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.

 

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.

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.

Catechized: Confessions and Reflections (1)

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I long saw God as a thing to be endured, not a Person (actually, Persons) to be enjoyed.  In my youth, religious instruction was exactly that: instruction.  Step 1, pray this prayer.  Step 2, act this way.  This is in no way meant to be a criticism of those who were influential on my life in this time period.  The Gospel along is offensive enough; I’m not trying to offend as well.  But the story of Scripture didn’t leap off the page, didn’t grab me and take me for the ride of my life, until much later.  Think about it.  Savor this truth, let it melt on your tongue like a delicious piece of fat from your favorite cut of meat…

We are to glorify God, in worship, with love, through service, flowing from a heart of gratitude because He is, indeed, the Gracious One who redeems His people.

And this – all of this, the wondrous story and our special place in it – is to be savored, a font of laughter, altogether thoroughly enjoyable.

Just let that sink in.

Sublime

I drown in tears that do not fall
Each smile a lie I do not tell
Each breath a page I do not write
My life a book I do not read

In shadows vain we seek for light
Blind guides who call our stumbles dance
Our wretched shrieks a symphony
Our groping hands a deep romance

How long, O man, how long until
With eyes to beauty drawn we see
The truth that lies beneath the sun
Sublime divine simplicity

-Charles Baldon, April 2014

Frozen: This is What Disney Movies Can Be

Frozen-movie-posterWe just watched Frozen as a family; for me it was a second viewing, having seen it in the theatre with my wife.  Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and highly recommend it.  A proper definition of true love that elevates the good of others over ourselves, that values sacrifice at great personal cost.

This is what Disney movies can be.

I was thinking through the fact that this has been a number one film, with a number one soundtrack.  And yet the number one song from that soundtrack is a song with a message that flies in the face of the film’s heart.  Within the greater context, the song serves the story well.  Removed from its context, when the song alone becomes the story, it promotes something sadly twisted.  A definition of self-love that elevates desire above others, that values personal advancement no matter what the sacrifice.

This is what Disney movies can be.

The war within us can be no more clearly illustrated that our cultural love for this song on one hand, and the movie it’s been torn from on the other.  Reminds of this book I’ve been reading.  It starts off really well –perfectly, in fact – but the heroes… well, they let it go, and the consequences for everyone are devastating.

Thank God that the Story has reached the true love part.