died.

Story #3: The Parable of the Madman (this is only an excerpt)

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? 

Neitzsche went on to write about a third way people handle the death of the gods – they think they are God, and they being to treat others as if nobody else matters.  It was all about power in a world without God. The atrocities that occurred in the early Soviet Union and in Hitler’s Germany have often been connected with Neitzsche’s idea of the “superman” who lived beyond good and evil.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: "If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: 'Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." 
On the wall next to the gas ovens of Auschwitz, are the words of Adolph Hitler, “I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality … we will train young people before whom the world will tremble. Young people capable of violence – imperious, relentless and cruel.” Adolf Hitler

Do you worship other gods?

  • People and Relationships?
  • Money and Financial Success?
  • Popularity and Fame?
  • Sex and Love?
  • Adrenaline and Excitement?
  • Your Physical Appearance and Health?
  • Your Brain and Intelligence?
  • Your Spouse and/ or your Kids?
  • Politics and Government?

     These are the gods of America, and if you follow them, if you put your weight on them, they will always let you down.  Without Christ, you will find yourself responding it the three ways we have looked at.

  • Do you find that you are counting on something to make you feel better, or be better, or just give your life some sense of meaning…and it’s not happening, so you are trying harder and harder and harder like the prophets of Baal?
  • Do you move into or continue in destructive relationships because you are convinced that if you just try more diligently the god of sex will give you meaning and peace and love?
  • Do you move into increasingly destructive addictions because that high, that pleasure, that escape, MUST make your life work if you just keep trying more and more?
  • Do you sacrifice your families on the altars of the gods of work because that next raise will make things right?
  • Do you control your spouse, and whenever they are not just like you want them to be you force them to comply because if you can get them just where you want them everything will be okay? Do you control your kids, micromanaging their lives because any deviation from your plan is a personal insult to you and an embarrassment to your family name?

     If this is you, and you realize it, this is one of God’s ways of getting your attention. He wants you to see that your other god has let you down, and has left you exhausted, bleeding, frantic and alone.  He wants you to know that he will bring you healing, hope, and life. God wants you to see that only He gives the grace, boldness and strength to see ourselves honestly and find the salvation and health that Christ can bring.