Do Not Fear the Darkness, Love

Do not fear the darkness, love,
No monsters hunt you in the night;
So do not fear the darkness, love,
Let terrors fade with fading light.

Close your eyes and sleep, my love,
Lie safe within my arms this night;
Yes, close your eyes and sleep, my love,
Know peace until the morning light.

Do not fear the darkness, love,
Dream your dreams in hope this night;
No, do not fear the darkness, love,
And rest to rise with rising light.

-Charles Baldon, November 2014

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 (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.

Catechized: Confessions and Reflections (3)

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Perhaps the greatest struggle for us, in our so-called modern civilization, is having God tell us who He is, and not defining Him for ourselves.  His Word tells us who He is:

The God of Israel, who brought His people out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery.

The God who’s name is Jealous.

The God who will break those who oppose Him.

The God who loved His people so much, He sent His son to die to save them, even when they were His enemies.

The God who sends rain and sun on all, even those who remain in rebellion against Him.

What duty does He require of man?  Perfect obedience, of which we are incapable.  Christ’s righteousness is counted as our own (for His covenant people), and our excitement and gratitude should be boundless in response to this fact.  Jesus was and is the perfectly obedient One.

We don’t have to obey.

We get to obey.

It’s a privilege.

Catechized: Confessions and Reflections (2)

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

There are a lot of ideas floating around our culture, and a lot of ideas about those ideas, and ideas about whether even having ideas is a good idea, and whether anyone’s idea can be called any kind of idea, good or bad, and even whether ideas like good and bad are a useful idea.  And so on.  It’s enough to make your head spin, Exorcist-style.

Here’s the thing, though.  You can have all sorts of ideas, and all sorts of discussions about those ideas.

But at the end of the day, you have to actually start somewhere, within the realm of reality, and do something.  You are going to live your life, and you are going to live it according to the principles you think are the right ones to live by.  Even if your guiding principle is that there are no (other, at least) principles, you have to live by principles.  Something is true, and your belief in its truthfulness is expressed when you do anything: when you shop, when you eat, when you work, when you play, etc.

A Christian is a person who follows Christ, by definition, and following Christ (also by definition) means following his words, his commands.  Christ Himself told His original 12 disciples – and by extension us, His modern ones, if indeed such we claim to be – that if we love Him, we will obey Him.

His words, taken collectively throughout much of the course of human history, we call the Bible.  It tells His story, which means it must be an integral part of our story, as well.

of iron men and seeds in stone hearts

To know a culture, look to the stories it loves, the art it produces, the music that moves it. The wealthier the culture, the more difficult this becomes, because wealth brings with it options: culture becomes more variable as we have a greater ability to choose which forces press upon us and shape our lives.

More difficult, I said, but not impossible. As an observer, I’ve been intrigued with our reaction to the current story arc of the various Avengers movies. We are hell-bent (in a very real sense) on being Tony Stark, bad boy. We want the money, we want the power, we want options. We seek to cast off all restraint… and in so doing, have chosen leaders for ourselves who restrain us in ways our forefathers would never have dreamed of, but the inevitable tyranny of excess is a post for another time.

the_avengers-wideNo, the interesting thing I’ve noticed is while we strive – with our dollars, our votes, our time – for less and less restraint, for more of what we want in the very instant that we want it, we still recognize that the heroic moment of the film franchise is the moment when Tony Stark, as Ironman, is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the world. He understands that taking the nuclear warhead into space will likely lead to his death…

but it’s the right thing to do, and he does it.

So many questions! This moment resonates with us. We recognize his maturity. We recognize his character has grown: dare we say we recognize that he is a better man than he was? All of the sudden we find ourselves using moral language, with all its implications. Maybe we don’t really think it through, and we merely treat it as entertainment. So then, what makes it popular? What makes it resonate in the way that it does?

Let me suggest something for your consideration. Though we strive with every fiber of our well-financed American beings to define our own lives, to write our own stories… we can’t.

The Great Story has been written, is being written and will be written, all at the same time, all within the glorious paradox that is the Gospel. I suggest that we know, deep in the core of our hearts, what a good story is. We are in one, with all of its shadows and light.

We recognize sacrifice.
We recognize honor.
We recognize selflessness.

In this late stage in the long defeat of the West, we seem to have given up on deep cultural consideration of virtue and its Source. But we cannot help but recognize it in our stories. We cannot help but to respond.

I’ll be thinking out loud further of how Christians can use this truth, buried as it is within our culture, to the glory of God and the advancement of his Kingdom in some future posts. It is long past the time when Christians should reassert the sovereignty of God over every form of art: cinema, photography, painting, sculpture, poetry, literature. They are His. They have never stopped being His. I would further posit that far from settling for a small sub-set of art we label “Christian” (I’m not sure who, exactly, grants this title, but it seems to happen and be very important to some of us), our goal should be to reclaim all of it.

The chief end of man truly is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I will not suggest for a moment that Tony Stark was seeking to glorify God in the climactic scene of the Avengers film. But I would ask you to consider the idea that Mr. Stark was emulating those qualities which spring forth from the very heart of God, those qualities that we who have been called into His service seek to emulate in our own lives in grateful obedience to His commands. And the culture – our culture – saw this, and called it good.

And that, my friends, is a wonderful place to start.