Archive for April, 2017

Has something become our “functional savior” in place of Jesus?

April 27, 2017

I’ve been teaching a Bible study on Galatians every Wednesday night for a few months now. In my opinion, it’s one of the best things I’ve done in my ministry so far. Last night we covered Galatians 3:1-6. You may recall that Paul is writing to a church that is being led astray by “Judaizers,” Jewish Christians who are teaching Gentile Christians that they must also observe Jewish ceremonial law—like circumcision, dietary laws, and holidays—if they want to be fully Christian.

Paul tells the Galatians, emphatically, that to add anything to gospel of justification by faith alone, which he preached to them, is to lose the gospel entirely. In fact, he feels so strongly about this, he writes, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

As I told the class last night, if we’re not careful, we can easily imagine that the gospel is something we need at the beginning of our Christian lives—when we first place our faith in Christ and are born again. But after we’re saved, well… then it’s up to us. We can easily turn the process of sanctification into a project of self-improvement. Becoming holy—moving on to perfection, as we Methodists say—becomes a matter of will power: Are you still struggling with sin? Try harder!

Paul would likely say that this quasi-gospel of “trying harder” is our attempt at “being perfected by the flesh” (v. 3). It will fail and lead to misery, as I know from personal experience. Like the Galatians, we don’t need a quasi-gospel; we need the real thing.

Tim Keller, in his Galatians for You commentary, picks up on this theme. Ultimately, he says, our failure to apply the gospel to our lives causes most of our problems:

So, we should not simply say: Lord, I have a problem with anger. Please remove it by your power! Give me the power to forgive. Rather, we should apply the gospel to ourselves at that point. Paul would tell us that uncontrolled bitterness is a result of not living in line with the gospel. It means that though we began with Jesus as Savior, something has now become our functional savior in place of Jesus. Instead of believing that Christ is our hope and goodness, we are looking to something else as a hope, to some other way to make us feel good and complete.

Instead of just hoping God will remove our anger or simply exercising will-power against it, we should ask: If I am being angry and unforgiving, what is it that I think I need so much? What is being withheld that I think that I must have if I am to feel complete to have hope, to be a person of worth? Usually, deep anger is because of something like that. It might be that we want comfort above all other things, and someone has made our lives harder, so we grow angry with them. It might be that we’re worshiping other people’s approval and so get angry with anyone who in some way thwarts our bid for popularity and respect.

Comfort, approval, and control; these are functional saviors. When they are blocked, we get bitter. The answer is not simply trying harder to directly control anger. It is repenting for the self-righteousness and the lack of rejoicing in the finished work of Christ which is at the root of the anger. As we make our hearts “look” at Christ crucified, the Spirit will work in us to replace that functional savior with the Savior.[†]

This resonates with me. What about you? What are the “functional saviors” in your life? How could the gospel save you from them?

Timothy Keller, Galatians for You (Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company, 2013), 69-70.

Sermon 04-16-17: “For He Has Risen”

April 26, 2017

The angel in today’s scripture didn’t tell Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, “Jesus isn’t here. He is risen. Take my word for it.” He said, “Go and see!” And so we should rightly expect that if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a real historical event—like any historical event that we know about—there should be evidence for it, which we can investigate. This sermon investigates some of that evidence before tackling the important question, “What does it mean?”

This is my last sermon in this series on Matthew. Enjoy!

Sermon Text: Matthew 28:1-20

About 25 years ago, I took a philosophy class at Georgia Tech. The subject of Christianity came up often in this class—and not in a positive way. The professor was very skeptical, at times hostile, to Christianity. At the end of the term, as he was handing out the class evaluation forms, he said, “I often get negative reviews from students who complain that I’m anti-Christian. I don’t understand this at all. I’m very sympathetic with Christianity. I mean, I don’t believe it’s true—or any more true than Buddhism or any other religion is true. But after all, how many of you Christians believe it’s literally true? I mean, how many of you literally believe Jesus rose from the dead?”

And I’m sitting there, looking around this class of about 30 or 40 students—and I’m sure I’m not the only Christian in the room. But no one said anything. No one raised a hand. No one spoke up. And God help me… neither did I.

I believed at the time that the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ was just something we’re supposed to take on faith—even in the absence of historical evidence. I hate to say it, but that’s what I believed back then. And I suspect some of you believe that today. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 04-09-17: “Your King Is Coming to You”

April 26, 2017

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the Triumphal Entry, he was sending the world a message: “I am the world’s true king.” This sermon challenges us to consider the meaning of Christ’s kingship over our lives and world. Are there ways in which we resist his kingship? How is Christ calling us to change?

Sermon Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Last week, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria ordered a chemical attack against rebel-held area in his country, which killed at least 86 civilians, including 28 children. The attack injured another 550. The chemical he used contained Sarin nerve gas: which closes its victims’ windpipes so they can’t breathe; it causes a stabbing pain in their eyes; it makes them feel as if their bodies are on fire; and it makes their heads feel as if they’re going to explode. It is a ghastly way to die—which is why it’s banned as a weapon of conventional warfare.

So it was within this context that the United States fired 59 tomahawk cruise missiles at the air force base that launched the chemical attacks.

I hope it’s effective. Whether it proves to be or not, it’s easy to imagine that Assad’s victims—and/or the families of his victims—felt at least a small measure of vindication when they heard about the U.S. strike. Not that the U.S. attack begins to make right what Assad did, but at least it’s something. Can you imagine how strongly the victims and their families desire that justice be done? Can you imagine how strongly they desire that the perpetrators of this evil be punished?

If you can imagine it, then you can get a sense of what the crowds in today’s scripture must have been feeling as they cheered Jesus on—hailing him as their Messiah and king—the one who would finally balance the scales of justice and punish the wrongdoers. After all, the people in the crowd knew all about the President Assads of the world—whether his name was Herod, or Pontius Pilate, or Caesar. Many of them had witnessed firsthand atrocities that were the first-century equivalent of sarin gas attacks on their loved ones—just as their ancestors had witnessed atrocities against their loved ones for hundreds of years. Read the rest of this entry »

The angel at the empty tomb doesn’t say, “Take my word for it”

April 25, 2017

In my Easter sermon from this year, which I will post on my blog soon, I spend about half the sermon talking about evidence for the resurrection, based on clues from the sermon text, Matthew 28:1-20. The text itself invites us to look at the evidence. Frederick Dale Bruner, the theologian whose commentary on Matthew has proven so valuable for my sermon series in Matthew, certainly thinks so. He writes the following in relation to verse 6 and the angel’s words to the two Marys: “Come and take a look at the place where they put him.”

Among other things, this is the Gospel’s invitation to scientific research. The angel does not say, “Don’t look in here! Take it by faith! Don’t ask any questions!” Instead, the angel invites the women to check out his assertions with their senses. “Come, use your eyes and your mind, and see if what I say is true.” The scientific study of the biblical documents (called the historical-critical method) asks critical questions: “Did this happen? Is this historical? Is this parabolic? How does this fit with other and differing accounts? What is to be made of this in light of that?” These questions are not unbelief; rather, they are one form of obedience to the command to “come and take a loot the place where they put him” to “see if these things are so” (Acts 17:11)….

The Christian does not get a lobotomy when he or she makes the decision to be a disciple. Jesus wants his people to be honest, to think about their faith, and to be able to investigate its problems. The angel’s command to empirical investigation is wonderfully freeing, and rightly heard it can protect the church from anti-intellectualism.

I affirm this, with two caveats: First, no purely “scientific” investigation can begin to answer questions about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, such that it won’t also require faith to believe in it. Ultimately, we only come to this faith by revelation from the Holy Spirit. As Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

Even an apologist like William Lane Craig—who has been criticized by some Reformed Christians (or at least one that I’ve heard, James White) for being too rational in his approach to God and the resurrection—believes that saving faith comes only by a revelatory act of the Spirit. By contrast, on his Reasonable Faith podcast, he said that when he was an undergraduate at Wheaton, one of his professors said he was so committed to the reasonableness of Christianity that he would abandon the faith if it proved unreasonable to believe it.

Craig said he was shocked: “If one of my arguments for God or the truth of Christianity proved false, I would assume that a better argument existed—because I already know Christianity is true. And I know that by revelation.”

My second caveat is that the historical-critical method will never prove that all scripture is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Inasmuch as it’s “scientific,” this method isn’t, by definition, equipped to offer a judgment on the question. For that we need faith. By all means, the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible can become more reasonable when we consider Jesus’ own high view of scripture. As a rule of thumb, when deciding whether something is true or not, always go with the opinion of the guy who was raised from the dead!

But in my own experience over the past eight years—having gone from doubting the Bible’s authority to believing in it to the utmost—I will say this: most of the Bible’s “problems,” such as they are, can be resolved once we ask ourselves this question: “What should I expect to be true if God the Holy Spirit guided the author to write what he wrote?”

As an example, consider this debate between skeptic and New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman and Tim McGrew on the Unbelievable? podcast. McGrew was discussing “undesigned coincidences” in the New Testament: when one small part of the New Testament unintentionally corroborates another small part—such that the two parts fit together like interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces. McGrew was right: undesigned coincidences are a powerful apologetic tool, but only if you’re willing to entertain the idea that the Spirit inspired the different authors of the New Testament.

Are you willing or not? If not, why not?

Over at Scot McKnight’s blog, a trolling progressive Christian whose name I won’t mention often comments on McKnight’s blog posts. In even the most innocuous post that affirms the authority of scripture, you can count on a skeptical comment from this reader. I want to say to him, “Yes, but suppose the evangelicals are right after all, and the Bible is reliable and true when it reports this or that. Why are you against that? What’s at stake for you in believing that the Bible isn’t historically reliable? Why do you prefer to believe that the Bible is, at best, only true in a metaphorical way?”

If I believed I could have a productive conversation I would ask him, but I know from experience I can’t.

Come to think of it, I could ask the same of my progressive Methodist clergy colleagues!

Did Peter write 1 Peter?

April 21, 2017

If you’re unfamiliar with the world of critical scholarship, which takes for granted that the author of 1 and 2 Peter writes pseudonymously, this question may seem ridiculous. But for people like me, a late convert to theologically conservative evangelicalism, who holds the authority of scripture in highest esteem, I feel compelled to grapple with it. After all, I no longer believe that pseudonymous writing was ethically O.K. in the ancient world. (Skeptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman is right to hammer his progressive Christian colleagues on this point!)

But once you ask on what basis critical scholars believe that Peter didn’t write the letters attributed to him (as you may ask about the disputed letters of Paul, viz. Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus), the evidence is unconvincing.

Remember: From the earliest time, the Church believed that these letters were written by Peter. His authorship was never disputed. Why do we know so much more than the Church Fathers did? They were no dummies (to say the least). For all we know about the Greek language and the Greco-Roman world, any educated person living within a few generations of Jesus knew much more.

Not to mention that most of what we clergy know about the Greek language and Greco-Roman culture is second- or third-hand, anyway. Most of us can’t read Greek. Even if we can, we haven’t done any original research. Yet we’re confident that we know—on the basis of nuances of Greek language and Greco-Roman culture—that Peter didn’t write his letters, or Paul didn’t write some of his! It’s laughable, when you think about it!

Not to mention that the Church Fathers either knew the apostles or knew people who knew them. They had access to living memories of the apostles in a way that modern scholars don’t.

I had a professor of church history who made this point: He argued that most of us can reach back in time about 200 years through the memories of people we know. For example, my grandmother—my mother’s mother—died in 1987. She was born around the turn of the century. If I had the foresight, I could have interviewed my grandmother about memories of her grandmother, who could have shared with my grandmother memories of her grandmother—who was born in the middle of the 18th century. So even though I was born in 1970, I could have, with a little effort, accessed memories from 1770.

(While we’re on the subject, did you know that grandchildren of John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States, are still living? That blows my mind!)

My point is, we have every reason to trust that the Church Fathers were correct in believing that Peter wrote the two letters attributed to him. They knew more about it than we do today! Otherwise, how are we not falling victim to chronological snobbery?

Regardless, Peter Davids, author of Eerdmans’s New International Commentary on 1 Peter, wrote some helpful words on the subject that don’t depend on the authority of the Fathers. One reason, he says, that many scholars reject Petrine authorship is that the author sounds too much like Paul. “Peter” (forgive the scare quotes) uses phrases that Paul uses. “Peter” emphasizes themes that Paul emphasizes. “Peter” writes to churches with which Paul was better acquainted. To this, Davids writes the following:

If this work is so Pauline and if the area of the recipients was so Pauline, why would a pseudonymous author not attribute it to Paul? After all, Paul, unlike Peter, was known for his letter writing. Furthermore, many of the same scholars who reject the Petrine authorship of 1 Peter point to the Pastoral Epistles and other Pauline works as being pseudonymous. If Pauline pseudepigrapha was this common, since 1 Peter has such a Pauline tone one must justify why such an author would not attribute his work to Paul.[1]

Besides, one good reason for the similarity to Paul is Peter’s reference in 1 Peter 5:12 to Silvanus, a known associate of Paul:

[T]he reference to Silvanus in 1 Pet. 5:12 may be the best clue we have, for he is probably the same associate of Paul mentioned elsewhere (2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1). If Peter were indeed in Rome, one could well imagine his hearing of localized persecution in the provinces, in areas in which he may or may not have traveled. Peter may have been in prison by that time, or have seen the storm clouds gather about him in Rome. It is quite possible that he received the news, not through his own contacts, but though Silvanus and his contacts. In any case, the letter suggests that he authorized Silvanus to write in his name…

How much Peter personally had to do with the letter is unknown. For example, if he were in prison, he may not have had the freedom to write and receive guests that Paul did, for Paul was able to live in a hired house (Acts 28:16, 30). He may simply have been moved by compassion and apostolic insight to request Silvanus to send an encouraging letter to a group of suffering Christians about whom he had heard, mentioning to them those Christians in Rome such as Mark, whose names would presumably mean something to the believers in Asia Minor. He may have given detailed instructions and later reviewed the letter (perhaps even writing the closing paragraph with his own hand, as was normal Greek custom, 2 Thess. 3:17), or he may have never seen it, having given only the briefest of instructions. But the letter was written, written in the style in which Silvanus was accustomed to writing, that is, Paul’s, written with whatever he knew of Peter’s teaching and ideas, and attributed to Peter as it should have been.[2]

Granted, there’s much speculation here. But unless you’re already predisposed to doubt the inspiration of scripture, this speculation seems far more reasonable than believing that an inspired author of documents that (we believe) the Holy Spirit preserved in what is now our New Testament was lying.

1. Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 5.

2. Ibid., 6-7.

“Waterloo sunset’s fine”

April 19, 2017

As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.

– Song of Solomon 2:2

During my quiet times recently, I’ve been reading the Song of Solomon. This poem, among other things, celebrates erotic love between husband and wife without blushing. But notice I said “among other things”: traditionally, the Church (alongside Judaism) has also interpreted it as a celebration of God’s love for his people. This interpretation is completely in keeping the Bible’s many references to Israel and the Church as “the bride” or wife, with God (or Jesus) as the bridegroom or husband.

This interpretation has fallen out of favor over past hundred years or so as belief in the inspiration of the Bible has waned. Once you accept, however, that God has given us the exact Bible that he wanted us to have (which isn’t hard to do), it’s easy to accept that the Song of Solomon, in addition to describing erotic love between a man and woman, also describes God’s love for his people.

That being the case, think about what this means: God, like the man in the poem, wants you, desires you, is passionately committed to making you his own. For this to be true, we need to throw out that medieval nonsense about God’s impassibility—that God is incapable of feeling emotion—and embrace the full-blooded, biblical belief in God’s passionate love for us. As Roger Olson, among others, has argued, if God doesn’t experience emotion, then entire books of the Bible, like Hosea, make no sense.

At the risk of understatement, God not only loves you, he also likes you. Do you believe it? Or is this so self-evidently true that it doesn’t need to be said?

I don’t think so. In my own life, I fall into this trap in which I believe that God loves me—because of course that’s what God has to do—because of the Cross; thanks to Jesus, God has no choice but to “put up with me,” even though I’m a miserable sinner who fails him time and again.

Does this ring a bell with anyone else?

But suppose the Song of Solomon is true: God loves us like the man loves the woman in that poem. What are our sins compared to that? We all know (I hope) what it’s like to fall in love and have our love returned: in the eyes of our beloved, we are perfect—or at least perfect enough. Theologically speaking, isn’t this what Christ’s imputed righteousness means? There’s a sense in which we Christians are perfect in God’s eyes.

Here’s where this hits home with me: I am an ambitious person, and my ambition has not served me well. In fact, it’s harmed me badly. Since I was a child, I’ve wanted to achieve things, objectively speaking, of which other people will have no choice but to stand up and take notice. They will recognize me, appreciate me, praise me. “If only you accomplish this, Brent, then you will be somebody. Then you will be accepted. Then you will be loved.”

Of course, whenever I get what I think I need, I’m never satisfied.

But suppose the Song of Solomon is true: to say the least, I don’t need anything from anyone other than the One whose love for me is true. I have nothing to prove to him. Whether I succeed or fail, his love for me is undiminished. My value to him isn’t based on what I accomplish.

A thousand love songs other than the Song of Solomon express this truth, but nearly my favorite is “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks. It’s the story of lovers Terry and Julie, who, the narrator observes, need absolutely nothing other than their beloved: “But they don’t need no friends/ As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset/ They are in Paradise.”

Dear Lord, let me fall in love with you the way you have fallen in love with me.

Good Friday Sermon 2017: “Jesus, Remember Me”

April 15, 2017

left: “Scary Lucy”; right: the new improved Lucy statue

I preached the following sermon last night, April 14, 2017, at Hampton United Methodist Church’s Good Friday service.

Sermon Text: Luke 23:32-56

Last August, the mayor of Celeron, New York, unveiled a bronze statue to honor hometown hero Lucille Ball on the occasion of her 105th birthday. Which sounds great. What town wouldn’t be proud to honor an actress and comedian as funny and accomplished as Lucy herself with a statue in the town square? And it’s a lovely statue. Looks just like the Lucy I remember from reruns of I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show.

But…

Unfortunately, this was not the town’s first attempt at honoring the local legend. Several years earlier, the town unveiled a statue that came to be known as “Scary Lucy.” And this statue looked nothing like her, as you can see from this photo. Can you imagine? After all she had accomplished… Few Hollywood entertainers, whether men or women, accomplished more in their careers than Lucille Ball—and this is what she has to show for it? This is how she’ll be remembered? I’m sure Lucy herself would say, “Thanks, but no thanks!”

Well… At least the town of Celeron, New York, finally made it right.

Yet we want to be remembered… I remember Kim, a beautiful young woman who was a classmate of mine at Henderson High School. I won’t dare say her last name for fear of embarrassing her. But I remember an evening in May of 1988—the night of the “Miss Henderson” Pageant. Kim was a contestant in the pageant. And during the question-and-answer portion of the program, she was asked the following question: “What do you hope your legacy will be?” What do you hope your legacy will be? Great question. And poor Kim, her face froze. She had the proverbial “deer in the headlights” look, as it became clear that she had no idea what the word “legacy” meant! Read the rest of this entry »

Maundy Thursday Sermon 2017

April 13, 2017

In tonight’s Maundy Thursday service, I preached a series of three short homilies on scripture related to this night. While I read the scripture for each homily, some of our youth acted it out. The following is my original manuscript of these homilies.

Homily 1 Text: John 13:1-20

Belle (Emma Watson) dancing with the Beast.

Last weekend, I saw Disney’s new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Somehow, watching flesh-and-blood human beings act out the story—as opposed to cartoon characters—brought home to me just how beastly the beast’s behavior was toward Belle. Think about it: The Beast, whom the audience quickly ends up rooting for, was literally holding a young woman captive in his castle—trying to make her fall in love with him. Because only the giving and receiving of love will undo the curse of the enchantress who turned this vain, uncaring, self-centered prince into a beast in the first place.

It’s as if the Beast were saying, “You better love me or else—or else I’ll never let you out of this prison!” It’s insane… It’s so wrong! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 04-02-17: “The Unpardonable Sin”

April 13, 2017

We need to hear Jesus’ warning in today’s scripture: We can commit a sin that will permanently, eternally exclude us from God’s kingdom and send us to hell. What is it? How can we be sure we haven’t committed it? How can we be sure we won’t commit it? This sermon will answer these questions.

Sermon Text: Matthew 12:22-32

I worked at Kroger when I was in high school. I worked alongside a young man named Elbert who was the first Pentecostal Christian I ever knew. More than any other Christian tradition, Pentecostals tend to place a greater emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, on miracles, on spiritual gifts—especially the gift of speaking in tongues. Many Pentecostals will even say that other Christians haven’t received the gift of the Holy Spirit unless or until they give evidence of having received the Spirit—which, to them, means speaking in tongues.

As much as I respect Pentecostals—and trust me, if I’m ever in some life-threatening situation, I want a Pentecostal praying for me, because they pray as if they mean business; they pray expecting results. But as much as I respect Pentecostals, this widespread Pentecostal doctrine that says we’ve only received the Holy Spirit if we speak in tongues is deeply unbiblical. After all, the main issue that Paul speaks against in 1 Corinthians is the moral superiority that some of the Corinthian Christians feel toward other Christians in the church who, unlike them, don’t possess more extravagant spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. Paul says that all true believers have spiritual gifts—and they’re all important in the body of Christ. This controversy inspired him to write the most beautiful love poem in the ancient world: 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Anyway, it was through Elbert that I first became aware of the fact that there are Christians who worry about whether or not they’ve committed the so-called unpardonable sin that Jesus mentions in today’s scripture: what Jesus refers to as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” Elbert explained to me that he didn’t grow up Pentecostal, and he used to make fun of Pentecostals. He made fun of the idea that they spoke in tongues—that there was anything more to it than just incoherent babble. And he said to me, “I just hope that before my conversion I never blasphemed the Holy Spirit.” I said, “What are you talking about?” And he referred me to today’s scripture. He was afraid that by making fun of the gift of speaking in tongues he might have inadvertently “spoke a word against the Holy Spirit,” and thus committed the unpardonable sin. Read the rest of this entry »

“Welcome to the human race”

April 12, 2017

Recently, a clergy friend posted on Facebook a complaint about what he perceived to be a hypocritical lapse in compassion on the part of our denomination and its leaders. I don’t know if his complaint is justified or not. What matters for my purpose is the way the comments section spiraled out of control, with both sides pointing fingers at the other: “Who are you to talk? You’re not doing enough to solve the problem!” “No, you’re not doing enough!” That sort of thing.

What struck me is how fervently both sides were arguing that the other side was wrong. I wanted to say, “Guys, can’t you see that both sides are wrong, that you’re all hypocrites—that we’re all hypocrites? None of us is very good at loving our neighbor or being compassionate.”

I remember sitting in a therapist’s office once, confiding in him about a dark episode in my life about which I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. He listened sympathetically, shrugged, and said, “Welcome to the human race.”

Welcome to the human race.

Exactly. We are all miserable sinners. I am. You are. Or haven’t you noticed?

Anne Kennedy has, and she wrote a fine blog post about it yesterday. She said that PepsiCo and United Airlines performed a great service for us last week.

Why? you ask. Well, think about it this way. Part of having technology and ease of lifestyle and a first world context where things basically work is the ridiculous idea that maybe human beings are good. When you’re walking down a shiny grocery aisle picking up the things that you want to eat that aren’t going to kill you, and then you go through the line where you can not only easily get change, you can even get change for a big fat bill without having to argue with the check out person about how that’s impossible, you might be inclined to go home and think that you are good and the grocery people are good and all the people are good. But see, that’s just not true. People are bad. The Pepsi Ad and the United Ugliness show all of us how bad we really are…

See, what’s so beautiful about these two fantastic moments is that they illumine that we are bad and stupid even when (sometimes especially when) we are trying to be good and awesome. Pepsi did not wake up that auspicious morning and say to itself in its tinny multimillion dollar voice, ‘How can I literally offend every single person in the world today?’ They said, ‘How can we get people to buy this gross sugary drink thereby increasing our shareholder whatchamacallit and making all people love us more.” They were trying to do a nice thing.

Likewise, all the people working at United didn’t wake up and think, ‘You know what would be great? Publicly shaming and humiliating and abusing a person who paid us more money than we’re worth for a product we’re not that great at delivering anyway!’…

Finally, bringing her focus back to Holy Week and Good Friday, she writes:

And so God… is able to take all our ‘good intentions’ which lead us directly into the lap of humiliating evil, to bring about the best good ever, which is the salvation of humanity from itself and all its ‘good works’ and ‘good intentions.’ (Sorry about all the scare quotes.)