Thursday, September 22, 2011

What began as a thought at one in the morning...

            When C.S. Lewis wrote Narnia, he was operating from a simple question: what might a world be like if Christ, having taken the form of a man here, took the form of a lion there? With that in mind, at one in the morning I asked a different question: what does the person of Jesus Christ do to our perception of God? (Note: this no longer has anything to do with C. S. Lewis)
Karl Barth, because he’s awesome, and most of the things he says are awesome, finds a special significance in the name “Emmanuel,” or “God with us.” He sees it as primarily a statement about God: “that it is He who is with them as God.” But it is also a statement about us: “It tells us that we ourselves are in the sphere of God. It applies to us by telling us of a history which God wills to share with us and therefore [it tells us] of an invasion of our history—indeed, of the real truth about our history as a history which is by Him, and from Him and to Him.” He goes on to say that ultimately, “God with us,” the primary act and being of God as He relates to us, finds its fulfillment and completion in  Jesus Christ.
Pat of what I think he’s saying is this: Jesus Christ changes everything about our conception of God. He has to change everything.  He changes how we think about God in Himself, and he changes how we think about God in relation to us. Any way of thinking about God that attempts to exclude Christ from the picture will be horribly incomplete.  The God we worship must be the God who came down to us not only as God, but as man. The God we serve must be the God who served us. The God we fight for must be the God who fought for us, and the God we die for must be the God who died for us.
Any God which does not share this sense of patience, of suffering, of condescension, of ultimate faithfulness in the face of ultimate faithlessness, is not our God. Any God who is high without once having chosen to be low is not our God, any God who is strong without once choosing to be weak is not our God.  Any God who is too proud to stoop down to his people is not our God.
This all came up as I was thinking about what to write. As to how this relates… if Jesus Christ is the defining thing in our knowledge of God, that means he is the defining thing in our knowledge of the everything. How, then, am I to write a complete story yet leave him out? That would require a world in which very nearly everything is fundamentally different: and inevitably for the worse. Thoughts?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Doctor vs. The Great Physician

Relatively recently, Anna became hooked on an extremely long-running British (but surprisingly good) tv show called Dr. Who. It follows an immortal alien who calls himself The Doctor, and he is the last surviving Time Lord. As a Time Lord, he possesses a unique power over a particular aspect of reality: I'll let you guess which one. Anyway, the show follows him as, again and again, he saves the universe, the world, or even just one or two people. There's even a band devoted to the show called Chameleon Circuit, and all of their songs are about the show--this is where it gets interesting, because a lot of the songs written about the Doctor could easily be about Christ (like Traveling Man or Regenerate Me).

This is really cool in a lot of ways. In one episode of the show, a woman, standing next to her husband-to-be, tells the Doctor, "I know we're not important..." The Doctor cuts her off, saying, "Now who says you're not important? I've traveled to all sorts of places, done things you couldn't even imagine, but... you two... I've never heard of a life like that. Yes. I'll try and save you." In another episode, the Doctor says he's been alive "900 years of time and space, and I've never met anyone who wasn't important before." This mirror's Christ's attitude towards us in many ways, and it's really cool to see.

Bear with me for just one more moment. The point is coming. In one episode, the Doctor addresses a group of aliens come to watch the earth's final moments, saying, "If you're waiting for a higher authority, there isn't one." The Doctor is known to some as "the traveling god." He is the highest authority, the last resort to any and all who cry for help. And yet... he loses, sometimes. The latest season has Anna extremely unsure because it begins with the future death of the Doctor, which will presumably be fulfilled at some point (probably the end) of the current season.

Remember the band I told you about? Chameleon Circuit wrote a song about the Doctor losing. You can listen to it here, and I strongly suggest you do: it's a very good song. It's called Nightmares, and it's about the Doctor wondering when, after doing everything that he has done to save the people he cares about (everybody), he will fall. He knows that "Somewhere all my darkest fears are gathering, It's not enough to save the day, I can't escape my nightmares." The first words to catch my attention were the prominent "save the day" in the chorus: it wasn't until the 2nd or third time listening to it that I realized that the point of the song was that it wasn't going to happen. Eventually, the Doctor will fall and the day will not be saved.

This is where things get really cool again. The Doctor is awesome. He may be the awesomest fictional character I have ever heard of. But, for all his parallels to Christ, he doesn't hold a candle to him. How sad it is for the Doctor when he realizes that he is the highest authority in the universe? He, immortal though he is, is not invincible, and he knows that someday he will fall and evil will win. How fortunate for us that there is a higher authority! How incredible for us that we know that Christ, though he died once, is alive forevermore! We are not the highest authority, and we can rest easy knowing that Christ is, and that he will never fall.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bloody Narcissism

Edit from 2014: This post certainly still accurately describes my feelings towards many who support abortion. HOWEVER, I know that to many women who actually go through with it, it is a difficult choice that often seems like the only viable option. If that is you, or someone you know, I'm sorry: This post was written by a college student who hadn't yet learned that "simple" things are rarely so simple, and that to the desperate and hurting, sometimes a terrible choice can seem like the only option, without ceasing to be terrible. END edit.

A while ago, it seemed as though every time I would drive to Fresno I would see this sign off the side of the freeway. It had a picture of baby in the womb, with the words, "I would have found the cure for cancer" next to it. It was a pro-life sign, implying that abortion has the potential to deprive the world of incredible things that the aborted people would have been able to offer it. As I drove, I thought about how  an abortion advocate would scoff at the sign, saying that an aborted child could just as easily grow up to be a serial killer. They could point out that it is by no means certain that an aborted person would grow up to be a positive influence on society. Then I realized the fundamental problem with using the term "pro-choice" to describe someone in favor of abortion: it is the furthest possible from the truth.

As the sign implied, an aborted child could grow up to discover the cure for cancer. He also might grow up to be a serial killer. The really interesting thing, however, is that this would involve a choice. A choice that child no longer gets to make. In fact, that child no longer gets to make any choices. The act of abortion wipes an entire lifetime of choices from existence. Justify it how you will, if you choose to use the rhetoric of choice to defend abortion, you will lose. You will drown in the sea of choices that will never be made, that can never be made, that should have been and were not. From the view of the child, abortion makes all choices impossible.

What, then, shall we call those who support abortion? In this age of catchy slogans and soundbites, it's important to have a name. Pro-death has been advanced by some--this has the unfortunate disadvantage of being too simplistic: it describes the effect of abortion, but not the cause.  I considered pro-self--and this, while strictly accurate, doesn't carry the full weight of the idea. After a few minutes, I tried ditching the "pro," and as soon as I did so, I realized I had the perfect name: Narcissist.Or if you want a two-part label: Bloody Narcissist.

Wikipedia, the ultimate compendium of all knowledge (mostly) says, "In everyday speech, 'narcissism' often means inflated self-importance, egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness." This applies perfectly to what we're talking about here. Inflated self-importance. Vanity. Conceit. Ultimately, it comes down to "simple selfishness." By stripping abortion supporters of their falsely worn "pro-choice" and labeling them as Narcissists, we strip abortion down to its most basic premise: my convenience is more important than another person's life. Is this not Narcissism in its most horrible form? Ending a life--killing--for the sake of convenience?

Branching out a little bit...  this just boggles my mind. Think about where we are today. As a society, we have come to a point where killing your own child is not only permitted, but hailed as a glorious exercise of choice. In our self-centered society, Freedom itself has become a god, a crimson idol, soaked daily in the blood of unborn children.

I've been sitting here for over 20 minutes--30, now--trying to figure out how to end this. Nothing. Except--God save us.

ADDENDUM: I do have to address a few points. Let's say a teenage girl is raped and becomes pregnant. That is the go-to scenario for abortion activists. I say: it does not matter. It's horrible, yeah. It may derail your life for 9 months. But it won't derail your entire life. That's what adoption is for. The 9 months that it would inconvenience you is not enough to warrant killing another human being. The only time where I would say it does not come down to a type of narcissism is when the mother's life is endangered. Then it's life for life: and that's a choice I pray that I never have to make.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"If you will, you can make me clean."

I've been thinking a lot about predestination vs. free will lately. What it comes down to, in my mind, is that going completely predestination, with no sense of real free will, means that Jesus does not want most people to get better.

Think about that.

It means that when Jesus tells all who are burdened and heavy-laden to come to him, it is inevitable to some (those he has already irresistibly called), and a taunt to everyone else, all the poor saps who will never receive rest because Jesus doesn't love them enough. Whatever terms you use, whether you separate divine desire from divine providence or insist on some sort of "totally depraved" free will that is no free will at all, that is ultimately what it comes down to. And that is not the Jesus I see in the Gospels.

Check out Mark 1:40. Jesus is just walking along, going from town to town in Galilee, preaching, and a leper comes to him and says, "If you will, you can make me clean." Most other translations say, "If you want to," or "If you wish." That is what he is saying. The leper says, "I know that you are capable of making me clean. I want you to make me clean. Do you want to make me clean?" Immediately, Jesus is "moved with pity" and says, "I will; be clean." Jesus wants to make him clean. He desires it. He doesn't hesitate. He doesn't test him further. This verse demonstrates Jesus' fundamental attitude towards humanity: "I want to make you clean. Be clean." This is Jesus' attitude towards literally everyone who comes to him or asks him for help. Now let's check out another instance, this time of a person rejecting Jesus' offer of help.

Flip forward to Mark 10:17-22. A young man comes up to Jesus and asks him how to inherit eternal life, saying that he has kept all the commandments since he was a child. And the text says that Jesus, "looking at [the man], loved him," and Jesus tells him that he still lacks one thing: he needs to sell everything he has and give it to the poor, so that he may follow Jesus and receive treasure in heaven. The young man, however, is unable to do this, so he goes away sad. This man comes to Jesus for help. Jesus loves him and tells him what he needs to do, actively calling him to follow. But the man is unwilling to do so and walks away.

Is Jesus just messing with the guy? Did he know that the young man would be unable to follow his teaching? Did he "call" him, but not really call him? It doesn't appear so. It appears as though Jesus loved him sincerely, called him earnestly, told him how to respond to that call... and yet the man walks away anyway. That's what appears to happen.

Reading the Gospels without an underlying assumption of free will makes for a very strange Jesus. Every time Jesus tells the people to come to him, it is either pointless (it would have happened anyway) or a taunt (they are literally incapable of following him). Pure predestination amounts to Jesus telling the lame man to pick up his mat and walk without healing the man’s lameness. Put that into spiritual terms and you have what the Calvinist Jesus does to all the non-elect. It is Jesus telling the Centurion that his son has been healed when in fact he has not, Jesus smearing mud on the blind man’s face not to restore his sight but merely to remind the man that he is blind and will never see.  It is mere mockery—mockery of the hapless damned, offering them glimpses of something that Christ has no intention of giving them.

To all Calvinist brothers and sisters in Christ: I think you're wrong, but I love you. I pray that all of us continually strive for and, in fact, achieve greater maturity in the faith, as Hebrews 5:11-6:3 teaches.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Blessed be the Name of the Lord

A good friend of mine recently told me that sometimes they feel guilty when worshiping. They get excited, singing praises to God, and then feel guilty when they get to a song that they aren't really "feeling." The song is not true to their immediate experience with God, and so they wonder if they should even sing it at all. I myself have felt this at times--I suspect that most Christians have, at some point in their lives. We don't always feel like worshiping God. How fortunate for all of us, then, that possibly the most epic book of the Old Testament relates the story of another man's struggle with this feeling--not only his struggle, but his epic, vindicating victory over it.

I told this friend of mind to read Job. It's usually a good piece of advice. Job is a pretty good book--in fact, Job is a pretty cool guy. He vindicated God's trust in him and doesn't afraid of anything (internet meme, don't worry about it). Job loses almost everything in the space of about 2 minutes: all of his cattle, the entirety of his wealth, are either taken by enemies or burned by the fires of heaven. His children are all killed in an instant. All he has left are his house (tent, maybe?), wife, and the four servants who were the ones to tell him of all the disasters that just happened to him. His response to losing almost everything he had? He tore his robe--a sign of mourning. He shaved his head--also a sign of mourning. And he fell on the ground and worshiped--also a sign of--no, wait, never mind.

In the midst of this great mourning--mourning for his 7 sons, 3 daughters, very many servants, and literally thousands of cattle--he worships. He says, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." The first part of this will never be made into a worship song, and even the song "Blessed be the name of the Lord" shoehorns the giving and taking away into the bridge, not even part of the chorus. It is not a cheerful statement.  But it is worship nonetheless. "Blessed be the name of the Lord." We need to recognize that Job does not see the disasters as merely some chance occurrence. This is not bad luck. Job recognizes that this is something direct from God himself. And immediately after he voices this recognition, he praises God. "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Job is not happy when he says this. He is not some kind of robot who doesn't care that all of earthly possessions besides his wife (who doesn't seem to have been entirely helpful throughout the ordeal) have been taken from him in an instant. He mourns the loss of his children deeply. He probably didn't really feel like praising God. But he did it anyway.

Worship can be about expressing the feeling that you already have towards God. And when it is that, it is a wonderful, joyous occasion, and you can sing and clap spontaneously, practically dancing in the aisles (unless you're Mennonite) . But it can also be about recognizing the objective fact that God is worthy of praise--not just abstractly worthy of praise, but worthy of your praise in particular. It can be about recognizing that God is worthy of praise even when he does not seem present to you, or when his gifts seem to turn to curses. In that case, worship is the conscious decision to offer him the praise he deserves, without regard for your own personal circumstances. And that kind of worship, while not so easy, nor so pleasurable, as the first kind, is a victory worthy of Job.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The God of Peace

Anna has recently learned that I have this bad habit when I'm in a church service or Bible study. The pastor or study leader will have us turn to a particular passage, and after I read it, I sometimes keep going. I can get so into what I'm reading that before I know it, I'm on the next page and not really paying attention to what is being said. This seems like a good trait for personal study: not so great when you're supposed to be learning from someone else. Anyway, this is only to explain to you how I came to notice the particular passage this note is focusing on. I was in church, and Pastor Pat was reading from Romans: I can't even remember where, exactly. I got caught up, and soon I was at the very end, reading Romans 16:20: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet." This verse, with it's sense of an inherently peaceful crushing of Satan, got me so excited that I had to grab a pencil and jot a couple things down. Here they are, expanded.

"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet." "The God of Peace" isn't a terribly well-known title for God, but most people, when thinking about God, do have this sort of assumption of peacefulness. When we think about peace, we think of... I don't know, clouds drifting slowly across the sky. Green meadows. Bunnies. That kind of thing. "Crushing" does not usually come into it. "Crushing" anything, whether it's Satan or only a soda can, seems like an inherently violent act, jarring us out of our daydream of bunnies frolicking in green meadows while clouds drift lazily by over-head. And indeed crushing is an inherently violent act. It is a forceful suppression and breaking-down of something. And yet it is apparently not opposed to peacefulness.

Paul deliberately uses this title. He does not say "The God of righteousness," or "the God of wrath." He purposely says "the God of peace," and that means that he sees the crushing of Satan as an inherently peaceful thing. It is not enough to look at this and grudgingly admit that crushing may not be contradictory to the peace of God. We must look at this and see that the crushing of evil is a necessary, integral part of God's peace. God would not be "the God of peace" if he did not crush Satan under the feet of his saints. At some point in the history of our world, God will crush Satan, and his peace will be fulfilled.

Nor is this some purely abstract theological truth with no bearing on ourselves. This is a fundamental truth of how the world works. There are people, even Christians (in some cases, especially Christians) who advocate "peace at any cost"--they will make any sacrifice or any compromise in order to "keep the peace" with evil. This passage shows that true peace cannot exist in the presence of evil. A peace that is achieved by allowing evil to remain is no peace at all--ultimately, then, "peace at any cost" results, at best, in the absence of peace. At worst, it results in the victory of evil. This applies to the church, both individual churches and the visible church as a whole. This applies to nations. This applies to our physical world. And ultimately this applies to everything, visible and invisible. Peace will not be achieved while evil remains at large.