Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rob Bell - "The Gods Aren't Angry" Tour

Here is a summary of what we heard in Orlando last week. Hopefully it's half way coherent, because if you've ever listened to Rob before, then you know he's not very easy to put into bullet points. Remember...commenting is more fun than just reading.

Rob started out by talking about the first humans. He said that they began to notice certain forces that worked together and in cycles, like how the sun makes food grow and rises and sets every day. Or how the moon moves in 30-day phases, not unlike a woman’s physical cycle. They began to notice early on how everything is connected.

So without any inherited context or knowledge of a deity or deities, they decided that they had to do everything they could to please these forces. That meant they stopped harvesting a little of their food so they could “sacrifice” it to these forces, which they began to refer to as gods. Soon enough these early cultures, like the Sumerian one in which the biblical story is rooted, had names for dozens and dozens of gods, each named for one of these forces. They had gods and goddesses for the sun, moon, beer (a female!), and war, to name a few.

But as these cultures progressed, they realized something wrong with this worldview. If they sacrificed some of their belongings in hopes of something happening (for example a plentiful harvest for the year), then they would have to sacrifice more to appease that god for the following year. Doing the same amount would be offensive. And you certainly didn’t want to anger the gods.

By the same token, if what they wanted to happen didn’t happen, they would think the god wasn’t pleased with the amount given, so they would still have to sacrifice more the next year.

So both ways they became stuck in this cycle of trying to please the gods by offering more and more, and never really knowing where they stood with their gods. This quickly turned into a system of who could give the most, and of ranking and proving themselves against their fellow man.

So in the first stories of man and the gods’ interactions, the gods were aloof and detached from the human story. People basically developed a system of superstition and ritual (later Rob would talk about how many of us haven’t really progressed from this kind of thinking, but now just call these gods things like ambition, self, and materialism. Or we buy into the belief that God owes us something or that God is angry with us).

The sermon then began to focus on the stories of the Bible and how when we read many of them today, we think they are ancient and irrelevant at best, and cruel and inhumane at worst. What we don’t realize, according to Rob, is that the stories of the Bible told the most progressive ideas of the time. These ideas were new, unlike anything the culture had ever seen.

He demonstrated this by looking at the story of Abraham. God told him to pack up his things and leave his father’s land (and by that his father’s worldview) for a new land where this one God would be all they need. This was revolutionary for the time. One God, coming down and interacting with man. He would not be aloof or unconcerned with man’s problems. He would walk with them and teach them.

This God would eventually tell Abraham to take his only son (who was the only hope to fulfill God’s promise of creating a people group from Abraham) up to a mountaintop to sacrifice him. Rob talked about so often when we hear this story, we hear about Abraham’s faithfulness to God. But that isn’t the point of the story. Why didn’t Abraham protest at all? Could it be that this wasn’t something terribly unique to his world? In a culture where child sacrifice was not uncommon, why would Abraham question a god asking a man to sacrifice what he held most valuable?

The point of the story is the ram that God provided in the thicket. The point is that God provides, not demands. He was engaged in Abraham’s story. Even though the story is somewhat rooted in animal violence, God would eventually say that this wasn’t to appease Him, but to appease the conscious of the people still stuck in this worldview of guilt, fear, and appeasement. God met them where they were, as he is so fond of doing.

Rob then shifted to the sacrificial system that developed in the book of Leviticus. He compared it to a military-industrial complex not unlike what we see today. Some people (the Sadducees) got very rich off of twisting what God meant for good and devolving it into essentially the same system they had before.

What was new about the temple system was that people would bring their guilt and fear, do their sacrifices, and be able to leave that guilt and fear at the altar. It was “appeased” after the sacrifice. Man knew exactly where he stood with God. But it turned into this elaborate system where people would make their sacrifices, and then just go on about their way. Make their sacrifices, and then be on their way. It was a never-ending cycle, because this was all they knew.

It was in this society that Jesus was born. When he said things like “I will rebuild the temple in three days,” he was referring to the fact that he was retooling the system. When he drove out the moneychangers in the temple with the cords, it was essentially performance art in which he was demonstrating that the temple in its current form was corrupt and no longer needed. Jesus was saying that he would be the only sacrifice needed.

And with Jesus, that was it. No more sacrifices. We no longer have to live in a system of guilt, fear, and appeasement. Jesus has reconciled all things to himself. It’s finished. We don’t have to prove our worth. God invites us into a kind of life where we know and live this truth. A life where he is intimately concerned about and loves all of us.

Rob ended the night by talking about the book of Hebrews and how we are now to be “living sacrifices.” He told story after beautiful story of people giving of themselves for others in this way.

Cue the tears in the audience’s eyes, including those of the Hard Rock Live employees, as we grappled with the life-changing truths of Jesus and his message.

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