“For a long time I thought I’d never farted but then I realized farts and gas are the same thing.” – Phoebe

I am reading a book with friends. It is fairly brief, but covers great swaths of Christian thought. My brain knows it knows a lot… but can’t remember where anything is filed. So as the author glosses over big topics, I am trying to remember atonement theories and connecting scripture verses. Soon I am breaking out seminary books and diving into my “Read Someday” shelf (which is filled with more books that I will ever have time to cover).

The expanse of knowledge and interpretation on every subject is the reason my mind knows it knows, but can’t actually remember much of anything. All the topics are too big, the options too many, and what I know… is really not much.  Especially when the question becomes what do you know for certain.

With this great expanse of opinion our tendency is to default to the views passed down. What is Hell? Fire and Brimstone. What is scripture? God’s word. Why did Jesus have to die? Justice for sin. What will happen at end of time? Rapture, war, temple rebuilt…

Our current chapter is on this last point – eschatology, end times study. I suspect if we can agree on anything it is that Revelation (and Daniel, etc) are difficult, nearly impossible, to understand. Yet most of the church has strong convictions about the end times. Often strange ideas with a present day twist. But one topic in particular has left me baffled and that is the concern with Israel, particularly that the Jewish Temple must be rebuilt.

This concern is tied to a very specific form of eschatology called dispensationalism. The theology of the good novels from the past few decades (Left Behind and Late Great Planet Earth). But even as a kid, in the midst of Left Behind fervor, I did not understand why a physical temple had anything to do with the end times. Didn’t Jesus – the cross and resurrection – take away any need for a temple?

I suspect a theologian could give me an answer. But I think the rub is an inability to read symbolism even into end times passages. Reading it literally, it is hard to imagine the temple as anything other than brick and mortar. Anything other than a place of sacrifice. But as a symbol the temple could refer to the place where God’s spirit dwells. Could refer to the ones who will sacrifice their lives for God. It could refer to the church.

It all goes back to Phoebe’s quote. The “people of God” throughout the scripture are one thing — anyone who follows the will of God. And that means anyone who follows the way of God – who is Jesus. No matter race or nationality. As Jesus said, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:28-50).

Or maybe it goes back to Phoebe’s quote in a different way. While I don’t think so, maybe I am the one who is wrong. Our theology had been debated from the beginning. Faithful people arrive at different answers. But too often when we find our answer we declare our choice to be God’s truth. Then we exclude those who disagree… in this our rhetoric becomes gas. It pushes people away from the table.

Yet, as we push people away, the way of Jesus is putting more chairs around the table.

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