Posts Tagged God
While the superstore would never ever admit it, what I witnessed this “Black Friday” morning was a major corporation organizing itself in such a way for which the only reasonable explanation is that they do not believe in the “goodness” or in the “reasonableness” of humanity.
I have not done “Black Friday” door buster shopping for probably 14 years. This year, there is one gift (the initials of it are Nintendo Switch) that I rolled out of bed to try to nab. Alas, to no avail, “online special only” I was told.
Upon entering the store, the door buster cohort and I were literally herded (no other appropriate term here) by Walmart shepherds through a single looping one-way street with a towering median of door buster items. Credit goes to the workers for having the median so well-organized. However, this plan was doomed to fail. People are going to cross the median; they are going to go the opposite way in the one way lane; they are going to get to the thing for which they woke up at 4am.
The amazing observation here is that Walmart anticipated this. Not only did they anticipate our/my consumerism would prevail over circumstances of pandemic proportions, but also the powers that be saw the nasty cocktail of “Black Friday” during a pandemic, and said, “Cards on the table; we don’t trust in the orderly goodness of humanity. We will build a wall and corale them into our loopity loop. We’ll station workers like security guards at every 10 yards.” While the superstore executives would never ever say it publicly (nor would the government), actions speak louder than words. Walmart believes in total depravity.
For those reading who are unfamiliar with total depravity, it is the Christian doctrine found in the Bible that teaches that humanity is not always as bad as it can be, but it is as bad off as it possibly could be.” That is to say, at any given moment, human beings by nature possess an indwelling spiritual bankruptcy that has the capability to be and do great evil.
Walmart anticipated this. They acted as one would expect a believer in total depravity to act. Did the superstore’s plan work? Not at all. The plan disintegrated after the first person had to wait at the first turn. People dispersed and broke every law.
Every external law fails to cure or order the totally depraved soul. Law simply can’t do the job. This is why Paul wrote in Romans 8,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.(Rom. 8:1–6 ESVi)
Only the God of the Bible through the work of Jesus Christ by the power of the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit can resurrect spiritual life in a totally depraved sinner. Jeremiah the prophet asked,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?(Jer. 17:9 ESVi)
The answer is God.
“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”(Jer. 17:10 ESVi)
And upon his searches and tests, humanity is found wanting; we are found incurably wounded with a heart that lies to us about our spiritual condition. For this reason, God sent and revealed his Son, as the Nicene Creed teaches,
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
If the Spirit of God is awakening you to the truth of your own depravity (as he did me), then you are ready to receive the good news,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”(John 3:16 ESVi)
Thanks Walmart. Thanks for reminding us that we really aren’t as good as we think we are. We aren’t okay. We aren’t law abiding, good little boys and girls. We are sinners. Thanks be to God, for he has spoken to us in these last days by his Son, who after making purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of Majesty and now offers to us a life and salvation sweeter than ten thousand charms (and Nintendo Switches). Merry Christmas! Christ has come!
In a 2014 article with Catalyst entitled, “Everything We Think We Know About Marriage and Divorce Is Wrong,” Shaunti Feldhahn challenges the oft quoted divorce statistics with which most of us have grown too accustomed and familiar. She writes,
Perhaps most surprising, half of all marriages are not ending in divorce. According to the Census Bureau, 72% of those who have ever been married, are still married to their first spouse! And the 28% who aren’t includes everyone who was married for many years, until a spouse died. Non-one knows what the average first-marriage divorce rate actually is, but based on the rate of widowhood and other factors, we can estimate it is probably closer to 20–25%. For all marriages (including second marriages, and so on), it is in the 31–35% range, depending on the study.
She goes on later in the article to mention her partnership with The Barna Group during which both Feldhahn and Barna calculate that the divorce rate among those who regularly attend church is 27%.
These statistics are certainly more encouraging than what we typically hear about marriage in the world and in the church. Although in my opinion, if Feldhahn and Barna are correct in their calculation about the divorce rate among regular church goers is 1 in 4, I still say we can do better. Comparing Feldhahn’s numbers according the the Census Bureau and in her partnership with Barna, the divorce statistics in our nation and in the church are still basically the same. Don’t get me wrong; I am elated if these lower figures are correct! However, I believe that the effect of the grace of the gospel and the ministry of the Spirit in marriages of Christians should cause our numbers to be lower in comparison to the general population. I recognize that even as Christians we still wrestle against the sinful nature, but we also by grace have been given power and awareness to overcome and then yield to the will of God for our lives and marriages.
My plan is to make this something like a five part series on Divorce and Remarriage in the Christian Context. Other than this first article, I’ll be interacting with a book entitled, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics by Richard B. Hays. In this article, I hope to share briefly about my own experience and identification with both divorce and remarriage. In the articles to follow, I plan to interact with Hays (1) on those New Testament texts that address divorce and remarriage, (2) on the (canonical) development of the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, (3) on his hermeneutical principles in response to the New Testament’s witness against divorce and remarriage, and (4) on his exhortation that the Christian Church is a community making the love of God visible (and one way we do this is through our marriages).
But before interacting with Hays, first let me say that I would not exist were it not for two divorces and a remarriage. Neither would my sister Jade. I find the complexity of my own existence in light of the will of God quite confounding. If the Scriptural commands to uphold marriage had been completely obeyed by my mother and father, then I seemingly would not exist. I suppose an appropriate response from me on this is that I should always rejoice when the word of God is obeyed, even at the cost of my own life. The divorces that took place prior to my existence, that indeed paved the way for the possibility of my own existence, were not without causing deep pain, confusion, and heartache for others, including children. I suppose another appropriate response from me on this is that I thank God for his grace in allowing me to have existence despite the messy circumstances that preceded my life; and moreover, I thank him for his grace in calling me into relationship with him. And as dysfunctional as it may be, I am thankful for my mother, my father, my two half-brothers, my half sister, and my full sister. I love them and continue to grow in relationship with them.
Today, my extended family has grown larger as a result of four other divorces and two remarriages. My mother and father divorced when I was 16, and they both remarried. My stepfather was also previously married, as was my stepmother. Confused yet? So, in addition to the family I started with, I now have a stepfather, a stepmother, two stepsisters, and three stepbrothers, not to mention the numerous nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, etc. While I look back upon the divorces that led to my own existence with some sort of gladness that I was able to have life, I can’t say that I have always looked at the divorce of my mother and my father with such grace and gladness. I am learning. I am learning that Christ’s redemptive grace is able to reach deeply into broken families, heal any and every wound, and make relationships into friendships, even if there was once hostility and brokenness.
As I write and interact with the Scriptures, Hays’ book, and the topics of Divorce and Remarriage, I wanted you to know that I do not come to these topics somehow lacking in experience. The temptations that lead to divorce has surrounded and bullied my family. While I am a grown man, I am still a child of divorce, and there isn’t a day that goes by in which I am somehow still affected by my family dynamics. I don’t say this resentfully; it’s just reality for me. I am eager to learn God’s grace and how to lean on his love and show his love in this family context. In other words, I’m not a slave to the dysfunction of my family; none of us are. The power of the gospel sets us free, and we are growing in this freedom.
These experiences came with me when one glorious day, Jesus reached down and saved me. Very early in my conversation, he taught me that Ephesians 4:32 is part of the new life that he had for me, “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This forgiveness that I received has allowed me to continue to have an extended family. It has transformed my heart to seek out these new step-relationships with charity. God in Christ has forgiven me every sin, and O how great a sinner I am. Therefore, I must then extend forgiveness, kindness, and gentleness to others whose sins may have had some affect on my life. Interestingly, the teaching in this verse that has brought healing in my experience of divorces and remarriages is the same teaching that serves as the foundation to my marriage to Aimee. I ought always to forgive Aimee, and Aimee ought always to forgive me because God in Christ has forgiven us both. Perhaps, you feel that I am a bit naive here, and I may very well be a bit naive about some things. However, as per my experiences listed above, I don’t think divorce is one of those things. I look forward to writing and interacting with you more in the coming months about what the Bible teaches about Divorce and Remarriage. God’s grace to you and your families.
A ring now forms,
brown and worn,
too tired to refill it,
too burdened to remove—
its contents remain;
if they could speak,
of tears and worry and pain
they would leak
into the ears
of those who could hear.
My coffee cup . . . my coffee cup.
I stare into it,
cold and bitter now,
my soul it mirrors,
no know how,
lack of pow-
-er, lack of control,
be still, my soul.
Does He hear?
My heart laid bare,
O Father, please draw near!
My coffee cup . . . my coffee cup.
Aged and unstirred,
needing a good shake,
ready to be served,
past its time for drink;
commentary of a man
in a desert land
upon whom God from heaven
must descend with drink
of solace and peace and healin’,
bring me back from think-
-in ’bout my coffee cup . . . my coffee cup.
Lord, you are so kind,
Each day I find
Your patient grace,
Even in this place
Where shadows darken
Nor does pain hearken,
Yet, your kindness shines.
Lines escape me!
Signs as numerous
As trees in a forest!
Lord, you are so kind,
Each day I find.
Thank you Lord Jesus.
8. They Get Smart
I don’t agree with Marc here. Our youth group doesn’t dance around difficult questions. We embrace them, discuss them, argue from historic, orthodox Christian teaching, and attempt to humbly admit it when we must embrace mystery and trust God with things. We’ve talked, not directly, but about the ideas in the Epicurus quote. God is both willing and able to prevent evil. Has he not sent his Son to experience the full blow of evil? Does he not seek to unite believers with his Son by the Spirit in the fellowship of suffering? Is he not patiently waiting for all evil persons to repent and turn to him, before he finally and fully judges evil when the cup of his righteous wrath spills over and pours out every last drop? From where did evil come? From pride and disloyalty from within humans? How was it found in humans whom God created? It was enticed by the evil one, the Deceiver and Adversary of God. How was evil found in Satan? From pride and disloyalty from within the angel whom God made? Did God then make Satan evil? No, God tempts no one, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (James 1:13). What then? God created angels and human as good, and he alone is righteous to determine what is good. In this mystery, it seems that what was good to him was to create beings with a will initially free to be loyal or disloyal, prideful or humble, worshipers or idolaters. However, when the angels and the humans were enticed by their own wills to turn from God; they irrevocably found themselves bound in slavery to evil that leads to death apart from God. Therefore, God must have in eternity past desired for us to know him as the one who is both merciful and judge. For because of evil’s presence, he redeems and judges. The Trinity must have desired to be known through the story of redemption. We talk about such things in our youth group.
However, my concern about our students going forward is not that some professor will make them feel intelligent because we have failed to do so. We give our students a lot to chew on, sometimes purposefully too much for sake of awareness. My concern is that many of our students have not either experienced evil in a life altering way, nor have they yet embraced the gospel to the extent that they will be able to interpret evil and fellowship with Christ in the midst of evil, nor have they yet developed the insight or possibly have not taken their fellowship with the saints deep enough in the local church so as to come to realize that the body of believers with whom they meet every week knows the grief of evil well, many of whom continue to rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, and persist in prayer. Despite our best efforts, some teens continue to perceive the local church as some kind of social club, which it is not, rather than a corporate fellowship with Christ and with one another as worshipers through both days of trouble and days of celebration. You can know about evil and all the philosophical debates, and yada, yada, but your real theology shows up when you experience evil.
As ever, Bonhoeffer cagily maintained a certain distance. He wished to learn from the old master, but would preserve his intellectual independence. In the end he would not choose church history. He respected that field, as he demonstrated by mastering it, to Harnack’s delight, but he disagreed with Harneck that one must stop there. He believed that picking over the texts as they did, and going no further, left behind “rubble and fragments.” It was the God beyond the texts, the God who was their author and who spoke to mankind through them, that fired his interest [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 62].
By September he made his decision: he would write his doctoral dissertation under Seeberg after all, but it would be on a subject dogmatic and historical. He would write about the subject he had begun puzzling over in Rome, namely, What is the church? It was eventually titled Sanctorum Communio: A Dogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church. Bonhoeffer would identify the church as neither a historical entity nor an institution, but as “Christ existing as church-community.” It was a stunning debut [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 63]
I myself find the way such a decision comes about to be problematic. One thing is clear to me, however, that one personally – that is, consciously – has very little control over the ultimate yes or no, but rather that time decides everything. Maybe not with everybody, but in any event with me. Recently I have noticed again and again that all the decisions I had to make were not really my own decisions. Whenever there was a dilemma, I just left it in abeyance and – without really consciously dealing with it intensively – let it grow toward the clarity of a decision. But this clarity is not so much intellectual as it is instinctive. The decision is made; whether one can adequately justify it retrospectively is another question. “Thus” it happened that I went [to Barcelona] [brackets mine] [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 70].