Suffering Is Your Ally

From my study notes on 2 Corinthians 1:

It seems unfortunate we translate the Greek word (paraklesis) simply as "comfort" in English, because the typical associations with that word miss the point. The Greek word is both the invocation of someone’s assistance, and the assistance delivered. The Holy Spirit, often called by the related term "Comforter" (paraklete), is One who by His nature draws you up out of yourself. When you call upon God, He calls you to Himself. That primary form of assistance and comfort is to make you see you need not care about the sorrows that clamor your attention. Comfort in tribulation is rising above it mystically. We then offer that same blessing to others, helping them rise above their sorrow by climbing outside themselves. Such consolation is abundant in Christ.

Naturally, as we develop a stronger immunity to worldly sorrows, we should expect those sorrows to abound. What kind of reward is that? Wrong question. God sends more sorrows because that is how He executes His wrath on sin. If this drives you deeper into despair, it is because you cling too much to this life. If it drives you farther from your old self, you should expect more of it as the sorrows succeed in their mission. Our sorrows abound, but our "comfort" abounds the more, as we pull farther and farther away from the false and fallen world around us. Yes, the whole point is to make you even more otherworldly, more "out of touch" from things which only hinder His Kingdom. Paul sincerely hopes they understand this, so the same deep blessings can fall on them.

This is a sample of moral reasoning in the heart. The objective is to become less attached to this world, so suffering and sorrow make sense. They are your friends.

Factions and Sects

After the initial opening in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul immediately jumps into condemning sectarian divisions in verse 10 and following.

It’s not hard to understand. The Corinthians detected intellectual variations in how the different apostles taught and preached. And why not? Paul was a bilingual PhD Pharisee, Apollos was an Alexandrian scholar, Peter was no kind of scholar at all, and Christ clung to Ancient Hebrew thinking. But in the cerebral approach of the Corinthians to matters of religion, different styles meant different doctrines.

When you get any mainstream Christian leader to read this same passage and he starts talking about how we need to end sectarianism. But what he really mean is that everyone should dissolve their clubs and join his. “Well, isn’t it obvious? Our way is the right one!” Should any of those actually make it to Heaven, I think they’ll be shocked at who else is there waiting for them.

This is the standard human-oriented tribalism. When you shift from your head to your heart in matters of faith, you automatically start looking for common threads that tie it all together. That’s how the heart-mind works. Feel free to choose any styling and flavor that meets your human needs and offers the best tools for living your faith. What really matters is the power of your faith visible to the eyes of the heart. Heart-led people will always recognize each other — or at least they could if they progress far enough away from the dominance of their intellects.

Too many folks reading Paul’s Corinthian Letters are too much Corinthians themselves.

Psalm 102

This is a siege prayer. Whether the occasion is a literal siege matters not; there are many contexts that feel just the same — there is no where to turn for escape from the sorrow, and nothing to occupy the long hours to take your mind off the things. It begins very much like a time of personal trial, but the psalmist notes that Zion is also in need of deliverance. Thus, the heading that notes this is a prayer of the afflicted is almost understated.

As is often the case, we are humbled by the soaring imagery, even in mere English translations. The first two verses cry out for God to hear, at one point using a figure of speech that asks God to lean down close to hear because the cry is so feeble.

What does it feel like to sit as Job in sickness and deep sorrow? Surely the psalmist knew his tale. The imagery includes mention of a pair of birds we cannot easily identify, but both are repugnant as unclean fowl, including one distinguished by the habit of vomiting. As always, if all you see is the literal meaning, you miss the whole point. There really are no words to describe such a deeply disturbing sorrow, so utterly cut off from the comfort of another.

Indeed, the only company he has are his enemies. There are symbols of bitterness in ashes for bread and drink mixed with tears. But this is no pity party, because the psalmist knows deep inside he can blame only his own sin that has raised a barrier between him and God. He is deeply aware of his mortality.

He waits on the God, waiting for the wrath to run its course. In due time the eternal God will return to His former mercies and save the city that hosts His Name. The symbolism of loving the stones and dust is roughly equivalent to the ritual of kissing the ground in modern times. This is holy ground, in the sense that if one is going to find God’s mercy, this is where it will happen. And once God restores Zion, every nation will again quail in fear of what comes next. When His glory returns, nothing can stop His nation from carrying that glory to the ends of the earth.

Scholars agree that what follows is distinctly messianic. It’s not just Israel the Nation, but what takes center stage here is Israel the Mission. God’s glory and His revelation are the whole purpose the nation exists. Some day that mission will raise up a nation unlike any other, unlike any ever seen before. Through that future nation of revelation, God will hear the groaning of folks in dire straights, such as the psalmist himself, but throughout all the world. He will draw the world into His redemption and service.

The psalmist then hints that he would love to see those days, begging God not to end his life too soon. He confesses that God has been around since the beginning and will be still around when it’s all done. Surely He can spare a few more days for His penitent servant? Then again, all the universe will perish when the time comes. And God’s purpose in Creation shall not fail, for He will surely have children of His glory among men.

Psalm 101

A psalm of David, you might imagine he wrote this as a vow upon ascending to the throne of Israel. However, it is rooted much farther back in David’s life when he was just a shepherd boy. The shepherd is the quintessential biblical image of moral manhood, and all the more so for one who actually cares for a flock of people. Anyone with social leverage is morally bound to this manner of leadership.

We dare not forget that the image of holiness is striving to maintain social order on God’s terms. The Law of Moses detailed what social stability meant in Israel, offering a clear path. David’s primary image of wickedness is someone who wanders from that path of moral truth. Do they want something not provided in the Law? Let them keep going and not come back; they don’t belong in the flock of Israel.

David begins by vowing to celebrate the mercy and justice of God. This is how he will worship his God. He declares his sincere intention to walk in purity by the Lord’s wisdom in his heart. What kind of man is eager for his Master’s inspection of his work? This is quite the opposite of Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden. Lesser men are always looking for ways to avoid such close attention, but David craves it because it also means he will grow closer and have a better image of his Lord. Thus, from such close communion, he will be able to walk in full integrity.

He uses a colloquial Hebrew expression — setting something before one’s eyes — to indicate he would dismiss quickly anything that doesn’t actively promote his commission from God. He would shortly brush off anyone that fails to show a similar commitment to the Law. Because David lives by his heart, he is ready to sense the hearts of others. He has no time for hearts that don’t resonate with similar convictions.

Let them sneak around and stir up trouble for others, seeking an advantage in diminishing someone else. David trusts that God will reveal such evil to him so he can take action. In the presence of a penitent king, there is no room for arrogant and ambitious courtiers.

Instead, David will keep his heart’s radar attuned to others with a commitment to the Lord. These are the people he will promote into his royal service. The first time he senses deception, that person is put out on the street. Indeed, he’ll start the day bright and early looking out for troublemakers. While he would hardly claim to be the perfect judge, he knows that laziness about it will ensure God’s wrath. So by investing some energy in sifting out false hearts, David hopes to keep the windows of Heaven open to rain blessings on his reign.

What the Hell?

Some of you get it, but it seems there is enough confusion that I need to restate things for clarity.

I use the English word “Hell.” If you have been paying attention, you’ll notice I use it in the vernacular sense, having a very flexible meaning, and have never bothered with defining it as a religious term.

The image of serving as slaves of Satan applies to this life. It’s the biblical image of ANE feudalism, God’s dominion over Creation. A part of what we need to know about Satan and his activities is derived from this parabolic image of Satan as God’s personal Potiphar, if you will. This has nothing to do with Western Medieval images of torment and Hell; that should have been obvious by my steady denunciation of Western Christianity. People who do not walk by a heart of commitment to God’s revelation are, to varying degrees, slaves of Satan here and now. Their share of the blessings God intended to grant them under covenant are consumed by Satan, and Satan gets none of his own.

But in this image, I include multiple references that Satan is somehow confined to this world, along with all his demons. There is a sense in which that image of slavery is “Hell,” but I don’t recall thinking or writing that Satan was also in charge of Hell as a place beyond death. “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Whatever that verse means about “judgment” is the more precise meaning of “Hell.” I have never pretended to offer any firm knowledge of Hell because the Bible avoids a literal description. It’s always been lyrical references to torment of some kind, but that could just as easily mean standing in the Presence of God with full awareness on that higher level that you are not in His favor. That can’t be comfortable, but you can’t possibly presume to describe it in literal terms.

And on top of all that, I believe Hell is not eternal; neither is whatever is signified by the word “Heaven.” Note that Jesus on the Cross referred to it by the Persian word for Paradise (Luke 23:43). Indeed, our current “place of the dead” for everyone, in God’s favor or not, is a temporary state. It’s all prior to the final Resurrection of the Dead, prior to the Final Judgment. I tend to believe that “new Heaven and new Earth” is somewhat literal. Some parts of Revelation 21 do have literal connotations, but how literal can you be about something the intellect cannot grasp?

So while American vernacular English does permit a flexible use of the words “Heaven” and “Hell” — to include symbolism and parable — if you want to shift to a more precise discussion of matters of faith and Scripture, both are apparently outside of this realm of existence, but attached to it in some way that indicates they will be replaced along with the rest of Creation at some point out there in our world’s future.

Do we really need a comprehensive word study of Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, etc.? I’ve already covered the Old Testament teaching on afterlife to show that Jesus wasn’t so much adding new revelation about the afterlife as He was speaking to an audience that had drifted far from their ancient Hebrew roots. You need a heart-led discernment to recognize that some of it was just using the common rabbinical manner of speaking (because folks were familiar with it) even as He corrected false impressions about things. Often He was pushing them back away from Hellenism toward the ancient Hebrew way of thinking. Hebrew language uses words as signposts, not as containers of truth. The whole point was to persuade you to seek God’s truth from God Himself, with the underlying assumption you must have an active heart-mind in order to hear from God in the first place.

I don’t think chasing down precise word meanings in Greek and Hebrew will help you very much because that was never the point. A proper heart-mind operation means that words are indicative, not descriptive. If you could read Greek, you’d know that Paul’s Hebrew mind constantly searched for ways to express those thoughts in Greek so that he was always coining his own Greek words. If you were born speaking Greek in that time, you would tend to resist that Hebraic thought pattern. You would read things back into his writing and struggle to keep up with Paul’s teaching. This is why the Apostles spent so very much time with each of their church plants, because it was downright tough to make a Greek mind shift over to Hebrew patterns of thought.

And now we have English with a whole batch of fresh barriers keeping us from Hebrew thought. A part of me wonders if I’ll ever get that across to enough people before I die. The language you speak is the language you think, and the language can seriously hold you back from thinking the way God designed us to think. All I can do is ask that you learn a cynical suspicion of the person in the mirror, because I’ve had to cultivate that, too. It doesn’t require paranoia, because God is surely at work in you, helping you to move steadily closer to Him. Always be willing to question whether you have actually caught on, and turn inside to your heart and connect with the Holy Spirit for patience and guidance. You don’t have to accept my answers, but maybe you can learn something useful toward your own answers by noticing how I get mine.

Faith Will Not Forget You

Faith has not been forgotten while I devote so much time to recovering from surgery. And you can be sure faith has not forgotten me, because recovery would not be possible without it.

If you want some religion chatter you can go back to my post A Word for Men and check out the lively exchange of comments between Steven and I. He’s Eastern Orthodox, and if that sounds interesting, he offers a couple of links. It’s not for me, but that should hinder no one who feels drawn to it. Being familiar with the early history of how that branch of Christianity came into existence, the theological disputes from that period were enough to turn me away from it. I can’t summarize it here, but if you read explanations of their unique beliefs, you’ll see why I say it’s too cerebral for me. It reminds me of the difference between Western mysticism versus ANE, because Greek thought (wedded to Greek language) is where Western thought started.

But while this blog seems rather silent, I can assure you that my faith is working hard carrying me forward. Sometimes there isn’t a lot of energy left to ponder things I might say because I’m pondering what I need to do. It’s not so much the physical therapy stuff and trying to move the leg as much as it can take, but exercising faith during this silence while the City considers my claim along with all the other crap they have to do.

I still believe someone out there with a higher public profile will be drawn to our parish. I still believe mainstream Christian religion is headed for a major problem like never before, with some level of exodus from the membership. I’m still certain America as we know it is doomed under God’s wrath, and it will most certainly affect other countries. And I still believe it was God’s requirement of me to let the City of OKC have a chance to do what’s right. I am convinced I’ll still be out there riding and taking pictures for the glory of God, once this recovery has taken its course.

Faith is an adventure like nothing else.

Psalm 100

This processional hymn has long been the source of a great many Christian songs of worship. For something so brief, the imagery carries a lasting message that resounds in faithful hearts across the ages.

Picture in your mind some periodic festival wherein the worshipers begin outside the city walls, marching and singing in holy procession. Someone calls out, “Let’s have a song of praise!” Let all the earth praise Him, as is merely His due as Creator. If your heart is truly committed to Him, it’s hard to imagine anyone could restrain the excitement at this celebration.

The psalmist asserts that there really is no other God. It’s not a theological assertion, but a call to forget the question in favor of devotion to the One God who calls this His people. Had He not made them, they would not be. No human holds such creative power in his hands.

Pass through the Eastern Gates of the City with thanksgiving. Throng the Temple courts with praise for His name. Make His name glorious. He is the definition of goodness. His mercy runs out beyond the threshold of human awareness. He is trustworthy from one generation to the next.

Your Theology Is Your Problem

Let me say this with as much clarity as I can marshal: Theology is a human activity in response to divine calling. Theology is religion, a mere expression of faith. Theology is not wisely discerning objective truth about God, because there is no such thing as objective truth about God. Truth is God’s personal moral character, an element of His living Presence. Theology is just a tool, one that can be modified as needed and discarded when it wears out. Your theology is not eternal; it will remain here in this world when you go home to be with God in Heaven.

My theology is just a part of me. Your theology cannot be mine, nor vice versa. If we overlap, the common ground says more about us than it does about God. That we have a common ground says something about God and how He intends to work in us.

Human intellect cannot be made un-fallen. Intellect is redeemed only in surrendering to something eternal in you — your heart-mind. Theology can never be more than a human effort to organize and implement faith. You cannot trust your theology to answer all the questions; treat your theology as a mere tool, a provisional set of handles for grabbing hold of reality. Reality itself is fungible, so theology cannot possible be any less ephemeral.

People who take their theology too seriously are actually taking themselves too seriously. Idolizing your own intellect is called “sin.”

Psalm 99

While this is another coronation song, it’s not something you read and them meditate. You should jump up, shout and sing, run around in circles and do cartwheels. We poorly grasp the kind of genuine enthusiasm that saw people do things just like that during coronation celebrations. The refrain sounds thrice here: “He is holy!”

The words for “tremble” and “quake” are intentionally ambiguous: You can shiver in fear or tremble with joy. It really depends on your sense of faith and commitment. He is described as the true sovereign over Israel, so trouble her at your own peril. Let everyone tremble for His name is holy!

His limitless power is wedded to boundless compassion. The image of divine justice is hardly limited to what is implied by the English translation. His divine justice is entirely consistent with His design for Creation; it brings people to a sense of peace. It is in their best interest; nothing could possibly be sweeter, so learn to love it. And so dance around His throne, for He is holy!

While Moses and Aaron were not technically from the priestly clan, they did serve as appointed priests unto the Lord. God’s Law reflects His character; a written expression of His Law cannot restrain His choices. The Law of Moses binds the people, not God; it tells them what to expect from Him. You’ll notice that no one argued against their priestly service and lived. And of course, none doubts the priesthood of Samuel, much less his prophetic calling. People truly committed to pleasing God will find themselves in august company. You, too, can call on His name and get the same level of response they saw. It’s not about the men, but about the God they served and their devotion.

However, God is not some noisy and doting ruler. Those who fail His expectations will surely suffer His wrath, but it always comes packaged with forgiveness. Don’t hesitate to come into His Presence wherever it is He calls to you. Our God is holy!

A Bit of Cultural Mythology

Brother Ed is a dirt-grubbing peasant.

That’s my social background. Not blue-collar, but brown-collar, at best. Yes, I managed to get a really great education, because I went to college back in the days when state and federal government was passing out big grants. All you had to do was make the grade, and I didn’t suffer from any goofball sense of entitlement.

America doesn’t have a genuine upper class. We have some insufferably snotty rich folks with massive educations, but they remain some version of cultural bourgeois. We do have a strong element of DIY cowboy ethic in there, but most of the wealthy and powerful remain elitist petty snobs. They like to imagine themselves as upper class. And maybe the European upper class is no cultural marvel today, but it takes a special blindness to ignore the difference between upper class culture and that of the merely wealthy.

The current massive SJW whining about micro-aggression is hardly mainstream. However, it is also little more than a caricature of how most “respectable Americans” tend to think. In other words, the whining is over-the-top, but essentially the same culture. Americans have a very poor tolerance for sarcasm directed at them personally. If you can find acceptance into some in-group, you’ll get away with it more, but whining about offense is simply the essence of what we are.

And it’s just crazy how easy it is to get over that. Most people who become aware of the virtues of social resilience — not taking yourself too seriously — have little trouble moving down that path. It’s too obvious. But it seems increasingly rare that you’ll find someone with the good sense to simply laugh when another party says something preposterous about him.

Sometimes you just wanna growl at someone: “Grow a pair!”