This Momentary Beast

Occasionally we think of our lives and how they are affected by our sin.  (Usually we are more consumed with how the sin of others affects our lives, but we’ll set that aside for the moment.) At a certain point also some of us consider how our sin, stretching back to Adam, has affected Creation, corrupting literally the entire world.  There is nothing our sin has not tainted.

And so – I thought, which is always a dangerous thing – what about time itself?  How has our sin, collectively and individually, affected time?  We unconsciously think in terms of aging and decay: everything fades with time.  Even when we talk about enjoying the moment, we lie to ourselves.  Every moment we find ourselves enjoying is in the past by the time we realize it has brought us happiness.  We are grasping at our histories even as we seize the day.

The greatest joys of our life become wearisome to us, given enough time.  And what is this, but the greatest of sin’s corruptions? Given an eternity to worship our Creator, we chose to steal a moment of sinful pleasure, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

We took the beauty and wonder of eternal discovery, eternal growth, eternal intimacy, and we corrupted it through our sin into nothing more than a relentless destroyer, a slavering beast.  And beast it remains, devouring each second of our lives.  It knows neither joy nor remorse: and beauty having become beast, it slips its fangs between the seconds, rending our futures instantaneously into our pasts.  Fears and hopes, joys and sorrows, they become, as the great Preacher said, vanity.  The beast we call the present devours all.

Or perhaps this explains it better: there are whiny children at Disneyland.

Through the wide, ever-hungering jaws of the present every moment of the future in this world must pass.  Until…

Until our mockery of God’s creative power – our sin, our efforts to remake everything in our own image, our twisting of dominion into rebellion – ceases.  For while the beast is sovereign over every single moment of human history since Genesis 3, it reigns at the sufferance of a Sovereign greater still.  And that Sovereign is set not simply on redeeming men, but every aspect of His glorious Creation.

Consider this.  There will be a moment when weariness ceases.  When hope beyond anything we’ve ever dared to hope is realized, and does not become part of the past, but an eternal victorious moment in which we dwell forever.

“Further up,” C. S. Lewis cried out in The Last Battle, “and further in!”  I hope he gets to lead us up the mountain one day, for I will gladly (truly, unabashedly glad for perhaps the very first time in my immortal existence) follow.

And the Present will sleep contently at the foot of its King, hunger sated.

Law: A More Excellent Way

If civil law is simply a social contract, then it rests on a foundation no firmer than desire. If ethics spring forth from the human heart, what then of the higher things – or indeed, how do we recognize the higher as distinct from the base? For my desire to steal I merely enshrine in law, and it becomes ethical: a virtue. I posit that some people are not really people; killing them is no different than butchering a hog. Again, I look in the mirror and see an ethical man, for my desire – become law – tells me what it means to be good. But what, then, of honor? What of duty? What of self-sacrificing love? What place have these things?

No, my friends. We must categorically reject the thinking of this age. There is transcendent truth, and it is real. We recognize love, and honor, and duty. When their stories are told, our spirits soar. We rejoice. And we cannot resist them, for indeed, desire does not define virtue. Virtue is written on the human heart, by One far greater than us. We can seek to understand this. We can embark on the greatest journey of our lives. The alternative is to be caught up by our own desires, slaves to their fickle whims, never satisfied, endlessly manipulating each other. There is no heavier burden for men to bear than that of their own desire.

Yet take heart, for all is not lost. There is a glorious, transcendent, and firm foundation upon which to build. And it is never too late to place upon it the first stone of a more excellent way.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (11)

Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

(Click here for a great Q&A over at Reformed.org)

Let me suggest there are two simple premises to sound theology.

First, that God wills perfectly. What He has decreed with happen, without any doubt, down to the seemingly-random casting of lots (Prov 16:33). His promises are more dependable that the sun rising in the East, or the rising temperatures of summer.

Second, that Man sins willfully. By this we mean that man sins in what he does, for by nature and by deed, we are hell-bent on rebellion against our Creator. Some of our deeds are obviously sinful, at least to most: when a man murders another, for example, in violation of the sixth commandment (Ex 20:13). Others are more subtly sinful, for they benefit our fellow man instead of harming him: when we donate to the local children’s hospital to our own glory instead of His (John 3:19-21). Sinners sin, and in no ways can they glorify God in their actions, for they do not seek His glory: none ever has (Rom 3:9-11). Either a work is done of faith by one who loves Him, or it is sin. We recognize with Christ that sins differ in their extremity (John 19:1-11), but we all follow our father, Adam, consistently, and we act in accordance with our hearts.

Beyond these simple truths we need to develop our ideas precisely, and with an eye toward the consequences of our ideas. We should move slowly. We must work outward from the Word alone, allowing Scripture to speak to us while not allowing our culture to speak through Scripture. This is difficult to do, even for the very wise, but the Spirit indwells us if we are his, and God above has given us the writings of many wise men who came before us. It is possible for us to know, and in so knowing, to obey, and so increase His glory within our land.

 

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (10)

Q. 10. How did God create man?
A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.

God created man and woman on the sixth day (Genesis 1-2).

So let me make several dramatic statements which were not really dramatic for about 6000+ years of human history, up until this modern, enlightened age.  Warm up that sense of outrage, because I would hate to see someone strain themselves in the coming paragraphs.  Take it slow, with lots of time for interjections like “how dare he!”  and “that misogynist!”  Remember, there are only so many hard-core expletives in the English language… use them wisely.

People have dominion over animals, and animals are not people.  In both Genesis 9 and Acts 10, men are permitted to eat of anything that moves upon the earth.  Not only is vegetarianism uncalled for, it could be a sign of weakness in your faith.  The life of the noblest beast is not morally equivalent to even the most depraved person.  True, that an animal has never rebelled against God.  And yet dominion over the beasts of the world was given to man.  Or, to refute several bumper stickers I have seen, your dog/cat/pet is not your kid.  Not even close.  We live in a society that slaughters it’s human children wholesale, and elevates members of the animal kingdom to human status.  If you were to kick a stray dog on your way to get an abortion that kills your unborn child, you could go to prison.  For kicking the dog.

Men and women are both created by God for different purposes.  Coming together in marriage, they form a covenant picture of the New Covenant, of Christ and the bride He gave His life for, the Church.  Men are not women.  Women are not men.  The roles of men and women are not interchangeable based upon our desires.  Men and women are equal before God, absolutely.  They are equal in value, in the same way that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are equal.  They are not equal in every way, particularly in their roles, which were designed to be different, even as Jesus Christ submits to the will of the Father who sent Him.

Your gender is part of God’s design, and not simply an accident of biology.  It was not a mistake, and God was not confused in your Creation.  It is not your possession, to do with as you will.  It is an intrinsic part of who you are.  God created mankind male and female for His pleasure and His glory, not yours. And it is He who brings them together (Genesis 1-2).

And now that these radical statements have angered those indoctrinated in an American culture of choice, which is probably a significant percentage of those who will ever read this, I’ll sign off… only 97 questions to go!

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (9)

Q. 9. What is the work of creation?
A. The work of creation is, God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.

God created everything from nothing, as mentioned in a previous post, ex nihilo.

Here’s my baseline for orthodoxy on the Creation question:

-God created everything from nothing.

-Adam and Eve were literally the first two people, from whom all mankind descends (both Jesus and Paul in the NT interact with them on this basis, not as types).

-Death entered the world through sin.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, but if we can agree on these points, we have enough agreement for me.  Personally, I tend toward a young earth viewpoint, mostly because it’s the simplest explanation, and I like simple.  A world created with the appearance of age, six literal days, a beginning about 6,000 years ago.  You do have my sympathies if you’ve run into some of the “young earth” crowd who have turned being a young earth-er into a test for orthodoxy.  And men I respect (to the best of my knowledge, including J. I. Packer) seem to hold to some sort of theistic evolution, so you need to know great Christian minds disagree with me on this point.

But I don’t see why we need to push so hard to agree with “science.”  Science is simply that aspect of philosophy dealing with very minute particulars within the material world, and it seems like an end-all to itself these days, but it isn’t.  Tomorrow’s science will change today’s scientific “truth.”  And most evolutionary theory is making big picture assumptions from minute data sets.  All in all, I love science when it studies what it observes, and remembers it’s part of a larger world that encompasses material reality.  Too often anymore, science tends to assume the material world is all there is to reality.  Science is a discipline of men, and like men, is prone to forgetfulness about what matters most.

 

In Speech, Grace

The Word is pretty clear: your tongue is a raging forest fire… to which the anonymity of the interwebs is gasoline.

Let me ask you to consider three things as you discourse to the glory of God online, or even in person.  By which I don’t mean texting each other in the same room.  “In person” is that quaint old-fashioned notion of looking another human being in the eye and fully communicating, with all its verbal and non-verbal components.  Give it a try sometime!

Gracious in our speech often comes down to our consideration of the person with whom we are speaking…

 

Do we consider them as a human being, with feelings, thoughts, ideas, and desires, none of which completely line up with our own?

This is not to say that every idea holds equal merit, but to recognize that we start at different places, travel along different trains of thought, and arrive at different places.  Things connect for one person very logically or very emotionally, and the next person might not follow their reasoning or the chain of feeling.  Take the time to think it through.  Ask clarifying questions before you decide you know exactly what someone means, how they got there, and where they’re going.  Think especially hard before you tell them where to go and how to get there.

 

Do we consider that a person’s goal should be differentiated from their methods?

Take the oft-very-calmly-discussed (/end sarcasm) issue of gun control.  Vehement disagreement surrounds this issue, but let me point something out.  Many of the people on both sides of the issue have the same goal in mind.  We read a story about a child accidentally getting shot, or a man killing his co-workers, or a government oppressing its citizens, and what do we want?  We want fewer dead children.  We want those co-workers to still be alive.  We want citizens to thrive under good government.

In other words, the goal is the same, for both sides.  An enormous difference lies in the various methods we advocate to get there.   But if you want to keep the conversation civil, simply continue to call to mind (even when insulted) the heart of the other person, this living person made in the image of God with whom you are disagreeing.  Generally, they want what you want.  They want a better world.  They disagree about how to get there.  As an aside to Christians reading this, it is often a better witness to interact with a person like Christ would than to cram the Gospel down their throat as quickly as possible.  The time may come for an explicit conversation about Jesus: in the meantime, trying speaking like Him as often as you may be tempted to speak about Him.

 

Do we consider why a person holds the positions they do?  Often the issue is not the issue.

It is so very easy to classify and label people, then dismissively file them away in our brains as if we completely understand them.  This really ties into my first point above, but why someone believes what they believe is critical to truly understanding them.  That gun control nut you can’t stand might have had a curious nephew who found a loaded gun.  If you’ve ever attended the funeral of a child, the reaction is visceral.  You passionately never want anyone to go through that experience.  That gun wacko with 15 assault rifles that you know is just waiting to shoot an innocent person could have a family that was home and unprotected at the wrong time and place.  What would your opinion be about a gun in the home if you were robbed, your kids beaten and your wife raped?  Would you want others to experience that helpless agony?

When someone believes you care about them enough to understand the deep motivations behind their beliefs, trust is built, the type of trust that can survive even the most profound disagreement.  Seek to know a person’s heart, follow their path to understand their goals and their methods for achieving them, and you’ll have a solid foundation for real discourse.  As another aside for Christians, you’ll begin to show a person the love of Christ.  When the Word speaks of not judging others, its not that we don’t call sin, sin, and everyone just does what they feel is right.  It means at the deepest level, we freaking care.  And very few do.  This level of caring would set the Church far apart.  This level of caring could – and will – make the hard ethical truths we espouse much more intelligible to those we are called to love.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (8)

Q. 8. How doth God execute his decrees?
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.

God created everything that we understand to exist, everything we call reality. There was nothing, and God created everything ex nihilo through the power of His Word, speaking the universe into existence (Genesis 1). The universe continues to exist at His sufferance (Hebrews 1-2).

Philosophically, we can draw from these facts that God’s control over the universe is total.  Nothing happens outside of His control.  Does this mean that God wills for men to sin?  This is generally the trap question that is asked, but it’s a good question.

Consider Exodus 3, where God tells Moses exactly what is going to happen in his interactions with Pharaoh.  The Bible describes this hardening of Pharaoh’s heart against God in two ways: as Pharaoh’s decision (Exodus 7), and as God’s decision (Exodus 9).

Consider further the decision of Pilate to execute Jesus.  In the interest of political expediency (hard to believe a ruler would act in such a way, isn’t it?), Pilate orders the only perfect man in the history of the world to be crucified.  But apart from this sinful decision, none of us are saved.  So did God will that this sin would happen? Was there any doubt that this event would come to pass exactly as God decreed?  At the same time, Pilate was still responsible for his own actions, for this sin.  He acted consistently in accordance with his heart: he did what he wanted to do.  At the same time, there was zero chance he was not going to do it.

Jesus responds to our other difficult question – why do seemingly innocent people suffer and sometimes die? – in Luke 13.  We are not given the explanations we think we deserve (and this galls us, particularly as Americans), but we are told to repent.

Paul addresses these hard questions in Romans 9, as well: make no mistake, the Maker will do as He pleases with His Creation.

It can also be helpful to step back from any narrow passage and consider the story arc of Scripture: from the very beginning, God is working to save a particular group of people from among all the peoples of the world.  He will rescue His people from sin and death: this will happen.  Noah is chosen, Abraham is chosen, Israel is chosen, and many others are not.  Christians in the New Covenant are now God’s covenant people, and we pray (or at least, we should) that He increase the number of His people to fill the world!   But some are going to judgment, and some to salvation, and even our repentance is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2).