Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Anonymous Asks (9)

“In the Trinity, we know the attributes of God and Jesus, but do we really know many about the Holy Spirit?”

No. Next question.

Kidding, of course. But the question spotlights a truth quite plain to us if we read our Bibles attentively, and that is that not every member of the Godhead gets equal time in the scriptures. This is, I think, by design, and has to do with the nature of the Spirit’s work. In fact, the Lord Jesus told his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Monday, October 15, 2018

Not About Me

Luke records a parable Jesus told about a persistent widow and an unrighteous judge. The point to be taken from it, Luke says, is that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart”.

I have been reading that same parable over and over for half a century as if it has to do with my personal needs of the day, or week, or month. Persist, we have been taught, and God will give you the thing for which you beseech him. Can we get an amen, brothers and sisters?

One of the things it takes some people fifty years of praying to learn is this: prayer is not all about me.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Other Cheek

Turning the other cheek is never all that much fun, but lately I’ve begun to see Christian restraint as something more than merely tactical.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously told his followers, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

He did not tell them why, but we may reasonably infer that, like the instruction to love our enemies, turning the other cheek displays our family resemblance to our heavenly Father. (And, of course, there’s the bit in there about reward, but the less said about that the better; we wouldn’t want to look mercenary, would we?)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (28)

One of the richer veins of wisdom that may be mined throughout Proverbs has to do with wealth: specifically, how to get it, how to keep it, and the dangers of being seen to have too much of it for other people’s tastes.

As Solomon puts it in Ecclesiastes, “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.” Wealth is not the ONLY answer to life’s difficulties, and it’s certainly not the BEST answer, but in nearly every situation (even serious illness), money offers AN answer that those without it cannot allow themselves to even consider.

Without further ado, a sampling from this week’s chapter.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Atheists in Foxholes

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

David Rönnegard is 37. He has a PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics, and is a researcher and teacher in corporate social responsibility in Stockholm. But far too soon David’s friends and family will be using “had” and “was” rather than “has” and “is” to describe him.

Dr. Rönnegard has stage four lung cancer.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Preponderance of the Evidence

“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”
— Abraham

Anyone familiar enough with the Bible to know whether Abraham or Moses came first has almost surely also read Jesus’ story in Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus, so I won’t need to explain to you how Abraham, who lived and died more than 400 years before Moses, could speak intelligibly about what either Moses or the Prophets wrote.

In the Lord’s story, Abraham is speaking from Paradise to a dead man in Hades, across the great chasm that divides the two.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso: The Post-Game Show

Scripture cannot be broken,” declared the Lord Jesus. He meant the Old Testament, of course; the New Testament had yet to be written. Today, his words legitimately apply to our entire Bible, but we must be careful not to hurl around the word “scripture” too casually, or to knowingly go beyond what the Lord Jesus intended when he made this powerful and sweeping claim.

My goal in examining the Apocrypha at length was not merely to provide light entertainment by snidely dissing books other people have found spiritually helpful. At the outset, I expressed the hope that the exercise would help us better define what it is about the canonical Old Testament that “distinguishes it from all the other religious writings, folktales, stories and myths with which human history is replete,” and I trust we’ve made good on that to some extent.

Nevertheless, it’s sometimes useful to spell these things out rather than expecting people to read between the lines.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Anonymous Asks (8)

“If God doesn’t like suicide, isn’t what Jesus did kind of like that? Did God send His Son to be murdered?”

Hmm. Maybe I’ll go with the second question first.

Peter’s message to the Jews at Pentecost was: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” That puts the responsibility for Christ’s death squarely where it belongs, I think: God certainly delivered him up, but it was lawless men that crucified and killed him. We can argue that God knew in advance that his Son would be rejected and murdered, and this is certainly true, but everyone involved in putting the Lord Jesus to death made a personal choice, from Pilate to Herod to the soldiers who crucified him, most especially the Jews who cried out repeatedly for his death.

As for suicide, well, that’s another story …

Monday, October 08, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (12)

Throughout this series we’ve been examining ancient books that some non-Protestant Christians feel have been wrongly excluded from our Bibles. I’ve read, summarized and critiqued eleven of the most popular claimants to date, but there are plenty more out there, enough to keep me at it well into the next decade.

Tempting as that may be, I won’t go down that road for several reasons: (1) the further down into the Apocryphal jungle you travel, the feebler and less substantive the contestants become, such that anyone reading them with the least discernment starts to feel like the exercise of critiquing them is something akin to clubbing baby seals on the beach, as opposed to putting up a valiant defence against plausible error; (2) I promised to do a 12-part series, and I plan to keep that pledge; and (3) the reasons for excluding books from the canon begin to repeat themselves.

We wouldn’t want that. After all, figuring out which qualities make the canon the canon is pretty much the point of the exercise, right?

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Specific Enough for You?

Yahoo Answers fields a tough one:

“Were all bible prophesies [sic] written years after the events took place?”

Best Answer: Yes, the ‘prophecies’ in the bible are nothing that go beyond what a kid with knowledge about the world can’t predict. [I’m pretty sure he means “can” there — Ed.] Not to mention things that have always happened.”

That “best answer” is the sort of handwaving you often get from people who haven’t actually read and studied the later books of the Old Testament. The prophets of Israel and Judah frequently made predictions that go well beyond “things have have always happened”.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (27)

We are 27 posts into this series, and I should point out (a bit late, perhaps) that this is not going to be my attempt at a commentary on Proverbs. It’s quite a bit longer than I planned or expected, sure, but nothing remotely approaching comprehensive in scope. There are just way too many bits of sound advice in this book to touch on even a tenth of them. Most must await your own consideration and meditation to reveal their wisdom and impact your life.

The best I can hope to do here is offer a few thoughts and bits of research that seasoned readers of the Old Testament may not yet have encountered, and to offer the occasional incentive for younger Christians to make Proverbs part of their regular Bible reading regimen.

And of course I can tell you which verses jump out at me. Your mileage will surely vary.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Hmm … What Should I Wear to Church Today?

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

Tom: I like track pants and t-shirts myself. It’s what’s most comfortable, frankly. I’ve never liked suits. They’re expensive, and I don’t have any other use for them.

What do you think, IC? Can I sport my sweats in the pews?

Immanuel Can: Ha! You’ll scandalize the little old ladies. And the dour old men will be none too happy either. But I know of no scriptural prohibition on informality. You raise a good question: what is the Christian view of attire, particularly in regard to the meetings of the church?

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Faith of the Calvinists

Okay, I’m writing this post because I came across something so bizarre I didn’t even know what to say to it at first. You’re going to have to bear with me, because you’ll probably have trouble believing anyone could get anything so wrong. But I promise you this is the truth.

I was writing back and forth with one of my Calvinist friends. As you know, I’m not one of them myself, but that doesn’t keep me from liking quite a few of them as people.

Don’t ask. I like a lot of strange things.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (26)

If you’ve ever been part of a conversational Bible study, you’ll probably relate to this statement: One person’s initial take on a proverb may be vastly different from another’s.

Years ago in a small mid-week study, we went around the room over a number of verses in Proverbs sharing what we thought they meant. Now, differences of opinion are to be expected in situations where there exists no real context from which to more accurately pin down Solomon’s intended meaning. But as I digested the various subjective impressions about the text laid out for us, there were times I was convinced we weren’t all reading from the same book.

And of course if you really want to examine an entire range of possible interpretations to seek out the best one, ask a woman what she thinks.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Anonymous Asks (7)

“If Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel, shouldn’t those be the only people on earth? Because when Cain kills Abel, Cain is scared that someone will kill him. But at that time, no one else existed. So who was Cain’s wife?”

Okay, well, let’s start by acknowledging that the Bible doesn’t give us explicit answers to many of our technical questions about the early days of the human race, especially in areas of study that are not spiritually significant. So we cannot say with any biblical authority how Cain got his wife. No Bible student can.

That said, let’s not imagine that either the human writer of Genesis or those who told the story for centuries before him were unintelligent men and women. They were not.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (11)

Obsessive music fans know that every artist or band has a “canon” made up of albums recognized by fans, critics and record labels as official releases.

Once an artist becomes established, however, opportunists commonly flood the market with rough takes on familiar tunes, rejected songs from album sessions, cover versions played once for a lark, and bootleg live tracks of questionable sound quality. While these new offerings usually contain a few rare gems and often provide insight into an artist’s work process, they generally do not compare favorably to music released exactly as the performer intended.

The Book of Jubilees might well be called “Outtakes from Genesis”. At least, that’s what it reads like.