Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Double incentive for fighting evil

Fighting evil is both defensive as well as offensive.

As someone who is not aggressive by nature, much pious exhortation to 'fight' this or that evil within and without leaves me rather cold. What *will* put the sword in my hand, however is the realization that I should fight, not for the sake of fighting, but to defend the Holy Temple that the Holy Spirit has made of me when He came to dwell in me at my baptism. I need the double incentive of defense as well as offence, if I am to be a real fighter against evil. In this respect I am working in partnership with my guardian angel.

If a Christian gets injured or dies, has their guardian angel failed in his duty? Thoughtless persons may say 'yes', or even deny the existence of such angels. Yet, if one considers that the primary thing being guarded by an angel is not physical but spiritual, the proper perspective is gained. Yes, angels may guard the physical body (and do, lest we “dash our foot against a stone” Psalm 91.12), but just as important as “bearing us up in their hands” physically, an angel guards the Holy Temple that the Christian’s body is from spiritual threats to it. Threats that cause the Holy Spirit’s temple to be desecrated and/or defiled are as serious or more serious than any physical ones.

Evil is ultimately defeated by the forgiveness that is ours through faith in Christ. When a Christian dies in the Faith, even if violently, but enters Heaven through death, then a guardian angel can rejoice that, in that individual’s case, his work has still been a success

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Evil and Good" or "Tension and Relief"?

Socrates was recently quoted by a blogger to say that "good and evil are oddly united, because the pain he felt at having shackles on his feet was turned to pleasure when they were removed". If Socrates really put things in those terms, he was inviting confusion by associating the distinction between tension and relief (shackles and liberation in his case) with the duality of good and evil that are only features of a world fallen into sin.

There is no sin in the duality of tension and relief. What I mean is that, apparently, part of the matrix of *all reality* is this duality.

For example, reconciliation as the resolution of conflict is part of that duality. Easily recognizable as dynamics in both Theodicy and Soteriology, the duality of tension and relief takes on amazing importance as part of the biblical revelation of the person of God Himself. To the extent that God makes tension and relief part of His experience, and that of his incorporeal creation, this duality embraces both the spiritual as well as the material, the eternal as well as the temporal. As such, we are talking about a truly significant dynamic, perhaps unique in the universe for its all-pervasive involvement in everything that exists (including God!).

Tension and relief (T&R) is intrinsic to all of the most useful, creative and pleasurable experiences that exist. T&R is part of the creation of the universe before and after the Fall. Before God could conclude “it was good”, He had to tell us that the material world was “without form and void” (Genesis 1.2). The “tension” of an unfinished canvas or an un-carved block of marble characterized the world before God relieved that tension by forming “out of the ground” every living thing.

Most problematic for some is the fact that T&R always involves “discomfort” followed by “comfort”. Yet this is a rhythm of life for which we can and should praise God. There is discomfort in hunger and thirst, yet what would the gourmet be without both such “discomforts”? Who enjoys the food the most, even at the lamest restaurant, but the diner who hasn’t eaten all day? What is more delightful to look at than the “sight for sore eyes?”

Try enjoying a good night’s sleep when you are not in the least bit tired.

When God allows conflict, crisis, need, and passion it is all for the purpose of making the resolution of those tensions the more sweet and meaningful. Experiencing a T&R cycle can form mental associations that illustrate some of the most transcendent realities in our existence. This is admittedly part of the appeal of various philosophical explorations and interpretations of desire.

But, unlike Buddhism, the biblical solution for “suffering” is not the extinction of all desire, but the satisfaction of it. “and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8.23). The experience of Jesus Christ was shot full of T&R. Without T&R, he would not have cursed a fig tree when it had no fruit for him. Without T&R, Christ would not have “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12.2).

Will the afterlife include T&R? Apparently so, if we are going to be like Jesus. According to St. John, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3.2, emphasis mine).

Life without T&R (at least in this world) would be characterized by solutions without problems, achievements without challenges and products that appear without development or the rigors of the creative process. It would not be life as we know it, nor as we (or God) would want it. It would be like the human race living in harmony with God, but without any choice in the matter. What would be at stake would be more than the cliché “no pain, no gain”, but without T&R, the very realization of free will and the existence of true love would cease to exist.

Still the question may be asked, “Could not the sort of satisfaction we associate with ‘relief’ be enjoyed without the element of ‘tension’?” Yet, that question is like the question of whether we could appreciate the sort of experience we call “color” if we did not have “light”. Remove light and you have a uniform and not unpleasant experience (especially if you are tired), but you do not have color, and you live in darkness. Remove tension and you have a not unpleasant experience, but you have no climactic highs or thrills of achievement, only consistent and predictable sensations that could not be truly described as “satisfactory”, let alone excellent.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Human salvation - God's love demonstrated to angels

Last Sunday I expounded on Job 38 in my sermon, commenting about the verse referring to the angels’ happiness as they witnessed the creation of our world.

Part of Christian faith is recognition of the cosmic scope of GOD'S eternal love. God asked Job the haunting question, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? ...when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (v.7)

To that question we are left breathless. We have no answer because we were not there. But we are told who was there. God tells us who sang for joy to see our world created – it was His heavenly host, the “morning stars”, the “sons of God”, His holy angels!

Those same angels are watching the unfolding of our lives and the working out of God’s plan to save us through the sacrifice of His Son, ever since we were created. St. Peter tells us that “angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1.12).

For our salvation is “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the angelic authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:9-11).

Scripture gives us plenty of glimpses of angels worshipping God in Heaven. But how often do we note that the worship which angels render to God is related to, among other things, their knowledge of the history of human salvation? It is ultimately the only salvation they have ever seen, for no salvation was offered to any angel who sinned. Yet, although it is about the rescue from eternal damnation of another species (humanity), human salvation is a tremendous source of delight to the angels. Even the founding of the material universe itself made the angels shout for joy (Job 38.7).

The angels’ joy at the beginning of our world possibly suggests that the whole material universe was made as a demonstration to them of His love. (A “Grand Demonstration”, as Dr.Jay Adams called it).

‘…The Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ knew He would have do die to give eternal life to sinners even before the Fall into sin. Knowing before He created the earth that He would have to die, why else did He proceed? The angels may hold the answer to this frequently asked question.

Witnessing human salvation, the angels were able to see, as they could not see in any other way, how the same just God who punished their rebel colleagues is also a merciful God who saves sinful creatures even at the cost of the sacrificial death of His unique Son. Following this reasoning, it is easy to understand why ‘there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’ (Luke 15.10).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Pure and Ancient Stream

I am listening to an Internet streaming audio service called "Ancient Faith". It is Eastern Orthodox in origin, and, as I listen to the music I am aware of how alien the melodies often are. Yet, at the same time, I taste the familiar flavours of my own faith. I do not mean the "Lutheran faith", but something much more ancient, yet pure, coming from the pre-reformation faith that goes back to biblical times.

I am sure that is the effect that "Ancient Faith" radio is trying to achieve. But all contrivances aside, it is worth thinking about that we "orthodox" Christians can taste the flavour of the water when we hear it, if there is any trace of it in the stream from which we "drink".

Jesus said, "my sheep hear my voice and they follow me". "they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice" (John 10.5.

There is "worship music" that I will run away from - as anyone who really knows me will attest. (Even at District functions, I blush to admit, I have to leave the room when THAT sort of music comes on). Yet, it is not the fact that such sounds are "not Lutheran" (although often they are not). It is that they do not taste right to me.

If you are thinking that I am giving way to subjectivity here and its really just "a matter of taste", you misunderstand. I do not claim it is objectively demonstrable, yet I insist it is more than mere subjectivism when I say that the water from the pure and ancient stream has a detectable flavour.

Just as pollutants may also be detected occasionally, so the pure thing can also be detected by the soul. So, at the very least, please give me credit for not being biased in favour of only one kind of worship music. Nor should it be said of me that I am trapped in one particular culture or something (i.e. German).

Its just that I can taste it when I am getting the pure stuff or some lame musical counterpart to “junk food”. Bon appetite!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Engelein - "Ach, Herr, lass deine lieben Engelein..."

This weblog gets its name from the original German text of the Lutheran chorale, "Lord, Thee I love with all my heart". The English translations found in various Lutheran hymnals fail to depict the angel as described in the original German.

Of course, the translation, "Lord, let at last Thine angel come, to Abraham's bosom bear me home" is tremendous and fine as far as it goes. But lost is the original German's sweet imagery of a "lieben Engelein", literally a "dear little angel".

As someone who, for some unknown reason, has pictured my guardian angel as both "dear" and "little", I was pleasantly surprised to look at the original German text of my favourite hymn. In those words I could see the vision to which my mind has gone for many years and it is a delightful vision.

Perhaps the original image was thought to be too sentimental with its description of an angel resembling a baroque more than a biblical cherub. I don't know. Ultimately one must admit that the Bible says very little about guardian angels. Yet it does not rule out the vision so dear to me and apparently to Martin Schalling when, in around 1567, he wrote those words, "Ach, Herr, lass dein' lieb' Engelein am lezten End' die Seele mein in Abrahams Schoss tragen!"

My translation? "to where Abraham is - ah! Lord, let your dear little angel finally take my soul..." And there, in Paradise, one will possess what "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9.