Archive for September 2012

Ye fight and war, yet ye have not

September 26th, 2012 — 2:27pm

If Paul could say to a church that it “completed” his joy when they were likeminded (Philippians 2:2), I think one could say it completes a pastor’s grief when his sheep are divided by conflict among themselves. Some pastors dread every week the ring of the telephone: “X and Y are fighting again.” It makes the pastor’s heart sink.

Why do we humans fight with each other? Why do some of us seem to thrive on it? Why can we not seem to disentangle ourselves from conflict even when it’s killing us? Why does the Cain and Abel story play itself out (albeit not always, thank God, with the full extent of violence) again and again and again?

The invariable answer, were one to ask one of the combatants, is that it’s the other person’s fault. Cain the murderer sprang from Adam and Eve, who blamed others in the presence of the Lord.

Focus on the other combatant is the reason why conflicts cannot be resolved. This isn’t hard to explain. Each combatant comes to the relationship with a certain degree of emptiness. (In Cain’s case, apparently, it was emptiness resulting from wounded pride.) To be quite clear, emptiness is always something that originates in the heart of the one who experiences it. Put another way, emptiness is always something for which the empty soul must take full responsibility. It is true, however, that experiences in relationships can aggravate feelings of emptiness, and it is sorely tempting to view such aggravations as the source of the problem. It’s natural, then, to think that a change in the other person would be the solution (in extreme cases one might even wish the other person dead – Cain carried through on just such a wish).

No amount of change in other people, however – even their ceasing to exist – can ever fill an emptiness they didn’t cause in the first place. It is refusal to accept this simple truth from which human conflict derives its interminability. We fight and war because we lust for something our combat partner is incapable of giving (James 4:1–2). We will not face the fact that we ourselves, our own hearts, are the root of the problem.

Pastors sometimes despair of getting this through the heads of certain sheep. If ever they could, they might well be out of the conflict resolution business. You cannot live as a victor while you still think like a victim. Victory over self is the key to peace; only One can give this, and it is not the other person in the ring.

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

Quit wasting time

September 25th, 2012 — 11:57am

If the only way to really love sinners is to stop treating their sin as sin, we could probably quit wasting our time with the whole salvation thing as well.

Comment » | Gospel and Kingdom

Dividing line

September 21st, 2012 — 4:13pm

The line that divides humankind is not between those who are happy and those who are not. That’s the lie beneath all forms of discontent. Nor is it between those who have enough to be happy and those who don’t. That’s the great lie beneath the particular brand of discontent known as consumerism. The line dividing humankind is between those who have learned to be content and grateful amid the brokenness of the world, and those addicted to delusions and painkillers.

Comment » | Qohelet’s Musings

Rumours of glory

September 20th, 2012 — 12:59pm

Above the dark town
After the sun’s gone down
Two vapour trails cross the sky
Catching the day’s last slow goodbye
Black skyline looks rich as velvet
Something is shining
Like gold but better
Rumours of glory

Smiles mixed with curses
The crowd disperses
About whom no details are known
Each one alone yet not alone
Behind the pain/fear
Etched on the faces
Something is shining
Like gold but better
Rumours of glory

You see the extremes
Of what humans can be?
In that distance some tension’s born
Energy surging like a storm
You plunge your hand in
And draw it back scorched
Beneath it’s shining like
Gold but better
Rumours of glory

(Bruce Cockburn, Humans, 1980)

Comment » | Poets, Painters, and Playwrights

Historicity of evil

September 20th, 2012 — 11:01am

The Genesis narrative stands in contrast to the myths by reason of the historicity that it attributes to evil. The whole biblical conception of evil, we dare suggest, is inextricably linked with this unique feature. Nowhere else is evil denounced with such a tireless zeal, intransigence, horror and indignation. It is the disorder that finds no justification, the enemy and the work of the enemy. Nowhere else is the problem of guilt placed in such a central position. Nowhere else do you find such a clear insistence on the conversion of the human heart, that heart from which evil emerges and which must turn away from it. This ‘nowhere else’, which is plain for all to see, has an explanation, which we shall now disclose. Since elsewhere evil is inherent in the original being of reality and is part of the very definition of humanity, then elsewhere it must be excusable because it belongs to fate, and as such it must be invincible. There can therefore be no voice raised in protest against it. The myths and the philosophies that spring from them inevitably stifle the innate sense of the intolerable nature of evil, whether it is the evil one commits or the evil one suffers. But the Bible can stand as accuser and can awaken this sense, because it knows that evil was not there in the beginning, but arises from a subsequent, historical use of human freedom. (Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, p. 167)

Comment » | Science, Theology, and Priestcraft

A third way

September 12th, 2012 — 11:38am

What shall we say of Christian engagement with the world today? On one hand, we have those who think our engagement is pretty well exhausted by trusting Jesus for eternal life, telling others about this eternal life, and working on personal holiness. On the other hand, we have those who think we’re supposed to “redeem” every cultural life form we encounter, which means (in actual practice) embracing every such life form with a minimum of critical filters. What is weird is how much these two approaches share in common, despite their apparent differences. In both, whole tracts of human life are left basically untransformed by the lordship of Christ. The first confines transformation largely to the hallowed ground of personal piety (outside of character growth and adherence to obvious ethical precepts, the affairs of human life are either ceded to the devil or treated as neutral territory). The second scraps any pietistic pretensions and wallows comfortably in human fallenness. Where is a third way that embraces and enacts transforming grace (which is inevitably costly grace) in every sphere of human thought and enterprise, because it anticipates a day when our Lord will usher in the perfection of His kingdom, and sin will be no more?

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Debate notes

September 8th, 2012 — 2:09pm

I’ve been debating an atheist of the “New Atheist” variety over on Facebook. In the context of our discussion, a question occurred to me:

Assume for a moment the validity of materialist evolutionary cosmology. If over billions and billions of evolutionary years, natural selection has (so far as we can discover) eliminated biological life in every corner of the cosmos except one fleck of dust we happen to call home, and if the total elimination of all life at some future point is scientifically inevitable, why on earth (!) would natural selection favor the survival of our (or any) species? How could we possibly make the fantastic claim that the cosmos, in any sense, exists for our species (i.e., the processes of nature in some sense work in our favor)?

Comment » | Science, Theology, and Priestcraft


September 7th, 2012 — 9:44am

The disjunction of hearing and doing, or of reason and will, is sin. It is the failure of man to make the response that is appropriate to him as a free rational agent. In such a failure man himself seems to disintegrate into dissociated powers, into a rational self on the one hand, which has a cognitive relation to reality, and a voluntative self on the other, which consists of affections, emotions and decisions. This is the psychological aspect of the alienation of freedom. In the effective operation of the Spirit, to know is once again to will, or, to speak more theologically, to believe is to love. That is why we can speak of the work of the Spirit as witness and life-giver, his ministry to the reason and to the affections, as complementary aspects of one work and not as two. (O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 111)

Comment » | Gospel and Kingdom

Bridge over

September 7th, 2012 — 9:33am

Every man’s work, pursued steadily, tends . . . to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of his life. (George Eliot, Silas Marner, chapter 2)

Comment » | Of Books and Beer

Lost touch

September 5th, 2012 — 5:55pm

The sin by which man has bound himself is the determination to live fantastically, in pursuit of unreality. But freedom can be exercised only in relation to real possibility. Fallen man remains, of course, a being who goes through the motions of free decision, but he lacks that relation to the realities of the universe which could make such decisions effective for ‘perfect liberty’. Clearly the restoring of man’s freedom must involve his awakening once again to the reality of God’s creation as it is revealed in Christ. The work of the Spirit as ‘witness’ to the objective deed of God in Christ, and his work as ‘life-giver’ who restores freedom and power to mankind enthralled, are not two distinct works but one. For man’s thrall is precisely that he has lost touch with reality. (O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 109)

Comment » | Gospel and Kingdom

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