Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Encore


Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

—Eleanor Farjean

Ever since I first read G. K. Chesterton’s work, Orthodoxy, I have been intrigued by the notion that God is still creating the world and everything in it. Chesterton proposed that just as a child delights in seeing a thing done again and again, so God delights in the “monotony” and repetition of creation every day. “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them...The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE!”

Is it possible, then, that every new emergence—every blade of grass, every butterfly, every billowing cloud—is a new and special creation invented out of God’s wisdom, excitement and artistry. He paints each pansy as it emerges in the spring, he colors every leaf in the fall. He ponders every act of creation, shouts “Encore!” and the whole business begins all over again, the business of creation that began “in the beginning,” and is still going on to this day.

If then every new emergence is a new creation, it follows that every human conception is a new creation. God says, “Let us make a human being in our image, according to our likeness”—and a human life springs into being! We think of the process as natural: we conceive a child and it grows to term on its own. In truth it is preternatural—creatio ex nihilo as theologians say: the creation of matter and spirit out of nothing. (It occurs to me at the same time that any given conception might be God’s final creation, in which case the human race would very soon be extinct, for our existence, despite our heroic efforts to perpetuate ourselves, is solely dependent on God’s creative handiwork.)

Chesterton suggested the idea of on–going creation to me, but David, Israel’s poet, convinced me, for he describes God first “musing” and then “weaving” David together in the darkness of his mother’s womb. He did so, David insists, “before one of them (the various elements that became ‘David’) came to be (were in existence)” (Psalm 139:13–16).

In other words, God created David out of nothing—no, out of himself. He imagined the person that was to be, and then brought that person into being according to a pre–imagined plan. (The Hebrew text reads, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance and in your book they [David’s “component parts”] were written day by day before there was one of them.” The metaphor is that of a “journal” in which God wrote his ideas of what David would become and then brought each idea into being through his handiwork in the womb.)

Put another way, we begin as a gleam in our Heavenly Father’s eye and are shaped by Love into a unique, immediate creation—immediate in the ordinary sense of “unmediated,” in that we come directly from the inventive heart and hand of God.

That means that I am special and so are you—and so is everyone else in the world. This being true I must be pro–life in the purest sense of the word in that I sanctify all human life[1]—Stanford University sophisticates and untutored semi–illiterates; Seattle socialites and skid–row derelicts, winsome children and doddering curmudgeons, fundamentalist preachers and left–wing political pundits, anti–abortion enthusiasts and pro–choice activists. All persons–all classes, ages, sexes, and races–are unique productions of the Creator’s genius.

Which is why Jesus said we should never call anyone a “fool.”[2]

DHR


[1] The Bible supports the sanctity of human life and not the sanctity of life in general for it is human beings alone that are created in the image and likeness of God, i.e., more like God than any other creature.
[2] Jesus’ word, hracá, means “worthless.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Severity of God


If thou hadst not
Been stern to me,
But left me free,
I had forgot
Myself and Thee.

—Ben Jonson

God’s severity is not a popular subject today. We want a deity that lets bygones be bygones, that excuses sin with an avuncular, “boys will be boys.” But love devoid of judgment is nothing but sentimental and insipid kindness and God is not merely kind. C.S. Lewis said: “Love is something far more stern and splendid than mere kindness.”

Kindness doesn’t care whether its object is good or bad, helpful or harmful, but love cares. God is love and perfect love will not stand by while we destroy others and ourselves. He will strike at our sin and if our hearts are entwined with it they will break in the process. We may lose everything we have—our health, our homes, our reputations, our fortunes—everything but the God who loves us.

“It is bastards who are spoiled,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “The legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.”

Love in action can be a harsh and terrible thing, but it is always redemptive. Its wrath drives us to the end of ourselves and draws us back to God. Like the Prodigal, we come back home, because there is no other place to go. Then God can begin to restore us and undo the damage we have done.

Sin is sweet. It has its allure and pleasure—but it also has its tragic aftermath. Thus God must come after us; he cannot help himself. As long as peaceful, gentle methods work he will gladly employ them. “He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). But if we resist his love we will experience his fatherly discipline. He will let us have our fling and we will experience in our bodies and souls the results of our folly. He will not give up until he has broken the heart of our resistance.

“God opposes the proud, but exalts the humble,” scripture affirms. A broken and humbled heart he will not despise. When we have come to the end of ourselves he is there to “save us to the uttermost,” as the King James Version put it (Hebrews 7:25). God saves from the “guttermost to the uttermost,” my father used to say.


There is nothing too hard for God to do; nothing he will not do. He knows how to use our pain and heartbreak to draw us back to his love. He also knows how to use the wounds we have afflicted on others to draw them to his healing. The wrong we have done can be set right; the results of our sins gloriously redeemed. That’s the God we have—the only God worth having.

DHR

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Respite


“He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1)

I think of the weariness of those who have struggled with sin their entire lives, rising only to fall again. Is there no respite?

Peter assures us that those who have “suffered in the flesh” have “ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Here, it seems to me, Peter is using the phrase “suffered in the flesh” to mean, physical death (as he does in 3:18). Accordingly, he is declaring that it is death that puts a final end to our struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. Then, our Father will deliver us from sin and its pollution.

To battle sin within and without, with no hope of deliverance, is demoralizing, but a day is coming when we will be “finished” with sin. (Peter’s verb tense suggests a completed action). We will be taken beyond sin’s seduction, gathered in and wholly sanctified. We shall see Jesus and be like him!

That prospect of certain, final victory encourages us to live, as Peter puts it, “the rest of the time in the flesh not for human passions, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2). In other words, we can be strong and battle bravely against our sins, for, though we may lose an occasional skirmish, final victory is assured. The good work that our Lord has begun will be completed. Sin will be finished with us and we will be finished with sin.

English poet, George Herbert, has written a poem entitled “The Pilgrimage,” in which he describes his struggle with sin as a series of grueling ascents, assaulting and overcoming one mountain peak only to face another. “Can both the way and the end be tears?” he asks. Then he sees a final hill—one steep gradient and then eternal relief and consolation. “After so foul a journey,” he sighs, “death is fair, and but a chair.”

So, press on. “There is a rest for weary pilgrims, a calm for those who weep” (Herbert).


DHR 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Gift of Language

May my musings be pleasing to him.” (Psalm 104:34 NJB)

As far as I know, human beings are the only creatures that use language. I'd have to be Dr. Doolittle to know how much animals comprehend, but, though they use and understand sounds and signals, they do not seem to understand language as such.

I say to our dog, "Do you want to go riding in the car?" She wags her tail and runs to the back door. What awakens her interest is the sound of the word "car." If I say, we’ll go riding in the car tomorrow," she will still run to the back door. The subtleties of language—words, grammar, and syntax—make no sense to her. They do, however, to us.

Have you ever considered the sheer power of language? We conceive an abstract thought, connect that thought to a word and communicate by means of ordered written or spoken symbols. The symbols are arbitrary—I may think "dog" or "perro" or "hund" depending on my native language—but assuming a common understanding of the meaning of those symbols, I can communicate a series of abstract ideas in my mind to others. The process for my communicants is exactly the reverse: they hear and understand my words and turn them into thoughts that become part of their thought processes.

That’s a blessing and a curse of course. Bitter, angry thoughts can become harsh words that leave indelible marks on another person’s soul. On the other hand, kind thoughts about others and the words that convey those thoughts can bring healing and wholeness. Is it not a wonderful thing to cast a hopeful thought into someone's mind?

Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart (mind), and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his (mind). For out of the overflow of his (mind) his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Words are formed in our thoughts deep within us. Good words come from the good in us; evil words flow from the evil thoughts we’ve accumulated in our minds. If we want to deal with our words it’s not enough to control our words; we’ve got to get our minds right.

I think of those occasions when I have spoken in harshness. The root of my sin was the ugly thought in my mind: I was angry with my brother and unwilling to forgive. Words flowed spontaneously and unrehearsed from my thoughts.

How then can I get my words right? Not by merely controlling my tongue, but by filling my mind with God’s thoughts—thinking about my brother as God thinks about him.

That said, I do well to fill my mind with God’s thoughts  about his children: “thoughts that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 The Message).

DHR

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