Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Man of Blood

"That quietness of his is just a little deadly, like the quiet of a gutted building. It's the result of having laid his mind open to something that broadens the environment just a bit too much. Like polygamy. It wasn't wrong for Abraham, but one can't help feeling that even he lost something by it."
-CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength

I've been thinking a lot about weapons and self-defense, particularly in light of the bravado-filled, antagonistic speech given by Jerry Falwell Jr to the students of Liberty University, urging them to carry concealed guns. And I've arrived at a couple thoughts.

Killing, in and of itself, is not a sin. It can't be, because God actually commands killing in the Old Testament, and God cannot command a sin. The commandment is against murder in particular, and as Chesterton says, "Murder is a spiritual incident. Bloodshed is a physical incident. A surgeon commits bloodshed." All murder is killing, but all killing is not murder: There are instances, such as warfare and self-defense, where killing is just...indeed, there are instances where killing seems to be required of the people of God, at least in the Old Testament.

And yet...there is something about killing - not murder, but killing - that changes a person. Something that makes them...less. And we see this most clearly in the person of David, a man after God's own heart. David desired to build God a temple, a great House...but God told him no. David relates the event: "I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood."

Note that God does not tie David's unworthiness to his adultery with Bathsheba. God does not say that David is unworthy because of his murder of Uriah. God specifically says that David is unworthy because he is a man of war and has shed blood. David won many great victories for Israel, fulfilling God's commandments in battle...but it did not come without a cost. David destroyed the image of God, again and again, shedding blood which is the Lord's, and as a result, he was unfit to build God a temple.

I have a few friends on Facebook who are VERY pro-gun. I know how gun-makers market their creating a scenario where you get to be the hero, where you can gun down the bad guys invading your home or shooting up a mall. Indeed, I've seen many people who seem to wish for such an event to occur, so that they would have the excuse to pull their weapon and stop it! Sadly, I've even seen this attitude from professing Christians.

Is warfare wrong? No. Should Christians participate in the military? The Bible certainly does not prohibit it. But it seems inescapable that we are not meant to be people of war. We are not meant to shed the blood of the image of God. And when we do, it fundamentally changes who we are for the worse. The hands soaked in blood cannot build God's temple, cannot serve him in the way that clean hands can. Killing is sometimes a necessity: it is never something to be desired, or fantasized about, or sought after with aggressive posturing and vain bravado.

Monday, November 30, 2015

On the Incarnation, Chapter 2: The Divine Dilemma and its Solution

In my first post, I think I restricted myself too much to a simple "cliff notes" reading of the chapter. I'm going to be trying to weave more of my own reflections in, make more connections stuff like that. Black text is summary, red text is commentary. We'll see how it goes.

A-Cakes kicks off this chapter with possibly my favorite passage in the entire book.

"Man, who was created in God's image and in his possession of reason reflected the very Word Himself, was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone. The law of death , which followed from the Transgression, prevailed upon us, and from it there was no escape.

Note again ACM's way of relating this as an event, as a story with characters and rising action and conflict. There is drama in the way Athanasius relates our sorry plight. Man is not merely "suffering the effects of a sinful nature" is disappearing, and as a result, the work of God is being undone. His language of the law of death prevailing upon us conjures the image of an encroaching army from which there is no escape. 

We have reached the point of catastrophe: Is mankind really to be lost? Is God's work truly going to be undone?

He continues. "The thing that was happening was in truth both monstrous and unfitting. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil."

There's a LOT here. First off, note how he describes this state of affairs. There is the sense that God is in some way responsible for the natural law of death; or at least, that God could in some way mitigate that penalty. In this sense, mankind's death is understandable, and could even be understood as the "good" result of God's justice. And I've heard many, many times in church that God could have simply left mankind to die, and that wouldn't have have had any impact on His justice or goodness. 

However, that is certainly NOT how ACM primarily understands the Fall and the resulting death of mankind. A-Cakes has NO hesitation in declaring it simply "monstrous and unfitting". It is monstrous that mankind should be neglected and perish, and it is unfitting for God to allow it to happen. Indeed, Athanasius goes further in this than ANY modern evangelical would dare go. Athanasius insists that it would be "unworthy" of God to let mankind go without a fight. "Such indifference to the ruin of His own work before His very eyes would argue not goodness in God but limitation, and that far more than if He had never created men at all."

Athanasius concludes: "It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself."

Modern evangelicalism often (either intentionally or unintentionally) draws a distinction between what God must do and what God chooses to do. God must punish sin; God chooses to show love and grace. A-Bro, however, admits no such distinction. God's goodness and love literally does not allow him to ignore mankind's plight. In essence, A-Cakes seems to be arguing that God could not ignore mankind and remain God.

Having established that God must do something, ACM turns his attention to the nature of that something. What, exactly, is God to do in the face of mankind's immanent destruction? He brings up repentance as a possible solution, but rejects it. Repentance would indeed do the trick as regards future sin...but would do nothing to fix the corruption that had taken root in mankind. Moreover, God must remain true, and He had told Adam that death would follow the transgression.

He asks: "What--or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as was required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing?" Nothing but God Himself, no one but the Creator, can re-create man and reconcile man with the Father.  "For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father."

First, quickly note that Athanasius takes the whole "new creation" thing seriously. Humanity does need merely need to be "fixed"...we must be recreated, and the only one fit to do that is the one who created us and stamped us with His image in the first place.

Second, it would be easy here to simply slot Athanasius into the standard "Penal Substitutionary Atonement" mold that we here in the West have grown accustomed to. However, I am not at all sure that is the correct move. First off, there is simply no sense in which God is angry with mankind, no sense in which he demands punishment. Second, Athanasius again and again pits God and His desire for rescue, against the powers of death and the devil. We are not being rescued from "God's wrath" or divine punishment...we are being rescued from a hostile foreign power, which has gained control over us through the deceptions of Satan.

The crucial point, in fact, is this: Athanasius is concerned NOT with punishment that needs to be dealt out, but with corruption that needs to be healed.

Having established the necessity that God Himself be our Savior, A-Cakes moves on: "For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are." The Word has never been "apart" from creation...He fills it moment by moment. But it is time for something new, as the Word "entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us."

The Word sees our sad state. He sees our death, our corruption, our sin. He sees our wickedness mounting up against us. "All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery."

I can't recall ever hearing this kind of language in an evangelical church. We don't want to say that some outside event can have this kind of "control", so to speak, over God, But ACM again has no hesitation in saying that the Word is "unable to endure" the disappearance of His people. 

And so the Word comes down and takes "a human body even as our own." Here A-Cakes clarifies that He did not merely seem to take a body or "appear" as though he had done so..."No, He took our body."

Then there's a bit that I'm honestly not wild about, how "He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin...untainted by intercourse with man." This is one area where I believe Athanasius is simply wrong. I do not think that a virgin is in any way more "spotless" or "stainless" or "untainted" than any lawfully married woman who is faithful to her husband

So why does the Word come in "a body like our own"? "Because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death." Therefore "He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, when He had fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men."

Corruption cannot be gotten rid of except through death. The Word is immortal and therefore can't die. So the Word takes a body that CAN die, so that the body "might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection."

Initially, Athanasius seems to be going out of his way NOT to say that "God died" or "the Word died." Instead, it's "he surrendered his body to death" and "surrendering to death the body which he had taken." Honestly, this makes me uncomfortable...I think it may demonstrate an unease to fully embrace that which is indeed folly to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. However, Athanasius does at least once affirm that it is "His death", demonstrating that at least on some level, he can assent that the Word did indeed experience death. 

Part of his argument seems to be that death "emptied its clip" into Christ, as it were...that death expended all it's death-ness in an attempt to kill the unkillable, and now "it was thereafter voided of its power for men."

A-Bro continues, stating that due to "the solidarity of mankind", the Incarnation effects the defeat of death and corruption for all mankind. The he gives a pretty epic illustration:

"You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be."

A couple things: First, again note the way that Athanasius uses story to relate theology. Second, A-Cakes is not super concerned with how these things are happening. He does not see the need to explore why one body suffering death - even if that body belongs to the immortal Word - voids death for everyone. He does not question why the Word dwelling in one body amidst the many has foiled the designs of the enemy. That is just the way things are.

Thirdly, this is (I believe) the first explicit reference to "the designs of the enemy against mankind." He just casually brings it up. The Fall is not merely an unfortunate accident, nor is the result of the is part of a plan, designed by something or someone hostile to both God and humanity. 

The rest of the chapter is largely recap and wrap-up. "For by the sacrifice of His own body He did two things: He put an end to the law of death which barred our way; and he made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection. By man death has gained its power over men; by the Word made Man death has been destroyed and life raised up anew."

Overall, this chapter is a LOT more action-packed than the previous one. Although Athanasius uses a lot of repetition, he constantly comes up with new ways to say what he wants to say, covering just about every angle. Big picture thoughts:

-Athanasius never pads his assessment of the state of mankind with appeals to God's justice or righteousness. He never allows God the possibility of ignoring mankind and allowing us to fall to Death. In fact, he expressly denies that God could do that.

-God does not seem primarily concerned with justice and punishment. God is primarily concerned with curing the corruption of mankind, so that humanity can once again be immortal and imperishable with God, as God had originally intended. 

-Athanasius is only concerned with the "mechanics" of the Incarnation and its effects in broadest sense. Some might see this as hand-waving or simplistic, but I think it just reflects a different attitude towards theology: God says that some things work in a certain way, and that's enough. 

-Finally, Athanasius does not consider this issue forensically, as an abstract issue. Indeed, one gets the feeling that Athanasius would object to any attempt to so treat the issue. Because it is not abstract...the Fall, corruption, death, and the Incarnation are things which have to do not with ideas and theories, but with flesh and blood. 

He concludes with a teaser: "This then, is the first cause of the Saviour's becoming Man. There are, however, other things which show how wholly fitting is His blessed presence in our midst; and these we must now go on to consider." More on that next time, and be sure to comment and let me know what you think!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

On the Incarnation, Chapter 1: Creation and the Fall

Athanasius begins his work with an immediate reference to the ground laid in a prior work, Contra Gentes ("Against the Heathens"), and how he "briefly indicated that the Word of the Father is Himself divine," continuing to expound on the role of Christ in the creation and sustaining of all that is.

Athanasius (hereafter A-Cakes, A-Man, A-Bro, Contra Mundum, ACM, or other) spends a mere sentence on this. His main goal is to "take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word's becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst." This is, of course, the topic of the work...both the reason for and the nature of this divine Appearance. What is entailed in the Incarnation, and why was it necessary?

And his first thought is the inversion of expectations and nature that the Incarnation entails. As unbelievers scorn Christ, "the more does He make His Godhead evident." He takes the impossible and surpasses it; He makes fit the unfit; He takes that which is human and declares it divine. And the result? "Thus by what seems his utter poverty and weakness on the cross He overturns the pomp and parade of idols, and quietly and hiddenly wins over the mockers and unbelievers to recognise Him as God."

That is the first of ACM's observations on the nature of the Incarnation, but it is far from the last. But before delving more into what the Incarnation is, A-Bro pauses, because before understanding what it is, we must understand WHY it is. "He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men." And then he explains that we will begin with creation and with the Creator, for before we understand anything else, we must understand one crucial fact: "The renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning."

This is HUGE for A-Cakes. If I remember rightly, he spends a very large chunk of his work building on this observation, because it's very important to him that "there is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation." ACM sees a logical and personal continuation through creation and renewal: it is the same Agent who accomplishes both. 

Following that, Athanasius proceeds to argue for creation as told in the Bible. Since his audience consisted entirely of theists, not atheists, his arguments are quite different from how we would go about introducing creationism today! But through those arguments, one central point emerges: That God is a creator, not merely a craftsman. He creates out of nothing, rather than shaping pre-existent matter. That creation is accomplished "through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ," and one of the focal points of that creation is mankind. And upon mankind, the Creator bestowed "especial mercy"..."namely, the impress of His own Image, a share in the reasonable being of the very Word Himself."

The goal of this special mercy is that mankind might live in paradise forever. However, A-Man states that"the will of man could turn either way," and therefore that God made this grace conditional: "If they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, they would come under the natural law of death, and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption."

Two things immediately strike me here. The first is that A-Bro goes out of his way to establish libertarian free will in the Garden: "The will of man could turn either way." This emphasis on free will, and real choices, is extremely common in the Church Fathers, and is a thorn in the side of Calvinists who wonder why their doctrine has no adherents in the early Church. And the second is that God isn't sentencing mankind to death: By sinning, we place ourselves under "the natural law of death." It is no more a "punishment" then being burned when you touch the stove is a punishment. 

And with this, ACM brings us back to the main event: "The former subject is relevant to the latter for this reason: It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us."

Note the story-telling here. Athanasius is not merely teaching theology...he is reciting a saga, an epic, a fantasy...a fantasy that, joy of joys, is actually true. Christ is not merely "made Incarnate," and the Incarnation is not broken down into sterile forensic terms. The Word comes down, as a result of our sin calling out to Him and causing Him to show forth his love for us. Indeed, He makes haste to come to our aid!

God created us to "remain in incorruption." Honestly, we screwed that up pretty quick. Mankind had come under the law of death...indeed, "they were in the process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them entirely under its dominion."

And how was this happening? "The transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good."

A-Cakes begins to wrap up this train of thought with a recap. We were created by the Word and given "His own life by the grace of the Word." Since we were created beings, we were naturally subject to death and decay; However, through our "union with the Word," "the presence of the Word with them shielded them even from natural corruption." But when we forsook that union and departed from the word, we became victims of corruption even greater than what was natural, "because it was the penalty of which God had forewarned them for transgressing the commandment." A-Bro ends the chapter by detailing the descent of man, his ever-increasing wickedness, and his thirst for sin.

With the word "penalty," Athanasius brings in the first hint of "punishment". However, again, there is the strong sense of natural consequences. God did not make Adam subject to death: Adam did that. God did not give Adam over to corruption: Adam did that, too. We are sustained by proximity to the Word our the extent that we depart from the Word, we become more corrupt and less...well, just less. Proximity to God equals existence...distance from God equals non-being and negation. 

Anyway, we're just getting started here, folks. Athanasius is just setting the stage here, but in chapter 2 he really begins picking up steam. I'll likely be collecting feedback regarding the format of these posts, so if you have thoughts on how this blog-through could be done better, just let me know in the comments!

See Part 2 here. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Amateurs and Ancient Books - Athanasius and Cyril

"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books...The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. he feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator."

This is how CS Lewis opens his introduction to "On the Incarnation" by Saint Athanasius, one such "ancient book" that Lewis thinks people should read more of. And one HUGE reason for reading those ancient books is to "put the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective." "We all," Lewis says, "need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

Speaking of Athanasius in particular, Lewis writes that Athanasius "stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, 'whole and undefiled,' when it looked as if all the civilized world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius--into one of those 'sensible' synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away."

Athanasius contra mundum. Athanasius against the world. He fought for the Incarnation, for very God becoming very man, and his writing is for everyone who calls themself Christian, for everyone who wishes to continue to grow in faith and understanding of the One who saves us.

So as we enter the Christmas season, I can think of no better use of my blog than a meditation on On the Incarnation, as well as a later work by St. Cyril, On the Unity of Christ. This is merely the introduction, hastily typed at a time when both Anna and Wesley are asleep. I hope to do a sort of chapter-by-chapter thing over the next four weeks, and I anticipate that it will be quite fun,

I read both Athanasius and Cyril during my Freshman year at Biola, and in fact Cyril was the subject of my second paper (which was terrible and I hate it) as well as my third (which, if I do say so myself, was pretty good!). In fact, I was somewhat unique among the Plato family, preferring Cyril to Athanasius: I was absolutely blown away by Cyril's intricate Christology, while the more "story-driven" style of Athanasius seemed to fall a little flat.

However, reading even the first couple of pages of Athanasius reminds me of his true greatness, and I see so much that I had merely passed over before. And I think that it is good and right to have read them one after another, in quick succession: The Gospel is not merely an amazing story, and it is not merely a thing of bare fact, of theory and philosophy. It is an amazing story that gets more amazing the deeper you go, the more you think about it: It is a puzzle that provides at one and the same time the satisfaction of having finished a piece, and the anticipation of more to be puzzled out.

Part 1

Part 2

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I'm Dreaming of a White Jesus

Some time ago, I blogged at a site called Evangelical Outpost. That site is now, sadly, deceased, but I've been given the opportunity to pull my stuff and bring it over. Many of those have simply been slotted into place where I had left place-holder posts in 2012 and 2013, but this one is specifically relevant to Christmas-time. 

Are you ready for a heartwarming Christmas story of racial sensitivity, common sense, and humility?
Well, that’s not happening. Because last week, Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly announced to children everywhere that Santa Claus was a white man. “He just is.” And then things got weird(er), when she claimed that “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact.”  And then, when people flipped out about it, she backed down–kind of–by acknowledging that Jesus’ race “is far from settled.”
I’m struggling to figure out which is more ridiculous: Her claiming that Jesus was white, or this short clip from “Talladega Nights.” Oh, wait, no, it’s definitely the first one, because the second is from a comedy and isn’t supposed to be serious.
I’m not here to talk about whether it was racist (a little, right? At least a little?). But I am here to say that this kind of attitude is absolutely poisonous to the Christian faith. This willingness to disregard literally everything we know about the birth and origins of Jesus destroys pretty much everything Christianity has going for it.
This kind of attitude, this insistence that we can know so little about Jesus’ origins as to declare him a white man, boils the message of the Bible down to an Everyman Birth. “And at some place (but we don’t know where), and at some time (but we don’t know when), and to some parents (but we don’t know who), God was born into the world as a man.” Such a Jesus would be the epitome of myth, and myth alone. In that situation, we might indeed be justified in siding with those who would recreate him in their own images. If his earthly origins were so unimportant, we might even tempted to make him a mere metaphor, the “Son of God” in all of us.
From the very beginning, the Church has insisted that the birth of Jesus is an historical event, firmly located in time and space, with numerous reference points. Luke in particular goes to great lengths to place the birth of Christ in a specific time (“when Quirinius was governor of Syria“) and at a specific place (“the city of David, which is called Bethlehem,” to a specific woman (Mary, wife of Joseph), from a specific lineage  (that of David).
The Biblical account is exceedingly precise: At this time and at this place and from these people was born this man. And that means that we have no room at all for claiming that Jesus “could” have been white. We don’t even have room for “thinking” of Jesus as white, because then we would be actively building our faith on a falsehood, on a blue-eyed Goldilocks who never existed.
In fact, we have no room at all for claiming that Jesus “could” have been anything other than what we know he was: A Jewish man from the line of David and the city of Bethlehem. And there is a very good reason for thinking of him like that. Karl Barth, a German theologian, brilliantly describes what happens when we try to “generalize” Jesus:
“The Word did not simply become any “flesh,” any man humbled and suffering. It became Jewish flesh. The Church’s whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement becomes abstract and valueless and meaningless to the extent that this comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental. The New Testament witness to Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, stands on the soil of the Old Testament and cannot be separated from it. The pronouncements of New Testament Christology…relate always to a man who is seen to be not a man in general, a neutral man, but the conclusion and sum of the history of God with the people of Israel, the One who fulfills the covenant made by God with this people.” – Karl Barth, “The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country”
To generalize Jesus, to claim that he could have been any race, is to utterly sever the New Testament from the Old Testament. It is to make the Christmas story merely a strange accident and an aberration. It is to tear Christmas from it’s context, history, and meaning, all for the sake of making it about me and me alone. It is an inherently selfish and senseless act.
And the truth is so much more wonderful! Because when we acknowledge Christ not as Surfer Jesus, or White Jesus, or Tuxedo T-Shirt-Wearing Jesus, but as Jesus of Bethlehem and Nazareth, then we can see his birth for what it really is: The birth of the Chosen Person, born of the Chosen People. He is the answer to the covenant God  made with Abraham those hundreds of years prior, the answer to the prophecy God made to Adam and Eve, the culmination and fulfillment of everything the Old Testament tells us about God and Israel.
Some want to think of Jesus as white, because they think it increases his relevance to them. Such could not be further from the truth. In fact, it isbecause Jesus was Jewish, and because he was a direct descendant of the founder of the Jewish people and of their greatest king, that he could be the Christ for the whole world.
Is it really worth losing all of that, just to make him white?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lewis Medley pt 1 (Books, Part 5)

It has been a LONG time since I've done one of these...over a year, in fact! But Wesley's asleep, and I have no other current responsibilities at this very second, and thinking about CS Lewis is always fun. So here we go! 10 Influential Books, Part Five, Subpart 1: Parts 1,23, and 4 here.

I'm not going to lie: This is a long one. You probably won't read all of it. But that's alright, because it's a lot of fun to write. 

This is the CS Lewis section. Like my last one, it's definitely cheating a bit, but I don't care. 

Chronicles of Narnia: I have to believe I'm in the vast majority in saying that the Narnia books were my first exposure to Lewis, years and years before I knew he'd written anything else. What can I say about the Narnia books? What can't I say about the Narnia books? They literally have something for everyone...whether you're 7, or 17, or 70, I think you will ALWAYS come away from a Narnia book with something new to think about. From the Christus Victor theology in Wardrobe, to Aslan the Lamb in Dawn Treader, to creation in Magician's Nephew, the books get deeper and deeper the more you read them. And I'd bet that The Last Battle has impacted more people's views of salvation and God's attitude towards us than any of Lewis' more scholarly works. And that's really the marvel of Lewis' creation...the theology "sneaks" in, unnoticed to small children, but impossible for the discerning reader to miss, and always offering something new: "Further up and further in," indeed. 

     Memorable Line: Impossible to narrow down. Go read it yourself, and if you've already done so, read it again

The Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength: This was my second experience with Lewis, and like Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books, I received them from my father, in the form of battered, falling-apart copies. I burned through Silent Planet and Perelandra immediately, and began That Hideous Strength, but quickly gave it up, as it was super boring and didn't take place in space at all. I was young and foolish then. However, at a later date (probably in high school?), I revisited the trilogy, and this time was able to power through the unhappy marriage that dominates the opening chapters of the third installment. 

The series as a whole is incredible, as is each individual book. It has that strange and amazing quality in which whichever of the three you're reading at the time is clearly the best of the trilogy. Silent Planet, of course, gives you the thrill of accompanying Ransom as he explores an alien planet, full of strange peoples and stranger customs. However, Ransom eventually discovers that in the cosmic scheme of things, he is the interloper and humanity the aberration. Perelandra, meanwhile, gives us a peek into how things might have happened in Eden, and offers a crapload of theology along the way. And That Hideous Strength is freaking Mr Toad's Wild takes the cosmology and theology of the previous two books, centers it on earth, and adds in a healthy dose of arthurian mythology...and much like cheeze-its and nutella, the combination somehow works. These books remain incredibly influential to this day, and I regularly reference passages from Perelandra to explain my views on Providence and theodicy. 

     Memorable Lines:
     Out of the Silent Planet: "No. Thulcandra is the world we do not know. It alone is outside the heaven, and no message comes from it....It was not always so. Once we knew the Oyarsa of your world— he was brighter and greater than I— and then we did not call it Thulcandra. It is the longest of all stories and the bitterest. He became bent. That was before any life came on your world. Those were the Bent Years of which we still speak in the heavens, when he was not yet bound to Thulcandra but free like us....There was great war, and we drove him back out of the heavens and bound him in the air of his own world as Maleldil taught us. There doubtless he lies to this hour, and we know no more of that planet: it is silent. We think that Maleldil would not give it up utterly to the Bent One, and there are stories among us that He has taken strange counsel and dared terrible things, wrestling with the Bent One in Thulcandra. But of this we know less than you; it is a thing we desire to look into.” 

This quote is so amazing because it takes all of earthly history and places it in a vast cosmological context, imagining what the Rebellion - all-encompassing and ever-present in our own lives - might look like from outside. And of course, MAJOR bonus points for tying it into Scripture: "the good news...things into which angels long to look."

     Perelandra: This one's's the one that I very nearly have memorized. 
     "I will tell you what I say, "answered Ransom, jumping to his feet. "Of course good came of [the Fall]. Is [God] a beast that we can stop His path, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost for ever. The fist King and first Mother of our world did the forbidden thing, and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good, and what they lost we have not seen. And there some to whom no good came nor ever will come."

Freedom and sovereignty. Actions and consequences. The eternal significance of temporal actions by finite beings. It all comes together simply and eloquently...two words which I suppose would describe nearly everything Lewis ever wrote. 

     That Hideous Strength: This was tougher than I anticipated, but eventually I remembered the bit that always amazes me when I read through it.

     ""Do you know, " said Ivy in a low voice, "that's a thing I don't quite understand. They're so eerie, these ones that come to visit you. I wouldn't go near that part of the house if I thought there was anything there, not if you paid me a hundred pounds. But I don’t feel like that about God. But He ought to be worse, if you see what I mean.” 

“He was, once,” said the Director. “You are quite right about the Powers. Angels in general are not good company for men in general, even when they are good angels and good men. It’s all in St. Paul. But as for Maleldil Himself, all that has changed: it was changed by what happened at Bethlehem.”

All that has changed...I wonder sometimes if we grow so used to the world as it is now, that we read that state of affairs back into the time before Christ. The least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than the greatest of the Old Covenant saints, and enjoys a greater communion with God - or at least, has access to that greater communion. Cur deus homo...why God became man? The simplest answer is to reconcile and rescue, and to restore us to a right relationship with himself. 

This is already quite long, so I think I will end subpart 1 here. For all I know, subpart 2 may well be up within the hour...or possibly not for several days. #wesleyisunpredictable. 

1: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

2: (Everything else by Chesterton: Manalive, Orthodoxy, The Ball and the Cross)

3: On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria

4: The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country by Karl Barth

5: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

6: CS Lewis section (Space TrilogyChron. of NarniaAbolition of ManTill We Have Faces, The Great Divorce)

7: The book of Job

8: The book of Ecclesiastes

9: The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman

10: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, November 9, 2015

What will he treasure?

As we get ever-closer to the birth of my son Wesley, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I remember from my own childhood, and how I can give the same things to Wesley as he grows up. Because I owe so much to my parents...there's just so much I remember from my life growing up, so many things I treasure...

My mom's chocolate cake and puppy chow, and how she would make both of those when I had my friends over for Halo and Smash Bros...

My dad's love of gardening and working with his hands, and how he instilled that in me...

Even the chores that I did...much as I hated them at the time, I fully recognize how important they were in giving me a good attitude towards work.

And of course, they both instilled an incredible love of reading in me. And most importantly, they taught me to talk to God, to think through things and make my faith my own, to ask questions and seek answers.

I remember sitting in my mom's office, reading bits of books that I thought were hilarious (although I'm sure they were less hilarious to her). I remember my dad's slushes, and playing roller-blade ball tag at the local school. I remember hearing them cheer for me when I wrestled and played football, and how everyone on the team knew who they were because they were so involved.

I remember family trips, and epic sandcastles, and big birthdays and even bigger family-wide Christmas and Easter celebrations. And I remember "scenic routes" that turned a 2-hour drive into a 4-hour drive, and even an ill-fated hike taking us halfway around Shaver Lake (I didn't say they were all good ideas).

I owe so much to my parents, and there are so many things that I treasure from my time growing up with them. And honestly, it's pretty intimidating.

How can I possibly offer that much to my son (and the other children sure to follow)? Is it really conceivable that I can be that present for all the things going on in my son's life, that I can create that many memories with him?

Thankfully, by the grace of God, i think the answer is "yes". Of course, that doesn't fix the worry, the nervousness. But it gives me hope, and it makes me wonder...what will Wesley treasure as he grows up?

I don't know, but I'm excited to find out.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Does God Have Two Wills?

"Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?" - Ezekiel 18:23

"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." - 2 Peter 3:9

"[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." - 1 Timothy 2:4

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" - Matthew 23:37-38

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live." Deuteronomy 30:19

Does God have "two wills" concerning humanity? Well, yes and no.

Yes, God can be said to have "two wills" in a very limited, easy-to-understand sense: His "antecedent" and "consequent" wills. The easiest way of understanding that is this:

A parent desires never to hurt their child. In a perfect world, their child would never be injured. However, because sickness is a thing, it is sometimes necessary for a parent to cause pain to their children in the form of a shot.

Right there, in that one example, we have antecedent and consequent wills. They may conflict with each other at times, but it is as a result of something outside the one willing. Another more extreme example would be the case of someone whose arm is broken and needs to be re-set: The doctor desires to to heal the person and take away the pain, but in this case, a further injury must be done, and the bone must be re-broken in order to fully heal.

And in the case of God, that thing influencing the world from outside God is sin. Sin was NOT decreed or caused by God, and while God remains in control over it, it is something against God's will in every sense of the word. And as a consequence of sin, God's antecedent will does not always come to pass. God desires all men to be saved, but because of sin and their free will decisions, not all men are saved. Jesus desires to protect Jerusalem and his chosen people, but they were not willing. God desires for people to choose life, but they often choose death instead. He desires our salvation and love, but more than that, he desires for us to be a willing participant in that (much in the same way that when I ask my little brothers for a hug, I'm asking for a willing expression of love: If I were to force them to hug me, it would be literally meaningless).

Now, let's tweak the example a bit. In the previous example of a doctor and a broken bone, the doctor had nothing to do with the arm being broken in the first place. That is why the distinction between antecedent and consequent wills works. But let's change that: let's say that he did ultimately cause the arm being broken in the first place. Let's say that through a series of manipulations and behind-the-scenes machinations, the doctor was the mastermind behind the person breaking his arm originally.

In that case, does the distinction still hold? Of course not. The doctor cannot claim to desire the health and comfort of his patients in re-setting the bone, because he was the one who caused the need for that re-setting in the first place!

And that's where we enter the "No" part of whether God has two wills. Because while the occasional Calvinist (either through carelessness or intentional deception) will talk about antecedent vs consequent will, most of the time they talk about it differently: They talk about God's "moral and decretive" wills, or more tellingly, his "revealed and hidden" wills.

So what's the difference? Well, God's "moral" or "revealed" will is what we read in the Bible.  God desires all men to be saved. God desires us not to sin. God desires for us to choose life instead of death, blessing instead of curse. And it's called the "revealed" will because...well, because it's revealed in the Bible. God reveals this will to us, and reveals the way in which he wishes us to live.

Strangely, though, this "revealed" will isn't really much of a will at all, because it is completely and utterly trumped by God's "secret" or "decretive" will. It's called God's "decretive" will because rather than what God says he wants us to do, this is what he actually decrees that we do. Remember that classic Calvinism - the Calvinism espoused by big names from John Calvin to John Piper - teaches meticulous providence, meaning that everything that happens has been decreed by God. And it's called his "secret" will because it's's not revealed anywhere in the Bible. Therefore, God tells us that he desires all men to be saved through his revealed will, but secretly causes the vast majority to be damned via his decretive/secret will.

Essentially, this means that God urges the reprobate towards life with his left hand, while actively pushing them away from life with his right. 

That's why the Calvinist cannot claim the antecedent and consequent distinction: Because in the face of meticulous providence, that distinction does not exist. God cannot claim "sin" as something impacting his desire to save everyone, because God desired and caused sin to come about in the first place.

So...two wills. In one sense - the sense that EVERYONE has two wills - God does have "two wills": The "perfect world" will and the "because of sin" will. But in the more important sense - that of God contradicting his declared, revealed will at practically every turn - it is sheer lunacy to believe that God has two wills. It is nothing less than to sacrifice the whole of God's revealed will, making it practically meaningless and utterly powerless, for the sake of a "hidden will" of which we know little.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Is All Well?

"And a bell, sir?"
"A bell?"
"For ringing and shouting 'All's well!' with, Sarge."
"No bell for me, Snouty," said Vimes. "Do you think things are well?"
Snouty swallowed. "Could go either way, Sarge," he managed.
     -"Night Watch", by Terry Pratchett

I was thinking about Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" universe today, and the cavalier approach to policing that his early watchmen take: After all, ringing a bell and shouting "All's well!", even when things aren't well, is a heck of a let easier (and safer) than fixing them!

And it reminded me of something that's always upset me about Calvinism: That when you get right down to it, there is only one acceptable answer to the question Vimes asks: Yes, things are well.

By that, I mean all things, everywhere, at all times, are well according to the Calvinist system. I don't mean the "big picture"...I don't mean how things will "turn out in the end"...I mean that every single event in the history of the world is going fact, it's going exactly according to plan, ordained by God himself.

Of course, many Calvinists would be reluctant to admit this. After all, getting a Calvinist to admit that God ordains evil and renders it certain from before all creation is sometimes difficult. Nevertheless, even Calvin himself, though waffling at times, states that "as all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts, nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will" (Institutes, 1.17.1). Note that God does not merely "permit" these evils to requires an active interposition (or interference) on God's part to cause those things to happen.

This is because, to Calvin and Calvinists, God rules the world through "meticulous Providence": God governing every aspect of the universe, down to the movement of individual atoms and molecules. In fact, RC Sproul has stated that "There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.” No molecule in the universe moves except in the course that God himself ordained for it.

This is a pretty enough picture of providence and sovereignty on its face, I'll grant you. And after all, surely there could be no greater compliment to God's great power and might than to say that he directs every single atom in its planned trajectory! Of course, there is one small issue: When you actually apply this to life, it becomes absolutely horrifying.

It means that everything that has ever happened, (including, say, the Holocaust) was divinely ordained, planned and executed by God from the foundation of the universe. It means that when a small child is kidnapped, raped, and murdered, that God himself was there, actively planning it and making it happen (admittedly through secondary, tertiary, and however many other causes that he himself ultimately caused). It means that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were planned by God from the beginning of creation, and that his divine hand ensured the death of every person who died.

But it's easy enough to find the horror in our own history. It is, perhaps, more satisfying and more meaningful to go to the Bible. Let's look at a few key passages...I'll highlight the necessary Calvinist commentary in red:

Genesis 3:17
And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife (Which I planned and caused to happen) and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,’ (Which, again, I caused by creating you flawed and then withholding the grace you needed to persevere)cursed is the ground because of you; (Well, technically because of me...) in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life"

Surely you can see the mockery this makes of the text, and how the doctrine of meticulous providence renders God's actions and words nonsensical?

Let's skip ahead a bit, to the days of Noah:

Genesis 6:5-7

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Of course, this was because God had eternally determined that this would be so and caused it to happen).   And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth (Not really, though, because he was the one who had caused it), and it grieved him to his heart. (Which was weird, because it was something he himself had eternally planned and deliberately caused to happen).  So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (But he wasn't really sorry, because he had intended all along for this to happen, and had in fact created the universe in such a way as to make it impossible for it to have happened any other way). 
Do you see it? Do you see how meticulous providence actually makes this verse literally meaningless? Calvinists can talk of "anthropomorphisms" and metaphors all they like: The fact remains that if meticulous providence is true, then this verse doesn't just mean something different then what it appears to mean...this verse means the literal opposite of what it says. It means, in fact, that this verse tells us something false about God, and that this verse gives us a picture of God that couldn't be further from the truth. This verse tells us that God was saddened by man's actions, whereas Calvinism tells us that God actively caused those things to happen.

Here's my point: There are many, many points in the Bible where God himself seems to say that all is not well. The Bible is FULL of instances of God lamenting the state of mankind, all the way to Jesus himself lamenting over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

God himself says that all is not well. God himself says that things are not as they should be. And we who are not Calvinists do God the honor of taking him at his word. It is, rather, the Calvinists who dishonor God by attributing to him the things that he abhors. God says, "I am grieved by what mankind is doing," and Calvinists wink at him and say "We get that you have to say that, big guy, but you can be honest with us. We know what you mean. *wink*." God says in Jeremiah 7, "And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind", and the Calvinists smile and say, "Look, God, you don't have to play that game with us. We get it. You caused it to happen. You thought it up and planned it all out. Great job!"

All is not well. The Fall was a real evil. Evil really is evil, and not good in disguise (as is necessitated by the Calvinist system). The sin of man "has not escaped the knowledge and control of God. But it is not a work of His creation and not a disposition of His providence." (Karl Barth) God is in control, and he will set all wrongs right...but in the meantime, they are real wrongs, not merely the illusions of wrongs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Eating with the Sinners

Last Sunday, I had the honor of speaking to the Jr High and High School group at the Bridge. I spoke on Luke 15 and the triple-parable that Jesus busts out in response to the Pharisees' grumbling. There were two big things that stood out to me as I was writing the talk.


“But the climax of the parable is reached in the joy over the finding of the lost. How natural and self-evident that would be! Jesus places this joy ‘in the heaven’ and ‘before the angels of God’ over against the murmuring of the Pharisees and the scribes. They look sour; in heaven the very angels sing with delight! In so masterly a way is this done that the very parable becomes a seeking and reaching out by the Shepherd Jesus after these Pharisaic lost sheep so that their joy at being found may produce still more joy in heaven among the angles. Thus through the entire parable there run in duplicate: 1) being lost, 2) the great search, 3) the happy finding, 4) the abounding joy.”

Lenski is awesome. No surprise there. Jesus gets around the hardened sourness of the Pharisees with an object lesson referencing the normal, human reaction to a normal, every-day event: And at the end, he demonstrates just how crappy their attitude really is, by contrasting their sourness with the joy in heaven. And the whole thing is wrapped up neatly, Inception style: In telling the parable, Jesus is doing what the parable represents.

Second: The Pharisees are totally the older brother guys!!!!

Yeah. OBVIOUSLY. Right? But it never really clicked until I was writing the sermon. This section begins with the Pharisees grumbling about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

And it ends with prodigal son drawing near his father, and the older brother grumbling about how the father received the son and ate with him.

Last thing that occurred to me on my way home from church:

Luke is freaking FULL of Jesus eating with people. I mean, Jesus is eating ALL THE TIME. He eats with tax collectors in Luke 5 and 19. He eats with the pharisees in Luke 7, and again in Luke 11, and again in Luke 14. He eats with his disciples and friends in Luke 10, 22, and 24. "The Son of Man came eating and drinking," indeed! He's like Robert Downey Jr!

But that's not the point. Here's the point: When Jesus eats with the tax collectors, the Pharisees absolutely lose it. They see it as not only a waste of time, but actually dangerous: There is the sense that Jesus is tainting himself by interacting with them. But when he eats with the Pharisees themselves, they take it pretty well in stride. Jesus being a prominent rabbi, the Pharisees ask him over for a meal, so that they may sit and talk over food. I'd imagine that from their perspective, it's a chance for Jesus to finally relax, to get away from the rabble, to get away from the greedy tax collectors and common sinners...a chance for Jesus to be with other righteous people like themselves.

When the truth, of course, is that there was no such distinction...or if there is, it's the other way around. Whether Jesus was eating with the self-proclaimed "righteous" or with those who recognized themselves as sinners, the meal served one over-arching purpose: To seek and save the lost. The only difference was that sometimes, he ate with people who actually knew they were lost, and desired to be found. And I'd imagine those were the meals where he actually could relax a least, more so then eating with a brood of vipers!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Initial Thoughts

We recently had our baby shower, where we received many wonderful things in preparation for the birth of our son Wesley Alexander Mulligan (November 3rd is coming so fast!). One of those gifts (well, three, actually) was the Jesus Storybook Bible. I decided it would be good to do an "initial thoughts" post, then come back to it after I've actually read it all the way through (probably with/to Wesley).

First thing: I LOVE this Bible.

Second thing: It's not perfect. There are things that I think could have done better, and a few things that I think are actually wrong/bad about the way events were portrayed. (David described as "the weakling of the family, he's only teeny-" being one of the most annoying errors, since he killed lions and bears with his bare hands!).

Third thing: But it's still amazing.

I think what I love most about it really is the subtitle: "Every Story Whispers His Name." Jesus is THE image of the invisible God, and in a very real sense every verse in the Bible points to Him. This Bible makes that explicit, over and over again. I'll just include one example: The first of them, and the most amazing. This is how this Bible ends the story of Adam and Eve:

"But before they left the garden, God made clothes for his children, to cover them. He gently clothed them and then he sent them away on a long, long journey--out of the garden, out of their home. 

Well, in another story, it would all be over and that would have been...

The End.

But not in this Story.

God loved his children too much to let the story end there. Even though he knew he would suffer, God had a plan - a magnificent dream. One day, he would get his children back. One day, he would make the world their perfect home again. And one day, he would wipe away every tear from their eyes.

You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children - with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

And though they would forget him, and run from him, deep in their hearts, God's children would miss him always, and long for him - lost children yearning for their home.

Before they left the garden, God whispered a promise to Adam and Even: "It will not always be so! I will come to rescue you! And when I do, I'm going to do battle against the snake. I'll get rid of the sin and the dark and the sadness you let in here. I'm coming back for you!"

And he would. One day, God himself would come."

That is my absolute favorite part about this Bible: It opens with a STRONG emphasis on Christus Victor. And all throughout the Old Testament portion of this Bible, nearly every story contains a reference to "The Great Rescue," God's secret plan to save the world. And who is the rescue from?

The Genesis section makes it fairly clear: In order to rescue his people, God MUST do battle with the devil. While human beings are definitely active sinners, they are primarily prisoners to be freed, not enemies to be vanquished (which, by the way, has many Calvinists on Amazon absolutely livid). *

Another thing I love? The Artwork. It's amazing. And the most amazing thing it does is to bring out the humor often overlooked in passages: For instance, the section labeled "How to Pray" (covering Jesus critiquing the prayers of the hypocrites in Matthew 6) features three people praying very passionately: Two of them are emoting vividly, heads dramatically tilted upwards, while the third actually has one eye open to see if anybody is watching him pray!

Again: This Bible is not perfect. Since it's designed for children (who, being children, are incapable of many of the finer points of Biblical interpretation and analysis), there's a LOT of built-in interpretation, connecting dots that are sometimes "gimmes", sometimes much more contested. (For instance, during the last supper, Jesus says "My body is like this bread," which Catholics on Amazon are not down with). Unless you happen to be the author of this particular book, there WILL be something in here that you disagree with....but then again, that's literally unavoidable when paraphrasing and commentating. c'est la vie. 

Will I read EVERY line to Wesley, exactly as written here? No. When speaking of David, I'll talk about how he was the youngest, and how that made him seem very unimportant to most people...but I'll also talk about his strength and bravery. But I'll read MOST of it exactly as written, because i think it does an incredible job at communicating the love of God and his desire for humanity to be saved, woven throughout the Bible. (and HOLY CRAP I just realized that I will be mostly responsible for the theological formation of a tiny person who will take my words as absolute truth oh my gosh WHAT AM I GOING TO DO)

Ahem. Anyway...yeah. I'll be writing a lot more about this...about whether the simplification going on here is a valid move, when it's appropriate to simplify and when it's NOT appropriate, and a couple others. But for now, I just wanted to get this out there.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Hamburger and Fries

You ever have a moment where you feel as though you know exactly what God wants you to do, and yet you don't want to do it? And it's not even a good reason why you don't want to do it, just something stupid and inconsequential?

I was on my way to Life Group tonight, and I was already going to be late. Shaw (our main street) is crazy that time of night, and even getting on it was slow going. And there, at the corner, was Dee. I had forgotten her name, but she was often there at the corner, holding a sign, asking for help. I was blasting music, as is my wont, but I turned it down as I approached the corner. I pulled out my wallet, but a quick glance confirmed what I had already suspected: It was empty.

So, as is my usual practice in that situation, I simply said a short prayer for her and went on my way, turning the music back up. Except...the joy I had been feeling mere seconds earlier was gone, replaced by something else. A nagging feeling, as though something had been missed. And it wouldn't go away.

You're just going to let it go, just like that?

Well, I mean, yeah. It's late, the traffic is crazy, I don't have money, what am I-

You could get her some food. It's nearly 7, and she had nothing with her.

Well, yeah, I could do that, but it's going to take forever to get the food and -

Seriously? There's a Carl's Jr right there.

And so there was. So almost without thinking, I pulled into the parking lot (although, due to a miscalculation, it was actually the next parking lot over that I pulled into). And then it began again.

Wait, what are you doing? Buying food? She probably doesn't even want food. She's probably going to look at you like you're a weirdo, and then you're just going to have food sitting in your car, food you don't want, and it's going to be awkward and -

And then I got out of the car and went into the Carl's Jr. I got a burger and fries, and a drink, and then started back down the way I'd come. She was still there at the corner, so I went past, U-turned, and pulled into a nearby parking lot. I got out of the car, grabbed the bag of food and the drink, and started walking towards her.

She saw me coming, and she set down the sign and came to meet me. I'd been working out my "speech", what I was goign to say to her, but it left me, so I mumbled something about how I didn't have any money and I thought she might want food and -

"Food is great!" she said. "Thank you!"

I asked what her name was, and told her I'd be praying for her. She did the same, and said a short prayer right there. As I walked back to the car, I saw her checking out the bag and grabbing some fries.

But then, as I pulled out of the parking lot and began to turn the corner again, I saw that she had placed the bag back on the ground. She wasn't holding her sign. She wasn't looking at the cars passing her by. Instead, she had her hands slightly raised, her eyes closed, and her face towards heaven. And she remained that way until I could no longer see her.

It interesting experience, and it made me 25 minutes late to Life Group. It's very rare that I have that moment, that point in time where I feel as though I know exactly what I'm supposed to do. I'm just glad that God refused to allow me to pass it by, despite my fighting it every step of the way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Duct Tape and People

The youth group at my church just finished up three weeks on sex and dating, covering the usual gamut of God's intended purpose for sex, common temptations and obstacles, and forgiveness and recovery. We worked through this during our mid-week Small Group time as well, and last week, that unfortunately included a popular addition to such talks: The Duct Tape Example.

One of my fellow leaders brought out a roll of duct tape in the middle of the talk, and asked for volunteers who were "really strong." Finding one such volunteer, he tore off a suitable length of tape and plastered it to the volunteers arm, observing that the tape was stuck fast and was now "one flesh" with the high schooler. Then he ripped it off, pointing out the pain experienced by the volunteer, as well as the hair and debris that remained stuck to the duct tape.

He repeated this a couple more times, noting each time how much less sticky the tape had grown, and how much weaker the attachment was between tape and high schooler. And each time, he brought it back to sex, telling the guys that each time they had sex with someone else, they would become less capable of experiencing a meaningful connection with the next person they had sex with, even someone they intended to marry. And at the end, he was sure to bring up the power of God in Christ, to forgive us and make us new, and heal our wounds.

He said all the right things. He didn't say anything that was untrue, and he said a lot that was true and helpful! But the problem is, the illustration itself is incredibly flawed.

As the last volunteer shook the tack-less tape from his arm, one of the guys said something that (unintentionally) drove the point home for me. He said, "So we should call all the hoes at our schools 'duct tape'?"

He was joking, of course, but the comment betrayed the crucial flaw in the illustration. While it was accompanied by a lot of spoken truth about connection, intimacy, and the very real dangers of pre-marital sex, the illustration itself said something different:
Girls who have sex with multiple people are inherently worthless. 

That's what the illustration says when performed with a group of guys. It can't say anything else. The tape is an obvious (and explicit) stand-in for a woman, and it is quite literally worthless for its intended purpose after one or two people have "had their way" with it. The illustration is very least, if your goal is to get guys to associate worth with virginity.

A lot of the guys laughed when he made the "hoe" comment (they are high schoolers, after all), but I immediately raised my voice, to say, "And that's the danger of illustrations like this: They reduce people to one thing, and make that the only worthwhile thing about them." I think he understood my point, because he immediately nodded and was quiet for a bit.

But the problem remains: We use these illustrations, and to the people in charge, they mean one thing...but to the people witnessing it, they mean something completely different, about people, sex, and worth as human beings. And I think we need to stop with the analogies, because ultimately, I think they do more harm than good. Or, if you simply MUST use analogies, they need to be accompanied by a LOT more explanation and restriction: What do they mean, and more importantly, what do they NOT mean? This is what our analogies lack, and this is the reason why they so often reduce people to something less then people...and that is unacceptable.

NOTE: I owe a great deal of my thinking on this matter to my good friend Alishia, who has written about this topic here and here