Sunday, December 26, 2010

One of the great ones

There is a man coming out of the Shadowlands, and all of the heavenly host has fallen silent as they watch him come. He is tired--worn out, in the most literal sense. His hair, once full and brown, is sparse and white. His hands, once smooth and strong, are wrinkled, torn, and shaking. He walks slowly, limping, and pain is in every step. The silence among the angelic crowd begins to be broken by whispers, because he is not unknown in these parts, this thin, wrinkled old man. "Look at him! Look at this man, so tired and frail. See him walk on, though it pains him every step! See his eyes, fixed unwavering on something he cannot even see! Look at what he has done! He has fought in the great War, and his wounds are the wounds of a warrior. He is so tired, because he has run so hard and gone so far. This is what the King looked like when he was in that far country." That is what the angels whisper, watching the man from the Shadowlands.

The man hears none of this. He still walks, but his limp is more pronounced. He stumbles more often, and it takes him longer to get up. Finally there comes a fall from which there could surely be no rising--but he never hits the ground. Another hand, scarred like his own, catches his and pulls him up, and the voice that spoke the world into existence says, "Do not be afraid. Your journey is over." The voice that could have shattered the heavens and earth alike is quiet and gentle, and the words, though they have been heard countless times before, still bring a thrill of amazement to the unseen audience. The King has come to welcome his servant home, and as he speaks, the man begins to change. His hands grow strong again, and his legs grow firm. The weariness falls from his frame as he moves with an easiness he has not felt in years. The man who stands before the King is not quite the same as he who fell--he has been renewed.

The man sees the holes in the hands clasping his, and even when he turns his face away he sees the holes in the feet before him. He begins to fall again, not from weakness but from reverence, but again the King bears him up and sets him on his feet. "John," the King says, and the man jerks to hear his name. "Be proud! Be joyful! For you have fought the good fight, even after your hands had lost their strength. You have finished the race, even when every step was agony. And you have kept the faith, even when your body and your very mind failed you, and the world turned dark and confusing. Well done, good and faithful servant. You have surely earned your crown of righteousness."
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Friday, December 10, 2010

From Simon to Peter to... Satan?

Today's blog is on Mattew 16:21-23. So, Jesus and his disciples have just had a really good session (see my previous two notes). Sometimes, he'll tell them something and they'll completely miss the point, so he has to go back and explain it them all again. This time, though, things have gone pretty well. That's probably why Jesus chooses this time to start telling the disciples "that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." He's letting them know what is going to happen to him when they go to Jerusalem, and he's also telling them that it is all necessary: "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things."

Peter, though, doesn't like it. He takes Jesus aside from the rest of the disciples and rebukes him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." A nice thought, right? He's telling Jesus not to be so pessimistic, and he's probably a little afraid that it might be true--he does love Jesus, after all. All in all, at the first read nothing in his statement seems to warrant Jesus' reaction: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." To call this "harsh" would not do it justice. I can imagine Peter stumbles back, disbelief and hurt in his eyes, and the other disciples stop talking among themselves to stare at Jesus' angry expression and wonder: did I hear that right? He was so happy with Simon--I mean, Peter-- earlier, and now he just called him Satan?

I've heard it said that theology and knowledge of God is unimportant, that not only the most but the only important thing is to "just love Jesus." This passage emphatically demonstrates that this is not the case. Because Peter does love Jesus. He walks across the waves to get to him, he fights armed Roman guards to save him. Peter loves Jesus, and his comments to Christ stem directly from that love. Imagine that a loved one, going to the doctor for unknown pain, insists that the cause of the pain is fatal and that he/she will be dead soon. You would tell them to stop talking like that, even if you thought it might be true, exactly because you love them so much that you don't even want to think that such a thing might happen. That is what Peter's doing, but he gets slapped down. Hard.

Peter's rebuke of Jesus, and Jesus' counter-rebuke, stems from Peter's rejection and ignorance of what Jesus has just told him. Jesus gives him knowledge about himself--I'm going to die soon, and this has to happen-- and Peter refuses to acknowledge it. He has willfully remained ignorant of what Jesus has just told him. Not only that, but (unknown to him) he is also echoing what Satan told Jesus when Jesus was in the wilderness.
So, Matthew 4:1-11. Satan comes and tempts Jesus in the wilderness. The last temptation is when Satan takes Christ to a very high mountain and "showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Now, Christ is already going to get all the kingdoms of the world and all their glory. He knows, and Satan knows, that God's plan for Christ calls for his death. Satan is giving him a pretty tempting offer: you don't have to die. You can have the kingdom without the cross. Take the easy way out. That, in effect, is what Peter is tempting Christ towards as well. Suffering? "Far be it from you, Lord." Death on a cross? "This shall never happen to you."

So, Peter, speaking out of misguided love and willful ignorance, gets rebuked harder than anyone else in the gospels. Jesus knows how hard he rebuked him, and so his next words are an explanation--essentially, "this is how it has to be." He says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Basically, "I am going to suffer, and I'm not going to run from it. You will also have to suffer if you want to follow me."

There is also another small lesson here. Nowhere is there an apology for hurting Peter's feelings. Peter's feelings deserved to be hurt. Jesus rebuked him and let him know why he was rebuked, but he did not apologize for doing something that needed to be done. However, he didn't hold it against him either, because just 6 days later he picks Peter to accompany him before the Transfiguration (the topic of the next blog).

I've heard it suggested that Peter was actually possessed by Satan when these things happened. I do not believe that to be the case for the following reasons:
1. There is nothing in the passage to suggest possession. In all other passages involving demonic possession, the possession is clearly established.
2. The explanation given above is more than sufficient to explain Peter's rebuke of Christ (not wanting the death of a loved one to be spoken of or thought about) without resorting to actual possession to explain it.
3. Christ calling him Satan is explained by Peter unwittingly mirroring Satan's temptation of Christ (as explained above). Peter is unknowingly tempting Christ in the same manner Satan did.
4. The last thing Christ says in his rebuke of Peter: "For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Even in his rebuke, he is teaching Peter. Not only is he teaching him, but he is expecting Peter to learn. In every other instance of possession, he speaks to the demon, not the person. Here, he is talking to Peter as a man, not as a demon or demon-possessed person.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Your name is Peter now.

Alright, last note was a little dry, but that's just because the really cool stuff is right here. Let's get to it.

Jesus continues, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Before, he addressed him as "Simon Bar-Jonah," for the quite simple reason that that was his name. His name was not Peter. His name was Simon.

Let me remind you of how he is first introduced in Matthew: "Simon (who is called Peter)."(Mat. 4:18) The gospels were written some time after the resurrection of Christ, and Peter would be well known. The name of Simon, however, may well not have been, since he is only ever referred to as Peter (or Cephas, the Greek version of Peter: see Gal. 2:9-14) after the events of the gospels. Hence his introduction in Mat. 4:18 basically says "Simon (now known as Peter)".

Back to the verse at hand. "You are Peter." Effectively, "Your name is Peter now." He has just changed Peter's name here. How crazy is that? He does it right after Peter's confession of him as Christ, and not only the Christ, but the Son of the Living God. This is the first time in Matthew that Christ's status not only as Christ, as annointed by God, as messiah, is stated in conjunction with his divine status as the Son of God, and the revelation and acknowledgment prompts a literal name change. This could easily be seen as a precursor, a taste, a look ahead, at an event Jesus references in Revelations: "To the one who conquers... I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it."(Rev. 2:17). It's not a perfect parallel, but the parallel is definitely there-Peter has, in his confession, conquered, and as a result has received a new name.

Now, both the old name and the new name have incredible significance. Simon, in Hebrew, means "he has heard." And indeed, as Jesus points out, he has heard--he heard the Father reveal who Jesus was. Here's the crazy part--he fulfilled his old name. He heard what he was meant to hear, and now he gets a new name. Neither of the names are just sounds, meaningless noises that have nothing to do with him--both of them are important. The new name is not a name chosen out of thin air. Jesus has a specific purpose in mind. "You are Peter," and then you look at the footnote and see, "Peter sounds like the Greek word for rock." "you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

So, basically, it goes like this. "Blessed are you, Simon, because as your name suggests, you have heard the Father tell you who I am. Now that you have fulfilled your old name, you are Peter, a rock, and on this rock I will build my church." Now, this is where it can get tricky, because sometimes we good evangelicals get uncomfortable when it's suggested that we may not all be equal in the church, that there may be some people who are higher up and others who are lower. As I said in my previous note, I don't have the time to properly research the various arguments and the original Greek and all that, but from what I gather, the reading that makes the most sense is the intuitive one, the one where Jesus, having just specifically changed someone's name from Simon to Peter with the express purpose of having a name that "sounds like the Greek word for rock," is telling that person, "on this rock (you, the person whose name I just changed to "rock") will I build my church." And this, for the purpose of this note, is what I'm trying to say.

Let's remember who Peter is. Peter is the guy who tried to walk on water--and sank. The guy who rebukes Jesus and is then compared to Satan. The guy who denies Jesus three times after swearing to never leave his side. That's who Christ chose to build his church on. The guy without perfect faith, the guy who acts without thinking, the guy who lets his flesh get the better of him sometimes. The guy that all of us can relate to, because we are all that guy. The church was built on Peter, and it is guys just like Peter who make up its floors, its walls, its... other metaphorical components. In a way (and I'm not quite sure at this point how literal a way I want to make it), all Christians could be called Simon at one point. Once they hear, then they become Peter, the rocks on which and with which Christ builds the church.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

Friday, December 3, 2010

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God

Before I begin this next note, I need to stress that this is going to be a much more shallow read than I would like. When I have more time and energy, I may come back and revisit this with the proper research and study. There is so much in this passage that I cannot hope to bring out any more than a small portion right now.

We're looking at Matthew 16:13-20 here. In most of your Bibles, it's probably subtitled "Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ" (unless you're like one of my friends who blacks out the subtitles with a sharpy). So Jesus and his disciples arrive in Caesarea Philippi, a largely pagan area. I've heard it suggested that he does this to escape from the crowds and the pharisees that are constantly following him around, and if so, it works. For some time now they've been absolutely swamped with people, and Christ, perhaps, wants some peace and quiet in which to teach his disciples.

So they're in Ceasarea Phillipi, and he asks his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" The "Son of Man" is himself, clearly. Also, when he says "people," he means everybody, not just the learned, the pharisees. He's asking, "Who do the common people say that I am?" And the disciples answer, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." The first view is demonstrated by Herod in 14:2, who thinks John the Baptist has come back to life. The next reflects a belief that Christ is not the Messiah himself, but the forerunner for the Messiah (a role actually fulfilled by John the Baptist himself). As for Jeremiah... not really sure about him. But in any case, one thing is for sure--the people do not know who Jesus is. Their answers are confused and incorrect.

Then Jesus asks, "But who do you say that I am?" The emphasis here is clearly on the "you"--those other answers were wrong, but what do you think? And now it is not the disciples in general who answer, but Peter specifically--once again, Peter has singled himself out. His reply is quick and to the point--"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." No hedging, no "I think..." or "Maybe..." Peter knows. Only a short time ago he saw this man walk on water, felt him grasp his hand and pull him out the waves when he was drowning. Peter's seen him feed first 5,000, then 4,000 people with a few scraps of food. Peter has been with Christ, experienced what he can do first-hand.

And you have to love Jesus' reply. "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Let's break this down. Jesus is not blessing Peter. He is observing that Peter has, in fact, been blessed. And how does Jesus know that Peter has been blessed? Because he knows who Jesus is. He's saying, "Simon, God has blessed you, because he has revealed who I am to you." And Jesus is rejoicing that His Father has revealed this to Peter--it's even possible that Jesus prayed for this very revelation to occur.

So, originally this note was about twice as long, but that was too long for a single blog post, so I'm breaking it up. The next post will cover the next aspect of Jesus' response to Peter.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Walking on Water

The story of Jesus walking on water is told in Matthew, Mark, and John. However, only Matthew records Peter's attempt as well. This is very interesting to me, because many scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was largely based on the teachings of Peter himself, recorded and consolidated by his friend and assistant, John Mark (mentioned in Acts 12:12). If this is true, it means that either Peter did talk about himself walking on water, and Mark didn't record it--which seems unlikely.  Another explanation is that Peter didn't talk about it at all. Either way, it's an interesting thing to think about.

We're going to be focusing on Mat. 22-33 today. This takes place immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, and Jesus has the disciples get in the boat and take off without him while he stays behind to dismiss the crowds. After they're gone, Jesus goes up to pray alone on the mountain, and he's there until evening. When he's done praying, the boat and the disciples are, obviously, "a long way from the land," and they're in pretty choppy waters because the wind is picking up. And in the "fourth watch of the night," sometime between 3 and 6 am, Jesus comes walking across the water. So: it's dark- it's stormy- the disciples are very tired- and they see someone walking across the water towards them. Somewhat understandably, they freak out. They think he's a ghost, and Jesus calls out, saying "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." I love that. Be encouraged. Be brave. Do not be afraid. You're with me now.

And Peter takes that to heart. Immediately he replies with "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Now, he doesn't doubt that it's Jesus. He's already called him "Lord." He knows who it is. He's not testing him or anything. I think it's another way of saying, "Since it is you, then command me to come to you." I think that this demonstrates the reason he wants to go. He doesn't say, "Command me to walk on water." He says, "Command me to come to you on the water." He wants to walk on water because at the end of the walk he will find Jesus. This is important. It isn't pride that causes him to say that. If it was pride, he would have sunk as soon as he stepped out of the boat. It's love, a yearning to be with Jesus, a refusal to stay in the boat and wait for Jesus to come to him.

So he gets out of the boat. And remember, this isn't a nice day on the lake. It's very early morning, probably extremely cold, and very windy with very rough waves. He gets out and "walk[s] on the water and came to Jesus." He's doing it. Peter is walking on water, and I can only imagine the other disciples looking on in astonishment. But then comes the fatal flaw. He takes his eyes off Jesus. This is an often-used phrase in the church, and sometimes we may get tired of hearing it, but it's so important. He literally stops looking at Jesus and "saw the wind [and] he was afraid." Here's the kicker--he doesn't even notice the waves before this point. He's been concerned with one thing and one thing only--getting to Jesus. The fact that this requires him to walk on water is a mere incidental detail. But halfway through he allows himself to be distracted and focuses on the adversities before him. And he immediately begins to sink.

However, in the very midst of his failure, Peter once again brings it back. He's in the middle of the lake. Waves are crashing around him and he's sinking into the cold water. His response is incredibly important. He doesn't turn back and try to get back to the boat. He doesn't rely on himself, on his own swimming abilities, to get him out of this. It's a stormy sea. He doesn't stand a chance. All of this flashes through his mind--what should I do? And he does the only thing he can do-- he cries out "Lord, save me." All of this--his utter helplessness, his failure, his terror, but also his faith in Christ--is summed up in this one cry.

And "immediately," Jesus reaches out his hand and grabs him. He doesn't do it right when Peter starts to sink. But he does it as soon as Peter cries for help. And I love what he says to him. "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" This is a rhetorical question. It's not as if he doesn't know why Peter doubted. He knows that Peter "saw the wind [and] was afraid." He's saying "Peter, you were so close!" There is exasperation there, because Jesus has already given them ample reasons to put their faith in him, but there is also affection and love and an approval of the attempt. And Jesus helps Peter back into the boat, and literally as soon as they get in, the wind stops. The sea grows calm. And "those in the boat worshiped him, saying 'Truly you are the Son of God." Peter's attempt is... not forgotten, but passed over in favor of what is truly important.

The parallels to our own lives should be obvious. I'm not going to belabor the point. This is just more of the theme of our daily struggles being embodied perfectly in Peter. Let me know what you guys think (even if you think this is dumb).

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Intro to Peter

Ah, Peter. The comedic relief of the Gospel, master of both the sword and the non-sequitor (see my previous note on Peter). First, a quick recap. Peter was one of the first two disciples called (the other was his brother Andrew). He, along with Peter, James, and John, formed an inner group among the 12 disciples (see the transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane, Matt. 17:1, 26:37). He was married (something I had missed, see Matt. 8:14, "mother-in-law," and 1 Cor. 9:5). He held a position of some importance in the church after Pentecost (possibly the de-facto head of the earthly church, but that's not important right now). The Bible doesn't tell us how he died, but according to tradition he was crucified upside down under Nero, around the same time as Paul's death.

Now let's get into specifics. Peter is without a doubt the disciple most often singled out as doing or saying something important in the Gospels, and often these events demonstrate a particular closeness or intimacy with Christ. For instance, when the disciples see Christ walking on water, it is Peter who says, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."(Matt. 14:28). And then, in the middle of a stormy sea, he leaves the boat and starts walking towards Jesus (we'll address his failure a little later). He wants to get to Jesus, even if he has to walk on water. A little later, when Christ asks his disciples "Who do you say that I am," it is Peter who responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:16, and Jesus' response is important enough for its own post, which will hopefully be soon) Later, as mentioned before, he is one of the three apostles to witness the transfiguration (Matt.17:4) and becomes so excited/terrified that he says something completely nonsensical (again, see my previous note). Again, he, James and John are the ones who accompany him into the garden of Gethsemane to pray, and he is the one who tries to defend Jesus by cutting off the ear of a servant (easily the most ill-advised and poorly-executed feat of swordsmanship recorded in the Bible). Then there's all the stuff that he does after the Resurrection and Pentecost (we might get to those in later notes). He may not have been "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John has that honor) but he was without a doubt the disciple that loved Jesus.

Now let's remember his failures--and trust me, they are almost as numerous as his successes. He tries to walk on water--and sinks, because he had little faith and doubted (Matt. 14:31). He rebukes Christ for saying that he will be killed, and is in turn completely and utterly smacked down by Jesus (Matt.16:22-23). He, along with James and John, are hand-picked by Jesus to watch and pray with him in Gethsemane--and they fall asleep (the fact that Jesus particularly calls out Peter is interesting, to say the least). Then, of course, there is Peter's triple-denial of Christ after everyone else had already abandoned him. And there are even more failures after Christ's ascension: Paul is forced to call him out on his favoritism and hypocrisy in his interactions with the Gentile Christians in Galatians 2:11-14.

Paul says in Galatians 5:24 that "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." However, he says in Romans 7:14, "I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." Nowhere is the struggle between these two verses better demonstrated than in the life of Peter. In no one else do we see these moments of great faith followed so soon by great faithlessness. He steps out into the water--and sinks. He acknowledged Jesus as the Christ--and rebuked him for speaking what he (Peter) thought was nonsense. He fought for Christ, however briefly, in the face of armed and armored Roman soldiers--and denied three times so much as knowing him, mere hours before his crucifixion. Peter is not the "perfect" Christian, despite his intimacy with Christ--in that he is a perfect example of what we all are. But he truly loved Christ, and he always tried to do better (see this note). In that, I think he is a different kind of example--one we should all strive for.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, my book Simon, Who Is Called Peter was published by Wipf & Stock Publishers. Check it out!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Story and History

Every Bible translation I have ever read and enjoyed (NOT the Message) has read in a slightly different way than newspapers or novels read. The wording and sentence structure is ever-so-slightly archaic and formalistic, which is, of course, deliberate on the part of the translators. I wholeheartedly approve of this, because it gives the Word of God a majesty and solemnity (not the bad kind of solemnity--in fact, I may write a note on this later) even in its literary structure.

Unfortunately, this method does have some drawbacks. For instance, because it doesn't read like any story we have ever read, we tend to forget (especially if we are already familiar with it) that it is, in fact, a story. When we read in The Hobbit how the respectable Bilbo Baggins, with neither warning nor explanation, is suddenly forced to have no fewer than thirteen dwarves over to tea, we recognize that this is an absurd situation. We realize this and feel Bilbo's surprise alongside him because we read it as a story, an account of things that have happened. (The fact that such an event did not, technically, occur does not impact our ability to act and feel as though the story is real) Even without Bilbo's subsequent nervous breakdown, we realize that this is something quite out of the ordinary. However, when we open the Bible to the calling of the first disciples, we aren't surprised at all when Peter and Andrew "Immediately... left the boat and their father and followed him." We pass over this with barely a second thought, although we would have not only a second thought but a third and fourth as well should the same thing have happened with Bilbo and Gandalf.

My point: that elusive, slippery thing that so often evades my grasp. We don't read the Bible as a story. I was originally going to say that we don't really read it as a record of things that have happened, but that's not true. We do read it like that. But we don't read it as a record of actions, actions committed by real people, real individuals with real personalities. If we did, we would wonder about the inner motives, emotions, thoughts, that would cause two people to leave their livelihood, the only thing they had ever known, and follow a relatively unknown rabbi.

As my friend Kyle just said, the Bible doesn't take place in its own little world. It's not separated from the "real" world. The people in the Bible are real people. They aren't acting a play or reading from a script. When they do something, that action, just like everything we do, is accompanied by a host of inner thoughts, motives, emotions, that usually aren't explicitly expressed in the text. But just because it's not expressed in the text doesn't mean it's not there.

This is important. By reading the people in the Bible as real people, we can make the things we read more practical, more applicable to everyday life. If we recognize that Andrew and Peter leaving their father was a risky gambit, that they had no guarantee of even making a living, much less making a difference, then we can apply that the next time God calls us to take a risk.

So, this is a rough introduction-type-thing to a bigger project I'm beginning to work on, focusing on Peter. I hope to post another note on Peter soon.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Fallacy of Relativism OR A Chestertonian Experiment

So, as the finale of my studies here in Oxford, I have to write what is called in Britain a "long essay." In America, this would be called a "very long essay" or possibly a "monstrous abomination." It's 4-5 thousand words with at least 20 sources. Fun stuff. Anyway, I'm writing on Chesterton--it's going to be a kind of extension and elaboration of my essay that I've posted here. So I'm re-reading Orthodoxy. And a thought struck me--and now that I've somewhat unnecessarily given you a behind-the-scenes look at what's going on over here, I'm going to tell you that thought.

Chesterton says that society suffers from "humility in the wrong place." He says "At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemouse statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view." Chesterton admired people who stuck to their beliefs, even if he believed them wrong--he was horrified by people who were unwilling to state their beliefs to be right. Unfortunately, society has progressed even beyond this point of misplaced humility.

Chesterton lived in a world where people said that they're view may not be the right one. As a result of this, he predicted (and his prediction has now come to pass) a world where the very existence of a "right view" is doubted. The time has now come where people no longer say "My view may not be correct." They now say, "Every view is correct," and by doing so they take away all meaning from the word. The world in which all views are equally "true" is a world in which truth does not exist.

Now, we Christians are often accused (if we are, indeed, living like Christ) of being "narrow-minded" by the relativists. There is the statement that our beliefs are restricted while relativism is limitless. This is patently absurd. The Christian is much more free in his belief than the relativist. The Christian can believe in Christianity, and in believing in Christianity can believe in Love and Joy and Happiness and Courage and Honour and Beauty. The relativist is not allowed to believe in anything. The relativist believes that truth does not exist and so has lost the privilege of believing in anything else. The Christian may look on a sunrise and proclaim it beautiful--the relativist is not allowed to even admit it is a sunrise, nor can he admit the existence of Beauty.

The relativist will say that there is no Truth. He is forced to say this--admitting the existence of truth would be admitting the existence of error, because you cannot have one without the other. If one belief is true, than another belief is false. The relativist has attempted to rid the world of Error by declaring it free from Truth. There is no thing called Love, to the relativist. There is no Happiness, no Courage or Honour. There is no Beauty, because to call something truly beautiful would be to say that anyone who did not call it beautiful was wrong. The relativist cannot believe in anything because, to him, there is nothing to believe in.

The Christian, on the other hand, is gloriously and marvelously free in his belief. He may believe all sorts of things--he may believe that there is something truly wonderful about watching the sun rise over the mountains. He may believe that the Grand Canyon is actually grand, and that the night sky is really beautiful. He may believe in the thing called Courage that courageous people are exhibiting. He may believe in Love, and that there was a time when Love became flesh and dwelt among us. The Christian is the one who is free, because he admits the existence of Right. The relativist is bound in chains of his own design, because he denies the existence of Wrong.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Man who was Thursday Essay- An Apology for Suffering

EDIT: I've recently been getting a lot of hits on this post from people searching for "Man who was Thursday paradox" or "Essay ideas for Man who was Thursday." Well, you have come to the right place.

The Man who was Thursday is the heart of Chesterton's Theodicy of Glory, a theme that is found in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, Orthodoxy, even The Ball and the Cross. To fight against insurmountable odds "has the splendour of God," and in doing so, the righteous justify themselves against the false accusation of the devil, that they have remained "safe."

Thursday is, essentially, Job, with the crucial addition of the cross, "the crux of the matter." When Job demands an answer of God, God replies with a flurry of questions, all unanswerable. Here, Sunday replies with just one question, but even more unanswerable. God's answer to the suffering of the world is not to stand aloof, but to descend into it and drink more deeply of the bitter cup than any mere man could do.

Also, if you're looking into Thursday's connection with Job, you have to check out Chesterton's Introduction to Job. Alright: END EDIT.

Alright, so as many of you know, I am here at Oxford. I am taking a class called "C.S. Lewis in context" and as part of this class, I read The Man who was Thursday and wrote an essay on it. This is that essay. I hope you enjoy.

In the Old Testament there is always the antithesis between the righteous God and the bitter things which man has to accept from Him without murmuring. In the passion story of the New Testament this antithesis is done away. It is God Himself who takes the place of the former sufferers and allows the bitterness of their suffering to fall upon Himself.
-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1, The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country

“Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?” Discuss the novel as an apology for suffering.
Bernard Bergonzi accurately summarizes Chesterton’s second novel, The Man who was Thursday (1908) as “[Chesterton’s] most obscure novel but… also his most popular.”[1] It has been read as many different things, ranging anywhere from a detective story or political satire to a “personal or private allegory,” representing Chesterton’s reaction to the “pessimism of the nineties,” or a political allegory of paranoia.[2] One reading, however, that often gets overlooked in the midst of all the other readings, is that of an apology for suffering.
The story focuses on Gabriel Syme, the “poet who had become a detective.”[3][4] The story begins with his encounter with the anarchic poet, Lucian Gregory, and a dispute about the very nature of poetry. The story quickly proceeds from there, and soon Syme has been elected as Thursday, one of the seven members of the Supreme Council of Anarchy and meets Sunday, the enormous President of the Council. As the story progresses, one after another of the members are revealed to be, like Syme, members of the police merely disguised as anarchists. At the very end, Sunday himself is revealed to be the very man who had first appointed them to the police force. Having an intense hatred of anarchists, he is part of a special branch of the police with the objective of eliminating the “high priesthood” of the Anarchists, those whose goals are “to destroy first humanity and then themselves.”
It is important at this point to note that as we discuss the theme of suffering, especially as it relates to Sunday and his role in the novel, we do not mean to imply that Sunday is a strict allegory for God—at least, not allegory as it was described by C. S. Lewis, which “gives you one thing in terms of another.”[5] Chesterton himself speaks out against this against “this line of logic, or lunacy, [which] led many to infer that [Sunday] was meant for a serious description of the Deity.” The book “was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was.” [6] Whatever Chesterton wishes the reader to get out of his novel, it is clear that Sunday does not have a 1:1 correlation with God, nor is the world portrayed in the novel meant to be taken as the “real world.” However, it seems clear that we can still learn something of God from Sunday and something of the real world from that in the novel.
As one reads The Man who was Thursday, it becomes apparent that one of the main problems the book raises is that of suffering. The problem of suffering is two-fold—not only do people suffer at the hands of the seemingly all-powerful ruler, but the ruler himself is calm and peaceful in the face of the suffering that he has caused. This complaint is first raised not by Gregory the Anarchist, but by Syme the anti-anarchist. Immediately before he is recruited by the police, a policeman bids him good-evening, and Syme explodes, telling him that if the river, red from the sunset, were literally running with blood, the policeman “would be standing here as solid as ever, looking out for some poor harmless tramp whom you could move on.” The complaint, voiced here by Syme, is that, in the face of suffering and chaos, the supposed forces for good and order, here played by the policeman, are unperturbed by the suffering. Their cruelty could be forgiven, Syme says, “were it not for [their] calm.” [7]
This initial complaint comes at the very beginning of Syme’s adventure—it doesn’t appear again until much later at the adventure’s end. Sunday, having led them on a chase this is from a blog: if this shows up in an essay, it's been copy/pasted from my site. ending in his “large old English garden,” has invited them to a “fancy dress ball” where they hold places as guests of honour, sitting on a bank in “seven great chairs, the thrones of the seven days.”[8] The Secretary, identified as almost coldly logical,[9] “turned in his chair towards Sunday, and said in a harsh voice: ‘Who and what are you?’” Sunday, without moving, responds, “I am the Sabbath. I am the peace of God.” At this, the Secretary stands up, “crushing his costly robe in his hand,” possibly a reference to the customary tearing of clothes as a sign of grief and distress seen in the Bible. In evident distress, he says that he knows what Sunday means, and “it is exactly that that I cannot forgive you.” He elaborates, saying that he knows that Sunday is “contentment, optimism, what do they call the thing—an ultimate reconciliation.” The Secretary, however, is not reconciled. He references the hardships they have gone through, emphasizing that Sunday was the cause of it all. He ends by saying that he could forgive God his anger, however terrible it might be, “but I cannot forgive Him His peace.”[10]
This, of course, is the same complaint Syme raised in the beginning, only elaborated and put into its proper context. Good men, not only followers of the Law but its defenders, have “wept, fled in terror, the iron entered into [their] souls”[11]—and here, at the cause of it all, unconcerned, content, and ultimately reconciled, is Sunday, the peace of God.
Very soon after this, the same complaint is raised again and for the last time, this time not from the defenders of the law but its enemy, Gregory, “the real anarchist.” This time, however, the complaint is not addressed merely towards Sunday, but towards all of the Seven. Gregory’s aims are simple: he “would destroy the world if [he] could.” He cries, “I know what you are all of you, from first to last—you are the people in power!” He is, it is revealed, the only true Anarchist out of all the named characters in the book. Everyone else is part of the police, the “great fat, smiling men in blue and buttons,” the people Gregory wants to pull down. The reason he wants to pull them down, to break them is that “You are the Law, and you have never been broken. But is there a free soul alive that does not long to break you, only because you have never been broken?” This, as he elaborate later, is the core of his complaint and, on reflection, the core of the previous two complaints as well. Gregory’s complaint is not that those in power are cruel, nor is it that they are kind, which again echoes the previous two complaints. Gregory curses them “for being safe! You sit in your chairs of stone, and you have never come down from them. You are the seven angels of heaven, and you have had no troubles. Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule all mankind, if I could feel for once that you had suffered for one hour a real agony such as I—”[12] Gregory’s main complaint “is that he alone has suffered; the detectives have all enjoyed the protection of divine providence.”[13]
Chesterton answers this complaint in two different ways, or in two different phases. First he addresses the suffering of men, both lawful and anarchists, in Syme’s excited rebuttal to Gregory’s claims. Syme begins by asking rhetorically why “each small thing in the world [has] to fight against the world itself?” In this question, he includes the isolation he and the other policemen felt in the Council of Days, where each of them thought himself alone among enemies. The reason, Syme says, is “so that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist.” The purpose of this is two-fold. The most obvious purpose is “so that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, ‘You lie!’” Gregory’s complaint, remember, is not just against Sunday, but against all of the policemen—Syme sees his trials as the answer to Gregory’s “blasphemous” accusations, and Syme affirms that they are well worth it, saying, “No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, ‘We also have suffered.’”
The second reason for the isolation is inherent in Syme’s statement—so that they may have the “glory” of standing firm against evil. Although this appears at first glance to be merely a meaningless aside on Syme’s (and, through him, Chesterton’s) part, a closer reading of both this text and others reveals that this is not the case. Immediately following the Secretary’s complaint earlier, Sunday looks to Syme, who says that he does not feel “fierce” like the Secretary—in fact, he is grateful “for many a fine scamper and free fight.” We are reminded of Syme’s frantic flight from the Professor and his desperate duel with Dr. Bull—both horrifying incidents at the time, but in hindsight they are revealed as vehicles for the glory he now possesses as a result of his endurance. This theme of glory and honor found through suffering and isolation is found elsewhere in Chesterton’s writings as well. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton states, “The only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point—and does not break.”[14] Without a breaking point, without suffering and isolation, can there even be bravery? Chesterton seems to say there cannot. Seen in this light, the thanks Syme offers takes on a new aspect—he thanks Sunday not just for the “scampers” and fights, but for the glory gained, the bravery proved, neither of which he would have had otherwise.
Syme, then, addresses the suffering of men by demonstrating that it provides for men two things they could not have had otherwise. The first is vindication, a defense against the Accuser.[15] When the great enemy comes to accuse them of happiness, they may say, “We also have suffered.” The second is to earn glory and demonstrate bravery and honor in a way quite impossible without suffering. Glory is gained and bravery and honor demonstrated in no other way than through suffering.
However, there is still another aspect of the complaint. What of the peace of God? What answer can there be to that half of Gregory’s accusation? Surely we must say of God that he has never been broken, as Gregory does. Surely God is, as Gregory puts it, “safe?” Can Gregory the Accuser claim to have suffered while Sunday has not? Taking it one step further, can Satan the Accuser put the same claim to God? Syme says in response to Gregory, “It is not true that we have never descended from these thrones. We have descended into Hell… I can answer for every one of the great guards of the Law whom he has accused. At least—” Here he stops. He looks at “the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile.” As he speaks, with his halting, “dreadful” voice, it is not clear what unnerves him more—the possibility that Gregory is right, or the possibility that he is wrong. Seeming almost to dread the answer, he asks Sunday, “Have you ever suffered?” And as Sunday’s face fills the sky and everything goes black, Syme hears “a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, ‘Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?’”[16] With this line, “the mystery and magnitude of divine suffering suddenly confronts one afresh.”[17] Instantly the reader is reminded of the time that God did come down from his throne, the time that God was not safe. The reader is reminded of the time that God was broken, not upon a wheel, but upon a cross.
It is important to note that this is not an isolated incident in Chesterton’s works. The “mystery of the Incarnation and the suffering of God”[18] is something Chesterton, “famous for his exploitation of paradox,” kept returning to. He viewed the paradox of “an incarnate God who is born as a helpless infant and dies an ignominious death” to be absolutely central to the Christian faith. [19] Indeed, as The Man who was Thursday demonstrates, it is central not only to the Christian faith, but to the Christian understanding of suffering as well. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton says, “That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already.”[20] Indeed, we have just seen how Chesterton, in The Man who was Thursday, goes to a great deal of trouble to demonstrate just that, that “a good man may have his back to the wall.” However, Chesterton continues with the thing that makes Christianity unique among religions—the belief “that God could have his back to the wall.” Orthodoxy illuminates somewhat the ending of The Man who was Thursday. Chesterton states that “Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point—and does not break.” [21]
Given all of this talk of suffering, it is not surprising that Ian Boyd saw “echoes from the Book of Job” in the novel.[22] Indeed, the novel, especially the ending, has strong similarities to the biblical account of Job, which is described as “an honest discussion of why God allows good people to suffer.”[23] Chesterton, however, takes it even further. In The Man who was Thursday, he attempts to acknowledge Job and place it in a Christian context rather than a Jewish one—that is, in the context of a world into which the all-powerful God “is born as a helpless infant and dies an ignominious death.”[24] This is important, because the Christian world is the one in which God says “I too have suffered.”
Works Cited
Bergonzi, B., Chesterton, Gilbert Keith,,
accessed 17 October 2010.
Boyd, I., The Novels of G. K. Chesterton: A Study in Art and Propaganda. London: Elec Books Limited, 1975.
Chesterton, G. K., “Extract from an article by G. K. Chesterton concerning The Man who
was Thursday published in the Illustrated London News, 13 June 1936 (the day before his death),” as cited in G. K. Chesterton, The Man who was Thursday, London: Penguin Books, 1990.
Chesterton, G. K., Orthodoxy, “The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Electronic Edition.”
Chesterton, G. K., The Man who was Thursday, “The Collected Works of G. K.
Chesterton, Electronic Edition.”
Hein, R., Christian Mythmakers, (Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002)
Lewis, C. S., “The Vision of John Bunyan,” R. Sharrock, ed., Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s
Progress. A Casebook, London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1976 as cited in R. Hein, Christian Mythmakers, Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002.

[1] B. Bergonzi, Chesterton, Gilbert Keith,, accessed 17 October 2010.
[2] I. Boyd., The Novels of G. K. Chesterton: A Study in Art and Propaganda. (London: Elec Books Limited, 1975) 40.
[3] G. K. Chesterton, The Man who was Thursday, “The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Electronic Edition.” 505.
[4] Ibid., 511.
[5] C. S. Lewis, “The Vision of John Bunyan,” R. Sharrock, ed., Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress. A Casebook, (London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1976) 197-8, as cited in R. Hein, Christian Mythmakers, (Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002) 14.
[6] “Extract from an article by G. K. Chesterton concerning The Man who was Thursday published in the Illustrated London News, 13 June 1936 (the day before his death),” as cited in G. K. Chesterton, The Man who was Thursday, (London: Penguin Books, 1990) 185.
[7] Chesterton, Thursday (Electronic), 506.
[8] Ibid., 626-9.
[9] Ibid., 628.
[10] Chesterton, Thursday (Electronic), 631-2.
[11] Ibid., 632.
[12] Chesterton, Thursday (Electronic), 633.
[13]R. Hein, Christian Mythmakers, (Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002)
[14] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, “The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Electronic Edition.” 343.
[15] The reader is reminded that one of the meanings for Satan in Hebrew is “Accuser.”
[16] Chesterton, Thursday (Electronic), 634.
[17] Hein, Mythmakers, 129.
[18] Boyd, Novels, 46.
[19] Bergonzi, Chesterton.
[20] Chesterton, Othodoxy (Electronic), 343.
[21] Ibid., 343.
[22] Boyd, Novels, 46
[23] The Holy Bible, “ESV Classic Reference Edition”, Introduction to the Book of Job. (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001).
[24] Bergonzi, Chesterton.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Trusting in broken instruments

So, here at Oxford I'm taking a course on C.S. Lewis in context. The first part of that context is George MacDonald, who's books so influenced C.S. Lewis that Lewis called him his "Master," despite the fact that he never met him. As part of the course, I read Phantastes and Lilith, his two most popular "faerie tales." They were very enjoyable, Phantastes much more so than Lilith, and I highly recommend the first to anyone who has run short on books while remaining long on spare time. MacDonald uses these two books in large part to act out his theology in faerie land, most of which I found very enjoyable and agreeable. However, towards the end of Lilith I realized that there was one large aspect of his theology with which I did not agree. I actually felt bad for disagreeing, because it was such a nice, pleasurable thought to have--the thought that eventually, everyone, even Satan and his angels, not to mention every last person on earth, will be saved and end up in heaven.

While attempting to explain the problems to Anna and my other friends, I realized that it seemed difficult to do so without sounding like a jerk who doesn't want God to save everyone. I didn't really know what to do about this--I couldn't just accept it and believe it, couldn't even just let it go by unnoticed, but I couldn't really put the reason into words. Luckily, my friend Kyle did it for me--while we were talking about it, he said he knew what I meant but that "we don't really have the freedom to believe what we want, just because it feels good." That's not word for word, but I think it's pretty close (Kyle will correct me if i'm wrong). Now I'm gonna talk about that for a bit.

We can't just believe whatever we want to believe. This might come as a shock in an age where relativism and individuality reign supreme, where truth has become no more than opinion with a different name. If you are a Christian, you cannot believe whatever you want to believe. We do not have that freedom. We have truth--it has been given to us, and being given this great treasure, we cannot throw it away just because it doesn't suit us.

Now, this might sound really harsh, especially when I'm talking about the doctrine of universal salvation. It's a really nice doctrine. It makes me feel good inside. I wish that it were true--I wish everyone would eventually go to heaven. I think most people would like to think that. The reason we don't believe that is that the Bible explicitly says, in several places, that this is not the case. Not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mat. 7:21). The devil and his angels have an eternal fire prepared for them and those who do not follow Christ will join them in everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:41-46). The fires of Hell do not go out (Mark 9:48). I could go on and on.

We do not have the freedom to believe whatever we want. We must hold fast to the truth revealed in the Bible, revealed by God himself. Now, I admit that this is very tough. It can be incredibly hard to hold at once belief that God is good, that God is love, and the belief that people will still go to hell. This is difficult. But it has been revealed that both of these things are true.

I'm going to finish up with a thought I've been carrying around for a while. We are fallen, yes? Our bodies are broken--we age, we hurt, we break down, we die. People are born deaf, blind, mute, or lame. Others (like myself) have impaired vision, some have impaired hearing. All of us have something wrong with us. We acknowledge that. It's a basic fact. Why is it that we forget that when it comes to our mental and spiritual faculties? Why is it that, with the imperfect nature of our bodies being demonstrated on an hourly basis, we retain the strongest confidence in our minds, our reason, our logic? Of course, we're not completely blinded, mentally or spiritually, but you would have to be a crazy person to insist, with all the physical affects the fall has had on even the healthiest person, that our minds are untouched, operating perfectly.

There's no perfect analogy for what I'm trying to say (or if there is, it hasn't occurred to me in the last half-hour). Let's say my vision is really bad (easy to say, because it's actually true). Let's say my contacts are out. I can't see very well at all. Now, let's say I'm looking out on the most majestic, beautiful landscape you can imagine--maybe I'm standing at the edge of Halfdome or something. Now, to me, that beautiful landscape is just a blur of fuzzy colors. It probably won't look very impressive. But there's someone standing beside me with perfect vision, and this person has proved himself to be trustworthy. This person is describing the magnificent view to me. Would it make sense for me to disbelieve him because it contradicts my personal experience? Of course not! My personal experience is flawed! The instruments with which I navigate the world are broken. The same goes for the spiritual world. When the Bible tells us something that we find very difficult to understand, we have to remember that we are spiritually impaired. We don't see the whole picture--in fact, at this point we are fundamentally incapable of seeing the whole picture. So we trust the Word of God, even if we don't understand.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ramblings from Britain (written at 6:22 a.m., having been awake since 2)

So, it's 6:22 in the morning here. I've been awake since 2:00. Don't know why. Watched Final Fantasy: Advent Children for the third time since coming here. It's a good movie. Anyways, here are more tales from Britain, also known as that place that wishes it had won the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

So, first thing any American needs to know about Britain: everything is freaking expensive! It is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Like, a tiny bottle of soda (way smaller than the kind you buy at mini-marts or soda machines in the land of the free and home of the brave) costs 1 pound (pound of what, anyway?) and 50 pence, which is about $2.50 in real money. Second most important thing, and very closely related to the first one: restaurants do NOT offer free refills for soda. So, not only are you paying a ridiculous price for soda. but you don't get a refill afterwards. I have only found one place that offers free refills: it's a Britain-ized Pizza Hut and lets you make your drink refillable for a mere 50 pence extra. So dumb.

Bu moving on: Britain has some really cool stuff about it as well. It's not all severely overpriced everything and inexplicably low supplies of soda. For one thing, there is 100% genuine wide-open British countryside everywhere! Like, I'm constantly surprised by the realization that Oxford is surrounded on all sides by English countryside (you know, on account of being in England). And it's pretty cool.

So, the country of England is criss-crossed (is that how you spell it? It looks weird...) with little footpath, some of them kind of paved and some of them just a really thin patch of dirt through fields. Now, these fields are owned by people. A lot of them are private property. However, there is an actual, legit law that as long as someone, anyone, travels a particular footpath at least once a year, that footpath remains a public right-of-way. So there's these public paths going, in some cases, right through the middle of privately owned fields and stands of trees and across rivers and stuff. Pretty sweet, right? Why doesn't America have cool laws like that?

On a slightly more serious note, walking through the countryside and seeing the super-old buildings standing right next to very new, modern buildings, it's not hard to see why the great fantasy writers are English. England is old, older than America can ever hope to be (however superior America might be in every other respect). Britain (not just England, but Scotland and the rest as well) is a land of legends. King Arthur and Robin Hood and William Wallace--some of these, like Wallace, are real people who have become more than their factual, literal history, while others are based on reality to a much smaller extent, if at all. There's something about being here that seems to blur the line between myth and reality, just as the line between past and present is blurred by the old houses next to the modern office buildings.

It's nice here. I like walking around outside the town more than through its streets. But I don't like being so far away from everyone. Anna can't come soon enough (and you too, Mom). I do not seem to be made for traveling merely for the sake of traveling.

Wow. Got kind of melancholy there. Anyway... England's pretty cool (there are English people everywhere! Like, just walking around!). But America's just better. Cheap soda with free refills. Buffalo chicken snackers. Family. Friends. Anna. I'm done now. I wonder if I'll fall asleep later today?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Was Jesus taking theological steroids?

So, I had a fun little debate/good-natured argument with some of the people here about Jesus. We were talking about Mark 13:32, where Jesus says that "only that Father" knows when He (Christ) is coming back. We were arguing if that excluded Jesus from knowing (like total noobs, we all forgot the fact that it explicitely says "not the angels, nor the Son") and from there, it turned into a general discussion/argument of exactly how Christ operated on earth. So I'm going to lay out here my views on the God-man's human existence on earth.

Before I got to Biola, I just had this sort of assumption that yeah, Jesus was man, but there were times where he cheated and used his "God-powers." So Jesus was fully man, and acted fully man, most of the time, but sometimes he wasn't and didn't. I now believe this to be incorrect (I also know it, when expressed in that manner, to be heresy). The easiest way to sum up my point is this: Jesus didn't cheat. Let me explain.

On earth, Jesus did all of his miracles, and I mean all of them, through the Holy Spirit, exactly the same way the Apostles and later Christians did and still do miracles today. In John 3:34, Jesus says that the Father "gives the Spirit without measure." In the context of the verse, because Jesus has been saying lots of things about himself specifically, Jesus is most likely saying that the Spirit has been given without measure to Him (Christ) specifically. So Jesus is full to brim of the Holy Spirit.

Main verse: Matthew 12:22-32. Jesus casts out a demon and, as always, the Pharisees are there to talk smack. They claim that Jesus is using the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons (either Satan or his "second-in-command") and Jesus knows what they're thinking. So he says, "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." If you've read Matthew, you know one of the main themes of Matthew is that the kingdom of God is upon us. So Jesus is casting out demons specifically by the Spirit of God.

When you add onto that verses like Matthew 4:1, where it is specifically the Spirit that leads Jesus into the Wilderness, or Hebrews 9:14, where Christ offers himself "through the eternal Spirit," the case for a "non-cheating" Jesus grows even stronger. But it doesn't end there. If Jesus was only able to do his miracles because he was God, casting out demons, healing the sick, making the lame walk, walking on water, etc., then it stands to reason that no one else could do any of those things. Let's look at the Bible and see if that's the case.

So, we got casting out demons. Paul does that, in Acts 16:18. It's not even a big deal. The spirit is just annoying him (seriously, that's what it says) so he casts it out. Healing the sick? Peter does that, Acts 9:34. Making the lame walk? Peter and John, Acts 3:7. Walking on water? Come on, we all know this one, Peter, Matthew 14;29. Heck, Paul's sweat rag heals people in Acts 19:12. And to cap it all off, we have the list of Spiritual Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, some of which have been given to all believers. We got speaking wisdom, speaking knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, understanding tongues, distinguishing spirits... all the kinds of stuff that Jesus was doing all the time (except speaking in tongues). And where do all these gifts come from? How do we receive and use these gifts? "All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills."

So. Jesus didn't cheat--he worked miracles and healed people by the same Spirit that the apostles did, the same Spirit that empowers believers today. Now we get to the "this is important because..." section.

This is important (1) because we are supposed to follow the example of Christ. We are supposed to do as he did in all things. Sure, we don't usually do that anyway, because we let the flesh overcome us, but it would be flat-out impossible if Jesus had been cheating the whole time! If Jesus was doing all that stuff just because he was God, we wouldn't have a chance at following his example, because we are not God. If, however, he did all that through the Spirit, then we have a shot. Because we, too, have the Spirit.

This is important (2) because the Bible says that Christ was made like us "in every respect." (Hebrews 2:17). He was made like us. He chose to be like us, to make himself nothing, to take the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). Now, to make sure you guys don't get the wrong idea, I have to say one more thing. All of what I've just said does not mean that Jesus was only man. He was still fully God when he was fully man. As God, he chose to be God in our world, as man. In his omnipotence, he chose to be weak. But he remained at all times fully God. But he didn't cheat.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Lamb who was slain

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the God-man is amazing in more ways than our minds can comprehend. So I'm just going to focus on one thing--in the Incarnation, events happened in our time and space, through physical matter, flesh and blood, that fundamentally changed the universe forever. We're just going to focus on one sub-aspect of that here.

When Jesus was crucified, he was pierced through his hands, feet, and side. When he was resurrected, he retained those wounds, as we see in Luke 24:38 and others. This is incredible in and of itself, but it goes further. Much further. We go ahead to Revelation, and we see one of my favorite passages in the Bible: "And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain... And [the elders] sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God.'" (Rev. 5:6-9). The Lamb here is symbolic of Jesus, and the part I want to draw your attention to is "as though it had been slain." Now, Revelation is a very visual book, meaning that John saw most of these things and then wrote them down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are reading the verbal account of a visual experience, which means that a lot of the "word pictures," as it seems best to describe them, are very difficult to visualize. This one, however, suggests to me that the Lamb, standing as though it had been slain, still bears the mark of its slaying. Now, I don't know what that looks like for a lamb, but I do know what it looks like for Jesus. And I know what it means for Jesus to still bear the marks of his slaying.

And this is not just an interesting thought-project, a lofty theological discussion that has no bearing on real life. For why did Christ go to the Cross? Because the Father willed it, and because Christ willingly obeyed. And why did the Father will it? Because it was the only way to save us. And why? Because we had sinned and thrown away all that God had given us. This is at once a corporate and individual we, both humanity as a whole and you and me, in particular. And we were the ones Christ died for. And we were the ones who drove the nails in. We bit the hand that fed us and left an eternal mark on One whose feet we were unworthy to kiss. This is a sobering thought, and one which is valuable to keep in mind as we wander this fallen world.

But of course this isn't the end of my note. I believe that Jesus chose to keep the scars as a symbol. First, it is a symbol of the eternal consequences of that day on that hill. Second, it is a symbol of the equally eternal cost of sin. And thirdly, it is a symbol of the eternal divine love Christ bears for us. It is a reminder that Christ laid down his life for us, and a reminder that he wasn't obligated to do it.

To conclude, I firmly believe that the gloriously holy, brightly burning "one like a son of man", with eyes like a flame of fire and a voice like the roar of many water (Rev. 1:13-15), had and still has holes in his hands, feet, and side. He did not rid himself of them but wears them still as both a symbol of the utmost humility (Philipians 2:6-8) and a badge of the highest honor (Philippians 2:9-11, Rev. 5:6-9). The Living One, who is both God and Son of God, has scars on his oh-so-human hands, and we cannot afford to forget this.