One of the more popular series of books on the shelves of libraries and bookstores is the "for Dummies" collection. More than 68 million people in the US have read a Dummies book since the first one was published in 1991. A typical Dummies household has between 3-4 Dummies books. Most people buy an additional book after their first purchase. Dummies readers are anything but dumb. They tend to be educated, employed, and reasonably well-off. 1
The origin of the name came from an overhead conversation. When the publisher of the book was a sales representative, he was standing behind a frustrated customer who was complaining to the sales clerk. "This book on DOS is impossibly complicated. Don't you have something more comprehensible, like DOS for Dummies?" From that by-chance encounter a marketing empire was born. They now have over 800 active titles and hundreds more have gone out of stock as software upgrades make certain ones obsolete.
The books in the "For Dummies" series offer easy to understand instruction of a variety of topics. They take a Cliff Note's approach to some very complicated subjects. Recently, they have released a series of CD for learning a new language. They have 15 books on religions-Religion for Dummies, Christianity for Dummies, Spirituality for Dummies.
Some people are offended by the title. They feel the author's simplistic approach is laced with a condescending attitude. While the latter may or may not be true, sometimes we need to take a very simplistic approach to understand complicated ideas. And then again, sometimes we need to remind ourselves that maybe we are making simple ideas just too complicated.
In the history of the church, the subject of the Holy Trinity has always been considered one of the more complicated topics. Someone once said, "if you do not believe it you will lose your soul, but if you try to understand it, you will lose your mind." Theologians are not very helpful on the subject. They tend to complicate matters. I have read a few authors who would not be asked by a publisher to write a book entitled, "The Holy Trinity for Dummies." They just could not do it.
While the apostle Paul can sometimes get very complicated, in today's Scripture passage he chooses to provide us with a plain description of how we relate to each person of the Trinity.
John Stott states, "The pursuit of peace is a universal human obsession."2 Paul tells the Roman that their peace has only one source but his words loss their impact in a society that has created a safe non-threatening, genteel, all-encompassing universal Divine. To fully appreciate Paul's intent, we must understand his thinking.
In an earlier passage,
Paul reveals his thinking and the central theme of the letter. He writes
in 1:16, 17:
16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
He begins with a description of the secular world (1:18). It is caught in downward spiral. God has given to humanity the creation as evidence of his presence, his splendor, and his power but they closed their mind and choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator. In his love, God does not force them to believe but turns them over to the devises of their heart. Without God, the secular world falls into a morass of perversion and demonstrates that wrong thinking produces wrong behavior.
We are witnesses of this sad and tragic reality. Our world has abandoned its spiritual heritage. The mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, the beheading of an American solider, the constant threat of terrorism, and the development of weapons of mass destruction by any country are just few of the obvious signs of a depraved mind. Once humanity excludes God, then we become only accountable to ourselves. This allows us to create new standards to justify our behavior. Sexual exploitation is tolerated because its profit trickled down through society. Exaggerated wealth by a few at the expense of the many is praised for its entrepreneurial genius because of the new jobs it produces. Sexual rolls are confused in the name of free expression. Paul says that such behavior will only bring the wrath of God.
The former Pharisee then turns his attention to his fellow Jews. He tells them that they also are without excuse and not free from condemnation. They cannot condemn the vices of others. Their conscious should not be clear. God judges with strict impartiality. The Jewish people were given the Law. God made a covenant with them these were special privileges, but they sought to obtain salvation through works. They assumed that their ethnic heritage would grant them special immunity. The believed that the slicing of the foreskin would guarantee them a special place. But Paul understands the conditions of the law differently. He states in 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Having transgressed the Law, humanity, Jew and Gentile deserve condemnation.
Paul's message is not pleasant. It is not very tolerant. It sounds very judgmental but it needs to be heard if we are to understand the nature of the Trinity. The enlighten mind of a post modern society claims that God is not angry. God is our friend. God loves us. God includes everyone. Such an approach is the equivalent of telling the Pistons that Shaquille O'Neil is actually a rather passive, non-aggressive player who will distribute daisies before the game and hope that the Piston win. That may be wishful thinking but it will not bring a championship ring. It will also not bring peace of mind to the Ben Wallace and Rick Hamilton who have felt the wrath of the Shaq Attack throughout the season. Peace with God will not come by altering our perspectives or re-imagining the Divine. Paul tells the Romans we have peace with God for one reason.
Today Brennan Manning is a very popular author. He has written over a dozen books-Abba Child, The Ragamuffin Gospel, and The Signature of Jesus, to name a few. He has a very powerful ministry of "helping people to enter the existential experience of being loved in their brokenness." But there was once a day when he himself was in great need of begin loved. He grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He attended college for two years before enlisting in the Marines and serving in Korea. After active duty, he enrolled in college but only studied journalism for one semester. His soul was restless. He knew that their had to be something more to life than what he was experiencing. He enrolled in a Catholic seminary but left after seven days, "because of the dreaded "rising at 5 a.m., chanting psalms in Latin with pantywaist 18-year-old postulants," being ordered to eat beets ("which I hated"), and "stumbling up steps in an ankle-length robe unaware that I had to lift the hem."3
A short time later, he dreamt that he had an idyllic life. His wife was in the kitchen baking bread, four children were playing in the yard, a brand new Porsche was sitting in the driveway and on the wall hung a gold trimmed plaque for the Nobel prize for literature. What more could a person want. But Brennan woke up in a state of fright. He was cold and sweaty. He shouted out "O God, there has to be more!"4
His search for more took him to Spain where he carried water to poor outlying villages. Then to bayous of Louisiana where he served the families of shrimp fisherman. His spiritual journey even took him to a prison where he voluntarily checked-in as a convict. But he did not discover what he was looking for until he spent six months in a remote cave in the Zaragoza desert of Spain.
Early one December morning Jesus spoke to him, "For love of you I left my Father's side. I came to you who ran from me, who fled me, who did not want to hear my name. For love of you I was covered with spit, punched and beaten, and fixed to the wood of the cross."5 Brennan Manning discovered
The message of God's persistent love has etched itself in Manning's heart, helping this sinner pick himself up countless times since then. Manning's gift is making people feel this love as though they were sitting on their Abba's lap, safe, in spite of their sin and shame. He puts it this way: "The work that God has given me to do is helping people to enter the existential experience of being loved in their brokenness." On that day, Brennan Manning discovered the peace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The critics were unrelenting on Mel Gibson for his movie, The Passion of Christ. They said it was too violent but our peace with God only comes through that violence. We cannot lessen the pain, or sterilize the hideousness of the beatings because by his wounds we are healed.
God the Father has created us to live in peace. God the Son offered his life so that we may know that peace.
Love is a very powerful experience. When we know we are loved we feel more confident; we enjoy live. Loneliness and rejection can cripple us. They create depressed hearts but when we know that someone else cares about us; when we know that someone else thinks the best about us; when we know that someone else is willing to provide whatever we need, we feel important. We feel affirmed. When we know that we have at least one safe and secure relationship, we are willing to make sacrifices. We are willing to take chances. We are willing to risk. The Spirit pours out to us the love of the God to bring that reassurance. Brennan Manning says that the secret is to let yourself be loved in your brokenness.
People tend to wallow in self-pity and personal loathing for many reasons but some do it as a defense tactic. By playing the role of Eoror they protect themselves from defeat and failure. By taking on a downcast spirit, they insulate themselves from another cold rejection. The apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit wants to melt away our personal self loathing, our self-pity, our despair and despondency by pouring upon us the love of God.
1 "Success behind the Dummies Guides," Media Corp Radio, [on-line]; available from http://rsi.com.sg/english/businessideas/view/20040514120241/1/.html, 4 June 2004.
2 John Stott, Romans, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994, 139
3 Agnieszka Tennant, "Ragamuffin," ChristianityToday, [on-line]; available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/006/22.42.html, 5 June 2004.
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