Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sailor Bees

It was Sunday. The bees paid no heed. They rolled in the pollen of my rose-of-sharon, in muskmelon blooms and the bright gold stars of cucumbers-to-be -- the worker worthy of his hire observing a sacred truce where I played alongside. Slender tendrils in green and yellow probe the air for a hold or fall humbly to the dust of earth. I am the tucker, tucking the suckers back into the metal matrix, the eight-gauge lattice that lets cucumber and cantaloupe ascend a melon stairway to heaven. Pole beans like it, too. Even tomatoes bend a little to my will and warp to its weft. They form woven walls on either side of my garden, a living hull with outrigger potato beds to starboard and strawberries to port. We sail with bees in the rigging, east to west in the solar sea.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What It's Good For

When their leaders are thrown down from a cliff, the wicked will listen to my words and find them true. — Psalm 141:6

You'd think that might be a Sarah Palin quote, or the Tea Party Platform circa 1000 BC.

Some evil is what we call "natural" evil — earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, etc. (If Bob were writing this he'd throw in Rosie O'Donnell or Helen Thomas, but I don't think I could throw either one of them very far.) Natural disasters are a function of the original satanic rebellion and the subsequent Fall of Man. Other evils originate in the human heart, which is, as Jeremiah said, "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked". Jeremiah adds that it is probably not possible for us to always know, or, perhaps better, to trust our own hearts.

Evil may come from within us, but it may also come from outside us. There is one devil. There are many spiritual entities that are opposed to God, and thus on the devil's side. Not all of our thoughts are our own. Paul speaks of "fiery darts" which the enemy launches at us. These are, primarily, thoughts. I've been told numerous times that the devil or the various members of the demonic hierarchy cannot read my mind. Possibly this is true. Possibly it is not. Shoot, sometimes I can read other people's thoughts. My dog and cats can read my thoughts on occasion. That the devil or his allies know what I am thinking or feeling does not imply that those entities are omniscient — they certainly are not. Either way, though, they have access to fire thoughts at me — thoughts and ideas that look very much like my own.

This is a very real battle. A primary tactic of the adversary is to cause us to think we are not under attack by an outside power. Sort of like Islam — hmmmm. The enemy will tell us that our problem originates within ourselves while the truth is that Christ dealt with the old nature of man on the Cross. We died with Christ, and we have been raised as new creations in Him. Over and over we are assured of this: that our lives are hid with Christ in God. Once you have started on the path with Christ, you are free of the bondage of the adamic self. The demonic allies work to reanimate the zombie-self in us because they can control it. If the enemy can get us to believe that we are still under the control of the flesh, we are hampered and at least partially defeated.

This is a little controversial. Many, if not most, Christians are oppressed by demonic spirits. They get to us. They lie and deceive, and, though we are not "possessed", we are certainly messed up.

I don't like this idea because I am inclined to take responsibility for my own bad behavior, and I am reluctant to blame anyone or anything else. In the end, of course, it is still my decision to do wrong, to say vile things or entertain perverse thoughts, to be angry, unforgiving or bitter. Nevertheless, if I were to know that this angry, violent, lustful, or ugly thought was not really my own, I would better know how to deal with it. The enemy uses these fiery darts very effectively. First, I am hit with a perverse thought, then I am told that there must be something wrong with me. After all, a real Christian would never have such a thing cross his mind.

The worst ones for me were the thoughts of worthlessness. I could battle well enough against most fleshly temptations, as I understood that, wherever they might originate, I needed to resist them. The one that got me was "you are such a disappointment". And it didn't matter to whom I was a disappointment. At one time it was to my parents, at another it was to my wife — even to myself. The thought that I never lived up to my potential could drag me down into the pit of despair where I would wallow in self-pity and, subsequently, self-indulgence because, after all, it no longer mattered.

For many years, I thought I was doing great. What I tended to forget was that I had a brother and sister in Christ who prayed for me every day. Every day. Not some days, not weekends, not Sundays in church. Those two battled on my behalf for the better part of two decades as I sailed along being blessed and prospering. Then one day, my friend fell gravely ill. His wife had to spend nearly every waking moment with him, more or less, watching him gradually deteriorate and die. A couple of weeks before he passed on, I found myself at an absolute low point and in one of the greatest crises of my life. My prayer shield was gone.

I had been coasting and now I was on my own. It took me a long time to figure out what had happened and to realize the great blessing those two had been. I'm sure my friend's widow still prays for me from time to time, but probably not with the same intensity. She is aging and has her own worries these days. I'm sure some people might think my troubles were just a coincidence, but I know better -- now.

If a Christian can be oppressed by the rulers of darkness, what of those who are still outside? How can they expect to be set free to even begin the fight? As a believer, I need to get past merely looking out for myself and start carrying the battle to the enemy on behalf of others.

Those of us who are stirred to seek God are moving into a spiritual realm where we are subject to attack by demonic entities. Those who are locked in the flatlands of materialism or negative religious traditions are more or less owned by demonic entities. Until those "rulers, ... authorities, ... world powers of darkness, ... and spiritual forces of evil" are thrown off a cliff, the unenlightened will remain unenlightened.

And while we're at it, there are some wounded warriors who could use a little help.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Here I AM

I was sought by those who did not ask [for Me];
I was found by those who did not seek Me.
I said: Here I am, here I am, to a nation that was not called by My name.
I spread My hands all day long to a rebellious people who walk in the wrong path, following their own thoughts — Isaiah 65:1

The earth belonged to Satan. I wonder if he even noticed that evolution was taking place, that there was a subtle, sometimes unnoticeable direction to all that was happening. What did the Adversary think when the great, mindless saurian eating machines were driven into extinction? Did he view it as some sort of victory because he revels in death and destruction, or did he understand they were making way for an even more dominant, and, to him, dangerous species that would arise? Did the devil imagine that those ape-like creatures were God's invasion force? Did he know that someday One would defeat him — wrest from him the keys of hell, death, and the grave, and invade even hell itself? Did he rejoice as they founded religions on blood, trying to appease some unknown force they called a god? Or, even as he lapped up the wine of pain and suffering in his ever futile attempt to ease that everlasting hunger and thirst, was he still plagued with a vague foreboding of his own future torment?

I wonder.

We were certainly blind enough, confused enough. What were we supposed to do with all this inner turmoil, this thought and not-thought, this darkness? Where did it come from? What did it mean? Why did some thoughts and actions seem wrong — though they appealed to us and even satisfied us for a time? What were we doing here?

I don't pretend to know the answers. I know that God is the Caller and the Chooser. 'Many are called; few are chosen.' We were homo, but were we sapiens before the chosen one entered the gates of the Garden? Probably not. After that, the revelation begins. I don't have to speculate so much. I know that the Adversary sought to undo God's choice, and that man fell, joining himself to the rebellion.

I know, too, that God never stopped calling, or choosing. He chose Noah and Abraham and Jacob and Joseph and Moses. He chose them to come out of degraded, blood-thirsty heathen cultures and sophisticated, humanist empires. He called them to follow Him into deserts and to fiery mountaintops and to suffering for His Word as He had once called Adam to follow Him into paradise. As the Lord revealed Himself to those saviors and patriarchs, those covenant-makers, altar-builders, and lawgivers, the truth began to be known through them. Until at last the Truth was known in Person, in the Son, in Christ who went to the ultimate altar, made the ultimate sacrifice to establish the ultimate covenant in His own blood.

Not that there weren't plenty of the devil's kind — even among the "chosen" people, following after their own thoughts, their own temporary satisfactions, after the lies and rebellion of the Adversary who held most of the world in thrall. It's so even today, even after the Adversary has been struck down. The serpent writhes in the dust though his head is crushed. His venomous lies have a life of their own, poisoning still, destroying still.

Time after time, the antichrists have arisen. They rise and will rise, deceptive golems, mudmen made desirable by delusion. As the Living God calls, so calls the dying Adversary. Shining sequin scales adorn angels of light, throwing back false reflections of man made in his own image.

There is, though, light. Despite the blinding dazzle of endless, empty, circular reflections, we — even we who are outsiders, not a part of the frozen chosen, who have no heritage, no history, no maps, perhaps — seek Him. Somehow we know there is a Source of light behind the deluding shining, a Source that the Adversary cannot darken so he breaks it into a myriad of confusing points to lead us astray. And yet we find Him Whom we did not know enough to seek.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Origins of Evil

Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to Him, "I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me." -- Matthew 4:8-9

William Dembski is best known as an advocate for Intelligent Design, but his recent book, The End of Christianity, is on the subject of theodicy — defending the benevolence and power of God in a world of evil. I've been reading along in the book, and I am somewhat less than impressed.

For one thing, Dembski spends a lot of time in an internecine conflict with the "Young Earth Creationists". I suppose this is reasonable given Dembski's likely audience, but, to me, it was a waste of time. I do not find YEC arguments compelling in the least. Dembski feels challenged by the YEC insistence that all evil much originate with Adam, and, thus, 4.5 billion years of evolution, replete with extinctions, suffering, blood, and death must be explained in terms of human evil.

C.S. Lewis dealt with the idea of evil quite simply by attributing the origin of rebellion to another order of being — namely Satan, AKA Lucifer, who fell prior to the creation of man. Dembski acknowledges Lewis' argument but refuses to accept it. He insists that the fall of man impacted earth retroactively. Such a concept is plausible, given that God would know man was going to fall. Those under the Mosaic Covenant as well as the Patriarchs were "saved by faith" in the Cross of Christ, though the Incarnation and Passion were far in the future — not three or four billion years in the future, but it's only a matter of scale.

Still, I think Dembski dismissed Lewis unfairly, not, perhaps, fully understanding the rather prefunctory treatment Lewis gives the idea in his essays. A better place to study this view is in Tolkien's creation account in The Silmarillion and in Lewis' Space Trilogy. As someone who has read nearly every scrap Lewis ever wrote, I would classify the second volume of the trilogy, Perelandra, as one of my least favorite of his works, but Out of the Silent Planet is pretty good and That Hideous Strength is acceptable, if at times laborious, reading. What Lewis postulates is that there are angelic beings ruling various planets and other bodies in the solar system, and probably throughout the universe.

As a result of his rebellion, Lucifer is confined to earth which is then cut off from communication with God — hence becoming "the silent planet"or "Thulcandra" as it is named in the trilogy. The devil wrecks havoc upon earth which is somewhat consistent with Chapter 12 of Revelation — more consistent, certainly, than typical fundamentalist, dispensational interpretations of the same passage.

I suppose God could have destroyed Lucifer at the moment of his rebellion. But that is not God's way. Tolkien's "The Music of the Ainur" is his creation myth, and it describes how Melkor sowed discord with his own song. God countered the rebellion, not with expulsion and starting over, but by weaving in a new theme that overpowers the attempts of the rebels.

The Lord uses the rebellion of Satan and the subsequent evil as the basis for a new and more unimaginably beautiful history to arise. The planet is laid waste, but, out of destruction, life begins. Every attempt by Satan to thwart what God is doing turns to something creative. Death and waste and loss become the hedges that guide life from the simple to the increasingly complex. Out of this chaos, order and consciousness slowly arise on the very battleground between the Lord and the adversary.

Is this really a surprise from the God who incarnates and uses His own death to redeem humanity?

Something else it might be worthwhile to consider. Man was cast out of Eden for his rebellion. Though Eden is described as a garden here on earth, it is certainly more than that. It seems to be a sanctuary of sorts and is possibly on a different "plane" than the material one on which we mostly live. Eden, like the redeemed, may have been (or may be) in the world but not of the world.

Because Adam united with Satan in rebellion against God, humanity was expelled into Satan's kingdom. Remember that Jesus Himself calls Satan "the god of this world" and "the prince of the power of the air". Upon our expulsion from our rightful place, we entered into a world where death rules, for everything lives by the death or loss of something else.

Christ has made it possible for us to be reconciled to the Father. We become part of the Body of Christ moving through history, moving toward the terminal point of history when we will achieve the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ". When this happens, all of creation will be redeemed and restored with us and in us. We will return to Eden but with all the spoils of our victory over the enemy.

Another way to look at it is that Eden is the Platonic ideal. Sin has caused us to live in a corrupted version of the perfect. Evil is all that which differs from the ideal. The end of history will be the equilibrium achieved when the corrupting barrier is breached and we are reunited with Reality.

In a way, this is just another beachhead, another campaign in a war that has been going on long before humanity landed in the dust of earth. Human history is a fairly brief episode. From the beginning of consciousness to the coming of Christ is comparable to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. It gave us the foothold and guaranteed victory in the long-run, but there is a lot of fighting still to be done.

The enemy's most potent tactic is deception.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Time Traveler

You do not delight in sacrfice and offerings; You open my ears to listen. You do not ask for a whole burnt offering or sin offering.
Then I said, "See, I have come; it is written about me in the volume of the scroll. I delight to do Your will, my God. Your instruction resides within me." — Psalm 40:6-8

In his book The End of Christianity, William Dembski states: In a fallen world, the only currency of love is suffering. Indeed, the only way to tell how much one person loves another is by what that person is willing to suffer for the other. We know we love another by what we are willing to endure on his or her behalf — what we are willing to give up, to sacrifice.

We all know what a sacrifice is, don't we? If I go down to Burger King and give the person at the counter some money, is that a sacrifice? Of course it is not, since I expect, in a very short time, to get a Whopper in return. (Eating a Whopper might be a sacrifice of another type, but we don't care about that right now.) Is it a sacrifice if, instead of buying a burger for myself, I buy one for someone else — my wife or another family member, for example? What if I buy a meal for someone I don't know, the person in line behind me, a bum on the street?

The question is if I expect to "get something out of it", even if it's just a good feeling, am I really sacrificing anything? Can a person who believes that God rewards our good deeds ever really be said to be making a sacrifice? Philip Henry said, "He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose." The more famous variation is from the martyred missionary Jim Eliot: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

There are people without whom I cannot imagine heaven being heaven. I am sure such a thought is at least some small part of the reason loving and thoughtful people like George MacDonald and Hannah Whitall Smith are so sympathetic to forms of Universalism. The flip side is, though, that there are some people with whom I can't imagine it being heaven if they are present. And I'm sure there are those who feel that way about me. Still, I would sacrifice a great deal to be assured that those I love will be spared suffering.

While we are imagining things, let's imagine that the Lord came up to me one day and said, "Mushroom, My old pal. You've been doing well lately. I'm going to give you whatever you want. Just ask, and it's yours." If He asked me that today I might say that I want my grandchildren to have happy, healthy, prosperous lives filled with all of His blessings, and, at the end of a long, full life without suffering and trial, that they be welcomed into His Presence for eternity. Suppose the Lord looked at me, and said, "Mush, I can do that, but it won't be cheap. In fact, it will cost you everything you have in this life, and you will have to lose your soul, suffering in hell for eternity." I'd like to think I wouldn't hesitate.

The thing is God will never make an offer like that. You can get a similar deal from less reputable trader, but, as Faust and many others have learned or will learn, it doesn't work out well in the end.

In the vast view of eternity where it is always now, God saw those He loved with His infinite and divine love. He saw them falling. He saw them suffering and lost. He said, "I can save them, but it won't be cheap. I'll have to lay aside everything that I AM, become one of them, lose everything and suffer in their place."

There is an argument among some theologians and teachers about whether or not Jesus died "spiritually". Some believe that He so identified with us that He, for a time, lost His soul and went to hell in our place, bearing our sin. Others say that, though He suffered and died as Man, He did not die spiritually and to suggest otherwise is heresy.

I don't know, and I suspect the argument misses the obvious point. What I do know is that our little frame does not show the whole picture. A severe beating and torture and six horrible hours hanging on a cross are what we see. What we don't see is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world". We don't see the Lamb of Revelation "looking as if He had been slain". God is eternal. What the Lord Jesus suffered He suffered in eternity — where there is only now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On Waking

What a wonderful thing waking is! The time of the ghostly moonshine passes by, and the great positive sunlight comes. A man who dreams, and knows that he is dreaming, thinks he knows what waking is; but knows it so little, that he mistakes, one after another, many a vague and dim change in his dream for an awaking. When the true waking comes at last, he is filled and overflowed with the power of its reality. So, likewise, one who, in the darkness, lies waiting for the light about to be struck, and trying to conceive, with all the force of his imagination, what the light will be like, is yet, when the reality flames up before him, seized as by a new and unexpected thing, different from and beyond all his imagining. He feels as if the darkness were cast to an infinite distance behind him. So shall it be with us when we wake from this dream of life into the truer life beyond, and find all our present notions of being, thrown back as into a dim, vapoury region of dreamland, where yet we thought we knew, and whence we looked forward into the present. This must be what Novalis means when he says: "Our life is not a dream; but it may become a dream, and perhaps ought to become one."

From The Portent by George MacDonald

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Zen and the Art of Weeding the Garden

One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. Job 1:6

Jesus gives us the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. It isn't an intricately detailed story. There is a field plowed, prepared and sown with good wheat seed. For a time nothing but wheat is seen. The plants begin to mature, and, to the distress of those who will harvest, the field is seen bringing forth a great many noxious and worthless weeds along with the stalks of wheat. The servants ask the master what they should do. He replies that all should be left to grow until the harvest, at which time the weeds can be separated from the wheat without loss.

What Jesus isn't doing in this parable is justifying the presence of the apparently unredeemable in the world. He isn't explaining to us in any comprehensive sense the why of evil. Instead, He says, the nature of a thing will be revealed in its time, and it will be dealt with in its time. God does not label every seed that comes into the world that we might know its true nature from the start. He does not automatically yank someone out when they go bad, even when they are beyond the point of no return.

To uproot a weed — whether it is an individual, an institution, or a nation — means the destruction of much that surrounds it. It means the loss of souls, who, for various reasons, have had their lives become entangled with the roots of the tare in their midst. The very fabric of reality is light woven over a background of darkness; it is pools and eddies of order amidst chaos and destruction. It is wheat among the weeds.

With any event or circumstance, it is hard to determine its true nature. Whose son is it? Does it have the nature of the Good? Even if it has walked in the presence of God, we cannot know into what it might mature or what motivates it.

I understand the people who want to see a utopia, a heaven on earth — all that we-are-the-world-and-I'd-like-to-teach-it-to-sing-jeremiah-was-a-bullfrog stuff sounds pretty good. But we are not going to get rid of the agents of evil. We could kill them all off, but that's been tried before, and a good number of the people you get to do the killing are just as evil in some ways as the ones they kill off. The Revolution always looks great on paper, but uprooting tares is a nasty, bloodly business, and, in the end, most of the wheat is lost. The field is barren. The weeds always come back.

Can weeds be turned into wheat? I don't know. I do know if the wheat keeps turned to the sun and grows, it may well overshadow and stunt the invaders. It becomes an internal battle — to overcome evil with good, to be completely focused on the Son and filled with His light, to grow in grace and goodness. When we, as the sons of God, reach our fullness and maturity then begins the harvest and the separation.

I do not know whose son it is. It might appear to have been before God. (Tao Te Ching)