Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Gospel According to Tolkien

But the “consolation” of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite—I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
Thus from J.R.R. Tolkien "On Fairy Stories" (22) and he goes on--and this is the point of my posting this post today: has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.
This last spans pages 23-24 in the linked material, and it should explain why I present this today. In the Incarnation, our sense that the world is, in some way, enchanted was validated and outstripped. The world is far more than enchanted. The God of history has come in human flesh. The child of promise has come, and how great was the promise! The promises are quite fantastic, defying what is natural. But these promises fit naturally into the world that we, as Christians, live in.

In the land of Faerie, what happens follows a different logic than we are accustomed to in our everyday lives. The poet and the novelist understand its workings better than the physicist or the psychologist. There is an atmosphere of possibility, as it were.

Why shouldn't the dead rise, if it be God's will? This is how the incarnation infects reality with what we first get a taste of in Faerie-land. And yet, there is no guarantee that the dead will rise. There is, after all, that conditional "if it be God's will" and God is wiser than we are about what works out for the best in his world, and we will see on that day, when we see another Eucatastrophe, when Jesus Christ comes again from heaven, that God has been just and good and right in all he has done. And here is reason to trust his promises: Jesus came, the God-man, to die for our sins when we were dead in them. It is as if the curtain had fallen on the play of the world, all was lost, we were doomed, and then, as we turn to leave the theater in dismay, the curtain rises, and another act begins, and this act we have recorded fourfold in the Gospels, and it is real--not a mere play, which we could walk away from, but reality which, if we accept it, must fundamentally alter how we stand in the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wittgenstein and Transgenderism

1. What is it to be a man? We are constantly having to remind ourselves not to look at the subjective sense of the word, but at how we would say of someone else that he is a male.

2. Is it possible to be in error about this sort of thing? If I happened to say I were woman, that would be wrong.

3. If someone who appeared to be a woman insisted she were a man, what difference would it make? Perhaps she goes into the men's restroom. Of course, then the sign "Men's" would no longer function as it used to--the sign would have changed.

4. Suppose someone who appears to be a woman to me comes and tells me that she is a man. Under one use of the word, the one we are accustomed to using with infants, she is wrong. How would I convince her? I would explain, "No, you must not understand what you are saying, that word only applies in a context like..."

5. What do we do when we disagree about what a word means (how it is to be used)?

4. When the use of a word changes, the concepts associated with it shift, as it were, and we have trouble matching up what was said before with what is said after.

6. The words "man" and "woman" as they are used by those who affirm the possibility of transgenderism being, at worst, neutral, seem to be subjective terms, like "believe" and "pain". How do I know someone else is transgender? Perhaps there are indications--he acts like a woman. Of course, this requires us to agree on what it is to "act like a woman".

7. Suppose there is nothing it necessarily is to be a man or a woman. Then have these words lost all sense? What difference would it make, then, whether I were a man or a woman? Which bathroom I use? But then I should change whether I was a man or woman simply by changing which bathroom I used. And if we were to do away with the distinction between the restrooms and locker rooms and such...?

8. Why is it that a man who claims to be a woman wants to change his appearance to fit with what we think of women as looking like? Is that what it is to be a woman? But he didn't look like that when said he already was one.

9. If I were to wake up one morning to find I was a fully functional woman physically, would I be a woman? Well, that's how I use the word, and others, too, would be inclined to say "he's turned into a woman!"

10. If there is a particular way of using "man" then there are also a whole host of ways to misuse it. In the new way of using it, what would count as misusing it? If I were to tell someone they were a man, and they claimed otherwise, would I be misusing the word? Then no one can lie about whether they are a man or a woman?

11. I fill out a form which asks about my gender: male/female. At the end of the form, I sign, saying the information in the form is complete and correct to the best of my knowledge. To sign there, does it matter how I answered the gender question? Suppose that were the only question on the form. Then what sense would signing there make? Perhaps I am saying that this is how I normally answer, but why couldn't I be male one day and female on another (according to this new use of the words)?

12. I am giving testimony in court and I say "I saw a woman walk out of the store..." I later learn that she calls herself a man. If the court is now looking for a woman, because of my testimony, will they have trouble finding her? No...

13. Suppose the opposite case happens: I meet the woman and find out that she calls herself a man. I then testify that I met a man... What will they look for now? Someone who identifies as a man? (Perhaps I ought to say "I met someone who claims to be a man, but looks like women tend to look")

14. A burglar discovers he has been described to the police as "a man". He is approached by a detective, "excuse me, but you match this description of a man who burgled the bank last Tuesday" "Oh, that can't be, I'm a woman!" So do the terms "man" and "woman" no longer say anything about the appearance? Should the detective assume the description was just a bit off, or should he keep looking for someone who identifies as a man? Suppose he only has a warrant to arrest the culprit under the description of being a man, then can he arrest the burglar who calls himself a woman?

15. Perhaps we may say that someone is a man, even if he identifies as a woman, but then if he says otherwise we must change. But then, of course, to avoid being wrong we must great every new acquaintance with "Hello, my name is B. B., I'm a man, and you are...?" and the other person will respond in kind. But all this has to do with is what pronouns I use with this other person, and which restrooms, etc., we each use. It can have nothing to do with how I respond to her, according to our new language.

16. If I wish to refer to someone I saw, should I say that she looks like women tend to look? Or may I still say that she was a woman? If I must expand it in this way, perhaps we ought to come up with a shorter collocation.

17. I always think ideas are fishy when they imply odd collocations. "Never say that someone is a woman until you have asked what he or she would like to be called" sounds an awfully lot like "never say 'I know...' only, 'I believe quite strongly...'" or "Always say the qualification 'x'".

18. Someone acts very strangely. May we not say that he has a mental illness until we have determined precisely what is wrong? We may, of course, be wrong.

19. Suppose someone said "If only I looked like a woman instead of a man, then everything would be better!" Well, what would they have done a century or two ago? Surely something could be done about the problem even then, and yet they could not have changed their appearance so thoroughly.

20. If someone says "Thank goodness I live in the 21st century, those medievals were so much more helpless against the problems of life than we are!" then I know they have no perspective--and I doubt they understand what the problems of life really are. (Chronological Snobbery).

21. Perhaps this is all irrelevant to how the language works now. But that requires that we detach--in our language--what we should do from what they should have done. Then I cannot say "The Christians should not have fought the crusades," since morality has, apparently, changed since then.

22. "It has not changed. It would have been good for them back then as well as us now, it is just that now we can" But why? Do we just know these things? Some morals may be embedded in our language, but not those we argue about.

23. "It is good to be true to oneself." Such a mess. What is it to be true to oneself?

24. I decide I feel more true to myself if I murder--does that justify murder?!

25. Our language has gotten so subjective over the past few years. How am I to argue with "I feel..."? What has "I feel..." have to do with it being so? They are miles apart (except in certain cases).

26. How does a child learn the concept of "man" and "woman"? These days, it is hard to imagine. Either it must tie to behaviors or appearances, but our culture refuses to tie gender to either. "Away with stereotypes!" "Your body doesn't have to limit you!" What does, then?

27. Is it now possible to say "I am a martian" and be taken seriously? Why not? If I say I am a martian, what do you expect differently of me? That I am crazy? But not if I said "I am a woman." Why not?

28. We at least seem to agree that there is something it is to be a woman, and that it matters. But what is it supposed to be if it has nothing to do with the body (transgenderism) nor with behaviors (anti-stereotypists).

29. There are those who wish to remove all gendered speech. At least they're consistent. But could you be transgendered then? It would have to be expressed differently, and it would have even fewer implications then than it does now.

30. Watching things shift, one wants to ask what everyone means when they say these words.

31. "Well, you use them all the time. We mean the same as you do." No, you evidently use them quite differently.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Confession and Repentance

It is hard to confess sin. It is harder to repent of sin.

It is relatively easy to admit that one struggles with a sin, but it is monumentally difficult to attack sin with the viciousness it deserves.

It is far harder to hate sin than to admit sin. It is so much easier to make light of our foibles than to feel the weightiness of sin.

You can know that you sin without repenting. You can even hate your sin, in one sense, without repenting.

To weep over sin is not intended to be a mere metaphor, but a real occurrence.

Yet to weep over sin requires that we be uncomfortable with ourselves.

We must die to our old selves, and the weight of this metaphor has been lost when we kill only our old fingernails and our old hair and our old earlobes. We must kill our old selves to the core. Our deaths must be so deep that we feel the pain of death. We are so sinful that we think our sins are required for our self-hood, and it is that self which must be killed.

We will not kill our sins until we recognize that there is a life after the death. We will not fight sin until we see that the fight can be won. We must be comfortable with our sins in the same way that we are comfortable with the fact that grass grows. We know that we can deal with the grass, but we do not permit it to grow too tall. It is not the comfort of a bed, but the comfort of knowing what to do with it. We kill it, even if it kills us. And so we will live all the more, because the death of sin is expunged.

We need not fear sin anymore than we fear a dead grizzly. It is ugly, and we should remove it, but it cannot harm us.

To merely admit sin, and then go on sinning, is to let sin live. To admit a struggle is not, actually, to struggle. To say "I struggle with..." but to continue in it without a fight is to lie. Too often, I suspect, saying "I struggle with this" is merely saying "I do this, and I know I shouldn't, but don't be surprised if I do it more." That is not struggling. Struggling against sin is deeper and harder and far more exhausting, but in the end it is far more refreshing. It is struggling for a breath of air. It is struggling for more of the God who gives life because he has already given us life.

To struggle against sin is to depend on the Spirit of God, and to hate sin as God hates sin, whether we recognize its weighty oppressiveness or not, and be moved to kill the old self because we love the life of Christ which lives in us, because we love the Lord who died that we might live.

We confess our acceptable sins, and then joke about them. Are we too afraid that we will fail in the fight against sin to begin? Yet our Lord has already defeated sin, and he is with us to conquer sin. Are we too attached to our old selves? O, come, lop off that gangrenous arm you call yourself! Live in the light, the life which God provides, which has been made manifest in Christ. It is so much better to live than to die. You are not that gangrenous arm, you are in Christ, a new creation, there is a far better self to be, one so far beyond your imaginings. If you kill the old self, you get a far better one.

You will not kill that old self all at once, but you must be killing it all. We must not be content with our present state of sanctification. We are but small saplings, and we must grow into Christ's likeness--that great tree from whom we have life.

I do not write this that you may have guilt, but that you may have be truly free of guilt in the eyes of God. Repent and believe in the gospel: that Christ died for such ugly, dead, wretched beasts as we were, that we might have life and the beauty of God in us. Is the promise so little? Press on, for the joy set before you, to the high calling of the Lord!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris & Hospitality

Permission to be cynical? Caveated by the fact that I spend much less time paying attention to the news than I probably should.

Why is it that I see so much more about the terrorist attacks elsewhere now that the news is covering a terrorist attack in Paris?

Granted that the other terrorist attacks matter, and supposing the gap in news coverage is unjustified, the problem is not in the coverage of Paris, but in the lack of coverage of others. Supposing that problem, then, repentance will look like more coverage of the other terrorist attacks from now on, whether or not such news will sell, whether or not people care, and whether or not it makes us feel good to care about it.

Repentance will look like more caring, not hiding behind pseudo-care to avoid having to care about yet another evidence of the utterly fallen state of this world. Let us mourn for what is before us rather than diverting attention far and wide. Focus on the brokenness of this world, and call on the God who is just and will bring justice. Hope in him, and know our need for his great and perfect justice. He knows more than we do how broken this world is, and he cares more than we do. So much so, in fact, that he sent his Son to die--so great is our injustice and his justice--that we might live--so great is his love.

We were hostile toward God, yet he welcomed us into his kingdom, making peace with us by the death of his son. We crucified Jesus Christ, as we killed the prophets before him. He came to live among us, and we rejected him. He gave us the land, and we profaned it, worshiping idols in his house.

How then, since God has welcomed us in this way, shall we seek to exclude people from the kingdom? And if not from the kingdom, then how much more must we welcome them into our earthly dwellings?

There are things to be considered regarding how we keep terrorists from entering our land, of course, just as there are considerations regarding who is permitted to approach the Lord's Table. Yet the Israelites were called to welcome the sojourner among them, yet command them to keep their laws, and to exclude them if they would not. Therefore, I say, let strangers come in, yet hold them to the same standard as others.

I do not know how we strike this balance. This is a broken world. I do not know how the balance was struck in Israel. I do know that we must welcome the poor, the stranger, the widow, and that we rarely do. This is our guilt. We who are strangers on earth, shall we turn our backs on those who flee from their homes? We who are not yet at home, shall we, who know the yearning for our heavenly home, refuse to shelter others in our lands?

I do know that our home will come, and on that day justice will be served by the King. He comes to make things right. Therefore we seek to bear witness to his justice and mercy by showing the hospitality we do not deserve to the least, though they do not deserve it, and though they will not earn it.

Explanation/P.S. I have a paper due at the end of the month on the theme of Hospitality and how it is developed in the Bible.

Christian Authenticity

Authenticity is contrasted with going along with the crowd. It is often regarded as lazy, thoughtless, and a being imprisoned by what others think. It is what Disney calls us to, saying "be yourself".

There is something very dangerous about this. It leads, in the form it is in today, to an individualistic rejection of authority, of doing things one's own way without much thought to how it will affect others, which is contrary to what the Bible teaches. It is, then, solipsistic in the end.

But we desire something in this. What is right and true and good in this which is now perverted?

The end of the above article sparked the thoughts to follow. In brief: it is when we recognize that we are under the good authority of God that we may ignore what others may think and truly find ourselves. It is only then that we may truly pursue what is truly mot valuable to us, to love the sweetness of God.

As Christians we are authentic in that we recognize who we truly are, as in the image of God, yet sinners, and are freed from sin, so that we are now justified sinners. We need not be concerned with what others think of us, for it is the judgment of God with which we are concerned.

We are enabled to do as we desire, and to desire what is truly good for us. Do what you want! But only once the Spirit has changed your hearts so that you want what is good. This is freedom: to love what is good.

Certainly, freedom is not to be found in mere legalistic obedience. The obedience to what others--not ourselves--desire is legalism. "Affirm this" "belittle that" this is the law of our age: to affirm all those who let anyone be, lest you be shamed and hated. The obedience to what God commands is an obedience born out of love for God and is therefore a free obedience, and because we know that our lives are hid with Christ, we are not afraid of the merely human punishments. Thus we are freed to do what we desire, when we desire the holiness of God.

This is not a freedom from right and wrong, but a freedom to do the right and avoid the wrong, as the Holy Spirit empowers us. And it is a freedom to admit when we do wrong, for our Father who is in heaven forgives us--even cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

This is not a freedom from authority, but a freedom found in the right authority. We will regard someone as the authority. If we regard others as our authority, then we will be enslaved to them. If we see ourselves as the authority, then we can never be wrong, and we deny our experience of life as finite and fallible. If you are the authority, then why do you feel guilt or shame? Why is there any need to apologize? Why do you submit to teachers who grade what you write, or to courts which say "do this"? If you are the authority, then what about me? If you are the authority, then truly "no rights, no wrongs, no rules for me"--or anyone else. Then why are you bothered by famine and war and terrorists?

Then to whom shall we submit as the rightful authority? Some say we must muddle along, doing as best we can. Then there is no one to adjudicate right from wrong, no court to which we may appeal for justice on the earth. In the end, we must appeal to some authority, and we must hope that someone will bring justice.

Do you appeal to the right side of history? How do you know that it will not turn out bad for you? Come, we expect justice. We all yearn for justice. If there is no one who will finally bring justice, then we yearn in vain. If it is up to us to bring justice, then we make ourselves the authorities.

Is there no way out? Is there no authority? Is there no one who will bring justice?

We proclaim that there is one to whom all authority has been given, who died to save us from our sins and brings justice, who will come again to judge the living and the dead. We are not the authorities, but we submit to the one who is. In this we find freedom from oppression, freedom from striving, and freedom from guilt and shame. Yes, even freedom from sin.

Therefore we proclaim the one who is greater then us. We proclaim because we are under compulsion, for so great is our love for him who saved us that we cannot resist but are burdened for those who have not heard that there is a king in heaven who will bring justice.

And because the one who saved us was regarded as a sinner, as accursed, so if we are counted sinners and accursed for his sake we will rejoice in that we are counted worthy to share in his suffering. I say "for his sake" for we do not desire to be counted sinners and accursed as those who are truly sinners and accursed are, those who reject our Lord and refuse his mercy. But if the world calls us evil for obeying the Father who made us at the first and who remade us in the image of Christ, then we have no reason to repent for we know that the God of justice calls us good and righteous and perfect in his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

So we do what our God commands, and we can do nothing else without being inauthentic to the new nature which has been placed within us by the Holy Spirit. For we see that we have been made a new creation, and are now called to live like it, to live in the truth in which we have been called. Indeed every command which we have from God is this: to be who we now are, his people, holy and blameless. To do otherwise would be the true being false to ourselves. And so we call out with the Gospel to those lost in darkness, to those who do not know themselves, that they are lost and in need of a savior, and in that savior they will find themselves.

The world is desperate to find themselves, but we have found ourselves in Christ. The world thinks it is free because it is a slave to its passions, but we have been freed from worldly passions, having been given the desires fit for us, the true love which is from God, and which has been evidenced in Jesus Christ who died to save us from our sins, not being willing to lose his handiwork, but being merciful towards us. The world does not know this love, and yet calls out "love, love" where there is no love.

Surely, their hatred devours them. For we hear how depression is on the rise, and though we know that we remain troubled by such things even as Christians, yet we also know what the world also knows, that depression is often an anger turned in toward oneself. But who are we to judge ourselves in this way? The Lord judges and he has justified us. But the world knows nothing of this justification, and so they  hate themselves for their imperfections and even for their finitude, for they think they are right to judge themselves, being their own authority. Behold, if we they have no grace toward themselves, how will they show grace to others? For this is why many commit suicide: because they have no hope. Yet we do have hope, and so let us cling to that hope and share that hope that some might be saved, and not only from this death but from the one to come. For it is by this hope that we hold on to the truth, not submitting to the falsehood which surrounds us, but keeping ourselves holy in the Lord.

We ourselves are not yet wholly purified, though we are pure before God, and God holds out mercy to us when we fall. So, then, if we find that we judge ourselves as if we were the authority in such matters, we must reach out to receive the grace which we received at first, to receive forgiveness from sins and remember that God has loved us with an unfailing love, not because we were good but because Christ is good and paid the debt we owed. Indeed, see how unlovable we find ourselves in such times, and know that we are more unrighteous in ourselves than we know, and then behold the grace of God, that he should love us so much that he would save us by sending his son, Jesus Christ our Lord, that whoever trusts this Jesus for forgiveness of sins is forgiven.

So it is that we are free, because when we sin we have forgiveness through Christ, and because we are being made perfect like Christ. So that when we find ourselves perfect in heaven--what we cannot imagine now--we shall say "this is who I truly am and was, and now I will be" yet now we must die to ourselves according to the flesh that we might become more like we will be, as we eagerly anticipate that perfection which is now so alien to us that we grasp for our old selves, though they are not who we were made to be. We find ourselves in this age so inauthentic that we do not know what true authenticity would look like, but in the day to come we will be fully, as we were meant to be, and as we are growing into, remade in the perfect image of Christ.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Appeal to Authority

Appeal to authority is commonly heard as the name of a fallacy. However, sometimes it is appropriate to appeal to an authority, as when we have questions about a topic which is generally relegated to experts, and where the experts are in relatively good agreement. If you want to know how far away the Earth is from the Sun, appeal to authority is fine, and just about the only way most of us will learn that information. Similarly, germ theory, basic genetic theory, and the top ten hits are all things we know, most of us (if we know them), on the basis of authority. The question, then, is when appeal to authority is fallacious.
 The most obvious case where appeal to authority is fallacious--and this is covered in any decent logic textbook--is when the authority is not an authority in the right field. Stephen Hawking on religion, or, the usual example, pick a celebrity on almost any topic.
 The other case where an appeal to authority is insufficient is when someone else can establish the contrary by appeal to an equally valid authority. This may be regarded as a subset of the above, but where no one can claim to be an authority on the issue. There are an enormous variety of cases where we depend on this kind of authority, however. Medical professions have many areas where we must follow some authority or another, but they disagree and are equally valid authorities. How are we to proceed? Here the concept of a burden of proof is helpful. The way we tend to go is to follow the established majority, which may or may not be right. We cannot all study the issues involved, so some kind of authority must be involved, but the authorities, on certain issues, disagree--and this is true in any scientific field, the issue is that in medicine we must go on.

So there is a puzzle here. We cannot simply appeal to anyone with a medical degree as an authority, but we cannot all get the proficiency with concepts required to evaluate the research ourselves--and if we did, we would likely have a smaller chance of getting at the truth than those whose profession it is. So, in general, we go with the majority unless we have encountered arguments and evidence which provide reason to think that the majority is suspect. Such arguments can be very difficult to evaluate, however, because they can easily use technical jargon which appears to establish a claim, yet which might not.

With issues like these it is helpful to step back and establish heuristics which we can apply to the conclusions, of the form "if the studies give x kind of conclusion, something has probably gone wrong." For example, if studies seem to show that we should, in general, eat in a radically different way than we have always eaten, either the reason should be shown in how we live radically differently (and there is probably an issue with how we are now living in that case) or something has probably gone quite wrong. Another might be, for a Christian, if studies show we should altogether avoid things which the Israelites were supposed to eat (e.g., meat, unleavened bread, wine), then something has likely gone wrong--which is not to say that we ought to eat the same as the Israelites did. Also, the right diet is liable to result in our enjoying food more. And those are just about diet. Things regarding surgery and other medication would be harder to establish, but hard thought could probably get some kind of conclusion-heuristic thinking running sufficiently to enable us to evaluate at some level the more disagreed upon practices. Some of that thinking goes on in bioethics, but this kind of thinking would be broader than that.

This kind of approach needs to be done carefully. We need to avoid gut-reaction kind of thinking that says "I don't think God would allow such-and-such" unless we have good reasons, grounded in Scripture, for thinking so. I have heard people who don't believe wormholes or time-travel are possible for this reason, which strikes me as odd. Our God is big enough to handle all sorts of things which might make us uncomfortable, and humans have, historically, been uncomfortable with all sorts of things. People once claimed that flight was impossible because if God had wanted us to fly he would have given us wings. These are cautionary tales of this kind of conclusion-heuristic thinking going wrong.

The final case that I intend to cover here is where the question is such that the idea of an authority on the issue is itself invalid. Again, this can be construed as a form of the first or second instances, where we are all counted as authorities and yet many reasonable people disagree. What is an example of this? In my view, there are some philosophical and theological issues which fall into this category. Even granted that Scripture is always a valid authority, the issues we address in theological and philosophical discourse usually cannot be settled by an appeal to another mere human's argument or view, even if that other person has a PhD in a relevant field. This does not mean that we all need to delve into such issues at the PhD level, and it does not mean that PhD's are no better off than the rest of us, but it does mean that if we are to claim a doctrine we should understand the arguments pro and con at some level, at least long enough to see how the arguments work. With theology, because it is always applied, we need to have enough of a grasp of where the doctrines come from to understand how they should work out, and to establish a great enough confidence to live them out. The conclusion-heuristic thinking approach can be helpful here, too. One very important criteria is this: does this doctrine either rest on or support the essential gospel of doctrines? That is, does the doctrine either show the cross in a more beautiful light or under gird the cross work of Jesus Christ? True doctrines tend to wind up at the cross at some point. True doctrines should serve to increase love for God and others.

Life under God is communal, and thus we have teachers in the Church, but it is also individual, and so we each must come to know and love God for ourselves.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Perspective on Evil

As human beings, we desire to see the big picture of what is going on. I think this is partly behind the success of news outlets: they give us a sense of knowing what is happening all over. And because we do not trust that someone is in control of things, we get upset by what is happening, and want to fix things. But we cannot.

Anyone can recognize that worrying about the direction the world is headed does not do any good. Many recognize that we surely are not all supposed to uproot our lives to do something about it, and even that if we did, we likely would make only a small dent in things. Others devote themselves to causes, good causes, but so often the cause becomes all that matters.

The true worldview must be able to handle this situation. That is, whatever is ultimately true, it must enable us both to care about the sorrows of this world, and yet live balanced lives. It is ironic that the extremes tend to be callousness toward sorrows and caring about some cause, and that the causes can so often overshadow people. People become so passionate about causes that they no longer care about other people.

We must see even our causes as overshadowed by something greater, or our causes will become more ultimate than the people we claim to serve.

"And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
"But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to counsels, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" Mark 13:7-13
 In this passage, Jesus places the news into perspective. The bad stuff--and it is bad--is to be expected. Expected, but not minimized. Yet it is placed in perspective by the last sentence: "But the one who endures to the end will be saved" There is a hope that we hold, that there is a God who holds the whole world in his hands, and who will, in the end, make all things right. So we work hard to make things better now, but we know we will not make things all better, for only God can, and God will. It is in light of the finished work of Christ that we can claim that we already have the victory, and this enables us to care, knowing that God, too cares. And it enables us to put causes in perspective, caring for others with the love of God, which we have seen in Christ, rather than caring first about what we do, for in Christ it is all done.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Linguistic Minority (or "What is Love?")

Wittgenstein's insight into how language works is that you cannot separate the words, sentences, sounds, etc., which we think of as the language from the way of life, the habits and such, in which it is used to communicate. He therefore spoke of "language games" to refer to that complex whole which includes both the sound production by human beings, and the following actions taken by humans in response.

To change the way of life, then, must often change the language in some way. Conclusion: being the moral minority means being the linguistic minority in certain ways. Further, to maintain the same language as the surrounding culture will, at least, exert enormous pressure to maintain the same way of life as the surrounding culture.

Now, it is obvious that we do not quite speak a foreign language in the common sense of "language." I grant that. I use language above because it is the way Wittgenstein presents it. However, it will fit our sensibilities--our language, as it were--better if I now switch to "dialect." We speak a different dialect, and it is different in important and life altering ways. Wittgenstein seems to think that language must be fine as it is, and that there is no moral component to our linguistic practices (PI 98, but particularly the received linguistic relativist Wittgenstein), but you can only grant that if you think there are no wrong ways of life. If there are wrong ways of life, those ways of life will have dialects, and those dialects will only make sense from within those ways of life consistent with those wrong ways of life from which the dialect originally arose. The dialect, then, will present issues, traps in our thinking about ethical and social issues. This term has issues to--this "Christian dialect" is translatable between languages and, I want to say, is actually the redemption of those languages--but it is the best I have so far.

This is not merely theoretical. The common culture uses the term "marriage" in such a way that to see the Christian dialect as using the same word, and not a similar word in a different dialect, presents issues. If we do not distinguish between the meanings of our words in our dialect and the meaning of the broader culture's identically sounding words in their dialect(s), we will be unable to coherently present our way of life.

If state-sanctioned "marriage" and traditional Christian "marriage" are the same word, then when Christ almost entirely bans divorce, divorce is banned for both, and we end up effectively forced to endorse state-sanctioned marriage as proper. The same goes for an enormous number of other terms, but chiefly "love". Biblically speaking, Christian love must be a different concept than secular love. 1 John 4:12 "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." In this passage, particularly in context, love is defined by pointing to the love of God in Christ's sacrifice for us, and is restricted to believers. If you love, then you are a believer, and, so, if you are not a believer, you are not able to love. However we flesh out the concept further, these parameters require us to hold that what happens when a Christian loves is very different from what happens when a non-Christian "loves."

It is not surprising that the point where it is most obvious that Christians must be speaking a different dialect. The ethics of Christianity is centered around love: the greatest commandment is to love God and is followed by the command to love our neighbors (Luke 10:27). For the Christian ethic to be distinctive, then, the Christian understanding of love must be distinctive, and for us to understand the Christian ethic, we must understand Christian love.

Christian love revolves around and is defined by the love of God in Christ's saving work on the cross. This is why we cannot love apart from being Christians: we cannot love apart from the salvation from hate which Christ works by killing our old, hateful selves, and we do not know what love is, really, until we have seen it and received it in Christ. Throughout the New Testament, the concept of love is defined by pointing to the cross. The cross redefines love, and thus defines the Christian ethic. The Christian ethic, then, is inseparable and unattainable apart from the Christian message, the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith.

To say that we should just love one another, then, is to say nothing until we have defined the concept of love. We must not toss the word around carelessly, but define it by reference to Christ, as in John 15:13 and 1 John 4:10, and Romans 5:6-8 and 1 Peter 2:21 hint at the same way of thinking. To think of love as a simple concept is contrary to Scripture, for if it were simple, then, since the Law is summed up by two love commands, why is the law so long? Why not leave it at such a simple concept? And even in the New Testament we have numerous commands which are likewise summed up by the same two commands. An immense amount of space in the Bible is dedicated to fleshing out this concept, if indeed Jesus is right that these two commandments sum up the law and the prophets. We cannot, then, assume that we know what it is to love, and we will come into conflict with other groups in our use of many terms, not least this one, and need to be aware of the differences in meaning which underlie similarities of speech.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

BenOp: First Steps

This post on MereOrthodoxy triggered a line of thought which I often have when reading posts on the BenOp. That line of thought is this: what in my upbringing most prepared me to live out of Christian presuppositions rather than out of the more common presuppositions which surround us in the current world? My answer to that question will likely be biased by what I liked--I'm a thinker, so I am tempted to emphasize the thinking end of things--but the question can still be helpful for those of us who find ourselves, to some extent, already living in an out of place way. Those of us who do stick out on account of Christian convictions should be thinking about what has enabled us to do that and what sustains us in doing that, so that we can then report on what has worked. This is particularly important for those of us whose way of doing the BenOp-ish life is ordinary and thus easier for more people to envision living in the pattern of.

My first thought is that making Sabbathing together sacred sets us apart in such a way that reinforces to ourselves that we are first Christians. When you find yourself having to say "No, I am not available on Sundays" in response to most requests (jobs, regular sporting events, etc.) that teaches you what you are first, what identity overrides all others. But that is just Sabbathing. I am suggesting Sabbathing together as what is to be set apart as sacred. Stopping all regular activity to come together with others and slow down enough that you can really interact, enough that there are expanses of time to talk about things, helps bind us together into a community.

My second thought is that talking about how we are different--not necessarily better, but first different--helps us to see how the Christian life differs. So, to have a community where we respond to movies and advertisements and books by recognizing the life they present as different, and particularly to discuss how the gospel makes that difference, how the life that some settle for apart from Christ is, really, sad. These discussions are not meant to be academic, although those inclined toward academic stuff may find these discussions, in one way, more natural, but instead these discussions are a way of developing a Christian vision and imagination for how the world works. It is a way of developing, not only a vision for how they are wrong, but much more for developing empathy for how they are lost.

These are things I grew up with. At a certain level, they are not hard. Granted, developing the Christian imagination may be something harder to get off the ground, but that is an area where we, as the Church, can learn from one another. I am not suggesting come together merely as isolate families, but as churches, as diverse, intergenerational communities, where we can learn and develop a Christian imagination from our elders in the faith. There may be a need in some places for some people to stretch themselves to glean from writers who have thought deeply about how the gospel affects culture, but not everyone needs to do that work, because the few who do ought to then be articulating and exploring the connections they are seeing with others, thereby teaching others what they are learning.

What is needed is not a new organizational structure, but a new willingness to slow down and discuss, intelligently and empathically, life and godliness. Some will be strong in discerning logical patterns, others will be strong in grasping the sadness of lostness, we need one another to develop our imaginations after the mind of Christ. The first step to the BenOp, really, is to become the body of Christ. And that begins with one person reaching out to another to prod them to think and empathize more deeply, more Christianly, more thoroughly about all of life. It is as simple, and as difficult, as asking "how does the gospel impact how we do this?" over a wide variety of areas, and then being struck, as we, perhaps, wathc movies, read books, and see how different they portray the way to do life. How do they answer the problems of life without the gospel? How does the gospel answer the problems better?

These are discussions. I do not think that what is needed to support Christians living as strangers in the world is answers to these questions, although those are good, but that we would think this way. If our hearts move in Christian rhythms, then our lives will be distinctly Christian. Too often, BenOp conversations are about what we can do, and implicitly, usually, it is what we can do to strengthen our hearts in Christ, but it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that what we are after with these alterations to our lives is not merely that our lives would be different, but that our hearts would be more strongly Christian, so that the world would no longer tempt us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Reason for Heterosexuality in the Creator/creature Divide

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)
 The unkillable debate regarding the appropriateness of what is called homosexual marriage tends to try to go on in a non-theological strain, with occasional debates amongst Christians about what the Bible says about it. But the What the Bible says question tends to just be about whether the Bible condones or prohibits homosexual relationships. This post is an attempt to circumvent historical studies suggesting that this passages does not mean that the Bible prohibits homoexual behavior, and then to elucidate what the reasoning behind that prohibition seems to be.

The prohibition is in verses 26-27 "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." So, to circumvent the questionable historical studies, read: "For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another" and assume whatever you like about how such relations went at the time. What does Paul actually appear concerned with here? It is set up as a switch, not from one style of relating to another, but from heterosexual partners to homosexual partners. They gave up A and adopted B and the only difference Paul notes between the two is homo/heterosexuality.

So, then, what is the logic? The preceding two verses, 24-25 "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." That is, because they switched from worshiping the Creator to the creature, God gave them up to switch from heterosexuality to homosexuality. How does that work?

Among theologians, there is what is called the Creator/creature divide, based on passages like this one. The point made by it is that God is a completely different sort of being from us. Creatures are contingent, and have their existence in a completely different way from a necessary being, i.e., God, the Creator.

In God's relationship with  his people, of in Christ's relationship with the Church, there is a relation between two fundamentally different kinds of beings. There is the Creator in relationship with the creature. And marriage images this. On that basis, I think we can understand what happens here. When we give up the recognition that our lives are lived in relation to an utterly other being, we will tend to give up the idea that marriage should be between fundamentally different sorts of human beings.

I think we can see this happen in other places, too. As we become more inclusive, and more willing to say that people can get to God through a variety of means, we should expect polygamy, because it makes God out to be a polygamist.

Now, one might argue that this connection is silly, because most people do not explicitly draw any connection between their views on God and their relationship to him, and marriage. What I am suggesting is that we do not need to be explicit about this connection for it to do its work. We are designed so that our views about our relationship to God and our views of marriage will affect each other. This may be part of why it is so easy for romance songs to go too far and sound like worship of the beloved.

If we conceive of the greatest, most important relationship possible along certain lines, we will be inclined to seek to develop our greatest, most important earthly relationship along similar lines. It will necessarily provide the template for what that kind of relationship is like.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ockham's Razor and Reductionism

Here is a decently common argument for Naturalism or Physicalism:
1. Ockham's Razor: the simplest explanation of the phenomena is the best
2. Anything beyond the physical is more complicated and unnecessary
Ergo: 3. We should use the physical to explain everything.

1 is fine, 2 is the one I want to poke.

Here is my thesis: the complexity of an explanation cannot be determined by merely counting the number of kinds of things it involves. That is, while if the only difference between two theories was that one included non-physical stuff and one stopped with the physical, then the former would be the more complicated. However, if the former also explains the phenomena in a more straightforward way, bringing in fewer additional principles or new laws of physics, etc., then the question becomes more complicated.

In this particular case, for instance, is it really simpler to assume that only physical things exist (matter/energy) and that certain configurations of matter/energy give rise to conscious experience, or is it simpler to assume that some kind of non-physical stuff is required for consciousness? It does not seem, to me, that it is particularly straightforward. It may be that supposing a new sort of thing that by fiat can handle consciousness is no better than supposing that certain configurations of old stuff can handle it--neither really explains why the configuration or stuff should give rise to consciousness. On the other hand, some think that it is absurd to suppose that the non-conscious can give rise to the conscious, and so it is less complicated to explain the conscious by hypothesizing a conscious sort of stuff than to try to explain how non-conscious stuff can give rise to conscious stuff, or why we should not treat our couches as conscious. Thus, a new kind of stuff may create fewer additional problems than stopping with matter/energy, and in that sense be simpler.

However, why shouldn't we just hypothesize a new kind of thing every time we encounter a problem? We could almost always argue that it would entail fewer new problems. My answer to this is to note that I do not disagree that adding new kinds of things increases the complexity of any theory it is added to. There is a balance to be had, and weighing these is probably not a straightforward task.

What we are dealing with in this task is a cost-benefit-analysis-type situation. Some of these costs are the cost of adding a new kind of thing, or a new principle of how things work. We also have to deal with benefits that a theory brings if it is successful. There are also costs in the realm of everyday life, although these rarely come up. An example is that, with quantum mechanics, we needed to find a way of talking about quantum effects that left us able to retain such presuppositions as the principle of non-contradiction. Leaving the world in a state where we can live in it according to our theories is an additional desideratum for any theory, then. The cost associated with losing our ability to integrate our scientific outlook with our everyday outlook without contradiction, so that scientists believe themselves to be contradicting their scientific beliefs by walking across the street, for example, is, I believe, an insuperable cost. Any account of consciousness and choice must recon with these, whether it is scientific in the usual sense, or philosophical.

The scientific outlook is premised on the idea that we can live in the world, and that we can live better in the world by better understanding the world we live in. If a theory throws that presupposition out the window, then we find ourselves in fundamental conflict with the world around us. From a Christian perspective, this is not permissible because we believe in a good creator God. From any other perspective, however, it is prima facie possible that our pre-scientific awareness of the world, and our pre-scientific lived assumptions about the world, are in conflict with how things actually are in such a manner that our default, instinctive, basic manner of dealing with the world may be irrational according to how the world is. It may, for example, actually be irrational to talk of moral oughts, rationality, choice, beauty, or altruism. Without a presupposition in place that says that this is unacceptable, we cannot rule out the possibility that our discoveries are all totally false, that the external world is an illusion, or that our scientific program will lead to Lovecraftian physics textbooks, the reading of which would drive people insane.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


"I'm a Christian but I'm not..." so goes most of my generation that claims Christianity.

Most recently, this has appeared in Buzzfeed's video. Read this, it addresses a lot of good commentary, which I do not intend to repeat. It also has a transcript.

This phrase, this meme--it is that viral--serves to distinguish the one saying it from the Church. "I'm a Christian, but don't bundle me with all those other Christians." Are we so content to separate from our brothers and sisters? Are we not supposed to seek unity in the body of Christ?

Is this what Paul meant by "stir one another up to love and good works"? Is this what it is to love the body of Christ? Can we respond to 1 John 4: 20 "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." by honestly saying that we have loved our brothers?

There is a virus in our culture. We love to hate. Everyone hates Americans, even Americans ("I'm an American, but I'm not culturally insensitive"), and this is the same language, the same attitude, but it is Christians hating Christians. We try to make ourselves look cool by mocking our own group with those we want to look cool to. It is ugly. These are the schismatics of our day, who would divide the body of Christ for the sake of human glory, who refuse the hard work of "...discern[ing] what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2). Let us rather by transformed as a holy people.

I've written articles on most of the issues being raised (if flippantly) in these "I'm a Christian, but I'm not..."s, and I haven't seen anything to suggest my arguments are wrong. I've seen arguments that go contrary to my own, but been unconvinced by them. "To go against conscience is neither right nor safe," (Luther) particularly conscience informed by Scripture and observed by reason in submission to Scripture.

They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35), but "I'm a Christian but I'm not like the stereotypical Christian" does not sound like love. Even if it were right to not be those things that people are saying they are not, we are not saved by what we are not. We are not saved by being educated, pro-gay-(")marriage("), feminist, or any of the other things the recent video. Neither are we saved by being the opposite. We are saved by the grace of God for us when we were sinners, and we have been justified by his grace, so that we are no longer merely "not perfect" but also perfect before God because we are clothed with the perfection of Christ. We may not end with "I'm not perfect" but must also recognize that this is a problem we cannot handle, and which must be handled.

Our love is a transformational love, for Christ's love has transformed us. It is a sacrificial love, for Christ suffered and died for us. It is an offensive love, for Christ did not die for being inoffensive.

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

This text follows the part where Paul appeals to the Corinthians to be united. We must be content with this, which appears as foolishness to the world, or we will be divided, and we will dilute the gospel. We must present the gospel in all of the offensiveness which it has, "...lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" 1 Corinthians 1:17

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nahum 3:8-13

“Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile…?” This section is a comparison of Nineveh to Thebes, which was destroyed by the Assyrians already by this point. This question is the lens through which the rest of the passage is to be viewed. Thebes was great too, you know, but she was destroyed, why do you think you will fare any better?

“Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with waters around her, her rampart a sea and water her wall? Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers.” Nahum says that this is what Thebes was like, and is implicitly saying that Nineveh is quite similar. I do not understand how Thebes had waters around her, her rampart a sea and water her wall, but evidently there is a way of looking at Thebes which rightly makes her appear that way. And Nahum looks at Thebes, and sees her defenses, and her fall, and then he looks at his present situation, and looks at Nineveh, and he sees that, since the first fell, so, too, might the latter, and, as a prophet, the LORD reveals to him that the latter will, in fact, fall.

“Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity;” so we have, then, Thebes was well protected too, and she had strong allies too, but in the end none of that saved her. “her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains.” Thebes was publicly humiliated. Those who should have been safest, the infants, were dashed in pieces, and not on the highways, but at the head of every street. In the city itself, in the open, the were dashed to pieces. Thebes was shown to be impotent in this way: she could not even protect her infants. Well, one might say, infants can be hard to protect: they cannot defend themselves, after all. And so Nahum turns to the other end of the spectrum: her honored men, her great men, those who should have been able to defend themselves. Thebes was utterly humiliated on both ends: she could not protect those she would have most known to protect, nor those she should have been able to most easily protect. Her defenses did not defend, she was exposed to the invaders, in spite of all her power and allies.

And so, Nahum goes on to tell Nineveh, you cannot expect any of those defenses to save you either. As he says, “You also will be drunken; you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy.” This comparison, to make it more relatable, perhaps, is as if one were to respond to someone who was winning a tournament, who said “No one can beat me!” “Ah, you quote the last champion, who you are now beating! Why should I believe you, when he appears to have been wrong?” Look around, reader, what do you hear from the rich and powerful? Are they happy? Are they satisfied? Does it go well with them, or do they seem to have their lives under control? Do we not hear, again and again, of those who, through mistakes or misfortunes, fall from power? They had wealth, and friends in high places. They had successful careers and promising futures. Yet how many of them have fallen? How many have been publicly ridiculed? Do you trust in those things which you have seen fail others? Why should it be any different with you? Why should it not also go poorly with you? But trust in the LORD, not wealth, not fame, not friends, not your own power, but the LORD, and he will preserve you. I do not guarantee that he will give you wealth or fame or friends or power, but he will be to you wealth and fame—for being watched by the LORD is better than being watched by the whole world—and the greatest of friends, and the most powerful one. By drunk with the Spirit, hide your life in Christ, seek refuge in God.

But if you do not trust in the LORD, then what is said of Nineveh will, whether in this age or the one to come, be true of you, “All your fortresses”—all those things in which you trusted rather than trusting in the LORD—“All your fortresses,” Nahum says, “are like fig trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater.” Those fortresses? They are ready to topple. What kind of fortresses are these, that fall as easily as ripe figs? We are not accustomed to picking figs, but the same may be said of apples: when you shake an apple tree with ripe apples on it—or even, sometimes, when you brush such a branch gently—the apple does not wait to picked, but falls to the ground. These fortresses will be as easily taken as that.

“Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars.” Your troops are as good as troops, and your gates are as good as gates, as your fortresses are good as fortresses, which is to say: you may as well not have any of it. Your army is worthless, your gates may as well be wide open, and your fortresses will fall as easily as first-ripe figs.

“Your troops are as women in your midst.” The women, I take it, were not trained as warriors, or were not expected to be very good at fighting anyways. Your troops are untrained, and may well have never thought of fighting—or that is how good they are. Your defenses against this world are weak, you go out to fight with dull blades. Your bullets are confetti, your artillery is jammed. You think you keep the LORD away with these? They are as nothing to him. He will do as he wills, and nothing can stop him.

“The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars.” You may as well give the burglar the keys to your safe, if the LORD has chosen to have your safe burgled. His will is decisive—not that we ought not properly safeguard what the LORD has entrusted to us, but in the end, it is the LORD who decides what will happen to us and our things. We cannot keep him out of our lives. If we reject him, he will invade to destroy us. If we welcome him, he will enliven us. If he has determined to enliven us, we cannot stop him.

Your wealth is no safer now than it was just prior to the collapse of the housing bubble. Your job is no safer now than it was just prior to the Great Depression. Your home is not so safe that it might not be burgled or burn to the ground. Your health could deteriorate at any moment, you could be hit by a car today, or get cancer. Your friends could desert you. I do not seek to make you afraid, except if that should make you place your trust in the LORD who is sovereign over all these things rather than in created things. Your fortresses are really crummy fortresses, but “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble” (1:7). Your fortresses will not save you, you cannot fight for yourself,  you cannot save yourself, and you cannot keep God out of your life. Your only hope must be that the LORD will be your fortress, that Christ Jesus will fight for you, and that the Spirit will enter into your life to restore you to newness of life.

This is good news. Your fundamental insecurity in yourself is good news. We do not usually hear it as good news, we usually hear our insecurity as bad news and try to do something about it. Just the other day I saw an advertisement or infomercial for generators which had several testimonies of how people had lost food in their fridges, or their basements had flooded when the power went out, and how they used to worry when they left their house for fear that the power would go out and that would happen again, but who now feel safe because of this generator. Now, it may well be reasonable to buy a generator, but this advertisement appealed to our fears, our worries, our desire for earthly security. There are ads telling us to stock up on food, to take self-defense classes, to learn first-aid and CPR, so that we or our friends and family won’t die when bad things happen. Thousands of advertisements appeal to our desire for security, telling us that if we buy this product or take that course we will be able to better ensure our own or our family’s safety. Now, protecting our safety and the safety of others is good, but it is not ultimate, and, ultimately, we cannot ensure it. Why is this good news? It is good news in the same way that it is good news to hear that you and I are sinners, that we can do nothing to save ourselves. If we cannot make ourselves secure, if we cannot save ourselves, then we do not need to worry about saving ourselves. If we cannot save ourselves, then our failure thus far to save ourselves makes sense. If we are sinners, if we are fundamentally insecure in ourselves, then we have no reason to be concerned with making ourselves more secure in ourselves. If we recognize that, as far as what the LORD can do to us, our generators have dead batteries, our sump pumps are as hoses turned full blast, our refrigerators are as boxes of moldy bread, in short all our works are rubbish, then we will have no reason to be concerned with our lack of generators, sump pumps, refrigerators, or good works, insofar as none of these can save us from the wrath of God. We are all wretched sinners, separated from God and meriting his just condemnation.

The gospel goes further, of course, it does not leave us all separated from God. It says not only that you cannot save yourself, but also that Jesus Christ, God become flesh, has died so that whoever believes in him will be saved. The sin which separates you from God has been dealt with in Christ Jesus if you have been joined to him in his death. You cannot save yourself—only God can. The gospel is both that you do not need to save yourself because Christ has already done it all, and also that you cannot save yourself, so that you must trust wholly on Jesus death and resurrection, hoping in his righteousness applied to your own account. And this enables us to let go of our own protections: if God saves us, if God is for us, then who can be against us? What can mortal man do to me? If God has numbered my days, then why should I be concerned about the time of my death? If God is God, then I do not need to fill that position, if I trust him. And the gospel is that if we do trust him to save us, then he will save us, and all things will work together for our good. In Christ we are preserved from the wrath of God, and we are no longer judged for our sins, but we are disciplined and pruned, for our heavenly Father is good to chastise us and teach us. So we do not now say, “I do not, really, need a generator, for it cannot save me,” but, since the question of whether it can save me or not is no longer here nor there, “I do not, really, need a generator, for if the LORD my God sees fit to deprive me of electricity, then it will be for my good, and if it would not be good for me to be deprived of electricity, then I will not be deprived of electricity” and we can be confident of this because we know that if God did not spare his own Son for us, but gave him up for us, how shall he not with him give us all good things? But I am not saying to be foolhardy with what the LORD has entrusted to us, generators are not bad. It is the worry that is bad, for it betrays a lack of trust in the LORD. A generator bought for the glory of God is not bad, but good, just as when the exiles returned they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem for God’s glory. If the LORD would preserve your electricity through a generator, so be it, for he has similarly preserved your life through the preaching of men, by which you heard the gospel. Yet it is, in the final analysis, fully and only by grace that you have been saved. The preaching was given you by the will of the LORD, and your generator is only able to work because the LORD sustains it. If you buy a generator in worry, then it may well fail you in order that you might learn to trust the LORD. This would be good: to trust the LORD is better than anything else, it is better than food in the fridge, it is better than whatever is in your basement, it is better than light, and internet, and the reading of books. Read the Word of the LORD, meditate on it day and night, lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge him. Read it now, while it is still light, that when darkness comes you may remember it, and meditate on it, and so grow in the Word of the LORD, and thus grow in true wisdom and knowledge and understanding.

What of Nineveh? She is destroyed. She is flooded by her false protection, she is drunk. Is this good news? Yes. It is good because we must have Christ alone for our salvation. Nineveh rejected the only possible protection: the LORD. We must desire, then, that her fake protections be shown fake. We are glad to see that what we have said is true: that salvation belongs to the LORD, and to the LORD alone. Nineveh falls because she stood on her own defenses, her own works, and they must fail her, just as they will fail anyone who trusts in them. If our works could save us, then we would not need Christ, nor would we have to trust in him alone. If the enemies of God stood, then could we reasonably say that their trust was false? Could we say that one ought not trust in human devices, but only on God? If everything turned out just fine for everyone, then what advantage would there be in Christ Jesus? Nineveh must fall that Jerusalem might stand. And there must be a Nineveh, that we may see, that we may behold, that we might exalt in the wrath and justice of the LORD our God, that we may see that he is good to call us to trust in him alone, that we may see that apart from him we would die. This glorifies the LORD our God, and in that we rejoice.

Here is one more thing to notice: Nahum is concerned about Assyria conquering Judah, and he is able to look around at the nations and see that Egypt fell. He draws from this the conclusion that Assyria, too, may fall. Assyria was a wicked and powerful kingdom, she did not expect to fall. Nahum looks and sees that other nations have been just as strong, yet fell. What is the power of nations before God? He is the one who raises up rulers, and brings them low. Nahum knows that he need not fear Assyria because he can see the similarities between Nineveh and Thebes well enough to recognize that the LORD is powerful enough in Nineveh’s case, just as in Thebes’s, to send her into exile. Here is the point: we do not need to worry about what the kingdoms of this world will do to us. It doesn’t really matter, ultimately, whether we are ostracized or persecuted or anything, God is still in control, and he still has our best interests in mind. The Supreme Court of the USA is just the highest human court in the land, it is not that powerful. The LORD has their hearts like rivers in his hands, he directs how they shall go. And, as utterly unthinkable and unlikely as it is, America could fall tomorrow, just like Assyria fell. Rome fell, Alexander the Great’s empire fell, Hitler’s Germany fell, the English fell as a superpower. Or America could stand for eons, if the LORD wills. In either case, what is that to you? You, follow Christ. Christ who conquered sin and death by his death on the cross. There is the ultimate enemy of Christianity defeated. The devil’s head has been crushed. If God could destroy the devil by the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, then why not bring down the lies and iniquities of today by the troubles of his children, the Church? And would this not be a glorious opportunity? We would be imaging Christ! The servants are not greater than the master; we would rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake, however mediocre the suffering.