Worldviews, Worship, and Wineskins

The Gospel at Work in Every Context

Archive for the month “August, 2014”

The ISIS Crisis and the Myth of Progress

Speculating about the religious violence in Iraq from the comfort of my sheltered, suburban vantage point feels crass.  My children are not under threat of beheading.  My wife is not in danger of being raped and forced to marry a murderous terrorist.  There is little chance of me being nailed to a cross or hung. But there is an important point about what is going on that can’t be missed.  It has to do with the optimism of progressives and humanists, and why that optimism can’t be sustained.

One-hundred years ago last June, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, precipitating the worst war the world had ever seen.  The zeitgeist of the age was summed up in the slogan, “better and better, every day.”  Hegel’s dialectic theory of history was a model that predicted each era improving on the previous.  Early in the war, an ancient poem by the Roman Horace was a rallying cry for supporters: Dulce Et Decorum Est.  How Sweet and Honorable it is to Die for One’s Country.  As casualties mounted and trench warfare plunged men and animals into depths of suffering not known since the middle ages, the poem was rewritten with an ironic and bitter tone, lamenting the monumental losses and “man’s inhumanity to man.” (Francis Schaeffer’s phrase).

One-hundred years later, I fear we are at the same place.  There is a widespread belief that the inhuman acts of yesteryear are gone, banished in the light of knowledge and progress.  How can progressives account for this week’s events in Iraq?  “Religion.”  They might say.  “Fundamentalism.”  But this is a fallacy which requires gross historical cherry-picking to sustain.  If progressives wish to attribute brutality to only religious movements, they have yet to account for explicitly anit-religious brutality that has occurred in the few decades since Franz Ferdinand became the first casualty of World War One.  Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol-Pot and their dozens of henchmen murdered more people during the 20th Century than any religious movement in the history of mankind.  If we look back further, we see that the French Revolution, based on Enlightenment principles, also ended up in a bloodbath.

The point is that we can’t put faith in any system or human institution.  No political party, no philosophy, no religion or social program has the power to overcome the trump card of humankind’s evil.  Paris Reidhead called us “monsters of iniquity”, and rightly so.  Christians and our apathetic hypocrisy.  Muslims and their lust for domination.  Humanists and their deceitful arrogance.  Those who claim no flag and point the finger at everyone else.  We are all monsters of iniquity, each with the potential to sink to subhuman lows.  How else did ordinary Germans become cruel prison guards at Auschwitz?  Are the acts we are seeing today in Iraq subhuman, or simply human?  They are on par with human behavior in every period of our mottled past.  History shows us that humans in each generation are typically guilty of grotesque evil.  This is humanity: infinite potential for good, locked into an eternal struggle with our own evil.

What is the answer?  Not a political system.  Not more education.  Not more information or study.  All of these have proven their failure to redeem our brokenness.  The answer is not a policy, it’s a person.  The person of Jesus, who would have us to pray for our enemies in the Islamic State. What?  Yes, Jesus told us to pray for those who persecute you.  Today, I would prefer to be sniping them one at a time with a .308, or mowing them down with a minigun from a helicopter. Maybe that’s what needs to happen on one level.  But I don’t have that option.  So in the meantime, I’ll write and pray.  And urge you to pray with me.  Pray for the victims and terrorists alike.  And pray for our political leaders, flawed, evil and with feet of clay.  They need prayer as much as the rest of us.

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Friday Night Mystics: David Brainerd

DavidBrainerd

1718 – 1747

For his few, troubled years, David Brainerd’s life left an indellible mark on his generation.  In the intervening years, his reputation and life’s work have been somewhat underrated, perhaps overshadowed by his friend and associate, Jonathan Edwards.  Brainerd’s main contribution was in his pioneer missionary work to Native Americans, but he is most remembered today for his personal prayer journal.  This firebrand burned so brightly and hotly for the Lord that he worked himself to an early grave, spending his last weeks in the home of Edwards.  He finally succumbed to Tuberculosis and consumption on October 9, 1747.

David Brainerd’s diary was reproduced for posterity, to his relucant acceptance, only after much pleading on the part of Edwards.  Below are two exerpts:

“I thought the Spirit of God had quite left me; but still was not distressed: yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy.  Having been thus endeavouring to pray — though, as I thought, very stupid and senseless — for near half an hour, then, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, unspeakale glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul.  I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing; … but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor any thing which had the least resemblence of it.  I stood still, wondered, and admired! …  My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that he should be God over all for ever and ever.  My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in him; at least to that degree, that I had no thought (as I remember) at first about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as myself.”

“I knew not what to say to my God, but only lean on his bosom, as it were, and breathe out my desires after a perfect conformity to him in all things.  Thirsting desires, and insatiable longings, possessed my soul after perfect holiness.  God was so precious to my soul, that the world with all its enjoyments was infinitely vile.  I had no more value for the favour of men, than for pebbles.  The LORD was my ALL; and that he overruled all, greatly delighted me.”

Everyone Worships Something

We were made to worship. Everyone worships something whether they realize it or not. Even people who don’t subscribe to any particular religion with a formalized system of worship…they worship too. Want to know what you worship? What is the first thing you think about when you wake up? What do you spend your spare time on? Where does your expendable income go? That is what you worship.

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” So says the Westminster chatechism. If this statement is true, men and women attain their highest human potential in an ironic fashion: by the willful abnegation of self and exaltation of another.  This is true worship.  This is where the irony of the human condition is most clear: we are most fully human when we abdicate our perceived right to self-worship, and spend ourselves worshiping God.

Friday Night Mystics: King David’s Sacred Romance

Here is a working definition of a Christian Mystic: someone whose soul is wedded to the pursuit of intangible joy in the presence of God.

David, King of ancient Israel is the week’s feature. Many of the psalms give us very personal insights into the rollercoaster-ride that was David’s prayer life. Many read like a love letter, and it’s no wonder!

God describes His relationship with His people using a number of metaphors: Father to son. King to subjects. Master to slave. Even Mother to infant! (Isaiah 49.15) The picture found in many eschatalogical passages (scripture concerning the end times) is that of a groom to his bride. God wants your affections.

David understood this affection without having the New Testament to guide him. Have a look at Psalm 63:

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be give over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.

But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.”

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