Wednesday, March 20, 2019

No, But …

And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’

God said, ‘No, but …’ ”

Two lines out of context. Allow me to supply some.

Abraham is once again in conversation with God. This is the fifth time God has brought up the subject of his covenant promises. Months or years are passing between each remarkable event, but every time the Lord appears or speaks or encounters Abraham in a vision, he elaborates further on what he intends to do on Abraham’s behalf. In Genesis 12, he promises to make from him a great nation, give him a great name, bless the whole world through him and protect him from his enemies. Each new encounter provides details the previous ones did not.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Missing Backstop

It was I who kept you from sinning against me.”

Francis Thompson famously referred to the “Hound of Heaven”, his metaphor for a God whose hand is so relentlessly upon the affairs of a person’s life that the divine influence can be neither evaded nor ignored.

There have been times when I too had a very strong impression God was personally on my case, and that all my efforts to circumvent or evade his will were doomed to end in utter futility. At other times, his impact on my choices and the circumstances around them, if present at all, has been incredibly subtle. Absent evidence of God’s direct involvement, to ascribe any specific decisions I have made in this life to the influence of providence would be, I think, quite presumptuous.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Anonymous Asks (31)

“How do I know I’m saved?”

This is a question which occurs to nearly every young believer at one point or another. Some struggle with it more than others.

If you’ve run your question by fellow Christians, someone has probably quoted you Romans 10:9: “[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Less Different Than We Think

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”

“Rich” and “poor” are relative terms. Welfare recipients in Western society are not poor by the standards of East Africa. Likewise, many Africans would consider our Western middle classes incredibly rich, and yet hundreds of thousands around us are much better off than we are.

When James speaks of rich and poor, he specifies the sort of thing he means. The contrast between these two types of men is not merely a matter of degree; their lives are so different they might as well be different species. The very least of it is in how they present to the world. The poor man wears shabby clothing, and not because he didn’t bother to pick up a decent used Arrow shirt from the local Goodwill. He simply has nothing better. There are no welfare cheques in his future. The rich man across the way is decked out in fine garments and sports an ostentatious gold ring. He probably dressed down for the occasion.

That paints the picture for us just fine.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (50)

Today’s verses are vaguely linked by the unexpected: unanticipated changes in circumstances; sudden, radical changes in behavior; the moment when the thing on which you have glutted yourself loses its appeal; and the moment when you find you have become so hungry anything at all looks like food.

Hey, these things happen. We don’t always see them coming, but they happen.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The United Method

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

A few weeks back, the United Methodist Church voted to maintain its traditional stance against same-sex marriage and non-celibate gay clergy.

Tom: Now I’m not big on tradition for tradition’s sake, but I think this decision is probably worth remarking on just because it is so unusual for a large denomination these days. The progressives in every sizable group of Christians are always hard at work moving the window of acceptable discourse, faith and practice to the left, and have experienced great success over the last century or so. By way of contrast, “conservative” Christians have reliably failed to conserve very much at all. You’ve seen it, Immanuel Can, and I’ve seen it too.

Did you notice what made the difference this time?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Unbearable Heaviness of Individuality

“Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Then Menahem the son of Gadi came up from Tirzah and came to Samaria, and he struck down Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Pekah the son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty men of the people of Gilead, and struck him down in Samaria, in the citadel of the king's house with Argob and Arieh; he put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Then Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah and struck him down and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

Ah, the kings of Israel. Their history is very much like that of all the idolatrous nations around them. Somebody gets the kingship, then somebody else murders him and takes over. And each one is as bad as the last.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” as Roger Daltrey famously intoned.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Written On Their Hearts

“Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham …”

“Scripture imprisoned everything under sin …”

Yes, the scripture is indeed the word of God. All the same, I have great confidence in assuring you that scripture — graphē, if you prefer Greek — did not do a single thing described in these verses. Not literally. A piece of paper, papyrus or animal skin does not “foresee”. It does not “preach”. It does not “imprison” anyone.

It can’t. It couldn’t. Ink, paper, the printed medium — these things are inanimate.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Flooded Out

Secular historians advance the argument that the spate of flood myths found everywhere around the globe is the natural result of local peoples preserving stories about local floods. These do not, the experts say, provide evidence for the truthfulness of the Genesis flood account.

That line of reasoning makes a certain sort of superficial sense: there are lots of local floods, and some of the flood stories out there are surely a product of those. But some are not. When you actually examine the content of these flood stories more closely, you find that a non-trivial number of them have features in common with the book of Genesis, and therefore with each other, that no local experience and lore can explain.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Anonymous Asks (30)

“Is the unforgivable sin knowing the Holy Spirit and accepting his existence and then opposing him, or is it having Satan in you without you knowing about it and then claiming it’s the Holy Spirit, and vice versa?”

Well, that’s quite a mouthful. Let’s try to unpack that.

There are a couple of things about this question that show the person who asked it is at very least headed in the right direction in his thinking. For instance, he grasps that the unforgivable sin is closely related to the person of the Holy Spirit. That is definitely true.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Worst Myth Ever

When comparing the flood account from the Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet XI to that of the Genesis flood, I took a few paragraphs at the outset to establish that the two accounts are roughly contemporary: they were written and edited within a couple hundred years of one another.

The reason this is important is that secular historians commenting on tales of the miraculous reliably resort to the “primitive man” argument: the notion that in times past, men could believe in miracles because they were ignorant of the laws of nature, and therefore wrote about unusual — even impossible — events uncritically and unselfconsciously.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (49)

Did you know there are very few references in the Bible to domesticated dogs? Maybe the puppies under the dinner table in Matthew 15, but that’s about it.

Moreover, the Bible does not have much good to say about man’s best friend. I don’t have a real handle on canine history in the Middle East 3,000 years ago, but I can work my way through the entries in a concordance, and the picture isn’t pretty. There are no Shih Tzus in arms or Chihuahuas in purses. The average mutts on the street are scavengers or predators, more like wolves or jackals than Jack Russells. The word “dog” is both a Hebrew and Greek euphemism for a male cult prostitute or some other sort of really bad person. If you want to grovel, you refer to yourself as a dog, and if you want to really grovel, a dead dog.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: No Way to Hide Your Lyin’ Eyes

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Tom: I had never heard the name Jussie Smollett before last week, IC. Had you?

Immanuel Can: No. To be blunt, his activities were of absolutely no interest to me, or to anyone I knew, before a couple of weeks ago. But he’s got my attention now.

Tom: I suppose we should briefly summarize the unraveling Smollett fiasco for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention … do you want to do the honors?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Acting Christian

“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Most of the time I enjoy writing these posts.

Sometimes, not so much.

Like today.

Today, I feel the truth of what I heard a preacher say once: “When you point your finger at somebody else, there’s always three pointing back at you.” Or, as the scriptures would put it, “Not many of you should become teachers ... for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”