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.”
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
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.”
Comments and questions are always welcomed. Thanks for reading.
BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016.
Hope is where the door is
When the church is where the war is
Where no one can feel no one else’s pain
When I first heard this song I was humbled inasmuch as I have been an uncaring and unsympathetic Christian. Of course that lack is also a basic human shortcoming, but it is especially tragic when the Church is meant to shine hope before all the world as it lives within the greatest things of “faith, hope, and love.”
There has been much decline in the churches of all stripes, for many different reasons, but what U2 has said about hope being “where the door is” explains perhaps the most important reason. Certainly the churches have portrayed hope, but when we also know that there is much truth and many lives effected by failures to portray hope, we are called not to re-assuring ourselves or congratulating on ourselves wherein we have been faithful. Instead we are always called to look at our communities, our neighbors, and yes, our enemies and consider whether they see hope.
I think that the difficulty the churches face today, namely to be witnesses to the particular hope that is specifically Christian, is because of past instances where we have acted in specifically unchristian ways. So there is some “payback” going on, some of which may be motivated by similar uncharitableness, but some of which is also the reaction of those that have been hurt. So we actually ought to assume that even in this, Christ is trying to tell something to the churches that show him to the world.
It should be obvious, when we look at Jesus in the Gospel accounts, that he always “felt someone else’s pain” and in the end went to the cross to die for the sake of their pain.
Would you care to discuss this? I am hoping to do so here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/rhegma/permalink/446259668864995/
Thanks, BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2015
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.
Heinrich Bornkamm was another theologian who has helped to explain Luther’s “theology of the cross.” The following rather lengthy excerpt provides a more thorough look at his theology in order to “flesh out” the message of the cross that was the subject of the previous two posts.
The theology of the cross is not a theology which is contrived by the process of thinking. If we followed our ideas of the nature of the divine, we would probably imagine a quite different God: a great, mighty, victorious, indubitably loving, ingenious cosmic architect. . But certainly not a God who allows his messenger, whom he sends for the salvation of the world, to go down to ignominious defeat, to suffer and die innocently. It is a theology that one can derive only from an actual event, or better, that one can believe only on the basis of the passion and the cross of Christ. This was why Luther portrayed the suffering of Christ with such tremendous force. This suffering was not only a horrible physical suffering, as it was chiefly represented in medieval devotional literature in order to arouse our pity. Rather Luther took far more earnestly and consistently than did all previous theology the humanity of Jesus Christ, who suffered on the cross, not only physical pain, but also utter forsakenness and desolation. Augustine and medieval theology and mysticism fought shy of accepting the cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as a real cry of the dying Christ; they construed it merely as the intercession of Christ for his suffering body, the church. For Luther, however, it was the simple bitter truth that Christ had to endure on the cross the consciousness of being forsaken by God. He was spared none of the trial and temptation, none of the remoteness and absence of God that may be imposed upon men. Indeed, for him who came from the heart of the Gather and brought nothing but love to men, it was a more dreadful thing to bear this abandonment than for any other man. For Luther this fact that Christ had to fall into the abyss of God forsakenness and loneliness, was expressed in the Creed: “He descended into hell.” He interpreted this to mean, not an event in space, but rather this experience of utter dereliction of the soul. Nor is this experience confined to the cross; the passion is rather only the awful aggravation and consistent conclusion of the loneliness and desolation that Jesus suffered in his whole life through the deafness and opposition of men and often the misunderstanding of his own disciples. Only occasionally do the gospels mention this, and Luther commented that “if everything about Christ had been written down, we would read of many a severe affliction. He was a man who from his youth was tormented by many afflictions.” Actually he had already died in the garden of Gethsemane before he was crucified, for there he had already suffered death and desolation to the depths. On the cross all of the cross of his life was summarized.
But therefore the meaning of his life for us is also summed up in the cross. Christ’s dereliction means something deeper than the desolation of any human being could ever mean. In that dereliction he became the brother of the loneliest and most derelict of men. This is the seal upon the love of God. No starry heaven, no marvel of creation, can make us so sure of it as the fact that Christ by the will of the Father took upon himself this uttermost affliction of soul. But while he was obliged to plunge into forsakenness, he was not forsaken, but rather led by God’s strong, irresistible hand to the only place where he could become the Savior of the world, right next to all who are desolate in the bottomless hell where man left alone inevitably falls into despair.
Christ’s cross and dereliction can help us to overcome our cross and dereliction. If God’s love is hidden in the cross, then it is also our cross. There is where God seeks us most intensely, there he desires to speak to us and assure us that his power is revealed at its mightiest in our weakness. The person who has found God’s love here, on the cross, will also find it elsewhere , in the cosmos, in human love. But he who looks first for it somewhere else and not in this hidden center of divine help for the world will founder and come to grief upon the suffering and meaninglessness of life. We cannot see the face of God, but in Christ, said Luther, God gave himself a “little, near face” which we can look upon. It is a human suffering face, the face of the Crucified. But in it dwells the majesty of the love of God. (The Heart of Reformation Faith, Henirich Bornkamm, 1963, pp. 49-51)
For further study on Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” here is a link to a good 2005 article by Carl R. Trueman.
As always comments and questions are welcomed! Thanks,
Bryan @ Manifest Propensity
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.
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.
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.
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s 20 minute long 1971 prog-rock work “Tarkus,” contains one instrumental part called “iconoclast,” which along with some of the words from the lyrical parts seems to hint at a theme of iconoclasm. One lyric says
“…are your ears full, you can’t hear anything at all”
This ending of this lyrical part seems to show that “idols” tend to render their “worshippers” deaf to learning truth apart from their idolatrous belief “system.” I have of late been reading a current book by a Christian theologian in which he assumes the role of an iconoclast of sorts against what he sees as misguided “self-assured ecclesiastical assumptions” that have become veritable idols. Several brief quotes from the book are are below, following a few definitions of “iconoclast.” The first one is from google:
a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions.
a destroyer of images used in religious worship, in particular.
The second one is from Ambrose Bierce, who along with Mark Twain was one of the main non-religious iconoclasts of that period.
Iconoclast, n. A breaker of idols, the worshipers whereof are imperfectly gratified by the performance, and most strenuously protest that he unbuildeth but doth not reëdify, that he pulleth down but pileth not up. For the poor things would have other idols in place of those he thwacketh upon the mazzard and dispelleth. But the iconoclast saith: “Ye shall have none at all, for ye need them not; and if the rebuilder fooleth round hereabout, behold I will depress the head of him and sit thereon till he squawk it.” (Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary” 1906.)
Naturally and logically, an iconoclast would be “unemployed” if it were not for human idol factories. Here are several quotes about this:
From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.
— John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion I:XI.8
In short, there is absolutely nothing that God can give us that we are incapable of turning into an idol… So it is no sacrilege to be “against the church.” God is the ultimate iconoclast, and God told His angels to begin at His sanctuary, and he told them to get in there and defile it. That he had a higher purpose in mind can be seen elsewhere in the book of the prophet (Ezekiel). (Douglas Wilson, “Against the Church” 2013.)
Jesus of Nazareth certainly took on the role of the ultimate iconoclast against the belief system of the religious establishment of his day. These religious leaders ironically epitomized the lyric in Tarkus with their ears so “full” of their religious system that they could not “hear anything at all” of the words of Jesus the “Word of God” (see John 1:1-14). Using a sight metaphor rather than a hearing metaphor, Jesus said this to them:
“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (John 9:39-41; English Standard Version)
What the iconoclastic endeavors of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, have in common with Ambrose Bierce, Douglas Wilson, or Jesus of Nazareth is impossible to know, due to the obscurity of the lyrics. But it is interesting to wonder about their intentions as we listen to the song and hear the lyrics. It is also an interesting merely as a fairly epic early 70’s prog-rock song, complete with comic book style scenes of the adventures of “Tarkus.”
I was reluctant to mix apocalyptic/comic book sci-fi fantasy/progessive-rock music, with such a serious subject as biblical/historical iconoclastic “battles.” But I couldn’t resist letting “Tarkus” be an interesting contact point between we “idol factory” humans and God who in love is our ultimate iconoclast.
I welcome any comments! Thanks…
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.
“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”
– Flannery O’Connor
An excerpt from “A Catholic Thinker” blog article “The Mean Grace of Flannery O’Connor“:
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”
“This notion that grace is healing omits the fact that before it heals, it cuts with the sword Christ said He came to bring.”
“[The trendy “beat” writers] call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It’s true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial.”
And when explaining (what I considered incomprehensible) “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to a friend,
“There is a moment of grace in most of the stories, or a moment where it is offered, and usually rejected. Like when the Grandmother recognizes the Misfit as one of her children (a child of God) and reaches out to touch him. It’s the moment of grace for her anyway – a silly old woman – but it leads him to shoot her. This moment of grace excites the devil to frenzy.”
Excerpt from “Odd Thomas” by Dean Koontz:
Most people desperately desire to believe that they are part of a great mystery, that Creation is a work of grace and glory, not merely the result of random forces colliding. Yet each time that they are given but one reason to doubt, a worm in the apple of the heart makes them turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous, whereupon they have a drunkard’s thirst for cynicism, and they feed upon despair as a starving man upon a loaf of bread. (page 142)
Excerpt from “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell:
God was at Sinai and within weeks, people were dancing in front of a golden calf. God walked in jerusalem and days later, folks nailed Him up and then went back to work. Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God (Quoted in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” by Eugene Peterson; page 177)
Excerpt from Mark 6:6 King James Version:
“And he marvelled because of their unbelief.” –Jesus of Nazareth
(Whereas we marvel at belief.)
BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2014
When I heard this song I knew that the opening song lyric sounded familiar, and that it sounded very Job-like. Not too many years ago I would have found a Bible concordance and started looking for “horse” in the listings under “Job.” Nowadays google is much faster and the print much more favorable to read. The results are posted below, interspersed with the lyrics. Continue reading