Saturday, April 22, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - The Unlovable

God calls us to love those who, from our perspective, are unlovely and unlovable.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Chrysostom

For He espoused her as a wife, He loves her as a daughter, He provides for her as a handmaid, He guards her as a virgin, He fences her round like a garden, and cherishes her like a member: as a head He provides for her, as a root He causes her to grow, as a shepherd He feeds her, as a bridegroom He weds her, as a propitiation He pardons her, as a sheep He is sacrificed, as a bridegroom he preserves her in beauty, as a husband He provides for her support.

John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD, Eutropius, and the Vanity of Riches, Homily II, 15 (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, pp. 262, 263)

What does it mean that the church is the bride of Christ? How does that help us to understand our relationship with God?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Duns Scotus - The Critic

The path of extreme intellectualism is a dangerous one. This is not because reason or reasoning is an unreliable thing. But we are sinners and find it very easy to twist our reasoning  to serve our own purposes. That is why we need God's revelation. Also, there is a temptation in reasoning to tear other people down to build  our own ego. Thus we can end up sceptics who tear things down without building up anything in their place. This was the direction taken by Duns Scotus.

The early scholastics, such as Thomas Aquinas, attempted to built up an intellectual defense of the Medieval church and ended up going too far that way. Duns Scotus critiqued the reasoning of those defenses. He then claimed he still believed the positions were proved. But he did it based on the authority of the church and not because they could be shown to be true by reasoning. He also subjected the Bible to that same authority, claiming that the church created the Bible. (It was really the other way around: the Bible created the church.) Scotus also tried to claim that things were what they were, not by nature, but by God's choice. Good and bad were such because God chose them to be, and He could have chosen otherwise. The plan of salvation was also something God arbitrarily chose and that could have been something else. (Why God would, as a purely voluntary option, pick a plan that involved death on a cross seems strange to me.)

Now there are advantages to this approach. If you believe everything is based on authority and claim it  is all arbitrarily chosen, then you make it hard to refute or undermine. But you also make it hard to convince anyone on the outside of the truth of what you hold. In fact, if there are not some shared understandings agreed on by both parties, it is hard to even meaningfully communicate. And without any external support from Scripture or reason, your authority becomes viciously circular. It is a mistake to pin too much on reason. But it is also a mistake to throw reason out entirely. Even if it makes you vulnerable to the other persons reasonings. For meeting him in that arena may be the only way to reach him.   

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Is Wisdom?

What is wisdom? And how do we get it? Biblical wisdom is not simply knowledge or the accumulation of facts (2 Timothy 3:7; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Colossians 2:8). Nor is it simply a matter of God putting knowledge into your head. (God can do that, but that is not what wisdom is.) In the classic illustration of wisdom, Solomon was confronted with two women claiming the same child (1 Kings 3:16-28). God did not simply drop into Solomon’s mind which was the right woman. Rather, Solomon used his knowledge of human nature to determine which was the mother. Wisdom, therefore, does not primarily consist in the obtaining of new knowledge but in the ability to use the knowledge we have.  Therefore, when we pray for wisdom (James 1:5), we are not asking God to zap us with truth, but for God to give us the ability to properly use the knowledge we have.

Where, then, do we get wisdom? The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God  (Proverbs 1:7; Romans 1:22,23; Colossians 2:2,3). It also is found in God’s Word (Psalms 19:7; 119:97-100, 1:1,2). But there can be a problem here. It is possible to simply acquire information on spiritual things without obtaining real wisdom. Now I do not believe you can know God without knowing about Him (Jeremiah 9:23,24; 1 John 4:1-6; Isaiah 43:10). But knowing God and having the wisdom that comes from that involves more than just knowing information (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 John 4:7,8; John 13:17). So how do we go from merely possessing information to real wisdom?

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. This means that we need to understand God’s greatness and His holiness. Now it does say in Scripture that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). But the problem is, we want to shortcut the process. We need to walk in the steps of Isaiah who saw a vision of the glory of God and realized he was a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:1-8). Then God forgave Isaiah’s sin and called Isaiah to be His prophet. We need to start by recognizing that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) and that God is holy (Romans 1:18; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:17). But Christ paid the price (1 Peter 1:18,19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13,14) so that those who put their faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9) can come with confidence into the presence of God (Romans 8:31-39; 1 John 4:17; Hebrews 4:16). However, if we try to bypass this and approach God without a realization of His holiness and our unworthiness, we can fail to develop a real understanding of who God is. For paradoxically, the way to wisdom is humility (Matthew 18:1-6; Luke 18:9-17; Proverbs 16:18). For it is only as we realize how little we really know (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; Proverbs 26:12), that we become open to learning what God wants to teach us.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

God in the Trenches

Some people see God as someone who is off at a distance beholding our life. He sits up in His ivory tower and occasionally looks down over the balcony and shakes His head over the way we behave or clucks His tongue over the trouble we are in. He sends down instructions on how we should be living our lives if we would only listen. If He is sufficiently moved by the trouble we are in, He might send us some kind of help, but there is no guarantee. He deplores the fact of how we live and what it does to us. But He cannot possibly understand what we are going through, having never experienced it Himself. This is not the God of Christianity.   

Christianity says that God became a human being to pay the price for our sins (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18). He knows what it is like to lose a father, to be rejected by His brothers, betrayed by a friend, despised by those in power, and condemned as a criminal. He knows poverty, temptation, sorrow, and pain. He experienced all the same kinds of things we experience except sin. And He did it to rescue us from the consequences of our wrongdoing (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). What does this mean? It means we have a God who understands our sufferings. Who has been there. Who knows what it’s like. We have a God who loved us enough to go through that for us. He is not someone standing at a distance shouting out instructions. He was willing to go down with us into the muck and the mire to pull us out. For the truth is, we need more than just a good example, we need more than an instruction book; we need to be rescued. We are helpless and cannot save ourselves (John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 8:8).

This does not answer the philosophical problem of evil, but it puts it in perspective. It does not explain God’s hiddenness at a particular time in our life, but it puts it in the context of the bigger picture. We may feel like Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers. Or we may feel like David, on the run from King Saul, though anointed king. We may not have all the answers as to what God is doing. But we know that He is in control of the world (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13) and we need to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Isaiah 31:1). However, it does make a difference to know that God knows what it is like to go through such things, because He went through them Himself. We do not serve a God who sits in an ivory tower, but One who went down into the trenches for our sakes.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Touch of Humor - The Play Is the Thing

How can Christians avoid pretending to be something they are not and still uphold their standards? How, given this, should they view themselves and others?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - Worship

Man was made to worship something, even if it is only himself.