December 30, 2010

Christ At Center-Christ The Abundance of Life

I have not spoke to or about Colossians for a long time. So I will do so now. This portion of Colossians is considered to be an early Christian hymn. I will not be doing a complete exegete of the passage but rather pulling thoughts out of it within their context.

Supremacy of the Son of God

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Colossians 1:15-20
As if there is any question of Jesus Christ's headship/authority or position  in the Church or in Creation, it is squelched here. First place or the head belongs to Jesus. He is Primary, He is Primacy, He is Perfect. Our lives should center on Him. History centers on Him. The Bible centers on Him. Time centers on Him. He is and without Him, everything is not.

Nowhere should this Christ-centeredness be more evident than in The Church where His people openly submit to Him as Lord. He is the only proper and legitimate head of the Church. That means all leaders of the Church are to submit and serve Him, thereby they become servants of the Servant King or Suffering Servant. If He served how much more should we? Denial of this fact is nothing more than apostasy. To make one's self the center of attention in the Church is to displace Jesus at the center and putting one's self in His place. This idea is abhorrent. Grandstanding and self-aggrandizing leaders and pastors take note.

When it speaks of Him being firstborn. This does not mean Christ is created. It is a phrase that expresses Christ's sovereignty over all creation. This phrase proclaims Christ’s preeminence. It does not make Him part of the Creation it makes Him Ruler and sovereign over it.

He will reconcile people with their God (Himself). He will also reconcile non-human things also as evident from the "all things" statement. The aim and end result of this reconciliation is holiness...that is the whole point. To bring man and creation back into the proper relationship with God. For humans this reconciliation will require a obligation. An obligation to stay obedient and faithful to the statutes and requirements of God.

On Christ's Behavior and Fruits of His Ministry

Jesus' kindness toward spent, burned-out sinners regardless of social standing, wealth or race was unending. Jesus did not however extent the same compassion and patience to hypocrites, liars and false teachers. When faced with false teaching and religious error Jesus was quick to correct. Sinners are sinners by their very nature and are incapable without the work of God to correct their ways. Many of their sins are often unintentional. Hypocrites, liars and false teachers commit their sins on purpose to achieve and illicit ill-gained end. When Jesus addressed the liars and hypocrites he was eloquent but never arrogant. He was forceful but never unloving. He was firm and uncompromising but always gracious. Christ's ministry laid out perfect template of how we are to deal with and confront sin, false teaching and engage the culture. Behavior that reflects the reality contained within...and an abundance of Life.


Do we give Christ the center in our decision-making process when we deal with the modern culture or do we attempt to shuffle Him aside thinking our methods for engagement are more proper for today's culture? Are we allowing Christ to do the work are are we trying to do it? The Gospel message is preeminent. Is it coming out through our actions and words or words only? I do not want to hear you tell me you are a Christian, I want to see that you are. If we have Christ at the center it will reflect in all aspects of our life and it will bear evidence of our salvation. We will walk in Christ as He will be in us and like a seed He will grow in us and push out of us what does not belong.

"No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." 1 John 3:9

Seed above is "σπέρμα/sperma" something sown (including the male "sperm") by implication, offspring; specially,or ironically something that will create something new that, as it grows, pushes outward from the center and replaces the old object that once occupied the space (sin) with something more/better (holiness). New growth, fruit, etc. Interestingly, we see that the Holy Spirit does this too. At our justification when we convert to Christ a down payment is deposited in us in the form of the Spirit that works out our sanctification. It works from within us outward. In manifests in the form of fruits (of the Spirit). Fruit being an abundance of life previously mentioned. Like most all fruits the vehicle to create progeny or pass on this life is within its own abundance of life in the form of a seed that grows if we cultivate it. Otherwise it dies or stays dormant if we do not cultivate. Life that sustains. Life that gives life.

I am in no way saying that Jesus had an inception anymore than I am saying He is literally a seed that you plant in the ground. What I am saying is that the work He does in us will, like a seed once planted and cultivated properly,bring forth abundant life and fruit which carry within it the ability to regenerate itself into more abundant life (seed/sperma). It is no accident that the Parable of the Sower and Faith of a Mustard seed and Fruits of the Spirit are used when referring to beleivers faith, whether it is effective and manifests itself in a beleivers life. These agricultural metaphor are closer to the reality of the spiritual life in Christ than most realize. The continuity is nearly if it was planned that way. ;)

December 29, 2010

Evil & Suffering XIV: John & Jacobus - The Same Chief End

I am still in the process of studying and there are authoritative certainties that I have not quite attained. Every pastor, teacher or expounder of the Scriptures according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones needs to approach the pulpit or their audience with authority and certainty...or they loose them. This is one of those areas where I still remain perched on the fence. I have not fallen fully to Calvinism but I have not abandoned Arminianism either. Perhaps it is the last vestige of sinful humanity within me unwilling to relinquish the ability to control? Regardless of my position I needed to go where the course of thought led me for this thesis and this is one of the avenues I needed to pursue to be intellectually honest in the end. This is one of those areas were the two overlap on common ground and get along like good neighbors.

What I am certain of about this post is this: It will polarize people that come in with a presupposition that refuses to be questioned. I believe that intellectually honest people have dissected their faith and know that it will hold up through a holocaust...because it may be a holocaust that you will need to go through to defend it. I pray that whoever reads this reads it with the understanding that I needed to honestly examine both sides of this and draw conclusions that lead me to me synopsis/summation. Some of these conclusions even surprised me. I am open to discussion on all of them. I am not foolish enough to believe I have figured it all out. Only God is Omniscient.

Perhaps I am over simplifying the debate between Calvinists and Arminians but when it comes to theodicy, the end result seems nearly the same. Evil exists, and we suffer and endure pain as humans for the same reasons according to both sides: To glorify God.

Calvin's theodicy appears to be a theodicy of predestinarian determinism. Calvin preached on Job for nearly 2 years. Calvin’s sermons on the sufferings and loss of Job were and attempt by Calvin’s to answer the problem of human suffering. Through these attempts to find a suitable answer to the problem Calvin ended up resorting to a concept of double justice-That there was a distinction between the revealed and hidden justice of God. According to this idea, this distinction allowed Calvin to give an interim answer to all those that challenged Divine justice. Calvin’s major contribution to theodicy though is when he subsequently goes on to defend the concept of God’s justice and the definitive justice that takes place only on the last day. This is also one of the sticking points between Calvin and Arminius. In the situation of justice, Arminius found Calvin’s predestination to be repugnant because it assured God has absolutely willed to save certain men without regards to righteousness and obedience To me this is cloaked half-truth since God would foreknow whether or not a human would be saved AND also righteous and obedient (de Petris, Abstract)

Along these lines Jacobus Arminius argued that Calvin's predestination is "repugnant" to the justice of God because it affirms that God has absolutely willed to save certain men without having the least regard to righteousness and obedience. As such it has been "pre-determined" that the greater part of mankind shall fall into everlasting condemnation. What I believe we see in this statement is an inability to allow for concurrence or two actions from two different beings to occur simulataneous or overlap in time. To me the simple cut-n-dry “this” or “that” frame of mind of Arminianism does not cater well to the idea of concurrence or overlap of wills from the Divine and mankind (Olsen 51). Although I have my own personal opinions on Calvinism and Arminianism I chose not to air those issues within these posts unless they directly attribute to the outcome of my thesis. Since I lean towards Calvinism and TULIP it will suffice to say for now that I believe man can have free will AND God can still predestine and elect in a manner of concurrence or these things can be coincident. The simplist example is Genesis 50:20. How can I believe both exist and are not contradictory and working against one another? Because I believe that is what the Bible tells me. Just because things appear as a paradox does not a contradiction make. Paradoxes by their very nature appear to be an impossibility or contradictory but are in reality- often a truth. The problem usually arises in a paradox because it forces an alternative way of thinking that conflicts with more normalized modes of thought. It sends people outside of their comfort zone. As I have learned with go where He sends you regardless of how odd it feels. He is usually sending you for a reason.

How does this all play into evil, pain and suffering? Throughout this paper I have pigeon-holed my argument for the sake of clarity and argued for the fact that evil, pain and suffering unavoidably came from and were given rise to by sin and the Fall of mankind. As such, man was judged, cursed and expected to die a physical death. The Creation and God’s intended natural / normal order were distorted. Because it was distorted, it allowed evil, pain and suffering to enter in to the world. Rather than going into His creation and extracting evil in a invasive surgical and mostly dramtic manner, God determined in his justice that man would need to pay the wages of sin through a death(s). Those deaths are elaborated on in the next section they are (1) death to sin or the legal death (2) die to self or the moral death (3) carrying the death of Christ within us or the physical death. Our actions/choices affect these outcomes. In short, Arminius believed it was man’s ability to choose, Calvin claimed a form of predestination that required that God had already decided the fate of all mankind (unbeknownst to them). The commonality of these views is this: The basis for what evil was is still the same. It sprang from an idea of evil being a parasite of good. The discord between these views arise from the notions that Calvinism says that God is in total control and everything in creation is done for the good of the believers. Snap your fingers and everything is fine because you have this theological view. What this fails to take into account is the suffering a person may currently be going through. Change your view to Calvin’s and everything will be alright. On the Arminians side we have the thought that a flawed creation prone to capriciousness is steering the ship and every time this capricious creation steps out of line, God eventually zaps them with punishment like a cattle prod. Frankly, I am struggling with the death of my father regardless of the Calvin/Arminius debate which will rage until the Lord returns. What I can say is this point is where I have serious qualms with Calvinism that I have clung to for so long. This is Calvinism’s Achilles’ heel. Regardless of who is correct, we cannot trivialize an argument or debate like this between what amounts to two pseudo-cults of personality: John and Jacobus. In reality it is really God and his justice behind both of these hermeneutical grids/ways of seeing God and His justice. The bottom-line is that both believe the chief end of man is to bring glory to God and the Westminster Catechism question #1 sums this up nicely. I will attach supporting Scripture.
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
(Westminster Shorter Catachism, Q. 1)
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Romans 11:36.

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. ~1 Corinthians 10:31.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. Psalm 73:24-26.

And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one... Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. John 17:22, 24.
The logical implications from this are that even evil, suffering and pain in humanity can and will glorify God. Jacobus Arminius agreed with this statement and added his own in his second oration (Olsen 51).
“In this act of the mind and the will,-in seeing a present God, in loving Him, and therefore in the enjoyment of Him, -the salvation of man and his perfect happiness consist”
Arminus also goes on to state that God’s glory is the supreme purpose:
“That End [purpose, goal] is entirely divine,-being nothing less than the glory of God and man’s eternal salvation”
When it comes to God’s glory and subsequently the purpose of evil, suffering and pain…the Calvinist and Arminian views are the same in terms of an end output (please read that twice). What leads us to the evil (or not) may differ but the end is the same. If the chief end of man or most important factor contributing to mankind’s existence from both points of view is to glorify God, the theological vehicle to get there seems passé and a case of “hairsplitting”. In the end our salvation is by faith not whether or not God allows evil and suffering. Our suffering and evil in our lives is not what saves us but rather our turn away from evil and sin in search of repentance and redemption. The end purpose of everything in creation before or after the Fall according to both sides is God’s glory. We best glorify Him by obeying and loving Him, loving His Creation (both human and non-human) and enduring until the end with faith in Jesus Christ to achieve glorification in His eternal rest. All of this is done Sola Fide - Sola Deo Gloria.

December 28, 2010

Fallacies, Shattered Misconceptions & The Social Gospel

...this notion that it is the business of the Church to make people happy, or to integrate their lives, or to relieve their circumstances and improve their conditions....I am not saying that it is a bad thing to palliate [make less without removing the cause] symptoms; it is not, and it is obviously right and good to do so. But I am constrained to say this, that though to palliate symptoms, or to relieve them, is not bad in and of itself, it can be bad, it can have a bad influence, and a bad effect, from the standpoint of biblical understanding of man and his needs. It can become harmful in this way, that by palliating the symptoms you can conceal the real disease. Here is something that we have to bear in mind at the present because, unless I am greatly mistaken, this is a vital part of the problem today.

Let us us a medical illustration. Take a man who is lying on a bed and writhing in agony with abdominal pain. Now a doctor may come along who happens to be a very nice and very sympathetic man. He does not like to see people suffering, he does not like to see people in pain; so he feels that the only one thing to do is to relieve this man of his pain. He is able to do so. He can give him an injection of morphia or various other drugs which would give the man almost immediate relief. "Well," you say, "surely there is nothing wrong with doing that; it is a kind action, it is also a good action, the patient is made more comfortable, he is made happier and is no longer suffering." The answer to that is well-nigh a criminal act on the part of this doctor. It is criminal because to merely remove a symptom without discovering the cause of the symptom is to do a dis-service to the patient. A symptom after all is a manifestation of a disease..."
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones-Preaching and Preachers (1971) p. 29

This book's original publishing date was 1971, forty years ago. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is talking in reference to the fact that it is indeed the Church's responsibility to educate the body and part of this education is to teach them that the Christian walk isn't going to be some venture down the primrose path to paradise. Paradise at the end, yes....but perhaps hell here on the way there. God promised a pleasant and perfect destination not a pleasant and perfect journey. If anything we need to expect the unexpected and prepare for it if need be.

This is a tough one for even the members of the body to fully grab on to.

The Church's primary purpose is not even to educate them on the things of life themselves unless they build their relationship with God first. Why? A highly educated life is only a highly educated life devoid of righteousness. We have enough of them in our humanistic universities and bias media. The church's main job is to educate a believer to have and recognize a proper relationship with the Holy One. Not necessarily teach them how to manage their finances, how to remain faithful to their spouses or what is the proper behavior of a leader. Does the Bible teach us these things? Of course it does, but all these things are secondary to our primary relationship with Jesus Christ. Putting window dressing on a broken window only gentrifies a broken window but does nothing to stop the cold winds of apathy and sin from blowing through and blasting you in the face. Read the Bible properly and we see what is of primary importance. Folks in the hermeneutics and interpretation fields call it the 10-2-1. The 10 Commandments can, in their nature be distilled down and are reflected in the 2 greatest commandments stated by Jesus and He was reaffirming what is in the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

Leviticus 19:18 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In Matthew 25:40 we see Jesus say, As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

...and the implication from this is the 1 or the 10-2-1 or the Law of the Prophets...Matthew 7:12, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

All these commandments and precepts revolve around a primary relationship with God first and then humankind in a godly relationship. Get this right and the other pieces should begin to fit themselves together. Get this wrong and you have modern society in its complete reprobate mindset and disarray. This is why people need to be especially leery near health and wealth prosperity gospel preachers. You aren't taking any of it (your junk) with you anyway unless it will survive the fires of judgement. Anyone that focuses on this as the primary call of their ministry is misguided. Why would God care about what fiscally prospers you here if it will be of no use to your eternal well-being? Most if not all of our earthly assets will be destroyed and left behind unless it is of some heavenly worth. Most all will be burned up like straw. Who really cares how you temporarily fare here when your eternal well-being is at stake?

This is also why it is dangerous to water down and dumb down doctrine when preaching to people. This is why seeker-friendly churches are quick to draw people in but quickly loose them when the new attendees realize it was all a good talk but without substance there is no fellowship or a relationship with either other human members or God because the doctrine was so shallow they never really got to know God anyway. They are churches with big inviting front doors to usher people in and small hidden back doors for shuffling people out that have become disenchanted. People who are truly spiritually discerning and attuned to God are not stupid and will not be led astray easily. These people do not expect God to snap His fingers and everything will be fine. Seeker Sensitives are like candy bars. Sugar highs and then a drastic let down. All you have to show for it is a small initial burst of energy and then a hunger pain worse than before.

Conversely, others that do expect their problems to be fixed because of dedicated attendance on Sundays and "work" they do for the church out of the "kindness of their hearts". When it doesn't pan out they are usually either (1) totally disenchanted or (2) quick to exit looking for another quick-fix of another church that will be "tolerant" and "open minded" and overlook their particular sin because, because as we all know, their sin isn't really that big of a deal. It is only a little sin and people outside the church in normal society are accepting of it couldn't possibly be that bad.

What Martyn Lloyd-Jones spoke of forty years ago has come to fruition in many of our churches. The social accommodations of many modern churches has watered down the Gospel to near worthlessness. They took Christ out of Christianity, they took the miracles out of Christ's ministry which was the original goal of Liberal Christianity at the turn of the 20th century. The Social Gospel which was driven to the forefront of the church in the late part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century was to be the ultimate promise of the future. The harmonization of the Church and a Social Gospel. The blending of God and Socialism...and it failed...and it is again resurfacing...and it will fail again. We are seeing humanitarian efforts for the sake of human effort and social efforts more for the sake of self than the socially redeeming value...not to glorify God but to glorify "self" many times. If you are doing it to "give" and to "help" is one thing but to do it because it is trendy or hip is obnoxious. "Look what I did, I'm such as good person" ...ugh.

The failure stems from one of the very statements in the Social Gospel's core belief: Humankind needs to rid itself of social evils by human effort before Christ can return in the second-coming. This statement assumed/assumes man knew/knows the depth of his depravity and knew what to do to fix it. I posit that man, who is totally depraved in his nature is incapabale of doing what is proper in God's eye's. The fact that anyone in this branch of theology would actually assume to know what is "acceptable" to God shows just how sinful they are. It is beyond foolhardy, it is plainly obvious that this assumption is sin manifesting in human arrogance. To further say that God is incapable of something (Jesus returning) until man through his effort does something to allow laughable to the point of absurdity and totally defys Scripture (and logic).

We see in many churches the donation of a load of money but absolutely none of our time. There is a disconnect here. Jesus did not say, "go out and pay people off and that'll be your good deed for the month" He said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Investment of our money requires nothing of our heart or our emotions other than a willingness to part with our money. We are seeing social movements through corporate and political institutions again at the forefront. We see doctrine and dogma through political machinations driving social agendas...on both sides of the aisle. We should be seeing conviction of the Holy Spirit driving revival not guilt driving willingness to part with dollars for "down payments" on what the church can do for us. God affected his change primarily through the Word and the spreading of the Gospel. God brought the Kingdom to earth through Jesus not through Caesars, Franklins, Grants and Jacksons.

So now we have what we have---a generation of poorly theologically educated people with humanistic agenda driven ideologies, not God driven theologies. A group of well meaning and zealous people with little or no knowledge of what they believe but rather a healthy helping of what they “feel” because they were told it was the right way to feel and it is culturally acceptable. If we don't feel right we are either not in God's good grace or we are doing something wrong. Personally, I do not want to fit in with society if this is the mitigating and motivating factor. I want to obey the will of the One who created me and foreknew me since before the foundations of the world. I will walk through Hell or high water to stay the course and remain obedient to God. I do not expect a church to fix my problems, nor should any of us and this is why are to call on God directly in out supplications.

What I would like to see in and from the church is love, sound teaching and fellowship. When we do fellowship it should be in unity in the Spirit and being together in one mind. It shouldn’t be about what the church can do for "me" but what "we" can do for the church body. We should not necessarily want to take from the church but give to it. I do not want to know what I can "get" from my church, I want to know what I can give to help it. I personally have spiritually leeched off of others for too long. I will try to be the lift in the balloon not the ballast pulling from below.

We cannot be of much help to others in the Body teaching and educating them in the Faith and to be strong in the Faith if we are always in a state of "poor faith" or "no faith" ourselves. To be perpetually in this state in and of itself is a state of unhealthy dependency. We should know Jesus in our own personal relationship. Our dependency is in Christ not what "church attendance" can do to fix our lives. A Church that allows a state of total dependency like this to continue without offering believers in these situations the tools they need to stand their ground is doing nothing more than enabling dependency to other men. We are not to be in a total state of dependency except to God. To do this we need to have faith. To always rely on the church for the the faith that we need for a personal relationship short-circuits the process with God directly. We are to grow and mature in the faith and then pass it on. We are to disciple. To be able to disciple and then ween off that disciple so they can then disciple yet another requires that you yourself are weened. Children do not ween children, adults ween children.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones later goes on to say: "The Church [much of it] has been trying to preach morality and ethics without the Gospel as a basis; it has been preaching morality without godliness; and it simply does not work...and the result is that the Church, having abandoned her real task, has left humanity more or less to its own devices.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones-Preaching and Preachers (1971) p. 35

And every human institution or government that has tried to make its way without God down through history has failed. Usually the farther from God the institution is the quicker its demise or the more energy it needs to keep itself propped up. This is quite regrettable as we are again seeing the Church flagging in the wind and being blown in every direction by the constantly changing winds of the culture...a profoundly godless culture.
The poor and starving? They are best taken care of when the system itself is fixed. We are a morally bankrupt society. Man thinking they can fixing social problems through their own devices usually ends up laughable not laudable. Many times the godless institutions cannot even figure out morally who is the most deserving of the need. Benevolence bleeds to bureaucracy and moral bankrupcy. Social conditions are most often addressed better through improvement of spiritual conditions not political conditions. There is little sense trying to improve the physical conditions of an entity when the mental condition is so flawed or broken that the entity is incapable of taking care of itself. If we need a biblical example of what I am saying we need only look at Peter in Acts.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”  ~Acts 6:1-4

What are the Twelve saying here? They are confronted with a social evil and/or moral situation that needs to be addressed. Do they storm city hall and protest the treatment of the widow(s)? Do they even wait on the widows? No. Neither. What is the Church to do? This is a social problem and maybe even a political one but the Apostles under the compelling of the Holy Spirit realize the danger in trying to affect a change without fixing the root cause of the problem: The moral condition of society. So should we. Yes, we can still help people immediately but our primary move should be to bring the Kingdom and its moral rectitude now as our primary concern. To do any less is to fail in our commission mandated by Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 28:19-20)

They are saying that this condition is not the reason that they should leave the Word or stop preaching the Word. They know that they will affect more of a change for all by spreading the Word to the people bringing the Kingdom (the true one) to them, rather than work through a morally bankrupt man-made institution doomed to failure as all are. Empires rise and fall but God and His Kingdom are forever.

When the Church performs her primary task these other things invariably result from it. Yes, giving pain killer to stop the pain is the humane thing to do but excising the cancer from the body which is the root cause is the primary concern...everything else is just window dressing on a broken window.

Man + Man's Institutions + Man's Devices = Debacle
Man + God's Institutions + God's Devices = Deliverence
Man + Man Centeredness / Self-Centered = Reprobate
Man + God Centeredness / Other-Centered = Righteousness

"you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom"

As it is often the case, those that are not full of the Spirit (Acts 6:3) are generally too full of themselves.

December 27, 2010

Thoughts On The Law

"Zeal for the law can altogether alienate man from God, and has precisely the effect of making him a sinner. This occurs when faith is no longer the point of departure for the fulfilling of the law, but man addresses himself to what he takes for the work of the law. For the law then becomes detached from God, in the sense that man no longer trusts in God for his righteousness but in his works. And man in this way no longer arrives at the law, that is to say, no longer at the righteousness and at the life to which the law points him.

The apostle is therefore able to demonstrate the impossibility of acquiring righteousness and life in the way of works at one time to those who praise the law with their mouth but in reality grossly transgress it (Rom. 2:17ff), at another to those who with all their zeal and irreproachableness likewise do not find what they are seeking (Rom. 9; Phil. 3). In both cases man with the law in hand is faced with his bankruptcy. And surely the second is less evident and easy to accept. But it is not on that account any less real, indeed it is in a certain sense still more drastic because it strikes man in his moral earnestness and exertion; because it not only confronts him with his deficiency, but also casts his 'gain' into the balance and compels him not only to acknowledge his sin, but also to renounce his very virtues before God."

-Herman Ridderbos, 'Paul: An Outline of His Theology'

Evil & Suffering XIII: A Further Free Will Defense: Alvin Plantinga

Some more tedious theological discussion to build my case concerning Evil & Suffering.

Alvin Plantinga’s views are a 20th century update that essentially piggyback Augustine’s in terms of free will in two previous posts Evil & Suffering X & XI. In a nutshell-Alvin Plantinga states the following:
“It is possible that God, even being omnipotent, could not create a world with free creatures who never choose evil. Furthermore, it is possible that God, even being Omni-benevolent, would desire to create a world which contains evil if moral goodness requires free moral creatures."
He went further in his preliminary form of his theory. Due to its nuanced and accurate response to accusations such as those from people like Mackie it is worth including in this paper in its totality (Meister 133-134).

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good (Plantinga 30)
This is to say that mankind cannot truly love and obey God without having an opposite of different choice than loving or obeying God. The only way to be able to pick those choices is if we are absolutely free. It is a freedom that must allow for the existence of failures, evil or suffering. This description is rather trite when dealing with suffering and pain but it will do for the time being.

As for natural evils Plantinga (a Christian) suggests that natural evils such as earthquakes and Hurricanes are the product of demons and Satan and a byproduct of the Fall. Of course his defense of the free will argument is much more thorough than any explanation for natural evils in the world. His views of natural evils being based solely in the supernatural are of course totally disregarded by his secular counterparts and considered and implausible explanation. This is considered a weakness in his overall theodicy by the secular philosophical world but we must remember that Plantinga didn’t originally set out to create a theodicy with his Free Will Defense but rather create a defense to refute atheistic attacks on the compatibility of an omnipotent and all-loving God with the existence of evil, suffering and pain.

Evil & Suffering XII: Thomas Aquinas

To quickly and accurately zero in on Aquinas’ view of theodicy we must use the quote that Aquinas used often and is attributed to Augustine.
"As Augustine says (Enchir. xi). Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil." This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good." (Sullivan 13).
To a greater or lesser extent, Thomas Aquinas put forward and advocated the same thought that for this world to be as good as it is the existence of evil is necessary. Evil is not a “thing”—no substantial thing at all (Novak). In response to Eastern philosophy, Aquinas soundly rejected the centuries of Eastern philosophy that divided the world into dualistic good and evil, as if they were equal contestants, equally substantial and active and potent. In addition Aquinas states (paraphrased):
Everything that the Greatest of all Goods has created is suffused with good up to the brim of its capacity. But for the world as a whole to be good, it must be populated by the most beautiful and god-like creatures of all[ [mankind]—creatures capable of insight and deliberate choice. It requires the liberty of human minds and wills. Only at this peak of nature can human creation be considered made in the “image of God.”
A brilliant surmising of the logical conclusion needed for a being created in the image of a God that has, among other things, free will, choices, a moral character (in God’s case good/perfect, in man’s subject to choice).

December 26, 2010

Evil & Suffering XI: Augustine of Hippo-Part II-Privatio Boni

 ...a continuation of the previous post.

Augustine & Privatio Boni (The Privation of Good)

In Augustine’s enchiridion "Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love" we see in “Chapter III. God the Creator of All; and the Goodness of All Creation” under item numbered 11, the following statements concerning evil or more specifically-we see statements about what evil is not. Augustine is referring to the ontologically parasitic nature of evil. Evil is the antithetic of good or an ontological parasite that cannot have or maintain an existence without good.

Chapter III, No. 11: What is called evil in the universe is but the absence of good.
“…in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil. For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present--namely, the diseases and wounds--go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance,--the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils--that is, privations of the good which we call health--are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.”
We see in additional statements in Augustine’s work about humans being made good but not perfectly good as so being prone to sin and corruption. We also see the host/parasite nature of good/evil. This is a further elaboration on the modified rationalistic approach. Chapter IV: The Problem of Evil within items 12, 13 and 14. For the sake of clarity and brevity I will only give the title/thesis of Augustine’s numbered points.
Chapter IV, No. 12: “All beings were made good, but not being made perfectly good, are liable to corruption” In other words they have the choice to choose evil.

Chapter IV, No. 13: "There can be no evil where there is no good; and an evil man is an evil good

Chapter IV, No. 14: “Good and evil are and exception to the rule that contrary attributes cannot be predicted of the same subject. Evil springs up in what is good, and cannot exist except in what is good.”
There are more modern branches off of the Augustinian free will philosophy. I will not be going into all of them as there are too many and they are too intellectually dense to get into without literally writing a book on them (I’ve already written one). I will mention a few since they diverge into other topics that should be mentioned within the scope of this paper. The first of which is a view put forth by Alvin Plantinga. Alvin’s theory stems mostly from a desire to refute an atheistic attack by J.L. Mackie and Anthony Flew on the free will argument. In his book: “Evil and Omnipotence” Mackie stated that God (if he actually existed) He could have given both free will and moral perfection, resulting in humans choosing the good in every situation. They were referred to as “Good Robots” by Mackie. According to Mackie, the simultaneous existence of evil and an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good God were "positively irrational". The nature of and venomousness of Mackie’s attack on God prompted Alvin Plantinga to respond with his version of the Free Will Defense that is an extension and contemporizing of the Augustinian free will argument to address a contemporary attack against God’s character.

Evil & Suffering X: Augustine of Hippo-Part I

I believe we have sort of cleared the first hurdle of the argument of theodicy. God allows evil and suffering. He is all powerful and He is and all-loving God. Now what? From a biblical theological standpoint we can assume, although God did not create evil and suffering, He has allowed it to stick around and has not yet removed it as promised in Revelation 21.

We also now enter the most tediously boring, dry and unbearable theological portion of discussion where only the bold or theologically boring dare tread (that would be me). Where I could I sought to avoid this deep philosophical and theological tedium to maintain the continuity and readability. Where I felt long-winded thoughts were pertinent and topical I have included them at the risk of driving the reader(s) into a catatonic state (Zzzzzzzzzz....). The following portions applying to Augustine, Aquinas, Plantinga, John Calvin & Jacobus Arminius are necessary to define my final position in parts XXIV and XXV of the series Evil & Suffering. Yes, I mentioned Arminius and Calvin together because, when it comes to evil, their views are nearly synonymous. Imagine that.

In Augustinian theology, God was not even obligated to create the creation as His own existence would’ve been the “high water mark” and the supreme good. Creating a creation as it exists now seems to be a proper thing for Him to do but not the only thing He could’ve done on the basis of reason but as most of us know, reason is not a necessarily a law or axiom in this universe. There could be an infinite number of finite conditional worlds possible, some of these infinite number by statistic necessity…would be evil or would contain evil. Therefore God could not have created them but what He could have created was a multitude of possible good worlds. Paradoxically, there is no “best possible world”.

Augustine of Hippo also stated that God was free to choose what “good” world to create if he actually chose to create one. If he did chose to create a “good” world/universe then evil would arise in the following manner

a. The world created from the word/hand of God must not contain evil.
b. Evil must be introduced through the actions of others/agents who God created...with free will.
c. If God’s good creation does contain evil it is no stain on God as He is omnipotent and can use or work through the evil not created by Him but sued providentially to produce a good outcome or “optimal world”.

In this view we see that God is not the cause of or creator of evil, the abuse of human (and angelic) free will is the mitigating factor. Suffering and pain in inevitably falls out or descends from this position. The conundrum in this scenario is: Why did God create man with a free will if he knew in His omniscience that man would eventually drop the ball and chose sin and commit evil? God is still good in this situation for giving man a variable that he had the potential to abuse. Why? Because the optimal world is a world where man has the choice to choose to love God and do the right thing and still have the possibility to sin as opposed to a world that is free of sin, evil and suffering only to have every person in it be a programmed machine or robot forced to love God.

This addresses the other question that arises from assuming God can just remove evil why didn’t God just make people (angels) love Him avoiding the need for free will? Had He done this they would’ve never strayed. My response to this is one further question. Does forcing someone to love you actually constitute real love? For God to allow us to love Him of our own freewill He needed to allow us to hate Him or choose something besides love. Otherwise there would be no choice, only a directive or mandate. That’s not love. It’s called tyranny and despotism and that would make God a tyrant and therefore not God. If God is anything He is holy, He just and He is love (Macchia 202)

In short God cannot create people with a choice to choose and always have them chose what is proper, perfectly, every time. This would make man perfect and godlike and infallible. A genuine free will allows for the possibility and probably of evil and subsequently suffering and/or pain. So here we have another internally consistent argument here for the existence of evil/suffering in an omnipotent and benevolent God’s creation (Feinberg, “Dictionary of Theology” 1085).

This logic then leads a “modified rationalist” to explain why God has not “just removed” the evil if he is “so loving”. The problem with God “just doing something” comes from the following thought. God has to either remove the evil or make man free, you cannot have both. Obviously God has allowed the later: Giving man a choice. The good of this choice compensates for the bad produced by freewill. Having allowed man free will, God is still not guilty for the evil that still exists nor can He directly intervene to remove it totally…yet. A Biblical worldview has pointed us to examples where God did intervene to stem the tide of extreme cases of outright rebellion against Him or overt examples of evil. This more or less has continued until modern times (i.e.: Nazis, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc). Wherever a heinous evil has reared its ugly head, it has been driven back down over time. Inevitably, Christians understand that a final plan outlined in bible prophecy speaks to a final judgment and reconciliation of man to God in the end.

In this description we see that Augustine sees human will is the root of evil. Humans sin voluntarily and are thereby worthy of punishment. Augustine saw free will and a form of intermediate good since the being that possessed it had the ability to do good or evil. He also insisted that it was proper to give man free will even with the risk of using it for evil because it had the potential to be used for good also and often is.

The primary assumption when dealing with theodicy is that man knows better and this is dangerous because God’s ways are above our ways meaning we cannot understand is purposes because we only have a myopic human view or things but He has all aspects covered at all times.

Frank D. Macchia in Systematic Theology edited by Stanley Horton elaborates on this in succinct detail in two quotes made by him.

Macchia’s quote is brilliant:
“God has created humanity with the freedom to rebel and become vulnerable to satanic opposition. God has allowed satanic opposition to exist to test humanity’s free response to God.” (Macchia 202)
Macchia also states that:
“God wills to triumph over satanic opposition, not only for believers, but also through them. Therefore, the triumph of God’s grace has a history and a development.” (Macchia 202)
God uses the vessels of triumph to propagate further triumph…all to the glory of God. Just as he has placed the seeds of rebirth and new life within fruit, He has done the same with believers by placing the Spirit in men (indwelt). The whole implication here is that God is constantly active and involved in His creation and His creation once saved, actively pursues the will of God (usually). What is also amazing here in this premise is that, for God to gain salvation over some “thing, there has to be some “thing” to triumph over. God being omnipotent and sovereign over His creation has to first allow this to happen, hence the existence of evil. This then logically leads to the Augustinian idea of privatio boni or an absence of good. For more of an explanation on this, see the next post...

December 25, 2010

Winter Poems by Favorite American Poets (1870)

Another fantastic wintry book to read as the snow blankets the ground tomorrow. I'm feeling pretty steampunk at this point. A wonderful selection from within is posted below. Click on lithograph above to read entire book.

The Snow Storm
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky
Arrives the snow and driving o'er the fields
Seems nowhere to alight the whited air
Hides hills and woods the river and the heaven
And veils the farm house at the garden's end
The sled and traveller stopped the courier's feet
Delayed all friends shut out the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm
Come see the north wind's masonry
Out of and unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake or tree or door
Speeding the myriad handed his wild work
So fanciful so savage naught cares he
For number or proportion
On coop or kennel he hangs
Parian wreaths;
A swan like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall
Maugre the farmer's sighs and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work
And when his hours are numbered and the world
Is all his own retiring as he were not
Leaves when the sun appears astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures stone by stone
Built in an age the mad wind's night work
The frolic architecture of the snow

December 24, 2010

Imanu'el עִמָּנוּאֵל : God Is With Us

The Birth of Jesus the Christ

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. ~Luke 2:1-20

I've looked at this passage every Christmas but this Christmas something struck me that hadn't struck me before. In the narrative, "an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified." Terrified is actually: efobhqhsan fobon megan-were- afraid-fear-great ...exceedingly afraid, probably for their lives and they most likely would've rather have been anywhere but there at that given moment.

In contrast we see the reaction to Jesus. It is just the opposite. Not afraid of God incarnate but rather drawn to Him has he was in a form that was conducive to attracting people. A cute, innocent and defenseless baby. God came in a form that was completely approachable, not as a terrifying dominate ruling King but a humble infant that to the world looked as if He was an infinitesimally small spec of humanity. They don't just "go" to Him but they hlqon speusanteV they came-being diligent or "they made haste; moved quickly to him". So we have the messengers of the Lord in this situation actually being more fear inducing than the One who sent them. Here again we see the carefully orchestrated and crafted genius of an Almighty God.

To have others of renown, power and authority speak of your glory and greatness is vastly more impressive that you speaking for yourself, it holds much more credence than self-promotion. To then come in the form of something so simple and humbled speaks of a paradox or paradigm where words fail for lack of enough reverence to its greatness. His greatness.

Christmas Carol by Felicia Hemans (1864)

I love finding these 19th Century Victorian Christmas books. They take me back to another time and place. Click on the book to download it and read some.

O lovely voices of the sky 
That hymned the Saviour's birth
Are ye not singing still on high
Ye that sang Peace on earth
To us yet speak the strains
Wherewith in days gone by
Ye blessed Syrian swains
O voices of the sky

O clear and shining light whose beams
That hour heavens glory shed
Around the palms and o'er the streams
And on the shepherd's head
Be near through life and death
As in that holiest night
Of Hope and Joy and Faith
O clear and shining light

O star which led to Him whose love
Brought down man's ransom free
Where art thou midst the hosts above
May we still gaze on thee
In heaven thou art not set
Thy rays earth might not dim
Send them to guide us yet
O star which led to Him

Mary Sings

Mary’s Song adorns the latter portion of Luke 1. We also learn of the divine kindred connection between Mary and Elizabeth in this chapter due to the fact that John will be the "Messenger of the Covenant" in Malachi 3:1. This first messenger will also prepare the way for God or in this context/case Jesus Christ and as suddenly as this messenger will come, the Lord they are seeking will come to His temple. He will be born of Mary.

Knowing this makes the identity of the One that will usher in the New Covenant and the One who will abrogate the Old Covenant obvious. It is Jesus Christ or the One who will prove He is God by purifying His people like a “refiners fire” and punishing sinners. He will fulfill the ceremonial law once and for all. He will up the ante on the moral laws as these laws were not abrogated but further elaborated upon and the true implications are brought to the surface by Christ in places like the Sermon on the Mount. "You have heard it said...but I say to you..."

But before any of this we have a loving human mother, Mary. She loves God and she loves her unborn child. What is it about the Magnificat, The Song of Mary or Mary's prayer that should draw our attention in this most sentimental of times? If you look real close you will realize something fascinating about Mary and her song. Someone had taken the time to teach her about the abundant prophecies of the Old Testament. Although this was not an uncommon occurance for a 1st century Jew, it was kind of odd for a 1st century Jewish female. This was most likely transfered to her via the aural/oral tradition from one educated in the synogogues. A male (most likely her father) had taught her to be knowledgable in the plan laid forth for her people. What is even more interesting is her knowledge was intrincate. Please observe Mary's prayer/song and note the Old Testament references. I guess I should preface right off the bat by saying the whole idea of singing a song over the pregnancy and birth of a long awaited child finds a comparison with Hannah's Song and some of the prayer even resembles Hannah's. The first seven verse of Mary's hymn are nearly identical to 1 Samuel 2:1-7. So let us see some of the other Old Testament parallels. I will note the direct corrolations but your knowledge of the Old Testament will allow you to make even more extensive connections to other passages.

Mary's Song

(46) And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord, (47) and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, Psalms 103:1
 (48) for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,  1 Samuel 1:11; Psalms 25:18

(v46-48) Mary praises God for what He has done her, a woman of lowly birth. Although she is not lifted out of her human earthly condition, in a spiritual level she is, as Elizabeth is quite aware: Blessed among women...

(49) for the Mighty One has done great things for me-holy is his name. Psalms 22:3, 71:22, 89:18, 99:3, 103:1, etc
(50) His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. Psalms 103:17

(v49-50) Mary gives thanksgiving and praise. She contemplates not only the earthly things but also God's lovingkindness in the "generation to generation" comment.

(51) He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. Psalms 44:3, 98:1, Isaiah 53:1, Psalms 89:10, Job 12:19, 2 Samuel 22:28
(52) He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 2 Samuel 22:18, Job 5:11
(53) He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. Psalms 103:5, 107:9

(v51-53) Mary mentions God's mercy in contrast to the severity towards those who do not revere Him.

(54) He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful Psalms 25:6, 98:3, 136 (2nd part of each verse) 147:2, 19
(55) to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” Genesis 12:2,3; 17:7; 22:15-18, Exodus 2:24, 2 Samuel 22:51, Psalms 105:6-10, Micah 7:20

(v54-55) Mary exalts the mercy of God and the covenant promise God made to humanity through Abraham. A fact that is even of value to Christian believers today (Galations 3:9, 29)

A smart, biblically educated and godly woman that would be the human mother of Christ. Not surprising, not surprising at all.

Art: 1-eisbacher

December 23, 2010

The Christmas Surgery

I wanted to get this story to print before I forgot some of the details. I thought it would be a great Christmas story. I was in the hospital for sinus surgery today, three days before Christmas. I went in the morning around 10 and it was to be a quick in-and-out outpatient. So much for well laid plans of men. It was to be a one hour surgery that probably would've had me home by 2-2:30 pm. God had different plans. It started with a fire alarm around 11 am in the hospital. The alarm was a test but it put things in disarray and set the tone for the remainder of the day. The fire alarm, which is apparently linked to the piping in the hospital  caused grief near the operation room and scrub room. This pushed back my surgery about an hour.

I didn't go under until around 1:30 for a 12:00 noon surgery. According to my doctor half way through my surgery he ran into issues with my septum and some other nonsense that was causing grief (probably my brain). A short surgery went wide and deep and I ended up in the OR for over two hours. I didn't regain consciousness until 4:30pm. In excruciating pain I might add. I have had quite a few surgeries and some broken bones and mangled body parts but this was the longest most acute pain I can remember. This is all fine and dandy but here is where it really starts to get interesting.

The pain was so bad that they couldn't really discharge me. So I kind of worked with one of the nurses to help find a happy medium. I didn't want to stay overnight three days before Christmas and I had the feeling the registered nurse on duty with me didn't want to stay in the O.R. all night either. The O.R. officially closes at 6:00pm and by 5:45pm the pain was about the same and the woman sat patiently by the head desk waiting for my Narcs to kick in. She had left my curtain open because at 6:15 there were no other people in the O.R. ...everyone had gone home except for a attendant to wheel me out and he was in the lobby watching TV. The janitor had walked past and I was just watching the nurse reading and waiting patiently for me.

With my face absolutely killing me and in no mood to talk...I felt absolutely compelled to ask this woman a question...the Holy Spirit has impeccable timing :)

"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
She looks over cautiously and says, "No, no one else is really here to overhear anyway, go for it."
"You wouldn't happen to be a Christian would you?"
"Why yes, yes I am"

As I begin to talk with her the pain in my face that the drugs couldn't kill goes away and I find out that she goes to a church near my home. I find out that she doesn't normally work this shift. I find out she lost her husband a year ago. I find out her son is suffering from brain cancer...and I forget about the pain in my face two hours after surgery and begin to feel her pain. The pain shifts from my face to my heart. I have just lost my father and Christmas just won't be the same without him. But she has lost more or so it seems.

I feel her pain. Two Christian people three days before Christmas, in pain and suffering. I ask her if I can pray for her and she agrees. I pray the best I can in my discomfort and the pain feels almost secondary. I realize then and there that this moment is Christmas in its truest sense. No gifts, no trees, no snowmen or reindeer. Only a love of God, Jesus Christ and compassion for my neighbor. Especially one that is in pain. I imagine the feeling is mutual. She crys because of her pain and I tear-up because my face feels as if it has been mangled with a hammer (actually I cry because I am moved by the moment but tough guys can't admit to being crybabies). My wife then returns from the CVS and comes in with the kids to pick me up. She had left for only 10-15 minutes but it was just enough time to speak privately without my children climbing the walls. In the pain of another we unload some of our own.

Then I start to think about the timing and scheduling. If the fire alarm hadn't gone off the hospital wouldn't have had problem with the plumbing and the surgery wouldn't have started late. If the doctor hadn't found more "stuff" to cut out of my face the surgery wouldn't have taken so long and I would've recovered sooner. If my pain would've been less I would've been discharged sooner and never had those 15 minutes with the nurse at the Nurse's Station across from my recovery room. Had this woman not worked this shift I wouldn't even have met her.

I was late all day. The hospital was running behind because of unforeseen events. The day got pushed further and further back until I almost needed to be admitted to the hospital for the night. My wife spend a majority of the day in and around a hospital (thank goodness for Home Depots) and was quite late getting us all home. The nurse was late getting home too. All this transpiring three days before Christmas.

...but God's timing was and always is perfect. And now I see just how perfect it was.

A week ago I kind of thought it was strange to have surgery days before Christmas but now I know why I needed to be there exactly at the time that I was. It was to comfort and pray for a fellow Christian, ....a neighbor, my neighbor...all while my nose was bleeding like a stuffed pig.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort." 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

December 22, 2010

Free Agent In A Team Effort

Many people are under the impression that if they obey God and stay within His Will they end up leading tediously boring monochromatic lives. As Blackaby and King once said in their book Experiencing God, the correct question to pray to God for-or to ask Him is not, "What is Your will for my life Lord?" but instead it is, "What is Your will?" This puts you in the correct frame of mind. It is not a matter of what God can do for you but is an issue of knowing His Will and adjusting your life accordingly so that you are in His purposes (Exo 3:8,10). When I am in the zone where He wants me I have found that I am anything but static and bored. I am constantly navigating the field for errant fly balls so to speak. As I grow in my walk I become more cognizant of His presence in the world. I become more aware of things that He is doing because I recognize the marks of the holy in the things that transpire in the world.

People need to stop looking at serving God as some horrendous chore that takes you to the far reaches of civilization on a mission in Sub-Saharan Africa and plants you firmly like a tree. This is not to say that you may not end up in one place for a sustained period of time wandering in the outfield. I am sure there are some in the ministry that would be quite content with a static mundane existence...but these appear more an exception often times, not a norm. As I have journeyed further into what I believe God is calling me to I have found more diversity of duty and brevity/fragmentation of my time. Chasing fly balls over my head and worm burners right down the line. The ministry is anything but mundane and anything but commonplace. God continually puts me in positions where I need to step outside my comfort zone and do so in faith to help His team. God has never heavily informed me on the front-end of the duties that He has laid out for me to address and accomplish (Matt 6:33). I need to head into it trusting Him. I know that He would never send me into a task that I was unprepared or unequipped for. In doing so I have learned to trust Him more. It is a self-feeding cycle. By investing the faith up front knowing He will equip me for the job I end up building more faith in the process of completing the task (Gen 12:1-5). As my relationship with Him grows my knowledge of Him grows. The apostle Paul said it best when he wrote, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). Just like when you have a human companion and you get to know them trust more. You have an instilled faith.

I am also finding that my background in business, project management, engineering and design is starting to come in handy. Many of the things that would inundate or freak out people new to ministry due to their multi-layered complexity and seeming insurmountably just look like another manageable project to plan for and for me to take care of....but this time they are for the most important boss I will ever have. God. I know that I need to eat the elephant one bite at a time or it will choke me. The enemy goes down one out and one inning at a time.

God doesn't want you to just work harder, He wants you to work smarter too (Rom 12:1-2). He has given you the work instructions/playbook. He has told you the parameters of the game (2 Tim 3:16-17). He has told you the dirty tricks the opposing team plays so it can cheat to gain an upper hand (Eph 6:12). For many it has just sat on their nightstands month after month and year after year collecting dust. The binding on the playbook is never cracked and there are probably pages still stuck together because they have never been separated after printing. The work manual has never been read. The proud owners of these manuals leave them on their nightstands untouched. They think they have better ideas of how to perform their duties (Pro 21:24). All the while the One who designed their job duties and the tools to accomplish them goes ignored along with the work instructions He has graciously provided. The Bible. These rogues act like free agents that are show-boaters working for themselves for the most gain and most profit...for themselves. It isn't about the team. It isn't about helping others or doing it for the greater glory of something larger than themselves. They are then soundly trounced by the opposing team (Pro 16:18). The opposing team knows your weaknesses and will exploit them. They have had plenty of time to review the plays and see the video. The enemy has diligently studied their prey and they prowl like a hungry lion waiting for an opening to pounce (1 Pet 5:8). One man showboating and committing an error in the open field jeopardizes the efforts of the entire team.

Conversely, being a player in ministry makes everyone on the team working towards the same goal and still doing so in a state of free agency ready to move at a moments notice. They can separate and recombine at any given time and pretty much produce the same end results regardless of how they are configured or where they are called to engage the opposite side. These believers that play by the rule book and work instructions, the ones that adhere to the rules become indispensable to God. They function well on a team...if they function as a team (Ps 133:1, 1 Cor 1:11-13, Eph 4:1-3, Phil 1:27, 2:2, 3:16-17, 1 Pet 3:18). Every one of them plays their position better than any other or God would not have them there but very rarely will they win a game if they do not work together. There are individual relationships required in these tasks but it is also clearly a team effort.  They adapt well to different environments and improvise when the odds are long.

This is an interesting life. I am not young enough to be naive anyone. I do not hold some unrealistic views of how things should be anymore. I do not have a pie-in-the-sky image of the ministry. I realize people are often messy in their sinfulness and this makes for some messy problems that require mop-up. I know that games can be lost when the bases are loaded against me if I loose faith in God and the things He has given me to complete the task (Proverbs 3:5-6). So we need to suit up and be properly fitted to face the opposition. It only takes forgetting one piece of my uniform or loosing focus on that ball for a split second for me to drop it (Eph 6:10-18).

But what I have seen is...when everything works together properly as it should things become miraculous. I have seen things that border on the absurd or they are miracles when God is firmly in the picture and my faith is strong. The odd-defying home runs in the bottom of the ninth by the catcher against the best pitcher in the league (figuratively speaking). I have seen some amazing things (Romans 8:28-30).

We are all gifted by God through the Holy Spirit for the positions that we play (1 Cor 12:4-7 see below). God knows the count and He knows how this game ends (Isa 46:10). He knows were we are best suited. He knows who's best equipped for the task and choses those accordingly (Jer 1:5, 29:11). If there are others that are not quite as well equipped He equips them until they are perfect for the position (Matt10, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). And be warned...on God's field it is not uncommon for Him to put a catcher in to do the pitchers job every now and then (Isa 55:8-9). Why? Because God works with ordinary men to do great things (1 Cor 1:26-30). Things that not even they can believed they could do. He prepares us, who better to know when we are ready to change positions? 

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12:4-7

If I had taken the view that ministry was going to be boring and uneventful because I would be stuck in a dead end team in the minor leagues that never made it to the pennant, I would still be stuck in a real dead end job that brought me no joy and I personally believe was actually killing me one day at a time.

I am still in the game and I intend to give everything I have for the team. Would you? (2 Tim 4:6-8)

"Put me in Coach! I'm ready to play!" (Isaiah 6:8)

Christmas At My House

Evil & Suffering IX: Poverty, War & Social Evils

Of all the topics to consider when dealing with theodicy, one of the thorniest has to be the issue that encompasses poverty, social evils and war. There are innumerable variables that play into the complex systems that govern humanity and we could only scratch the surface in this twenty-seven (27) part study. Since these systems that govern the social interaction of humanity en masse are so complex it only takes them getting out so sync just slightly to have a catastrophic end result. The three primary evils, poverty, war and social evils generally have their inception in moral evil (man caused) but once started they can take on a life of their own totally independent of their initiating force (mankind). I originally wanted to place this under the natural evil section but it stands to reason that poverty is avoidable by people doing the right thing to fix the problem. If people work together with a biblical mindset to help stamp out this type of problem, it would not exist. The fact that poverty, war and social evils still exist points towards the fact that either (1) enough action hasn’t been taken to prevent it or (2) a choice has been made to do little or nothing about it. Regardless of which reasoning we use they both stem from a choice or choices of mankind making all of these derivatives of moral evil and thereby caused and of mankind.

Tied directly into the poverty issue is a nearly symbiotic association with rulers or states (countries or powers). For most of recorded history areas have been either ruled of under jurisdiction of some type of controlling power. These powers have the ability to make things better for their populaces or they can make them hell on earth. Nation-states have been the promoters of some of the greatest goods to advance mankind like the prosperity of the United States in the 20th Century or they have been the biggest perpetrators of evil like Nazi Germany of the 20th century. In the case of the Nazis, not only do we see mechanized warfare on a global scale we also see genocidal exterminations nearly as efficient as ones told of in the Old Testament. Case-In-Point: We saw Assyria used as a tool of God to nearly annihilate His own people while simultaneously Assyria commit these acts of evil under their own volition thereby condemning and dooming themselves to God’s wrath and judgment. Assyria believed they were destroying enemies under their own power but it was really God allowing them to gain the victory (ies) (Carson 49). To definitively try and pinpoint exact reasons for outbreaks of social strife or wars is an effort in futility. What we do know for sure is that God uses and has used the evils of war just as he uses all the otherevils to move history forward for His purposes. We know this is true because God is sovereign and he knows everything that happens in His creation…and either allows it or causes it. We see examples of this all over the Old Testament. God using Assyria as mentioned. He also uses Pharaoh/Egyptians, Babylonians, civil war, etc. The evils and wars are allowed by God but not caused by God. Often we see horrible atrocities arise out of these armed conflicts but we also see good things arise out of these same conflicts. We see medical and technological advances for humanity due to the need to better treat injured soldiers or reach an expedient end to the conflict. We see a more earnest attempt at some form of legitimate peace after an atomic end of World War II that saw the dropping of two atomic bombs on two Japanese cities in 1945.

As for poverty there are multiple types and they should at least be noted individually to understand the differences (Carson 52-57).

The Unfortunate Poor:
People that are the product of unfortunate situations / circumstances. Drought has ruined the crops or disease has stricken the moneymaker in the family. The family then becomes destitute or without resources for money or food. There is sin involved here but is against the backdrop of mankind’s fall in Adam.

The Oppressed Poor:
Poverty that is the direct result of malevolent intent, extortion or exploitation of others. Usually we see it is the rich exploiting the marginally poor or poverty-stricken. It is also in this form of poverty that we see the creep or the influx of moral evil since it is the perpetration of a sin or misdeed on one human by another. It is also this type of poverty that draws the Lord’s wrath on the perpetrator.

The Lazy Poor:
I believe the best way to address this form of poverty since it is a poverty on one’s own doing should be addressed with Scripture as this type of poor is easily avoidable if one adheres to biblical principles or presuppositions.

“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Proverbs 13:4

“Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.” Proverbs 13:18

“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Proverbs 14: 23
Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger. Proverbs 19:15

It is clear within Scripture that we are urged to avoid laziness wherever possible. We see in Genesis that we were in fact created and put in the garden of Eden by God to “work it and keep it” (v. 2:15). As we were created to glorify God it is evident that God intended man to glorify God through this “work”. My guess is that it is because the act of working was an emulation or imitation of what God had done during the act of creation. Furthermore we see an additional allusion of work/rest in the seventh day where God rested from his work and He, “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” God did not rest because He was tired but it was a sabbatical instated for man (to emulate).

The Voluntary Poor:
This one’s a no-brainer. These are the poor that live in poverty by choice. It is usually those who take a vow of poverty. I do not view this as an evil as it is poverty by choice.

To surmise the issue of poverty for cases other than laziness and voluntary poverty we need to realize that they are preventable if society at large (or governments) that are in charge would address the problem. Instead we often see just the opposite down through history in the Bible and outside of the Bible. Instead of helping the poor we often see governments and leaders oppressing the poor or “bleeding them dry”. We have an obligation to help the poor as they are often society’s most vulnerable.

“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. Exodus 22:22-27

When people turn a blind eye to the poor ignoring the widows, children and the weak or disenfranchised of society we know that God frowns upon this and He will judge it. Through Moses we see God establish clear guidelines when dealing with the poor (and widows and orphans).
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