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.

 

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.

18.5% of Us are Dead*

The American Empire, when the sun of history sets on it, will go down as one of the most monstrous and deadly of all time. And it wasn’t even a different people group we slaughtered… we devoured our own children, for no better reason than the fact that they were inconvenient to us, interfering with our pleasure and indulgence. God have mercy. Since 1973, we have killed over 54 million [edit: actually 57 million] of our children. OUR OWN CHILDREN. The numbers are so large they almost cease to mean anything to us. Yet we consider the Nazis the face of evil, who murdered approximately 6 million Jews. And they were evil, terribly evil, and we are out-killing them 9-to-1 and counting, while considering ourselves good and right. And please keep in mind, as you move to vote in November, the Democrats think murder on this scale is a fundamental “right”, and the Republicans have repeatedly chosen to continue funding this “right”. Neither should receive the votes of God-fearing men. Make no mistake, there will be a reckoning for this. Evil does not go unpunished. True patriotism is this: we must repent, and we must remove the evil men and women who would do this from positions of power.

*The 2010 Census reported there are 308.7 million Americans; using the number of total abortions at 57 million, that is 18.46% of the current US population.

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 (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.