We’ve Been Down This Road Before

 

One does not need a degree in cultural studies to see that our culture is charmed by and suffused with charismatic self-knowledge, self-love, self-esteem, and self-awareness. The powerful, the glamorous, the ministers of inclusion, and the gurus of self-help each promote their version of snake oil which, by application, would lift the unenlightened feeble off of terra firma to the heights of self-dom. Their special tonic is said to awaken consciousness, to liberate from conditioning and to provide relief from suffering. Mystical, intuitive, subjective, inward, and emotional approaches to truth are everywhere promoted as leading to a higher plane of existence where self-knowledge is knowledge of the divine. The self and the divine are to be perceived and experienced as identical.

One quote from a gnostic teaching website is sufficient to reveal the ‘higher road’ many are taking:

“Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis. Another gnostic teacher, Monoimus, says:

Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says,” My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate … If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.”

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent asked, “Did God really say…?” And, based on what I am seeing today, I can imagine that It also whispered “What does the god within you say?” The choice Adam and Eve made put them on the road leading out of the garden. This is the road most travelled.

As I was considering this topic the Technicolor image of the cowardly lion wringing his hands came to mind. I had the misfortune of seeing the musical fantasy Wizard of Oz in my youth.

Why the misfortune? While it made fantasy-tale sense that characters made of straw and tin needed something to be humanish, what was a humanish animal requiring courage about? What was it about this movie that disturbed me? It took me some time to sort out – discern – why I do not like the movie: it’s promotion of Gnosticism in the morally vacuous Land of Oz and the wimpy withering lion.

The lion in the Wizard of Oz is the anthropomorphic personification of presumably silly and timid humans lacking self-awareness. The lion comes into the story like a bleating lamb and leaves as a roaring lion. How did the transformation happen? Through gnosis. The lion is told by a wizard (a professor; a spiritual guide and self-help guru of sorts) that the lion must acknowledge the courage he already possesses inside. The same self-knowledge mirror is held up for the Straw Man and the Tin Man.

And what is the purpose of the new found-in-self brain, heart and courage in the moral vacuum of Oz? To “awaken their consciousness and liberate them from conditioning”? And the reason for courage? Courage to not be afraid of what? Of things that go “Boo” in the night? Courage to be yourself?

Lest anyone think that I am being picayune about a now beloved child’s fantasy they should pull back the curtain and see what’s lurks there in light of the above and with today’s culture in view.

In the moral vacuum of the Land of Oz, does gnosis-courage mean one bravely acts to be one’s self at all costs? If the only moral reference points are yourself and someone telling you have what it takes within, are you prone to then embrace your base desires to be one’s self? Are we to believe ‘wizards’ that through self-knowledge we change from baaing sheep into roaring lions? See for yourself what’s come out from behind the curtain in the Land of Oz:

Actress Judy Garland (1922–1969) is widely considered a gay icon. The Advocate has called Garland “The Elvis of homosexuals”. The reasons frequently given for her standing as an icon among gay men are admiration of her ability as a performer, the way her personal struggles seemed to mirror those of gay men in America during the height of her fame, and her value as a camp figure. Garland’s role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz is particularly noted for contributing to this status. – Judy Garland as gay icon

Has Western culture has followed the Yellow Brick Road? Besides the ubiquitous adverts by wizards of enlightenment coming out with their brand of snake oil, we hear almost every day in the media of someone coming out (via self-knowledge) as gay. This gnostic way of understanding has been confirmed by Pope Francis when he said “God made you this way.”

It is no secret that Progressive elements in our culture promote being oneself as one walks along on their wide Yellow Brick Road of self-discovery. This way is touted as the higher, more “universal” and thus “neutral” perspective and that the meta-narrative of Christianity is the narrow road which must be avoided and declared the wrong way. Progressivism doesn’t see its own meta-narrative of identity politics and of reducing the moral universe to the god within. Progressivism isn’t self-aware.

Universities, under the thrall of Progressivism and of course benefactors, are incubators of gnosis. They seek to awaken a new vision and to stir up dormant impulses in cowardly lions. Pseudo-disciplines like women’s studies, black studies, LGBTQ studies, etc., offer Woke gnosis.

The Land of Oz campus admins create physical safe spaces so that self-realization is safely tucked in and away from things that go “Boo!” in the day. For Land of Oz sustainability, Marxism and socialism are taught as the means to create financial safe space. The idea is to make others pay so the disciples of self don’t have to concern themselves with material concerns. This, so one can continue to grow in self-awareness and be an SJW with a moral center carefully crafted around gnosis.

At graduation, participation trophies are presented to the brave – those who stood inside safe spaces against outside knowledge, and to the compassionate (for others like themselves). A diploma, a medal and a ticking heart-shaped watch are passed onto to another generation. These trinkets of gnosis are bestowed under a ceremonial banner, which reads: “Know thyself, Be Thyself. We are here for our own sake”.

There is a Yellow Brick way that seems right to a man who seeks to find what it takes to be one’s self, but the ends thereof are the ways of self.

 

 

~~~

Of course, not all self-reflection is be rejected. Proper introspection is to occur in the prayer closet. There, in the Light of the Lord, sin is exposed and named. You learn to see yourself as the Lord sees you. You confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. Then the Lord returns you to the road before you to walk in his resurrection power.

Now, it takes no courage whatsoever to tell others how to live to make them comfortable for you to be around. That is social justice for the woke generation. It does take considerable courage to look into one’s soul and see the darkness within, to repent and to cast out any unclean spirits in the name of the Jesus.

The absolutions of the Woke World humanist religion are self-justification and self-righteousness. Both are repulsed by the Lord. Prayer-closet courage is required to resist both.

The Serpent’s Apprentice(s)

The Fall of the Damned, Peter Paul Rubens

Spiritual reality surrounds us. This fact is attested to at the very least by the numerous TV programs about the paranormal. Shown are ‘investigations’ of the dead, and of ghosts and of supposed haunting spirits. But what are those fascinated and even obsessed about the spirit world connecting with? What do we know about the unclean spirits, the ones Jesus cast out of humans (See my previous post Deliver Us from Evil)?

Genesis opens with God and His temple building creation of earth. We learn of light and darkness. And we soon learn of the spiritual forces of darkness that want control of the temple where God is to dwell with man.

Right from the start of man’s existence another voice interprets God’s word for its own purposes: “Did God really say you couldn’t?”; “You will not certainly die if you do eat the fruit.”; “God has held back nothing from you but the fruit of this tree. Eat it and know what He knows.” Humans fall into sin by willfully accepting the Serpent’s interpretation of becoming like God. Adam and Eve took the bait (an apple leading to God-like knowledge) into their hands. The enmity between humans and the serpent begins.

Prior to the fall of man, the Satan had a falling out with God. What happened is explained in detail in Ezekiel 28. A description of ascendant pride, whether of the Satan or of man’s, is recorded in Isaiah 14. The fallout of enmity between God and the red dragon, an emblem of the Satan, is described in Daniel 8 and here, in Revelation 12: 3-4:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.  Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.

Proverbs 16:18 sums the result of pride and opposition to God: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”.

The fallen angels were booted from Heaven and were no longer able to return. Where did the fallen angels go after being kicked out of heaven? Genesis 6: 1-7 tells us indirectly.

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

 

In Scripture the “sons of God” typically refer to angels. Above are fallen angels. This passage infers that the first incarnation and sacrilege took place – fallen angels impregnated humans.  They had illicit intercourse with women thereby creating a super race of warriors. Then, as now, the fallen angels mean to deface the image of God in humans. They seek to undo what God has created and to ‘create’ a race of Un-men*.

The cast-out angels did what they apprenticed to do by their father, the serpent or the “Bent One” as so described in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. They came to down earth to create chaos and to gain the power and favor they lost. As agents of evil they come under the description of evil as provided in N.T. Wright’s book Evil and the Justice of God:

Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God’s good world of space, time and matter, and above all God’s image-bearing human creatures.

As we read above, the fallen angels deface Gods’ image bearing humans in the temple of their bodies. Using human sexuality and man’s willful acceptance they debase that image. Does any of this collusion with evil leading to self-imposed temple defilement look familiar today?

Fallen angels multiplied what happened in the garden of Eden. Mankind’s wickedness grew with the earth’s population. Until the flood. Then, except for Noah and his family and selected animals, the human race was wiped from the face of the earth along with the Nephilim (“giants” in the Septuagint), the offspring of the intercourse of fallen angels with women. It may be assumed that with the decimating flood the hosts of the unclean spirits died and the unclean spirits were released into, for a lack of a better word, the ether.

Intertestamental Jewish writings provide the context of Jesus’ ministry including the existence of unclean spirits. These writing fill in roughly four-hundred years of information about Jewish thought and theology between the Old and New Testament. Topics include angels, demons, the messiah, the resurrection and the law of Moses. Each of these topics, which were on the minds of the Jews, is addressed in the gospels. Jesus responds to each topic, each question, and each confrontation with authority.

Adding to the context of Jesus’ day, synagogues, mentioned in the gospels but not mentioned in the Pentateuch, likely originated in exile and in Babylonia. The opening chapter of Mark’s gospel finds Jesus in a synagogue casting out an unclean spirit.

What about written context beyond Genesis chapter 6? Other than the reference in Genesis, there is nothing written about fallen angels/unclean spirits until the intertestamental books. The topic of demons in these books may have been due to Babylonian interest in lesser gods and demons and their writing about them. Here is a passage from the Book of the Watchers (15: 6-12), written around 300 BCE:

And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten (children) with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those also do who die and perish. Therefore have I given them wives also that they might impregnate them, and beget children by them, that thus nothing might be wanting to them on earth. But you were formerly spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the world. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for as for the spiritual ones of the heaven, in heaven is their dwelling.
And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon
the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. [As for the spirits of heaven, in heaven shall be their dwelling, but as for the spirits of the earth which were born upon the earth, on the earth shall be their dwelling.]
And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble: they take no food, but nevertheless hunger and thirst, and cause offences. And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and against the women, because they have proceeded from them.

The “Watchers” designation tells us that these spirits are restless and never sleep. These disembodied spirits are able to dwell in humans and animals. We learn that they cause havoc: “the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble”. They are the ones Jesus casts out (again and again) as he begins His kingdom on earth.

 

In a previous post, See Him as He Is, I posited that followers of Jesus must see Jesus as He is as recorded in all of Scripture’s narrative and as revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. They are not to view him through a tainted by evil rose-colored glass worldview. Absolute clarity requires the Lord’s followers to remove their hands from their eyes and their fingers from their ears and to take in the reality of Jesus and the world around us. In my last post I noted that the unclean spirit in Mark chapter one knew exactly who Jesus is. The unclean spirit saw with absolute clarity. And, like Jesus, we are to see enemy as he is and then cast him out.

Now, the Evil One and his apprentices don’t care about your politics. They don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat. They don’t care about the color of your skin or about the colors of your flag. They don’t care if you are rich or poor or male or female. Here is what they care about: to “afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble”. The Evil One’s apprentices seek to deface creation and the image of God in each human. Throughout cultures and nations and throughout time, the apprentices entice, lie and pervert humans, turning them into beasts which live to satisfy animal urges.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape (the Evil One), apprentices Wormwood. In the quote below note Screwtape’s frustration with how things were created by God and how that which has been created must be perverted:

”He [God] has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least – sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”

 

Don’t let twisted pleasure and appetites define you. Abhor evil. Cling to good. Don’t become an apprentice of the Evil One. Don’t give the enemy advantage. Don’t toy with evil. Stay away from mediums, Tarot cards, Ouija Boards, astrology, séances, pornography, drugs and …entertainment, the devil’s playground.

Disney’s Fantasia is one example of how entertainment downplays the forces of darkness. Consider the animated short wherein Mickey Mouse portrays a sorcerer’s apprentice. The popular cartoon character plays with magic and conjures up all kinds of out-of-control havoc. The ‘approving’ adult background music is Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Watching this, a child is lured into relating to and empathizing with evil’s apprentice, an endearing cutesy child-like character in a wizard hat who experiments with magic and gets into ‘innocent’ trouble. On the surface, the animated short comes across as cautionary tale against disobeying the rules. But it actually encourages a child to try again and to avoid the consequences next time.

The twaddle of Harry Potter books and movies is meant to entertain and to make a huge profit for its creator and producers. Yet, the fantasy series has nothing good to offer the partaker. The series is just diversion, a distraction from reality. And worse. Like Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, its main characters engage with magic arts. Entertainment, like all temptations including the ones posed to the Lord, are, in essence, about denying reality and obtaining power to control reality. Once your child partakes of this ‘amusement’, he or she is hooked. See your enemy as he is. He wants your child to experiment with evil to obtain power. If you think I am kidding, look around at the pagan invasion of children’s culture. (A book I highly recommend: A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind by Michael O’Brien)

Unclean spirits promote fantasy. Their temptations come in the form of fantasy. Just as in the Garden they want you to entertain notions of unrestricted freedom and narcissistic god-like power (e.g., R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”). The temptation to convert fantasy into reality – more money and notoriety – is behind the Jussie Smollett hoax. There is a vast difference between a healthy imagination in which good and evil and outcomes are considered and fantasy which projects into reality.

“… we need to make a distinction between fantasy and imagination. Both fantasy and imagination concern unrealities; but while the unrealities of fantasy penetrate and pollute the world, those of the imagination exist in a world of their own, in which we wander freely and in full knowledge of the really real…Fantasy covets the gross, the explicit, the no-holds-barred display of the unobtainable; and in the crisis of display the unobtainable is vicariously obtained.”

-Roger Scruton, Chapter 6, Fantasy, Imagination and the Salesman, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture

Spiritual reality surrounds us. This fact is substantially attested to by the influences of the perverse paranormal on humans. Look around at the effects of unclean spirits on humans. You find cynicism and sentimentality promoted. You find projection and scapegoating. You find a culture embracing victimhood instead of personal responsibility. You find unexplained mental illness and depression. You read reports of suicide. Evil, promoted day and night, afflicts, oppresses, and destroys the good.

Turn on the radio and you will hear music from the bowels of hell. Art and architecture are increasingly de-humanized. As you sit in front of any media outlet you come across daily headlines and a continuous stream of entertainment filled with accounts of murder, violence, sex abuse, revenge, racism, and all manner of evil. The dark web is a “malignant outgrowth of evil – a sub-culture collective of hive-minded individuals wreaking havoc today, even now as you read your computer screen”. The spirit of lawlessness surrounds us and encounters us everywhere we are, even in our beds.

This world, until Jesus returns to reign on earth, is under attack by the agents, apprentices, and accusers of the Evil One. These spiritual entities will do all they can with your permission to diminish the glory of God in the temples where the image of God dwells. And, just as unclean spirits impregnated women, these same unclean spirits want to impregnate and defile your temple – your body, mind and spirit – with inordinate desires with and for the proliferation of pornography obsession, homosexuality, promiscuity, pedophilia and all manner of sexual perversion.

We are told in Scripture to test the spirits. Test the spirits in your church. If you are hearing spiritual platitudes or prosperity gospel or that “God made you that way” or social justice and rights and political power promotions but you are not hearing evil being addressed and cast out and “Jesus is Lord” every Sunday then there is something very, very wrong. The apprentices have done their work by creating the “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ” (Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor) with the blessing of those in the pews.

Just as in the coliseum of Rome, Christians today are surrounded by roaring lions that seek to devour us. Some of us will be martyred. Others will deny or ignore or even try to placate the lions with compromise and then be consumed by them when a comprise is reached. Some will deny the Lord. Others of us will stand our ground and use the word of God to fell them.

Stay in control of yourselves; stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is stalking around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, staying resolute in your faith, and knowing that other family members in the rest of the world are facing identical sufferings. Then, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you in the Messiah Jesus to the glory of his new age, will himself put you in good order, and will establish and strengthen you and set you on firm foundations. To him be the power forever. Amen. 1 Peter 5: 8-11

What are those fascinated with and even obsessed about the spirt world connecting with? They are connecting with the unclean spirits that left the bodies of giants during the Flood and the spirits that left the bodies of pigs when they rushed into the water and all of the unclean demonic host cast out of heaven and unable to return. We must heed the Apostle Paul. Paul saw the enemy as he is. So, he warned the church at Ephesus, a church surrounded by sex cults and idolatry and inundated with unclean spirits, (Eph. 6:12):

The warfare we’re engaged in, you see, isn’t against flesh and blood. It’s against the leaders, against the authorities, against the powers that rule the world in this dark age, against the wicked spiritual elements in the heavenly places.

See your enemy as he is. Your enemy sees you as you are – the image-bearing creation of the One who cast them out of His Presence.

 

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

–        “A Mighty Fortress is our God” by Martin Luther

 

 

Lord, the whole of your creation, including me, groans waiting for your return to put things right, to finally cast out the red dragon and his apprentices, the unclean spirits. Help me as I wait to see the enemy as It is and to cast It out. Give me discernment from your Holy Spirit to be able to test the spirits in your church. If You are not declared Lord in the church we attend then help us, by your Spirit, to test the spirits of that church and to put things right.

Help me to overcome my resistance to being different than the Dark World. I am born of you, the Light of the world. That is why I find no pleasure in the media or the politics of power. I want to dwell in your Light all of my days and in the age to come.

Father, your beloved and begotten son Jesus is Lord of the Universe. Amen.

 

~~~

Lord willing, I’ll have a future post about dealing with evil.

(*) In C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy novel Perelandra, Ransom the protagonist names Weston, the evil antagonist, the Un-man. Weston becomes less human and eviler as the story progresses.

Deliver Us from Evil

Evil and its enforcer, power, has been around long before man employed both to consolidate empires. Cain killed Abel to gain power over the living reminder of his own disobedience. Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery to gain power over the living reminder of their supposed unfair treatment and over their father’s love and estate. Evil and its enforcer, power, have always worked together with ruthless abandon to take truth hostage.

 “Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence.”

-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

An astute student of world history would discern that seeking and holding absolute power is valued as far superior to seeking and holding absolute truth. Those who hold power believe they can generate a ‘regime of truth’ by virtue of their position: “truth is what I say it is.”. Anyone attuned to current world affairs can readily see that culture and politics, including our democratic Republic in the U.S., revolve around who holds what power and therefore controls what is and what has been. For, as Winston repeated over and over in George Orwell’s 1984, “who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” A student of Scripture will see that the regimes of power and truth, beastly kingdoms, are made subject to Absolute Power and Absolute Truth.

It has been said that the gospel crafted by Mark, an ace narrator, was written to a Roman audience. Certainly, there is a “just then” immediacy to his gospel. A sense of action is invoked which would peek a centurion’s ‘man of action’ curiosity. Of more importance to a Roman though, and to any earthly authority and to those under authority, is the theme of who holds power. On earth, regimes of power control regimes of truth. The spiritual world of unclean spirits requires a human habitation to control truth incarnate (Rom. 1:21). Mark’s gospel is the proclamation of a new regime of power and has nothing to do with a justice league of super-heroes with super powers.

In terms similar to announcing a new emperor who claimed to be a son of god, Mark begins his gospel by proclaiming Jesus’ title:

“This is where the good news starts – the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s son.”

With this proclamation a new regime is declared. The title acknowledges Jesus’ authority and connotes his power. The title announces what Israel had so hoped for — a Messiah, one who is anointed by God and therefore God’s representative. The Hebrew scriptures chronicled anointed kings, priests and prophets who represented God to Israel. The book of Daniel and writings between the Testaments, in particular the Messianic Apocalypse and the Son of God text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, record Jewish Messianic beliefs in ancient Judaism. In these texts, “Son of Man” is the title given to the one who will reign and hold dominion over all things and offer blessings to those under him.

The new regime, anticipated in Psalm 146 and the Messianic Apocalypse, comes with four blessings:

-The hungry are fed

-the prisoner is set free

-the blind receive their sight

– all things are put right.

Mark’s opening statement declares Jesus to be the anointed One of God. And, of vast more import to the Jews and to the regimes of power and truth, Jesus is declared to be not just another mere mortal claiming to be a son of god, but the One God’s own Son. Human and spirit and citizen and centurion encounter Jesus in Mark’s account. They soon come to this realization.

In the first paragraphs of Mark, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is recorded. Here is the anointing of Jesus by water, by the spirit and by The Voice from the realm of heaven: “You are my son! You are the one I love! You make me very glad!”

Next, Jesus is tested by the Satan. The temptation is for Jesus to accept the realm of power and authority that the Satan offers to him.

A few paragraphs later we read of Jesus and his new disciples going to Capernaum. There Jesus encounters a force from the realm of darkness, the same realm offered to him by the Satan:

They went to Capernaum. At once, on the sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and taught. They were astonished at his teaching. He wasn’t like the legal teachers; he said things on his own authority.

All at once, in the synagogue, there was a man with an unclean spirit.

“What business have you got with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” he yelled. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you’re God’s Holy One!”

“Be quiet!” ordered Jesus “And come out of him!”

The unclean spirt convulsed the man, gave a great shout, and came out of him. Everyone was astonished.

“What’s this?” they started to say to each other. “New teaching – with real authority! He even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!”

Mark’s gospel account goes on to detail events which show the authority and power of Jesus. Over and over we read of Jesus’ power over demons, the unclean spirits which roam the earth seeking whom they may inhabit. Realms of power are juxtaposed – heaven’s and the dark forces of the Satan which control men. They are shown in direct conflict. And note above: the unclean spirt knows who Jesus is and by whose authority he works before anyone else in the story. But why does Jesus stop the demon from declaring his identity? Mark’s beginning narrative imposes a tension that is resolved at the end of his gospel.

Before the end of the gospel we read of exorcisms. The realms of darkness are dealt with in these passages:

Mark 1:21-28 – shown above

Mark 5:1-20 – a wild untamed man with inhuman strength is possessed by an unclean spirit. He lives in a graveyard. We read that “No one had the strength to tame him”. This demon possessed man sees Jesus and throws himself in front of Jesus and shouts at the top of his voice…

“Why you and me, Jesus?”  “Why you and me, son of the High God?” By God stop torturing me!”  this last, because Jesus was saying to him “Unclean spirit, come out of him!”

Jesus cast The Legion of demons into a herd of pigs. The pigs then rush to the sea where they drowned. (The unclean spirits leave the dead pigs and go on searching for someone to inhabit.)

Mark 7:24-30 – a Greek woman throws herself at Jesus’ feet. She pleads with Jesus to cast an unclean spirit out of her daughter. After hearing the gentile woman’s “even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that the children drop” Jesus affirms her words and sends her on her way. Her demon-possessed daughter back at home was rid of the unclean spirit.

Mark 9:14-29 – a father brings his demon possessed son to Jesus. The disciples could not cast out the demon. Jesus is notably angry at the unbelief in the power of God, especially when the father hedges, “…if you can do anything…” Jesus reprimands the father. “What do you mean, ‘If you can?” “Everything is possible to someone who believes.” The father shouts “I do believe! “Help me in my unbelief!” Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the boy. The boy convulses and the unclean spirit comes out. The disciples go to question why they were ineffective. Jesus responds, “This sort can only be cast out by prayer.”

In Mark 3:15, 6:7 & 13 and 9:38-39 Jesus gives his followers the authority to cast out unclean spirits.

Mark is an excellent story-teller. As you read above, tension was imposed by Mark in the beginning paragraphs – the silence imposed on the unclean spirit who disclosed Jesus’ identity. This was done to pique the reader’s curiosity. Mark wanted the reader to discover for themselves who Jesus is. Like those involved with Jesus, the reader would question “Is Jesus really the Messiah?” and “Is Jesus really God’s son?” Each encounter and event would provoke questioning and amazement in the reader: “What’s this?”; “New teaching – with real authority! “He even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!” And then the crucifixion appears to give the regime in power – the Romans- the final word about Jesus. But Mark gives us the final word through the mouth of a centurion:

When the centurion who was standing facing him saw that he died in this way, he said, “This fellow really was God’s son.”

The tension is resolved by an onlooker.

 

Lest anyone think that Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to promote social justice and to have his words later passed on as “all you need is love” sixties-style bromides, Mark’s gospel declares to us that Jesus came to deal with evil and its enforcer, power, and with the agents of corruption possessing a will.

Mark declares that there is a new Lord in power, one with all authority in heaven and on earth. As shown by Mark, no power-enforced “regime of truth” on earth or under the earth can take Jesus’ truth hostage. Truth is what Jesus says it is and his truth can set a person free from power-and will-enforced bondage. No regime of power on earth or under the earth can keep his creation hostage. The world of men is to be set free and blessed by his reign. He chose his followers to make that happen.

Jesus has conferred his authority and power to his followers so that the blind will receive their sight and the hungry are fed and the prisoners are set free and unclean spirits are cast out. The world is to be put right under his Lordship.

To sum Mark’s gospel into today’s media parlance, Jesus slammed, crushed and owned the enemy of our souls. To sum Mark’s gospel in Scriptural phrasing…

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our LORD and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. -The Revelation of Jesus Christ 11:15

Somewhere Over and Under the Rainbow

The Evil One and his minions never rest. Unclean spirits roam the earth looking for someone to inhabit. We are told in Scripture (1 Peter 5:8) that the enemy of our souls, Satan, walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he will devour. He will use enticements to lure his prey. And a when human is devoured by the Satan they become devoid of humanness and thus a puppet-disciple of the Evil One. In the novel Perelandra we find a depiction of such a one. His name is Weston.

In Perelandra, the second novel in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (see my last two posts for background), we find Ransom the invitee arriving on Perelandra (Venus) and meeting the Green Lady. Ransom finds her to be childlike, innocent, and unspoiled by that which despoiled earth. Upon meeting her, Ransom thinks…

What overwhelmed him was not in the least the fact that she, like himself, was totally naked. Embarrassment and desire were both a thousand miles away from his experience: and if he was a little ashamed of his own body, that shame had nothing to do with the difference of sex and turned only on the fact that he knew his body to be a little ugly and a little ridiculous.

Ransom and the Green Lady converse, trying understand each other and their unique worlds. At one point they both see an object fall from heavy into the sea. Later, Ransom sees Weston (introduced in the previous post) emerge from a spacecraft. Ransom is filled with horror. Why did Weston come to Perealndra? His last encounter with Weston on Malandra was anything but good. Weston was sent back to earth because of his behavior.

Ransom’s initial conversation with the newly arrived Weston, the uninvited, was philosophical and rather benign. It appears that Weston meant to soften Ransom’s attitude toward himself. But Weston soon changes from humanist-philosopher-scientist to an inhuman creature – the Un-man.

Following a night of sleep Ransom awakens and begins walking to find Weston who vanished the day before. As Ransom walks, he comes across a horrible sight – a mutilated frog. As he goes further, he finds a trial of mutilated frogs, unthinkable in the unspoiled teeming world of Perelandra. At the end of the trial he finds Weston mutilating a frog with his long sharp nails.

Here’s what Ransom thought when he encountered the figure of Weston:

If Ransom said nothing, it was because he could not speak. He saw a man who was certainly not ill, to judge from his easy stance and the powerful use he had just been making with his fingers. He saw a man who was certainly Weston, to judge from his height and build and coloring and features. In that sense he was quite recognizable. But the terror was that he was also unrecognizable. He did not look like a sick man: but looked like a very dead one. The face which he raised from torturing the frog had that terrible power which the face of a corpse sometimes has of simply rebuffing every conceivable human attitude one can adopt towards it. The expressionless mouth, the unwinking stare of the eyes, something heavy and inorganic in the very folds of the cheek, said clearly: “I have features as you have, but there is nothing in common between you and me.’ It was this that kept Ransom speechless…the conviction [came] that this, in fact, was not a man: that Weston’s body was kept, walking and undecaying, in Perelandra by some wholly different kind of life, and that Weston himself was gone…

Weston’ body, traveling in a space-ship, had been the bridge by which something else had invaded Perealndra – whether that supreme and original evil whom they call the Bent One, or one of his lesser followers, made no difference.

 

As you read on you see that evil has devoured Weston. He is not content to keep it to himself. Evil is isolating. Weston or It must corrupt those around It for company in hell. And so, Weston begins to ply the Green Lady with words. He tells her that Maledil, The Lord of the universe, wouldn’t mind if she went to the Fixed Land (forbidden to her). He tells her that good will come of it and that Maledil desires for her to break His word to her.

With endless words and cajoling Weston entices the Green Lady. Ransom tries to refute Weston’s untruth and the confusion he is invoking in the Green Lady. At one point he says, “In our world to be older is not always to be wiser.”.

Going back to Ransom’s and Weston’s initial conversation occurring when Weston arrived on Perelandra and the one before Weston was de-humanized into the walking dead, we learn of the synthetic gnostic thinking which had enticed him and reduced him to his low estate. Here’s Weston, the Tempter, responding to Ransom:

“Now your mentioning the Devil is very interesting, “said Weston, who had by this time quite recovered his normal manner. “It is a most interesting thing in popular religion, this tendency to fissiparate, to breed pairs of opposites: heaven and hell, God and Devil. I need hardly say that in my view no real dualism in the universe is admissible; to reject these pairs of doublets as pure mythology. It would have been a profound error. The cause of this universal religious tendency is to be sought much deeper. The doublets are really portraits of Spirit., of cosmic energy – self-portraits, indeed, for it is the Life-Force itself which has been deposited in our brains.” …

“Your Devil and your God, “said Weston, “are both pictures of the same Force.”

(Regarding aspects of dualism, see my previous post Don’t Adjust the Contrast. Regarding the dehumanizing aspects of evil read Perelandra.)

What are the characteristics of evil shown on Perelandra and about us in various measure on earth?

Evil is grandiose. Weston boasted of all the benefits the Green Lady would obtain by doing things his way.

Evil is manipulative. Evil will use good attributes (beauty, older and wiser, etc.) to ensnare a person to do evil.

Evil holds up a self-gratifying mirror for the headstrong: “Malignant narcissism is characterized by an unsubmitted will.” Scott Peck, M.D. People of the Lie*

Evil people lack the motivation to be good but want to appear good. The will consistently lie to protect their appearance and to deceive themselves.

Conversations with evil people will always create confusion.

Nothing is ever fair for those in the thrall of evil. The evil live in an unsatisfied state.

Evil people are chronic scapegoaters. The evil lash out at others who don’t affirm them. The evil project their own perverted emotional state onto others. They have no problem calling people some form of phobic.

Evil people are consistent with their sins. Evil is known by its rotten fruits.

Evil people are destructive. They do not forgive others. And they do not forgive themselves because they do not acknowledge their sin or guilt.

Evil people refuse to have any sense of their sinfulness. They refuse self-examination. They deaden their conscience. They become very defensive against any personal responsibility and guilt.

 

Now, no one is born evil. (I don’t accept the premise of original sin whereby sin is somehow transmitted via the parents to a newborn child. Each person is born a tabula rasa regarding sin.) A person can become evil by continuing to deceive themselves. Out of that self-deception they will make a series of choices which degrade the truth. They will compound lies and compartmentalize them into their evil self so as to look normal on the outside. They must maintain their outward moral purity at all costs. They are the people of the lie*. Evil parents maintain a perverse environment which breeds the mental illness of evil in their children. The evil work to inhibit the spiritual growth of others.

The embrace of evil doesn’t happen overnight. As Ransom listens to Weston drone on in endless babble, he thinks…

If the remains of Weston were, at such a moments, speaking through the lips of the Un-man, then Weston was not a man at all. The forces which had begun, perhaps years ago, to eat away his humanity had now been slowly poisoning the intelligence and the affectation had now at last poisoned itself and the whole psychic organism had fallen to pieces. Only a ghost was left – and everlasting unrest, a crumbling, a ruin, an odour of decay. “And this, “thought Ransom, “might be my destination; or hers [the Green Lady].

 

As Followers of the Lord of the Universe it is important for to understand evil. But we should not focus on evil or be overcome by evil or call others evil. We are to recognize the dynamics of evil so that we can discern when we are being tempted to synthesize what God calls good with what God has called sinful. There is much of this Gnostic synthesis going on churches today in their effort to be inclusive.

“Inclusive” is the popular political word that on the surface sounds wonderful. Yet, it hides the dreadful desire to purge the dualism God has put in place and to replace it with New Age pluralism. God’s dualism is deemed too harsh and too exclusive. Remember, there is territorial spiritual warfare going on all around us. This warfare affects our culture and our politics. The forces for good battle the forces for evil. As C.S. Lewis put it, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” Weston’s efforts to entice the Green Lady reveal the extent to which the forces of evil will go to persuade one to come over to the dark side:

It was on those lines that the enemy now worked almost exclusively. Though the [Green] Lady had no word for Duty he [Weston] made it appear to her in light of a Duty that she should continue to fondle the idea of disobedience, and convinced her that it would be a cowardice if she repulsed him. The ideas of the Great Deed, of the Great Risk, of a kind of martyrdom, were presented to her every day, varied in a thousand forms.

The Tempter goes on to entice the Green lady into disobedience with feminism.

 

 

As recounted in part above, what Weston embraced leading to his mental illness and dehumanized state is common to modern man under the rainbow. Weston proceeded to take his poisoned soul over the rainbow to another planet where he began to sow seeds of deception with the likes of “Did Maledil really say that?”. Don’t be deceived or devoured by evil. For now, the Followers of Jesus are to be the people of the tension – choosing the good and abhorring the evil all around us.

“See here,” Jesus continued, “I’m sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves. So be shrewd as snakes and as innocent of doves.” Matthew10:16

 

 

~~~

I recommend C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. The above passages are only a small selection from a trio of novels which depict good and evil and more spiritual realities via fiction. You’ll be better for it.

*I recommend M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie, The Hope for Healing Human Evil, quoted above. Peck, a psychiatrist, provides eye-opening accounts and descriptions of human evil.

Don’t Adjust the Contrast

 

From a humanities perspective, God’s word to us is a study in contrasts. Distinctions of people, places and things are noted on page after page. The Creator, who dwells in unapproachable light, provided those created in His image with eyes to see and ears to hear so as to discern the dissimilarities with a handbook of juxtapositions as a guide. And so, we read of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hatred and much, much more. Let’s take a look. 

At the beginning of the God and human narrative one can read of a void and then a creation, of night and day, of sea and dry land, of heaven and earth, of human and animal, of male and female, of right and wrong choices, and of the garden and not the garden.

Later we learn of Egypt and the Promised Land and of leeks and garlic and of milk and honey.

Israel is given the Ten Commandments to contrast right from wrong behavior towards God and others.

Slavery or freedom are predominant alternatives posed to Israel.

Israel must choose between serving idols or serving the One True God.

The Torah provides Godly practices to do and unclean pagan practices to avoid.

The Psalms of Solomon (eighteen psalms) serve a didactic role as they describe the ways of sinners and their end and the way of the righteous and their end.

The wisdom literature of Proverbs encourages us to consider the ways of the wise and the foolish.

Ecclesiastes talks about contrasting seasons and perspectives.

The prophets reminded Israel of the alienating contrast between seeking God’s hometown blessing through obedience and exile from the City of Peace because of disobedience. Isaiah contrasts the fate of the Babylonians and Israel (Is. 26).

Daniel the scribe presents us his account of dreams and visions which contrast beastly rulers and beastly empires with the coming righteous and just reign of the Son of Man.

The intertestamental Jewish writings repeat and augment the differences found in the Old Testament:

Unrighteous rulers and the Messiah; Antiochus IV Epiphanes and The King of the Universe (2 Maccabees)

Fallen angels and holy ones of God (1 Enoch 15)

The fate of the unrighteous and the righteous at the time of the resurrection and judgment (4 Ezra 7).

 

The Gospels record the polarizing life and teaching of Jesus. Here, briefly, are some of the dichotomies Jesus presents through parables and encounters:

Sand and rock.

Lost and found.

Blind and seeing.

Out of your mind and in your right mind.

Pride and humility.

Wheat and chaff.

Sheep and goats.

Water and wine and the best wine.

Blessings (Matthew 5) and woes (Matthew 23).

Virtue signaling righteousness and honest to goodness righteousness.

Truth and untruth.

The world and the kingdom of God.

The self-righteous and the humble.

The wide way and the narrow way.

Faith and sight.

Life and death.

First and last.

There is a contrast within no contrast: the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

The fierceness of Jesus’ gaze and his tears over Jerusalem and at a funeral.

(Jesus does not contrast the rich and poor as do Progressives based on their power-gathering political ideology. Instead, Jesus contrasted the poverty of material mindedness with the richness of righteousness mindedness.)

 

The Epistles continue the contrast narrative begun in the Old Testament and reiterated in the Jewish writings between the testaments. With this univocal background and the unequivocal words of Jesus, the writers of the epistles provide the theology and practical application of the Kingdom of God on earth using opposites. Here is a list of some those:

The righteous and the unrighteous.

The justified and the unjust.

The reprobate and the rescued

Those who have exchanged truth for a lie and those who dwell in truth.

Those who do not acknowledge God and those who

Those with a stubborn and unrepentant heart and those who “by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life”.

The glorious inheritance in Christ and the minimum wage of death

There are those who say you may have faith but I have works and those who show their faith by their works.

Those who live by faith and those who live by sight.

Those who say one thing and do another and those who love in word and deed.

False teaching and teaching that has been handed down.

The physical body and the spiritual body.

The body used for immorality and the body as the temple of God.

Saints and sinners.

The Levitical priesthood and Melchizedek’s priesthood.

Light and darkness.

Throughout Scripture we read of the people of God and the enemies of God. The opposing forces clash in the last days. They and the whole universe reach a summing point in Jesus.

 

The Apostle John, in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, testifies that mankind’s entrenched polar opposites come together for the Lord of the Universe’s final division:

The letter begins with a heart-stopping contrast: “I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”

Seven letters to churches delineate “well done” times and sharp warnings about dysfunctional times.

John’s apocalyptic letter details…

Those written in the book of life and those not written in the book of life.

Hades and Heaven.

The lake of fire and the river of the water of life.

Demonic forces and angels.

Satan and the Son of Man.

The Beast and the Lamb.

A war to end all wars and a peace to end all wars.

The lion and the lamb.

 

Despite all the bally-hoo touting rainbow-colored “diversity, in the end all of the temporary social constructs will be torn down to reveal the definer of persons and groups to be result of choices each has made with black and white alternatives. Note, Jesus did not say, “I am for your way and your truth and your lifestyle”. Even Jesus did not choose his own way but the Father’s. Had Jesus chosen that which was offered to him by the Satan in the desert and later by Pontius Pilate where would mankind be?

With all of the contrasts, binaries, dichotomies and lack of ambiguities in the God and human narrative that are re-voiced from start to finish, it’s as if God wanted us to “choose this day whom we will serve”.

~~~~

In C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra novel, Ransom questions the Green Lady. He is trying to understand why he was invited to Perelandra and about its world and its ways. At one point the Green Lady responds:

“Since our Beloved became a man, how can reason in any world take another form? Do you not understand? That is all over. Among times there is a time that turns a corner and everything this side of it is new. Times do not go backward.”

‘Tis the Season to Celebrate Your Findings

 

Throughout the gospel accounts there are people who are finding things. Some of the things found were totally unexpected. And some things were lost and then found. Jesus lets us know that there are things meant to be found. We also learn from him that heaven is tuned into the findings. Joyous celebration all around is the natural response.

Early on we read of shepherds who find “Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a feeding trough.” (Luke 2:16) And later, of wise men who find Mary and the child and of King Herod who finds out about their finding out.

We hear of a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and a trader who finds a spectacularly valuable pearl and of fishermen who find a bountiful fishing spot. (Matt 13:44-50). With these parables Jesus relates the discovery of the mysterious kingdom of God.

We learn of Jesus finding faith in a Roman Centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)

In John’s gospel we read of cascading finds:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee, where he found Philip.

“Follow me,” he said to him.

Philip came from Bethsaida, the town Peter and Andrew hailed from. Philip found Nathanael.

“We’ve found him!” “The one Moses wrote about in the law!” And the prophets, too! We’ve found him! Its Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth!”

At the end of Luke’s gospel, we read a report of a most excellent find that isn’t there:

…some of the women have astonished us. They went to the tomb very early this morning, and didn’t find his body. They came back saying they’d seen a vision of angels, who said he is alive. Some of the folk with us went off to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.

The gospel of Luke chapter 15 is the party chapter. Each of the three lost and found parables relate how what has been lost and then found triggers a reason to celebrate: a lost sheep is found; a lost coin is found; a lost son is found on the horizon. Let’s look at the second parable.

“Or supposing a woman has ten drachmas and loses one of them. What will she do? Why, she’ll light a lamp, and sweep the house, and hunt carefully until she finds it! And when she finds it she’ll call her friends and neighbors in. ‘Come and have a party!’ she’ll say: celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost coin!”

Well, let me tell you: that’s how God’s angels feel when a single sinner repents.”

-Jesus in Luke 15:8-10

As we read this parable, we typically focus on the end result: the sinner’s repentance and heaven’s joy at the sinner’s response. Now take a look at the effort involved in restoring what was lost before the celebration takes place.

Notice that the woman turns on the light to see into the corners. She cleans her house and clears out the clutter. She makes every effort to reclaim what she lost. She didn’t have much to begin with (ten drachmas) and now a portion of it is lost (15 cents).

Here is what I think the parable also emphasizes: we come to a point in our lives when we realize that we have lost something of great value – our identity, the image of God, a piece of our soul. We can’t go on without it. We held on to so little for so long. So, we shed direct light on the situation. We remove all of the extraneous stuff in the way. We search like Oak Island treasure hunters burrowing deep into the dark places of our being. We make every effort to find what we lost.

Success! We find what we’ve lost in a dark corner. It was covered with dust and dirt and dog hair. We rejoice and tell others using the language of joy: “I have found it!” “I have found it!”

Remember the inside of Scrooge’s house via the 1951 black and white movie version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol ? It is grey and gloomy and tomb-like. It is lifeless and foreboding. Furniture is covered with tarps and dust covers the tarps. Scrooge seems buried alive in the house. A candle is used to move about his dark domain but it is not used to look for what he lost. That illumination comes from four night time specters.

Now, I imagine that past, present and future scenarios flash before the eyes of anyone who has lost something of value. I imagine that for the woman in the parable. In Scrooge’s account those scenarios are personified by three ghosts who are involved in the Scrooge’s rescue operation after the ghost of Marley gives account of his own final hellish state. The ghosts illuminate Scrooge’s life: his losses, his dealing with losses, his hard heart, his isolation, and his future state. All done right where he sleeps.

The scenarios the trinity of spirits impose on Scrooge help him to see what was lost– himself–in a house full of shrouded past.

Scrooge and the woman in the lost coin parable reclaim what was lost where they lived. They both had to look and look hard for what they had lost, Scrooge in his past present and future and the woman in her dwelling place. And when they find what they’ve lost they throw open the shutters, they go out into the streets, and they let the world know.

Let me entwine this post with a scarlet ribbon…

For the prodigal, for the repentant, there is rejoicing and a celebration. They had found themselves wanting. They had found what they lost – the reason to live. When it happened the Search Party was delighted.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost” …and when you find him…

You love him, even though you’ve never seen him. And even though you’ve never seen him, you believe in him, and celebrate with a glorious joy that goes beyond words can say, since you are receiving the proper goal of your faith – namely, the rescue of your lives. 1 Peter 1:8-9

 “I found it!” is the language of joy. And glorious joy is the spirit of Christmas.

When All is Not Bright

 

… a personal reflection

Tampa (AFP) – Life expectancy in the United States dropped yet again as drug overdose deaths continued to climb — taking more than 70,000 lives in 2017 — and suicides rose, a US government report said Thursday.

The drug overdose rate rose 9.6 percent compared to 2016, while suicides climbed 3.7 percent, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

-from Kerry SHERIDAN’s article US life expectancy drops again as overdoses climb

 

As confusion and losses stack up in a person’s life many, now more than ever, begin to seek a way out of their humanness wherein the pain is acutely felt. They will take drugs and medicate in hopes of stopping the screaming in their heads. It is the pain that tells us that we are alive and human.

I can relate. At one point in my life years ago I carried with me the same hurt locker. I had experienced losses caused by my own doing and losses beyond my control. Having been married and divorced, I then lost closeness with my children and years of my life. I lost a son in a tragic car accident. I lost a job when the company I was working for no longer had orders coming in. A truck rear-ended my car as I was on my way to a new job. I received a herniated disc in my neck and a concussion and many painful nerve-affected nights and tons of medical bills. That block of time was crushing. It was also confusing.

Trying to sort out the events, trying to make sense while inside the hurt locker, is well nigh impossible. I tried to mitigate the pain through medication, but the pains in my body and in my heart were overwhelming. There was screaming in my head that would not stop. Couple that pain with the need to continue making ends meet and trying to keep your head above water is…well-nigh impossible. And so, Impossible was the name on my hurt locker. I desperately wanted to remove myself from the locker and go to a place where I didn’t have to think anymore. When you are crying at your desk you know that something had to give. But it wasn’t going to be me. It had to be despair’s grip.

I came to the realization out of my relationship with the Lord that all of my presuppositions where being up ended. The first one to go was that I believed I was strong and could handle whatever came my way. In that dark hour I understood that the Lord had broken into my self-composed life and was making all things new. This all happened the weekend of Easter. And though I had heard the words of Easter proclamations all of my life, I finally understood that the Lord’s resurrection was the means for me to be resurrected to new life here and now. Nothing was impossible. The stone in front of the hurt locker had been removed. I was freed to be human once again. What I had endured became “I do exist, by the grace of God”.

 

It is easy for a Christian, I believe, to think that any bad thing that happens to them is a result of judgment for past sins. With all of the talk of heaven and hell in many churches it is easy to frame events in terms of reward or punishment, in almost Pavlovian ways. And, onlooking Christians are eager to point that out. Read the oldest book of Scripture, Job.

To be sure there are ways in which we dehumanize ourselves and come to believe that there can be no resurrection day and if it happened it would look like today. We live in a culture of dehumanization: abortion, drugs, ‘free’ sex, rife consumerism, and words, rites and traditions emptied of meaning. Christian holidays are paganized. Individual rights that are demanded cut people off from a community of shared human values. When body parts and their redaction become cause célèbre you know the culture is in trouble. When any thought of joy is replaced by the fatuous roose of commercialized store-bought happiness, then you know you are in trouble.

One can drink their reason for life to death. One can sit in isolation and loneliness on the internet arguing points of nihilistic bent. Social media is anything but social. Those who pattern their life after media come up empty and as impersonal as the data bytes that transfer the images to their screen.

To be sure, there are consequences that are derived from one’s sinful behavior. And, that is good to know. One needs to bump up against the wall of one’s own doing to know that there is cause and effect, a principle that even rationalists and atheists embrace.

To finally be sure, we must frame our understanding with redemption. That was the revelation that occurred to me. Resurrection and redemption. The impossible is beyond me and is only doable by the Son of Man Who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

The intent of this post is not to put a happy face on any one’s suffering or losses or pain. You do not see the sunny side of life inside the hurt locker. Rather, this post has been written to provide hope. And it is hope which brings about true-life expectancy – abundant life in this age and the age to come. Hope is born of resurrection and continues with redemption. Suicide says” All is lost. There is no hope if I can’t produce it with within myself”.  You can’t.  Hope is beyond you.

Here is hope: you are known by God. Consider that the announcement of the birth of the Son of Man was to lowly shepherds tending sheep in a field. The announcement they received wasn’t “We bring you tidings of great minimum wage!” No, the angelic message was…

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,

    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Some life-saving suggestions. When I was in high school, I walked many nights through the neighborhoods after supper with my family. I doubt that my siblings knew this. I walked because I needed to resolve all the inputs into my life: my personhood, and the mental, emotional and social goings on around me, including all that the sixties dropped on me, including the Vietnam war. I walked to find resolve to go on.

Some of us have pets. I currently have Henry, my parrolet, to keep me company. I am considering adding finches to my home. I relate to birds.  I placed a bird feeder on my patio. I’ve noticed that birds are flighty when they sense imminent danger but return when they feel safe. Birds remind me of life in the moment. They are fragile beings. They, like me, have open mouths to feed and so they return to the one who feeds them.  I had to return to the One who feeds me daily, in the moment.

 

We are right to cry “Lord have mercy!” And, we also right to cry “I must have mercy on myself and not do those things which bring judgment on me by their very nature! I have sinned, O God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”

 

A prayer:

Father of all mercy, have mercy on me. I am distressed. My heart is like wax. It melts before every fear. I am depressed. I am confused. I am not able to exist except at your pleasure. I am at the bottom of my life. Restore to me humanness. Return to me with Thy salvation. I’ve heard that my Redeemer lives. Redeem my life from destruction. Redeem me from all my transgressions. Restore my soul. Amen.

 

Leech or Lizard?

 

 When you think of Thanksgiving you of think family, food and football. Let me suggest a fourth focus: creature features.

 

The Book of Proverbs, found in the wisdom literature of the Bible, offers insight into the human condition. From my youth on I have asked God for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding. I have not always used the wisdom, knowledge and understanding given me. Much of my younger life can attest to Proverb’s description of fools and folly.

Proverbs contrasts fools and folly with those who gain wisdom and avoid imprudence. Proverbs gives us examples of what one should not be like and what one should be like. Leeches and lizards are among the examples. Let’s start with leeches.

The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. Prov. 3:15 

How would you characterize a leech? The picture that first comes to mind is that of a bloodsucker that extracts what it wants and then goes on to the next source to extract again. Personified as above, do you see them as never satisfied? As never contented? As always craving more?  Are they greedy and covetous? Are they insatiable in their appetite? Do they see themselves as deserving and therefore warranted in entering your space and presenting their unending demands? What about another space intruder, the lizard?

a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces. Prov. 30:28

Lizards, the proverb says, can be easily controlled but they show up in highly respectable places, places like lavish Caribbean hotels. Lizards like to come indoors for a meal. They are attracted by an insect infestation. Due to their small size, tiny gaps or cracks around doors and windows can be enough for geckos to let themselves in. Some owners may allow a few innocuous lizards to come and take care of the greater insect problem. And, insects are not as ‘cute’ as Geckos. The GEICO commercials invite us to let them into our lives to solve insurance problems.

The creeping and crawling Lizards can be held in check but they show up anyway in king’s palaces looking for insects hiding in dark places and likely feasting on the crumbs dropped from the royal table.

The Gospels provide with us with human examples of these creature’s features:

A recent review of a first century survey (Luke 17) found that nine out ten lepers do not give thanks. Apparently, nine lepers saw Jesus, latched on to his presence and demanded ‘Give! Give! And one leper, the out of place Samaritan, saw Jesus, creeped up slowly and waited for the crumbs to fall from the Master’s table. When Jesus healed all ten of the lepers, the nine leeches went on their way feeling they got what they deserved. But the once dried, scaling, atrophic, depigmented-skinned lizard returned and gave thanks for being allowed into the royal court and receiving a new skin on life.

As we learned, one can live their life as a leech: show up, latch on, cry ‘Give! Give!’, take and feel deserving and ungrateful. Or, one can live life as the lowly out of place lizard who shows up in our King’s palace looking for the means to go on.  The latter provides us with a prime example of grace – that easily controlled lowly lizards like us are even allowed a notice and a few bread crumbs that fall from the King’s table. Thanks be to God.

 

‘Tis the Season to Rethink Equal Outcomes

 

The Progressive’s notion of equal outcomes: “income equality” realized through redistribution; test results based on tests revised so that certain people could pass the test; participation-trophy type merit; laws that ‘fix’ opportunity for certain people; verdicts and sentencing of activist judges who rule based on a defendant’s social circumstances rather than by the crime committed upon another; homosexual ‘marriage’ as marriage equality; “equal pay for equal work” which dismisses the resultant quality of what each worker produces; a state in which people have approximately the same material wealth and achieve equal levels of income; equating equal opportunities with equal results…

Economist Thomas Sowell gives us some insight into Progressive thinking:

Equal opportunity does not mean equal results, despite how many laws and policies proceed as if it does, or how much fashionable rhetoric equates the two.

An example of that rhetoric was the title of a recent New York Times column: “A Ticket to Bias.” That column recalled bitterly the experience of a woman in a wheelchair who bought a $300 ticket to a rock concert but was unable to see when other people around her stood up. This was equated with “bias” on the part of those who ran the arena.

The woman in the wheel chair declared, “true equality remains a dream out of reach.” Apparently only equality of results is “true’ equality….

…Confusion between equal opportunity and equal results is a dangerous confusion behind many kinds of spoiled brat politics. -Thomas Sowell from Spoiled Brat Politics, The Thomas Sowell Reader

To put us in the proper reflective mood for the Season to Rethink Equal Outcomes, below are three accounts from Scripture which reveal to us God’s concept of equal outcomes.

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 2 Samuel 24:24

The first thing I notice about the above account is that forms of capitalism have been around for a long time. That is, capitalism, simply defined, as an economic and social system in which property, business, and industry are privately owned and directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organizations and people, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

In the above account there was a cooperative exchange of private property between two individuals. Both were satisfied with the outcome. And, apparently God was satisfied with the outcome. David’s desire was to not give God the impression that he was doing something good for God, a.k.a. virtue signal or tokenism, but to pay proper respect and attribute worth to God through his offering.

David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped. 2 Samuel 24:25

The second thing I notice is restraint. Though Araunah offered his property freely to king David (2 Sam. 24:23) the king did not accept it without paying Araunah its worth to Araunah  and perhaps more. That cost David. The king could have just taken the property to begin with. Beastly kings and rulers throughout history have seized property for themselves and for “the masses”. David was not about to disrespect his neighbor Araunuh or his God by stiffing either. The king did not exploit Araunuh for righteous ends.

Worth had to be accounted for with regard to Araunah’s property and with regard to a show of respect to God. “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” That is what David said and that is what the widow thought.

Then Jesus sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. He called his disciples and said to them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.”  Mark 12:41-44

The first thing we notice in this account is the virtue signaling and tokenism of cha-ching-ers who want to appear to profit God while incurring little or no cost to themselves. In kingdom contrast, the unassuming widow, like king David, gave an offering that cost her appreciably and was God’s Temple worthy. The widow gave her financial security. The Lord was pleased to acknowledge her gift acknowledging the God Who is Faithful (Psalm 146: 8). She loved God more than life itself. Now, did you notice in these two stories that taking into account the worth of each party and their property creates equal outcomes – both parties being satisfied and even pleased with what is exchanged? This method of accounting, making sure the ‘other’ is considered and is valued as at least equal with ourselves, can be applied to all interactions.

In a previous post I wrote:

We are told by Jesus to “love your neighbors as yourself”. To do this we must consider our own self-interest and then apply the same measure of self-interest toward our neighbors. This parity of accounting is not unlike the Lord’s accounting of forgiveness: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others their trespasses.” […,] the resentment worldview has a perverted accounting system: the self is to be credited and others must be debited for there to be parity in their world. If the word “fairness” is ever to be applied socially and economically to our culture then these two commands of our Lord define its limited and personal application.

As shown from Scripture, God endorsed equal outcomes are marriages of opportunities with offerings. The outcomes are not forced or determined by a higher power or the state. The individuals involved come to an agreement about the outcome. A marriage of a man and woman is the archetype of this union of opportunity and offering.

The man and woman exchange vows and rings and, over time, their lives. The opportunity: they met and each determined that an exchange of their life for the other would make both happy. The offering: they give themselves which costs everything. They do so freely. The exchange is not coerced as in a shot-gun wedding or when those in power decide to take your property by force. When things are forced and a person is acted upon without it being offered it is called rape. It is called stealing when a person’s property is forcibly taken.

The equal outcome of marriage is that the two become one. The transaction creates a greater good (including little ones) and both parties equally, with God’s help, continue to be satisfied with the outcome.

One more illustration from Scripture regarding the marriage of opportunity and offering. Remember this woman?

While Jesus was at Bethany, in the house of Simon (known as “the Leper’), a woman came to him who had an alabaster vase of extremely valuable ointment. She poured it on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw it, they were furious.

“What’s the point of all this waste?” they said. “This could have been sold for a fortune, and the money could have been given to the poor!”

Jesus knew what they were thinking.

“Why make life difficult for the woman?” he said. “It’s a lovely thing, what she’s done for me. You always have the poor with you, don’t you? But you won’t always have me. When she poured this ointment on my body, you see, she did it to prepare me for burial. “I’m telling you the truth: where this gospel is announced in all the world, what she has done will be told, and people will remember her.”

Matthew 26: 6-13

 

 

What do we learn about opportunity and offering from this account of a woman pouring a very expensive offering onto Jesus’ head? We learn that the Progressives around Jesus were highly offended when they couldn’t control the outcome of the “alabaster vase of extremely valuable ointment”. We also learn from Jesus about the opportunity that brought them together: “… you won’t always have me”. The woman’s offering was what she could have lavished on herself. Maybe she applied David’s words to her head: “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

The extravagant and expensive offering given freely was freely accepted by Jesus in preparation for his burial. In fact, he tells us that the equally shared outcome of what she had done was worth proclaiming: the marriage of opportunity and sacrificial offering as an act of love.

Who Can Stand Upright?

 

The unjust cry out for revenge justice: “No Justice, No Peace!

The envious shout for equal outcome justice: “Fair Share!”

Feminists rally for Pro-choice justice: “Abortion is a Civil Right!”

The LGBT coalition demands lifestyle justification justice: “We demand equality and not your approval!”

Social justice advocates crave an inclusive world: “Check Your Privilege!”

Environmental advocates seek justice “against the onslaught of oppressive toxins and toxic oppressions that threaten to submerge out homes!”

Parents call for education justice: “No Child Left Behind!”

Those who have lost loved ones to inhuman acts petition for criminal justice

…the scales of justice are constantly tugged on by the just and unjust. Yet, in the end, God determines who stands to lose everything and who stands to gain everything.

 

It would appear, looking at just a sampling of recent events, that we have been created by God with a need for justice. There seems to be within us a deep-rooted desire for things to be put right. And because things are not right in our eyes, there is a constant clamor for resolution. Humanity longs to be restored and reassured among the inhuman events occurring every day. Yet justice, in a world of people dehumanized by sin, is often abstracted and ad hoc, and even beastly. And for many today, human rights have morphed into individual rights to justify inhuman behavior.

When man’s justice bypasses deliberative and evidence-producing due process it has deteriorated into kangaroo courts, lynch mobs, mob rule, vigilantism, Cain-killing-Abel retribution and whatever feeds the beast within with power. Diametrically opposite of man’s degraded justice, God’s justice is not a knee-jerk reaction. Rather, it is consistent with God’s character which God has made know to us. Mercifully and within the surety of God’s name, God’s justice is also restorative and humanizing. It is universal and fair – it applies to everyone for all time. And, it includes due process and evidence.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the LORD comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. -the Apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 4:5

And,

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. – the letter to the Hebrews 4:12

Not only does God’s word go to the heart of the matter, Scripture gives us the means to learn of God’s character and the nature of His justice. Scripture reveals God’s justice in history and God’s justice to come.

With dreams and vision, the books of Daniel and The Revelation of Jesus Christ graphically depict the beastly empires and their beastly rulers. The empires and their rulers do not acknowledge God as sovereign. When they do they oppose God. Both books describe in vivid detail God’s justice in dealing with the de-humanized beasts in the world.

In 587 BCE king Nebuchadnezzar and the ruthless Babylonians conquered and pillaged civilizations. The king’s army captured Jerusalem and plundered the temple. Israelites were taken into exile in Babylon, a city which historically and metaphorically represents a center of man’s opposition to God.

Daniel’s account describes the exiled Israelites being commanded by the king to pay homage to that which isn’t God. Implied in the account, the four Israelites had been taught early on about the One True God and that idolatry was forbidden. They understood from reading the Psalms (115:8) that those who worship idols become like the idols – inhuman.

Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

And, from Psalm 135:15-17 the futility of seeking justice from idols:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths.

Daniel and his three friends are told they must worship a towering gold statue of king Nebuchadnezzar. They resist, making it clear that that they “walk in the name of the Lord our God”. God saves them and vindicates their stance. From this episode we learn that God vindicates those who wait for his justice. Again, the Psalms provided their pleadings:

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, And I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.  Psalm 26:1

Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! Psalm 43:1

Save me, O God, by Your name, And vindicate me by Your power. Psalm 54:1

God’s sovereign justice is revealed to king Nebuchadnezzar in a vivid and perplexing dream about a statue. Daniel’s God-given interpretation describes the king as the statue’s head of gold. The statue’s body is made up of different material elements each representing different kingdoms. In the dream the kingdoms come and go. Daniel goes on to say that an everlasting kingdom – the Kingdom of God – will not be crushed but “it will crush all these kingdoms” and “will endure forever” (Daniel 2).

In Daniel 3 we learn that the king hasn’t learned a thing from the dream or about the One True God other than Daniel’s God is just another god to be respected. The king goes on to create an enormous image of gold. He demands for it to be worshipped like a god.

Daniel 4 records the king’s vision. Another interpretation follows with Daniel describing a tree being cut down and the king being humbled “until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes”. We learn that the king’s mind becomes the end result of his self-worship – inhuman and like a wild beast of the field.  The book of Daniel gives us insight into God’s vindicating justice. We see God seeking to spread knowledge of himself within a beastly empire.

 

The Revelation of Jesus the Messiah is a long letter relaying what Jesus was told by his Father about future events. Jesus communicates what he has been told to an angel. The angel then reports the revelation to the Lord’s servant John. And John, we learn in Rev 1:2, is someone in God’s court room who “bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus the Messiah”.

John also bears witness to the judgments that will rain down, like stars falling from the heavens, on the “…kings of the earth, the leading courtiers, the generals, the rich, the power brokers, and everyone, slave and free” as they run to hide themselves “among the caves and the rocks of the mountains” screaming.

“Fall upon us!” they were saying to the mountains and rocks. “Hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne, and from the anger of the lamb! The great day of their anger has come, and who can stand upright?” – Rev. 6: 12-17

The letter is from “He Who Is and Who Was and Who is to Come”. The Son of Man – the True Human and Lord of Creation– is introduced in Revelation chapter 1. He is the one who can rightly judge the beastly rulers and their empires and the Beast itself and those who allowed themselves to be marked by the Beast.

The letter records God’s accounting of those entrusted with the Gospel at one time. Seven letters are read to seven churches. These written assessments remind me of the writing on the wall in Daniel’s day (Daniel 5: 24-26), condemning a ruler who held authority over others and acted against God and man. Ultimately, beastly rulers will not stand before God. They will be removed from power.

“Then the hand was sent from Him and this inscription was written out.

      “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ “This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. ‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. ‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

And, like the seven symbolic days of creation, there are seven seals which are opened and seven trumpets are blown and seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out onto creation. In the day of the Lord the world will be purged of its patterns of perverted tyrannical power and of those who have rebelled against God and took on an inhuman existence, even to the extent of murdering those loyal to God:

When the lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been killed because the of the word of God and because of the witness they had borne.

 They shouted at the tops of the voices. “Holy and true Master!” they called. How much longer are you going to put off giving judgment, and avenging our blood on the earth-dwellers?” -Revelation 6:9-10

 

Revelation, as it describes the beast that comes out of the sea, parallels Daniel’s vision description of beasts (Rev. 13). Both the beast from the sea and the beast of the earth are defeated in battle.

Before we “see a new heaven and new earth” (Rev. 21) the enemy of man and the Son of Man, the Deceiver, the Great Beast, the Satan, will be dealt with once and for all:

… the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

 

Unlike many of the world’s attempts at justice, God’s justice names evil for what it is and deals with it. Evil’s power was dealt with on the cross. Jesus took all evil upon himself and defeated it. Evil no longer has power over us, unless you decide it to be so. For the loyal, God is Just and Justifier:

God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through faithfulness, by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his covenant justice, because of the passing over (in divine forbearance) of sins committed beforehand. This was to demonstrate his covenant justice in the present time: that is, that he himself is in the right, and that he declares to be right everyone who trusts in the faithfulness of Jesus. – Romans 3: 25-26

 

Will God’s final justice have you crying out about acts of justice on your terms: “Hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne, and from the anger of the lamb! Who can stand upright!?” Or, will God’s justice vindicate your loyalty to His faithfulness?

Will God’s justice be the sum of all your fears or the sum of all your fealty?