Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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Trust In Spite Of Everything

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Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog, and I have been restless this past week (thus, no posts for a few days) for various reasons. One reason is the heat. I acknowledge that we had a few days last week that only rose to the 80s F, but now we are back in the 90s F. When we open the door we are met by a blast of heat. This reminds me of T-Bone Burnett’s lyric: “seven times hotter than fire”. When I go to check the mail box, the BSD accompanies me, like always, but now he stops in the shade and looks at me like I am crazy.

When Jack is in extreme misery or his desires are frustrated, he leaves my office and goes into another room or outside, and lets out a huge howl. Then comes back to my office, calm and collected, as eager to please as ever. He just needed to release his tension. Sometimes I join Jack in my heart and let out a silent howl.

One reason for my restlessness is that my foot surgery is coming up this week, followed by (I hope only) a week or two of incarceration and then another month or so of being non-weight-bearing. You know from previous posts, like “True Freedom” and “Making the Best of the Unendurable”, how I feel about confinement. I’m not worried about the surgery; whatever happens, happens. c’est la vie and all that. Besides, I seem to have a rather high pain threshold. I usually have courage and endurance, by the grace of God, for the big issues. It’s the small things, like lengthy confinement, that sometimes drive me crazy. Sometimes, in moments of clarity, I can see that I am not thinking straight. However, this hot button for me, confinement, can be easily pushed, with spectacular results.

What do I say to someone facing a difficult future? I talk about living in “day-tight compartments”, as I have in a previous post. Don’t let the past or the future bleed into today, that is, don’t dwell on regrets about the past or worries about the future. God has forgiven your past sins and he will also, eventually, heal your past hurts and wounds. God holds your future in his hands; leave it there and don’t worry. Jesus teaches that since God takes care of the flowers and the birds, and as creatures of more value because we are made in the image of God, God will certainly care for us. So Jesus concludes: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things well be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:31-34, ESV) In other words don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow. And also, as I like to say, you worry about God’s kingdom and God will worry about you. Not that God worries, but you get the idea. Or as I used to place on church bulletins, right below our mission statement, these words: LIVE FOR GOD. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

I also talk about how the overwhelming experience of the love and presence of God drives out fear and worry; there’s no room left for worry. Consider a Bible verse like this: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18, ESV) I understand that this verse is focused on how the love of God drives out fear of punishment and the wrath of God. But I believe the text has a wider application. The knowledge and experience of the love of God tends to drive out all fears and worries. I like to say that the reverse is also true: perfect fear casts out love. We come to understand, if we live long enough and honestly, that: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10, ESV) If we leave out of our world-view the elephant in the room, the Creator of everything, who guides everything according to his will, who is in the process of renewing all of creation that can be saved (unfortunately some humans refuse to be saved and to acknowledge God) we miss the most important reality. We also learn by experience that: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” (Proverbs 29:25, ESV) To be pulled continually by the opinions of others, is to lose a coherent centered sense of self, to lose integrity. To sum up: fear the LORD, bow the knee in your heart and reverence him (this is not servile, cringing fear or terror!) OR fear everyone and everything. We need to be reminded of this daily, even moment-by-moment. I will try to remember this as often as I can in the weeks ahead.

However, here is my problem. I am not worried about the unknown. I will trust God to be in control and that he is weaving the tapestry of my life into something finally good and beautiful. I’m not worried about the unknown; I’m bracing for what I know. I have been here before: unable to walk for a year in 2003-04, being non-weight-bearing in 2013 for about four months and a few other incarcerations. I may be deluding myself that this is not just a lack of trust in my Father. Like I said, sometimes I see that I’m not thinking straight, but tonight I will wrestle with this sense of bracing for what I seem to know.

It’s time to bring out the big gun, and for me, that’s the book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity, says the Preacher” are words that you may have heard before. The Hebrew word ‘hebel’ is often translated in English as ‘vanity’, it means literally something like a vapor or mist or almost a nothingness. ‘Vanity’ leads us to think of ‘useless’ or ‘meaningless’, but ‘vanity’ is not a necessary translation of ‘hebel’. If we translate ‘hebel’ as ‘vapor’ we can think of the fleeting nature of human achievements and pleasures, of how, in certain moods, we are able to see that everything is unsubstantial, in a way, and that from a pessimistic human point of view, nothing really lasts except our relationship with God, and no one can finally be depended upon except God. The Preacher/Teacher points to many reasons for pessimism (I won’t say despair). What we build and pass on to another, might just go to a fool. A wise man, that through his wisdom saves a city, is soon forgotten. Magnificent achievements, like the building of palaces and vast gardens can lead to ennui, boredom, a sense of meaninglessness. One could update the list of achievements for the 21st century. The pleasures of massive amounts of sex, with many wives and concubines, leaves the Preacher jaded. Other areas of life are treated from this perspective and you can check them out in Ecclesiastes 1-10. But for our purposes, I can sum up what we will wrestle with in these words: “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” (Eccl. 10:1, ESV) I take this to mean that there are beautiful and wonderful realities in our lives; but there is something in life that seems to pull everything south, or one can think of entropy, that without constant infusions of energy and creativity, energy becomes more diffuse and everything tends toward chaos. I am tempted to give you my hard-earned theory of programs and organizations here, but that will have to wait for another time.

So is there a way to trust God for the future and to live wisely in a world described like this? I take my cue from parts of Ecclesiastes 11-12. The preacher counsels us to:
“Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” (Eccl. 11:1-2, ESV)
“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” (Eccl. 11:5, ESV)
“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” (Eccl. 11:6, ESV)

At the most basic level these verses call us to act, rather than be paralyzed by the realities that the Preacher has described. And one can be paralyzed by demanding perfect circumstances before one acts: “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” (Eccl. 11:4, ESV)

But at a deeper level, these verses ask us to live generously and expansively. I think the “bread” in 11:1-2 is a metaphor for human products; bread, after all is baked, produced by humans. The picture is of products sent on ships in the Mediterranean Sea, with some ships lost in storms, so that the more ships that are sent out, the greater the chance of success.

The spirit in verse 5, reminds me of Jesus (John 3) saying to the Pharisee Nicodemous that the Spirit is like the wind: one sees its effects, but doesn’t know where it came from or where it is going. God cannot be tamed, domesticated, put in a box or tied down. We do not see all that God is doing or all that he will do. In that sense, we do not know the future, but we still can trust God on the basis of what he has given us to know, including his revelation of his character in the Bible and in Jesus Christ.

The “seed” in verse 4, reminds me of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (or Four Soils). You might remember that the Sower threw his seed out broadcast style, as was the practice of the time. He sowed the seed generously and indiscriminately. The seed, representing the gospel of the kingdom of God, that Jesus preached, was thrown abroad into four kinds of soil, representing differing degrees of readiness for the gospel of the kingdom.

So the Preacher is recommending, in the face of a world that seems to be founded on vapor and a future that is uncertain, that we act boldly, and especially act generously, be generous. There is a long-standing practice, in Israel and in the Church, of generosity, and an equally long experience associated with that practice of the blessing of God. Here are a few texts to illustrate this:
“Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,
for he shares his bread with the poor.” (Prov. 22:0, ESV);
“[The excellent wife] opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.” (Prov. 31:20, ESV);
“Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;
the LORD protects him and keeps him alive;
he is called blessed in the land;
you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.” (Psalm 41:1-2, ESV);
“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Malachi 3:10, ESV);
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Cor. 9:6, ESV);
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor. 9:10-11, ESV);
Jesus said, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” (Luke 6:30, ESV);
And Jesus further said, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38, ESV);
St Paul wrote, “Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” (Phil. 4:16-17, ESV);
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19, ESV);
and finally this instruction to Christians, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:18-19, ESV)

Note that though we are called to be generous with money and material possessions, especially to the poor, we are promised that we “…will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way…” (2 Cor. 9:11, ESV) “Every way” includes encouragement to others around us, smiles, kindness, listening, time, prayer for others, help with spiritual and material difficulties, and for me, writing this blog, and so much more. And note also, that in this world which seems to be founded on vapor/air, as we live generously, we find that we are building “a foundation for the future” (1 Tim. 6:19, ESV). I make no apology for the fact that part of the treasure that we store up is to be received in the World to Come. After all we are creatures destined to live forever. So our perspective is much larger than the pessimistic view of life we started out with! We are destined for eternal joy.

What remains to be said? What other instruction does the Preacher have for us? Here is some of it:
“Life is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity [hebel, vapor]. Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement. Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.” (Eccl. 11:7-10, ESV);
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth…” (Eccl. 12:1a, ESV);
“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Eccl. 12b, ESV);
and finally, “Fear God and keep his commandments…” (Eccl.12:13b, ESV)

In the spirit of Ecclesiastes, let me suggest: work hard, sleep well and trust God. We have come full circle, and once again, we see that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…” (Prov. 9:10a, ESV) The Preacher has looked unflinchingly at life, and yet, sometimes obliquely, has helped us to see how we can live confidently and wisely and with trust in God for our future.

With St. Paul I affirm that “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28, ESV) Note that this promise is only given to Christians who love God and are called to live out his will. Note also that bad events still remain bad, but in the tapestry of our lives, even the dark threads are used to help make something beautiful, good and glorious of our lives. With Julia of Norwich, I affirm that in the end “All we be well, and all manner of things will be well.” With St. John, I rejoice that, “[God] will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4, ESV) And with C.S. Lewis, I affirm that, “All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have his good way, to utter satisfaction.” (The Problem of Pain)

This post was powered by the following albums: “Divine Discontent” (2002) by Sixpence None The Richer, “Rivers & Robots” (2014) by Rivers & Robots and “Before the Mountains” (2012) by Sarah Brendel.

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Fake Wizard or Awesome God?

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“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” – G.K. Chesterton (Introduction to the Book of Job, 1907)

The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible wrestles with the question of ‘Why do righteous people suffer?’ Also, reading Job, we find ourselves wrestling with the mysterious ways and hidden purposes of God, and also, with how we might respond existentially to our own searing suffering or the suffering of others. G.K. Chesterton again: “The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, the Odyssey because all life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle.” (The Defendant) I propose to make a bit of progress in unraveling the riddle of lived life before a majestic, mysterious God in a world that has just the odd features that it has. I will do this by rehearsing part of the story of Job, and then, comparing and contrasting Job and his God with my interpretation of the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz.

But first, let me say that there are a variety of arguments I could make in response to the problem of evil in a world created by a good and all-powerful God. For instance, I might wonder how a materialist would explain true evil in a world made up only of matter and energy. If then she shifted ground, and worried about how one could reconcile an all-powerful and good God with the amount of purposeless suffering in the world, I would ask how she can know that any instance of suffering is purposeless in a world created by God. We could talk about how consequences to actions (some of which will not be desired) are necessary for true choices/decisions, that is, free will. We could go into an explication of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible. I might recommend The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. Doubtless, I would talk about the problem of good. But that is not my focus in this post. Maybe another time…

Job lived in an unattested place called ‘Luz’. He “…was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1b & c, ESV) He had seven sons and three daughters (vs. 2). Job was very wealthy. He possessed: 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys and lots of servants (vs. 3). Job’s children were a central project for him. The children would often hold feasts together. When the feasts had run their course, Job would offer burnt offerings for each of them, thinking, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” (vs. 5c, ESV) Don’t you feel a ‘but’ coming?

The scene shifts to God’s throne. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD and [the] Satan (or the Accuser/the Adversary, see ESV margin. The def. article may be applied every time ‘Satan’ appears. Thus he would be like a prosecuting attorney.) also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ Then Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.’ So Satan went from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:6-12, ESV) All of Job’s possessions and his ten children are taken from him. A second divine court scene begins in chapter 2, with the same form as the first, except that God notes that Job has maintained his integrity and Satan is allowed to take Job’s health but not his life. The theme in a recent post about seeking God’s face and not just his hand, what he does for us, is explicitly inquired about: Will Job/people fear/love/serve God for no reason, for nothing? Job passes the first test (losing family and possessions) but whether he passes the second test is ambiguous, depending on where in the book one reads.

Look at Job’s initial response to disaster. Truly at this point Job will fear/serve God for nothing, for no thing. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22, ESV) I used to perform a song by Honeytree. The lyrics are these words of Job.

Job’s loss of all that he has, except his life and his wife, is a disaster, or rather a series of disasters. But the way it happens is a comedy too, almost like one of those Carl Hiaasin novels in which the villains are, little by little, progressively destroyed by a Rube Goldberg chain of events. I imagine this all happening in super slo-mo. As each of Job’s flocks is destroyed or stolen, in ingenuous ways, the attached servants are all lost; all except, of course, one servant to tell Job the most recent bad news and increase his misery. This is not the time to ask, ‘What else could go wrong?’ And finally, OF COURSE, all of Job’s children are killed at one of their feasts when the roof falls on them and, of course, just one servant survives to come and tell Job the bad news. There is Job now, with “loathsome sores” (2:7) all over his body, having lost all, except his wife who he might have been willing to do without. She hectors Job: “‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.'” (2:9)

Three friends of Job show up to comfort and sympathize with him (near the end, a fourth, Elihu arrives). They can’t recognize Job from a distance. They throw dust up in the air, rip their clothes and sit silently with Job for seven days and nights. Sometimes, in the presence of great suffering or grief, just quiet presence is best. Rushing in to impose explanations is often not welcome. Sometimes, like the three friends (we’ll see), we speak to impose answers to selfishly deal with our own discomfort, confusion and doubts.

“After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said:
‘Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
“A man is conceived.”‘” (Job 3:1-3, ESV)
Cursing and cussin’ was an art form in the Ancient Near East. Job is, perhaps, saying that he would give up all the good he has experienced in his life if that would also mean that he need not experience the recent disasters. I have felt this way before and I have heard others express similar feelings. But it’s amazing what a little good health will do to change one’s mind!

What do you suppose will happen when Job or you talk this way? You’re right of course! Friends and family will say that one ‘can’t’ talk that way. And if one casts doubt on the justice or goodness of God, then people will labor to provide explanations for the suffering, partly to comfort their own souls. Most of the Book of Job (chapters 3 – 37) chronicles the arguments, back and forth, between Job and his friends.

There is a strong thread that runs through much of the Bible. If one keeps the covenant with God, does good and keeps the Law, one will be blessed in life on earth with possessions, health, protection, happiness, etc. On the other hand, if one breaks the covenant, does evil, breaks the law and sins against God and humankind, one will be cursed in life on earth with poverty, disease, war, misery, etc. This is a simplistic summary of this thread, but there is a tendency. This thread is sometimes called the Deuteronomist because of the association with the Book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible. Deuteronomy tells of how Moses led Israel to renew their covenant with Yahweh just before they entered the land which Yahweh promised them. They shouted the vivid blessings from one mountain and the blood-curdling curses from another mountain. But some Israelites, especially in Wisdom literature, noticed that life didn’t always work out as neatly as the Deuteronomist indicated. Even if the Majority Report, so to speak, proclaimed that 99.9% of the time the LORD blessed the righteous and punished the wicked, writings like Job, Ecclesiastes, and some of the Psalms, noted that that is not always the case. Even Jesus taught that the Father sends rain and sun on the righteous and unrighteous, that a man was born blind not because of his sin or his parents’ sin, but that the glory of God might be seen in him (Jesus healed him), and that the men on whom the Tower of Siloam fell were not particularly wicked.

The speeches that Job’s friends launched at him were mostly from a Deuteronomist viewpoint. Job has some secret sin. Job is sinful for saying he hasn’t sinned; he is self-righteous. Job questions the wisdom of the Almighty. God is good, just, etc. And so on, chapter after chapter. Some of their speeches about God sound so true and orthodox! Some of them are true, just incomplete or given in the wrong spirit or given at the wrong time in the hearer’s life.

As the conversation continued, Job’s hopes and articulation of them developed. He said things like this:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27, ESV)
A Christian who reads these words may be forgiven for a shiver or hairs standing up on one’s arms. One thinks immediately of the Word made flesh who came and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. God took on flesh and came to earth in Jesus of Nazareth. The Hebrew word translated ‘Redeemer’ is, if I remember, ‘ga-ol’, which includes the idea of a mediator who places his hands on two parties, bringing them together or sealing a covenant or agreement. One can see why, in his situation, Job would want a ‘ga-ol’ and also see why he would, in Job’s own body, want to see God “for myself.” Job continued in a similar vein:
“Oh, that I knew where I might find [God],
that I might come to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the
greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.” (Job 23:3-6, ESV)
From what I know of life with God, I must say: watch out what you ask for! Those who know the story, know that God does show up. But we must look briefly at why I place The Wizard of Oz along side The Book of Job. Then we will tease out two views of God’s response to Job. I hope that after all this, we will be able to see a simple point that we will, nonetheless, have occasion to use in future posts.

Consider some surface connections between Oz and Job. Dorothy is taken to the land of Oz; Job lives in the land of Uz. Dorothy is conveyed to Oz by a tornado; God shows up to question Job in a tornado. The Wizard lives in The Emerald City; “..around the throne [of God in his heavenly throne room] was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” (Rev. 4:3b, ESV) When Dorothy and friends arrive in the Wizard’s throne room there is a frightening display; “From the throne [of God] came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder…” (Rev. 4:5a & b, ESV) Maybe there is a parallel between ‘the yellow brick road’ and heaven’s streets that are ‘paved with gold’.

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz and many sequels, was a skeptic toward God and had a quarrel with him. It seems to me that The Wizard of Oz is Baum’s commentary on Job. Taken that way, God does not have the power to rescue, and when he appears before Job he just frightens him silly and does not give an answer with content. In the Wizard, Dorothy, the cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow finally discover that the Wizard can not save them and that all good that they find is inside them or already around them. The Lion has courage when he believes he has courage; the Tin Man has a heart when he believes he has it; ditto for the Scarecrow and his brain; Dorothy can go home when she simply clicks the ruby shoes together and says “There’s no place like home.” BTW, I was going to dis Toto as foo-foo compared to the tough and clever Jack, the BSD. However on further reflection, I have to give Toto props for not focusing on the illusion, but seeing things as they are and exposing the fraudulent Wizard.

Would Job have been satisfied to learn of the heavenly cause (a dare by Satan) of his troubles? I doubt that I would. What Job really needs is to have his vision of a good but majestic, awesome and holy God restored to him. The questions of God to Job do exactly that. Would you rather have the answer to a quiz question or have the overwhelming presence of God? Please read as much of God’s questions in Job 38-41 as you can. How do you feel now? More alive? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the the earth? …when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4a, 7, ESV)

I am fascinated that God appeared to Job in the tornado/whirlwind. It was not a dust devil like we have here in the Mojave Desert. It was something dangerous as befits a dangerous God. Somewhere G.K. Chesterton wrote something like, that those who worship a God of tornados, must at least some times, root for the tornado. There is something invigorating about that. Of course, I do want people to be injured, die or lose property. And of course, God also comes to us in a still small voice and other gentle ways. And yet… If we are to survive the overwhelmings of the world, we must be overwhelmed and saturated by the Presence, the Holy Spirit, the living water, the abundant life, the love and the burning heart of God. If we try to tame or domesticate God, we become bored, apathetic, listless and courage and heart leaks out of us. For more on the theme of overwhelming, which I frequently use, check out: The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday Life by David F. Ford (Baker Books, 1997).

I can’t leave this subject without reminding us of the lovely passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. The children have entered Narnia and are just beginning to learn about the lion Aslan (who is a Christ figure). “‘Is – is he a man?’ asked Lucy. ‘Aslan a man!’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not. I tell you that he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Ooh’ said Susan, ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.’ ‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver, ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’ ‘I’m longing to see him,’ said Peter, ‘even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.'” (pg. 75, Penguin Books, 1950)

Two writings by G.K. Chesterton that are somewhat like my thinking about living with questions and suffering are: “Introduction to the Book of Jobhttp://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/job.html and “The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare” This essay and book are available cheap on Amazon for Kindle.

We are coming to the end of my longest post so far. My parents are from Oklahoma, which is tornado country . My wife, Terry, is from Kansas, which is really tornado  country. I have been too close for comfort to several tornados, but probably never in great danger. One summer, we visited Terry’s family in Kansas. I saw a lot of t-shirts on people and at the mall that combined the themes of Kansas, tornados and the Wizard of Oz. I still remember two of them. One said, “Dear Auntie Em – Hate you, Hate Kansas, Took the dog – Dorothy. The other one said, “Dear Dorothy – Hate you, Hate Oz, Took the Shoes – Toto” Hey, that’s Kansas humor for you. Did I tell you that some of the good ol’ boys in Terry’s family like to chase twisters? Well, they do.

It’s been hot here, over 100 F. Jack Lewis is a smart dog: he avoids going out in the heat, and when he does, he stays in the shade. A few days ago I was reading one of my daily devotional books, this one from C.S. Lewis. The subject was forgiving. Lewis wrote that, rather than start with forgiveness of major villains, we start with the people around us: family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. This seemed like something I should do. Meanwhile, while I read and napped for several hours, I assumed that Jack was in the spare room. When Terry came home, Jack ran in with her. Caesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, says that dogs live in the present moment and do not tell themselves stories about the past. They respond to energy that comes from humans now. So, Jack came in and jumped in my chair with me, as though I had done nothing wrong. I don’t say that Jack forgave me, but that he didn’t hold a grudge. There is something to be learned from that.

Oh yeah, the end of the story. God said Job was right and his friends were wrong, and if they wanted to be forgiven, they must ask Job to make sin offerings for them. Job was given back his good health and became much wealthier than he had been before. He was given some incredibly beautiful daughters. But I fear he was stuck with his old wife. If you want to dialogue with me about meanings of The Wizard of Oz or about whether Job was an historical figure, let me know and we can do that outside of this web site.

Today’s post was powered by: “10,000 Charms” (2002) by the Robbie Seay Band and by “Live Under the Red Moon” (2006) by the Call.


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Making the Best of the Unendurable

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“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” – G.K. Chesterton (On Running After One’s Hat, All Things Considered, 1908)

I have not posted for a few days because I did not want to spread discouragement. Sometimes discouraging someone is a wicked thing to do. When we live in a world where people are slimed with evil or corruption and where entropy (The 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics) is a drag on all that we do, so that we must, with effort, create and maintain some beauty and order in our world, and keep some kind of hold on truth and reality, we all need all the courage we can get. C.S.Lewis wrote: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Courage is required for every other virtue. For instance, courage helps to make a love that endures. To endure the costs of our projects and dreams or merely to endure with patience, faith and hope the difficulties of life, requires courage.

What motivates these reflections? After an upcoming surgery on my foot, I am facing six or more weeks of non-weight-bearing and some time in a rehab center or skilled nursing facility. I have been in this position before: almost a year of not walking in 2003 and four months of being non-weight-bearing earlier this year. I’m not worrying about the future; I see the future. If you read my post, “True Freedom”, you might have a clue that I have ‘issues’ with loss of control and not being able to produce and just the whole captivity with no definite end in sight. Notice that I said ‘captivity’, not ‘confinement’ or ‘convalescence’. ‘Incarceration’ might not be far from the mark. For awhile I collected pictures of dogs, wolves and foxes caught in traps. I have heard that they will sometimes gnaw a leg off to get away. I would do that without hesitation. I have done not literally that, but some things very like that. I understand that millions of people around the world are going through great suffering that I may never face: Christians facing persecution or people with a terminal illness. Pain is not my issue; I may even have a high pain threshold. When I have broached this subject, people have said something like, “Oh yeah that must be uncomfortable but necessary for the desired result or to avoid something worse.” Well that is true as far as it goes, but I do not then feel understood on a deep level. Someone who could understand that with my temperament and experiences, the captivity might almost be worse than the disease, would give me some hope of being understood. Everyone that is working with me on health issues wants what is best for me and some of them love me. Sometimes I wish though, that one person on my health team would have the single aim of getting me out of captivity as soon as possible.

I believe everything that I wrote in other posts. Underneath me are the Everlasting Arms. God knows what is best for me and he is faithful and has never let me down. God will still use me for his glory, and to serve him is perfect freedom. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28, ESV) Moreover, I understand the wisdom of living in ‘day-tight compartments’. We should not let regret for the past or worry about the future to bleed into today, and it is only today that I can meet with God and know his presence. Perhaps, like many, your thoughts have leaped to St Paul’s declaration: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13, NRSV) I can add to that. Job in his understanding, by the end of the book, of God’s revelation of himself proclaims that, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2, NRSV) Jesus assured a desperate father with a demonized son that, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” (Mark 9:23cc, NRSV) I suppose you know that a ‘but’ is coming. Well, yes…

But still, while relying on God’s purpose and provision, the question remains of how to face and endure a known reality. Finding the quote above from G.K. Chesterton helped me to decide to make the time in captivity an adventure, especially an adventure in reading. I remember that C.S. Lewis sometimes enjoyed being home ill, because he could then plan and execute an ambitious reading plan for the duration. So I will try to go into receiving mode and make the best of it. I have tried this before with mixed results. I will certainly tell you if it doesn’t work.

Someone will suggest that if something must be done, it can be done. That is pretty cold comfort, and besides, not always true. However, I have observed that often when we think we can’t endure any more, we can endure a little more, and then we can add a little more to that, and so on.

“Alone of all the creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break.” – from Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

This post was powered by the album, “Worldwide Favorites” (1999) and the song, “Hopeless, Etc.” (1992, from “Dig”) both by Adam Again, and the song, “You” (1997, from “The Legend of Chin”) by Switchfoot.


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Speak to Your Soul

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“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11, ESV)
When Terry and I studied at the Swiss L’Abri in the 80s, Prof. Donald Drew would tell us: “Speak to your soul; don’t let your soul speak to you.” This thought is related to the example of the Psalmist in texts like the one above and also to the desire to not merely drift along with whatever chatter is happening in our heads, but to order our emotions to reflect what we believe, to Reality, to Truth.

In our culture, at least since the 19th century Romantic Movement, it seems natural to place a priority on emotions. I believe that, though we might not express it this way, we assume that we must obey our emotions and feelings. Otherwise, we are not ‘authentic’ or we are denying our ‘true selves’ or we are ‘phony’. I believe that what seems so obvious to us is really a largely unexamined assumption of our culture. I remember Woody Allen trying to justify his sexual relationship with his adopted step-daughter. He said, “The heart wants what it wants.” I remember a Christian television celebrity entitling her book, “I Gotta Be Me”.

Now emotions and feelings are not bad. They are part of our response to reality; they are an avenue of knowledge. They are also essential for motivation to act. C.S. Lewis found that a feeling of longing was part of what drew him to God, as he discovered repeatedly that what he thought he wanted did not satisfy his desire. God has made us so that we can appreciate beauty, order and truth. He has made us for delight and joy. I do not want to suggest that we should deny what we feel or repress our emotions. I just want to suggest that our assumption that we must obey our emotions is a particular cultural attitude that is relatively recent in human history and is in tension with our call to live in the light of God’s revelation of himself and of our world.

It follows then that we should feed our emotional life with that which helps to bring our emotions into harmony with what we believe. Daily Bible reading is important. The Psalmist’s “delight is in the law (torah, instruction) of the LORD and on his word he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1 from memory). We are promised the mind of Christ. This is where my saying, “The devil gets no space on my hard drive” comes in. For you IT nerds, I might have said “no space on my CPU”. I have a God-given mind with particular abilities. I will not use my mind for cynicism or lies. I will not engage in obsessive doubt. There is a place, of course, for asking honest questions where we really seek answers. But for a long time in our culture, since Rene Descartes (“I think therefore I am”), there has been an assumption that we must find an indubitable starting point for our thought, and then must engage in systematic doubt, so that we may believe only what cannot be doubted. Post-modernism has at least undermined this program and we should have understood earlier that this is an impossible program. I remember being caught in this mental hamster wheel. But now I seek to allow God to use my mind for his purposes. I am a ‘think tank’, if you will, for God’s people and I seek to understand my culture so that I can enter into the cultural stream and plant seeds that will change minds and maybe slightly move that culture toward openness to God’s love and reign.

What goes into our minds at the end of the day has great power to affect our emotions, especially if we have not taken the time to reflect on how our thoughts and feelings of this day fit into God’s story with us. Here is my theory of dreams. Dreams are mostly the mind processing the experiences of the day, coding them with emotion, making connections and starting memories on the way to storage in long-term memory. Sometimes God speaks to us or begins to heal us in our dreams. God has spoken to me in dreams. We all dream or have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, but only some of us remember our dreams. Dreaming is very important to our spiritual and emotional health. This can be seen in studies where people were given adequate time to sleep but were repeatedly awakened before they could enter REM sleep. Eventually, as soon as they were allowed to sleep, they would enter into REM sleep. People deprived long enough of REM sleep begin to hallucinate.

Many of us work or play hard all day long. At the end of the day we are exhausted. So we do something mindless or watch television (but I repeat myself) until we collapse, and then wonder the next morning where our feelings are coming from and why we are in a funk. Our unexamined experiences and emotions have gone into our subconscious. How much better would we feel if we followed the Hebrew pattern of beginning the day in the evening? We might reflect on our day and how it fits into God’s story and then think about our opportunities of the next day. We could begin our day in the evening by committing our night and day into God’s hands through prayer. God gives his people peace in their sleep.

Think also about how we might see films. Let me suggest that rather than just view them as entertainment, we see them with other Christians, and then go out for coffee together and discuss what we have seen from the perspective of what we believe about God, humans, creation, salvation and all that God has revealed to us through the Bible. If the film is important for our cultural engagement, I am not very concerned about what it is rated. What is important is that we place the film in relationship with our Christian worldview.

Let us speak to our souls:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5, ESV)

This post was powered by “Hollow Songs” (2008), “Mercy Songs” (2010), “The Vault 1: Live in Kansas City, December 2006”, all by Michael Pritzl, and “The Story of Our Lives, Pt.1 – The Fantastic Machine” (2012) by The Violet Burning.

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Veto Override

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In C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel, “The Great Divorce”, a group of ghostly inhabitants of Hell are given a “bus” trip away from the grey city, where they are left alone with their selfishness, to the out-skirts of Heaven. Each day-tripper is given a mentor to help them give up their old selves and whatever sins or perverse desires are keeping them out of Heaven and God’s melt-your-face-off joyous presence. Most of the trippers are unwilling to let go of that which they are asked to give up, and so, head back at the end of the day to a miserable but familiar existence in the grey city.

The protagonist, and Lewis’ mentor, George MacDonald, is given these words to speak, as part of a longer discussion: “Was joy created to live under that threat? Always defenseless to those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will be crossed? Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? The demand of the loveless; that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe; that til they consent to be happy – on their own terms – no one else shall taste joy; that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to VETO HEAVEN?” Isn’t this the attitude that many people have: if you are joyful, but I am miserable, than you are cold and heartless? And isn’t this the rationale of those who refuse to come into God’s loving presence: they “…would rather be miserable than have their self-will be crossed?”

All good and truth and beauty come from God’s hand. “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17, NRSV) Let’s add in here the quote of Lewis above, to the effect that there is no happiness or peace available to us apart from God, because these qualities are not just substances that can be dropped into our lives, but they are contingent on us being shaped to reality, including the reality of God. And further, we only know peace and happiness in a right relationship to the Trinity, to other persons and to other creatures. What brass to demand of God “Let me be happy – as I define it – without you!” Notice then that Hell is asking, demanding really, one of two impossible states of affairs. They want to be happy without God. Impossible!, all good gifts come from God. Or…their demand would permit sin and misery into the New Creation. Impossible!, God has made strong promises to his people: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
‘See, I am making all things new.'” (Rev. 21:3-5a, NRSV)

There are also some atheists or agnostics who strike a noble pose because of some atrocity that has happened to someone else. Think here of the character of Ivan in “The Brothers Karamatsov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Nonetheless, not only do they ask for impossibilities, but they demand an injustice toward the redeemed. And are they really concerned so much for someone else or are they merely rationalizing their own refusal to receive what God would give?

By the way, this post is powered by “Ep” (2008) by United Pursuit. I plan to expand these reflections tomorrow evening in my talk before the Southern California C.S. Lewis Society.