Few Christians are familiar with the term “orthopathos.”
We’re familiar with orthodoxy, which is “thinking like Jesus”. And many of us hope to be “orthodox.”
Some of us have heard of the term orthopraxy, which is “acting like Jesus”.
But orthopathos, which means “feeling the feelings of Jesus” is an idea that few of us are familiar with because so few of us believe He actually feels.
It’s said that we become like the object/person we worship. And when you worship God, you become like who or what you think He is.
Do you worship God as patient?
Do you worship God as just?
Do you worship God as love?
You will eventually become all these things if you believe they are apart of God’s character.
What happens when you see God as immutable … as unchangeable?
What happens when you see God as impassible … as emotionless?
So many Christian traditions believe that God is utterly unable to change and utterly unaffected by emotion. Should it be a surprise that so many of us become unmoved and emotionally repressed?
So, when we say “orthopathos” most Christians think that the “proper way to feel like God” is to feel nothing at all. To never grieve, to never have joy, to never get angry … because the One they worship, the One they are trying to reflect has no emotion Himself.
The ultimate example of orthopathos is found on the cross. The prophet Isaiah, in what is perhaps one of the more powerful prophetic utterances of the Old Testament writes,
“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering,
and familiar with pain. …
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities ….
This laying on of the iniquity, bearing of our suffering, this taking of our pain, this familiarity with pain, this man of suffering who took so much of the world’s grief into his heart that it’s recorded in Mark 13:34:
“”My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”.
Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death!
This wasn’t Jesus being punished by the Father per se, but Jesus taking the heart of the Father in human form by seeing what God sees, acting as God would act and ultimately feeling like God feels. It was the ultimate act of representing the Father in human form!
And then, I believe, Jesus died, not from the wounds of the cross, but from the wounds of the heart.
Sure, we can begin to understand right thinking, we can begin to understand right action, but who can feel the heart of God and live?
Why don’t Christians feel sorrow? There’s a couple reasons: 1.) our theology doesn’t allow for it and so 2.), we think it’s unlike our God if we do so.
Wendell Berry’s famed literature character “Jayber Crow” states this:
I prayed to know in my heart His love for the world, and this was my most prideful, foolish, and dangerous prayer. It was my step into the abyss. As soon as I prayed it, I knew that I would die. I knew the old wrong and the death that lay in the world. Just a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of His human creatures, not for Himself or for the world or for one another. To allow that love to exist fully and freely, He must allow it not to exist at all. His love is suffering. It is our freedom and His sorrow. …. And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.
Some of us will feel God’s missional love for the world, but all of us will feel the sorrow of death. And it’s high time that we as Christians believe it’s okay to sorrow. It’s high time we believe it’s okay to weep, for when we do so we aren’t becoming unlike our God; we are, in fact, worshiping.
Yesterday a modified version of my “Why 99.9% of Pastors Agree with Rob Bell … at Funerals” was featured on www.ChurchLeaders.com. That post stirred up a lot of discussion on my website and it’s doing the same over at Church Leaders, where, I was told, it vaulted itself into the Top Ten most read articles at Church Leaders.
It was truly an honor to be featured at Church Leaders and I was so glad for the discussion it sparked!
There’s been a theme in the reactions from pastors to this post (and, I should add, I have the utmost respect for pastors and the work they do). And the theme response is this: “I don’t preach anybody to heaven, nor do I preach them to hell … I JUST PREACH THE GOSPEL!”
Such a response sorta misses the point of the article.
The point of the article is to underscore that pastors will often preach a wider hope during death that contrasts both their attitude towards the lost and their theology. Ultimately, my intention was that they’d see this contradiction and be moved to question both their theology and attitudes in light of the wider hope they have at the funerals of unbelievers.
Yet, not only do some pastors miss the point of the article, I think “Just preaching the Gospel” misses the point of the funeral.
This is one of the more controversial topics that’s thrown around by families we serve. They ask, “Should we or shouldn’t we get a preacher who preaches the Gospel?”
Some families, even Christian families, are adamant that funerals are NOT a time for the preacher to use the death of their loved one as a platform for evangelism.
While other families are equally as adamant that funerals are a time to “take inventory” of the lives of the living.
Here’s my take on the whole thing: some Christian Pastors (and many of us Christians, including me) are losing touch essentially because we have a dualistic and individualist understanding of the Gospel!
How do I know we’re losing touch?
Because families, that would normally use a Christian minister are turning to other sources.
The Celebrant Movement is taking off, and quite honestly, they do an exceptional job in honoring the memory of the deceased.
Celebrants make the service incredibly community oriented, often bringing memory objects that help spur family and friends into sharing their thoughts and feelings for the loved one.
And that’s essentially what Celebrants do so well … they find a way to involve both the memories and voices of others in the service, creating a collage of memories by the voices of family and friends, all of which produces a great sense of life in the midst of death, as people are laughing, crying, hugging … all during the funeral service.
Some pastors are great at encouraging family and friends to speak (in fact, many in my community are really good at it), but others will take the funeral as a platform in disregard of the memory of the deceased.
The reason for Pastors losing touch is because their Gospel is out of touch with the present, as it’s so focused on the future.
As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, we’re more worried about getting the individual soul to heaven than about bringing the kingdom to the world. We’re more worried about getting “decisions for Jesus” than we are about making Jesus disciples who will transform the world now.
In the context of a funeral, part of “transforming the world now” is addressing death as real, our grief as real, acknowledging the sorrow of God over death, and yet planting that seed of hope in the Kingdom come and resurrection.
It’s bringing our memories of this world together with our hope of the world that’s been inaugurated by Christ and is here, but is still not yet.
It’s not about emphasizing sin over grace, or grace over sin, BUT EMPHASIZING CHRIST IN THE WORLD … TRANSFORMING IT INTO SOMETHING NEW!
Should pastors preach the Gospel at funerals?
The Gospel isn’t about bringing somebody to heaven. It’s about bringing heaven to us. Wasn’t that the Good News … that the Messiah had come to dwell with humanity?
And if heaven can be brought to a funeral, through good memories, love, tears, laughter, correction, and the hope of Christ, than by all means preach it.
10 a.m. Left my house and headed for Starbucks in West Grove.
10:20 a.m. I sit down to read “A Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Clark Pinnock for a class at seminary with a strawberry smoothie by my side.
11:15 a.m. Have the astute idea that it’s nicer outside than it is inside, so I move to the outdoors to enjoy the pleasant 78 degrees.
12 noon. Have another astute idea that my seat in my car is more comfortable than the metal chair I’m presently occupying.
12:45 p.m. Notice a random person emerging from the wooded area across the street. As the person comes closer, he crosses the street and sets himself down at the corner of the busiest red light on the strip.
1:00 p.m. Random person now rummaging through his backpack, pulls out a sign that reads “HOMELESS.” Random person now identified as “homeless.” Obviously looking for some free handouts.
1:15 p.m. A number of thoughts roll through my mind:
If he’s smart enough to stand at the busiest intersection, with a well-designed sign, he should be smart enough to hold a job?
Maybe he’s an ex-convict and can’t get a job.
I wonder how often he eats.
Everybody’s driving by him, nobody’s stopping, I wonder how that makes him feel?
Maybe he has a drug addiction and can’t hold a job.
In a different life, that could be me.
Ohh … he’s sitting down … too tired to stand.
Maybe he’s too lazy to hold a job.
Better get back to my book … my report’s due on Friday.
Look at all those expensive cars. I bet all these people are strapped for cash. I mean, I NEVER carry cash.
I wonder if he has any idea the economy’s in a recession.
2:00 p.m. I’m starting to get tired, so I move out of my confortable driver seat and back to the metal chair, just in time to redeem my “after 2 p.m., any iced drink just $2” coupon.
2:30 p.m. Realize that I don’t like iced mochas.
3:45 p.m. I finish the Pinnock book, pack up my stuff, head to my car and notice the homeless man holding his position at the corner of the red light. I decide to buy him some food … since I don’t have any cash.
3:50 p.m. Walk up to the cashier, not sure what the homeless man would enjoy. I remind myself that I’m on a tight budget since the whole adoption process has us strapped. Can’t *afford* the freakin five dollar sandwich, so I settle on a scone.
“I’ll have the blueberry scone” I tell the cashier. That’s what I’d want if I were homeless, I think to myself.
“We’re all out of the blueberry.”
“Okay, what’s that kind?”
“Cinnamon and cranberry.”
“Okay, I’ll have that.”
“$2.75. Do you want your receipt?”
4:00 p.m. I drive up to the red light that’s currently green with some jerk hole on my tail, and quickly hand the scone off to the homeless guy like a baton in relay race. I say, “It’s a scone.” He says, “Thanks, brother. God bless.” I drive away, thinking to myself, “A scone isn’t very healthy … should have got him some fruit.”
Why’s it so hard to do something good?
This is how the story should be told:
1:00 p.m.: Random person now rummaging through his backpack, pulls out a sign that reads “HOMELESS.” Random person now identified as “homeless.”
1:05 p.m.: I get out of my car, walk to the homeless person, introducing myself to him. He introduces himself as “___Insert name I would have known had I actually approached him______”. I invite him to share lunch with me at Starbucks ….
But, I’m afraid, the rest of that story can’t be told — as exciting as it might have been — because I was too involved in looking/judging at the man while I was reading “A Wideness in God’s Mercy” for my seminary class.
I was so intent on learning about Jesus that I forgot to act like him. Or, maybe it’s just easier to learn about Him than it is to act like Him. Maybe orthodoxy is just easier than orthopraxy.
I’m going to play the prophet for a minute. In the very near future you will hear your Sunday morning pastors talking more and more about God as a person and less and less about the ideas about God. “Wait,” you say, “they’re already doing that …? They’ve been doing that for years!”
Okay, so I guess I’d be a better prophet if a prophet meant telling what is already happening, which I can do for you. A prophet that tells the future is scary, and a prophet who tells the past is, well, redundant, so bear with me. Modernity arguably had it’s start with Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” Even hundreds of years later, this little “foundation” is still creating trends today … notice the emphasis on “I” and “think” and the “I am” identity. Along with philosophical historian beast Robert Solomon, I’ll argue that this little statement has created one of the irrefutable foundations Western culture is built on, spawning individualism and molding the materialistic Western mindset. It has helped created the Enlightenment, survived Romanticism, aided existentialism and eventually birthed modernism.
For the sake of this short article, I’ll be simplistic and reductionistic by defining modernism as the belief that truth = fact. This was originally fought against by Christianity, but was eventually amalgamated by liberalism, rejected by fundamentalism and finally defended by evangelicalism. So that a couple decades ago, conservative evangelicals had a list of ideas you had to believe in order to become a Christian. Mind you, it was accepting ideas that made you a Christian, and not, as we hear today, relationship with God that made you a Christian.
Yes, it’s true. God isn’t primarily an idea, but a person. He isn’t an object, but a subject, who is concerned with relationships. The truth in Christianity isn’t even the Bible for Jesus said, “I am the way …” you know the rest. And this new movement, although in ecclesiology, tends toward (I can’t say the movement on blogger), in theology it’s being called post-conservative / post-liberal because both conservative and liberal sides are recognizing that they were fighting on a field (modernism) that isn’t even a Christian field.
How does this all apply to politics? Well, this is where I can play the prophet. Few people have connected this to politics … well some have. Let me ask this question, “If a Christian’s main concern is not idea but personal relationships, would he or she be more likely to get involved with political platforms or people?” I’ve set up the answer to this question, so it should be pretty easy. Many Christians may be post-conservative / post-liberal in their theology (that is relationship oriented), but few have translated this to their politics.
As I have said before, the fact that Christians are often more concerned with national politics than local affairs is telling of their misplaced agenda and still modern mindset. Many Christians are more willing to talk about policies they can’t effect instead of reaching out and touching people they can. I guess Christians are more comfortable with defending ideas than they are people, and in this respect they are still trudging the modern paradigm.
What I’m promoting here is not a blend of conservativism and liberalism; what I’m promoting is a redefinition of politics from the platform base politics to the defense of people politics … away from ideas and towards local action. What I’m promoting is less national and more local (sound conservative to you?).
If you want to solve problems, sure, get involved in national politics, but not at the expense of the local / meeting people where they are at, helping the community poor, giving support to the mother who’s thinking about abortion by taking her into your home, by adopting local, by getting a job closer to home, by getting involved in your school board, by seeing your work as a mission field, by prayer walking through your town, by standing up for the sexually abused, by being involved enough in your community to even know who the sexually abused are, by running for a local political position … by preaching the Gospel, by being Jesus (does this all sound liberal?).
See, when we focus on the local people … on being Jesus in your community, you may find yourself disassociating with a straight-ticket platform and associating with the broken heart of God, which will often cross (no pun intended) political lines.