Of Wonder and Deep Magic

Consider this: the soul-soaring delight of a child receiving a gift upon which his heart was set. This is a wonder.

Consider this also: how the child’s delight pales in comparison to the joy of the parent, the gift-giver. This, too, is a wonder, and brushes the edge of a deep magic.

To understand this is to understand the heart of the True King.

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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).

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (6)

Q. 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

A triune God is, of course, a physical impossibility, a contradiction in terms… according to the laws that rule reality under the Sun.  Yet God transcends (a word to keep in mind during your prayers and meditations on Scripture) His creation.  For God to be transcendent, He must by definition be larger than His creation.  He is beyond our understanding.

And yet He makes Himself known as three Persons in one essence.  And from the glorious relationships we see here – between God and Son, between Son and Spirit, between God, Son and Spirit – we find the pattern for every human relationship.

Son submits to Father (God).  Spirit submits to Father and Son.  God directs the Son, and Son directs the Spirit.  And yet, in their roles and responsibilities, all are equally and at the same time God and one God.  It makes you a little dizzy, but it is also a wondrously perfect unity from diversity.  When you consider relationships, such as those laid out in Ephesians 5-6 and 1 Peter 2-3, here is the pattern.  Are men and women equal?  Masters and slaves?  Parents and children?  Absolutely, in one sense.  Are there differing levels of authority and responsibility between them even as they are equal in substance?  Absolutely, in another.  Men are not more valuable than women, nor women more so than men.  Yet in marriage men lead, and women follow.  Equal even as they carry out differing roles, roles assigned by the Creator and modeled within Himself.

God has taken a small piece of His Mystery and made it known to us.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (5)

Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Many good conversations can begin with contemplation or questions about God and His nature.  What does nature reveal about Him? What do men reveal about Him?  Ecclesiastes wrestles with these questions, as do many of the Psalms.  Our tendency is to rely upon our senses to engage reality – to live our the argument of our philosophy (whether we realize we are a living argument or not) from inward to outward.

Considering this question in a meaningful way helps us to begin in the right place in all our musings: with the One God, and His character, His words.

I understand the popularity of the current so-called atheism like I understand the drive for quicker, faster technology in our handheld devices: while requiring no real effort, we at once feel stronger, more powerful, in control.  We aren’t, of course, and in our more honest moments we know we aren’t.  The iPhone [insert current model number] does not make you more powerful, or more smarter, or more anything.  Except stressed, probably.  And in the same way, the cry “there is no God!” does nothing to solve the problems of either society or the individual.  If anything, it makes real answers impossible to find.  The absence of a source of absolute, foundational Truth within the universe would logically eliminate any meaningful conversation about the validity of one worldview over another.  And yet look at the anger of the typical atheist, particularly as it is aimed toward religion, and you will discover truth:

Their words say “there is no God.”  Their vehemence says “I am mad at him.”  And we must embrace the atheist around us, living with them in grace and truth, for such were we, in every meaningful way, prior to the Spirit’s quickening us to Life.  But understand the real conversation is never about whether or not God exists.  It’s about the devastating consequences of sin, where the blame lies, and what the solution is.  That’s the real issue.

Romans 1 gives us a good understanding of even the most irreligious culture.  All men know there is a God.  Both from within, and from the constant witness of the reality in which they live.  Denying and suppressing this truth, they seek out something else to worship, for worship they must.  They were made for it.  We call this worship of anything else, idolatry.

There is One God.  He is Living, and He is true.  Amen.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (4)

Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

When we contemplate the Transcendent Creator of the universe it is difficult, because in the analysis we have no adequate words.  Everything falls short, which is at the heart of the commandment against idolatry: even the most respectful, reverent images we could make of our God fall woefully short.

We are created in the image of God, representing Him within the finite bounds of Creation in a very limited way.  We are like Him and yet altogether unlike Him.

It is important to think through His infinite nature (to the extent that we can), His eternal existence and complete lack of change.  This is difficult for creatures who pretty much define their lives by change, but nonetheless necessary if we are to avoid important pitfalls in our faith.  For example, justice, truth, goodness and mercy begin with God, not any external standard.  There is no standard by which God can be judged, for He is the author of every standard.

I have heard men and women say “well, if God is that way, then I cannot worship Him.”  And this is an absolutely true statement, up to a point: none of us can worship God in our natural fallen state.  We are wholly incapable of worship (Romans 1-3, Ephesians 1-2), being dead in sin.  But that isn’t what they really mean.  What they really mean is that they have a concept of justice they’ve gotten from somewhere, a concept of mercy, a concept of goodness, and now they will compare the Transcendent, Unchanging Creator to their standard.  Generally as they do this, they are blind to the breath-taking arrogance of their position.  As they read Scripture, they interpret God’s actions through their filter of what He should be in their minds versus who He is revealed to be, and they go astray.

Beware this: if you worship a god that you are comfortable with, who contains no element of fear for you, whose mystery is largely solved in your mind…

…you do not worship God at all.