For the adversary having been proved ineffective in open persecutions now exercises a hidden skill in doing cruel hurt, in order to overthrow by the stumbling-block of pleasure those whom he could not strike with the blow of affliction.
Leo the Great, 400-460, Sermons of Leo the Great, Sermon XXXVI, III, (translated by Rev. Charles Lett Feltoe, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. XII, p. 151).
Can the good times be more dangerous to our spiritual life than the bad times? How can we prevent this?
"The Jurmalians were a primitive people when we found them," stated Ben Samuels, Terran Governor of Jurmal. "But they have this strange quality of being able to emit sonic blasts. These are normally used for finding their way, like sonar, as they are nocturnal. But at close range and full force, they can be harmful or fatal to others. There are, of course, various evolutionary scenarios."
"I am not much into evolution," I responded. "What does this have to do with the murder?"
"Well, Mr. Roundtree," he continued, "Vermelia Surne was found dead in her home from sonic shock. It had an anti-blaster detection system, but it was no good against this. We had at first assumed it was a native until a sonic pistol, obviously designed as a weapon, was found in her husband Karlin's desk. But our tests show that the pistol could not have been what killed Vermelia. We think it is more likely it was a native, but we are unsure. Unlike the identifying of blasters from their burn signature, no one has worked out the identifying of sonic blasts, that I know of. We have a team of researchers working on it right now, but they are only getting started."
"So what is the current theory?"
"Karlin claims it is some sort of insurrectionist group. Trying to drive us Terrans out by committing terrorist acts, killing his wife and framing him for it. That is why you were brought in as a representative of the empire. I have not noticed much insurrectionist activity during my time as governor. But Karlin claims to have found evidence for some groups deep underground. I am giving you the services of Ronkavir, one of our finest native policeman. He is fiercely loyal to the empire, feeling we have lifted them out of barbarism. He does not like to go out except at night, but that is also when you will find the other natives about."
That evening we called on Karlin Surne. He was generally humanoid, though not quite Terran. His skin had a distinctive orange hue, which was normal for him. "I had no reason to want to kill my wife," he stated, "we had a totally open relationship and were not at all possessive. She had her passing fancies and I had mine, but nothing of a permanent nature. And we both had plenty of money for whatever we wanted. You can check it all out."
"Do you know of anyone who would have wanted to kill her?"
"As I told Governor Samuels, I think it was some sort of insurrectionist group. I cannot imagine anyone else who would want to. There was a young man she was once involved with, Germer Dourn, who was at one point getting sort of possessive. But I cannot see him going that far."
"You have evidence of such groups?"
"Evidence is too strong a word. I have heard rumors. Here is my list, but all of them will certainly deny it."
"I cannot imagine why anyone would revolt against our benefactors from Terra," stated Ronkavir, as we left the building. He was a thin scarecrow of a being, with oversized ears and large air sacs under his chin.
"Let's go find out," I replied.
The first person on the list was Kelioha. He was the head of a former craft guild and was now the unofficial head of some of the local workers. "I am very grateful to the empire," he said. "My way of life is so much nicer now."
"Any complaints?" I asked.
"Well it does seem we have lost something in the way of craftsmanship. We have better stuff, but it is all standard. But on the whole, I think we are better off."
"What if I told you some of your people wanted to kick the empire out?
"I would say, show them to me and I will beat some sense into them."
The next was Custu Pulinore , head of a local religious organization. "We serve the God who became Julmanu and died and rose again to pay for our sins. The empire claims it is tolerant of all beliefs, and so far it has lived up to that. But it is basically worldly in its philosophy. This is a temptation for some, but such temptations must be endured."
"Would you support a move to overthrow the empire?" I asked.
"Violence is never the answer to such problems. Temptations will come, but we must trust God to overcome them."
I agreed with Custu Pulinore's beliefs and liked him. But this was an investigation and I had to be objective.
Fuhikore was the son of a former tribal leader, who was now a factory worker. "Yes, my father and his chief warriors were killed when they charged the original imperial exploration party. And I would have been tribal leader and now I am nobody. But to be honest with you, I would rather be a nobody with a modern computer system than chief over a batch of people with longhouses and spears. Some might feel otherwise, but that is my feeling on the subject."
Besides, why would I want to kill Vermelia? I have been with Vermelia. So have a lot of other people, out of those for whom it is anatomically possible, anyway. I have heard even the governor was included, that he and Karlin did a straight trade."
Tursore was a former tribal wise man turned university professor. "It is clear they gave me this job merely to humor us Jurmalians. I teach Jurmal history and culture. But there is no going back for me; nobody at this point would take my science seriously. At this point, if the empire were kicked out, I would be an unemployable laughingstock."
The next evening I met Karlin at his house. "So why did you do it?" I asked.
"Do what," he asked.
"Kill your wife. Its clear enough you are the one who did it."
"I was tired of her. Her mannerisms, her voice, they all grated on me. I could have divorced her, but then we would have had to split the property, and I had no intention of doing that. It was easy enough to hire a native to blast her. But I figured any smart cop could have figured that out, so I had the pistol made and hidden. I figured they would be able to tell the difference, and if not, I had made my own discreet tests and knew I could put forth my own experts."
"Then you tried to blame the whole thing on an insurrection. The problem is, I know insurrections and insurrections do not work that way. They tend to throw bombs, not concoct elaborate frameups. The truth is, there is no insurrection. The Jurmalians are still too grateful to the empire for raising their standard of living." Sooner or later they would come to realize that the empire was oppressive and that the bulk of the profits and the best jobs were all going to its cronies. But that would take awhile, maybe even a generation or two. "So you concocted a batch of suspects, but it did not wash. People may deny their association with terrorism groups, but these groups do not hide their existence. They want people to be afraid of them, and they take credit even for things they did not do. The whole thing was a coverup, and you were the logical person to be doing the covering up."
"Very clever. Shame you are not going to have a chance to tell anyone," he said, pulling a blaster out of his robe pocket. "There is one blaster allowed by my blaster detection system, and that is mine. I could not use it on Vermelia without giving myself away. But you have a bad reputation in some quarters at Central. I am sure I can concoct some plausible reason for killing you."
He fell, hit by three directed sonic blasts. "That will teach him to try to turn the empire against us," stated Ronkavir.
"You all heard his confession?" I inquired.
"Yes, I am told we have very sensitive hearing to make our echolocation work," returned Ronkavi. His two assistants wiggled their ears in agreement.
Later, while I was worshiping in Custu Pulinore's church, I felt forced to mediate on how small and petty could be the roots of evil. Especially when all moral restraint was taken away.
Does the Bible prescribe a work ethic? What is a work ethic?
It seems that our present culture moves between two extremes. Some people
refuse to work and are unwilling to put in any effort. Others make work their
whole life, often neglecting other things, including their families. Also, some
will treat others as if they are entitled to support even if they do not work.
Others feel that there is no requirement to help those in need and that if they
would just stop being lazy, they would not need help. How can we make work a
priority without making it an idol?
Now we were meant to work even from the beginning (Genesis
2:15). And we are given the impression that even in the end there will be
things for us to do (Revelation 22:3). But work became laborious after the fall
(Genesis 3:17-19). And I do not think this is eliminated by modern technology.
We often trade a life of physical toil for a life of mental stress. But God
still requires us to put an effort into earning a living (Proverbs 6:6-11; 2
Thessalonians3:10; Ephesians 4:28). We
are also required to use diligence in serving God (Romans 12:11; 2 Timothy
2:15; Colossians 1:28,29). But we are commanded to trust in the Lord and not
our own ability (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 40:29-31). And we must
avoid the error of Martha, of letting service get in the way of the One who is
to be served (Luke 10:38-42; Psalms 46:10; Isaiah 43:10-13). For putting
anything in the place of God is idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Matthew 6:24; Romans
1:25). Further, we are required to help the poor and those in need (Proverbs
14:31; Deuteronomy 15:7; Galatians 2:10).
Now this is often a difficult balance to find. We do need to
be those who are willing to work hard and not just think things will come to us
automatically. But we also need to avoid becoming so consumed by work that we
forget what we are working for and neglect more basic duties. And we need to
have the right perspective toward the poor. We need to be willing to help those
who are genuinely in need. We need to show grace even to those who may have
brought it on themselves, for God has shown grace to us. But we should not just
enable people to live a life of laziness. And we should, where possible, try to
find a way to help those in need back into a place where they can earn their
own living. These are often difficult things to bring together. But we cannot
just settle for one of the extremes our culture teaches.
But while man must bear the guilt of corrupting the seed of divine knowledge so wondrously deposited in his mind, and preventing it from bearing good and genuine fruit, it is still most true that we are not sufficiently instructed by that bare and simple, but magnificent testimony which the creatures bear to the glory of their Creator. For no sooner do we, from a survey of the world, obtain some slight knowledge of Deity, than we pass by the true God, and set up in his stead the dream and phantom of our own brain, drawing away the praise of justice, wisdom, and goodness from the fountain-head, and transferring it to some other quarter.
John Calvin, 1509-1564, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter V, 15, (translated by Henry Beveridge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1975, Vol. 1, pp. 62, 63).
Can we learn about God from nature? What are the limits of this?
One of the key values of western
society is rugged individualism. But does this really fit in with what the
Scripture teaches? Scripture teaches, rather, that Christians are parts of one
body and are members of one another (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27;
Ephesians 4:1-16). The implication of this is that we need one another and
every member is important. Also, that the members are different, but they work
together to build each other up. That we should feel one another’s joys and
sorrows. That we should work together to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.
But do we see ourselves this way? Or do we see the church as a place we go to
on Sunday or a club we are members of? Now do not get me wrong; the Christian
church should be organized (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians
14:40). But this church is the reflection of the real church, the body of
Christ, which Christ works through to accomplish His purposes in the world. Now
this reflection may sometimes be imperfect. There may be people in leadership
who do not belong there. The person God uses to overturn the current order and
cure the corruption of the church may be an obscure monk from an obscure town
in Germany. In an imperfect world under sin and a curse, the manifestation may
not always reflect the reality. But it is still the expression of God in this
Now there are two errors people can
fall into here. We can identity the outward expression with the true church and
claim that the current leadership are the perfect expression of God’s will on
earth, even though Scripture clearly teaches that all things should be checked
by Scripture (Galatians 1:8,9; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 17:11). But we can make the
opposite mistake and feel we can go it alone without the assistance of others.
Or we can settle for superficial involvement where we show up but make no deep
connections. But Scripture says we each have a gift, given to build one another
up. There is no gift so minor it is not needed. There is no gift so great that
the one who has it does not need others to build into their lives. We all need
one another, that in connection to the Head (Colossians 2:19), we may encourage
and built each other up (Hebrews 10:24,25) to be Christ’s hands and feet to
minster to a hurting world.
One of the hardest things can be
waiting on God for His timing. We live in a culture where we want what we want
when we want it. Also, we want the whole plan lain out before us before we
start anything. But God asks us to wait on Him (Psalms 123:2; 130:6; Isaiah
40:28-31; Jeremiah 14:22). It seems to be God’s plan that He leads us step by
step and makes us wait for His perfect timing. Abraham was called by God to
inherit a land neither he nor his immediate descendents were able to actually
Moses thought he knew what needed to
be done and tried to deliver his people from slavery and failed, and had to
wait forty years till God appeared to him and enabled him to do the job God’s
way. David was anointed king of Israel and then spent many years running from
Saul before he was put in as king. Elijah was fed at a brook by ravens until
the brook dried up and he was sent to a widow woman among the Gentiles to be
provided for there. Paul was saved and called to be an apostle, but spent a
number of years waiting before he actually set out to do the work.
This all fits in very well with my
own life. There have been times I have felt I knew exactly what God wanted me
to do. I remember walking into a church for the first time and hearing the
pastor say, “We need someone to be in charge of Sunday School and I’m not going
to do it. But maybe there’s someone who just walked in the door to do this
job.” And I felt God tap me on the shoulder and say, “You’re the one.” There
have been many more times when I have wondered what God was doing with my life.
And times I was left bewildered, wondering what to do next. I
remember being unemployed and repeatedly praying to God for guidance and
getting no clear answer, and it took several months for me to find the job I
ended up sticking with. But God has always brought me through. Now I am 61 years old and dying of cancer if God does not work a miracle, and I still not sure about why God has led me the places He has.
I would therefore make the following
suggestions for waiting on the Lord, especially in difficult or perplexing
times. Trust in God, even if you do not see how the present situation will work
out (Proverbs 3:5, 6). Understand that God has a plan for your life and things
He wants you to do, even if you are not sure what they are (Ephesians 2:10).
Serve God where you are at and take advantage of the opportunities you are
given to do so (Galatians 6:9,10). But, most of all, we should remember that
God will bring about His plan in His own time, on His own schedule (Habakkuk