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The Prerogative of God February 8, 2014

Posted by docgrubb in christianity, religion.
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This post could be subtitled, “Why God can/does/should do with us as He pleases, and why we ought not to grumble or complain about it, nor blaspheme.”  It will end up being a simple list.  It might contain not one original thought, the topic being a common one for millennia.  But it helps me to put it all together, and be so simplified.

Scripture may say in a few places, or in so many words, that men are liable to be condemned by their own speech.  So in putting down these words, and making them public, it may very well make my own case all the worse in the future if (and I might use ‘when’ instead of ‘if’) I violate or ignore the very premises within this list.  In other words, I give God “more rope to hang myself with”.  But that is nothing new for me to do.  I am reckless because, if God will be my judge (and prosecutor), He will also be my defense, so to speak (not to mention, became my substitute, the one who bore my sentence).   So I throw all before the court, hoping it might help some, without undue harm to myself. ]

 

Throughout history, Christians have been tempted not only to blame God for their woes (congenital or acquired, trivial or weighty, deserved or undeserved, natural or human-inflicted), but also to be angry with Him over them, and to harbor a grudge.  “You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD.  Mal 3: 13.   Judaism and Christianity are most prone to this failing, and the reason is self-evident.  When you worship a god who is omnipotent, all-knowing, and utterly sovereign, then this god becomes responsible.   Ancient Greeks and Romans were not so tempted, nor are present day followers of polytheistic religions.  Various gods with human frailties, weaknesses, and limitations cannot be held accountable for circumstances not only beyond their control, but in all likelihood beyond their concern.  Indeed, it is these combined “omni-” attributes of the One True God which becomes the sand in the gears when trying to reconcile an all-loving God with His evil-containing universe (and, as contrarians point out, sometimes unnecessarily horrendous evil).  And it is why Evil is a capital “Problem” for Judeo-Christian faiths, yet less so in others; indeed, one religion deals with evil by considering it an “illusion”.   But even summarizing this biggest problem in Western theological philosophy is beyond the intent of this post.  My purpose is simply to provide a little ideological armament against the above said temptation.  So I will content myself with this list:

Why God may do with us as He pleases:

1)     The Creator right.    God made us, and we and every creature are His to do with and dispose of as He pleases.  A potter makes all manner of clay vessels, ignoble and noble, as the Bible says.  As creator, the potter can make a vase for the mantel, a bowl for the table, and a pot for the loo, and can consign any or all of them to the ash heap any time he chooses. *

2)     The Curse reason.     We are all fallen and subject to the Adamic Curse.  Therefore no comfort, no happiness, no meaningfulness is guaranteed.  Our First Father rebelled, and so have each of us independently.  Hence we have no claim upon God to do this or that. 

3)     The comparison rule.     Since we, as rebels and disobedient children of God, deserve nothing better than Hell itself, we ought then accept every earthly suffering not only with humility, but with thanksgiving.  For, as the Puritans said, “everything this side of Hell is mercy.”  Compared to what we deserve, earthly troubles are nothing.

4)     The Cross.     Since Christ condescended to the ignominious state of life on earth, and suffered absolute injustice on trial, on the road to Golgotha, and on the Cross itself, we, who actually deserve such things, ought to bear every real or perceived injustice with dispassion, and with submission to the divine will.

5)     The crucible rationale.     For the elect, all things are subservient to our salvation.  And by extension, all comfort is subservient to our sanctification.  We are refined only by suffering, and not by blessings.  This has been attested to by every generation who wielded a pen.  It is affirmed by every honest person who lives to sport grey hairs.  It is not difficult to find even the unbelieving witness who claims that their personal improvement occurred only during periods of struggle.   So also for the elect, God allows, even engineers, our hardships in order to perfect us spiritually. 

So that is my list.  In one form or another, we are taught these points (and there may be others) since childhood, when the reality of the world’s unfairness first dawns on us.  And it doesn’t take too many years of life for various propositions to enter our minds.  For instance, I suspect the following proposition is a common one.  Our lives are full of disappointments, inequalities, and insults of various sorts.  Yet, due to our confidence in God’s holy nature, we rightly think that He takes no pleasure in our misfortunes.  Therefore, we assign all the evil we experience to being either spiritual trials or testings.  Carried further, we conceive that if we could only “pass” these testings (endure them without sin), and pass enough of them “in a row”, then God would have no further need to test us, and our troubles would cease.  Certainly, I have entertained this proposition, and I am no closer to vouching for or denying its validity.   Whether there is such a diminution of woe among those who have achieved a “passing” degree of sanctification, I do not know.  However, I suspect there is not.  Nevertheless (whether there is less testing with success or not), within the Scriptures testing is certainly given in explanation for misfortune.  So much so that I probably ought to have made it the sixth point, perhaps calling it ‘the critique reason’.  For if the fifth point’s premise is refinement, surely testing is distinct from refining.  And if submission is merely called for in the first five points, submission is the actual end and acquittal of this point six.  I am reminded here of the Clerk’s Tale in Chaucer.  A peasant maiden is raised to be lady and wife to the ruling nobleman, and vows to submit to his will and pleasure.  By deceit the husband subjects his innocent wife to severe testing, to prove her worth.  The testing exceeds all sane bounds, yet she passes, and utters no upbraiding word to him.  Finally satisfied of her virtue and loyalty, the husband restores all that he had taken from her, and they finish life in heavenly bliss.  Though neither I nor the Clerk believes human imitation of the wife is feasible, yet I agree with his conclusion:  “This story…is not intended as a recommendation that wives should imitate Griselda…but that every one should in his degree strive to be patient under reverses and sharp strokes of fortune: for as a woman was so patient to a mortal man, how much more stedfastly should we endure the trials that God may please to inflict upon us.  He daily proves our constancy; and his government, however it may appear at the moment, ultimately tends to our advantage.”  Tales from Chaucer, Charles Cowden Clarke, translator.  I will let this lengthy footnote serve as my conclusion.

     *Let me elucidate this point without symbolism.  When God delivered the Law to Moses, He was very earnest that wrongly spilt innocent blood should not go unpunished within Israel.  “Murder” was one-tenth of the Decalogue.  Yet later, in the book of Job, we read how God permitted Satan to take the lives of Job’s several children.  In Job 19:7 the distraught Job said, “If I cry ‘Murder!’ no one answers;” [or ‘Violence!’, depending on one’s translation].  But he was accusing no particular person.  Job knew, probably more than we, that as Creator God gave life, and it was His prerogative to take it away.  Neither did God commit any crime when, at His command under the Flood, nearly the whole world perished.  Here is an imperfect analogy: if you spray-paint graffiti on the walls of your own house, or slash the tires of you own car, you commit no ‘vandalism’.   For you are free to do what you will with what is yours.  “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world and those who dwell therein.”  And if He is free to end our lives, how much more is He free to visit us with sickness and injuries, setbacks and disappointments (and none of these arbitrarily, but for our own or another’s good)?  The above analogy is imperfect chiefly because, although it is no crime to ruin your own things, it could well be madness.  Yet we know God is not mad, nor malicious, capricious, nor even arbitrary.  So as a holy and loving God, He will allow or cause ruin only for some greater end.  And it is this-or-that end which we may not recognize during this mortal life, hence the requirement for faith.  Job suffered not for his own sanctification, I surmise, but for our instruction.  Likewise the blind man of John 9 suffered neither for testing nor as punishment, but for God’s glory.  But whatever the reasons, they all fall under the prerogative of God.

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February 5, 2014

Posted by docgrubb in Uncategorized.
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I have not posted here in over four years.  Back in the 00’s, I used to move in Reformed circles.   Blogs were new, and every thinking man wanted to share his thoughts, see what others thought about his, and read theirs.  This was especially true within said circles.

But I became discouraged.  My posts generated no debate.  Feedback was slight.  Then in ensuing years Twitter came along.  And overall it seemed that people were more interested in what celebrities thought about current events (or even more mundane doings) than in the deeper questions that have baffled mankind for eons.  Besides, Twitter and subsequent e-media lend themselves better to the shortened attention spans of modern generations. 

So I revive this blog solely on behalf of my children, by which I can share ideas I consider worth sharing, and these will be easier to access, wherever my kids are, without misplacing paper copies, etc. 

So here goes….

Fair Weather Darwinists December 2, 2009

Posted by docgrubb in christianity, culture, religion.
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[  Yes, I know…I’m talking about bumper stickers again.  (Well, not exactly: see below.)  I should re-name this blog, “bumpercipher” or whatever.  I suppose my attraction thereto is simply that bumper stickers cut to the chase, without all the fru fru.  You could talk to a new acquaintance for an hour and not have a clue, yet see in an instant what he really thinks and cares about by glancing at the rear-end of his Toyota.  So here goes….]

 

Not too awfully long ago, commuting to work, I spied on a car one of those metallic appliques with the word “Darwin” encased by the Christian fish symbol, newly fitted with amphibious feet.  These were quite popular in the ’90’s, and apparently are still in production.  This particular one was affixed to a shiny new Chrysler PT Cruiser driven by a well-groomed young lady.  She was either alone or with a child, and dutifully using her turn signal at the traffic light.  I soon lost sight of her, but could not shed the discordance over the scene then germinating in my mind. 

Full-grown, that discordance accused her of either hypocrisy, unreflectiveness, or ignorance.   Was she celebrating natural selection?  Would she welcome living under an active natural selection applied to her personally?  Even if her husband/man could accompany her without failure, would she relish the constant fear of him being overpowered by the inevitable bigger man, leaving her to be raped, possibly enslaved, or have the Cruiser commandeered?  In other words, would she welcome survival-of-the-fittest, with brute force the rule and decider of all outcomes not governed by instinct?  Indeed, if I resembled a gnarly, warrior-type guy  more than I do Mr. Rogers, it would be tempting to call the bluff of such a fair weather Darwinist, by acting menacingly or apeing physical threats, to see their reaction.  But I would stop short of harm or criminality……..of course.

Why the “of course”?  Oh, because we are civilized.   And does she ponder the source of our present civility, the orderliness at the traffic light, the unmolested finish on her Cruiser?  Or is her worldview an unexamined one, absorbed without mental effort from the likes of Ophrah, Ellen, and peers?  For without a doubt, our present (though jeopardized) civility, indeed our civilization, is the child of Christianity.  The Christian religion tamed the Viking, the Visigoth, the brutal Roman, and the painted Celt.  And anyone who would argue with that has been in mental limbo their whole education, or raised on revisionist pseudo-textbooks more concerned with feminism and race relations than history.  They have not read or comprehended Beowulf or any of the confirmatory tomes which followed.  How Christianity accomplished that feat is a wonderful story in itself, but may best be summed up by the prophecy in Malachi 4:6: “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…”  This is the very last verse in the Old Testament, and the very next verse in the Bible, Matthew 1:1, reads, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: ”   A coincidence?  I don’t think so.

The discordant scene above, and others like it, are vaguely similar to those unruly children at the zoo, taunting the fanged predator behind the safety of iron bars.  Their bravery is situational…and illusory.  I recall years ago seeing – also in traffic – a gothic youth in a black, low-slung Honda.  His car sported a license plate which read, “BELZBUB”, if my memory is correct.  I experienced no inner dissonance then, just a quiet chuckling as I imagined the reaction of this fellow (who no doubt fancied himself a force to be reckoned with) should he actually happen to meet face-to-face the real  Lord of the Flies (or worse, his master).  At the very minimum, a change of his underwear would be in order. 

Yet, then as now (for now), that myopic modern Goth was safe – safe behind iron bars of another kind:  “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He [Christ] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”  Col 2:15.  Iron nails, and a dislocated stone.  Later, the spear of St. George, and the prayers and sacrifice of untold saints and martyrs.  The dragons are dispersed. 

And Grendel is dead. 

So, in our (for-the-time-being) exorcised civilization, gothic youths can flirt with satanism without obvious harm, not unlike kids taunting a zoo’s tiger.  And pampered suburban moms can pretend to be die-hard Darwinists….

 

In defense (not praise) of…”violence”. July 24, 2009

Posted by docgrubb in christianity, culture, religion.
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Modernity has dealt the word “violence” a bum rap, (to get my mixed metaphor out of the way early).  This post is a small attempt to rehabilitate that word, not necessarily any actions labelled by such. 

In the present day the ultimate virtue is to be nice, or fair, or non-judgmental.  Out in the country you can still hear phrases like, “he’s a good man”, or “they’re a good family”, but nowhere else.  For that would imply some others aren’t so good.  And to speak of honor today invites stares and awkward silence, with unvoiced thoughts of “what rock did he crawl out from?”  And, honest-to-goodness, when was the last time you heard (apart from a movie script) anyone speak of “duty”, not as in “jury duty”, but in the Victorian sense of “doing one’s”?  

This modern version of virtue is best summed up by a bumper sticker which was popular around the (most recent) turn-of-the-century:  “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK”.  I always wondered about the IQ of those drivers – how the internal hypocrisy of that declaration could be so lost on them.  I always wanted to print my own counter-sticker which might read “People with “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” stickers are MEAN”.  Or, more succinctly, ” “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” stickers SUCK”.   Meanness, intolerance, and, ahem,…violence…are all necessarily uncalled for, according to the modern psyche.  It doesn’t matter what happens to arouse the meanness, nor what the person is intolerant of, these are just an unquestioned bad.  Yet perhaps the crotchety old man is mean because he’s surrounded by a world of fools, punks who put “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” on their bumpers, but won’t offer him their place in the grocery line.  Or perhaps he’s got aches and pains and sensory losses (or griefs) that their spoiled  *ss*s haven’t and may never develop (or endure).   The truly charitable (and virtuous) bumper sticker might read “MEAN PEOPLE MAY JUST NEED LOVE”.   But I concede the pivot here is “MAY”, not “ALWAYS”.   Yet it goes against every hurried modern inclination to devote the time to discern which way it is, particularly with strangers.  And even with such attention, sometimes it remains a mystery to all but God.   But I digress…

So what about “violence”?  This is likely too big a topic for me, but I will take a stab at a few observations or insights.

Some definitions of “violence” include:  ‘swift and intense force’; ‘rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment’; ‘rough or immoderate vehemence’ (all Random House, online).  It seems in past ages “violence” denoted intensity, whereas today it carries the narrower sense of causing hurt or harm.  And the modern reader or speaker is, to put it mildly, quite mixed up in regards to hurt, harm, and suffering in general.   (Consider how ready we are to witness injury to others on-screen; how desensitized we have become to real pain in others – earthquake victims, African rape-as-weapon crimes, starvation – and yet, how averse we are to enduring a little pain ourselves – putting our children to sleep to pull their teeth, &c.  More on this line later.)  Perhaps this is why modern readers are having even more difficulty than their ancestors understanding or digesting some of the “violent” pronouncements of Christ:  “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…’ “.   “And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better to enter life…than to have two eyes and be thrown into…hell.”   “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  And the author of Hebrews: “For the word of God is…sharper than any two-edged sword,..dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow”.  No doubt, these are some of the most misunderstood verses in the New Testament, and this was the case even way-back-when violence was much more a fact of life.  But exegesis is not my goal here.  Suffice it to say that the Prince of Peace came to a fallen, cursed world, and, as an aid in apprehending our divine Remedy, advised violence.  Violence against the flesh, the world, and the devil.  Fire to fight fire.

The classic verse which pitted the positive aspect of violence against the negative, and one interpretation against the other, is Matthew 11:12.  “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (KJV)  (Flannery O’Connor must have preferred the Douay-Rheims: “…the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.”)  Whether Christ meant that the kingdom was being attacked by evil men (it was), or that inclusion in the kingdom comes via vehement struggle against sin and self (I fear it does), or both, has been the question.  The second sense here may be best summarized by Matthew Henry in his commentary:  “Those who will have an interest in the great salvation, will have it upon any terms, and not think them hard, nor quit their hold without a blessing.”  The end of this quote is, of course, an allusion to an Old Testament act of holy violence: Jacob’s wrestling with God.  The Puritans took up that second sense heartily, and Holy Violence was a ready phrase, theme, and exercise among them.  This endured on through to that other baptist, Charles Spurgeon, who preached a sermon by the same title ( http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0252.htm ).  And use of the phrase has seen some revival in recent times, hence, partly, this post.

What about violence itself, not just the word?  Today, on the one hand, we seem desensitized to it.  On the other, so averse to it as to seem allergic.  For the former, the media is largely responsible.  For the latter, no doubt, the following:  In the modern, cushioned world, we have become divorced from it.  As the infant raised in too clean an environment becomes the child with allergies to dust, mold, or dander, so citizens of a civilization where ‘safety is number one’ become ‘allergic’ to all dangers.  And we go to great lengths to shield ourselves from pain, even offenses to our senses.  The far-off slaughterhouse does our butchering for us.  We are content to buy shrink-wrapped protoplasm; not so content to lower a 22 between blinking, bovine eyes.  The educated class of the U.S. has, apart from the screen, become so divorced from it that our girls are no longer choosing nursing as a career.  We have to import nurses from the Phillipines, where blood, guts, pain, smell, and death are, I suppose, still part of the common experience.  In our suburbs, urgent care clinics see patients who are at a loss over how to care for trivial wounds.  Grown men have never seen a tick, let alone faced a wild beast.  Multiple examples abound. 

Truth be told, in a fallen world, violence is a necessity.  A necessary evil.  The surgeon makes violence regularly:  incisions in order to cure, fresh trauma to repair old, painful procedures to overcome handicap.  A tumor meets with all manner of violence: surgical, chemical, and nuclear.  Undergoing radiation therapy winter-before-last, I muttered to the technologist that, fifty years from now (assuming continued medical progress), even this high-tech radiation will seem barbaric. 

Violence is a necessity, but we pretend otherwise.  We banish corporal punishment from public schools.  Years later, the teachers, then unfortunate spouses, bear the consequences.  We set ourselves wiser than God, who said the rod will not injure the child, but might “save his soul from death”.  The pretensions have reached the veterinarians: no longer are we to use a rolled-up newspaper for training dogs, but must squirt their faces with a dilute vinegar!  This advice is far-flung from dogs in wild, and how they assign their hierarchy within packs – via violence.  The same modernists who insist we are all evolutionary products of the laws of nature, are the very ones most eager to divorce those laws from public policy.  (But the internal contradictions of liberalism are beyond this post.) 

Even when violence is not necessary, there are worse sins.  We haughtily judge the violent, but miss the cowardice or apathy in ourselves.  Not too long ago I read the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  One of the things from its pages most striking to me was how such newly converted “tribes” – Northumbrians, Angles, Mercians – were so ready to make war with one another, presumably, with fellow Christians.  There seemed to be little diminution of violence, at least in the immediate generations.  Some might naively argue that such was proof of the insincerity of their conversion.  I would disagree.  In fact, during my consumption of that book (I am a slow reader), I would drive past golf courses on my way to church on Sunday mornings.  The greens would be full of amicable golfers.  I would try to imagine how they would judge the bloody Saxon over and against themselves.  And the more I thought, the more I determined that, come Judgment Day, I would rather be in the shoes of those ancient warriors than those of these golfers.  For, though it may be difficult to maintain that genuine faith cohabits with violence, it is downright impossible to maintain true faith exists where there is not even rudimentary private or public worship of the Creator.

Recently I watched an old movie for the first time, How Green was My Valley.  Within the course of depicted events, not only the kingdom of heaven, but western civilization, the Welsh landscape, and every character “suffereth violence”.  Nothing and no one is spared.  Following little Huw’s abuse by his schoolteacher, we watch the boxer friend-of-the-family and his assistant pay the fellow a visit and give him a sound thrashing.  And no one can judge for sure, this side of heaven, whether such executions of justice are divine or just human.  For real life is even more complex.  “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”, wrote Paul.  We know, or ought to know, that the Curse will not be cancelled until the Second Adam does so.  John wrote, “And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new”.”

Through none of this am I belittling the pain of those who have personally suffered real violence.  And corporately, among three of the most destructive waves that have swept across our civilization in the modern era – the French Revolution, the First World War, and the adoption of fiat currencies – two of them were violent.  Extremely violent, and most surely, needlessly.  The point I am trying to make is that, whereas all criminal violence warrants condemnation, not all violence is criminal.  And that, whereas all unnecessary violence is wasteful, not all violence is unnecessary.  And getting this mixed up, or forgetting it, does no one any good.  And making bad policy based on wishful thinking usually creates harm, birthing its own suffering.  Here is the place for two excellent sayings:  “Primum non nocere”, “first, not to harm”, the physicians’ motto (would to God it were politicians’ too).   And my personal favorite and recurring theme, “the perfect is enemy to the good”.

On that note, let me close where I began – near the rear of an automobile.  The most recent memorable bumpersticker I’ve spied was this: “Peace is the answer”, with the requisite rainbow-colored background.  But how to take it: “answer” as in “solution to our problems”?  As an elixir against our base behaviors, or antidote to war?  Oh really?  Unsurprisingly, my derision arose instantly, and I began composing counter-stickers in my head: “Peace:  a destination, not the transportation”, or “PEACE – an end, not a means”.  Indeed, ‘peace as policy’ makes about as much sense as a psychiatrist writing a prescription for ‘tranquility’ or ‘happiness’ to his anxious or depressed patients.  The pharmacist wouldn’t know how to fill it.  And likewise citizens, soldiers, scientists, and clergy have no idea how to fill the peace-talk of politicians.  It makes good press, but it is less than a puff of air.  It is substanceless song, like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry; Be Happy”, but without the relaxing beat.  A child’s cap-gun has more utility when met with an enemy. 

Yes, peace is a destination.  A New Jerusalem, where there will be no night, no more “death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Paul says, “For God was pleased…through him[Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven”.  And how?  “by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”   (A violent cross.)  Peace the end, blood the means. 

Yes, there will be a New Jerusalem.  But first Faithful and True must return a second time, wielding a sword above those gathered to make war against Him, and the blood will rise to the horses’ bridles.  John says He will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God”, and “all the birds” will gorge themselves “on their flesh.”  Then, and only then, come the plowshares, and violence will go the way of tears.

490, and Beyond April 10, 2008

Posted by docgrubb in christianity, religion.
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     Our pastor is working his way through Mark’s gospel on Sunday mornings.  This past Lord’s Day homily was on chapter 11, verse 25: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  A hard saying that – that the unforgiving risk being unforgiven.  But this post will not try to repeat his excellent message.  This post is not even about the subject of forgiveness directly.  A later one might be, but not this one.

     One of the pastor’s subsequent citations was Matthew 18:22.  I’ll start with v. 21:  “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?’

     22 Jesus answered, ‘ I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.’ ”  Then Christ goes on to relate the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  Now, I shall not attempt to exegete these verses.  But I will share what, later on, struck me most about this exchange between Peter and Christ.  Quite simply, it was this: verse 22 might well be the shortest argument available that Christ was indeed who He claimed to be, the Son of God.  Who else could dream up such an outlandish maxim?  A wholly non-human concept, he commands the offended to forgive repeatedly, even, apparently, for the same recurring offense.  And He doesn’t mean up to 490 times, but beyond.  For, as commentators note, these numbers signify completeness multiplied, or times without number.  This is consistent only with a God-like characteristic or attribute, not a human inclination.  If the disciples or apostles or their cohorts were conspiring to invent a religion, or to “make all this up”, they would never in a thousand years come up with something so revolutionary or unimaginable as this: to forgive your oppressor with….abandon

     Consider Matthew, the author, or rather reporter, of these verses.  He was a tax collector for the occupying Roman authorities.  Integrity-wise, he was, before he met Jesus, the modern equivalent of the used-car salesman.  Would he have come up with this maxim, and offered it to his co-conspirators?  If you believe that, or believe it possible of any of his fellows – fishermen, tent-makers, and the like – then you are more credulous by far than any Christian who believes in miracles, resurrection, and heaven.  For it is far simpler to believe that a God who makes quasars and supernovae can also handle loaves and fishes than it is to believe that a motley band of ancient mideastern peasants so aptly (yet fictitiously) painted the personality of the Divine. 

     Let me further illustrate by offering a comparision.   I am no expert on the Koran.  But I found this excerpt today, and I’ll mainly let it speak for itself.  Referring to those who would slander even charitable believers:  009.080 “Whether thou ask for their forgiveness, or not, (their sin is unforgivable): if thou ask seventy times for their forgiveness, God will not forgive them: because they have rejected God and His Apostle: and God guideth not those who are perversely rebellious.”  The way I read this is, even if you ask Allah seventy times to forgive those who have slandered righteous men, he will not.  Here the human appears to be more merciful than Deity, interceding for slanderers, but being rebuffed.  This is totally opposite the Biblical version, where God implores His creation, man, to be as forgiving as He is.  The polarity is very striking.  “He hid not His face from shame and spitting”.  And yet for those mockers: “Father, forgive them…”  

The Bad Thief April 1, 2008

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“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.”

A couple of weeks ago I headed to church on Palm Sunday in what was the latter stages of one of my spiritual “funks” (possibly my third this year, and I don’t call them that inwardly – I don’t know that I call them anything).   These funks are, quite frankly, the result of self-pity, that old sin which any evangelist worth his salt will tell you is straight from Hell.   I can be cruising or even climbing in my faith, when, out of the blue or as a result of a disheartening conflict or setback, I begin, like Eve, to lend an ear to the old archliar, rehashing all the apparent injustices surrounding me or the (to my mind) unnecessary trials God has sent my way, and before long he has me bitter enough to shake all confidence in God, and forthwith I give God the cold-shoulder.   During the descent into a funk, before ‘communication is broken off’,  I may ask the Truth why He needs to make every area of my life – relationships, marriage, finances, health – into a trial.   Can’t one or two accomplish His goals?   “All day long I have been plagued.”  Or, temporally, why must trials overlap one another – can’t a break be on the agenda now and then?  “I have been punished every morning.”  Or, at my worst and most unreasonable, why trials at all – do earthly fathers engineer tests for our children?

Then come the deeper stages.  “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant;  I was a brute beast before you.”   Reader, have you ‘been there; done that’ ?

Then, invariably, Someone shows up:  Love-That-Will-Not-Let-Me-Go.   That Palm Sunday morning I listened with slowly thawing heart.  The pastor reviewed how those fickle Passover crowds shouted ‘Hosanna’, anticipating a military solution to Roman oppression.  Their own sin and its remedy were not on their radar screen.  And likely neither was the sobering concept that the occupation itself was the consequence of their fathers’ sins, as Assyria and Babylon were in times past.  But like all sons of Adam, these crowds wanted relief from the consequences without dealing with the root cause.  They and we may not only be complacent about our sin, but may even cherish it.  We certainly don’t want to talk about it, and spare us any spiritual mirrors that might reveal our true condition.  We want rescued, but we don’t want to change.  So when these crowds saw the Nazarene in chains, and no one even coming to his defense, their worldly, selfish hopes were dashed, and they turned on him en masse.  When He did not do what they expected, they abandoned Him. 

The pastor then explained that we do the same thing.   And here I paraphrase him:  we expect God to fix this or that – the troubled marriage, the ruined finances, the broken health – and when He doesn’t, we lose heart at best, or grow bitter at worst.   We err because we lose perspective, that is, the fact that He has already done the most gracious thing possible for us – the rescue of our souls from the eternal consequences of our law-breaking and rebellion.  As the hymnist wrote, “That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

When the pastor spoke his three examples – marriage, finances, health – it was as if he, or rather God, were speaking to me personally.  “Yes, I’m talking to you.”  “Shannon, quit being an ingrate.”  “Shannon, don’t be like the Jerusalem crowds.”   Previously, “when I tried to understand all this”,  these trials, injustices, all consequences of the Fall, “it was oppressive to me.”   Until LTWNLMG shows up again.  “Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I under- stood…   You guide me with Your counsel…   …it is good to be near God.”   Christ came to save us from our real  peril: eternal separation from our own Creator.  Everything else is inconsequential, or even a part of the saving and refining: “yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation.”  Even my comfort or that modern god ‘happiness’.

But even as the shouts arose favoring Barrabas, Christ was not finished with being accused of failure, He was hardly finished with humiliation.  Nails and thorns were not the final pains, but human words.  In the throes of bearing the consequences of the Fall to the full, in the midst of repairing the ruins, in reconciling creation to God as the real Second Adam, Christ did not satisfy the demands of the bad thief:  “Save yourself and us! ”  The bad thief was unrepentant for his sins.  But his error went beyond that.  It may have superseded unbelief itself.  For even if his mocks had a kernel of belief within them, he would not accept a God who would not fix the here and now, the immediate peril.  “If you are God, do what I say.  Otherwise, you ain’t God, and I won’t believe in you.”

We are all ‘bad thiefs’ from time to time.  Our hope comes in listening to the rebukes of our good thieves (in my case the pastor) and in grasping the grace from LTWNLMG when He sends it our way.

(All scripture quotes from Psalm 73)

Several days old, a tardy tribute to WFBjr., and just for fun March 20, 2008

Posted by docgrubb in politics.
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In Memoriam Wm F Buckley
with Apologies to E J Thribb
                                            
     So.  Farewell then,
     Mr. William F. Buckley,
                                                    
     Junior.  Pencil-chewer.
     Sorry, I mean
     Eraser-nibbler.  But not
     User, I bet, rapid
     Writer
     Of obituaries and
     More…
                                        
     Bon vivant,
     Orthodox communicant,
     Polyhistor-ic savant…
                                                  
     Now we will want
     Records of Firing Line,
     And I need a
     Copy of God
                                 
     And Man at Yale.
     Inscribed!
     And DO NOT CANCEL
     My subscription to
     NR,
     Thank you.
                                       
     And where do you think you’re off to,
     Anyhow?
                                        
     The doldrums have
     Fallen now on us,
     But you,
     You gale,
     Sail on.
                                    
S L Grubb (47)

….Broken clocks, II March 1, 2008

Posted by docgrubb in religion.
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I recently finished Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell, a Christian ghost story,  of sorts.  In it I was introduced to his theme of substitutionary love, which includes “bearing one another’s burdens” beyond the external, to an inner, even mystical, degree.   (I think the modern church, which includes myself, is sorrowfully unpracticed in this virtue/gift/fruit.)  After Descent, I moved on to Essential Writings in…, some of his non-fiction, where the above theme and others (e.g. co-inherence) are elaborated.   In actuality, Williams reintroduced substitution to the church (and named it), for he points out that the concept stretches all the way back to the desert fathers, and includes a quote from a follower of St. Anthony, who was quoting another: “It is right for a man to take up the burden for those who are akin (or near) to him…and, so to speak, to put his own soul in the place of that of his neighbor, and to become, if it were possible, a double man;…and he must suffer for him as he would for himself”.  Of course, for Williams, it stretches further back, to the substitution, the Atonement, his “Divine Substitution”, an “Act as the root of all [exchange and substitution]”.  And this does not mean that there were no Old Covenant examples; but, indeed, Christ’s was root and central.

Aside from recommending these two books, you may ask, where else am I heading with this?  Just here.  Williams, within the theme of ‘substitution’, briefly broached another ancient topic: baptism for the dead.  Like C.S. Lewis on Purgatory, Williams does not toss out unconsidered what other wise saints have believed in faith.  So I set about ‘googling’ this very topic.  Proponents of this practice point out St. Paul’s single mention of it, but not condemnation of it, in   I Corinthians 15:29.  And I discovered (showing my ignorance of modern religions) that there is only one “church” which actually practices it: the Mormon, or Latter Day Saints (LDS).  And, I admit, they do seem to carry it to extremes.  But in so doing, they at least practice what they believe.  To wit: as Christians we proclaim an extra-universal God, transcending all dimensions, including time.  And yet we pray as if He were as beholden to time as we are, never thinking or deigning to pray about things that have already happened.  Now I’m not suggesting we ought to be asking God to alter accomplished history, as in reversing 9/11 or such.  But for those secret things known only to God, we can, I believe, intercede after-the-fact.  On my own part, I have prayed, for example, that an accomplished biopsy be reported as negative, knowing He has not only the power to heal, but to normalize tissue slides awaiting the pathologist’s microscope.   And I have prayed, as you may have, for some of those recently deceased, that God would have particularly comforted them during their last hours or moments.  But I confess, I have not yet laid hold of the faith to pray about things remotely past, or centuries old.  Yet there seems no reason not to.  Although there is no sense in our asking God to undo 9/11, what prevents the faithful from petitioning, for instance, for His extra comfort to those trapped in or fallen from the WTC, or even revealing Himself and spiritually saving?  Nothing, I submit, other than a poverty of faith.  If the reader knows otherwise, or something I’m overlooking, please share your comments.

Yes, the LDS is my second broken clock.  Returning to baptism for the dead, I just don’t know in this regard whether the LDS (in concept, not in particulars) has its big hand and little hand on the correct time, or is way off the mark.  

Broken clocks… February 29, 2008

Posted by docgrubb in religion.
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[To elicit more comments, I suppose I’ll need to consider either an off-the-wall or a controversial topic.  I’ll try the former first….maybe two of them.]

I read an interesting article yesterday, “Listening to Leviticus”, in the Feb. 27 issue of JAMA.  (I do not belong to the AMA, but get it nonetheless.)  It was by a surgeon, describing his travail over operating on a Jehovah’s Witness who would not accept blood products if needed.  Though not one himself, he researched the subject that was complicating his comfort-zone.  Among several citations, he uses Leviticus 17:10,11: “If anyone of the house of Israel or of aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people.  For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” 

Now, at least for an exegetically-challenged mind like mine, this scripture raises two questions.  One:  since God is changeless, are not the things detestable to Him in the Old Testament still detestable today?  (Were Yorkshiremen of yesteryear sinning with their blood-puddings?)  I’m sure the broader question has been answered many times before, and that, as far as ‘not being under the Law’, there are differences between Temple ordinances, prohibitions, the Decalogue, &c.  I just haven’t learned the definitive answer yet.  But more on today’s focus is question Two:  if the answer to One is ‘yes’, does receiving a transfusion amount to ‘eating’?  (Does it amount to the same disrespect to this ‘life of the creature’ that apparently consuming it does?)  Further, if it does, wouldn’t donating blood be nearly as blameworthy as receiving?  Were my past visits to Hoxworth detestable, God forbid, rather than charitable?  Then additional issues arise: marrow transplants, &c., &c.

I know that the Jehovah’s Witness sect is unorthodox, even non-Christian to the consensus of the universal church.  But “even a broken clock is right twice a day,” they say.  As I get older, I find myself needing to reassess things I hitherto had always accepted without question.  Is this just approaching dotage, or whiffs of eventual wisdom?  I dunno; and please don’t tell me.  But in re: to the preceding questions, I seek your input.

Up next:  Broken clocks II…

Wm. F. Buckley….”Godspeed”. February 28, 2008

Posted by docgrubb in politics.
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Yesterday the nation was saddened to learn of the passing of WFB,Jr.   Follow the link below, and in reading it, honor the memory of two great men.   Reagan’s paragraph four especially might be useful as an antidote for anyone afflicted with an Obama-trance.  

http://www.nationalreview.com/script/printpage.p?ref=/document/reagan200406100924.asp