As I was praying for my pastor the other day an image came to mind of the Stone Tablets of Moses, which then led me to think of the Stone Table upon which Aslan (the Christ figure of Narnia) was sacrificed, and what occurred to me in this association of images is that the deepest law of the universe is the Law of Divine Self-Sacrifice. As I have reflected upon this further, I would now assert that though the moral law, such as that seen in the Ten Commandments, is an expression of God’s character, the Law of Divine Self-Sacrifice is the law engraved directly upon God’s heart. I would further assert that the wounds of Jesus, afflicted by crucifixion, were the historical manifestation of this divine law. Amplifying this idea, the Gospel of John states that Jesus came from the bosom of the Father, from the very heart of the Father, and thus it is not much of a stretch to say that it was God’s very heart that bore our afflictions upon the Cross, and hence the sacrifice of Jesus reveals the deepest law of the universe.
It is never safe to keep God at a distance, for at a distance He judges sin, but up close He bears it
Drown that sad little bastard; drown him in a sea of grace.
Here is a recurring question of mine. What is the distinction between having an appropriate respect for God’s written Word, and being a bibliolater? To clarify, a bibliolater is one who is reductionistic in one’s thinking, and who fails to see that ultimately Jesus is the living Word of God. In this clarification I realize I am providing some parameters for addressing this issue, but still it doesn’t completely provide discernment. For example, the written Word has some kind of close connection with the living Word, but I don’t think it’s clear how close this connection is.
Jesus once said that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him, and yet I know there are Christians who treat the Scriptures as if they have all authority. Certainly the Scriptures are authoritative, but it seems to me they are sacramentally authoritative, in that they are the divinely created channel to communicate the life and authority of Jesus. The problem, however, is that the Scriptures are often treated as having innate authority, an authority that can be then mediated by those who have some kind of familiarity or mastery of the text. This is a problem because the picture of authority in Scripture itself is not primarily a matter of cognitive mastery, but of spiritual development, a development that comes from wrestling with and becoming intimate with God. I imagine that this issue is connected to Paul’s distinction between the Spirit and the letter, wherein the former gives life and the latter brings death. Having acknowledged this, however, I am concerned about the consequences of placing too great a distance between the written Word and the Spirit of God, as this would quickly lead to gross subjectivity, innovation, and error, all of which are forms of death.
Along with the relationship between the letter and the living Word is the matter of how we relate to and draw upon the Scriptures when formulating doctrine, and constructing visions for spiritual growth and Christian living. In opening this inquiry, I spoke of biblical reductionism, by which I refer to the conviction that Christians should not be involved in spiritual practices that are not explicit in or clearly endorsed by Scripture. But this attitude raises questions regarding the nature of Christian freedom, as well as questions about the parameters and purpose of Scripture. For example, are the Scriptures supposed to be an exhaustive compendium for how one ought to live, or is it a foundational document that provides a basic framework and set of dynamic presuppositions that we then have to work out in the context of our individual and collective Christian lives as we engage new issues and areas of inquiry? I will be honest, and say that I tend toward the latter, but I see problems here as well. However, I won’t attempt to articulate these problems, as what I have said thus far is enough to provide the groundwork for processing my question.
So, again, I pose my question. What is the distinction between having an appropriate respect for God’s written Word, and being a bibliolater?
Sin basically consists not in breaking a set of rules but in breaking the heart of God – Anna Mow
I got this quote from Donald Bloesch’s Theological Notebook. What I like about it is that it provides a profoundly Gospel understanding of sin, which is to say that it defines sin with respect to an immanently personal God, as opposed to a distant lawgiver.
It’s a few days into Lent, and it’s evening, and I am sitting down to eat dinner on the couch, and, against the norm when eating on the couch, I am not watching TV, because, as I said, it is Lent, and TV is one of the things I have given up (actually it’s a restricted fast, as in restricted to Sunday-Thursday). As I am not inclined to stare at the wall while eating, I search for something to read, and thus I find the Oprah produced, O magazine, which, though not generally an attractive reading option for me, has in this instance particular promise, as this issue features an interview with Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith. When finished reading the article, which is located near the back of the magazine, I decide to read Oprah’s closing reflection where, not to my surprise, she talks about doing Transcendental Meditation with the citizens of a town called Fairfield in Iowa, where apparently it is a natural part of civic culture. Anyways, in this reflection she talks about a recent challenge she issued to her readers to sum up their lives in six words, a challenge called “You In Six Words”. I am a sucker for these things, and consequently, I read the challenge, and the examples that various readers sent in, and I come across the following:
After this I read a brief blurb where the lady who wrote this almost Zen poem explains that she was traumatized by the death of her parents, and then set free from the trauma when a Buddhist Lama told her that she is not her trauma. Upon reading these words my heart pops with peace, and I start thinking, “Lord? Is this you??” And something like the following comes to mind, “You are not your sin. You are not your brokenness.”
By the way my six words…
Passionately embraced by nail scarred hands
I see my heart full of daggers directed outward and ready to cut and pierce any who would dare draw near to hold it. And then I see Jesus drawing near, allowing himself to be cut and pierced as he embraces me. This is exactly what God did on the cross. As Isaiah says, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” The death and descent of Jesus was the hand of God taking hold of my dagger heart and bearing my wounds, but not only was he inflicted by my wounds, but also by the weapons I use to guard them.
God is unimaginably gracious.
Of all the idols in the world perhaps that most insidious and subtle is the idol of good character. In making this assertion I don’t mean to deny the importance of being genuinely good, neither do I want to undermine focused efforts to grow and develop as a person. I do, however, want to draw attention to the fact that religious people are prone to a unique temptation, wherein being good can become more important than worshiping God. Of course, one cannot be good in the profoundest sense unless one worships God, and neither can one genuinely worship God and be apathetic towards virtue and good character. The hitch in this interdependent relationship is that idolatry in its worst form is not when something obviously inferior or evil seeks to usurp the place of God in our lives, but rather when something good is given ultimate status.
Character matters, but intimacy with God matters more. It is better to know God as sovereign and gracious amidst one’s brokenness than to have a strong ethical character that might tempt one to neglect God all together. In this instance the person of good character will have exalted his character to the point that he cannot see God at the root of his good character. Moreover, such a person will not be able to readily discern his own defects of character, as being distant from God would impair his ability to see how good Goodness actually is.
At the root of genuinely good character is humility, which quite simply is the ability of the soul to see clearly. Knowing this is critical, because in apparent contradiction to what I said above, the ability to worship God is intimately wedded to the goodness of one’s character, but such a character, without humility is like the whitewash on the tomb of dead men’s bones. A person who has been endowed by God with a strong will, the ability to discipline oneself, and deny oneself for the sake of a higher cause, and yet who does not acknowledge God at the root of his strong character is blind. Instead, such a one is likely to view himself as the product of his own doing, and will assert himself as a standard against which he will inevitably judge others. The irony of this is that such a good person could never be good in the fullest sense of the word, for good is defined by the qualities we see in God, and God is compassionate, and redeeming. Such a person could never function as an agent of redemption, for redemption requires healing at the roots, and such a person is cut off from the root.
So, perhaps the crux of the matter is that a proud person with good character is at risk of having his good character undermined by his pride. His pride, being essentially a distorted vision of himself, others, and God, functions to bar himself from reality. Such a person is living on borrowed time, because he relates to his good character as something which at root is his own, and in his failure to acknowledge God he will cut himself off from the source of his own goodness, and be left with the only thing that is his own: pride. In saying this, I am reminded of Lewis’s words, “of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.”
During the lectionary of the worship service this past Sunday I was inspired to write the following:
Ancestors, and more immediately our parents are our root and source and our debt to them should be acknowledged. We should honor them, because beyond being our biological root, and the primary influence of our socialization and development, in them we honor God who designed the whole process of human generation. We honor God’s wisdom and beauty in the creation and perpetuation of humanity. To honor parents is to sacramentally honor God.
Now, from a religious perspective I get that this is no crashing insight. The inspiration I received was more of an intuition about the whole phenomena of ancestry and honor, and the words I wrote was the product of me trying to make sense of this intuition. The thing that prompts me to share this with you, however, was that later in the service, instead of a sermon from our priest, we had a visiting missionary give us a report about his work among the Soninke people in west Africa. At the end of his testimony, he wrapped up with a bit of divine irony by telling us about the frustration he experienced when he sensed that he should go home for a brief season to take care of his parents just when things were beginning to develop regarding the response of the Soninke to the Gospel. Upon returning to west Africa, however, he discovered that his leaving was just what was needed, as the Soninke that he had been ministering to gained a profound respect for the man who, against the western norm of putting his parents in an “old folks” home, decided to go home and take care of them himself. In doing this, they began to see him as more than just a westerner who taught them about the prophet Jesus, and who did some good deeds, but as one who was truly human, and worthy of being heard.
So, was this a coincidence? Synchronicity? There was nothing thematic in the lectionary or in the service prior to this missionary’s testimony that dealt with parenthood or ancestry. I will say, however, that before the service I had a conversation with a couple of parishioners about Leanne Payne, the doctrine of recapitulation, and healing, which could have put the general idea of parental influence into my consciousness, but still the aptness between what I wrote, and what the missionary shared seemed like something more than a loose conceptual connection. It’s just too fitting.
What does it mean to put one’s name in quotes? I realize that people are not apt to do this, but on a lark I recently did so (I am quite impulsive), and having done so, it made me wonder what the significance of this action would be. The deal is, if one puts the word reality in quotes such a one means to indicate that perception is implicit in the use of the word reality, which is to circumscribe the scope of what the word refers to by drawing attention to the issue of consciousness and the distance between one’s conception of the world and the world as it is in and of itself. To place the word reality in quotes is kind of like an inside joke for the postmodernly enlightened, as if to say, “Sure, we’ll use this word, but we know better.”
So, if I put my name in quotes, am I saying something along these lines? If so, a vague image from my past comes to mind, an image of an at-risk student who, when I would call him or her out on some behavioral issue, would respond by saying, “You don’t know me!!” And who, if he or she had engaged the education I was trying to facilitate in his or her life, would have had the intellectual development to follow up such a statement by going to the board to write his or her name in quotes, at which point I would have responded by saying, “You may leave the temple,” because, clearly such a student would have had the cognitive skills necessary to successfully engage the world, such as it may be.
After saying all this, I guess my conclusion is that putting one’s name in quotes is to essentially say, “You don’t know me” Although, this gesture need not have the connotation of strident self-defensiveness that I too often saw among my at-risk students. It could merely be drawing attention to the irony that the consciousness which allows us to be self-reflectively aware of the other is also, in some measure, the source of alienation from the other. Perhaps this is not better than strident self-defensiveness, but at least it’s a little less in-your-face.
Oh, and just to clarify where I stand on the relationship between the world as we conceive it and the world as it is in and of itself, I am not a card carrying postmodernist, but rather something of critical realist, which is to say that though we see the world, we see at a distance, kind of like looking through a dark glass. And, regarding that hypothetical kid and his or her leaving the temple, I would disagree with such a one’s epistemological convictions, but dang if I wouldn’t be impressed by his or her intellectual sophistication.
“Hey babe, I love you… Well, that is… I love you through the mental representation I have of you in my mind, which to some degree may approximate the real you, but neither you nor I will ever know.”