Archive for November, 2012

The False Word

Posted in Uncategorized on November 26, 2012 by ancienthopes

The grand cadence of the first chapter of Genesis is driven by the simple phrase, “and God said…” When God speaks, creation comes into existence and alive. This is called divine fiat by theologians. All following divine “words” in Scripture is but a continuation of this creation power, whether it be proclamations of the prophets, or the unique incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, who is the truth of God.

As with all other “motifs” in Scripture, this “word” motif has a dark side. At creation God saw fit to allow Satan to enter the pristine Garden through the “serpent.” It is not clear whether this creature was “craftier” than all other animals in its own right, or if it was made so by its possession by the evil spirit. Whatever, the subtleness, or opaqueness of the creature rendered it too sly to read, and is in direct contrast to the naked innocence of our first parents. It used words at first in a suggestive way (“So, God said …), then exaggeration (“you shall not eat of any tree …”), then finally flat contradiction (“You shall not surely die”). With these lying words Satan was allowed by God to undo paradise, and break the boundaries that held back chaos.

Lying is the chaos of pretending the simplicity and truth of paradise when in fact it is undoing God’s created order. Our ninth commandment is specifically focused on bringing a false word against someone in a legal setting, but certainly expands to any lying and untrue statements. God has given humans a tremendous power in language. Language is in some way analogous to the divine word spoken at creation, and therefore carries with it real power to either build up and create something beautiful, or to tear down and create chaos. True, words can be frivolous and ineffective, but even this is a perversion of speech and is chaotic.

It is not as easy as we might think to speak the truth. When Satan finish his work with Adam and Eve, they, who were once in naked innocence, now became naked and ashamed. They felt obligated to cover themselves, for somehow they became opaque and crafty like the snake, and could no longer trust each other as they once did. We might even say that Satan sowed his seed in their hearts, and ever since truth is something that is hard to come by. There has never been a time where we are bombarded by lies as we are now. We might think that we are unaffected by it all, but unless we are very intentional and are on our knees, the truth will escape us. It takes a whole lot of courage to speak the truth in a world benighted by the lying word.

On the bright side, speaking truth is powerful; more powerful than the lying word! This is because the true word builds up and affirms creation, while the lying word can only tear down. What power God has given us! By speaking the truth in love we become like God at creation! We go about casting truthful words about us like diamonds and rubies! Oh, how wonderful is God’s law! In fact, law is the very mind of God in word form! This ninth commandment allows us to participate in God’s recreated work in this world!

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Thief!

Posted in Uncategorized on November 20, 2012 by ancienthopes

I find myself both appalled and fascinated by Gollum as he sickly coos over his “precious,” the ring he murdered for and stole. When Bilbo comes upon it inadvertently, Gollum wails out “thief!” What makes Gollum so fascinating? Is not he something uncomfortably close to all of us … indeed, part of our humanity?

Most of us would not consider ourselves to be thieves. Such a name and reputation would be too shameful for us to bear. We feel that we possess integrity; we would never stoop so low as to steal. Again, this commandment is not only given to the guy next to us, but to us ─ all of us! It is my commandment to have and to hold, to love or to break. If we are honest, we will see that we do some of both.

Behind stealing is a whole complex of interior motions. There is idolatry, where we fix upon anything earthly or temporal as if it is ultimate. There is envy, where we are suddenly hit with a feeling of sadness over what others have and we do not have. Envy is misdirected longing that can easily make us vulnerable to theft. There is discontentment, believing that we deserve more in life than our lot, and that somehow we got a “raw deal,” making thievery a very real possibility for us. There is jealousy and gossip that goad us into talking about others in a negative way, thus “stealing” the reputation of others. All of these spring from pride that blinds us to the obvious about ourselves; we are susceptible to breaking this commandment.

Added to the above is a very common sin of holding back from God accompanied by a skewed understanding of ownership. We have little to no grasp of the majesty of God and his complete ownership of all things. Everything we have is God’s; we have them on loan. This is behind the biblical mandate to tithe. All of our income belongs to God because nothing that we have or work for originates from us, but is gifted to us by a generous God. He allows us to keep the greater portion, but we are expected to give back to God at least 10% and alms for the poor on top of that. Some lamely claim that this is an Old Testament expectation, but now that we are under grace and not under law, this no longer applies to us. This argument has absolutely no foundation in reason, and is a perversion of the doctrine of grace. The greater the grace the greater generosity is engendered in the heart. The upshot of all this is that when we hold back from giving substantially and sacrificially to God, we are, in fact, thieves. Look around your home and look at the things bought with money that should have gone to God, ministry and things of eternal value; they are stolen goods. True, God wants us to have things and enjoy them, but He knows that the greatest thing to possess is a generous heart.

Like all the other commandments, this one is about boundaries. When one is content with the lot God has given one, the thought of thievery cannot make its way into the heart to disturb the soul. This commandment is meant to free us to be magnanimous and generous persons. It saves us from the indignity of grasping, and opens us up to receiving what we do have with profound gratitude and creates in us that godlike quality of generosity. Law is not bondage! Law is freedom! “I will walk in liberty because I seek your precepts” (Ps. 119:45).

The Seventh Commandment , Sanctification, and Union with God

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 by ancienthopes

Just this last week General Petraeus was found out. Evidently he never paid much attention to the seventh commandment, or the dramatic and sobering words from Proverbs seven, “For she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of dead” (vv. 26-27). It is a testimony to the power of this commandment, founded in the created order itself, that even in this culture where wrong is called right and right is called wrong, that we expect our leaders to be clean with regards to adultery. Though adultery happens everywhere, it is rarely something that the persons involved want to be found out. Yet, like all sin, it wants to be found out; it is restless until it emerges in full view, screaming from the rooftops.

Adultery is a boundary motif. When God created the cosmos, He did not rid creation from the three great primal elements of chaos: darkness, watery deep and formless earth. Rather, He gave these elements boundaries. When these elements break boundaries, such as the day turning to night as in the Egyptian plague, or the ocean bursting over its shores, or the desert devouring fertile land, we have chaos. Chaos is that which is intolerable to human life. With these physical boundaries, God set moral boundaries. If they are broken, chaos ensues, and life becomes intolerable. These moral boundaries are called law. Law is a paradise motif, for without it there is chaos, but with it there is beauty, grace, peace, and joy.

Infidelity to one’s spouse, like murder in last week’s post, is in every heart whether we can see it or not. To whom has God given this command? Is it not to us all? Does not Jesus do with this commandment what He did with the Murder commandment in the Sermon on the Mount? He internalizes it to interior motions of the heart. But this is what makes this commandment so glorious. To live by it, to learn faithfulness to one’s spouse; indeed, by working through all the hard relational issues that present themselves when a man and a woman covenant together, is sanctification itself. We either grow closer to one another, and thereby closer to God, or we grow further apart, more vulnerable to adultery, and thereby further from God. To have lived a whole married life faithfully, to grow old together and ever deeper in love, is surely the most important thing we can give to our children, and the most successful accomplishment a man or a woman can attain in this life. It is a slow process; indeed, it takes decades.

Adultery is linked in the Bible to idolatry. To fix our desires unlawfully on another person, we are making an idol of that person. We are shoving that person in God’s face, and telling Him that this person is “God.” This is not according to truth, and carries with it its own destruction. Ironically, when spouses are faithful to one another, they find God in one another. God is generous in marriage; a man whose life is rightly oriented towards God adores and worships his wife ─ yet in some mysterious way He worships God through his wife. Everything becomes one. This is expressed in the book of Proverbs where the “woman of power” (Chapter 31) becomes the very incarnation of the wisdom described in chapters 1-9. So union in marriage becomes a staging place for our union with Christ. True, our spouses are not God, but marriage becomes the place where we grow into union with God. This is why the Church regards marriage as a sacrament.

How happy I am with God’s laws, and especially this one! Let us rejoice in the glory of God’s design! Law is not restrictive! It opens up to us God’s bounties! Ah, how generous our God is!

Murder in our Hearts

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6, 2012 by ancienthopes

It would seem that of all the commandments, this prohibition against murder is the easiest one to fulfill. After all, comparatively few actually commit this act in their lifetimes. We are aware of our Lord’s expansion of this commandment to include anger and insults (Matt. 5:22), but it is very hard for most of us to make the connection between what seems to be common practice (anger and insults) with such a radical act of violence as murder. Perhaps Jesus was talking in hyperbole here like He does a few verses down when He suggest that we pluck out our eyes, or cut off our hands to avoid adultery?

To understand this commandment we need to look at the previous covenant that God made with all humanity through Noah (Gen. 9). The two prohibitions of this covenant tell us something about the human race since the fall from grace; the human race is bloodthirsty. We are not to eat the flesh improperly drained of its blood like animals do in the kill, and we are not to kill a fellow human being. Violence and animalistic behavior became so prevalent before the judgment of the flood that God placed requirements on the human race to protect the image of God in man. In fact, the only reason God gives us for not shedding human blood is because God made man in the image of God. To strike out against another person is really to strike out against God in a most concrete manner possible.

This sixth commandment of the Mosaic covenantal law code picks up on this old universal law. It tells us something uncomfortable about ourselves. There is murder in every human heart. We might even go so far to say that there is a monster in us all lurking within the depths of our soul, just below the surface of our consciousness. Given the right situation, all of us by nature, in spite of our outward civility and smiles, would do the act. Perhaps this explains why most of us, even Christians, are so fascinated with murder mysteries and violence on the media; on some level it is vicarious murder without actually involving our own hands. How we ache to see the “bad guy” killed and justice served. By this we focus all our energies outwardly to the evil around us so that we are absolutely blind to the murder that is in our own hearts.

I have been reading the Brothers Karamazov lately. It is commonly believed in Orthodox Christianity that every human being bears guilt in every human crime. This is very mystical, and we certainly do not come about it with our reason, but somehow I find it a very arresting thought. Perhaps this is where Jesus wants us to go in His expansion of this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount were he equates anger and insults with murder. What violence rages within us! All violence is somehow our violence! Oh how we flare up against other persons made in the image of God with our own overinflated idea of justice. What would we do if the right buttons were pushed at the right time? What we must come to fear is not others and external evil as much as ourselves and what is inside of each of us. If we cannot see the murder in our own hearts we cannot see at all; we remain superficial and dangerous.

It is God’s law that opens up the truth about us. This knowledge is salvation. “Thy testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of the of Thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” (Ps. 119:129f.)