“But where shall I find courage?” asked Frodo. “That is what I chiefly need.”
“Courage is found in unlikely places,” said Gildor. “Be of good hope! Sleep now!”
Archive for August, 2009
“But where shall I find courage?” asked Frodo. “That is what I chiefly need.”
I am continually grateful for the uncertainty of this season of life, as God is using it to expose idols in my heart and refine my faith in His provision and guidance for Esther and me and our future. During a sermon this morning on the parable of the talents in Matthew 24:14-30, I was reminded how our ultimate calling is simply to be faithful with what God entrusts to us. My prayer life so often is focused on future circumstances, not my need to walk in faithfulness before God in the present, and I often fail to be content with what he has called me to. But why should God let me see down the road until I have consecrated myself to him here at this juncture? Why should he entrust me with much until I focus on being faithful with little? Uncertainty is an opportunity for consecration. God is a patient communicator, and sometimes He seems to keep saying the same thing over and over till we get it. Right now for me its: trust me – stop trying to figure your life out and plan everything. Just trust me and be faithful where you currently are.
On an unrelated note, I am getting into The Lord of the Rings right now for the first time and finding it un-put-down-able. It is so delightful to get swept up into an adventure. I believe it must be a theologically correct statement to say that God likes adventures. After all, think about the world He has made!
Hebrews 1:5-14 consists of a series of quotes from the Old Testament serving to establish the superiority of Christ over angels. My initial thought in tackling this section was, why so many OT quotations? Wouldn’t one or two have sufficed to prove his point, instead of seven (Psalm 2, I Samuel 7:14, Deuteronomy 32, Psalm 104, Psalm 45, Psalm 102, Psalm 84)? I don’t know the answer to this, and Ellingworth (my primary commentator) did not address it. Some cautious but vague suggestions would be (1) for greater emphasis on Christ’s supremacy and (2) to show how his presentation is thoroughly grounded in the Old Testament (especially relevant if writing to Jewish Christians). Beyond this I am uncertain and will continue to think about it.
Another question that arises is, what is the author’s logical flow of thought throughout this section? Lane (35) summaries it in four groupings:
1) Christ’s name is greater than that of angels, since he is acclaimed as Son (v. 5)
2) Christ’s dignity is greater than that of angels, since He is worthy of worship (v. 6)
3) Christ’s status is greater than that of angels, since He remains unchanged (vv. 7-12)
4) Christ’s function is greater than that of angels, since He reigns at God’s hand (vv. 13-14).
While this might be overly schematic, I do think the different quotes highlight different aspects of Christ’s supremacy, and distinct nuances can be noted. The two most interesting quotes, in my opinion, are the quote of Psalm 45 in 8-9 and the quote of Psalm 102 in 10-12. The emphasis in 8-9 is on Christ’s royalty, His Kingly rule (hence words like throne, scepter, kingdom, and annointed), while the emphasis in 10-12 is on Christ’s eternality and unchanged nature in relation to ever-changing creation. What strikes me most is that, of all OT texts he could have chosen to stress the latter point, he chose Psalm 102. While Psalm 45 may be a messianic text, it is very difficult to read Psalm 102 as such. It is amazing (and perplexing) that the author applies to Christ a non-Messianic text speaking of YHWH!
Side note: Hebrews 1:11-12 is one passage that makes me think that the original concluding verse of Newton’s hymn Amazing Grace (“the earth shall soon dissolve like snow…”) is not too dispensational, and more generally that it is not unbiblical for Christians to speak of the universe fading away or being consumed (in some sense). Biblically, we can say the heavens “will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed.” Its beautiful to think of Christ shedding the universe like a garment while He endures unchanged eternally! Ellingworth, 128: “the Son will change one order of creation for another as easily as a human being changes one cloak for another, while remaining himself unchanged.” My overall benefit from Hebrews chapter 1 is a deeper sense of the worth, weight, and magnitude of Christ.
After finishing 2:1-4, I am going to pause in Hebrews for a while, primarily because I want to order a new commentary. Ellingworth is masterful on analyzing the Greek syntax and grammar, but he is not as helpful on theological construction and application, and therefore I don’t think I am getting as much out of my study as I could. I will continue to consult him as a supplement, but I think I will order F.F. Bruce (NICNT) or Lane (WBC) as my primary commentary for 2:5ff.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Lucy discovers a magic book and reads a story which she cannot remember after she finishes it, but she always longs to hear again. Its so interesting to think of story as a category of thought for heavenly longings.
“Oh, what a shame!” said Lucy. “I did so want to read it again. Well, at least I must remember it. Let’s see . . . it was about . . . about . . . oh dear, it’s all fading away again. And even this last page is going blank. …It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much. But I can’t remember and what shall I do?”
And she never could remember; and ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is a story which reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book.
[Then later during her conversation with Aslan:]
“Child,” said Aslan, “did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?”
“Yes, Aslan, you did,” said Lucy. “I’m sorry. But please-”
“Speak on, dear heart.”
“Shall I ever be able to read that story again; the one I couldn’t remember? Will you tell it to me, Aslan? Oh do, do, do.”
“Indeed, yes, I will tell it to you for years and years. But now, come. We must meet the master of this house.”
I just finished reading Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed, which is his lengthy exposition of Isaiah 42:3, “a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” It is one of most clarifying, moving, and edifying books I have ever read. What I mainly learned from this book, if I had to try to condense it into one sentence, is that Christ does not merely tolerate weak believers, but He is drawn to them, showing them special tenderness and compassion in order to further them in sanctification. (That last part “in order to further them in sanctification” is important, corresponding to the last clause of Isaiah 42:3 and showing how Sibbes’ extravagent emphasis on grace does not cross the line into libertinism.) I very much recommend it!
“None are fitter for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off” (14).
Picking up on my last post, one thing I have enjoyed about our walks to the Lincoln Memorial is that it has given me the opportunity to meditate more closely on the text of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I think this may be my favorite political speech in history. Three features I have noticed:
1) Lincoln connects the Civil War with both America’s past and America’s future: at the beginning of the speech he clams the Civil War is the testing point of the democratic ideals of 1776, and then at the end of his speech he sees the war as the opportunity for “a new birth of freedom” in America. Essentially, the speech is an interpretation of America: from its birth as a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the propositon that all men are created equal,” to its hope of establishing “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” The speech sees the Civil War in the context of American identity.
2) The speech connects the Civil War not only with the identity and fate of America, but also with the identity and fate of democracy in general. The speech emphasizes that what is at stake in the war is whether “any nation so conceived and so dedicated [to liberty and equality]” can long endure. In other words, the Gettysburg Address sees the Civil War as the test of the workability of democracy. If the Union splits, democracy will not only have failed in America, but it will “perish from the earth.” One gets an overwhelming sense of the transcendent importance of the cause. Could the stakes be higher?
3) The subtle contrasts throughout the speech are ingenious. After noting their purpose in gathering at Gettysburg is to dedicate a portion of the field as a resting place for dead soldiers, Lincoln claims that they cannot dedicate it, because the “brave men living and dead who struggled here” have already dedicated it. Then in the next breath he claims that it is not the field that needs dedication, but his listeners. In other words, he skillfully transitions from a contrast of who is dedicating (his listeners or the soldiers) to what is being dedicated (the field or his listeners). We have come here to dedicate this field, but the soldiers beat us to it. What we really need is to dedicate, then, is ourselves. It is an effective and powerful rhetorical strategy.
How cool would it have been to have heard him give a speech like this!!!
Several times since moving to D.C. Esther and I have walked down to the Lincoln Memorial. Each time I take the time to read the speeches that are etched in the walls, the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. Its a very moving exprerience, and reminds me of the third chapter of Ellis’ Founding Brothers, “The Silence,” which I read shortly before moving here. The silence he is referring to is the failure of any Northern or moderate Southern delegates to speak up against the pro-slavery arguments of delegates from the Deep South in Congressional debate in 1790. Benjamin Franklin, just weeks before his death, had made one final effort to appeal for the termination of the slave trade and abolition of slavery, but Madison and others from the South were arguing that it was impractical and would dissolve the union they had fought so hard to create.
Ellis see slavery as the ultimate failure of the Revolutionary legacy as slavery. I agree with him for two reasons. First, not only was slavery a heinous evil, but it was the very kind of evil which was most blatantly at odds with the Revolution ideals, namely freedom and equality. When Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal,” he owned over 200 slaves. He did not free them when he died. As Ellis puts it, “what was politically essential for the survival of the infant nation was ideologically at odds with what it claimed to stand for” (128). Of all people, they should have known better.
Second, the founders’ inability to uproot slavery in their own generation caused the institution to grow more entrenched and thus contributed to much greater upheaval when it was finally removed. Ellis: “we know full well what they could perceive dimly, if at all – namely, that slavery would become the central defining problem for the next seventy years of American history; that the inability to take decisive action against slavery in the decades immediately following the Revolution permitted the size of the enslaved population to grow exponentially and the legal and political institutions of the developing U.S. government to become entwined in compromises with slavery’s persistence; and that eventually over 600,000 Americans would die in the nation’s bloodiest war to resolve the crisis, a trauma generating social shock waves that would reverberate for at least another century.” (88).
Many have suggested that slavery could not have been dealt with without tearing asunder the Union the founders had fought so hard for. Ellis points out, however, that success in the Revolutionary War and the binding together of the contentious states under one law were probably equally improbable. If 1776 and 1787 could be achieved, why not the abolition of slavery? Besides which, would it not have been better to tear the union apart then retain such an evil practice?
During an intern discussion here this past week (I am an intern at Capital Hill Baptist Church) we discussed Francis Grimke’s famous sermon, “Christianity and Race Prejudice.” I came to see in a new way how our final hope for overcoming the lingering ugliness of racism in our country is the cross of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:13-16 says that the blood of Christ has broken down the “dividing wall of hostility” that existed between Jews and Gentiles, “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so creating peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (15-16). If it is by the cross that Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled and united into a new people, how much more should the cross be at the center of reconciling various estranged Gentile groups! Race reconciliation begins with God reconciliation.
Something I have noticed lately is that many people in our culture, especially non-Christian or nominally Christian people, seem to have gotten the idea that biblical inerrancy and young earth creationism are the same thing. People often say, “do you believe the bible is literally true, [i.e.] that the universe was created in six 24 hour periods?” In other words, “literally true” and “six 24 hour periods” get lumped in together and define each other.
In addition to being, in my opinion, biblically unwarranted, this association is also very historically strange. From Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, p. 262:
“Despite widespread impression to the contrary, both inside and outside the church, modern Creation Science was not the traditional response of conservative and evangelical Protestants in the nineteenth century when Darwin’s theory first became known. There was widespread acceptance of the fact that Genesis 1 may be been speaking of long ages rather than literal days. R. A. Torrey, the fundamentalist editor of The Fundamentals (published from 1910-1915, which gave definition to the term ‘fundamentalist’), said that it was possible ‘to believe thoroughly in the infallibility of the Bible and still be an evolutionist of a certain type….’ The man who defined the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, B.B. Warfield of Princeton (d. 1921) believed that God may have used something like evolution to bring about life-forms.”