Sunday, July 01, 2018

The Very Heart of Faith in Christ

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9–10
It should now be clear that when Paul speaks in this way he is not merely making a virtue out of the necessity of his bodily and spiritual sufferings, nor is he simply attempting an ad hoc defence against the attacks aimed at his person.  What he says is to be understood in terms of the very heart of his faith in Christ, which is faith in the Crucified; and it is on this basis that his words define the fundamental meaning of his existence as Christian and apostle.  Life in Christ is life in hope, and can be comprehended only as the very antithesis of all earthly satisfaction, just as the Cross is the sign of divine life only in antithesis of all the glamour and glory of the world.  Christ's glory and the glory of this age, the wisdom of God and the wisdom of men, boasting of one's natural powers and boasting of one's weakness, are things that can never co-exist nor be made, so to speak, compatible with one another.  Paul consciously holds fast to this truth not only as a man but also in his role as an apostle; it characterises his mode of operation. 'If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ' (Galatians 1:10).  Paul carries out his work 'in weakness and in much fear and trembling' (1 Corinthians 2:3, 1 Thessalonians 2:2), and explicitly refuses to commend his testimony by means of the glamour of bewitching rhetoric or of supposedly higher wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1, 4, 13).  It is by suffering for his congregations that he brings about their salvation (2 Corinthians 1:6).  Only so can he remain truly the apostle of his Lord, the crucified Christ, who is to the Jews a scandal and to the Greeks foolishness, but who in this human nothingness at the same time reveals to both of them the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

--Hans von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power, p. 41

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Jesus: Alive to All Our Sorrows

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.
Proverbs 14:10
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and knowing grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:3
The history of the soul is only fully known and felt by the conscious subject.  Each knoweth his own bitterness, deep, interior.  The most poignant sufferings often arise from causes, which cannot be told to our dearest friend.  No two of us are framed alike; and this diversity of mind and character precludes a perfect reciprocity even in the warmest glow of human sympathy.  Each only knows where the heart is wrung.  Each therefore must in a measure tread a solitary path, and in that path often submit to be misunderstood.


But think of Him, who made himself "a man of sorrows," that he might be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." (Isaiah 53:3, Hebrews 4:15).  This is not the common love to the whole family, but an individual interest of fellowship, as if each had his whole heart, and each was loved alone.  The heart's bitterness is experimentally known, and effectually relieved. (Isaiah 50:4-5)  Man--very man as he is even on the throne of God--he is alive to all our sorrows.  (Isaiah 63:9) None of his members are too low for his highest and most endearing thoughts.  Into this bosom we may pour the tale of woe, which no ear besides can receive.  We may not be able to comprehend it.  But he will make us feel, that his sympathy with sorrow is no fiction, but a precious reality.  My Saviour!  Has my heart a bitterness, that thou dost not know, that thou dost not feel with me, and for which thou dost not provide a present cordial and support?

--Charles Bridges, Proverbs: Geneva Commentary Series, p.175-176
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Why and How God Is Good

... all the time.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Psalm 34:8
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28
The goodness of God is often spoken of as if it were a mere instinctive desire for the diffusion of universal happiness, without reference to the characters or habits of his creatures -- as if he were concerned to make them comfortable, whatever might be their views and feelings in reference to himself, and in whatever way might be most congenial to their disposition and taste; as if, in fact, God had regard to no other end than the mere physical enjoyment of man!

Now, no view can be more at variance with the doctrine of Scripture than this!  I see not how, on such a supposition, we can reconcile the actual facts of human experience, with the belief that an Almighty Being, acting on this principle, exercises a providence over the world.  For, unquestionably, there is much suffering in the world.  And if there is no moral reason and no final cause for such suffering -- it would seem to derogate either from the goodness which we ascribe to God, or from his power to carry his benevolent intentions into effect.*

The man who holds it as a first principle, that the only or the chief end of God is the diffusion of mere physical enjoyment, irrespective of all moral considerations, and who takes a survey of the actual state of the world, or a review of his own experience -- must be staggered by many difficulties, which a more correct and Christian view of God's end in providence can alone obviate and remove.

The Bible does not speak of God's goodness in this way.  It never once ascribes to him the desire of making his creatures happy without reference to their moral condition.  It declares his loving-kindness, indeed, and tells us that he has no pleasure in our sufferings.  But it affirms, notwithstanding, that these sufferings are inflicted by his hand, and will continue to be inflicted, so long as the more important ends of his government are unfulfilled.  In a word, it is a moral happiness -- a happiness springing from, and in a great measure consisting in, the graces and virtues of a holy character, that the Bible declares God's willingness to bestow.  And it is a moral goodness that is ascribed to him, not an indiscriminate charity, that would secure a happiness for every man conformable to his own inclination, however wicked and perverted these inclinations may be; but a holy love, acting wisely, with a view to moral ends, and seeking to bless its objects in a way suitable to their dignity as moral and responsible beings.

--James Buchanan, The Improvement of Affliction
As often as we hear Romans 8:28 quoted, how often do we hear the very next verse--Romans 8:29--quoted together with it?  Not once in my experience.  But Romans 8:29 begins with the word "for" which means not only that it's inseparable from verse 28, but, more importantly, it provides the ground on which verse 28 stands!  What is that ground?
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:29
In other words, why do all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (verse 28)?

Because the good purpose that all things are working toward in the lives of those who are foreknown and predestined by God (verse 30 will make explicit that those called according to God's purpose in verse 28 is the same group as those foreknown and predestined in verse 29) is for every person in that group to be conformed into the image of the only Man who is morally perfect--namely, His Son Jesus Christ.  Which is to say that the good of Romans 8:28, the goodness of God, is ultimately a moral goodness rooted in God seeking not the temporal but the moral happiness of men.  Exactly what Buchanan says.

*In his best-selling book, Rabbi Harold Kushner solved this dilemma of reconciling human suffering, the goodness of God, and the sovereignty of God by denying the sovereignty of God.  God cannot be in control because the existence of human suffering robs His creatures of comfort and happiness and this would contradict Kushner's superficial doctrine of God's goodness.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

This Is About That

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32
The most concise yet profound summary I've seen/heard regarding the mystery of marriage.

Everything He has--His love, His goodness, His power--becomes ours.
And everything we have--our sin, our shame, our past--becomes His.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Hills and Valleys

And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’”
1 Kings 20:28
I know nothing about music technically, but the overall combination of melody, instrumentation, voice, soul, and theology here ... I've never been more captivated by the beauty of a song.

I've walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I've felt the pain of heartbreak
And I've seen the brighter days
And I've prayed prayers to heaven from my lowest place
And I have held Your blessings
God You give and take away
No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I'm standing in Your love

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley I know I am not alone
You're God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

I've watched my dreams get broken
In You I hope again
No matter what I know
I'm safe inside Your hands

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley I know I am not alone
You're God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

Father You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all You will remain over it all

On the mountains I will bow my life
In the valley I will lift my eyes

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley I know I am not alone
You're God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

And I will choose to say
Blessed be Your name
And I am not alone

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Good Shepherd Is Not to Be Spiritualized

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
John 10:10-15
The Gospel context and the cultural intertexts show that Jesus' use of the good shepherd image contests the leadership of those who administer the imperial system. The image is not to be spiritualized, as Kanagaraj does in claiming that the bad shepherds "steal people away from the path of obedience to Christ possibly by offering wrong teaching and theology." It is not primarily a matter of teaching and theology but rather societal injustice and exploitative leadership practices. These leaders cannot be good shepherds because they rule to benefit themselves materially and harm the people materially. No matter what they claim, they do not provide life and are not willing to give their lives for the life of society. They steal food, shelter, clothing, health, and safety from the people. They are illegitimate and violent rulers. Jesus-believers in Ephesus, urges the Gospel, cannot follow such violent "strangers." Violence is forbidden to Jesus' followers (John 18:36). They must "flee from" them and follow the good shepherd, whose voice they know (John 10:4-5). Happy accommodation with a thieving, illegitimate, violent, destructive, and life-threatening imperial system is not possible. They are called to an alternative allegiance in an antisociety, with a different set of practices. The title "good shepherd" as a descriptor of Jesus in contrast to imperial and allied leaders forms part of the Gospel's rhetoric of distance.

--Warren Carter, John and Empire: Initial Explorations, p.187-188

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Red and Yellow, Black and White...

...they are precious in His sight.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
Galatians 4:8-9