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.

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.

Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy

 

A recurring diagnosis in Scripture, as the augmented title suggests, is the enlarged and unresponsive heart. We can read accounts when God brings into certain character’s lives situations which reveal the true condition of that character’s heart. I am reminded of Pharaoh and the Exodus account. 

Pharaoh, you will recall, wanted Israel to remain slaves. Pharaoh wanted the cheap labor for his building program. God, seeing His people’s suffering, wanted them to be set free and go to the Promised land. And, God wanted Exodus for Israel in order to fulfill His covenant promises. Now, of course, God could have just snapped His fingers and made that happen. But, as we read Scripture, we find that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:210) so as to bring about the necessary change of heart.

Signs and wonder were produced to reveal a different authority, but to no avail:

Each one threw down his staff, and it became a serpent. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up the other staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said. Exodus 7:12-13

Sending plagues on Egypt exercised Pharaoh’s will. But, the only change to his heart condition was that it became enlarged and unresponsive. After the fourth plague we read…

and the LORD did as Moses requested. He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not one fly remained. But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go. Exodus 8:31-32

The last test of wills, the death of the Egyptians’ first-born children, was a Pharaoh heart-changer:

Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Get up, get out from among my people, both you and the Israelites; and go, serve the Lord, as you said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and [ask your God to] bless me also. The Egyptians [anxiously] urged the people [to leave], to send them out of the land quickly, for they said, “We will all be dead.”  Exodus 12: 31-33

As we read on, we find Pharaoh rejecting the pain and suffering of his people and hardening his resolve once again. He pursues the Israelites. But, the Red Sea dissolves his resolve.

In book of Daniel we read of kings who are heart-tested. King Nebuchadnezzar receives a dream and a vision (signs and wonders) which clearly delineated the outcome of his life. Yet this king went on his way, without a change of heart and full of himself. He just accommodated himself to there being another god to account for. Daniel, the scribe, recounts the king’s life for king Belshazzar:

O king [Belshazzar], the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. He killed those he wanted to kill, kept alive those he wanted to keep alive, honored those he wanted to honor, and degraded those he wanted to degrade. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him. He was driven from human society, and his mind was made like that of an animal. His dwelling was with the wild asses, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and sets over it whomever he will.  Daniel 5: 18-21

 

Unlike king Nebuchadnezzar, King Belshazzar was not given the opportunity to have a change of heart. In the presence of thousands of his party guests, Belshazzar sees a mysterious hand writing on the wall. Belshazzar empties his bowels (Daniel 5:6). Above is the introduction to Daniel’s interpretation of the writing. The interpretation, revised for this post: “King, you have been weighed on the scales and you’ve been found to be deficient of heart-health. You are going the way of all enlarged-hearted people.”

And so it came about …

During that same night Belshazzar the [last] Chaldean king was slain [by troops of the invading army].  So Darius the Mede received the kingdom; he was about the age of sixty-two. Daniel 5:30-31

Israel’s prophets declared the hardness of Israel’s hearts.

“But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart. Jeremiah 18:12

Jonah took a hard heart with him as he walked away from God’s calling – preach to the city of Nineveh. But his hard-heart period ended with some fish oil in the belly of a great fish.

The prophets were referred to in describing Jesus’ kingdom ministry and mankind’s heart condition:

Although Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still did not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. The gospel of John 12:38-41

The end condition of mankind with self-induced Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy is given to us by the Apostle John:

The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.  And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts. Revelation 9:20-21

The end result of mankind with self-induced Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy is given to us by the Apostle Paul:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Romans 2:5

~~~

How does one self-induce Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy? Here’s a short but comprehensive list:

By dehumanizing yourself. By becoming like the idols you give yourself to.

Denying one’s human existence is an act of God.

Through practice. Deny yourself nothing. Indulge yourself and call it liberty, freedom and rights.

Practice porneia (i.e., adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, use of pornography).

By valuing your existence in terms of dollars or sexual encounters.

By calling yourself “gay”.

By defining truth as what your friends let you get away with saying; by saying 2 + 2 = 5

By lying.

By denigrating your senses with alcohol, drugs and Epicurean pleasures.

By deceiving your yourself. By saying sin is what people do to me or sin is what I get caught doing.

By giving ideology preeminence over truth.

By attributing the spiritual, including recorded signs and wonders, to sentimental wishful thinking.

With complacency, lethargy, lack of spiritual exercise. By sitting in front of the TV or the internet.

Never acknowledge sin you’ve committed; refuse to tolerate any sense of sin, see guilt as weakness.

Scapegoat.

Surround yourself with affirmations of your behavior

By equating things which are not equitable: equal rights with equality, i.e., male/female union as equal to a homosexual union; equating wealth with gain and poverty with loss.

When the love you sought rejects you, you seek power over others.

By not forgiving.

By grieving the Holy Spirit.

By needing a life at gunpoint every day to provoke a change in your heart: “She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor

 

How do you recognize those with enlarged and hard hearts? Let’s start with these characteristics:

They act like Richard III, a man who killed family successors to the throne to secure England’s throne of power for himself. Aka, a self-absorbed monster in Shakespeare’s play Richard the III: “I am determined to prove a villain/And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”

They seem to be wearing a Full Metal Jacket: Self-protected and fully inured against any outside stimulus that might affect their mindset. They are deadly to others.

They are glazed over and Gargoyle-like.

They seem to be shrinking. They are becoming the miniscule citizens of C.S. Lewis’ “grey town” in the Great Divorce.

Their thick skin is really dragon skin (see Eustace Clarence Scrubb in C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

They do the exact opposite of the now well-known Five Love Languages:

They seek affirmation at all costs to others. They do not affirm others unless those others have affirmed them.

They avoid touch. Anyone touching them would know the cold, hard empty shell that they have become.

They demand gifts of power, of rights. They vote for those who give them these “gifts”. They, instead of giving gifts, seek more tokens to put in their pinball machine life. Giving gifts is intolerable to them unless it brings them more affirmation and more power over others.

Their acts of service consist of virtue signaling (which costs nothing) and voting for those who affirm their lifestyle and for socialism to pay for it.

They spend no quality time on anyone except for those who feed their narcissism.

~~~

How does one reverse Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy before your time is up? It will take some life-saving surgery. And, there is only instrument that is able to cut through an enlarged hardened heart:

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. Hebrew 4:12

Post-surgery, be prepared to have your eyes wide open, your hearing passages enlarged and your unresponsive heart quickened.

For my brothers and sisters in Christ I pray with Saint Paul:

To have the eyes of your utmost self opened to God’s light. Then you know exactly what the hope is that goes with God’s call. Ephesians 1:18

 

A prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of heaven and earth, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Though you have been faithful, I have been unfaithful. Though you have been true, I have been untrue. I have hardened my heart and have received only a portion of the results of my stubbornness and pride. Have mercy upon me and forgive me. I repent of my wickedness and my resolve to harden my heart.

I ask that you put within me a new heart, and a new spirit. Remove the heart of stone from my flesh and give me a heart of flesh. I ask this in your name. Amen.

The Rise of Resentment

 

Ressentiment is the French translation of the English word resentment. In philosophy and psychology it is a concept that was of particular interest to the existentialist philosophers. According to the existentialists, ressentiment is a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. This value system is then used as a means of justifying one’s own weaknesses by identifying the source of envy as objectively inferior, serving as a defense mechanism that prevents the resentful individual from addressing and overcoming their insecurities and flaws. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability. – Wikipedia

 

The resentment worldview has a perverted self-interest value system:

The resentment worldview has a perverted accounting system:

“Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.” – Milton Friedman

 

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.” As mentioned above, 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.

Apart from the resentment worldview of “fellow travelers” and socialist sympathizers, I believe that many of us know that self-interest is not selfishness. We take care of our bodies. We wash and feed and exercise them. We think and dwell on good things and not on twaddle. We work and seek to pay our bills on time. We take our responsibilities to our family and to those around us seriously. In all of our transactions, social and economic, we strive to maintain a good name.

Going beyond a universal self-interest, a Jesus follower’s self-interest takes into her accounting what appears to be the opposite of self-interest – losses (see Mark 9: 43-47) or dying to self. Her losses (and subsequent gains) go right to the bottom line of her P & L statement: “What shall it profit a woman if she gains the whole world and loses her own soul?” The bottom line is what she gives out of in parity and fairness to her neighbor.

Scripture gives us God’s world view. And, early in Scripture, we read of contrasting worldviews: the worldview of resentment and its perverse self-fulfillment accounting and the worldview of God and His “on earth as it is in heaven” accounting.

In the familiar Genesis narrative (Genesis 37) of Joseph and his brothers, the brothers took account of how they thought they were treated and compared that to how they thought Joseph was treated. From their recorded behavior we find out that jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration.

Joseph became the source of their envy. Born in Jacob’s old age, Joseph had the gift of his father’s love. Joseph also had the gift of dreams – presumptuous dreams the brothers thought (Gen 37:8). And Joseph was given an ornate robe from his father Jacob. They also considered Joseph a tattle tale (Gen 37:2).

Resentment rose in the brother’s hearts. Heated arguments followed and then boiled over. Joseph became the stated enemy of their egos. The brothers acted on their resentment. Joseph was sold into slavery after almost being done away with under a Democratic death sentence (Gen 37:18).

Years later in Egypt, when tables are turned, Joseph did not hold resentment in his heart. He did not reciprocate (Gen. 45). He dealt with his brothers, not by returning upon their heads the evil done to him, but with God’s accounting worldview: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’

 

Resentment worldview onlookers that day would have testified that something bad happened years ago and now someone had to pay. And that brings us to today.

Circumstantial Evidence

You don’t feel right. You feel unsettled and unable to sleep at night. You feel achy, restless and depressed. You wonder if there is something in the air. You feel that there is something going on but you can’t put your finger on it.

One day, on the way to work, you stop for a “Caramel Macchiato, Venti, Skim, Extra Shot, Extra-Hot, Extra-Whip, Sugar-Free” at Starbucks. Getting out of your Subaru, you see a sign across the street: “GOT CARE?” The sign is out front of the Hope and Change Clinic. Another yard sign says that the clinic accepts all patients and rejects none. You say to yourself, “Maybe this is what I need.” You call and make your first appointment.

On the day of your appointment you find the waiting room full of scrutinizing looks. You meet with Dr. Betterman. He doesn’t examine you. He tells you right off the bat what ails you. He says, “I see this all the time in my practice. My patients sense that something isn’t right and they become anxious. They often feel stigmatized by their choices. I counsel them not to worry. The problem, I tell them, is not behavioral. It is not anything you ate or did. It is not you. The problem is who and what is going on around you. A fundamental transformation is required. You will need to see me at least once a week to work through this. For payment, we accept cash, credit cards and all kinds of insurance and reject none. A copy of my best-selling book “Think Through You: 17 Steps Toward Transcendental Reasoned Being” is available for purchase at the front desk.”

Already feeling chipper, you reschedule and then stop at Starbucks, book under your arm, before going home.

Slippery Slopes are Not Defensible Positions

The following Tweet appeared in my Twitter feed. As one can see, the Tweet is not a response to a particular person. Rather it is a scourging of the topics discussed in a Tennessee Sunday School, as noted in the article posted. It is also obvious that the Tweet was meant for Janet Mefferd’s followers. My response was to the content of the Tweet and its implications for those who call Jesus “Lord”.

There were several responses to my reply, including, “Total capitulation. So sad professing Christians think they need to do this.” It was if I had succumbed to the world and had become a carnal Christian in accepting a scientific understanding of creation.

One woman had a most vehement disagreement with me regarding my use of science. She has since blocked me.

Her arguments against my positing evolutionary creation were not arguments at all. Rather, she quoted Scripture verses denouncing me as promoting false doctrine and 1 Cor. 1:27:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

And in keeping with Mefferd, she also posted slippery slope warning diatribes denouncing evolutionary creation as the road to outer Darwinism.

This woman’s responses implied that since I held to a science-explained creation that I did not know Scripture and that I was not a Rock-solid Fundamentalist and therefore already on a slippery slope. She would only accept a literal 6-day (24 hour/day) creation reading of Genesis. Here is one of my responses to her:

To allay misunderstanding, I was not trying to win an argument when I posted my replies. I did state my position in my initial response. I did try to further discussion of the science versus Scripture and Faith issue that seems so prevalent in Christian circles. I did try to jump start a conversation about evolutionary creation. And, in so doing I implied that it is appropriate to discuss science in church. I also felt that I had to stand up for scientific study, as nature is God’s revelation to us along with Scripture.

But, the minds of those who replied were in lock-down mode. They would not hear of such a thing. They became defensive. And, that is the implication and force of Tweets like the above: to shut down any thinking that comes from outside the narrative and to reinforce the closely held narrative. I am reminded of Plato’s cave allegory (see below). The mind-shackled use the shadows – illusions- on a cave wall as their shared narrative.

As anyone can observe today, groups on both Right and Left have their hard-drive narratives and fire-walls set up against any knowledge that would corrupt their narrative. Offensively, ultraconservative Fundamentalists use dictatorial piety with a formatted Sola Scriptura narrative to counter-spam the ultraliberal dictatorial piety of Progressives and their formatted Sola Pretium Affectionis (Values) narratives. And, vice versa.

Both groups use virtue signaling in social media to reinforce their narrative to their followers and to ward off criticism of and debate about their narrative. Both groups use slippery slope scenarios to buttress their narratives against challenges. Both group’s narrative reinforcements are those whose personal version of God is one created in their own image. As such, both group’s absolutist narratives allow one to presume to know all there is about an issue. Both group’s narratives are for the simple-minded: the narratives make no demands of you; the narratives require no effort or thought; the narrative only requires that you repeat its words over and over. But, as someone also observed, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” (Chaucer, 1374).

 

You can go to a church week after week and have your narrative reinforced. Or, you can go to church and have your narrative brought out into the open and challenged. Jesus challenged hard-wired fire-wall protected absolutist dictatorial narratives. Disciples followed to hear more. Others walked away and back to their safe space narrative cave.

In the world where a Christian’s replies instantly equate my inquiry and debate to heresy and to precipitous slippery slope scenarios or to Fundamentalism, nothing is ventured and nothing is gained. Fear of the unknown is what is being defended against with such rebuffing Tweets directed at me from the narrative cave. The Gospel was NOT being defended or upheld for all to see with such dismissive Tweets directed at me from the narrative cave. And that’s because the Gospel is not cave-ridden. Those who embrace the Gospel walk in the light. But for some, tweeting from the safe space narrative cave about slippery slopes outside somewhere is all that matters.

 

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,

for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

 

 As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

 

~~~

Some things to ponder:

Allegory of the Cave

 

“Despite the efforts of a few evangelical intellectuals like B. B. Warfield and James Orr, to work patiently through the mid-level science literature of the day, evangelicalism as a whole relied more on popular argumentation aimed at democratic audiences, rather than on discriminating advanced learning, to counter the anti -Christian uses of modern science.  Powerful social forces fueled this populist approach.”

-Mark Noll, Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview

“The fact that the human and chimpanzee genomes exhibit striking synteny with only subtle differences in genomic organization has been known for some time, based on chromosome staining and molecular hybridization techniques.The main differences between human and chimpanzee chromosome sets are nine intrachromosomal inversions and one chromosome fusion. These observations have now been confirmed at the molecular level by whole-genome sequencing of humans and chimpanzees.”

-Dennis R. Venema, Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes

“Now we Reformed Christians are wholly in earnest about the Bible. We are people of the Word; Sola Scriptura is our cry; we take Scripture to be a special revelation from God himself, demanding our absolute trust and allegiance. But we are equally enthusiastic about reason, a God-given power by virtue of which we have knowledge of ourselves, our world, our past, logic and mathematics, right and wrong, and God himself; reason is one of the chief features of the image of God in us. And if we are enthusiastic about reason, we must also be enthusiastic about contemporary natural science, which is a powerful and vastly impressive manifestation of reason. So this is my question: given our Reformed proclivities and this apparent conflict, what are we to do? How shall we think about this matter?”

-Alvin Plantinga, When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” [1 Timothy 1.7]

-Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) (emphasis mine)

From Rage to Rage or Age to Age the Same

 

It seems that for much of the Evangelical Christian world today, the driving narrative concerns getting people saved from hell and then setting them on the path of a fundamentalist political narrative. The right people must be elected by the right people to protect the rights of the right people. For heaven’s sake.

It also seems that for the Progressive Christian world today, the driving narrative concerns saving folks from material concerns and then discipling them to be a fellow traveler in the Long March toward cultural hegemony where individuated rights reign supreme. For social justice’s sake.

Are the two narratives ascribed above oversimplifications? Judging by their social media content I would say they are not. And though there are narrative differences, both groups do let their narrative identify them politically. Both groups wrangle for power over the other to gain narrative advantage. Both group’s worldview is refracted by their narrative window. Both groups tend toward stream of consciousness narratives: reacting to events as they go along and providing their own context. And yet, as I read Scripture, I find that the Christian world has already been defined by the all-encompassing Kingdom of God narrative handed down to us.

As there is one God, there is one narrative. From the beginning Word (John 1), God gave His people the storyline. His people, for the most part, were and still are the characters in that storyline. His people have and still must walk in that narrative because they and us are held accountable for what we do with that imperishable narrative. So that there was no doubt as to what narrative eclipses all others, Jesus told his disciples, “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never, ever disappear”. The Kingdom of God people narrative was not going away with a vote or a change in government or with new laws passed.

 

What is that narrative handed down to the Kingdom of God people to walk in? The account was written down by several of God’s chosen people. Israel was to be the personification of the narrative, as the creation and covenant people, a people holy and separated unto God and for His glory. What characterizes the Kingdom of God people and their narrative? There are several aspects.

They are monotheistic. The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and usually the first scripture a Jewish child learns: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” Israel was strictly warned by God to not make idols of false gods or to make any image of God.

The Kingdom of God people come to understand that God is both personal and transcendent. The narrative they pass onto to their children is that not only is God the Creator but that He is also personally involved with his creation. The Kingdom of God narrative does not include deism.

God’s Kingdom people are temple-centered people. The temple is where the personal-infinite God dwells with man. The temple is where heaven and earth come together.

God’s people rely on God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s righteousness. God made promises to Abraham and to David. His people expect those promises to be fulfilled within the same narrative.

God’s Kingdom people are Exodus people. They know what God had done for their ancestors. They expect God to take them out from under the rulers of this world.

God’s Kingdom people are the Messiah people. They expect a Savior to take his place over the rulers of this world and bring ultimate justice. The Messiah – God’s faithfulness to His covenant or God’s righteousness – is their hope (Gal. 5:5).

God’s Kingdom people are eschatological people. They believe that God would ultimately put the world right and restore His creation, and dwell with man in His temple forever.

God’s Kingdom people are Holy God people. They were given the Commandments and Laws of a Holy God. And though Wisdom tells us (Eccl. 1:9) that “there is nothing new under the sun”, ‘Enlightened’ Post-modernist Progressives seek to rewrite God’s moral laws to fit an Epicurean culture. But, the Kingdom of God narrative of a holy God has never changed.

 

In previous posts I have given you accounts of how the Kingdom of God people narrative has played out in some character’s lives. The accounts of Joseph, Esther and Daniel provide us, the Kingdom of God people, with an understanding of how to live in this world but not like this world. In other words, how to live out the Kingdom of God narrative. Their stories relate confrontations between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. 

Because Joseph and Esther and Daniel embraced the Kingdom of God narrative as their own, they held fast to their separate-from-the-world ways. Each character knew that God was not off somewhere and uninvolved in their situation. From the accounts of their ancestors, each understood God to be a personal and yet transcendent God. Their desire for God’s dwelling place with man is at the center of their lives, even in exile. And, each knew that God would ultimately put things right. As such, none of the three wavered into other narratives to secure power or a safe space or to receive praise from men.

Esther points out the evil.

Their accounts relate how the Kingdom of God people can live in the most adverse circumstances and yet live out the Kingdom of God people narrative. Each faced life and death choices. Each came through the fire to be found faithful. So, they were rewarded in a way that gave God the glory.

In each of their stories, Joseph, Esther and Daniel, were chosen out from their lowly and displaced estate and placed into exalted positions. They were chosen based on their wisdom, insight and character qualities in line with the Kingdom of God people narrative. 

 

The only narrative that matters is the Kingdom of God narrative. All other narratives will pass away. Those who call Jesus “Lord” will walk in the Kingdom of God narrative. It is their storyline. If they don’t, they will likely receive a written message from the First and Last Narrator:

 

“Now write what you see, both the things that already are, and also the things that are going to happen afterward.” The Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:19

Joseph, Esther and Daniel:

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) Meet the Hangman, Part One

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Two

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Three

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Four, Conclusion

All the Difference in the World

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

 

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,
but dwelling on it separates close friends.

-Proverbs 17:9

~~~

If anyone had a right to settle accounts it was the young dreamer Joseph. Cast into a hole in the ground by his brothers over a dream he relayed to them and a love gift his father imparted to him, Joseph had every right to be up in arms.

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had:  We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. …

 

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37)

  

The dream and the ornate garment where not prompted by Joseph. The God of Jacob gave Joseph the dream. Jacob, Joseph’s father, out of love for the son of his old age, gave Joseph an ornate garment. As father he had the prerogative to give whatever he wanted to whomever he pleased. But, the brothers decided that such a dream and such a gift to one member, a younger brother at that, and not to the many represented a horrible injustice. So, they brought about their version of justice: kill Joseph and dump the object of their resentment into a dry cistern. After Reuben’s pleas they dumped Joseph alive into the dry well. Joseph’s flesh and blood did not want flesh and blood on their hands. So, it was decided by the brothers that Joseph should be sold as a slave instead of done away with. To throw their father off the trail of Joseph’s whereabouts, the ornate garment yanked off of Joseph was dabbed with blood. The brothers wanted their father to think Joseph had been eaten by wild animals

What the brothers didn’t know, and didn’t know all along, was that in spite of the being tossed into a pit, Joseph had a different perspective. Sure, he questioned his brothers from the pit. “Why have you done this? What have I done to you?” Joseph had every right to be up in arms. But in that pit Joseph laid down his claim for justice and looked to the Sovereign God for resolution.

The resolution brought Joseph to Egypt and away from his father. We never hear of Joseph griping about the injustice done to him, though. Over time God would reverse Joseph’s slave status making him a master of much of the Egyptian people.

The resolution also brought his brothers to Egypt. There, they would not stand trial before Joseph for their crimes. But they would be tested by him to see if they could be trusted anew. 

After the testing, a reconciliation would ensue, brought about by Joseph. It happened when their father Jacob died:

After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50: 15-21)

 

We read in Genesis 39:2 that, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.

 

Alternative ending: After being thrown into a cistern and then sold as a slave, Joseph vowed to take vengeance on every last one of those who did him wrong. Once in Egypt, he slaughtered the slave traders who bought him there. He slaughtered their families and his task masters and their families. He returned home and slaughtered his brothers and their wives and children. He threw their bodies into a cistern. He became a warlord and began ransacking and raping those he came upon. He rode into towns wearing the ornate garments he stole from those he killed. He slew anyone who looked at him the wrong way. His father Jacob would not bless Joseph after Joseph’s murderous rampage. Joseph slew his father after he forced a blessing out of him with torture. Nothing would stop Joseph’s quest for justice. Accounts had to be settled.

 

I don’t have to tell you that we live in a litigious world. There are caseloads of lawsuits in the courts. Closer to home, in the social media realm of words, the hyperbole used to describe offense taken is akin to that of an attorney who makes his case to the public.

Certainly, there are legitimate offenses that occur. Just as certain, there are also illegitimate offenses that are drummed up for the sake of personal benefit. Much of what is on TV is highlighting offenses taken. You never see forgiveness highlighted on TV. It is as if forgiveness is a sign of weakness in a world where power is the most sought-after commodity.

 As mentioned in my last post, people hold grudges. Many will take an offense if any one looks at them the wrong way or drives the ‘wrong’ way or words are not received in the manner given. There are those who generate their own offenses by their very nature. Some are envious. Some are covetous. Many, as seen this last presidential election, take offense that some folks have what they consider a bigger piece of pie, which they translate into a larger share of power over circumstances. Their form of social justice is not much different from Joseph’s brother’s. The envy-driven will call for the wealthy to be taken down and to have their costly ornate ‘garments’ removed and given to others before throwing them into a financial pit.

 

Parenthetically, it is important that I use both Old and New Testament accounts in my posts. I’ve learned from social media that many people consider the Old Testament a relic, outmoded, and archaic.  They contend that Jesus came to throw away all of those rule-ish books. But, nothing could be further from the truth. All of Scripture is one narrative about God’s interaction with His creation, from Genesis to Revelation. As you read Scripture from cover to cover you will come across many parallel situations revealing God’s relationship with man. You will have to come to Scripture to find highlights of forgiveness. The world’s narrative is about highlighting those maintaining power.

The story of Joseph contains a dramatic turnaround – from victim of the merciless to merciful forgiver. The next account contains another dramatic turnaround – from mercifully forgiven to merciless.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus.

“Master”, he said, “how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? As many as seven times?”

“I wouldn’t say seven time,” replied Jesus. “Why not—seventy times seven?

“So, you see,” he went on, “the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle up accounts with his servants. As he was beginning to sort it all out, one man was brought before him who owed ten thousand talents. He had no means of paying it back, so the master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and everything he possessed, and payment to be made.

“So the servant fell down and prostrated himself before the master.

“’Be patient with me,’ he said, ‘and I’ll pay you everything!”

“The master was very sorry for his servant, and let him off. He forgave him the loan.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred dinars. He seized him and began to throttle him. ‘Pay me back what you owe me! He said.

“The colleague fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll repay you!’

“But he refused, and went and threw him into the prison until he could pay the debt.

“So when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were very upset. They went and informed their master about the whole affair. Then the master summoned him.

“’You’re a scoundrel of a servant! He said to him. ‘I let you off the whole debt, because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have taken pity on your colleague, like I took pity on you?’

“His master was angry, and handed him over to the torturers, until he had paid the whole debt. And that’s what my heavenly father will do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from your heart.”

        Matthew’s Gospel account 18: 21-35

 

I suspect like many in his day and in our day, Peter wanted to know if there is a limit to enduring an injustice. He likely wanted to know when he could settle accounts. Perhaps he was wondering to himself, “How long do I have to keep my anger in check?’ Jesus responded with the multiplicity of forgiving with mercy as the gift that keeps on forgiving. Jesus would not only tell the crowd that his kingdom encompassed those who forgive over and over the myriad offenses taken in. Jesus forgave those of the world their myriad offenses. About the matter of settling accounts, The Lord God spoke these words through Isaiah the prophet to the descendants of Jacob:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Isaiah 43: 25-26

A truly good Man was sentenced to die the horrific death of the cross. I wonder. Did Jesus think of Joseph in the cistern when he said, “I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.” (Psalm 88:4)? What we do know is what the Only Begotten Son said from the cross:

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

 

 Those of us who call Jesus “Lord” are a ‘storied’ people. Our narrative is Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. Our narrative contains the Creator and Creation, the life of Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Kingdom of God. Our narrative highlights forgiveness. Our narrative contains the Lord’s teaching prayer. From that prayer we learn that we settle accounts with one another by forgiving one another.

Our story reveals that the Mercy shown to us is the Mercy we freely offer to the world around us.

Mercy, the gift that keeps on forgiving.

 

 

  

~~~

 “Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

A lack of forgiveness is absent in détente. Tit for tat aggression is the rule: you affected the means of our pleasure and now we will deal with you.

How can there be peace in this world? Holding up a placard and the peace sign doesn’t work. Holding up a palm branch of forgiveness just might. But, to not forgive is to say there is no sovereign God who will put things right someday. Because there will be the ultimate putting right of things, forgiveness does not seek revenge. Forgiveness can let go of control because there is One who will ultimately bring justice and put things right. And, don’t forget: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord”.

 

Coming up: To Remain the Church, The Church Cannot Remain Tolerant