Monday, June 17, 2019

Anonymous Asks (45)

“Do I have to be nice to everyone?”

It very much depends on what you mean by “nice”. Christians often confuse being nice with being good. But the word “nice” is never used in our English Bibles.*

There are solid reasons for this. “Nice” is an awkward word, very much open to being misinterpreted. I can understand why Bible translators would make an effort to avoid its potential ambiguities. Its original meaning (now obsolete) was “wanton” or “dissolute”. Later, it came to mean “fastidious” or “exacting”. (For example, to make a “nice” distinction was to make a distinction so subtle that a lot of people would fail to grasp it.) All these historic ways of using “nice” are various degrees of negative.

Today, “nice” has come to mean “pleasing”, “agreeable” or “polite”. That is probably the way you are using it. Let’s go with that.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Day of Big Things

A handful of times throughout our earth’s history God has made major public statements. Big things.

The Bible records a number of these great and unambiguous events: the Flood; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and Israel’s delivery from Egypt, passage through the Red Sea and miraculous conquest of Canaan. Even when Israel and Judah went into their various captivities, God still made appearances to miraculously shut the mouths of lions, walk around in fiery furnaces and write on the walls of pagan kings.

Then came the first century miracles of Jesus, and later his apostles. Big things.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (63)

I was originally planning to zip through these last few verses of Proverbs, but I find myself enjoying them too much to rush through them, even as I remain perplexed as to their full meaning in more than a few cases. I suppose it helps that they are among the least-examined verses of scripture I’ve ever encountered. New territory is always interesting.

So … horrors and marvels, here we go.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: When We ALL Get to Heaven

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

The Huffington Post headline reads “Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics.”

The Post adds, “Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists. During his homily at Wednesday Mass in Rome, Francis emphasized the importance of ‘doing good’ as a principle that unites all humanity.”

Everybody’s Home Free

Tom: It’s not quite universalism, but add a few good works in there and it seems everybody’s home free. If so, that’s pretty generous of Rome, wouldn’t you say? Do you know if he’s walked that one back yet?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Christ-Shaped Empty Space

Regarding last week’s post about spiritual narcissism, one further thought has been with me lately.

The attraction to following a single, charismatic, spiritually-talented man is an interesting case of misdirected spiritual longing. As human beings, and especially as sons of God, we are constituted for the destiny of eternal relationship with a Man. He is our legitimate spiritual leader and source of spiritual food, the rightful head of every direction we’re going, and the source of all our future hopes and blessings. To be given over to serving him is our highest and best destiny, and even now we have a longing for that — a longing God gives us, and which we must have.

It’s a longing for our Shepherd … the Good Shepherd.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

More Teaching Won’t Help

Yesterday I drew attention to what at first glance might appear to be an imbalance in the teaching of the book of Proverbs. Solomon gives many dire warnings about “women on the make” to young men, but no warnings at all to young women concerning the dangers of lustful men.

This was not because God is uninterested in maintaining the virtue of women, as we will see shortly. However, ancient Eastern societies, and especially Israel, had a culture of built-in familial and legal protections for ordinary women which made them difficult for men on the prowl to access or seduce, and this without imposing on them pillbox-style face-coverings and body bags.

And of course there was no internet in those days. Where temptation is concerned, that was far from a negative.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Discriminating Against the Adulteress

Modern readers flipping the pages of Proverbs would have to be incredibly inattentive to fail to notice that the warnings about lapsing into sexual sin are ... all directed at men.

In fact, where adultery is concerned, it could be argued that Solomon viewed women of a certain sort as cunning predators and men as their potential victims. Foolish and gullible victims, certainly. Unknowing and uncaring of the consequences of their actions, definitely. But victims all the same ... even though we know it takes two to tango, right?

Where are the parallel passages warning young Hebrew women against the prowling adulterer with lust in his eyes? Why, they are nowhere to be found.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Anonymous Asks (44)

“If you are not a Christian and believe that Jesus died on the cross to relieve us of our sins, can you still go to heaven?”

There is a significant difference between believing about someone and believing in someone.

The book of James points out that even demons get some of their facts right. They are strict monotheists, for one. Mark’s gospel records that unclean spirits repeatedly fell down before Jesus and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” In that respect, the demons were better theologians than the Pharisees, who hotly disputed that very issue.

However, believing something correct about Jesus — even something very important indeed — doesn’t mean demons are on their way to heaven. Far from it.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (13)

“Go, tell his disciples and Peter …”

The earliest manuscripts of the gospel of Mark end with a “young man” (read: angel) instructing three terrified women at the open tomb of the Lord Jesus to go and share the news that while Jesus of Nazareth had died and been buried, Christ the Lord had risen and planned to meet with his followers once more.

No wonder they trembled.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (62)

Entropy is pretty much the governing principle of our present universe. Systems and sub-systems are not independently or permanently functional. They require replenishing from other sources.

The earth cannot survive without sunlight. The sun could not warm the earth were it not fueled by both hydrogen and helium. And without the collapsing clouds of interstellar gas and dust we call nebulae, there would be no stars.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Church and Fatherhood

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

Tom: Last week I came across a U.S. federal government site designed to be a resource for fathers and families. While of course we applaud any such effort in a period when the family is relentlessly under attack from all sides, it seems obvious secular governments are not well-equipped to teach the more spiritual aspects of fatherhood.

Fathers do not exist simply to pay the bills and do the heavy lifting around the house. The last time we talked, we compiled a list of fatherly responsibilities from scripture, and it was not a short one. God did not intend fathers to be dispensable, whatever our society may think.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

The Pastor of Disaster

Andrew sat back and stirred his tea. “What kind of church are you in?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “I was in a conservative evangelical group, but it seems perhaps I’ve been kind of bumped out.”

“What do you mean?”

“We were in one kind of church, but we had to leave; now we’re sort of in-between, looking for what the Lord would have us do.”

“I will tell you why you left.” His voice was even and certain. He leaned forward. “It was because of … that man.”

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

The Commentariat Speaks (15)

From Doug Wilson’s comment section at Blog & Mablog. S writes:

“Why is there not an option to fully bow out? Neither Heaven or Hell, just non-existence?”

Doug’s own response is brief and related to the need for God’s holy justice to be displayed. I agree, and I’m not sure I can offer anything more profound in terms of an answer, but I was sufficiently taken with the question that I felt the need to explore it a little here.

It’s my observation that the sorts of questions we ask about God often say more about us than they say about him.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Quote of the Day (40)

“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” The book of Acts begins with this question.

Jesus does not answer it directly. Instead, the Lord draws his disciples’ attention away from Israel’s earthly kingdom and redirects it to their mission promoting his spiritual kingdom in this present age. After this, he is taken up into glory.

Some read this to mean there will be no restoration to national prominence for the Jews. Others believe the restoration of the kingdom to Israel is fulfilled in the Church’s present ministry on earth.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Anonymous Asks (43)

“Does God know what we will do?”

More than a few Christians have a strong aversion to neo-Calvinist determinism. They don’t agree with the teaching that God micromanages the universe, controlling and pre-arranging everything that happens within it, including the choices made by all created beings.

I don’t blame them. I don’t like that idea much either, and I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of what the Bible teaches about either God’s sovereignty or human choice. Giving us a Bible full of commands seems an unlikely thing for God to have done if our responses to him are all predetermined.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

The Divine Memory

“I will not remember your sins.”

Some people teach that God’s knowledge is limited. They rely on verses like the one I have just quoted to make the case that there are boundaries to the Infinite, self-imposed or otherwise.

We may disagree with them, but they bring up a point worth examining, and that is this: What does it mean that God does not “remember” the sins of his people?

After all, it’s a promise, and we know we can put our confidence in God’s promises. That being the case, we might be wise to figure out what exactly it is that God is promising.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (61)

The remainder of Proverbs 30 is made up of a series of individual sayings irregularly interspersed with six lists of four things Agur has observed in the natural world and in the world of human interaction. These groups of four are often referred to as quaternions or tetrastiches. The resulting verses are a peculiar arrangement; not entirely regular, but not quite random either.

Unlike some of Solomon’s longer assembled proverbs, Agur’s lists do not seem to have a single, powerful point to which they are building. The fourth item on each of his lists appears no more significant or insignificant than the others. As the Pulpit Commentary puts it, “the conclusion is wanting.” We must attempt to elicit one for ourselves.

Notwithstanding some of the more astute observations we find here, it’s a curious chapter, and one whose point always perplexed me as a child.