Is the “Eternal Power of God” being denied by Young Earth Creationism?

242

A Creation Scene from “Tree of Life”by Terrence Malick

The title of this post is stated in the form of a question, because in it I merely seek to raise  a question concerning the scriptural view of the age of the earth and the universe in which the earth exists. Part of the questioning format is due to the reason that I am thinking through this issue and do not wish to be unnecessarily dogmatic. Therefore I’m basically thinking out loud and putting my thoughts out there for interaction.

The scriptural text to be considered brings together what theologians call “general” and “biblical” revelation, which at times have come into conflict in Christianity. General revelation is the term used to consider what can be known of God apart from scripture. According to Millard J. Erickson general revelation is:

Revelation which is available to all persons at all times, particularly through the physical universe, history, and the makeup of human nature.

In contrast, biblical revelation, is what can be known of God through the Bible, and it is important to note that those that believe in God as the “author” of both revelations believe that they cannot ultimately contradict one another. But this supposition creates tensions and problems in the quest to harmonize general and biblical revelation. At the present time, the most obvious example of this is between those that believe that general revelation postulates that the earth is 4 to 5 billion years old, and those that believe that biblical revelation postulates that the earth is probably 6 to 10,000 years young. The former group generally holds to what is known as “old earth creationism” while the latter group holds to what is known as “young earth creationism.”

This post will present an important text that may very well bridge the supposed “chasm” between general and biblical revelation, because it is a biblical text and therefore biblical revelation that speaks of general revelation. What the text seems to present is the universal “manifest propensity” of the response of humankind in regard to what creation has always “taught” human beings regarding the age of the earth and of creation. It thus presents two things: 1) an empirical observation of what humankind has universally thought about the age of the earth and creation; and 2) a propositional declaration that God has intended that thought to be produced in all humans of all times. The text is Romans 1:20, a well-known one from  Paul who authored many of the books of the New Testament as many of you may know:

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.

Paul’s proposition is fairly simple albeit fairly radical, especially to our modern and postmodern ears. God’s “invisible attributes” have been “clearly perceived” by all people since the beginning of the world. The universality of this perception is more fully explained by Paul in what he wrote before and after the text of 1:20, but is hinted at in 1:20 by the words “they… (all people) …are without excuse.” Furthermore, the thing that Paul says is clearly perceived in creation “since the creation of the world” is God’s “eternal power.” Paul seems to be saying that creation itself seems to be “saying” to all people of all times that a main attribute of God is his “eternal power.” In other words, the observation of creation necessarily transmits an idea of eternality due to its own “given” attribute: creation itself seems to all humans to be eternal.

But this proposition of Paul, if I have given the correct sense of it, is dogmatically contradicted by Young Earth Creationists who deny that creation is old. To look at Paul’s proposition from the opposite angle, a young earth cannot produce the idea of eternality in and of itself. But YEC may respond by saying what they almost all admit, that the earth and creation “appear” to be old. But if that is actually the case it seems as though at least two serious problems arise: 1) Logically speaking, if the creation only appears to be old, then the correspondence between God’s and creation’s seemingly age-evocative attributes would also require that God only appears to be “eternal;” and 2) God’s intent that all humankind’s sense of his eternal power would amount to God presenting a false exhibit – a charade, something that in itself does not exhibit the attributes he intends to convey universally to all people of all times. God’s intent for general revelation, as stated in this text of biblical revelation, is that creation (and through it God’s own self) would be clearly and accurately perceived as eternity-evoking to all people of all times. 

Therefore the proposition of Paul seems to be clear. What is necessary to support it though is the empirical evidence that humankind has indeed always “clearly perceived” that creation is evocative of eternality. It seems evident to me that the empirical evidence is “common knowledge” as part of the history of human knowledge and philosophy. One source that adequately brings together much of this material is presented in the puzzlingly near-anonymous work of the author of a web-site called exactlywhatistime.com. In one page called Ancient Philosophy  the author demonstrates that until about the 6th century AD, the common knowledge was that the world itself was eternal, or at least eternally cyclical. Astronomical numbers were posted in support of this with cycles themselves consisting of repetitions from ten-thousands of years up to many millions of years. It was not until the early Christian apologists presented a defense of Creation that the eternality of creation itself was systematically challenged. In 529 John Philoponus of Alexandria wrote a critique titled On the Eternity of the World Against Proclus in which he challenged arguments put forward for the eternity of the world, which was the theory which formed the basis of pagan attacks of the Christian doctrine of Creation.

But does historical/empirical evidence that humankind always surmised the eternality of the world before the Christian doctrine of creation emerged prove too much? Not at all, for it actually serves to demonstrate that the eternity-evoking attribute of creation that God intended worked! God intended that Creation would evoke in people of all times and places the idea that it was eternal, and that therefore the invisible God, intuitively known through the agency of creation, had eternal power. What remained in God’s purpose was for God to bring to humankind a distinguishing between God and creation.

In conclusion, it seems that the recent trend toward young earth creationism denies God’s pedagogical intent for creation to instill in humankind the sense of eternality. The book of Ecclesiastes seems to show God’s method of evoking the concept of eternality in humankind by means of the seemingly endless natural cycles. Thus Ecclesiastes 3:11 aptly concludes sections of poetic narrations of the cyclical attributes of nature in 1:2-11 and 3:1-8.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, English Standard Version.)

Furthermore, it seems that this text in Romans 1:20, which all admit to be one of the weightiest texts in support of Paul’s universal “gospel,” is an informative instance of “biblical revelation” regarding God’s revelational intent for the world, as “general revelation.” And it seems that Paul was fully aware of the fact that humankind had “followed the lead” of seeing the world itself as eternal and thereby also knowing intuitively the “eternal power” of God, even though they might also seek to repress that knowledge.

I also add that this has been an attempt to reckon with a direct text that seems to address the question of the age of the earth and creation, as opposed to drawing inferences from texts that do not directly address that question. These other (and unfortunately more well known methods) have included seeking to draw precise chronological information from Genesis as Bishop Ussher did in his findings that the earth was created in 4004 BC; or by concluding that the 7 day creation narrative simply requires a young earth due to other “theological” reasons.

I haven’t surveyed other texts in this post that have some bearing on the age of the earth, but may do so in the future since I think that similarly evocative texts are in the Bible, and ought to be considered. But hopefully, this introduction provides what I think might have been Paul’s own summation of what we are meant to know regarding the age of the earth through our experience as human beings in the world, through general revelation.

Thanks for reading this post and please feel free to reply with any comments or questions.

Bryan M. Christman @ Manifest Propensity, 2019. All rights reserved.

Waiting in Neil Young’s “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” for the One to Lead the Nations

creation waits

With this blog post I’m simply presenting another “apocalyptic” song of Neil Young, along with several texts from the Christian New Testament. I trust that readers will be able to notice the correspondence of thought between them. I believe it is quite possible that Neil Young directly drew from Paul’s Letter to the Romans in the “questioning” section of the song.

I would like to add that the song “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” begins at the 26:25 minute mark in the movie “Le Noise.” I’d also like to add that I loved Neil Young’s Bruce Cockburn-esque guitar in this beautiful song.

I suppose that my point for this post is simply to say that as we find ourselves in this day and age wherein the technological abilities of humankind continue to develop both for good and for ill, we can find that our stewardship of the planet has long been the subject of the Hebrew and Christian Holy Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. My purpose is also to call attention to the outrageous claim of the early Christ followers that Jesus of Nazareth was the “second adam” through whom the God of the Hebrew people, believed to be the one and only true God of the Universe, had begun the process of restoring humankind to its stewardship of the earth. In other words, the project, process, and promise of a veritable New Creation has begun.

So perhaps the best-kept secret of Christian theology is that “redemption” was never mostly about “souls being saved to heaven” or about private and personal piety or peace. “Shalom” was always known to encompass “the big picture” of the entire creational existence – even though the ecclesiastical stewards of this truth sometimes seem to have done their best to not only bury that light under a basket, but to even perpetuate the horrible violences known in the wars of humans against humans, and exploitations of the creation by humans. The biblical view of the nature of life seems to agree with the empirical view of life, wherein we live our lives in the violent “Boulevard” where apocalyptic “shots ring out” in violent disruption of the intended  “Peaceful Valley” of Eden. But from that place we are encouraged to look to the Spirit of God’s recreation of humanity in Christ wherein human reconciliation and the renewed stewardship for the gift of earthly creation can be found. That may not seem to be “the gospel” we’ve heard before, but it is the “good news” that has come into the world. (Below is a valuable reference for further study.)


“Peaceful Valley Boulevard”

One day shots rang across the peaceful valley
God was crying tears that fell like rain
Before the railroad came from Kansas City
And the bullets hit the bison from the train
Shots rang across the peaceful valley
White man laid his foot upon the plain.

The wagon train rolled through the dusty canyon
The settlers full of wonder as they crossed
A gentle creek where two old oaks were standing
Before the west was won there was a cost
A rain of fire came down upon the wagons
A mother screamed and every soul was lost.

Change hit the country like a thunderstorm
Ancient rivers soon began to boil
People rushed like water to California
At first they came for gold and then for oil
Fortunes were made and lost in lifetimes
Mother earth took poison in her soil.

An electro cruiser coasted towards the exit
And turned on Peaceful Valley Boulevard
“People make the difference” read a billboard
Above a long line of idling cars.

Who’ll be the one to lead this world
Who’ll be the beacon in the night
Who’ll be the one to lead this world
Who’ll be the beacon in the night
Who’ll be the one to lead the nations
And protect God’s creations

A polar bear was drifting on an ice floe
Sun beating down from the sky
Politicians gathered for a summit
And came away with nothing to decide
Storms thundered on, his tears of falling rain
A child was born and wondered why.

The Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 2:5-13

5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”
And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

were-the-ones

The Letter of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Chapter 8:18-22

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

For further reference, the book below is probably the best I know of to show the story “from Genesis to Revelation” that has been tragically missed for nearly two  millennia. Of course there have always been glimmers and glimpses in the thoughts and writings of many, but perhaps now as the stakes seem higher than ever, humanity is ready to rediscover the promise and responsibility included in what Jesus simply called “the good news of the reign of God.”

Middleton

Comments and questions are always welcomed. Thanks for reading.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016.

 

 

 

Neil Young’s Apocalyptic “Rumblin”

I was unable to find the song “Rumbling” by itself, and of course the entire film is magnificent, but if the listener wants to hear only the song Rumbling’ it begins at about the 33:55 minute mark. Enjoy!

I won’t go to great lengths with this post. I’m simply pointing out that Neil Young seems to be hearing the apocalyptic rumblin’ that is mentioned here in the New Testament:

Hebrews 12:26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

I think that the song shows his self-questioning in light of the nature of life in this era of world history, this side of the apocalyptic interruption of the world as is, the beginning of the new creation of God begun in Jesus of Nazareth. Neil Young is simply asking himself, and probably all who hear him, the immemorial human question “what shall I do to be saved?”

If the entire Le Noise movie is watched, it will be seen that all is filmed in black and white until the song rumblin’ where new and vibrant color signals a veritable new Genesis. I’d say that was a stroke of genius, because I think it shows that “apocalyptic” does not so merely signify “the removal of what can be shaken, but rather and even more-so, signifies the receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Neil Young seems to clearly see that rumblin’ signifies “birth pangs,” a term found in the Old and New Testaments. For in the normal course of events, birth pangs precede the arrival of a new life. Amen, Neil Young.

I feel the rumblin’ in her ground.
I feel the rumblin’.
I feel the rumblin’ in her ground.
I feel the rumblin’.
When Will I learn how to listen?
When will I learn how to feel?
When will I learn how to give back?
When will I learn how to give back?
When will I learn how to heal?
I can feel the weather changing.
I can see it all around.
Can’t you feel that new wind blowing?
Don’t you recognize that sound that sound?
And the earth is slowly spinning, spinning slowly, slowly changing.

I feel something in the air.
I feel the rumblin’ in her ground.
I feel the rumblin’
I feel the rumblin’ in her ground.
I feel the rumblin’
When will I learn?
When will I learn?
When will I learn how to give back?
When will I learn how to give back?
When will I learn how to heal?

Written by BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016.

Questions, comments, apocalyptic rumblins, are always welcomed.

 

Fleetwood Mac’s “Lay it All Down” and the This-Worldliness of Redemption

In Fleetwood Mac’s 1971 album called “Future Games,” there was an interesting song about Moses and what his message basically amounted to in full. Perhaps a current Old Testament scholar may help us to understand the importance of the “message of Moses” in relation to understanding “redemption” as presented in the New Testament.

…we are prone to miss the amazing scope of God’s redemption, and especially its full bodied, this-worldly character, if we do not read the New Testament with the world view of the Old Testament as our basis and guide. (J. Richard Middleton, “A New Heaven and a New Earth“.)

So with that introduction in mind, presented in the video by Fleetwood Mac, is some of the “world view of the Old Testament” that can serve as our “basis and guide” to understanding the “full bodied, this worldly character” of redemption.  I find it quite interesting that Fleetwood Mac, or at least one or more of the members of the group, seemed to have more insight into the “scope of redemption” than many Christian teachers and scholars had or have, even to this day.

Here are the lyrics:

Let me retell
A story of old
About a man named moses
Who lived long ago
He prophesied good
He prophesied bad
And now that prophecy’s
Coming to pass

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden calf
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

(Instrumental)

A whole lot of people, including myself
Thought the story of moses was just a tall tale
But all of the things that we see going on
Are just what moses set down

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden – yeah
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

(Instrumental)

Let me retell
A story I know
About a man named moses
Who lived long ago
He prophesied good
He prophesied bad
And now that prophecy’s
Coming to pass

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden – yeah
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it down

(Instrumental)

Lay down, Lay down ….

Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
You’ve got to lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt …

Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

Any comments or questions are welcomed. Thanks for reading (and listening) – I hope you received something good from it all.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016

“Tiny Vessels” – adrift in the nihilism of the sexual revolution (Death Cab for Cutie)

This is the only album by Death Cab for Cutie that I have, but it is a great one. This is also not one of the saddest, but one of the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard. The mass of meaninglessness depicted: in the song; in the breakdown; in the “revolution.” I can’t believe intelligent people choose to live like this. Then again I can – knowing my own solidarity with the human species. But it’s time for the counter-revolution of the new man.

Lyrics:
This is the moment that you know
That you told her that you loved her but you don’t.
You touch her skin and then you think
That she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.

I spent two weeks in Silver lake
The California sun cascading down my face
There was a girl with light brown streaks,
And she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.

I wanted to believe in all the words that I was speaking,
As we moved together in the dark
And all the friends that I was telling
All the playful misspellings
and every bite I gave you left a mark

Tiny vessels oozed into your neck
And formed the bruises
That you said you didn’t want to fade
But they did, and so did I that day

All I see are dark Grey clouds
In the distance moving closer with every hour
So when you ask “Is something wrong?”
I think “You’re damn right there is but we can’t talk about it now.
No, we can’t talk about it now.”

So one last touch and then you’ll go
And we’ll pretend that it meant something so much more
But it was vile, and it was cheap
and you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me
yeah you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me (x2)
Music
“Tiny Vessels” by Death Cab for Cutie (Google Play • iTunes • AmazonMP3 • eMusic)
Artist
Death Cab for Cutie
Category
Music
License
Standard YouTube License

“Miles Away” by Fleetwood Mac – Some Thoughts On The Flight From Disillusionment While “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar”

 

Fleetwood-Mac_Mystery-to-Me_rear

 

Fleetwood-Mac_Mystery-to-Me

 

Part 1: A brief autobiography: 1975-1978

In 1975 I graduated college with my AAS degree. Like many in my generation, and like many young of all generations, I was seeking for a life-meaning and a life-direction. I was disillusioned with the society I lived in and the “Christianity” I thought I had grown up with (I hadn’t actually “gotten it” and for the most part it was a “watered down” Christianity).

So, driven partly by “spiritual” experiences I thought I had, I would go to the mall bookstores and peruse their sacred shelves hoping to find the key to become attuned to whatever the ultimate truth of the universe was. One exception to my method was when a book came to me through encountering a representative of the “Hare Krishna” movement in front of the record store in the mall. The airwaves had been flooded for some time with “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, and this gentle soul was sure to let me know that the album he offered me (for a great price) was endorsed by George himself, and also by John Fahey. He also offered a very nice hardcover edition of “The Bhagavad Gita” so I walked away with some very ancient writings, “spiritual” music, and only $5 less cash in my pocket. In my search that often felt rather desperate, I counted the cost as insubstantial.

This began my encounter with hinduism which proved short lived, although pantheism itself became my basic worldview for a number of years. I simply made no progress in meditation, and didn’t really want to adopt vegetarianism or any other drastic lifestyle change that the Hare Krishna’s recommended.

So back to the bookstore narrative. I found and read many interesting books, but some less so for various reasons. One book though, spurred a several year quest. It was “The Teachings of Don Juan –  A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.” I was immediately fascinated and hooked, eventually reading the first five books that narrated the apprenticeship in Mexico of Carlos Castaneda under “Don Juan Matus,” a Yaqui Indian Sorcerer and “man of knowledge.” This series had begun under the auspices of Castaneda’s dissertation for anthropology at the University of California. My quest thus became to become a “man of knowledge.”

don juan

Little did I know at the time (due to the fact that Al Gore had not yet invented the internet and therefore finding news of things such as this required more attention than I exercised) the historicity of the books had been officially debunked in 1976 and had been under much scrutiny from as early as 1969. The five books I read came out from 1968 through 1977, and I read them mostly from 1976 through 1978. Some today still find value in them even as fiction, and think that perhaps Castaneda had valid reasons for his “cover up” as a sort of critique of typical anthropology studies. But for me their factuality was important and I think I believed they were historical probably until at least 1979. On the other hand it was not actually their non-historical basis that led me to abandon my quest to become a “man of knowledge” style sorcerer. The truth is that while I was in the midst of my quest, I found a different way, or perhaps more accurately it found me.

Had I known sooner, perhaps I would have given up that specific quest earlier. Alas, as early 1973 Fleetwood Mac had said that Don Juan went up “in a cloud of smoke,” but even though I was an avid early listener to the Mac, I didn’t hear “Mystery to Me” until probably 1978.

This brief autobiography is merely to provide a picture of what life was like for one, indeed for many in that era and to also provide some context for the song “Miles Away.” That song is an apt summation of how “man’s search for meaning” led many to eventually seek “flight” from the disillusionment a generation encountered in failed movements and false messiahs. The flowery optimism of the 1960’s had led to the hedonistic disillusionment of the 1970’s.

Miles Away 
by Fleetwood Mac
Written by Bob Welch

The swamp is getting deeper all the time
And the faces that I see don’t seem to shine
Now there’s too much warhol hanging off the wall
And the mystery that there used to be is gone

Let me go
Miles away
Let me ride
Just miles away
Don’t wanna know
I’m not gonna miss it much
Gonna be drivin’ once again

Don juan goes up in a cloud of smoke
And all those hare krishnas turned out to be a joke
And it’s restless, restless, restless all the time
Slidin’ up and down the surface of this life
Now I know that I can’t say what’s black and white
But if I could fly I think I’d try tonight

(From MetroLyrics.com)

Part 2: What follows disillusionment, endless flight?

Fleetwood Mac had proposed “flight” as an answer back in 1973. By 1977 Steve Miller’s enormous FM hit “Fly Like an Eagle” arguably confirmed “flight” as the answer for the generation. Alvin Lee’s ‘Ten Years After” had pointed the way back in 1971 saying “I’d  love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do…, so I’ll leave it up to you.” By 1977 the 60’s revolution had become flight with Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle.”

Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I’m free
Fly through the revolution

(From MetroLyrics.com)

The question to ask today is whether our life is now become one of endless flight. Have we become a generation that unknowingly are ironically and perversely living the ancient biblical mandate of being “strangers and pilgrims” in the earth? For the point of that biblical “lifestyle” was not that it is good to be homeless and on endless “flight”, but to be on “pilgrimage” to an “alternative city” from the city of the kingdom’s of the world. In other words, there is a reality greater than the kingdom of humanity that has invaded, and the only “escape” from the old reality is to be found in this new “invading” reality.

This is the controversial truth of Christianity, so controversial that many Christians aren’t even familiar with it, namely that rightly understood Christianity is not about escape at all! It is about people becoming part of God’s new reality here and now. In more scriptural language in about becoming part of the inaugurated “kingdom of God.” In theological language it is about people becoming part of “the presence of the future,” meaning that God’s other-dimensional “future” for the world has invaded the present.

Now admittedly this may all sound strange and perhaps even stranger than Castaneda’s second book “A Separate Reality” did to those that read it. But this is scriptural Christian doctrine, which should be evident in this simple parable told by Jesus, the person in whom God’s invasion of the world was inaugurated in potency.

Matthew 13:33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

N. T. Wright, on of today’s foremost scholars of the New Testament wrote this:

We who live after Calvary and Easter know that God did indeed act suddenly and dramatically at that moment. When today we long for God to act, to put the world to rights, we must remind ourselves that he has already done so, and that what we are now awaiting is the full outworking of those events. We wait with patience, not like people in a dark room wondering if anyone will ever come with a lighted candle, but like people in early morning who know that the sun has arisen and are now waiting for the full brightness of midday. (Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, p. 170)

In short, through Christ, God’s “kingdom of heaven” has been hidden in the world to “leaven” the whole world. How this works is admittedly somewhat controversial, and not merely because at times various bodies of “the Church” have sought to facilitate this providentially “secret” process of God through questionable “public” means. This historical scenario has left fear in the minds of many that an unbridled  future movement could make the communistic attempted  “leavenings” of the world pale by comparison. But the only scripturally legitimate power of God’s kingdom must be centered in the dynamic exhibited by Jesus in his ministry. And that dynamic was diametrically opposed to the power that is operative in the kingdoms of mankind. The dynamic of Jesus was the exercise of a different sort of power, that has been notably absent in human governments and organized religions of all stripes.

Mark 10:42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The dynamic of Jesus was even a different sort of love, one that is conspicuously absent in the intolerance in the name of “tolerance” in America today.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

But in the end am I not espousing some measure of Christianity as “organized religion”? I would have to answer yes, but it would have to be a “matured” Christianity such as we have not yet seen broadly in the world. I readily admit that “organized religion” is scary, especially to “conspiracy theory” prone Americans. The reality is that some human “organization” is inevitable. The question then is what will it’s ethic be? Does even the American tradition of liberal democracy foster the ethical dynamic of Jesus? Do the disillusioned Americans that are permanently “in flight” have a dynamic that fosters the shalom of God for humanity? In the end, Bob Welch’s “Miles Away” is the only solution for postmodernism’s  no “black or white” epistemological dogma.

And it’s restless, restless, restless all the time
Slidin’ up and down the surface of this life
Now I know that I can’t say what’s black and white
But if I could fly I think I’d try tonight

The true alternative is that God has already inaugurated the solution in which the reality of God’s alternate city can “leaven” the world. Postmoderns can only confess with Alvin Lee “I don’t know what to do”?

Revelation 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 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.”

The responsibility of all people then, is not to seek endless flight from the world, but to be part of the city that is to come. God has already prepared everything, but as Bob Dylan (who else) has pointed out, “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.”

West of the Jordan, east of the Rock of Gibraltar,
I see the burning of the stage,
Curtain risin’ on a new age,
See the groom still waitin’ at the altar.

Note that throughout the chorus Dylan has several second lines:

  • I see the burning of the page (1 x)
  • I see the burning of the stage (3x)
  • I see the burning of the cage (1x)

He also has an alternate to the third line one time where he sings:

  • Curtain rising on a new stage…

I would love to hear any thoughts you may have about my thoughts.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2015. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Parable of the Townspeople

Pieter_Bruegel_d._Ä._030

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Parable of the Sower, 1557.

There was a town in a distant land, far removed from civilization, isolated by deserts, forests, rivers and mountains. The townspeople had legends of others, but being busy and content they didn’t search for them. Their own primal history was lost, but legend also said that the entire world was created by a great and mysterious but generally good Townskeeper.

For their town, near a deep glacial lake surrounded by fertile forests, provided all they needed. They simply received…

“from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness.”

This does not mean their lives were easy. Although nature provided them with all they needed, sometimes it burst forth with more, bringing floods, or blizzards. Disease and infirmity also visited, but all in all the fruitful seasons yielded life against the wildness of nature.

Problems came from their own nature also, by laziness and selfishness. Lying, stealing, the taking of life all became too well known. Even those that kept themselves from such acts were tempted toward evils. Thus they found that all seemed to be cut from the same cloth, and therefore the townspeople tried to balance necessary justice with the need for forgiveness.

So they found that they were thankful to be alive, and enjoyed the fruits of their labors. Most felt so thankful that they wondered if there was some unseen benefactor they should give thanks to. Their early wise ones had said that perhaps someone was good and great enough to have created all things, and so they made an altar devoted to their unknown “Townskeeper” lest they be ungrateful.

One day a mysterious stranger suddenly appeared in their town square. He had been first found by a group of young children. It seemed they thought of him as some favorite uncle, rather than being the first stranger they had ever met. What the adults first saw was the stranger seated and surrounded by the children, several upon his knee, eagerly listening as his kind voice told them stories.

The adults, being more cautionary, began to ask him who he was, where he came from and why he was there. He said that he was sent to them to bring good news and that he was the only son of the Townskeeper who,

“…himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek him, if haply they might feel after him and find him.”

The Townskeeper had always sown their lives with many blessings, and now desired for them to know and trust him fully for all their needs, so that they could enjoy life even more abundantly. So the stranger stayed with them for several months and spoke of many mysterious things. He also did many miraculous signs.

He healed those that were sick or had been born with infirmities. He even welcomed those that had been caught lying or stealing, and visited with one that had taken a life. He seemed to have some special bond with the most needy, and with the children. Thus with many such wonderful words and deeds he blessed all the people, and many found it easy to believe he was the son of their absentee Townskeeper.

Eventually he departed saying he was sent to all the towns in the world. They wondered how, being a man, he could travel the whole and seemingly now larger world.

Once he said he must do something that would overcome all evils and death itself, and that his deed was from the very beginning the necessary foundation of creation. They were all puzzled by this!

Not long after he left someone else arrived. The whole town had been hearing noises such as they never heard before. In a few days what appeared was a parade, led by huge metallic machines that leveled a path through the wilderness like a herd of gigantic wild boars. Following were men marching in formation as trumpets sounded. In the center was a man seated on a throne held aloft by other men. The procession came to rest in the center of the square.

The man solemnly rose as children rushed forward to see the destruction machines. The marching men barricaded them back. He bellowed loudly with a superior tone while announcing himself and speaking.

He said that he embodied the culmination of the scientific aspirations of humankind, which had primarily discovered that there was no evidence for any Townskeeper. They were following the trail of the stranger to undo his delusional lies. He reported that that they had finally rid the world of him, but that some followers believed he rose from the dead and were spreading his lies everywhere they went.

Scientists had concluded that dead strangers do not rise from the dead and the world existed by chance. Feeling thankful is due to biochemical brain reactions because of a full stomach, harem, barn or temple.

Some wondered why many felt thankful even in great hardships, but how could simple folk disagree with the wisdom of “humanity?” He said he must depart to fulfill his chosen mission, but would benevolently appoint marching men as “advisors” to guide their democracy. Besides, they would have many weapons suitable for dealing with superstitions.

The parody pompously departed and the townspeople mainly settled into a “new normal.” Some still felt thankful and remembered the stranger. The more they remembered him the more thankful they felt. Why shouldn’t feeling thankful mean there must be someone to thank? Feeling thirsty means that that water exists. And justice, forgiveness, and love are real yet can’t be proven under the microscope.

Many believed the news of the scientist, who had become their high priest. Life was mostly the same, since nature was still wild and “not yet” overcome by technology. Floods and sicknesses were less often, but when they came they were even worse. Sometimes they still felt thankful, but tried to avoid thinking about it. Eventually many lost their sense of being thankful, because “everyone” knew that there is no reason to thank an accident that eventually produced biochemical reactions in gray matter.

“For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear.

And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you; and more shall be given unto you. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Written by Bryan M. Christman, Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

The Paradox of the Cross – Does God Play Dice with the Universe?

220px-Einstein_1921_by_F_Schmutzer_-_restoration

Einstein once said that God “does not play dice with the universe.”

I think what he meant was that the universe is governed by unchanging laws of physics, rather than inherent randomness. Of course Einstein said this while contemplating the inherent randomness of particles evident in Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle.”

Einstein never reconciled the apparent contradiction between “macro” order and “micro” randomness. He recognized mystery in the hidden physics of the universe, but in a sense “trusted” reliable evidence and therefore concluded the “contradiction” must be a paradox, some solution must exist.

But still, many people complain that “God” seems to “play dice” with human beings, by not making everything plain to us. 

Einstein’s belief that “God” does not “play dice” related to the natural universe, but what about the moral universe? Is everything God says or does perfectly intelligible there? And if God allows or even ordains paradox, does that amount to “playing dice” or unnecessary elusiveness?

What if the most important act of God for humanity was veiled in a master paradox, so that our “natural reason” causes us to not recognize it for what it is?

But what if God also plainly tells the meaning of the paradox, and also reveals this master paradox was “crafted”? This paper will explore the “revelation” of the master paradox, but without doubt not all mysteries have been revealed. But following Einstein’s lead I think we can find enough is revealed by God to trust in the face of remaining mystery.

So what is God’s master paradox? It is the contradiction between two understandings of the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth around 30 AD in the Roman Empire. Paul wrote that,

1:18 “The word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.”

The Apostle Paul had to learn the hard way about God’s use of paradox. In fact his misunderstanding was so complete that Paul persecuted to the death those that believed “the word of the cross.” Nevertheless God chose Paul, and used him to reveal that “the cross of Christ” was God’s most important work for humankind, and also that its meaning is hidden in paradox, and that ultimately God’s love was behind the “corrective” use of paradox.

The paradox then, is that “the word of the cross” is understood either as “foolishness” or “the power of God” and how we perceive the cross of Christ indicates whether we are “perishing” or “saved.”

The paradox occurs because there is the plain appearance of what the crucifixion of Jesus was, and then there is the “explanation” given by God (in the New Testament) of what the crucifixion of Jesus “meant.” And these seem on the face of it, to be mutually exclusive points of view. So is there a solution to this “contradiction” between what Jesus’ death was and what the New Testament says it meant?

First, what would death on a cross mean in the Roman Empire? It would mean nothing more than a cruel means of execution for despised criminals or condemned slaves.

Second, what did the death of Jesus on a cross mean to Paul (and the early Christians)? They believed that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s messiah. But even Israel’s ancient scriptures seemed to be against this preposterous idea, for the law declared that any person executed and “hung on a tree” for publicly display meant that that person had been cursed by God. And yet Paul believed that Jesus was the powerful “warrior messiah” of Israel?

So here is the paradox stated more boldly: Jesus who died in utter shame and weakness, cursed by God and forsaken by men – is the messiah, the very “power” and “wisdom” of God on earth. 

Isn’t it obvious that the idea is “foolishness’?

Well, lets give Paul a hearing. After all Paul himself once believed it was foolishness, and then dramatically changed his mind.

So Paul explained that God has chosen to do things that appear to us as foolish, in order to subvert our “wisdom” that in reality is foolishness. Paul says that GOD has said he would do this:

1:19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought.

We can’t argue against this, for Israel’s scriptures plainly predict that God will do this some time. But would he choose to be “paradoxical” about “messiah?” And if so, why? Has God set us up to fail? Can’t he give us a break?

Paul in effect replies by saying “people… this is the break.” It is the break because we have tried to find God with our wisdom and have failed. And what’s worse, we then boast in that wisdom that has proven futile for knowing God. Paul wrote,

1:20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.

1:27 but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong;

1:28 and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are:

1:29 that no flesh should glory before God.

Most of us would probably agree that in the main, humankind’s philosophers and religious leaders have not led us to a definitive knowledge of God. Furthermore, it seems to be the epitome of madness that a “crucified messiah”  could be the definitive action of God. The “God” that says this seems to be “playing dice” because it is simply against all reason.

But Paul was thorough in communicating what was revealed to him: a deeper look at the cross and at man’s supposed “wisdom” so that God’s hidden power and wisdom can become evident. 

1:22 Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom:

1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness;

1:24 but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Many, with a religious bent, ask for signs because they want a “plain” display of God’s power. Therefore they “stumble” at the idea of the “power of God” in a crucified messiah. So their question is how can the “word of the cross” be God’s power?

Others, with a philosophical bent, seek after wisdom because if anything God must simply make sense! And it does not make sense that God, the ‘unmoved mover,’ the ‘reason’ behind all reason somehow demonstrates wisdom in this crucified man. So their question is how can the “word of the cross” be God’s wisdom?

Paul’s answer is that what the cross was, was not revealed until Jesus was resurrected from the dead showing that he was the “Lord of glory.”

2:7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory:

2:8 which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory

Paul’s provides much more detail in his many letters to the early churches explaining all that actually occurred at the cross.

The Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that these things had been God’s plan all along, actually hidden in Israel’s scriptures, veiled in mystery until then.

Oftentimes the true nature of events in life is hidden. There is the appearance, and then there is the reality. It is generally wise to suspend judgment until “all the facts” and the consequences are discovered and evaluated.

In the popular movie “Gran Torino” the story builds to the climactic confrontation between good and evil with no real hope of a favorable outcome. Walt, the cantankerous old widower played by Clint Eastwood, had gradually befriended his young immigrant neighbors that had been harassed, violently abused, and thereby controlled by a ruthless gang. After one of their most horrific ‘warning’ attacks on the sister, Walt’s young friend wanted to exact revenge for her, knowing that this would undoubtedly bring his own death. But old Walt devised a non-violent solution which also prevented the boy from killing and ensured future safety for the sister and the entire neighborhood. Walt’s wise plan was “hidden in mystery” from all and was only shown to be “powerful” after the conflict. And of course, this solution required his sacrificial death.

In the final confrontation, Walt appeared to be weak and foolish, but proved in the end to have been strong and wise. 

Driven by love for him, Walt thwarted the “wisdom” of his young friend which would have been suicidal foolishness. And driven by love, Walt “became” weakness to enact power effective for salvation.

In the end the “cycle of vengeance” was broken and justice was enabled through Walt’s self-sacrifice.

Gran Torino is fictional, but it powerfully portrays the types of realities that were operative in the cross of Jesus the Christ where utter weakness overcame death, sacrificial love overcame foolishness, so that true wisdom and salvation prevailed. Here we have barely skimmed the surface of all that transpired at the cross of Christ, but can glimpse how God worked wise and mighty wonders therein.

So does God “play dice with the universe?” No, but much is still veiled in mystery. Yet, in the cross of Christ enough is revealed so we may boast in the loving power and wisdom of God.

All scriptures are from 1 Corinthians, The American Standard Version of the Bible

Copyright 2014 by Bryan M. Christman

Thanks for reading. Comments and questions are welcomed.

 

Ezekiel’s vision of the ultimate iconoclast

In my last post I introduced Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Tarkus” as a point of contact to the biblical truth that God is the ultimate iconoclast. I didn’t specifically detail the strange part-animal part-mobile machine which was Tarkus. Here we will briefly consider whether this strange being called Tarkus is in its essence conceived as being equipped for iconoclastic battle.

But before that, some backstory that should help explain why I’m even thinking this about “Tarkus.” I have recently been reading the book Ezekiel and decided to search to find whether anyone had created any visual depictions of the vision of God’s cloud chariot/throne, because I have always had trouble putting all the elements together into a cohesive whole. I discovered what seems to be a well done depiction which is the video posted above.

After watching it, and returning to thoughts about the “Tarkus” post, I realized that there were some common elements between the being called Tarkus and Ezekiel’s vision of God. These common elements include the presence of a mix of natural and mechanical qualities, and the overall abilities of mobility plus destructive power. Certainly there are also many differences, and I only point out the more basic elementary correspondences to further speculate concerning the intentions of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. In summary, given the iconoclastic theme I mentioned in the first post, and the visual nature of Tarkus, it seems we have either an absurdly strange coincidence or an intentional thematic borrowing. Probably only ELP know the answer to this question.

Moving on to their possible source, in this post want to further explore Ezekiel’s vision of God as “the ultimate iconoclast.” In the previous post was a quote where Douglas Wilson, with the prophet Ezekiel in mind,  described God in this way. To illustrate Wilson’s title, I would like to present a few brief excerpts from an insightful commentaty on Ezekiel by Iain M. Duguid.

Duguid

 

The youtube video at the head of this post helps us “picture” Ezekiel’s ultimate iconoclast.

The book excerpts help show that Ezekiel’s vision differs from other earlier biblical visions of God and thus provide the biblical context revealing how in Ezekiel God was readying to undertake his iconoclastic work against (and for) Israel. Iain M. Duguid writes,

In the context of this popular Zion theology, it is easy to see the difficulty that Ezekiel’s earlier contemporary Jeremiah faced. He was called to oppose the complacency of those who kept repeating, “The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD” (Jer. 7:4). His prophecies of judgment against Jerusalem were interpreted as high treason because they struck at the heart of this belief (Jer. 26:11) The tempe itself had become viewed as an amulet, a lucky charm to ward off evil. In response, Jeremiah simply pointed to the lessons of history. In the past, in the days of Samuel’s youth, Israel had placed the same kind of faith in the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence, instead of in the reality of God’s presence. The result had been the destruction of Shiloh and the “exile” of the ark..”Glory has gone into exile from israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

It was this same false perception of safety that Ezekiel’s vision challenged. Two kinds of imagery dominate the opening vision of Ezekiel: images of motion and judgment. In contrast to Isaiah’s static temple imagery, Ezekiel’s vision is filled with movement. Whereas Isaiah saw the Lord seated in the temple, Ezekiel’s vision opens with the Lord in the midst of a motion-filled “windstorm” in the land of the exiles. God is not dead or sleeping, nor is he restricted to the temple, he is living and active and on the move. The Lion of Judah is restless. In general, such a depiction of the Lord’s coming to intervene in the lives of his people would be a positive development. However, in this case God’s activity does not bode well for the temple or for Jerusalem. It is only a short step from Ezekiel 1, where the glory of God is in motion, to Ezekiel 10, where the glory of God abandons the temple, leaving it defenseless against the Babylonian invaders.

The true and living God is not a tame God. He cannot be comfortably manipulated into a box and made to do our bidding. If he were, he would hardly be worthy of following. God’s radical freedom, bound only by his own self-revelation, means that his ways can never be reduced to a pat formula or a trite slogan. If his people abandon him, he may abandon them and fight against them. A lady reportedly asked Abraham Lincoln during the dark days of the civil war if he was confident that God was on their side. “Madam,” he is said to have replied, “I am less concerned whether God is on our side than whether we are on his side.”

Hopefully these excerpts have conveyed to the reader what and why the iconoclastic work of God is. That God assumes the role of iconoclast is a recurrent biblical event, because God’s chosen people Israel were prone, as were and are all human beings, to making idols.

Thus moving into what is now called the common era, Jesus of Nazareth essentially engaged in the same iconoclastic work, even specifically regarding the rebuilt temple, and was a major reason for the conspiracy that led to his crucifixion under Rome. The opposing religious leaders could not see that Herod’s “second temple” in Jerusalem was meant to be replaced by a temple not made with hands, namely a “temple” of people of all races and ethnicities in which the Spirit of God would then indwell. That Jesus did not merely point toward God the iconoclast, but actually embodied him as the ultimate iconoclast reveals many things. Probably the most important thing it reveals is that his death instigated at the hands of the anti-iconoclasts became by God’s power the ultimate iconoclastic victory for the freedom of humanity.

Isaiah 2:17-19English Standard Version (ESV)

17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
18 And the idols shall utterly pass away.
19 And people shall enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.

Comments and questions, are always welcomed!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Jack Bruce’s “We’re Going Wrong”: Open-mindedness and the way forward

open_mind

Please open your eyes
Try to realize
I found out today we’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

Please open your mind
See what you can find
I found out today we’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

We’re going wrong
We’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

by Jack Bruce, 1967

“I found out today” that Jack Bruce had passed away. My thoughts naturally turned to my favorite song written by him, a  song that to me displays a surprisingly disproportionate combination of lyrical brevity and emotive power. So this post is in part a tribute to Jack Bruce and his song that i’ve enjoyed on several levels, but mainly an exploration of the possible meaning of the song.

Without knowing any personal context of Jack Bruce that may be behind the song, I’m left to begin with the historical context in which the song appeared: 1967. The sixties was, if anything, a calling being issued from many voices to “open our eyes” individually and collectively. It had become manifestly apparent to many that something had gone wrong in western civilization. Many thought we were on the verge of some type of  imminent conflagration based on factors including but not limited to war (hot or cold), prejudice, poverty, pollution, population, politics, and technology.

The call to open our eyes was a hope that we could be spared the destruction, to void the looming threat that “the gods first blind those whom they wish to destroy.” Perhaps a critical mass of opened eyes could counter the coming apocalypse. (Can it do so today?)

But for the time being, this truth and perhaps this alone, seemed apparent to the counterculture: “We’re Going Wrong.”

Of course, “open eyes” really only means “open minds” which Jack Bruce made explicit. But what does it mean to have an open mind? At that time it seemed to mean to many or most in the counterculture that we must abandon the very concept of universal/dogmatic truth which had merely enslaved humankind through false authority. Thus open-mindedness seemed to morph into broad-mindedness in which there is no ultimate truth, only individualistic “working truths” (whatever works for me/you).

The prince of wit G.K. Chesterton warned that,

The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be any such thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas…

…When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded. (from Heretics, chapter 20)

It seems probable that this “modern notion” of mental growth resulted in the sixties revolution being more destructive than constructive, in regard to any real progress toward “going right.”

If the counterculture was a failure in this regard, then it is natural to wonder why, unless destruction actually was the goal, and it is true that destruction (or discrediting) of what is false is necessary. But it seems more likely that the problem of failure is to be found deep in humankind itself, namely that we are a species prone to error.

To support this suggestion I’d like to look at a few ancient proverbs from the “New Living Translation” of the Bible. Here is the first:

Proverbs 14:1 A wise woman builds her home,
but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.

I do not think that this is meant to say that the difference between the wise and foolish woman is one of intention. I do not think the “foolish woman” intends to tear down her house. She intends to build it, but being “foolish” does not know how to succeed. And she is like all of us, inasmuch as we all intend to succeed. Blaise Pascal said this about the intention of all people:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. (Pensees, #425)

The second proverb says,

Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.

This explains a simple fact, that we are all prone to err, with dire consequences. It is not our intention to die, but it is the consequence of self-direction. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
We are not able to plan our own course.

So to return to the first proverb, the wise woman is one that directs her steps according to the direction of God. This all means that the only positive answer to “We’re Going Wrong” is what is called “repentance.” In other words, the way ahead is to turn around. This is not an easy task. We all hate to be lost, to have to backtrack, to cut our losses of lost time and effort often spent with blood, sweat and tears. I think that the wise and foolish women both knew “blood, sweat, and tears” in their quest to build their house, but tragically only one was building while the other was tearing down.

C.S. Lewis knew how difficult it is for us to repent, due to our mistaken view of progress created by our aversion to being wrong.

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man…There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on. (from “Mere Christianity,” chapter 5, 2nd paragraph)

Now a perceptive reader will note that believing that “We’re Going Wrong” may be difficult, but it is the easy part. The truly difficult part is where to go to “go right.” If it is true that the way that “seems right to us ends in death” and that we “are not able to plan our course,” then where shall we go? And it is precisely here that Jack Bruce left us, halfway turned around on our path to who knows where.

But it is here that God, with something called “good news” (gospel) creates a real turnaround by providing the ultimate destination. But I’m not merely talking about the notion that most of us have of “heaven.” I’ll let a few theological excerpts present gospel to us, and perhaps we will find two things. First, that we have not known the way “forward.” Second, that the good news of God’s destination will impel us forward.

The first theologian speaks of the “destination” in broad terms, given in terms applicable to all times and places.

Regeneration  is a state of things universally. It is the new state of things, the new eon, which the Christ brought; the individual “enters it,” and in so doing he himself participates in it and is reborn through participation in it. The message of conversion is, first, the message of a new reality to which one is asked to turn; in the light of it, one is to move away from the old reality, the state of existential estrangement in which one has lived. (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume 2 “Existence and the Christ” p. 177)

The second theologian speaks of the “destination” in narrow terms, and is provided because God’s announcement of “good news” meets us all in the midst of or own specific life setting. This provides some concrete illustrations of what conversion may entail.

To begin anew meant, to Bonhoeffer to pass through a process of becoming aware of and avowing guilt, of repenting, of doing real penance, and of seeking for new foundations of living together beyond nihilism. But to begin anew also meant to grapple with and clarify the concrete experiences with people under the Hitler regime. And these were, in the majority, experiences of failure, of lack of civil courage, of thoughtless complicity, of lies violating one’s own conscience, of shutting ones eyes to obvious injustice, and of lack of concern about the suffering of others, whether because of fear or because of a narrowed range of perception. He deemed all of this possible only in a situation where people no longer felt urged, by a vital knowledge about the mission and meaning of their lives, to accept responsibility, but would accept, in thoughtless subordination the dictate of their superiors that the meaning of life lies in blind obedience. (Heinz Eduard Todt, “Authentic Faith – Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context,” p. 21)

Now that is an example of an opening of the eyes and mind that surely even surpasses that hoped for by the most well meaning “counterculturist.” For the truth is that the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom to “put the world to rights” also needed to include the provision of forgiveness for we humans that would rather mankind’s Savior be crucified in order to preserve our chosen self-direction, even our “countercultural” self-direction.

Could a “just” God merely “wink” at such murderous treason from his creation as though it was nothing? Bonhoeffer shows that the answer for all, especially for any that would like to follow him anew, is shown in that very place where Christ died:

Jesus died on the cross alone. abandoned by his disciples. It was not two of his faithful followers who hung beside him but two murderers. But they all stood beneath the cross: enemies and the faithful, doubters and the fearful, the scornful and the converted, and all of them and their sin were included in this hour in Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness. God’s merciful love lives in the midst of its foes. It is the same Jesus Christ who by grace calls us to follow him and whose grace saves the thief on the cross in his last hour. (from “Discipleship,” Works Vol. 4, p. 40)

Thoughts, questions, kindly criticisms are welcomed. Thanks for your interest!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.