All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • Why Did God Create the World?


    Why Did God Create the World?
    Brian Zahnd

    I’m currently reading The Lamb of God by Sergius Bulgakov. Sergius Bulgakov (1871–1944) is widely regarded as the leading Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century. Regarding The Lamb of God, David Bentley Hart says, “This book is quite simply the most remarkable and impressive work of Christology produced in the twentieth century.”

    Today I read something so beautiful I felt I had to share it. This is the first three paragraphs of the chapter entitled “The Creaturely Sophia.” This is technical academic theology that some may find a bit daunting, so at the end I’ve added a few paragraphs from my book Water To Wine in which I attempted to say something similar. My take on why God created the world is less technical and less thorough, but perhaps it’s more poetic and more accessible.

    Here’s Sergius Bulgakov on why God created the world:
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  • The Sixth Sign and Epidemics

    Shalom from Jerusalem.

    Today’s Lenten reading from The Unvarnished Jesus seems particularly apropos, so I thought I would share it here.

    BZ

    LENT Day 21 (Tuesday)
    John 9:1–41
    Jesus Heals the Man Born Blind

    John constructs his Gospel around seven signs: the water turned to wine at Cana, the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum, the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, the feeding of the five thousand at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus walking on water, the healing of the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. (And then there is the surprise eighth sign of Jesus’ resurrection that marks the beginning of a new creation.) John doesn’t talk about miracles, but signs. These signs are intended to point us to something significant about Jesus and his ministry.

    The sixth sign of the healing of the man born blind takes up an entire chapter and is filled with drama as the man who was healed bests the Pharisees in theological debate and is expelled from the synagogue for it. The story opens with the disciples observing the man born blind and raising a theological question of who is to blame for it. But Jesus dismisses this line of questioning. Jesus is saying that when we observe suffering, the question isn’t who is to blame, but how can we help.

    We’ve all seen Christian leaders assign blame upon the victims of epidemics, earthquakes, and tsunamis. But blame is what the satan does. Followers of Jesus are called to co-suffering love, not theological stone throwing. So Jesus instructs his disciples that when we observe suffering, it’s not an opportunity to assign blame, but an opportunity to do the works of God by helping to heal, restore, and alleviate suffering. Blame is the devil’s game — love is the high calling of the Christian. As Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed.” And this brings us to the main point of the sixth sign.
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  • Ash Wednesday


    The shadow of a cross on a cemetery wall in Spain.

    THE UNVARNISHED JESUS
    LENT Day 1 (Ash Wednesday)
    Mark 8:31– 38 | Jesus Foretells His Death

    We begin our Lenten journey with Jesus by hearing him tell us that he’s not headed to greatness as the world esteems greatness, but to the cross and to death. Peter and the rest of the disciples understand that Jesus is on his way to the capital city of Jerusalem to lay claim to the throne — to become the King of the Jews. But without any ambiguity Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests, and finally be killed. Yes, Jesus also says that his apparent defeat will be turned to victory when he is raised on the third day, but his disciples probably hear this as an idiom referring to the resurrection of the righteous at some point in the future — as when Hosea says, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up.” That Jesus could become King of the Jews through suffering and death is inconceivable to Peter. For Peter, a messiah who is killed is a messiah who fails, and Peter didn’t sign up for failure. Jesus alone seems to understand that a breakthrough into new life is only attained through the experience of loss. Martin Luther was right, Christianity is not a theology of glory, but a theology of the cross. But to choose the way of the cross over the way of glory is a hard lesson to learn.
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  • Our Lady On Fire

    Our Lady On Fire
    Brian Zahnd

    It was Monday of Holy Week 2019 and I had just finished leading a noontime prayer service when I heard the awful news that Notre Dame was on fire. Our Lady was on fire! I turned on the television and watched in horror for the next three hours. I hadn’t felt like this since 9/11. I wept. Millions of us did. The French news magazine Paris Match said, “Today, they weep for her in every language.” Ken Follett, author of Pillars of the Earth and an expert on Gothic cathedrals, wrote this:

    “The voice on the phone was urgent. ‘I’m in Paris,’ it said. ‘Turn on your television!’ You know what we saw on the screen: the wonderful cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, one of the greatest achievements of European civilization, was on fire. The scene dazed and disturbed us profoundly. I was on the verge of tears. Something priceless was dying in front of our eyes. The feeling was bewildering, as if the earth was shaking.”

    Like millions of others I watched in real time what seemed to be the agonizing death of a priceless treasure. For me, the most dreadful moment came when the 750-ton spire, already engulfed in flames, finally collapsed. It marked the moment when we all feared Notre Dame would be forever lost. Notre Dame had always seemed eternal, and the medieval builders certainly thought it would last until the Day of Judgment; but suddenly we saw that it could be destroyed. Now that everything was on fire how could Our Lady be saved?
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  • The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey

    The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey
    Brian Zahnd

    I have a new book release! The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey. This is a book of daily devotions taking the reader on a journey with Jesus from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. I know we’re still in Advent, but I wanted to give you enough time to have The Unvarnished Jesus for the beginning of Lent on February 26. Let me tell you how this book came about…
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  • The World As It Is (An Advent Poem)


    The World As It Is
    (An Advent Poem)

    I take the world as it is and still believe
    Debauched and beautiful, sordid and seemly
    Where Kerouac is a secular saint
    Heard uncensored telling his story
    On the road with Dean Moriarty
    In the long run Merton took a better turn
    But still the beat goes on…
    Take your stand on whatever smidgen of faith you have
    Smack-dab in a world of hustlers and hookers, users and losers, liars and lovers
    Don’t waste your life on a pastel watercolor faith
    That runs if touched by a tear or a drop of sweat
    Can you take the world as it is
    And still believe in God?
    Can you take people as they are
    And still believe in love?
    Or do you only play at make believe?
    A world of terracotta saints
    Of little houses on soundstage prairies
    So not at home in the world as it is
    That you can’t wait for it to be left behind
    That, my friend, is no real faith
    It’s scripted B-movie phoniness
    Rated G (for gullible audiences)
    A real faith lives in a real world
    The world as it is
    Sordid and seemly
    Debauched and beautiful
    It’s the little town of Bethlehem
    Good enough for the Son of God
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  • Returning To The Way of St. James

    Returning To the Way of St. James
    Brian Zahnd

    But I would walk five hundred miles
    And I would walk five hundred more
    Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
    To fall down at your door

    –The Proclaimers

    In the fall of 2016 Peri and I walked 500 miles from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain along the 1,200 year-old Camino Francés pilgrim route. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It may have blistered my feet, but it healed my soul. The truth is, when I set out from St.-Jean on September 14, 2016 (Holy Cross Day) I didn’t know how much healing my soul needed. But as we walked into Santiago forty days later I was aware that I had walked into a deep peace that is still with me today. Though it may sound like a cliché, I can honestly say the Camino changed my life. Peri tells the story from her perspective in her Camino memoir, Every Scene By Heart.

    Last year for our vacation we walked the Camino Portuguése from Porto, Portugal to Santiago — a pilgrimage of 160 miles that took two weeks. It was a Camino tune up, but not the same as the long 500-mile walk. Unfortunately, Peri developed a stress fracture of her tibia on this Camino and ended up on crutches for eight weeks! The Camino does present physical challenges.

    This fall we are returning to the 500-mile Camino Francés. We begin walking on September 12 and will return to St. Joseph in time to celebrate the 38th anniversary of Word of Life Church on November 3. After pastoring Word of Life for nearly four decades we now have an excellent pastoral staff and the congregation will be just fine while Peri and I go for a long walk. But why do I want to go on another big Camino? I have a fairly definite reason.
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  • Trumped


    Trumped
    Brian Zahnd

    Politics trumps everything. That’s an axiom that holds up. Unless you really see the kingdom of God and are willing to rethink everything in the light of Christ, politics trumps everything — including faith and ethics. I learned this the hard way. When I pulled away from lock-step allegiance with the Religious Right because I had seen the kingdom of God and had begun to take Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount seriously, many politically conservative Christians accused me of “going over to the other side.” Committed as they were to a dualistic us vs. them paradigm, they could only interpret my kingdom-conscious approach to politics as traitorous. “If you’re not on our side, you must be on their side!” In their closed dualistic system, even Jesus has to be either a Republican or a Democrat.

    So my honest claim to have no interest in the Left/Right political divide because I only cared about following Jesus fell on deaf ears. They could not see the kingdom alternative I was pointing to — they could only see us vs. them, Republicans vs. Democrats, Elephants vs. Donkeys. They were incredulous about my claim to only be interested in following the Lamb. Yes, I learned the hard way that if the kingdom of Christ is not perceived as a viable alternative society, then competition for conventional political power seems the only option for influencing the world.

    With a low ecclesiology, politics trumps everything. If the local church is viewed as devoid of what we think of as real power, then we inevitably set our sights on Washington D.C. The National Prayer Breakfast is believed to be important, not because of prayer, but because the President and other power brokers are there. And once you’re convinced that God is working through the political machinations of Babylon, and that God is inviolably on the side of your political party…well, you have set yourself up to make enormous compromises. So let me talk about the elephant in the room — Donald J. Trump.
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  • On Love of Nation

    On Love of Nation
    Brian Zahnd

    As followers of Jesus we are not commanded to love our nation. Rather, we are commanded to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as our self. Nation — whether we are referring to the modern nation-state or to its ancient meaning of ethnicity — is not a proper category for a priority of love. To prioritize love of one’s nation-state or one’s ethnicity will almost of necessity put us at odds with the commands we have received from Jesus Christ. We are called to love God supremely and then to love those around us with a co-suffering love — and we are to do this regardless of our neighbor’s citizenship or ethnicity. This is the basis for all Christ-informed ethics, and this is what Jesus sets forth in his parable of the Good Samaritan.

    Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) in response to a question from a Torah scholar trying to wiggle out of loving his neighbor by asking for clarification on who actually constitutes a neighbor. The biblical scholar understood that Jesus had spoken correctly when he had identified love of God and love of neighbor as the heart of Scriptural revelation and the way that leads to life, but the scholar was looking for a loop-hole because there were obviously people he didn’t want to love, and Samaritans would certainly have been on his not-to-be-loved list. Thus his lawyerly question. This is the backdrop for the parable.
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