Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why We Don't Always Need to Make Sense of Pain

 There is a statement, repeated a few times in the Gospels, that tells us there is not a single sparrow that falls to the ground (i.e., dies) that God does not care for it. We are then told that we are worth more than many sparrows, as a way for Christ to show us just how much God really does care about us. But in times of suffering, it often seems that God doesn't care and is even being cruel to us.

When times get tough, really tough, you can be sure that a Christian friend will tell you that God has a greater plan and will bring a greater good to you through it. Perhaps, God is making you stronger, or teaching you something you'll need in life, or perhaps, keeping you from a harm by bringing about hardship in your life. You may be having a hard time now, but you'll soon see how God has worked this for your good, in terms of your life here or in terms of your salvation to come.

This commonly expressed sentiment is sometimes true. We can often see something painful that God has used in our lives for good. Even when life here goes sour, we can see the truth of Romans 8:28, the key verse that will often be quoted in this situation, that God does work all things for good for those who love Him, and that this good is being conformed to the image of His Son. So we can sometimes see how God uses something painful for our salvation.

In Genesis, we are told by Joseph that the hardship he suffered was clearly purposed by God for good, because, as Joseph had seen, God had saved the lives of, not only Egypt, but of his own family through it. Much of what is expressed is of this variety of the "ultimate good" argument. You may have trouble now, but you'll soon see how that trouble will be worked for good in your life and for your salvation.

But there is another book in the Bible that seeks to dialogue with Genesis and clarify a very significant point, and that is the Book of Job. Job expresses that sometimes hardship is brought to us by God, and we may never see or understand how it worked for our good or for our salvation (at least not in this life). Job, of course, isn't arguing with Genesis in the sense that it disagrees that God is good and works all things toward an ultimate good, but it does seek to clarify that we, who experience this hardship, may not ever see the specific good it was all for. God's rebuke of Job (and his friends) for thinking otherwise (i.e., that he should be able to count God's steps by what humans perceive as good and just, and see for himself why God did such and such an action for such and such a purpose) is that humans need to trust that God knows what He is doing, even if they do not see and understand (or ever will understand) why He is doing, or has done, it.

This trust is of a radical nature, since we are inclined to lose our love and honor for God in times of nonsensical suffering if our allegiance to Him is based on sight rather than in trust. We want to see, so that we can be comforted and accept God's actions as appropriate. We want to judge God. We will allow Him to do action X to us if it is for purpose Y, but if it seems like there is no purpose to us, because we can't see it, we will revolt against Him in bitterness and rejection of Him. The Book of Job urges us to do otherwise. We must trust in Him, even when the most nonsensical suffering occurs, and shy away from the temptation to need to know and see for ourselves its purpose.

Perhaps, the greatest of these sufferings is the loss of a child. If I may indulge in guessing at why Job's children are taken away from him, it may in fact have been for all of those who have lost children and read the book. The loss of his children is something that Job seems to take, beside his standing in favor with God, as his greatest loss in the book (and we would all agree), as he states:

"Oh that I were as in months gone by, As in the days when God watched over me; When His lamp shone over my head, [And] by His light I walked through darkness; As I was in the prime of my days, When the friendship of God [was] over my tent;  When the Almighty was yet with me, [And] my  children  were around me. (29:2-5)

God does give Job more sons and daughters, but the loss of a child cannot be replaced in the same way the others can, and this is merely a consolation, not an undoing of his pain. Job's continued affliction by the devil is over by the end of the book, not the pain he will feel from losing his children for the rest of his life. But I do think that his children are taken away as an example for all others who may not know and be able to see why the same thing has happened to them, but are urged to trust in God nonetheless. In fact, the loss of children and gaining of an illness, are perhaps the two worst afflictions a person can receive, and they do cause one to think that God has abandoned him. But instead they seek to tell us here that even in these things that seem like horrible curses and that God is being cruel, they aren't. They exist because God is doing His good purpose through them, and they are necessary for Him to do it.

What the Bible teaches us, then, is that there are times in life when we will be able to see the good that all of the suffering and hardship was for, but there are also times, perhaps the most difficult ones of all, when we will not be able to see their good purpose. In those times, we can choose to trust in God, because He is good and because He knows what He is doing, or we can choose to become bitter toward Him because we believe that if we cannot personally see the ultimate good that God has wronged us and injured us for no reason. It is in those times that Job urges us to not rely upon our finite understanding and to feel betrayed by God, a path that seeking faith by sight sets us upon, but rather to place our hope and trust in the Almighty, who we know causes all things to works together for good for those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose."

So what your friend has told you is true, but don't think for one moment that this means you will soon see the good fruit of a painfully sowed life. You may die without ever seeing it blossom. You may never know why God took away your children, why He has now caused you so much pain and suffering. You may not know why you're sick, or have lost your job, or why all that you once touched and turned to gold now turns to dust. But Job reminds us that it's not always for you to know. You're not the God who spread open the universe like a tent curtain, or to whom the lightening presents itself, who holds the balance of the world in his hand. All you need to know is that God is good, He works all things for good for those who love Him, and that He loves you, and will never cause you unnecessary harm for no reason, even when it seems like He does. In fact, we are told that God is a good Father who desires to give what is good, and not evil, to His children, and hence, if you are his child, there is no reason for you to think that He has grieved you for no good and necessary reason.

So if you're ever feeling cursed and betrayed by God, just remember that He cares for even the sparrow, and you are worth to Him more than many sparrows. Your pain may not subside because of this, but your bitterness will.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,  casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He  cares  for you. (1 Pet 5:6-7)

But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me." "Can a woman forget her nursing child, And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. "Behold, I have  inscribed you on the palms [of My hands;] Your walls are continually before Me. (Isa 49:14-16)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fighting the Temptation to Be Selfish in Temptation

I've always thought the story of Pandora, the Greek parallel to the biblical Eve's temptation, as the reason why evil is in the world, was an interesting one. Pandora is given a box and told not to open it, but the temptation to see what was inside was too great. She had to experience the thrill of it for herself, and couldn't let it go. She opened it, and all of the evils we now experience were placed upon mankind.
In the biblical story, Eve is presented with the proposition to eat of forbidden fruit, a fruit that would bring her experience of the roller coaster provided by good and evil. The text tells us how entranced she was of the "fruit," she partakes and the world has been divorced from God's salvific presence, where death, rather than life, has reigned over all of humanity since.

Temptation itself is the offer of a fantasy world, where we can explore an impulse in the moment without consequence. All things are at our beck and call. It is the same temptation that has always been laid at our feet: if you do this, you will be like gods in that you will get to experience things as a god does. Our quest for self fulfillment is a quest for self deification.

But this is the very problem at the outset. Temptation, in our minds, is all about what we want to do and what we will be given in this fantasy world without consequence. We view temptation as something that just affects us personally. It is all about us. In our battle with temptation, then, we survey how it might personally affect us, with the result that the desire in the moment seems to outweigh the consequence in the future. After all, we'll still be saved if we hope in Christ (that much is true). So, perhaps, giving in to sin will have no lasting affect on us.

But, you see, we have already failed in thinking about temptation this way. We have already sinned by means of our narcissistic, selfish understanding of sin. The truth of the matter is that our giving into temptation always has consequences, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. You may not destroy yourself for all eternity by giving into such and such a sin, but you may in fact be the means the devil uses to destroy someone else for all eternity. You may not ruin your entire life, but you may bring to ruin someone else's.

Let me give you a biblical example. David sees an incredibly beautiful, naked woman bathing. As soon as this is said in Scripture, all of the men reading know what's going to happen here, even if they had never heard the story before. This temptation is a bit over the top for a man. He tends to lose his sense here. I think studies have shown that men actually become dumber when they are around a beautiful woman, due to desire, so a beautiful, naked woman pretty much makes a man a virtual idiot. And David does lose all sense here (which is why people say that David's first problem was idleness and walking around on his roof where he would be able to see these things).
But he lets himself become convinced of the fantasy world without consequence. He indulges, and one adultery and dead husband later, he can have the woman he desired. It cost Uriah and Bathsheba their family, but it didn't cost David much if anything at all, right? Wrong. As David destroyed a family, so his family was destroyed. His sin had a ripple affect upon his children. He had a baby son die, a son who raped his sister, a daughter who was raped (and would therefore never be married and have children), a son who murdered that son, a son who sought to murder him, a son who died in trying to do so, another son who tried to murder him, and a son who was killed for it by another son. His children and family were all but destroyed with the exception of Solomon, who was not simply because of God's promise to continue his physical line forever. But Solomon too, perhaps because of the model of his father, would not give his whole heart to God and eventually was brought into a life of destruction that would then go on to affect his sons.

You see, the devil may not be aiming at you in his temptation of you. He may, in fact, be aiming at your children. He roams around like a lion, seeking someone to devour, and lions often seek out the weakest individuals in a group. Maybe the temptation he gives you for you to blow up in anger isn't meant to destroy you, but your children? Maybe the temptation to commit adultery or divorce your spouse isn't just meant for you, but primarily targets your kids? Does that put your temptation into a different perspective?

I wonder if David were to have been presented with the reality of his sin before he committed it, if he would have committed it at all, even with such an overwhelming temptation? I wonder if God had taken him on a trip to the future, where he was still saved, but his children destroyed because of what he had done, if the reality of that future affect upon his children would have given him a massive weapon against the temptation of the moment? Reality, in terms of how our sin not only affects us, but how it also affects others, seems to be a great antidote to fantasy. We may be willing to give up the reality of consequences in the future for ourselves, but giving up reality when it comes to our children is another story altogether.

You may think it won't do much harm to yourself by giving in, but what if God were to show you the reality of how it affects your children in the future? What if you could see their spiritual lives, bodies laid out on the battle field without hope of recovery, that have been, in part, destroyed because of the sins you thought would be of no consequence to yourself? Would that reality cause you to pause, and perhaps, think twice about indulging in the fantasy? What I'm saying is that love for God (i.e., in considering how the sin affects Him and His glory in your life and in the world) and love for others (i.e., in considering how your giving into temptation will affect those around you) should be our primary means to thwart temptation, and yet, it's often not even a consideration. We think of ourselves first, and that is precisely the problem. Self focus, a love of self, will only lead to a desire to indulge in what the self wants. We may occasionally jump over the barrel in order to get to the princess at the end, but we sometimes just want to be smacked by the barrels for the fun of it (that's a Donkey Kong metaphor in case you had a life in the 80's and missed it). Temptation is really a pursuit of the self, so thinking about fighting it by pursuing the self isn't going to work, as even if you fight a specific temptation for a better you, you're still giving into the temptation to love and honor yourself above all things. We can't fight the temptation of selfishness with selfishness, but with love and sacrifice for the other.

So what I'm saying is that maybe in thinking of our sin in selfish terms (i.e., weighing the consequences of giving into temptation in terms of myself only) is already losing the battle. Maybe the temptation was to merely feed into our narcissism, and simply meant to display the selfish way we think? Maybe in thinking only of ourselves, the devil has removed any protective hedge we had around our children, exposed them bare in the field, and now can pounce and devour them as he had always planned to do. He's just occupying us with our self indulgence, but if we have our hope in Christ, he may not be targeting us at all.

Our sins may be the damnation, not of ourselves, but of our children, family members, friends, strangers; and that's a reality that is very sobering. We may still choose to damn the world in order to look into the box, but if we grow in love for God and others in our Christian lives, there is far less a chance that we will. May God make love and sacrifice for others, then, our reality. And in saving the world from the damnation of the fantasy, we may indeed be saving ourselves as well. Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Does It Mean to Live Righteously?

I remember one time, as I taught through the Book of Samuel, I came upon an interesting passage that really perplexed me:

"The Lord has rewarded me according to my  righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. "For I have kept the ways of the Lord, And have not acted wickedly against my God. "For all His ordinances [were] before me; And [as for] His statutes, I did not depart from them. "I was also blameless toward Him, And I kept myself from my iniquity. "Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my  righteousness , According to my cleanness before His eyes. "With the kind Thou dost show Thyself kind, With the blameless Thou dost show Thyself blameless; with the pure Thou dost show Thyself pure, and with the perverted Thou dost show Thyself astute. (22:21-27)

Now, I don't know about you, but this doesn't sound very "grace-through-faithish." It sounds as though this person is claiming that his righteousness has come from a sinless life. Of course, the problem with that is that the person saying this is David.

Now, of course, one might argue that this is David's faulty theology that is later corrected after his many sins (the most well known being that of his adulterous affair and plot to have the husband of the woman with whom he committed adultery killed in battle--think of how wicked this same action is portrayed in the movie, "The Man in the Iron Mask," where the king does the same to a poor peasant in order to take his fiancé for himself); but I don't think this is said because David doesn't get it yet. 

One could also say that the salvation here is a lesser physical salvation and not spiritual, but David is claiming to be given this physical deliverance (which often represents spiritual salvation in the OT) because he is righteous and did not depart from the statutes of the Lord.

I think the problem is the concept we have of righteousness and how it is acquired throughout the Bible. We think that not departing from God's statutes means that we never sin, but that is not the way the OT presents it. Notice Psalm 32 that bridges the gap for us between our thinking and biblical thinking:

([A Psalm] of David. A Maskil.) How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! 
How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit! 
When I kept silent [about my sin], my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 
For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away [as] with the fever heat of summer. Selah. 
I acknowledged my sin to Thee, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord"; And Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. Selah. 
Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him. 
Thou art my hiding place; Thou dost preserve me from trouble; Thou dost surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah. 
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. 
Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, [Otherwise] they will not come near to you. 
Many are the sorrows of the wicked; But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones, And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. 

Notice that David's understanding of righteousness is a life lived in seeking to do what is right, but this includes seeking to ask for forgiveness when we sin. It includes acknowledging our sin before God and to ourselves. A righteous life is one that is lived in repentance. Righteousness, therefore, is not the attribute of a sinless life because we have not sinned, but because our sin has not been attributed to us. God has not taken it into account, but has attributed godliness to the individual instead. So righteousness is given, not earned, through the act of asking for it and trusting in God for it (notice, he who trusts in the Lord will have His unfailing love surround him).
But does this mean that one can just go on sinning and ask for forgiveness and be righteous? No. Both this Psalm and the one we saw earlier tell us that the righteous seek God when He can be found (i.e., when we are attempting to give our lives over to Him to do His will). The Psalm above says that in a flood of great waters God will not be found. In other words, if your life is one that is simply accumulating unrepentant sin upon unrepentant sin, God will not hear your prayers. Your life simply evidences no desire to live in God's will. The righteous person is a person who wants righteousness. He just doesn't have it unless God gives it to him. When God does set him upright, he wants to live there in loving relationship with God. If he falls down, he wants God to pick him back up in order that he might continue to live out the will of God. 

What this means to me is that the modern inclination toward both seeing righteousness in licentious terms (where righteousness is just given to me through grace, but not a grace through faith, regardless of my chosen lifestyle) and as something that comes through our works is wrong. Grace is given, not only to those who seek God's forgiveness, but do so within a relationship with Him that is characterized by the disposition and desire toward the doing of good and the refraining from evil. In other words, our trusting in the Lord refers to a particular type of relationship we are to have with God, where He is our Lord, Master, Father, Shepherd, Teacher, Friend. We cannot maintain, or even enter, such a relationship without God's forgiving grace, as we will sin, and sin horribly, in life. Righteousness, then, comes to the one who seeks it through repentance. Godliness is not found in perfection, but in the desire to be pleasing to God even when we are not. 

Of course, what David only had shadows of, we have a greater revelation to know just how God can be just and the justifier of sinners. God cannot merely wave His hand and let our evil go, but He seeks to justify us and satisfy justice according to the wrong committed. Hence, without Christ, the Old Testament has no foundation for understanding God as both just and the justifier of those who sin. The law itself only allows for animals to propitiate/expiate ritual impurities and clueless transgressions (i.e., those cases where sins are inadvertently committed). Willful sins are to be taken out upon the perpetrator. There is no sacrifice for them. At least this is the case in the law, sacrifices do begin to be seen as propitiatory toward sin as the Old Testament approaches the New (e.g., Job sacrificing for his children in case they have cursed God in their hearts--but this is for internal sins not discussed in the law, not explicit acts, as in David's case). Hence, unless God, who is not bound by our chronology, could see David's sin upon His crucified Son, there would be no forgiveness of David's iniquities. There would be no righteousness given. There would be no godly people. Hence, Paul preached only Christ and Him crucified as his central message concerning righteousness because without it, righteousness cannot be acquired. 

Indeed, how blessed is the man whose sins God does not take into account. He is a righteous man, a godly man, who will be rewarded for his righteous life that sought God out for forgiveness and grace; but this very righteousness for which he is being rewarded was given to him in the first place. Hence, many are the sorrows of the wicked because they are not honest to themselves and before God about their sin, but the righteous who trust in the Lord are righteous because they trust in the Lord. It is they who shout for joy in their upright hearts/minds, not because they are perfect people, but because they seek out the Lord for love, mercy, and forgiveness when He can be found. It is through a life that seeks to live in the Lord, a life that seeks forgiveness in repentance and faith, that is the one that has "kept the ways of the Lord" (2 Sam 22:22). There is no perfectly lived life, only imperfect lives that are given perfection in Him. So blessed is David who was forgiven, not because he was as pure as Christ, but because he was made a godly, upright, and righteous man by Him.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Advice on Building Your Library

Someone once said that there are ten thousand books published every day. I doubt that number is accurate, but I imagine in our day, a day where internet and self publishing are more easily accomplished than in times past, the amount of people writing (and "publishing") each day far exceeds that number. If you attempt to keep abreast of what everyone says, it will soon be seen as a futile pursuit. One cannot possibly read that much material, nor can many afford to do so financially.

So I'm going to give you the best advice I can concerning how to build your library. This is advice I wish I had when I first started my library twenty years ago. I would have wasted less time and money buying things that were of little to no value in what I wanted to accomplish with it. So here is my list of do's and don'ts of buying non-fiction (mainly academic) books in order to build your research library (in other words, I'm not talking about devotional or books on challenging subjects or controversial issues, but books you would use for sources of academic knowledge on a subject). All of the following are only general guidelines, and are not always the case:

1. Don't buy every book that comes out because its in a subject area that you like. The book may be complete trash. Instead, look at the publisher of the book, the qualifications of the one writing it, and whether the endorsements come from reputable sources.

2. Don't buy every book on the subject even if it is written by reputable sources and published by top publishers, but instead, buy the best two resources on opposite sides of the debate. If you wish to dive further into the subject, it can't hurt starting with only the two best books that represent both sides of the debate and go from there.

3. Don't buy a bunch of books that are merely summations of more academic books. In other words, twenty books may be getting their information from one or two academic books that make the argument. If you buy these twenty books, it's not only redundant, but it also will likely not allow you to see the argument laid out as well as you should if you are to critique it or assimilate it into your thinking.

4. Wait for books to go on sale, buy used, and try to get them on ebay as live auctions rather than those auctions with a Buy It Now price. Most of my library that is now worth around $25,000 used, would have cost me around $70,000 had I bought these books brand new. Don't waste thousands of dollars on books because you like the smell of new books. If you absolutely need that smell, buy one new book a month and smell it every time your reading a used one.

5. Don't overwhelm yourself with a massive buying streak of books. Simply buy two, each from opposing sides, and sit down and go through them one by one. If you buy tons of books at a time, you'll never end up reading them, wasting your money (which is bad stewardship), and only give yourself a delusional sense of being informed because you own a book on the subject.

6. Always read the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere on the internet to get some sense of what the book is arguing and whether or not it deals with what you want to really study. I've bought countless books before thinking they were going to address a particular subject, only to find that the book didn't even touch it.

7. Consider using a nearby library, if it is a good one, rather than buying books that you will not use again and again. If the local library has the books you need, and you'll only read it once, why buy it other than for the sake of the vanity of having it on your bookshelf. Save your money for buying books that you will use more than once.

8. Take notes when you read, so that you don't have to either buy or hold on to a book. Chances are, if you take good notes, including page numbers, you won't really access the book again.

9. Trade or sell your read books so that you'll have credit or money to buy other books that come out. This will give yourself an incentive to read through a book and take good notes, knowing that you will not always have it and now desire to get the next exciting book that has come out.

10. If you have plenty of money, give all of your books to me. Just kidding. I couldn't think of a tenth piece of advice, so this seemed like the logical thing to do, and perhaps that is my advice: beg for books when you can't always afford them, ;-) Obviously, however, if you do form a group of people with whom you can share, or even go through, a book, you will be more likely capable to afford and go through a book with greater efficiency and in less time.

The summary of all of these suggestions is that instead of seeking to grow the size of your academic library, set your mind to shrink it or keep it at a manageable size. This way your library will be in your head, where it should be, and not taking up too much space in your house. You'll be wealthier and more knowledgeable for it. And isn't that the point of an academic library anyway?

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's the End of the World as We Know It, Truly

It's October 21, the last day of the world as we know it.  Harold Camping has again (falsely) prophesied that the world would end and Christ would return. Camping's right about one thing though. It is the end of the world as we know it.

You see, what we knew, before the Millerites, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Harold Campings was a Christian world that truly believed in the second coming of Christ. Our world was just one through which we were passing through, but we attempted to do good here because our Master was returning, and out of love and fear, we wanted to be prepared. Being prepared in the Bible meant that we were refraining from evil and doing good. Now, with the advent of these soothsayers, mockers come with their mocking (and the church joins them by mocking God with lives pursued in selfishness rather than selflessness).

The world we had before the soothsayers was one that took Christian claims seriously. Pastors didn't play around with the message of the gospel. They didn't try to con people out of all of their money, or seek out new ways to "do church." They were concerned about the message they had been given, paying careful attention to not only delivering it but living by it. After all, the Master could return at any time, and we did not wish to be ashamed (or worse).

In Luke 12, Christ teaches his disciples about the fleeting nature of the world and how our thoughts and actions should evidence a focus on the world to come, which itself is hailed by His return. It is this eschatological focus that is to cause us to think seriously about our lives. After giving a general admonition to all who follow Him, He turns to Christian leaders in vv. 42-49:

And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? "Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. "Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. "But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, [both] men and women, and to eat and drink and get  drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect [him,] and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know [it,] and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!

What the Harold Campings of the world have done for us is to remove our focus from the eschatological by making it sound ridiculous. Like the boy who cried wolf, we just don't believe it anymore, and our lack of belief in what is to come influences the nature of our (un)belief in what is present. These soothsayers have made our Christian community much less Christian than they were before. By attempting to take away our belief in His coming, they tempt us toward unbelief in all things. We become disillusioned because we had our hopes in something that we thought was promised, but never was.

Yes, it gets people to talk about it. Yes, it brings out the passage that corrects this folly (that no one knows the day nor the hour). But it does much more harm than good IMHO. We now are ignoring the warning of Christ and have sought to build up our storehouses here. We use people rather than seek to be useful to them. We are drunk with the pleasures of the world, and our ministers encourage us to do the same (because they wish to do the same). We are filled with idolatry and adultery because we believe that our Master isn't coming for a long time. We are as selfish as those who have only this present world as their reward, and yet, both the ending of our lives here and the ending of the world hasten toward us through death and the coming of Christ. The soothsayers have just caused us to think of such things as a joke.

So the prophecy of Harold Camping is true, you see, in a very self-fulfilling way. It is the end of the world as we know it today, as it is every time we make lite of His coming, because it chips away at our faith and love for God and others with an eternal view to what good we ought to do and what evil from which we ought to refrain, and replaces it with a life lived in the moment, a life lived for the self, a world that is much darker than the one where truth was proclaimed in love and sacrifice was given without hesitation. Love has become nice, as we seek to only medicate each other with kind words as we slip slowly into the coming night. There is no truth to be believed, no good to be performed, no evil from which we ought to refrain, because there is no hope to look forward to a world where the reign of what is false and evil is replaced by truth and good. The future is Christless, so the present is Christless.

But if we, who seek to believe past the false prophecies of wayward men, place our gaze on that coming day, knowing that it will come, whether others believe in it or not, our lives today will be renewed. We will be restored from the disillusionment of the false hopes of the past and present, we will mount up with wings like eagles, and take flight in faith and good, living our lives for He who is present through His Holy Spirit now and will be present with us on a day to come. If we do choose to believe instead that our Master is coming, we will stand ready with lives that have been prepared to live in eternity, precisely, because we have already been living there. So I hope, in this way, it is the end of the world as we know it today, but one that brings us into a renewed focus on our eternal future, so that it fills all of our moments now with the Person and the world to come.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless . . . (2 Pet 3:10-14)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One Last Round: No Graven Images

OK, my wife has thoroughly rebuked me for spending more time on this, rather than working on my stuff that's due in, so this really has to be my last word on this for now. As I said before, I don't expect Steve to know everything I'm talking about in my literary argument from John, since I haven't actually set that argument down yet in writing, so I hope to do that in the future at some point. I've enjoyed the discussion. This is another example of how Reformed guys keep you on your toes and make you define and clarify what you would otherwise leave as unclear and ambiguous, so I thank Steve for making me think through it a little more. Here's my (truly) final response, and Steve can have the last word.

i) In the Fourth Gospel, does the revelation of Christ’s glory reveal nothing about his person and work? Does the Fourth Gospel erect a wall between the manifest glory of Christ, on the one hand, and his person or work, on the other? Does Hodge seriously think that’s exegetically supportable?

I never said there was a wall erected between them and that the revelation of Christ’s glory reveals nothing about His Person and Work. I said His mere physical presence, and the miracles He produces, in and of themselves, apart from the words He speaks that tells us who He is, what these miracles mean, etc. are not revelatory in telling us who He is in order that we might know/have a relationship with Him. Their contribution is significant only in the context of the Word.

ii) Does the Fourth Gospel drive a wedge between what is seen and what is heard? Or does the actual dichotomy lie in how both are either perceived or misperceived, depending on the spiritual condition of the percipient?

That’s a false dichotomy, as what is seen is misinterpreted/misperceived without faith in what is heard, and it is seen rather than heard because of the unregenerated spiritual condition of the recipient (e.g., the unbelieving Jews who attribute His miracles to the devil). When the recipient is regenerated, faith by what is heard replaces faith by what is seen (e.g., John 4:39-42).

ii) Apropos (i), there are two things that make these miracles significant:
a) A natural affinity between the nature of the sign and the nature of the significate. The reason the multiplication of loaves and fishes can illustrate the bread of life discourse is because there’s a natural analogy between physical sustenance and spiritual sustenance.
Same thing in the relationship between physical sight/blindness and spiritual sight/blindness. Same thing in the relationship between the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ identity as the “resurrection and the life.”
b) There is also the chronological juxtaposition of word and sign. These happen in close conjunction so that observers (as well as readers) can discern how the emblematic action is designed to illustrate the person, work, and words of Jesus. The narrative preserves that sequence.

Sure, because Word interprets the world around us, including supernatural events that occur within it. The Word uses language that is also based in the physical world. I’m not arguing with any of this, unless you are attempting to say that the natural affinity between them is always apparent and cannot be interpreted to communicate a different message.

iii) Apropos (i-ii), the narrator can only interpret the significance of a miracle if there is something significant about the miracle in the first place. Unless the miracle was inherently meaningful, there would be nothing to interpret.

This language is confused. Inherently meaningful to whom? Obviously, we both agree that God intended the miracle for a specific purpose, so if that is what you mean by “inherently meaningful” then we agree, but that doesn’t touch what I’m saying. The miracle is not inherently meaningful to us unless we are told its significance by the one who produced it. We don’t have access to that metaphysical information, so we have to be told what it is, and we are told via words.

Hodge acts as if the relation between word and sign is purely arbitrary. As if the narrator assigns a totally artificial significance to the miracle. Superimposes meaning on an essentially meaningless event.  But you can’t interpret what isn’t there. You can’t take more out of it than God put into it.

No, not at all. The narrator assigns the significance that God intended to assign to the miracle. We both believe the narrator is being directed by divine inspiration. I’m simply saying that we don’t know that significance until it is revealed to us through Word.

ii) However, since he brings it up, it’s superficial to confine an “image of God” to a physical, visible image. For a physical, visible “image of God” is just a concretized concept of God.

That we receive through sight rather than through hearing. This is not a superficial distinction at all. It’s a very important one if faith comes by hearing the Word of God and not by bowing down to an image.

In a deeper sense, a miracle can be an “image of God” by manifesting the nature of God.

Not using biblical concepts of image it can’t. What is an image of God in a deeper sense is the Word of God, as it manifests the nature of the one true God specifically and in distinction from all other gods, while giving access to God’s presence through it.

i) That’s rather confused. John contrasts discerning perception with undiscerning perception.

And discerning perception in John is gained by faith in the words of Christ. Undiscerning perception is produced by faith via sight apart from Word.

ii) It’s also misleading to speak of miracles taken apart from revelation, for many of Christ’s miracles have OT antecedents in OT miracles or paradigmatic events. The observer is supposed to appreciate the nature of the miracle in that larger context.

And that context is the Word of God, as you have just said. So this isn’t an argument for the miracle being revelatory in and of itself. It needs the Word to provide its significance for us.

That’s vague. Theophanies are images of God.

No, a theophany is not an image of God. Otherwise, you’re saying that God is contradicting Himself when He says that the Israelites saw no form/image (təmûnā[h]—same word used for the forbidden image in the 2d Commandment) on Sinai when God appeared to them in a theophany. An image is a physical, representative symbol, picture, or statue through which the deity makes certain characteristics of himself  known to his people, and through which his people can worship him. It gives a body to the invisible deity that allows him to enter into our world in order that we might have access to him. It is meant to reveal him to us. A theophany in the OT, in contrast, hides the deity from us. The Israelites do not have access to Him through the theophany. They are not even allowed to approach the mountain when God appears on it. The theophany reveals nothing specific to them about YHWH in distinction from other deities. It’s not a medium through which they can worship Him, etc. It’s a talking/speaking manifestation without concrete form.

The Bible is chock-full of theological metaphors that are not interpreted. Rather, the reader is simply expected to be able to infer the significance of the metaphor. And the same principle applies to emblematic events.

Because language functions within the logic of a physical world. We don’t disagree on this point. I disagree that literary imagery that comes to us via hearing and physical images that come to us via sight can both function as mediums through which we know and distinguish the true God from a false one.

I find it surprising that someone with Hodge’s theological education doesn’t know what “dominical” means in this context. In theological usage, “dominical” is an adjective which means “of or pertaining to the Lord (Jesus Christ).”

Me too. Who educated that guy? LOL. I do know what the word “Dominical” means, but the statement you made threw me, as you said that “Dominical miracles” don’t attest to Christ. I thought, then, that perhaps you were using some terminus technicus that referred to some form of miracle of which I was perhaps unaware. Since you say you are using it in the normative sense, I’m not sure how the statement does not contradict itself. In other words, how can a miracle that attests to Christ’s Lordship not attest to Christ? Or did you mean the “words of Christ”? Of course, miracles display power, but we only know that they attest to His Lordship by the interpretation of the Word. The Jews who did not believe that Word saw their attestation of His power, but attributed it to His demon (i.e. His servitude to Satan), rather than as attesting to His Lordship.

Is that how the Gospels treat dominical miracles? That half a dozen other guys could do the same thing?

No, because the Gospels interpret the miracles for us. The miracle of the resurrection, I would say, could only be performed by God, but we know of this God and of this Christ who was resurrected, the significance of it, etc. through the Word that interprets it for us. Otherwise, some guy just rose from the dead. Maybe it’s Zeus playing a trick on us. The context of the miracle is the Word. Hence, it does say something to the community of the Word in that sense, but not apart from it. I think you’re assuming the context the Word has already provided to the community and then acting as though the miracle communicates something specifically revelatory about Christ or God in and of itself, even though it is clearly reliant upon the Word that gives its sense.

i) Which begs the question of whether what’s physical or visible is someone unspiritual or untrue. Since, however, we’re discussing miraculous signs in the Fourth Gospel (and elsewhere in Scripture), it’s nonsensical to quote Jn 4:23-24 as if that that’s intended to contrast the words of Jesus or the words of the narrator with the miracles of Jesus. Does the narrator think the miracles of Jesus are untrue and/or unspiritual? 

Well, I never used the words “unspiritual” or “untrue.” The narrator and Christ thinks they are insufficient for knowing the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Sometimes those who believe because of miracles take the next step to truly believe in the Word that is spoken (e.g., the Samaritan villagers), and sometimes those who believe due to miracles reject Christ once the Word is spoken (the crowd in Chapter 6). There’s nothing untrue about a miracle. It’s just deceptive to us, because we are deceptive in our use of it, when we attempt to follow Christ by sight (i.e., through the miracle) when we can only really follow Him by hearing His voice and obeying it.

ii) You act as if “truth” or “spiritual” is synonymous with something immaterial. But in the Fourth Gospel (and elsewhere in Scripture), what makes something true or spiritual is the use that God puts to it. The divine intention behind the action or event.

Sure, I don’t disagree with the latter statement. I disagree with the former, i.e., that I take “truth” and “spiritual” as synonymous with what is immaterial in all things. I’m referring specifically to how we take hold of truth and what is spiritual, i.e., through hearing the Word of God by which our faith relationship with God comes to us.

Because miracles can be concrete metaphors. I cited some examples from John’s oGspel. A metaphor already has conceptual content. It isn’t just a cipher.
When Jesus says he’s the “true vine,” that metaphor has implicit propositional meaning. That’s why Scripture uses so much poetry. So many picturesque metaphors. Word-pictures.
When Jesus calls himself the “light of the world,” and when that occurs in apposition to the healing of the blind man, his emblematic act has interpretive significance. Yes, words interpret actions, but actions can also explicate the meaning of the words. Nonverbal communication is still communicative.

Sure, I have no problem with that. As I’ve been saying, the physical accompanies the Word, as the sacraments accompany the Word. The Word obviously uses the sensible world around us to communicate and create mental images in our minds. But God reorients us by telling us to experience reality primarily through hearing, which is to interpret in submission to another's interpretation and report rather than through seeing, which is to interpret independently for ourselves. The former leads us to worshiping the true God. The latter leads us to creating false gods in service of ourselves.

You act as if the sensible world is delusive. But God made the sensible world. God uses nonverbal as well as verbal communication.

No, we are delusive in our exile from knowing the true God who made us. The world is sensible, but we are senseless in understanding metaphysical purpose, so the divine must communicate to us through word when He produces an event for a particular purpose.

It doesn’t? “The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

Steve, this is said in a context, not by itself. The context indicates that Moses has already proclaimed the meaning of these miracles, to whom they point and for what purpose, to all of Egypt through Pharaoh, his court, and their Israelite slaves. The passage, in context, therefore, does not convey that the miracle communicates these things in its own right.

I didn’t say words have no bearing on how the observer ought to understand the event. But you act as if the event has no inherent significance or interpretive value in its own right.

How can data interpret itself? It has value in that God intended it to be interpreted a certain way through His Word. His Word reveals what God intended the miracle for. Apart from God telling us what it means, we’re baffled by it. It reveals nothing on its own, but that some unknown, powerful being did something amazing for some unknown reason.

I didn’t cite Exod 9:6. I cited Exod 9:16.

My comments refer to Exod 9:16. That was just a citation error. But you didn’t answer my question here. How does a miracle or even a theophany for that matter reveal YHWH in distinction from other deities without an interpretive message that gives us that distinction?

The OT has theophanies and emblematic miracles both before and after the Exodus. Where is the switch?

Where do you see theophanies after Sinai? When I say that most of what people, including some scholars, consider theophanies are not true theophanies, I’m referring to imagery of God seen in visions and dreams as not true theophanies. A theophany proper is God manifesting His presence through a physical medium. He does that in the cloud/pillar of fire and in the scene in Exod 33. Unless you see angels as theophany, which you may, God doesn’t appear through a physical medium again to people until the time of Christ (hence, He is a prophet like Moses because He sees God face to face, i.e., through a physical medium, both of which conceal the divine rather than reveal it). So the switch (I’m referring to within the Pentateuch when I say that a switch is made) is made after the covenant is given at Sinai.

No, that’s not my argument. We’re discussing miracles because you posited a disjunction between word-media and event media. I haven’t said miracles justify pictures of Jesus. I’m merely responding to your false antithesis.

Got it. I misunderstood us to be discussing the whole ball of wax, which is why my comments on somewhat scattered between the two issues. However, I don’t see how your argumentation does not also undermine the 2d Commandment. I have still yet to see where it is possible to retain your argument without it being an objection to God’s command at the same time.

Once again, you’re confusing the history of the event with the history of reception. The plagues of Egypt are, in the first instance, directed at observers, not readers. The Egyptians weren’t reading the Book of Exodus. That was written in the Sinai, after the Israelites left Egypt. But Yahweh is describing something which happened in Egypt, something which the native Egyptians would be in a position to appreciate. So it must have some independent significance apart the subsequent canonical interpretation, for it to discharge the function that Yahweh ascribes to it (e.g. Exod 7:5; 9:16).

I’m not arguing that Word as canon was always needed, but merely Word in order to interpret the event. So I’m not confusing event with later interpretation of the event. I’m saying that all events are in need of interpretation, and thus, if God produces an event for a specific purpose, we will not know it unless we are told for what purpose, and what God, the event has been produced. Hence, Word is always necessary for us to know the divine significance of the event.

Likewise, dominical miracles are originally directed at contemporary observers of the event before they are later directed at future readers of the Gospel. It’s not as if the miracles are just a blank slate until, years later, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John interpret the miracles.

But a point that all of the Gospels make is that the original observers didn’t know what to make of the miracles. They did not tell them who Christ was or whether He was from God or the devil. Flesh and blood could not reveal His identity to them through the miracles performed, but only the Father who is in heaven. If they believed He was of God, it was through the word spoken accompanied by miracles, otherwise, without word, the belief is seen as superficial and insufficient.
I also disagree that miracles are directed at the contemporary observers. I think they’re directed at the disciples to accompany the word spoken to them, things they would not understand until Christ departed and the Spirit was sent.

The Fourth Gospel describes a scene, like the wedding at Cana. If a Christian artist illustrates that scene, his interpretation of the event can also incorporate the narrator’s interpretation of the event. There’s no fundamental tension between these two things.

Unless the scene is meant to contribute to a larger argument that sets miracles, i.e., what is seen, as ineffective toward true belief. What that would convey is that the spoken word ought to be the means through which Christ is communicated rather than through physical depiction or representation. If that is the case then the artist, merely be his attempting to render a representation of Christ is already in conflict with the intended purpose of the scene as the Gospel communicates it.

i) According to Exod 33:17-23, the theophanic angelophany was a revelatory event. Event-media. Disclosing the goodness and glory of the Lord.

But not revelatory in distinction. That can only be the case when YHWH gives the law to Moses, which is what precedes and follows this event—thus interpreting it.

ii) Somehow you treat that as a generic property of goodness or glory that isn’t specific to Yahweh. Yet the narrative makes this a privileged manifestation of Yahweh. Not some detachable accessory that another creature or imposter would simulate.

I don’t necessarily think another creature or imposter can simulate the sort of theophany that occurred with Moses on Sinai. I just don’t think it reveals that this is YHWH making the theophany as opposed to Marduk or Amun-Re or Baal. Moses only knows whose glory it is that he is seeing because of the word spoken to him. He knows YHWH through what YHWH has said. Hence, he knows that this is YHWH’s glory that he is seeing.

iii) And in the teeth of sacred account you continue to talk about “spirit and truth,” as if this theophany were unspiritual or false.

I never said anything of the sort. There’s nothing false about what is meant to hide God. That’s not really an appropriate category for what I said. Theophanies, which are physical manifestations of YHWH, don’t actually reveal anything specific about God to the one to whom the theophany appears. They show His power and His glory, but we know of this God through what He communicates verbally and in written form on Sinai.

You’re the one who treats the miracles of Christ (in the Gospels) or the miracles of Yahweh (in the Pentateuch) as if they’re interchangeable with miracles by other gods or other miracle workers. Is that how the Pentateuch treats the miracles of Yahweh? Is that how the Gospels treat the miracles of Christ? Don’t these miracles demarcate the true God or the true Messiah from imposters in the Biblical narratives?

No, they don’t do that at all in and of themselves, unexplained by word. We only know that they defeat other deities and religions by what the Word tells us about them. How do we know that Moses isn’t a prophet of the Ptah cult attempting to overthrow the cult of Atum? Because he told us that YHWH sent him, along with the reason why YHWH is attacking Egypt.

I haven’t discussed that one way or the other. But on the face of it your statement is false. For instance, the physical medium of the tabernacle was one way in which Jews could  relate to Yahweh. Indeed, a divinely authorized medium.

The Jews don’t relate to YHWH through the tabernacle. It’s merely the house that holds God’s replacement image, i.e., the Ten Commandments. His presence is with His Word. That’s why setting up a foreign/alternative altar to that of the Jerusalem temple is prohibited in the OT. If it were merely the tabernacle then the Israelites should not have been condemned for setting up alternate temples and places of worship.

That sounds more Platonic or gnostic than Scriptural. Why does the Bible use so many theological metaphors, drawn from physical objects and activities, to convey an impression of what God is like and how we ought to relate to God?

LOL. No. Steve, no intention to join Mani anytime soon. I am Augustinian, but post-conversion rather than pre-. ;-)

I do think it’s interesting that the Gnostics used John’s language to communicate platonic ideas, but that is not what I am saying. One could accuse someone of being a Gnostic by using Pauline language of flesh and spirit in order to convey some of Paul’s ideas, but that would be to take him out of context. I’m simply trying to mimic John’s language to communicate the idea that I think he is trying to convey, albeit this is in Pauline terms, that faith must come by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (empowered by the Holy Spirit). The physical world does not deceive. There is nothing unspiritual about it (I never used that language). I said the physical was insufficient to provide anything through which we could come to know the true God and His Son Jesus Christ. It’s not revelatory in the sense that it distinguishes in order to allow us to have a relationship with God/Christ. I didn’t say it was unspiritual. Obviously, Christ comes in the flesh, is resurrected, will resurrect us, will recreate the physical world, etc. God uses physical sacraments, miracles, and a whole host of other physical things to accompany the word as physical images and imagery that is to be then interpreted by the Word, but it is by that Word that all of them must be interpreted. Thus, the Reformers took issue with the medieval church performing sacraments without the preaching of the Word.

i) Both the spoken world and written word are physical communicative media. Audiovisual modes of communication.

I agree that they are audiovisual. I’ve been saying that the whole time. I disagree that they are physical communication in the sense that they are received through sight. Obviously, you would agree with me there, correct?

ii) You also act as if there’s no such thing as nonverbal communication. But I can communicate with my dog through gestures like pointing, or whistling. I can communicate affection by petting my dog.

Of course there is. I said nothing about nonverbal communication. God could have used that all He wanted, but that’s not what He used. Again, I’m not arguing that all forms of sight are contrary to verbal communication. That would be absurd. I’m arguing that John contrasts believing through word, which is sufficient versus believing through sight, which is insufficient.

Really? Where does the Gospel of John argue that Jesus’ physical presence hindered the disciples from truly knowing him?

Well, of course, this is a literary argument taken from what the book has been arguing all along. In that context, John 16:4-24 seems to imply that it is a disadvantage for Christ to remain with them, but an advantage that the Holy Spirit is sent to them to lead them into the truth that He has spoken to them, and will speak to them, but they cannot bear it now because He is actually with them. He then plays on the words theoreo and horao, saying that a little while and they will no longer “see” Him, but then in a little while, they will “see” Him. I take palin here as meaning “on the other hand.” So what is implied is that they see Him physically, but don’t really “see” Him. They will only “see” Him once He goes away and sends the Spirit who recall for them His words.

In that event, why the Incarnation? Why did Jesus ever appear to anyone?

To redeem humanity.

Moreover, your objection is a bit silly. You seem to be suggesting that when we read the gospels, where they describe people, places and objects, we should consciously suppress any spontaneous mental images which the picturesque descriptions naturally trigger. When, for instance, we read Jn 4, we should make a strenuous effort not to visualize a woman, a well, white fields, a mountain in the distance, and so on. And under no circumstances should we imagine Jesus as a tired, thirsty traveler. We must keep our imagination absolutely blank as we read this account, with its many pictorial asides.

LOL. That is a silly suggestion. I don’t know who made it, but it wasn’t me.

ii) You can say God is invisible, but by the same token you can also say God is inaudible. Your principle rules out the spoken word, which is often the basis of the written word, viz. the recorded words of Jesus.

How is God inaudible if He, by His own nature, can speak to where we can hear Him, and He has given us His Word to be preached through men? I don’t see how this statement is true.

iii) You allude to Jn 1:18, but that’s a contrast between the discarnate Father and the Incarnate Son. The disciples did, indeed, see “God” revealed in Christ.

Christ is clear in the Gospel that He reveals the Father in a non-physical manner. It is through the words the Father has given Him to speak. He’s not revealing the Father by His physical form. When He says that if you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father, He doesn’t mean that He looks like the Father, but that His words and actions are the words and actions of the Father.

iv) Yes, Jesus goes away and sends the Spirit in his place. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus is coming back. The physical return of Christ.
Moreover, John saw a Christophany (Rev 1).

I’m not sure what either of these has to do with my argument? John has seen Christ before (although he’s using apocalyptic imagery from Daniel to describe Him here). And Christ will return and we will see Him as He is. We’ll be glorified and the delusions and temptations of our clueless and idolatrous hearts will be removed.

v) You also misconstrue Jn 6:63. In context, “flesh” isn’t a synonym for “physical.” Rather, “flesh” is a synonym for death. Mortal flesh. The impending death of Christ.
And death is unprofitable apart from resurrection. That’s the intended contrast.

The content of the message (i.e., the words that He has spoken to them) in John 6:63 is about His death and resurrection, no doubt, but the contrast is between flesh and spirit, where spirit is defined as the words (i.e., the message of His death and resurrection) that He has spoken. So this isn’t about Christ’s death versus His resurrection, where the death of Christ profits nothing unless followed by the resurrection (I think it would still profit us to be forgiven by His death). If we follow the passage, however, Christ just told them of His death by saying that they all need to eat of His flesh (different use of “flesh” there as John likes to mix up alternate definitions of the same word in the same context) and drink of His blood. Those following Him start to disbelieve. He then rebukes them by asking whether they would believe if they saw Him ascending to heaven (again, not resurrection, but ascension), coming into power. He then rebuts this by saying that belief must be through spirit (i.e., what is unseen), not through what is physically seen (i.e., flesh), and the words/message He has spoken to them (i.e., the gospel) in words is spirit and life. He then says, but some do not believe even through words. Hence, He said to them that only those the Father has drawn can come to Him. That’s the context, and that supports what I’ve been saying is the argument of G of John.

Again, if we do not make the distinction between physical images of deity and physical images that accompany the Word, and literary imagery versus physical image, then I’m unsure how to maintain that the 2d Commandment is somehow coherent with the rest of the Bible. That’s what I was asking of you before. I read your comments on the 2d Comm., but I didn’t see you address this contradiction in thinking. Perhaps, it’s in an article I didn’t read? Could you summarize how you work out that inconsistency?

You also ask why a narrator could not just depict the Wedding at Cana scene as an accurate portrayal of the Gospel message without distorting the message. But the point the Bible seems to be making, and John with it, is that images of deity are to be exclusively replaced by the Word of God as the means by which we know God. Again, I am not arguing against all images. The tabernacle is an image, but it is not the means through which the Israelites come to know God. The tabernacle is a moveable temple. The temple is meant to house the image of the deity. It is through that image that the unseen deity can interact with the physical world. It provides his body for him. Hence, his presence is in his house/temple. But in biblical religion, the image is replaced, not by the tabernacle/temple (that’s pretty much the same), but by the Ten Commandments placed within a chest to hold them, accompanied only by two artifacts that represent the miracles God performed. When Deut 4 talks about worshiping God, then, it makes reference to these Ten Commandments (lit. “ten words”) as the means through which the Israelites are to know Him. Hence, no form is to be made, since words are to be used instead of the image. Instead, His presence is there because His Word is there.

This same theology is then applied to Jesus in John, who performs miracles that communicate His power, but tells us that it is through His words, God’s truth, that we must come to Him, know Him/have eternal life, and be sanctified. John then continually contrasts faith by sight (e.g., the woman at the well and the townsfolk believing because of the miracle performed) as superficial and insufficient (there’s nothing unspiritual or deceptive about it) with faith by hearing the word of Christ (e.g., the townsfolk once they have heard Christ speak).

The imagery you mention in John almost all goes in that direction (e.g., “My sheep hear My voice,” “I have bread you do not know of,” referring to His teaching, we abide in the vine by listening/obeying His commandments, He is the way/truth/life, etc.). Again, I am not arguing against imagery, but image, i.e., literary imagery is obtained through hearing but physical images are obtained through seeing. I disagree that we “see” literary imagery. We mentally conceptualize, but that’s not my point. My point is that we are to take hold of truth through hearing, which requires us to think about what is said, whether we make mental projections of God or whatnot, but seeing does not require this. I could read of God shadowing His people under His wings, and that imagery causes me to make all sorts of connections to God’s nature and character, but I likely will not see God as a bird; but if I erect a statue of a bird and say that this is YHWH, I start to think of YHWH as a bird without necessarily thinking about what is said in the larger context of the psalm. It is I who distort it. The image is nothing. There is something about hearing that is better than seeing in terms of being presented to a people who need to have faith in what is spoken, and John tells us that it is because God is spirit/unseen Himself and must be worshiped through what is unseen and spoken.

The physical doesn’t help us there, and the event-media Hence, if you were standing there with fellow Jews, and did not have the words preached, or the Father through the Spirit bringing you into the truth, then you would just marvel as they did and ask, What does this mean? Or say, This man casts out demons by the ruler of the demons. The physical displays of event-media are intended to convey something (I don’t disagree with you there), but what they intend to convey must be told to us, as we are clueless. It’s not the fault of the event-media. It’s our warped, idolatrous minds that are not in full communion with the one true God that causes us to interpret it differently than what God intended. Without the word, Christ turning the water into wine could be set on the OT precedent of YHWH turning water into blood or the demonically empowered Egyptian magicians turning water into blood. Obviously, the event testifies to the former, but we are unaware of it without the word telling us that it does (and the Spirit causing us to believe in that report). So seeing the miracle doesn’t help us. It’s hearing the interpretation of the miracle that does. The same goes for the works of Christ.

Hence, in Exod 9:16, the only way to interpret it as you are doing is to say that without any word media, the Egyptians would have seen a miracle occur and automatically, by nature of the miracle that is inherently revelatory, that “YHWH has done this.” You, then, concede that the miracles are not void of an interpretive word, but then also argue that they are revelatory within themselves, so I’m at a loss on how that works out. I certainly don’t mean to say that miracles are essentially arbitrary, and we simply pour meaning into the event. My point is that God intends to display something with them, but we are unaware of what it is that He intends to display without an interpretive word of that data.

Is the Bible THAT Theologically DIverse?

If you've ever read the play, "Much Ado about Nothing" (or more likely watched the movie) by William Shakespeare, you're aware of the mess that can be created by taking things out of context and spinning half truths with speculation. A lot of "scholarship" these days often reminds me of this play.

It's often argued today that there is much theological diversity in the Bible. This concept is largely accepted without much challenge to it, and I'm not going to challenge it en toto myself; but I do think that it is blown way out of proportion so that it can be used as an apologetic for those who wish to see theological diversity celebrated rather than mourned today. It's interesting to see just how much we impose our cultural ideals onto the text when scholars run through the Bible and try to pick out as many supposedly contradictory teachings as they can in order to show that the Bible was never unified in its teaching. I, of course, completely disagree that proving theological diversity somehow proves disunity (that's quite a logical leap). One can have unity in diversity in terms of progressive revelation, subject matter addressed, diversity used as clarification rather than contradiction, etc. But I also take issue with most of the examples used to prove diversity in the Bible. I do think there is some, but not nearly as much as scholars often imply that there are. Today, I want to discuss just one of those examples.

The bulk of the Bible teaches us that children are seen as one with their parents. If a parent is holy, the child is holy. If the parent is wicked, the child is wicked. If the parent is blessed, the child is blessed. And if the parent is punished, the child is punished. There is no distinction between the parent and child. God can punish the parent by punishing the child, as in the case of David's son born out of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. In fact, many who don't see this teaching often don't understand why God kills the child rather than killing David, the one who actually committed the sin. But this is to ignore that God, in accordance with some ancient Near Eastern thought, views the son of David as David himself. He is, in fact, therefore, killing David by killing his son. This is a way to both bring about what God has planned for David in his future reign and to deliver a death sentence to him at the same time.

Again, in the law (Exod 20:5-6 and Deut 5:9-10), YHWH will visit the iniquity committed by the fathers on the sons to the third and fourth generation. There is nothing here about the sons actually committing the sins. There is only the idea that sins committed by the fathers would be brought upon the sons. Although the qualifier, that these people are those who hate YHWH, as opposed to those who love Him by keep His commandments are blessed, there is nothing here that tells us that those who hate or love Him include the children (as many will argue). It can be taken that way, but it's ambiguous enough to just apply that qualifier to the parents.

Hence, in comes Ezekiel 18. Ezekiel 18 is often said to be a rejection of this theology. It tells us that each person is culpable for his own sin, not for the sins of his parents. The passage is as follows:

Ezek 18:1 (NASB) Then the word of the Lord came to me saying,
2 "What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel saying,
'The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children's teeth are set on edge'?
3 "As I live," declares the Lord God, "you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore.
4 "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
5 "But if a man is righteous, and practices justice and righteousness,
6 and does not eat at the mountain [shrines] or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor's wife, or approach a woman during her menstrual period--
7 if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, [but] gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing,
8 if he does not lend [money] on interest or take increase, [if] he keeps his hand from iniquity, [and] executes true justice between man and man,
9 [if] he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully-- he is righteous [and] will surely live, "declares the Lord God.
10 "Then he may have a violent son who sheds blood, and who does any of these things to a brother
11 (though he himself did not do any of these things), that is, he even eats at the mountain [shrines,] and defiles his neighbor's wife,
12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the idols, [and] commits abomination,
13 he lends [money] on interest and takes increase; will he live? He will not live! He has committed all these abominations, he will surely be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
14 "Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father's sins which he committed, and observing does not do likewise.
15 "He does not eat at the mountain [shrines] or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor's wife,
16 or oppress anyone, or retain a pledge, or commit robbery, [but] he gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing,
17 he keeps his hand from the poor, does not take interest or increase, [but] executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will not die for his father's iniquity, he will surely live.
18 "As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed [his] brother, and did what was not good among his people, behold, he will die for his iniquity.
19 "Yet you say, 'Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity?' When the son has practiced justice and righteousness, and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live.
20 "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
21 "But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
22 "All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.
23 "Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord God, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?
24 "But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die.
25 "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not right.' Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?
26 "When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die.
27 "Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life.
28 "Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
29 "But the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not right.' Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?
30 "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct," declares the Lord God. "Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.
31 "Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?
32 "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord God. "Therefore, repent and live."

Part of our problem with all of these passages is the word for "children," which is usually the word for "sons." Either way, "children," or "sons" doesn't always mean "young children" or "young sons." Hence, we need to ask the question, Are these passages referring to children under the care and guidance of the adult, or are they referring to children/sons in terms of relationship that adults have between them? In other words, Are these grown children or children-children? A child-child in ancient Israel was likely seen as prepubescent. Adulthood was when one reached puberty. In other words, if you could make children, you were no longer one. Hence, a man leaves his father and mother to go have relations with a woman/wife to have children himself. He can do so at puberty, so that seems to be the cut off (although it might be extended to a person who remains under the household and whose life is in moral continuity with the adult under whom he lives).

When it comes to David, obviously, the child is a baby. Hence, the child is a child-child, not an adult child. He is identified with David, and by punishing him, God is punishing David (and I don't just mean in the sense that David suffers loss of a child, but in his mind, the loss also of himself through the child). As an aside, inheritance issues and the common desire to have an heir is bound up with this idea that the parent continues to live through the child.

But to what kind of child does Ezekiel 18 refer? Well, the passage gives us some indication.
 It tells us that the child can either partake or reject his portion in his parents' sin or righteousness by doing those sins or practicing that righteousness himself. How many little children do you know murder and commit adultery with their neighbors' wives? Do they have sex with women? Obviously, then, Ezekiel 18 is talking about adult children, not children-children. This tells us that it is not contradicting the concept that God destroys children-children for the sins of their parents (thus identifying children-children with their parents).

But does it contradict the law? Here is where it actually clarifies the law for us. When it comes to the law, its ambiguous as to who is hating or loving YHWH, but Ezekiel does clarify that if it is referring to adult children, each individual adult is guilty for his own crimes. So Ezekiel 18 tells us that those who love or hate YHWH is to be applied to each individual. If the adult child continues the hatred of YHWH (i.e., a rejection of the relationship offered by Him through His Word), then that adult child will simply accumulate the wrath of his parents upon his own sin; but if the adult child turns and loves YHWH by keeping His commandments (i.e., he accepts the relationship offered by YHWH), he will be blessed, and will not receive the punishment of his parents.

Hence, if the law refers to children-children, there is no contradiction between it and Ezekiel 18, and if the law refers to adult children, there is no contradiction between it and Ezekiel 18. Either way, Ezekiel does clarify the ambiguity of the law, but it doesn't ever contradict it. Hence, where is the theological diversity in this example? There is nothing to say that the law originally referred to all children, whether they love or hate YHWH in contrast to their parents, so the apparent contradiction is merely a fabrication of our modern misunderstanding of the passages.

I merely use this as an example because a lot of what is considered to be "theologically diverse" is simply a matter of lifting things out of context (child sacrifice, polytheism, etc.). Put them back into context, and some theological diversity still remains, but it likely remains, not in ultimate contradiction, but in ultimate clarification and complementation. But our presuppositions concerning the divine origin of the Bible will show in how we come down on what remains. My only point here is that a lot of these prooftexts that supposedly prove rampant, theological diversity are much ado about nothing.