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Saturday, December 22, 2012

In which I ask

(Or, in which Jesus needs to learn the difference between the truth value of a statement and that of its converse.)

So in Matthew 7:7-14 we have some guarantees about asking God for things, the Golden Rule, and a warning to take the narrow road.

"Ask and it will be given to you."

Umm, what? From context it seems that Jesus is talking about prayer when he uses the terms "ask", "seek", and "knock." But dude, we don't always get what we pray for. That happens all the freakin' time. So what is the business with "for everyone who asks receives"?

I mean, maybe what Jesus actually meant was the converse: "Everyone who receives has asked." Is it a translation issue?

Or perhaps there is some restriction on which of the things we may pray for are covered by this guarantee. (I've heard it said that all of Jesus' promises about our prayers being answered only apply when we pray for stuff that's part of God's will. And I think that's a dumb answer. So God will do the stuff we pray for if he was going to do it anyway. Well thanks a lot.) Based on verse 11, which says "how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him," I'm going to say that this promise specifically applies to those "good gifts" we are asking for.

(I'm still not satisfied with that answer. So, moving along...)

Another important point is the analogy Jesus makes, about how no father is going to give his kid a stone/snake if the kid asks for bread/fish. And therefore, OF COURSE God our Father is happy to give us good things when we ask. (Jon Acuff, who writes Stuff Christians Like, has written on this subject several times- how so many Christians seem to think God ALWAYS wants to give us hard life circumstances in order to teach us things- we never imagine that God wants to give us good things because he wants to see us happy.)

But here Jesus says that God our Father totally wants to give us good gifts. That seems logical enough, but I'm still not entirely buying it. Because sometimes people pray for things- good things- and those things don't happen.

But how about this: Instead of sitting here all critical, going on about how this passage doesn't make sense, why don't I trust God and ask him for something? Jesus promised that if we ask (for "good gifts"), we'll receive.

Because like... I believe all of it. I really believe all of it. Sometimes I can be very critical toward God and the bible and American Christian culture, but at the end of the day, I know I'm a Christian. And reading so many blogs online, from so many different perspectives, just confirms to me how strongly I identify with Christianity. And I read this passage, and I believe it when Jesus says God is our Father and he loves to give us good gifts.

But in a practical sense, in my day-to-day life, where is God? How can Jesus make this promise, that "everyone who asks receives", when sometimes bad things happen, and sometimes people don't get what they pray for?

I don't know... maybe it works most of the time? There's gotta be something to this promise, even if it's not as, uh, literal as I'd like. Anyway my point is I'm gonna trust God and try this out.

So here is what I'm asking God for:
  1. A job.
  2. Peace of mind, so I won't be so afraid or worried all the time.
  3. Getting into the habit of praying more and thinking about God more.
Yeah so... I guess I'll just pray for those things, and try to do it consistently, and see what God does.

"You've heard of the golden rule, haven't you? Whoever has the gold makes the rules." Image source.
The Golden Rule

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

Excellent. Dude, everyone should do this.

Not much to say about that, except that I'm in total agreement, and now I want to print this out and put it on bumper stickers or something.

(Also, Justin Lee has a good post about The Platinum Rule: "Do unto others as they would do unto themselves." Same idea as the Golden Rule, but takes into account that people don't all want the same things you want.)

The narrow gate

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

So... Jesus is warning us that the vast majority of people are going to hell?

"And everybody's okay with this? DID I MISS SOMETHING?" Image source.
Well first of all, lately I've been thinking hell can't possibly be what people think it is. Would my God condemn people to infinitely horrible eternal suffering, just because they addressed him by a different name than "Jesus"?

But I haven't worked on fleshing out that idea at all, so I don't want to talk about hell right now. Not to worry! I totally intend to question the idea of hell on this blog.

So let's look at what Jesus says about "the narrow gate" again, but this time keeping in mind that perfectnumber doesn't want to say anything about hell. Okay, so maybe the "narrow gate" and the "narrow road" represent how hard it is to do the right thing. And the "wide gate" means taking the easy way out, being selfish instead of doing all you can to help people.

Doing what's right is hard, but it pays off in the long run. So follow that narrow path.

Okay but seriously, this seems really BAD. Whether or not this passage is talking about a "literal hell", it still says "many" take the path leading to "destruction", and "only a few" find "life." Dude, that's terrible. And there's nothing in the context here that indicates Jesus is like "oh the humanity!"- no, he just states it like an offhand fact. Well, I'm not okay with that.

(Anyone else have ideas on this part?)

So, in summary: In this passage, Jesus encourages asking God for things, and gives a guarantee that "everyone who asks receives." I am skeptical (to the point of saying "sorry, you're wrong Jesus, that's not how it works") but I've decided to pray for 3 things. Also, we have the golden rule here in this passage, which is totally great. One of the best rules ever. And then there's that bit about the wide and narrow gates, which seems awfully bad. So, not sure what to make of that.

Question to my readers: What are you asking God for?

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous Post: Do not judge. (But kind of do.) (Matthew 7:1-6)

Next Post: By Their Fruit (Matthew 7:15-23)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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