Monday, August 30, 2010

My heart leaps out of its place

So, I was reading Job the other day. Job is a great book, and... I'm going to write about it. Here we go.

So, basic plot of Job. Job is awesome, God brags about him, Satan gets permission to mess with him, etc. The vast majority of the book is a sort of back-and-forth between Job and three of his friends. He says, "This sucks." They say, "Yeah." He asks, "Why is this happening to me?" They say, "Oh, come on, Job, we all know there has to be some sin in your life. Come on, 'fess up, what is it?" He says, "Nothing. I do not deserve this. I have done nothing wrong." This continues until chapter 32, when the three older friends give up. They cannot refute Job, and (since they know Job) probably kind of agree with him. He hasn't done anything to deserve this. However, this isn't the end of the book. As a matter of fact, it's where things get really interesting.

Elihu, the youngest who's come to visit Job, has remained silent this whole time. He's been respectful in letting the older three go first. But now he's mad. They've given up, giving Job the victory, implicitness if not explicitly. I imagine him squirming in his seat as the older three, in his view, beat around the bush, not getting to the real issue at hand. When he realizes that they're never going to get there, he bursts out in indignation both at Job and the three friends. He doesn't even bother with Job's sin (or lack of it), the justification for what God has allowed to happen to Job (if it can be justified). He doesn't care about these things. The main thing, indeed the only thing that's important to him is that Job is a man, and that God is God. He says to Job in 35:2, "Do you think this to be just? Do you say, "it is my right before God,' that you ask, 'What advantage have I? How am I better off than if I had sinned?" That, Elihu says, is the core of Job's complaint. What good has my righteousness done for me? Me and God had a deal, and he hasn't held up his end of the bargain.

Elihu continues, "Look at the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds, which are higher than you. If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand?" In other words, he says, "Look around you! Do you realize how utterly small you are? Do your sins hurt God? And does your righteousness give him anything he does not already have?" He goes on to say, "Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself, and your righteousness a son of man." This is why he was so frustrated with his elders and Job. All the time that they've been debating whether Job has been wicked or righteous, he's been wanting to jump up and shout, "It doesn't matter!" Because it really doesn't. Righteousness, among us fallen images of God, can only ever be a relative term.

He goes on, extolling the greatness and majesty of God, and something really cool is going on. He talks about how God created the world, how he governs the nations, etc. But then there is a shift in tone, a sense of immediacy, which makes me think that he is now talking about things that are happening right that moment. "Behold, he scatters his lightning about him and covers the roots of the sea... He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark. It's crashing declares his presence; the cattle also declare that he rises. At this also my heart trembles and leaps out of its place." I really think that, throughout the entire conversation, a crazy storm has been gathering, and now it's raining and thundering and Elihu says, "Look! Look at what God can do! Isn't it awesome?" He says, "God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend...The Almighty--we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate." Elihu has found that awe and sense of marvelous wonder that Job (and most of us, at times) seems to have lost. The knowledge that, in light of the visible greatness of God and his power, he is in the right. Always.

I think I'm losing control of this post. I don't really have a clear vision of what more I want to say, and I don't think what I've said already is very clear. I think it's because there's just so much cool stuff that I want to talk about, and I didn't think about it sufficiently before actually starting to write it. Anyways, here's my point (or one of them). Our righteousness, in and of ourselves, is of absolutely no importance when determining what we deserve from God. Compared to God, we are all (but for Christ) irrevocably damned to Hell. In addition to this, and keeping this in mind, we must remember to keep things in the proper perspective--do we, fallen, rebellious people that we are, really want to question God's judgment concerning us? Let us remember that God is great, and let our hearts tremble when we consider his power and majesty.

In other news, I'm going to England to study at Oxford in a couple days. So, in addition to my theology stuff, I may be writing on my experiences in British Land.

Monday, August 23, 2010


"‘It is not from the making a story that I shrink back, O Stranger,’ she answered, ‘but from this one story that you have put into my head. I can make myself stories about my children or the King. I can make it that the fish fly and the land beasts swim. But if I try to make the story about living on Fixed Land. I do not know how to make it about Maleldil. For if I make it that He has changed His command, that will not go. And if I make it that we are living there against His command, that is like making the sky all black and the water so that we cannot drink it and the air so that we cannot breathe it. But also, I do not see what is the pleasure of trying to make these things.’" C.S. Lewis, Perelandra

I'm an English Writing major. The writing professor at Biola also teaches a writing class at a secular college nearby. He's told us that the stories from his Biola students contain far more cursing, violence, and (non-graphic) sexual situations than the stories from the secular college. At first I didn't understand it. I don't write stories like that. I don't like to. But now it think I know why. As Christians, we believe in the Living God who died to save his dying people. We believe, ultimately, in a world where good will win in the end. We believe in the ultimate "happily ever after." But the world doesn't. And some Christians are so afraid of being dismissed for their foolish optimism, their hope in things unseen, their belief in hidden happy endings, that they have become cynical. Almost in self-defense, they have decided to tell it like it is. To keep it real. To let no hold be barred in the portrayal of the gritty, hardcore, dog-eat-dog world known as "real life."

And in my writing classes, I've been told I'm too optimistic. I like happy endings. They may not be perfect endings, and there will be struggle and hardship and all the things that make a good story, but I want my happy ending. I want my stories to be reflections of the ultimate story, which I believe is this: good will win in the end.

I know that, quite frequently, bad things happen to (admittedly only relatively) good people in this fallen world. I know that the good guys often lose. But I also know, as all Christians do, that there is hope. There is light, not just at the end of the tunnel but here and now. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and "in him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." Life has come to the dying, and the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, which stands as a brilliant bulwark against the dark. Is this not an amazing story? Is it not a story worth telling and retelling, in different ways and different forms?

I mentioned the ultimate story a couple paragraphs ago. I've thought about it a lot. The Story. Capital letters. The Story of which all other good stories are mere parts and reflections. And that story is a story of redemption. None of the Gospels end with the crucifixion. The Bible itself does not end with Acts, or even with the letters that Paul wrote from prison, awaiting execution. No, the Bible ends with Revelations, with a vision of the triumphant coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords, a vision of "happily ever after."But I'm not supposed to tell stories like that. They aren't "real life." But I say differently. What do you mean by "real?" For that matter, what do you mean by "life?" I don't know the answer either. but I want to convey more than the apparent reality of this fallen world in my stories. I want to convey Truth, not just "things that happen." And I still don't know how to do that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Always Grace

"It was always grace for sinners‐grace shown to His enemies‐grace in the light of which man can only stand and acknowledge himself a transgressor, and therefore unworthy of it. The Son of Man from heaven had to be the friend of publicans and sinners, and die between two thieves. He had to, because God was already the God who loved His enemies, who “endured such contradiction of sinners against himself” ( Heb. 12:3)"
-Karl Barth

So, I was just rereading the relatively short portion of Karl Barth's works that I have on hand (I'm thinking about buying the full 800+ page portion that my small piece is taken from) when I stumbled upon this quote. I've read it before, and I have no doubt that I'll read it again, because I just love it. It points out some things that we, living after Christ has come, tend to forget. We know that we live in an age of Grace. We know (hopefully) that, when Christ came, certain fundamental aspects of Creation were changed. Paul himself talks about this change, demonstrating the difference between Grace and Law. We know all of this.

However, in comparing our current age of Grace to the previous age of Law, I think we sometimes go too far. We forget something that Karl Barth here points out. We forget that the fundamental, unchanging policy of God, even during the age of Law, beginning with the very first sin of Adam and Eve and continuing now and forever, is this--Grace towards sinners. We get so excited about the Grace that we now live under that, when we look at the Old Testament, we see only the Law and not the Grace that is the very foundation of everything God has done for us. We see only the Law of the 10 commandments, and we forget the grace with which God heard his children crying out and rescued them. Yet even as I think about that example, I think that even that obviously gracious action is a secondary effect of Grace. Grace is indeed the foundation and bedrock from which everything, even the Law, comes from. Barth points out that "The God of the Old Testament rules amongst his enemies... it is an unfaithful people to whom he gives and maintains his faithfulness." Yes, God does give harsh penalties for breaking the Laws he has given. But we forget that, in giving Laws which he knows will be broken, and giving penalties which he knows will be enacted, he is demonstrating his undying Grace and faithfulness to an ungrateful and unfaithful people. With each Law, each penalty, each period of punishment, God reminds the Children of Israel that he hasn't given up on them yet. And that... that is more Grace than the most righteous person on earth can hope for.

In short, what I am trying to say is that Grace is nothing new. The coming of the Word in the flesh does not demonstrate some sort of "policy change" God has implemented concerning us sinners. It is a continuation and, in a way, amplification of what has always been true: Grace for sinners. Yes, we operate under different rules than the Old Testament Jews. But there was Grace before and under even the harshest Law.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Undignified or just plain nonsensical?

So, haven't written anything in a while. Since I'm pretty certain my awesome girlfriend Anna is the only one who reads this regularly, I don't think anyone else will mind. So, got back from camp about a week ago, this time from counseling high schoolers. The band there was really great, and in addition to being really musically talented, they had a gift for directing attention away from themselves and towards God as they led our worship.

I had an issue with one of the songs they played, however. You have, perhaps, heard of, probably even sung, the song "Undignified." You know, "I'll become even more undignified than this, though some may say it's foolishness..." That song. A couple years ago, I read an article condemning that song, as well as a few other more modern worship songs, for being very shallow, mostly meaningless, and taking what was nominally its inspiration (2 Samuel 6) wildly out of context. I hadn't considered it that way before, but when I read the article and thought about the song, their critique seemed dead on. Fast forward a couple years to camp last week, and when that song comes on, immediately all the thoughts from the article come into my head. I immediately recognized that the song was meaningless, a stupid attempt to engage young people in worship, at the expense of everything worship should be. Well, I certainly wasn't going to fall for it. I wasn't going to humiliate myself by jumping up and down and waving my arms. I certainly wasn't going to "be mad for my King." Wait. That didn't come out right. What I meant was... that... um...

I realized something about that song, as my campers physically grabbed me and forced me to jump up and down. The words don't contain any important doctrine or theological idea. It certainly isn't a hymn or anything like it. And that's all-right, because that's not the point o fthe song. It's a very simple song, incorporating very simple actions, based on one very, very simple premise: the premise that worshiping God is worth more than our so-called dignity. As we get older, we tend more and more towards thinking that preserving our dignity is more important. We don't like to jump around because we think--correctly, in most cases-- that it makes us look ridiculous. However, for me at least, that was the whole point of the song. Whenever they played the opening notes of that song, and they played it multiple times throughout the week, I was forced to decide what was more important: praising God at the cost of appearing absolutely ridiculous, or preserving my dignity while all the other kids praised their heavenly Father and King. It took me a little while to decide correctly.

So, short post, just something I thought of at camp and wanted to share with anybody reading this. Hopefully in the next couple of days I'll get another one out, get back into the groove.