Thursday, March 5, 2015

Forging a Chain

Sin looks good in the beginning. But it ends up becoming a chain that enslaves us (John 8:34; Romans 6:16-20; Hebrews 2:14,15). This is true not only of obvious things like drugs and alcohol, but also of subtle sins like anger, jealousy, and pride. But I want to speak here of one of the obvious ones that our culture wants to paint as acceptable. That is sexual behavior. There is no greater conflict between the traditional Christian view of morality and our current culture's view. The contention of our culture is that sexual expression of almost any kind is good. It is the traditional Christian contention that sexual expression should take place within the lifelong commitment of marriage. Now there should be forgiveness for those who do not live up to this ideal. But that does not mean it is not the ideal. And it is my contention that sexual freedom is forging a chain to enslave us. Something I am personally aware of, having battled pornography since I have been old enough to battle pornography.

Sexuality can be a beautiful expression of a real commitment between a man and a woman. Or it can be a way to gratify your urges, using another person as an instrument. Marriage puts around sexual expression a hedge of agreed-upon commitment. But without that hedge, sexuality easily slips into pure selfishness. Nor does it help that we have make sex into an idol, the basic goal of life. And we have made being in love the ultimate experience that excuses any behavior. The pursuit of this leads to enslavement. Ironically, making sex into an idol works to destroy the committed relationship that is the legitimate expression of sexual desires. For no real relationship can produce this supposed ultimate experience. And it is difficult to maintain a committed relationship when constantly confronted with contrary ideas from the culture. Further, there is nothing that can ruin legitimate pleasures more than expecting them to be a panacea for all your problems. Only God can really take the central place in our lives. Anything else put there will ultimately destroy us. And our culture's trail of broken relationships, between men and women and between parents and children, bears witness of this.

Am I then in favor of censorship? I believe that trying to solve such things by passing laws is fairly futile. Laws are only useful when there is a general consensus as to what the standard should be. Now I do think there is a difference between speech which expresses an opinion and that which directly causes harm (such as slander or yelling fire in a crowded theater).   I would consider pornography to be in the second category.   However, we should not be trying to change laws but to change hearts. And we need to start by recognizing in our own mind that sexual license is not freedom; it is slavery. Then we need to help those caught in its grip to escape, rather than just condemning them. For only then can we break the chain. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Fear of Authority and Anarchy

I think most of us are haunted by one or the other of two opposite fears. Or sometimes a mixture of both. One is the fear of authority. The fear of someone bossing us around and telling us what to do. Particularly if that person is harsh and unreasonable and not really interested in our welfare. I think that conspiracy theories and government paranoia thrillers originate in this fear. We are afraid a heartless despot is really in control of our life. But there is a powerful and opposite fear of anarchy. A fear that all the protective sanctions of society are in danger of breaking down or already have broken down. There is the fear that there is nothing to protect us from people behaving in a lawless or harmful manner. This view can advocate strict order in society and see any departure from that order as a serious danger.

While both of these views are unreasonable extremes, the answer is not to pooh-pooh both and claim that there are no problems and everything is okay. There have been cases of serious abuse of authority, and the evils of totalitarianism are very real. Also, there has been real suffering in times of anarchy, when some catastrophe has caused society to break down. We are sinners and capable of considerable evil (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). Rather, we need to remember there is a God who loves us (John 3:16-18; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9,10), and if we put our faith in Him, He will bring us through the difficulties we face and use them for our benefit (2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20). Therefore, we can trust Him, whatever other people may do (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:1-6; 147:10,11). There is, I think, a proper balance between freedom and authority that is hard to maintain. But totally giving in to fear on one side or the other only gets in the way.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

It's an Allegory

T
here is a danger in trying to make things into an allegory. Granted, there are works that are allegories and are meant to be. But to read allegories in where none are indicated is dubious. Further, it is particularly questionable to read in an allegory containing ideas that are foreign to the original work. A work means what its author intended it to mean. And when legitimately asking if it is an allegory, we need to ask if its author could have originally meant it to one. If not, there is no possible way that this could be a legitimate meaning of that book. And it is unfair to the author to read it in. Also, if the new meaning is something foreign to the author's own way of thinking, it is totally implausible. How could an author be writing about something foreign to his own thought? This is even more problematic when the philosophy that is read in is from an era later than the author. How could the author be writing about an idea that did not exist yet?

It is possible by allegorizing to read any idea into any work. It destroys all possibility of finding the real meaning of the work. Now symbolism is quite common in various kinds of literature. And sometimes it can be difficult to know what an author meant by the symbol. But all symbols should be interpreted in the context of the original work and the context of the original author. Reading in symbolism that is contrary to the work again opens it up to be changed into anything, however contrary this may be to the author's thought. There is a strong temptation to want to find some deep, hidden meaning no one has ever seen before in a work. But we need to realize that the reason no one has ever seen it before is most likely because it is not there. There may be layers of meaning in a book. But we need to ask if this is the author's meaning or something we have read in.

So far I have not even mentioned Scripture. It is my contention that it is not only that Scripture should not be treated this way, but no book should be treated this way. I do not think we should use such a procedure on Homer's Odyssey. Now I know that there are broad differences of opinion about the presence of typology in Scripture. I am dubious on much of it, but I do not object when it is used in the context of the clear statements of Scripture. There is, after all, some Scriptural warrant for it (Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 7:1-3; 11:17-19). But we must be careful of being too dogmatic about these things. And reading in meanings that are foreign to the text is baseless.        

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Point of Contention

What kind of things should we teach children? How much can they understand?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Escape

There is an escape from any prison, if you know the God who holds the keys.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Luther

Therefore, if you have received this gift from God of being more powerful, higher, more learned, nobler than others, then remember that he has commanded you to take this gift and serve your neighbor with it. If you do not, then you should know that even a poor shepherd boy, who compared with you, has no gifts or standing whatosever in the world, is far greater and far closer to heaven in the sight of God and the angels.

Martin  Luther, 1483-1546, Sermons, At Torgau Castle Church, 1544 (translated by John W. Doberstein, Luther's Works, Helmut T. Lehmann, editor, Muhlenberg Press, 1959, Vol. 51, p. 349)

How can we avoid exalting people for their gifts rather than their love of others? What steps can we take in our own life to avoid this?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Body and Soul

As well as being made in the image of God, human beings are made up of body and soul. We are connected to the spiritual and the physical realms. This was not a mistake; we were created to be this way (Genesis 2:7; 35:18; Matthew 10:28). Also, our goal involves the resurrection of our bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42; Romans 8:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:24). Therefore, our body, and how we use it, is important to God (Romans 12:1; 6:12-14; 1 Corinthians 6:13-20). This opens the door to all manner of interesting questions. Are we three parts: body, soul, and spirit, or two parts, spirit and soul being aspects of the same thing? What precisely is the state of the soul between death and the resurrection? These are interesting to speculate on, but are not worth contending or dividing over. But there is a more basic principle.

If the body is created by God, we are not able to dismiss the body and the physical world as simply evil. We should therefore avoid extreme moral positions based on harsh treatment of the body that is rooted in the assumption that matter itself is evil (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:15). It also can result in a withdrawal from other people, which makes it hard to reach them (Matthew 9:10-12; Luke 7:36-50; 19:1-10). And if this is true, it is hard to believe that God could really become a man (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18). Those who hold it therefore end up frequently denying either Christ's deity or His humanity.

Or we can go to the opposite extreme and see life as simply physical. This leads to a total focus on sensual pleasures (Colossians 3:15-7; 1 Peter 2:11; Jude 4). It results in conformity to the world and its practices (1 John 2:15-17, James 4:4; Romans 12:2). This can end up in the idea that we are a mere cosmic accident without any meaning or purpose. And if we are nothing but a glorified mechanism, then all our thoughts and actions are a result of our programing, and it is questionable that we can know anything.

What we are left with is a delicate balance that has traditionally been called being in the world but not of it (John 17:14-19). This is something that Christians throughout their history have struggled to maintain. It is an ongoing quest to find the right combination. But we need to avoid straying off the path on one side or the other.