“It is perhaps even more useful to contemplate our stupidity than our sin. Consciousness of sin gives us the feeling that we are evil, and a kind of pride sometimes finds a place in it. When we force ourselves to fix the gaze, not only of our eyes but of our souls, upon a school exercise in which we have failed through sheer stupidity, a sense of our mediocrity is borne in upon us with irresistible evidence. No knowledge is more to be desired. If we can arrive at knowing this truth with all our souls, we shall be well established on the right foundation.” (Simone Weil, “Loving God with Your Mind”)
Archive for May 2012
A classic pastoral scenario:
Someone (let’s call him Q) is desperate for love, for relationship. Normal enough need. There’s a difficulty, though: Q insists that relationship be on his terms (most often his relational “agenda” is derived, however distantly, from biblical principles). When relationship doesn’t happen on those terms, Q starts behaving in ways that drive people away (aggressively or passively). If confronted about this, the situation is always the fault of others: after all (here the biblical thing enters again), God commands love and relationship, so why aren’t the others getting with the program? There’s no persuading Q that he’s either (a) demanding things God doesn’t explicitly command, or (b) demanding responses God does command, but which must be won and wooed from others rather than demanded. So he sits and stews, and feels more and more righteous in his woundedness.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve worked with this scenario. . . . And, let it be said, I myself have very often been Q.
Would-be reformers are known by the broken trail of people they’ve alienated. True reformers are found in quiet leadership and patient teaching by example.
Dear young single 21st century North American churchgoing male,
As I near the end of my thirties, I’d like you to know I enjoy the holy grail of pleasures you’re always fantasizing about. I’ve arrived. I’m there. Which is to say, I go to sleep every night and wake up every morning next to a fabulously beautiful woman, and we make great love together. There are moments lying in her arms when I can’t believe such delights exist on earth.
I want to tell you why I enjoy this pleasure, this privilege. And why you’re still fantasizing about it. Let me give you ten reasons.
1. I’m married. Unlike you, I’m not pretending that I’m married to a girlfriend. I’m not banging and fornicating and then showing up for worship (sometimes) on Sunday. I’m married. Let me put this differently: I’m committed. Before I ever shared this woman’s bed, I gave her a ring and my word till death. I promised some ridiculously ambitious things to her in front of God and a lot of other people, and I will carry those things through, though every gale in hell bar my way. She knows this, and it makes for great love.
2. I’m still married, ten years later. To the same woman. Who now knows what a consummate ass I can be. I don’t think I had her one bit fooled the day we wed; I’ve certainly got nowhere to hide now. She’s seen it all. And you know what? She still loves to go to bed with me. Despite the zillion times I’ve made her cry. Despite all my asinine stupidity and sin. Because I’ve been man enough, by the grace of God, to repent, and repent, and repent (God knows how much I’ve needed to). I’ve had to grow up in ways I didn’t even know about or want to know about; I’ve had to offload a ton of crap, and get down to the business of loving my woman as the greatest gift God ever gave me next to Himself. I’ve had to figure out how to make her feel special, how to make her feel like the treasure she is, how to be interesting and keep her interested, how to keep “I love you” fresh and green. I’ve done it for ten years, and she still thinks I’m the man (don’t ask me why). As for me . . . well, I can’t wait to get in bed with her, still, after ten years. Can’t wait to see what it’s like at twenty-five years, or fifty.
3. I’m educated. I don’t have your $60K diploma, but I spent ten years getting two postgraduate degrees; and far more importantly, I know a lot about how much I don’t know, because I read all the time, and I’ve thought long and hard about a lot of deep stuff. My brain works. It’s not strung out on video games and pornography. It’s part of why my woman still finds me interesting, even though she’ll always have more native intelligence than I.
4. I’m employed. Do let me be clear what this means. I work on principle, not simply as a means to a huge paycheck, and that means I’m employable in any economy. I started working when I was a child, at home, without an allowance. I was working outside the home by age thirteen, making something like $4 or $5 an hour. I’ve spent days in front of copy machines, cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors; and today I’m successful in my calling, not because I was able to sell someone on the completely unfounded idea that I deserve a six-figure income, but because I’ve done my time. My wife gets into bed with me knowing there will never be a time when I will not work my hind parts off to put food on her table. It makes for great love.
5. I’m her pastor. I’m married to a woman who needs to know and love God more than me, and my task every day is to serve her so her relationship with her God flourishes. She knows that my chief concern is how things are between Him and her. And her knowing that I put her first love first is a huge part of what makes our love so sweet.
6. I don’t skip worship. Ever. I’m a worshiping man, and we’re a worshiping family, before all else. First things first. See #5.
7. I treat her like the lady she is. She doesn’t buy the moronic idea that true womanhood is found in being treated like a hockey player. Or any other kind of man. Neither do I. I like to dress her up and take her out and open the door for her, because I like to honor her. And she likes it. It has never crossed her mind that I think she can’t do things for herself; she feels valuable and valued. And contrary to a lot of feminist bull#$%^&*, that’s a good thing.
8. I lead. I initiate. I make decisions. I don’t sit on the couch and wait for her to plan and pull it all off. I don’t expect her to be my mommy (or nanny) till I’m eighty-four. I think about what needs to be done, and I come up with ideas. I see what needs to be done, and I do it. This includes washing dishes. Everything in our life is my problem, not hers. The buck always stops with me. That said . . .
9. I listen. God isn’t my copilot. God is God. My wife is my copilot. And she sees all manner of things I don’t see. She has all kinds of insight I don’t have, and I never make a decision of any magnitude without her input. You and your girlfriend have never made any decisions of any magnitude, you both still live with your parents, so you have no idea what I’m talking about. But believe me when I say that fantasy about being in bed with a fabulously beautiful woman is just that, a fantasy, unless you’re a man who listens. With both ears. And his heart.
10. I ask for forgiveness. A lot. I need Jesus, and she and I both know it. And because she knows I know I need Jesus, she trusts me. She knows I don’t think I’m all that. She also knows I’m man enough to get on my knees and beg her for grace that I know she can only get from Jesus. Which I do, and she does, and this has everything to do with making great love.
One other thing: I have her permission to write this letter. Which also has everything to do with making great love.
My advice to you: Get a job (not the six-figure one you think you’re entitled to). Go buy a stack of great books. Read them all. Never again skip worship. Marry her. Stay out of her bed until you do. Stay married for ten years and more. Shut up and listen. One day we’ll shake hands and shake our heads together in disbelief that such delights exist on earth.
“Pentecost is nothing less than the establishment of the church as the new covenant people of God, as the body of Christ. The Spirit given at Pentecost constitutes the body of Christ as a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22), as the temple of God in which the Spirit of God dwells (I Cor. 3:16). Accordingly, all who have been incorporated into that Spirit-baptized body and have a place in it share in the gift of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:13).” (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost, p. 21)
“He who does not long for heaven estranges himself from God; for the forward movement of God’s work, the unfolding of all history, impels us toward heaven. He also estranges himself from human fellowship in its perfection; for it is in heaven that humanity will come to the perfection of beauty. Do you seek a perfect man? Seek him in heaven, beyond the purifying catastrophe of the last day.” (Klaas Schilder, Heaven: What Is It?)
I don’t know what I was expecting when I began listening to Hans Halvorson’s presentation at the recent Calvin College lecture series on Philosophy of Science, Faith, and Science, but it is a staggeringly brilliant piece of analysis. I would have to think when I have read or heard anything better on the subject of how the natural sciences interrelate with Reformed theological reflection upon scripture.
Halvorson’s Reformed intuitions (inculcated from childhood) lead him to conclude (with Augustine and Calvin, to name no others) that God is free over against His creation. This may sound obvious, but of course it has enormous implications for our thinking about whether certain actions predicated of God in scripture are scientifically “possible.”
He argues that proponents of the Divine Action Project have treated “nature” as something essentially autonomous, as something with the freedom of which God will not interfere; and that this notion of radical, autonomous freedom is anti-Augustinian. Think about it. Naturalistic, uniformitarian science and Pelagian soteriology are metaphysical sisters!
I hope this lecture gets trumpeted from the housetops in Christian colleges and universities.
“Learn to despise the place where you were born, its old customs, its glories and its shame. Then stick your head in a comic book. That done, you will be triple-armored against the threat of a real thought, or the call of the transcendent. Some people have no worlds for God to pierce through.” (Esolen, Ten Ways, p. 132)
“The past is dangerous, not least because it cannot go away. It is simply there, never to change, and in its constancy it reflects the eternity of God. It presents to the young mind a vast field of fascination, of war and peace, loyalty and treason, invention and folly, bitter twists of fate and sweet poetic justice. When that past is the past of one’s people or country or church, then the danger is terrible indeed, because then the past makes claims upon our honor and allegiance. Then it knocks at the door, saying softly, ‘I am still here.’ And then our plans for social control – for inducing the kind of amnesia that has people always hankering after what is supposed to be new, without asking inconvenient questions about where the desirable thing has come from and where it will take us – must fail. For a man with a past may be free; but a man without a past, never.” (Esolen, Ten Ways, p. 123)
“A church may be filled with creative ideas and overflowing with good works, but unless there be a sense of the presence of the holy there, of the presence of God – unless there be a capacity of worship – it is doubtful whether what is there is religion. Worship is not centrally an experience of ours; it is meaningless to speak of a ‘worshipful experience’ as if the holy were compounded of a clever arrangement of various kinds of lighting, sober music, proper tones of voice, and the softness or hardness of the pews, all so manipulated as to create a certain experience in us. Such ‘client-centered’ worship does not extend beyond the ceiling of the sanctuary, for here by finite media we seek to take the place of the holy, to create it synthetically. To these efforts to create a worshipful mood the usual congregational response is appropriate: ‘Preacher, I enjoyed it!’ But neither our manipulation nor the enjoyment are categories appropriate to worship. For God, not our own consciousness, is the object of worship; we experience Him, not ourselves worshiping. Worship is a response to the presence of God, our reaction to the appearance of the holy. And the point is not that we feel something then, though surely reverence, awe and wonder are normal; but that we relate ourselves creatively to him, that we respond to his presence in adoration and praise, in confession of sin and thanksgiving for mercies known and received. It is the relation to God, the felt relation to the holy – to the tremendous, majestic, awesome power and goodness of God – that is the core of worship. Thus we bow, thus we adore, thus we surrender ourselves – thus we experience God.” (Langdon Gilkey, How Can the Church Minister to the World without Losing Itself, pp. 107–8)