Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Centuries of critics have accused God of unfairly judging His enemies after having hardened their hearts. Is God guilty-as-charged? God repeatedly hardened His Old Testament enemies' hearts and then judged them with annihilation. He hardened Pharaoh's heart so that self-proclaimed god would chase the Hebrews into the wilderness, and die in the process. God hardened Judas' heart so that he, in his greed, would betray Jesus, and end his own life. That sounds unfair for good reason: we know only half the story--the superficial, human half. What is hardening of the heart? Does it mean those whose hearts God has hardened have no free will? The inhabitants of the Promised Land worshiped gods to whom they attributed lust for sex and children's blood. The people happily "obeyed" the inert idols and practiced the most fowl forms of debauchery and human sacrifice. Their sensuous religion was a cancer that, if not excised, would infect God's people. Pharaoh was a proud man who enslaved an entire race of people for his fun and profit. He and his people also worshiped lustful gods, also practiced depraved religion. His lust for power, if not ended, would enslave not only the Jews, but any people weaker than Egypt. Judas was greedy, worshiping and lusting after money and power. His spirit of greed, if not quelled, would spread throughout the church. When he discovered that his betrayal would cost Jesus' life, his pride made him commit suicide to end his dishonor. God didn't make these people depraved idolaters or prideful profiteers. Their sin was their own choice. In hardening their hearts, God simply prevented their poison from spreading and allowed them to reap the harvest of their sin. Hardening their hearts kept them from becoming fearful and changing their minds for the wrong reason. Fear of God's punishment doesn't bring repentance. It brings rationalizations, excuses and attempted evasion of sin's consequences. Repentance comes from the reverential fear of God's holiness. Were those people whose hearts God hardened likely to repent of their evil and devote themselves to obeying God? No mere human could answer that question, but God knows each person's intentions perfectly. If He hadn't hardened their hearts God knew they would have continued in their rebellious, cruel lifestyles, plaguing His people until the end of time. God simply allowed their evil intentions to kill them, without escaping through caution or fear. As from the beginning, sin enslaves those who give themselves to it. God only hardens hearts that have already surrendered completely to depravity. Everyone who has sinned in any way has already sold themselves into bondage to the lowest bidder. That includes all of humanity because all have sinned. Jesus died and rose from the grave for one purpose: He was the price God paid to buy back our sinful lives. Only those who have accepted the opportunity Jesus bought for us, and turned away from their self interest and self gratification, have a choice of whether or not they will sin. Now we know the answer to the centuries-old question. God was NOT unfair in hardening His enemies' hearts--or in any dealings with His creation.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Robin Parrish of Infusemag.com presented a challenging question in his latest newsletter. While considering the statement, "Sometimes evil must be fought," for use in a novel, he pondered the apparent conflict between Yeshua's command to turn the other cheek and the Old Covenant battle cry, "The battle belongs to the LORD." Robin wrote, "We can't help but cheer for the hero who stands his ground before the wicked and fights the good fight ... There's something very noble-sounding about the good and decent people of the world standing up against the dastardly villains ... So if I were to stop an act of brutality against an innocent, it may not exactly be turning the other cheek, but it's hard to see such an action as a bad thing." Finally he asked, "So was Jesus sending mixed signals? Was he telling us to do good only when harming the wicked can be avoided?" Well, that got me to thinking. I love to watch the Yeshua of my imagination outraged by the religious leaders' presumption and verbally nailing them to the temple wall, or throwing the shysters out of the temple courtyard. He never attacked them personally, either with sarcasm or with physical violence, but he attacked their corruption. He never attacked them for his own sake, whether getting even for an insult or responding to a personal injustice. His mission was to redeem us from our slavery to sin, not to defend Himself. By observing His life and following His example we can avoid the apparent conundrums Robin's editorial presented. There is in fact no conflict at all, as I'm sure he believes. In the gospel accounts we saw Yeshua "turn the other cheek," and we saw Him attack the evildoers. While He refused to defend Himself, He defended the temple with His entire strength. It's not hard to see the consistency in His motives for both: all He did, He did for us, and never for Himself. Yeshua lived the ultimate example of a godly life through both grace and judgment. We can safely emulate His grace, but we must be cautious emulating His judgment. Yeshua had none of our false motives. He judged from righteousness. Could we ever claim the same basis for judgment? Knowing us better than we know ourselves, He told us not to judge others. Now let's see ... by my primitive math, 2 - 1 = 1. So if we're to follow Yeshua's example without violating His clear command, that one response we're allowed is grace.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Horror stories abound, both involving people abusing other people of all sizes and vulnerabilities, and society's attempts at preventing it. Domestic abuse is as old as humanity and will continue until God pulls the plug. Child abuse is just one manifestation of the problem, but it is the most heart-breaking. Enter The Authorities. Government, with the best of intentions, undertakes remedies guided by all the best and brightest theoreticians academia can muster, locks their sparkling-new modalities in place with the power of administrative fiat, then institutionalizes their infallible solutions as if enacted by the Voice of God. Enforcement is another issue. Thousands of bureaucrats join the government dole, each one dedicated to their job security. Most of them believe to their very marrow that society will survive only when all parental rights are subjugated to their inerrant judgment. God help us all.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Few authors can do justice to period romances. Most engage in maudlin sentimentality, trying to wrench tears from their readers as gracefully as a dentist yanking molers. In A BRIDE MOST BEGRUDGING, Deanne Gist pulls the heartstrings with humor and vividly drawn characters. The Christian Booksellers' Association ranked BRIDE number fifteen on its June bestsellers list, and Christian Book Distributers ranked it number one. If you enjoy a great romance once in a while, don't miss this one.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
(Psalms 60:11) O give us help against the adversary, For deliverance by man is in vain. The Big Brother household members always react with outrage when their little alliances collapse; they seem genuinely amazed that a fellow contestant could betray them. Mutual reliance breeds teamwork, and combines individuals' strengths with synergistic efficiency to overcome unthinkable obstacles and achieve unimaginable results. Nevertheless, even the most ideal of partnerships hold plenty of potential for conflict and failure. King David of Israel frequently rediscovered the potential for friendships to sour and alliances to fail. He learned through bitter experience that God is the only friend who sticks closer than a brother, the only ally who would never turn against him. While God is the only perfectly reliable source of help, we still find it occasionally necessary to seek human assistance. When that happens, we can insulate ourselves somewhat against human betrayal by remaining constantly dependent upon God as our primary friend, ally and advisor. And if we maintain that relationship throughout all of life's trials, when someone inevitably fails us, though we may be hurt, we will not be devastated. Instead, we will recover quickly and proceed through life with hardly a hitch in our stride. If their alliances held that well, BIG BROTHER's viewer ratings would crash like the fool's gold dirigibles they are.
Blood keeps us alive by carrying oxygen and nutrition to all the cells of our bodies. But it also carries away those cells' waste products. It's our bodies' transport system. When, for any reason, we loose more blood than our bodies can quickly replace, we die ... if we don't get a transfusion. "That shouldn't be hard," one might answer, "everyone can spare some blood." Yes, but that's only half the truth. While everyone has extra blood they can give, most people's blood can kill anyone else because it's incompatible. The only blood type that is safely transfusable to anyone is type O, because it is universally compatible with other blood types. Suffering personal loss leaves holes in our lives, and more often than not we try to fill them in with stuff that feels familiar or comfortable. But like transfusing incompatible blood, filling the holes in our lives with incompatible content can kill us spiritually and even personally. Coincidentally, the one Person who can safely fill that gap in our lives calls Himself the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the beginning of our faith and the end of our longing. Filling our lives with Jesus doesn't come naturally, or even easily. Only when our hearts crave His presence and we refuse any substitute will he come in and make us whole again.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
In my youth I worked for the Navy Civil(Silly) Service in a job that had me ride a forty-foot, diesel work boat. Getting to our work station was kinda fun, pounding as we did through the swells off San Clemente Island. When we reached our work station, however, they throttled the diesel engines back to an idle so the pilot could hold her against the current. Very quickly the boat began pitching and rolling in a peculiar, dizzying fashion. If that had been all I had to tolerate, I would have had a bit of seasickness and been able to work through it. But it wasn't. Shortly after we hove to, the wind began coming over the transom, along with the most obnoxious, black diesel smoke. Of course there was no staying out of its way, since two exhaust ports came through the transom, spreading the smoke in a perfectly even pall over the whole boat. I must have been grayer than the diesel smoke, since the other workers just let me puke my guts over the side, rather than trying to make me hold my own on the team. But I've always had a hard time with motion sickness. Even now, if I try to read a map while riding shotgun, I turn various shades of green and quit having fun right away. One might reasonably wonder how this ties in with James 1:5-8. It's in the waves that the wind blows at will. While I believe better than this, when I pray I can't help feeling that if it were anyone else praying, the answer would already be in the wind. But because I am a man of wavering faith, the wind just blows me around like the waves. Part of my self-concept places me in that select group of people who can't expect answers to prayer, with the mass murderers and cereal rapists. Why do I believe that, despite Jesus' gracious love, I don't qualify for answers to my prayers? As I said, I know better, but I don't feel what I know. I'm always the first one to council others about not buying into emotion's shifting sands and blowing waves. I completely believe everything the Bible says about God, and what He did through Jesus. Yet, when it comes to myself that wonderful advice just doesn't seem to apply. I continually pray that God will pick up the challenge of my wavering faith and drive a spike through it, into Jesus' cross. But whether or not that ever happens I will still praise Him with all of my being, and serve Him as best I can.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
There is a lot of buzz about the emergent, postmodern church. All the "cool" Christians identify with the ill-defined concept. The emerging church is composed of people who seem to say, "Out with the old program, in with the new." Every denomination was begun by such dissatisfied saints. They flowed out of the rock mountain as an "emerging" movement of red-hot, molten spirituality. Without exception, they cooled and became just another rigid layer of the institutional mountain. Can we break the cycle?
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
I often wonder why I can't seem to build enough cognitive momentum on my own to drag words out of my brain and plaster them on paper or computer monitor. Maybe I'll never have an answer, but for now I'll just enjoy the stimulation others provide. A case-in-point is Dave Long's Faith*in*Fiction blog. His discussion dealing with why people read migrated to questioning why people write. In quoting Shirley Brice Heath's analysis of readers' motivations, he suggested the possibility that literary readers tend to be social isolates, retreating into the depths of their characters' worlds in preference to their own. Those same "misfits" tend to become writers, both because of the mentoring they get from their reading and because writing is cathartic. They deal with life's baffling questions through their complex characters' varying points of view and eclectic choices. All that confusion and seeking produce some brilliant fiction. But what about Christian authors, whose cosmic conundrums are answered in the person of and through a relationship with the Eternal, Self-existent One. Now that's a mouthful, but it begs an interesting question: "Since Christians have answers to all the "whys" of the universe, what's left to write about other than telling others our answers?" And in doing so our work is in danger of becoming formulaic, or worse, didactic. So, what's a happy writer to do? For one thing, even happy writers struggle with blind spots and weak areas in their lives. And as wonderful as it is to know the Author and Finisher of our faith, those of us who are honest must admit to not being privy to all the strata of His motives. While those who live by faith aren't worried about God's perfect, unique way for them, denying that they have questions about it would be a boldfaced lie. It is those persistent, niggling questions that can best provide grist for the Christian's fiction mill.