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).

The Conqueror Worm (Poe)

Lo! ’t is a gala night
   Within the lonesome latter years!   
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
   In veils, and drowned in tears,   
Sit in a theatre, to see
   A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully   
   The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,   
   Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly—
   Mere puppets they, who come and go   
At bidding of vast formless things
   That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
   Invisible Wo!
That motley drama—oh, be sure   
   It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore   
   By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in   
   To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,   
   And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout,
   A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out   
   The scenic solitude!
It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs   
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
   In human gore imbued.
Out—out are the lights—out all!   
   And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
   Comes down with the rush of a storm,   
While the angels, all pallid and wan,   
   Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”   

   And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.

-Edgar Allan Poe, 1843

I have always loved this poem… there is a certain hope that stands in the shadows just off stage, that lurks in the meter, even as the subject matter of the poem is the despairing end of all men.  Perhaps it is just me, for I know the end of this act is not, in point of fact, the end of the play. The “heroism” of the worm will be triumphantly cut short.  Yet much in the flavor of Ecclesiastes – a book Poe was intimately familiar with in thought, if not in word – there is a hopelessness that thrives under the sun, for often things appear hopeless indeed.  The tragedy of man seems, in each successive generation, to be at its crescendo.

But to be a follower of Christ is to know Hope, deep in your bones.  And having known it, you start to see it everywhere.  Perhaps just the slightest hint of a bud, a smear of green on a single branch far out on the edge of reality’s despairing tree.  But we see it, and our souls know it for what it is.

So the funeral pall comes down, and the storm rages, and angels weep, and the cruelty of man expressed in the hatred of his neighbor seems a stain that can never be washed from the world, no matter the downpour…

And we linger in that moment just before the Hero comes to save the day.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (7)

Q. 7. What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

There is probably no more contentious a subject within the church today than the sovereignty of God.  Over what is He sovereign?  We must answer, “everything.”  Some try to nuance their arguments against this total sovereignty by talking about what God could do versus what He does do, as in: the sovereign God of the universe could make His grace irresistible, but chooses not to do so, so that man can choose.

The problem with this idea is that it runs counter to Scripture (Ephesians 1-2, Romans 1-3).  We are all of us dead men, who will never reach out for a Savior absent His grabbing hold of us.  As at our natural births, a metaphor both Jesus and Paul use: we are intimately involved, yes, but not the catalyst in any way.  We are brought to life from death, we are born again, we are chosen from before the foundation of the world.

Does this mean God decides who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell?

Yes.

In whose hands would you rather this decision was?  Your own?  Read once more Psalm 14, 53 and Romans 2 (which quotes them both).  Left to your own devices, you would choose Hell.  Everybody, every time.  Have you read the story of God’s covenant people from the beginning?  The tragedy is heart-breaking and breath-taking.  Five weeks after crossing the Red Sea God’s people are accusing Him of sin.  That’s the people we are without the Holy Spirit.  No, you don’t want salvation in the hands of any man.  I sure don’t.  I know where my hands have been.

He also, incidentally, decided when and where in the vastness of time and space you would be born, what your interests would be, what your inclinations would be, what your taste buds would find yummy.  He determined your parents, when and if you hear the Gospel, if you are living now and if you’ll be alive in five minutes.  The moment of your birth and the moment of your death are HIs to decree.  And yet we tend to get caught up on the salvation thing.

When we say God is sovereign, we do take special joy in His sovereignty over salvation, yes.

But we mean much, much more: it (Creation) is all His, to do with as He pleases.  He created it, and He sustains it, and not one atom (or whatever we’ve discovered that’s smaller, nowadays) has ever done anything other than at His sufferance.  He wills and it happens.  Period.

You haven’t rolled the dice in a game of Monopoly, but that the sovereignty of God is on display.

Why then, sin and rebellion?  I can reply only that His glory is on full display in His grace and His mercy, alongside His judgment.  The question is not, why are some damned?  Paul tells us in Romans 9 what to do with such a question.  The question is, why are any spared?  His love should humble and amaze us, the church, His Son’s bride, His chosen people.

God’s sovereignty should bring you to your knees is terrified thankfulness, for He is truly awesome.

 

Raymond Chandler Evening (Hitchcock)

It’s a Raymond Chandler Evening
At the end of someone’s day
And I’m standing in my pocket
And I’m slowly turning grey

I remember what I told you
But I can’t remember why
And the yellow leaves are falling
In a spiral from the sky

There’s a body on the railings
That I can’t identify
And I’d like to reassure you but
I’m not that kind of guy

It’s a Raymond Chandler Evening
And the pavements are all wet
And I’m lurking in the shadows
‘Cause it hasn’t happened… yet

-Robyn Hitchcock, 1986

I first encountered these lyrics in James O’Barr’s classic graphic novel, The Crow, and they have haunted me ever since.  In the context of the novel they felt very noir, there was a sinister lurking to the words, a foretaste of coming vengeance.  In this Mr. O’Barr and I can agree: something is very, very wrong with the world, and we long for the day the wrong will be set right.

To hear the song (for song it first was, from the album Element of Light), go here.

Who was Raymond Chandler?  More info here.