Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Camel Conundrum

Slacktivist muses on the popular Christian legend regarding Jesus' teaching that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:25) This legend says that there was a small doorway into Jerusalem called "The Eye of the Needle" that was really only big enough for a human being to walk through, but if you crammed the camel in really hard, you might be able to squeeze it through. There has never been any evidence that such a doorway ever existed, and this is generally understood to be a fiction that many Chrstians use to miss the point of Christ's teaching: that "with human beings this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27)

I had heard this tale myself when I was in high school, but had the myth exposed within a few years afterward, and did not realize that this ridiculous story was still being spread around as though it were truth. So let me be clear here: there is no evidence to indicate that Jesus meant anything other than pushing regular-sized camels through the eyes of regular-sized sewing needles. Even acknowledging that needles were somewhat different then than now, the significance remains exactly the same.

However, if you just read Slacktivist's post itself, but miss the comments that follow, you'll miss this transcript of an old SNL gag (complete with screen captures). It's quite telling, and I encourage you to read it.

The comments also get into debates on how much one is "saved by works/deeds" vs. "saved by faith" which are also worth reading, regardless of your theological position on the matter.

This is a continual see-saw issue for me. As a lifelong Presbyterian, I tend to affirm "salvation by faith alone" as opposed to "salvation by works." The usual "good-Presbyterian" response is that, if you truly have faith in Christ, good works will naturally follow. This allows us to affirm passages such as James 2:17 ("Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.") while sticking to our "faith alone" mantra.

But this means that I also affirm that to skip out on such deeds as active church involvement (just to name one) is an act demonstrating a lack of faith. I cannot truly be a faithful believer if my faith does not call me to active involvement in a Christian lifestyle.

But when such active involvement is damaging to one's well-being, is it unfaithful to take a sabbatical? This has been a very real question for my wife and me over the past several years, and we're still trying to find a balance between active Christian involvement and caring for our own well-being. We want to "rest in God's goodness" (as we are often told to do), but what does that mean in a practical sense?

And so I am brought back to the point of Christ's camel teaching: "with human beings this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." All things are possible with God. May I have enough faith to trust in what that means.

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