Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why We Can't Make Friends and Influence People

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." Deut. 6:5

"The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any who did understand and seek God. They have all turned aside; they have all become filthy. There is none that does good; no, not one." Ps. 14:2-3

"Jesus said unto him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.'" Matt. 22:37-38 (c.f. Mark 12:30)

"There is none righteous; no, not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seek after God." Rom. 3:10-11

Our "best" is dull anarchy.
To love God, to seek Him with all that you are, to desire Him above all others, saving yourself only for Him, obsessing yourself only over Him---that is the pinnacle and peak of all morality. If we are to be perfect (Matt. 5:48) and holy (I Peter 1:15-16), then that is the road we must take. And yet Scripture declares that "none do good," an absurd statement from our point of view. We see good deeds all the time. We may even have done a few ourselves. That, however, is our problem. We define "good" as doing "good things," any and every good thing, as many as we can as often as we can. Our view of morality is scattered and fragmented, with "good deeds" being a cobbled together collection of equally-sized stones that we pile upon the ground. Maybe if our pile is big enough, we'll be all right in the end.

God has a very different view of morality, however. It is not fragmented and scattered but hierarchical and structured. It is not like equally-sized stones piled upon the ground, but rather like unequally-sized stones built fitly together into a solid structure, like an arch. And just like an arch, there is a keystone, a singular prime good atop the hierarchy that holds the whole edifice together: love God, with all that you are and all that you've got.

Morality as hierarchical art.

This is one of the most offensive (and thus most easily forgotten) truths of Christianity: the "golden rule" is actually the silver rule. What we thought and have taught to be the first and greatest commandment is actually the derivative of another one greater still. And why shouldn't we have made such a mistake? To "love others as yourself" is easy enough to believe. It makes sense and has a certain emotional satisfaction about it. It is also easy to identify and easier to appreciate because it is very practical: it produces results that can be measured, and so we can quantify its success.

Thus, the so-called "golden rule" has become a cliche, an idol, a golden calf and sacred cow all across the world. And as with all idolatry, the truth brings the sword to it and leaves everybody outraged, for what is more outrageous than loving God first, above all others? Above your neighbors, above your guests (Luke 10:38-42), above the poor (Matt. 26:6-13), above your parents (Matt. 8:21-22) and all your family (Mark 3:32-35) including your spouse and children and all other relations (Matt. 10:34-38; Luke 14:26-27), above all your possessions (Luke 14:33, 18:22-25), and even above yourself and all your realization and fulfillment and discovery and aggrandizement (Matt. 10:39; Mark 8:34-35; John 12:25)? In any and every case, we are left with only one conclusion: God first, God only, and God always.

That is why we can't make friends and influence people, why we can never be respectable or fashionable. It is also why "none do good." Loving God is the perfection of all morality, the solid and sure foundation of all goodness and decency. To try and "be good" by "doing good" without this prime good is like trying to build an arch without a keystone, or trying to win a spelling bee without even knowing the alphabet. You may accomplish an impressive scattering of stones or string of gibberish, but it all falls short of the glory of God. You have forgotten the vital piece, the glue that holds the whole structure together and erect. You have forgotten God, and that  is what reduces your morality to rubble, and your righteousness to filthy rags.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Man on Fire (a consuming fire)

Go ahead: make me tons of money.
Everybody likes a good revenge flick, though not every one would admit it. Whether they're done well (like Man on Fire), average (like The Punisher), or poorly (like Colombiana), they all follow the same basic structure: idyllic life is interrupted by some jackass and their jackass minions (whose jackass-quotient rises steadily throughout the film), which causes a highly trained but burned-out protagonist to go vigilante all over the place. This structure is especially potent if the "idyllic life" contains a redemption angle where the burned-out protagonist is brought back from the brink of self-destruction by a central-secondary character (often a child) who is subsequently kidnapped or killed, which sparks the ensuing mayhem. And we, the audience, enjoy said mayhem as the protagonist delivers a whole serving of payback to those who dared touch the heart-strings-pulling plot device. And we love every bit of it.

Nuff said.
Such films are controversial, however, mainly because revenge and vigilantism are controversial. No man is above the law, but there are plenty outside of it (i.e., criminals) who don't abide by its rules. So when law enforcement (or law-abiding citizens) try to play the game of justice with those who don't bother about the rules, they are necessarily handicapped. The whole thing feels completely unfair and counter-intuitive, and yet the "whole thing" makes all the difference in the world. The lines in the sand that we draw as a society may hinder us, but that hindrance is the difference between us and them, between us and those in the darkness outside. Without law and the order it brings, we are no better than criminals. Worse yet, we are no better than animals. Thus, though it may give us disadvantages, we ought to take the more noble path and abide by the law regardless.

"This is where the law stops and I start."
Then again, is the law really such an ideal thing? To put it another way, is justice no higher than the law? The truth is that justice is the real transcendent ideal, while "the law" is a human construct, our best effort to encapsulate justice in our own specific society with its own specific situations. And like most best efforts, we fail. We fall short of the glory of justice. Thus, it is left to the vigilante to deal out justice against evil and thereby shame the law for its inadequacies and society for its failures. It may be nobility to abide by "the law" even when it seems to fight against you, but it is greater wisdom to realize when "the law" has failed, when it has become so hopelessly dis-empowered and corrupted that the only way to serve true justice is to go outside of it as a criminal, and yet not as a criminal, for justice is a line drawn deeper than any law, and that distinction is what makes all the difference, whether you are "in" the law or not.

Hero or psychotic terrorist?
Then again, if justice is the higher, more ideal thing, then it is necessarily the more abstract thing. Abstract things cannot be fully comprehended or understood until they are made concrete, and the more concrete the better. Now, the law is concrete, and thus it is a useful rubric for justice (even if it is sometimes inadequate to fully capture it); but if a vigilante works outside of the law, then by what rubric do we measure him or her? Do we just take them at their word that they are serving true justice? Why should we believe them? After all, they could be lying. They could be just another evil, crazy person looking for an excuse to kill people and have found a golden opportunity to not only do so but also be lauded as a "hero". The law is not always just, but without the law how do we know what justice even is?

So goes the argument, one we will probably never see the end of, which is why I'm actually not interested in an argument. I'm interested in a fact, the fact that, despite all or our arguments and controversies, everybody still loves (or at least sympathizes with) a good revenge flick. My question is, why? Why, despite all of our moralizing and posturing, do we enjoy watching the bad guys "get theirs" in a devastating, scorched earth way?

"I am talking scorched earth!"
Is it because we're Americans, whose culture has idealized the cowboy ethic? Then again, we're hardly the only culture to have idealized vengeance. Perhaps it's because we're degenerates? That sounds better (and more "holy"): our desire for vengeance is a pagan thing (which even pagans like Homer and Aeschylus grew weary of), and it serves to demonstrate how far we've fallen from God. That sounds right, and yet it doesn't sound right at all. Shouldn't evil be punished and justice served, and aren't our laws often futile and inadequate against evil? Is it really degeneracy that breaks our hearts and enrages our souls when justice is not "served" and the law is helpless or even culpable? Is God really displeased with out angry hearts? Or is it possible that His heart is even angrier than ours? One way sounds more pious, and the other more satisfying. Is there no rectification between the two?

Justice is a dish best served hot.
I believe that there is a rectification, one that also explains why everyone loves or sympathizes with revenge flicks. I believe it is this: as human beings, fallen yet made in the image of God, we have an inborn desire for apocalypse. That is the great secret behind the popularity of revenge flicks. They are, in a sense, apocalyptic. Justice is served, not by the bad guys being locked up, but also not even by them simply being killed. My earlier term "scorched earth" is the only true way to describe what happens. The protagonist does not simply kill the bad guy; he also destroys his entire enterprise and empire, burning it to the ground, leaving nothing left. No holdings, no assets, no fall backs, no one left to carry on the work. That is not simply revenge, nor is it merely justice. It is apocalypse: a no-quarter, total war against entrenched evil. It is merciless because it is complete. It is pitiless because it is absolute. It will not compromise, and the whole corrupt edifice will be razed to the ground. As one law-abiding citizen put it (with some profanity), "It's gonna be biblical."

At this point, it does us no good to say that we should "turn the other cheek" because "vengeance belongs to God." It is true that the Christian has no grounds to take revenge for affronts made against them, but that does not mean that revenge will never be taken. On the contrary, revenge will be taken, just not by us. Vengeance is not ours because it belongs to God. And He will repay.

This is a side of God many don't like to think about, so they try to forget it. They trivialize it as just some ancient anomaly. They bury it under more squeaky clean or sanitized caricatures. They isolate all of the Faith around pacifism and then downplay everything else. But the truth is never lost, no matter who hard we try to lose it. And the truth is that God is a God of justice. (Just let that idea sink in for a sec.) He is justice, and that does not simply mean mercy to the oppressed, weak, and poor. It also means wrath to the oppressor, proud, and merciless. In fact, the call for God's wrath is just as common in the Bible as calls for His blessing. And it is not just an Old Testament thing either.

David calls upon God to "destroy" evil-doers, to let "death seize" them and send them to "hell" because of their "wickedness" (Ps. 55:9, 15). Isaiah spoke peace to "fearful hearts" by reminding them that "God will come with vengeance," and that the mountains would melt with the blood of His enemies (Isaiah 34:2-3; 35:4). Jesus spoke of His return as an act of judgment similar to Noah's flood (another apocalyptic event), and that the death toll would be greater than any could imagine (Matt. 24:21-22, 27-28, 38-39). And it is for this return and vengeance that the souls of all the martyrs call out to God (Rev. 6:9-10). This is all apocalyptic language. It is also the language of revenge flicks: salvation for the weak only comes by the utter annihilation of the wicked by someone who is thirsty for blood. And God is thirsty for blood (Is. 63:1-9), and He will repay.

No one "likes" this side of God, and yet we all actually do like it, because we all like a good revenge flick. Everybody wants to see evil dealt with, not in a partial or even legalistic sense, but in an absolute and total sense. That is what apocalypse means: God dealing with evil and sin and the wicked in an absolute and total sense. There will be no mercy for them or all their works, just wrath and a terrible, irreparable ruin. This is meant to be a source of hope to those whom God has saved, saved from wrath (Rom. 5:9). To those still left in the darkness outside, it is to be a warning: apocalypse is coming. The Man on fire is coming. Not a law-abiding citizen, but the Judge who is the Law. He will come with no mercy, for if you are not safe within His fold then you are of the darkness and thus part of the problem. Since we know of the terror or the Lord, we seek to persuade you (II Cor. 5:10-11): be saved from the wrath to come, for it is coming. God is coming, with blessings for His beloved, but with vengeance for all who align themselves with the dark.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Entropy (and the Silence of God)

"Be still, and know that I am God...." Ps. 46:10a

I often wish that I could feel all the strength of God's peace, to drown in the silence and stillness at the depths of His Being, to be pulled with cords of infinite desire into His simplicity. I think we all (in some way) wish for that because we are not that: we are not peaceful or silent or still or simple. We are "all wound up" tighter than a bow-string, continually tightening and fraying and tightening again in an endless cycle of mounting stress and frenetic exasperation.

Consequently, we crave peace, moments when the world would just shut up and shut off and leave us alone. Moments like lying in bed in the morning, feeling the coolness of the sheets, listening to the stillness of the house, and watching sunlight ripple across the curtains. Moments like hanging with your friends around a campfire as evening grows long and all conversation is exhausted and there's nothing to do but sit and stare into the slow-dying fire dancing gently in the pit. Moments like coming home from an excruciating day and finding no one home, so you collapse into the couch as you are, find just the right "spot," and drink in the silence and occasional easy noise of the wind in the trees and songbirds in the yard.

The legalistic part of our self would guilt us into calling such moments laziness, but there is another part of us that knows better. We know those moments are something good. We know (in some dim way) that we have not stumbled into a vice but upon the summation of all virtue. We have drunk of the stillness of God, and it tasted just like heaven.

The Hebrew word for "still" in Psalm 46 is unique: it means not only stillness but also to become still, to lose all energy and slacken all activity unto all comes to rest. The idea is that of entropy: the expulsion of all energy until all comes to a standstill. It is an apt image, for we cannot simply be still. We must become still.

"Jane! Stop this crazy thing!"
It is an effort, a struggle, a knock-down-drag-out fight to let go of every thing, every thought, and every person pulling at us, and God knows it. We are all tops spinning and being spun maddeningly around, spun again and again by circumstances. To stop suddenly would be too jarring; we must ease into it, into the stillness, the quiet, the collapse, releasing from ourselves the myriad of gnawing thoughts like steam from a valve. We must take the time to occasionally come to a halt, to be taken into the stillness, for it is there that we can know God. In the silence, He speaks and we can finally speak. There we can consider the real God and speak our real mind.

As long as the cares of this world have a hold of us, they will choke out the knowledge of God, and that is the tragedy of it all. In stillness we meet His Stillness. In quiet we meet His Quiet. In silence we meet His Silence. Not the silence of death or indifference but of ease, like the "silence" of the woods when there is no predator or trouble, and all is going as it should: creeks bubbling, birds singing, winds whispering, leaves rustling. So too is the "silence" of God: it is a peace coming from all things going well, a peace that passes all understanding, for from our view nothing is going well. But we must learn to lose our view in God's view, which is not found in "seeing the big picture" but in becoming still, in releasing our weariness and heavy burdens and falling into the Rest of God, wherein we find the rest of God as well.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tread Softly (thoughts on the "historical Jesus")

But I, being poor, have only my dreams.
I have spread my dreams under your feet.
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.
-W.B. Yeats 

The so-called "quest for the historical Jesus" often rears its amorphous head every once in a while, with much excitement and little progress. The famous (or infamous) "Jesus Seminar" dominated the 80s and 90s and tried to create a historical picture of Jesus that differed from the approaches of the past (and met with little success). Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright have made their collective popularity and careers out of the issue, though they both arrive at different conclusions. And recently it resurfaced again for a gasp of air after the kerfuffle with Reza Aslan on Fox News.

The "historical Jesus" question is complex (as most academic work is), but for we lowly laymen who feel tossed about by the waves, I think it may be good to provide a basic framing and approach to the whole issue. This is not some sort of slam-dunk response or solution to the problem the question raises. Rather it is a way to understand the problem so you can know where you stand and (hopefully) why you stand there. I have found this approach useful in my own thinking about the "historical Jesus," and it has solidified for me not only what's really going on in this issue but also what's really at stake.

It is believed that there is not one Jesus but two running amok out there. One is the "historical Jesus," and the other is the "theological Jesus". The "historical Jesus" refers to the actual flesh and blood person who lived in Roman-occupied Palestine around 2,000 years ago, while the "theological Jesus" refers to the theological doctrine and assertions made about Jesus by the early Church (and still held by much of the Church). One deals mainly with historical sociocultural contexts and facts while the other deals with philosophical and theological ideas and teachings. The whole "quest" for the "historical Jesus" is to try and focus on the former Jesus rather than the latter, to paint a portrait of the man himself devoid of any theological interpolations.

...and all I got was this lousy button.
The controversy surrounding such a "quest" (at least for the more traditionalist side of the issue) is that all of the theological teachings about Jesus (the Incarnation, the Atonement, His divinity, etc.) seem to be thrown under the bus. The assumption of some is that all of the theological interpolations about Jesus are just that: interpolations, additions made by well-meaning but hyperactive followers. Thus, all kinds of aspersions are cast about in regard to the early Church, including the validity and unity of its teachings and structure. (Note: Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code tried to make much of this issue.) These aspersions can often frustrate and flummox those of us who are less than versed in early Church history and theology.

However, you don't need a doctorate in Church history or theology to understand a simple truth. At the beginning of the Church, Jesus left His ministry in the hands of the Apostles, who had nothing to go on except one objective, immutable fact: Jesus Himself. He existed, and He said and did incredible things, so now what? It is the "now what" that has driven Church theology. At the risk of oversimplification, everything written or interpreted or used since the singular fact of Jesus is simply commentary on that fact. The New Testament, the Church Councils and their Creeds, the "sacred" writings of the Church Fathers: all these things were and are commentary seeking to unpack and explain the fact of Jesus. (Even the Old Testament falls into this category, for Jesus changed the way it was read when He said it was all about Him; Luke 24:25-27, 44-48.) In addition, this commentary was originally a seat-of-the-pants affair for the Apostles: almost all of the N.T. letters are about hashing out what was and was not orthodox Christian teaching, and the "Jerusalem Council" of Acts 15 was about the same thing. There is nothing controversial about any of this, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something (most likely their latest book).

Obscuring? Or revealing?
The question, then, is not in choosing between the "historical Jesus" and the "theological Jesus". They are both true things: the flesh and blood Jewish man and the theological interpretation of Him made by his followers over the following years. Both the fact and the subsequent commentary are real. Again, the question is not about choosing between them. Rather, the real question is about the relationship between the two. In other words, does all that commentary obscure who Jesus really is and was, or does it reveal who He really is and was? Is the "theological Jesus" a threat or an aid in our understanding of the "historical Jesus"? Your answer to that question is paramount. Did the Apostles and Church Fathers and all Christians who followed them make up fanciful delusions or outright lies about Jesus? Or were they really moved by the Spirit to the truth (John 16:13; c.f. I Cor. 2:10-13)? The divide starts right there and nowhere else.

I believe that the commentary reveals who Jesus is (with varying approximation with regard to "sacred" tradition and councils). That may not earn me any friends, but it does give me grounds to say this to those who believe that it obscures Jesus: I request that you tread softly. I often feel that the "theological Jesus" is indeed too often and too easily thrown under the bus as irrelevant or incorrect. You need to understand that the theology surrounding Jesus is foundational to the lives of many, including me. We have built our lives (including our spiritual well-being) on this man from Galilee really being who His followers (and He Himself) said He was: God in the flesh, born to take away the sins of the world, coming again in righteousness to make war against all sin and evil and death. You may not believe in such a thing, but we do. Passionately and devotedly. So tread softly.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"...the philosophy of Light" (ramblings and parables from orthodox rebels)

Recently I flipped through an essay by Roger Scruton called "How I Became a Conservative," where he charts his course to philosophical conservatism from the Student Riots of 1968's Paris to his professorship in the 1980s. He mentioned how during the Student Riots, a friend of his (one of the rioters) justified the mayhem with a book by Michel Foucault called The Order of Things. Scruton had few kind words for the book, but one thing he did say stuck with me: "The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth...." 

That last remark in particular wedged itself into my mind. As a member of the postmodern "millennial" generation, I have found myself flummoxed by the strange audacities committed in our name. Rampant relativism, the near deification of doubt and skepticism, and a narcissistic insistence on a conformity to our own "authenticity," i.e., if something doesn't speak to or "resonate" with us then we have no ears for it and that's that. A lot of books have been written in defense of these atrocities, many of them religious in content, all of them mystical in tone.

It is that mystical quality that often astounded me. When I would read the "history" of Foucault or the "theology" of Rob Bell, I found a singular consistency: what they said was gibberish, but it was artful gibberish, and very often infused with a romantic flair or delivery. Some of Foucault's best chapters are his last ones, where he drops all pretense to scholarship and simply slips into the artist that he is, weaving an intoxicating and provocatively put pack of lies. Bell is even better, being an artist from start to finish. His books are more a product of creativity than serious study. Anyone with a critical eye can see through all the ornamentation to the real substance of the work, which is either terrifying (Foucault) or damnable (Bell). In either case, it is utter nonsense in fancy garb.

Yet they gain traction, and it is because of the fancy garb. There is something to be said for the power of beauty: it has a moral force. As such, its abuse is incredibly dangerous. It can turn a man's heart faster than any syllogism. I speak as an artist myself: in the grand scheme of any debate, rhetoric often trumps logic. That is the meaning behind Scruton's statement. It's not what you say but how you say it, and if you speak it well then you can bombard people with any number of things, hiding your true meaning and purposes behind a flurry of colorful lights, like a fireworks display obscuring an incoming storm.

The exact purpose of all this rhetoric is indeed "subversion," and the goal of subversion is the destruction of every "truth" that has apparently imprisoned us. Such a task can sound very noble, especially if you dress it up with terms like "tyranny" and "liberty," "oppression" and "authenticity". It can even speak of "truth" in a sense, i.e., all of the "truths" we've been given are just the oppressive constructs of dead, white, European men. We must tear down those constructs so that we can get to the real essence of things (if there even is such an essence). One could very well argue (and I'm sure that some have) that subversion is all about "truth": the destruction of its counterfeits and the discovery of its true form or nature.

"White is only the beginning."
Calling "subversion" the search for truth through destruction reminds me of The Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf recounts his ill-fated meeting with Saruman. Gandalf discovers that Saruman has rejected his title of "the White" and has instead become "Saruman of Many Colors". Gandalf retorts that he "liked white better." Saruman sneers at this: "White! It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten, and the white light can be broken." Gandalf's reply is another statement that has stuck with me: "In which case it is no longer white, and he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

Tolkien was referencing a medieval theory of light. Medieval Christianity viewed light as the perfect physical image for God, being not only pure and clarifying but also an absolute unity of multiples. Such logic is fundamentally trinitarian, as is all of Christianity. Every inch of Christian thought and act and artistry revolves around this central notion of separates being one while remaining separates (neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance). The Trinity is the highest expression of this (three in one). There is also the Incarnation (God and Man) as well as Atonement (God and man). The Church fits the bill (one body, many members), as does the Bible (66 books of different genres written at different times and places in different contexts, yet all unified around a singular theme). The Liturgy is built upon many separate elements coming together to form a singular worship, while the sense and structure of stained-glass windows and the cathedrals they adorn give vivid concrete testimony to the amassing together of many into one (without losing the many).

Out of many, One.
For the Christian, existence (from the foundations of ontos to the spectacles of quarks and quasars) has always been a fragmented whole, a great and glorious tapestry of many threads of many colors(!) woven into a singular image. Reality, truth: these things have always been a work of art, not a didactic platitude. Truth cannot be summarized in a statement; that is why it was summarized in a person (John 14:6). The swirling complexities of reality are captured by the irresistible gravity of an incomprehensible center that is God. But that capture does nothing to diminish the complexities, anymore than gravity diminishes the stars. On the contrary, it is their capture that gives us the beauty of the night sky, with its constant constellations and expansive milky way. From the foundations of trinitarian doctrine, you arrive at a philosophy of light, which says that it is neither unity nor diversity, neither solidification nor fragmentation, but rather the whole spectrum working in unison, in perfect, sublime harmony and holism.

Not that I see it, but that I see all else.
It is this "both/and" trinitarian logic that has been missed by the radicals of yesterday and today. They fear solidification at every turn, so they tear it down. To them, the light is nothing to them but blinding, so they break it that they might better see. But then it is not light at all, just disparate colors scattered about without direction or clarity. And in such a catastrophe, one of two things typically happens. Either they revel (or despair) in the prismatic chaos they have created, or they try to contain the madness by reducing everything to one of the disparate colors. Thus, everything becomes a reductionism: it all boils down to economics, or genetics, or sex, or race, or class, or truth-to-power, or pacifism, or Republicanism, or patriotism, or doubt, or whatever else comes and goes in fashion. Whatever way they go, they have broken the whole, and have left the path of wisdom.

I end this random ramble with a parable, told by G.K. Chesterton in the first chapter of his book Heretics. It is not his best book, but it is relevant here. Each chapter has Chesterton dealing a deathblow to a different kind of reductionism, for subversion (rhetorical or otherwise) has been in vogue for a long time now, which is why today we are practically drowning in it:

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good---" At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmedieval practicality.

But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted an electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, and some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery, and some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes.

So, gradually and inevitably, today, tomorrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we may have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.

-Jon Vowell, et. al. (c) 2013


Monday, August 5, 2013

Inevitable (Isaiah's Doxlogy, Part V)

"For as the earth brings forth her buds, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." Is. 61:10-11

"...white unto harvest."
Truth is the foundation of love, and love is the foundation of life, but that love is not just an endless knowing, loving, and doing. There is even more bounty than that. Those who belong to God have not simply found a way of living but also an eschatology. In other words, they have been given a destination as well as a journey. The righteousness and glory given to them is going to flower. It is an inevitable fruition, just as inevitable as the earth bringing forth its fruits in their seasons, or a garden causes all planted therein to sprout in their time. So too those whom God has redeemed have become part of God's season and time.

We all go into the dark.
He has buried them in deliverance and justification like seeds in the ground. Within that dark security, there are a myriad of things happening just beyond their perception: rain to nourish them, weeding to purify and protect them. It is all leading to a great harvest, a bursting forth of flower and fruit, fragrance and food. This is not something that they hope to gain but rather what they've already been given. They have been swallowed up in salvation and righteousness have been set on one path headed in one direction: the unstoppable flowering of righteousness and glory across creation.

This is not syrupy optimism or escapism. This is the rock-solid eschatological vision of the Christian Faith, derived from the very facts and language of the Bible. Since the Fall, all of creation, from quarks to quasars, has been subjected to the meaningless futility and decay of a life separated from God, but there is a restoration coming (Rom. 8:18-22). God has called to Himself a people whom He will swallow up in justification (Is. 61:10; John 14:18-20, 17:20-23; Col. 3:3-4) so that they may flower into glory (Rom. 8:29-30), a glory that is God's (II Cor. 3:18) and which will be theirs (I John 3:2). At that moment, the whole world will fill with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Is. 11:9), and there will be no more tears or violence or darkness (Is. 60:17-21; Rev. 21:1-6). It is the inevitable conclusion and inheritance of the saints. God has spoken it, and as the rains water the earth and return a harvest, so God's word will not return empty-handed (Is. 55:10-11).

" cup runs over."
Dead in our trespasses and sins, we were sown in corruption; but by God we will be raised in glory and incorruption by His quickening, life-giving Christ (I Cor. 15:42-49; Eph. 2:1, 4-7), who is our righteousness (I Cor. 1:30), the righteousness that has swallowed us whole (Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3) so that Death might be swallowed up in victory (I Cor. 15:53-57; Is. 25:8). All roads lead to this, to this glory divine flowing from God and through His children, like a great underground spring breaking through the earth in a myriad of fountains cleansing and feeding the earth, sparkling in the sunlight like stars. So too will be our end, an end that is our beginning, the beginning of glory. It shall fill our world to the brim like a cup, and then it will overflow that brim, spilling across the universe in furious love and ravenous joy, burning away all death and darkness and destruction until every last inch of creation is reconciled back to God. And even then it will not be an end but rather real life beginning afresh and anew.

This is what causes Isaiah to sing. This is what has filled him from top to bottom with joy. This is the destination of those who belong to God, whom His love has wrapped up in salvation and righteousness like a groom or bride dressed for their wedding. That salvation shall bloom into glory, and righteousness into praise forevermore. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013