Thursday, December 30, 2010

Israel, Son of God

Several places in the Old Testament the nation of Israel is referred to as God's "son": "Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son'" (Exod. 4:22; cf. Deut. 8:5; Jer. 31:9, 20; Hos. 11:1). But what implication does this have for how we are to understand Jesus as the Son of God?

The gospel at its core says that Jesus has come to fulfill all that was pointed toward in Israel's history and Scriptures, namely, the promise of blessing to Abraham's descendants and to all the world through them. (See Scot McKnight's explanation of this here.) In what is perhaps the most succinct description of the apostolic gospel, Paul writes to the Corinthians that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve" (1 Cor. 15:1-8). Paul and the apostles before him saw all this happening "according to the Scriptures," that is, the "Christ-event" (Barth) was something anticipated in the Old Testament and in the history of Israel (see Rom. 1:1-4). Even Jesus had this view of himself (see, e.g., Matt. 5:17 and Luke 24:25-27).

While there are many ways this can be seen in the NT, it is perhaps most evident in the Gospel of Matthew. When Herod hears of a rival king's birth, the holy family flees to Egypt and seeks refuge until Herod's death. Matthew elucidates the meaning of this event: "And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son'" (2:15; quoting Hosea 11:1). In Hosea it is Israel who is God's son, and the reference is to their rescue and calling in the exodus (cf. Deut. 8:5). But here the title is applied to Jesus. Stepping back, we can see numerous other parallels to Israel's history in the life of Jesus. For example, the flight to Egypt parallels not only Pharaoh's murder of Hebrew babies and Moses' rescue to become Israel's leader (Exod. 1-2); echoes can also be seen of the incipient family of Israel (Jacob) fleeing for their lives to Egypt (Gen. 42-43).

Additionally, just as Israel was "baptized" in their exodus-passage through the Red Sea (Exod. 14; 1 Cor. 10:4), so Jesus also underwent baptism (Matt. 3:13-17). After the exodus, Israel wandered in the wilderness, undergoing temptation and grumbling against the Lord for forty years. After his baptism, Jesus likewise spent forty days in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1-11). Israel was tempted by hunger and thirst in order to humble them, to expose their hearts, and to teach them that "man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:2-5). But ultimately their discontented hearts were set on idols, and they failed the test (1 Cor. 10:5-10). Yet where Israel failed, Jesus held fast, even wielding Deuteronomy 8:3 against the devil's devices. Whereas God was not pleased with Israel (1 Cor. 10:5), in his baptism and temptation Jesus is marked out as the beloved Son well-pleasing to God his Father (Matt. 3:17).

There are many other places as well in which Jesus is portrayed as fulfilling (that is, filling up, bringing to a climax, or displaying the true meaning of) Israel's history and hopes. (If you want to know more, e-mail me or read Peter Leithart's essay, Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew's Gospel.) Not least among these is that Jesus is the true seed of Abraham who serves as the representative head of God's people and bears upon himself the curse due to Israel for their disobedience to the Law, releasing to God's people (now both Jew and Gentile) the fullness of God's eschatological blessings, received by faith (Gal. 3:10-14, 21-29).

So in calling Jesus the Son of God, Matthew and other NT writers are really saying that Jesus is the true Israel, the one whose story culminates and transforms Israel's. He re-enacts and undergoes all that Israel went through in her travails to bring God's glory and blessing to a fallen world. Only where she failed, he succeeded. He is the true obedient servant of God, who truly understands and lives out the law's demands for trusting love to her Creator-King (Matt. 5:17; Heb. 10:5-10). The implications of this are that all of God's blessings are now no longer seated upon the Jews' obedience to the Law, but upon Jesus the Son's obedience and curse-bearing. As was always promised even to Abraham, covenant righteousness before God--and therefore the covenant promises of abundant life, an eternal home, and dwelling with God--now comes through faith in his Son Jesus.

David, Son of God

"Jesus is the Messiah, [that is,] the Son of God" (John 20:31). As I argued in my previous post, Son of God and Messiah were somewhat interchangeable titles; or at least they were understood to be synonymous for the person God would send to be King over Israel and the whole world and bring Israel's final glory.

Properly understood, the title Messiah (Christ) means "anointed one." To anoint someone with oil in Hebrew culture was to ceremonially set him apart for a special role. While there were many occassions for anointing someone with oil, in the OT there were three particular roles into which someone was baptized by an anointing rite: prophet (Isa. 61:1), priest (Exod. 28:41; 30:30; Lev. 16:32), and king (1 Sam. 9:16; 15:1; 2 Sam. 2:4; 1 Kings 1:34). The majority of OT references to an anointed person, though, refer to King David and his successors on the throne of Israel (or Judah, during the divided kingdom). Thus when the nations hate God's law and rage against his "anointed one," God derides them and proclaims the truth: "I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill" (Ps. 2:1-6). This king is referred to as God's "son," and upon the day of his coronation, God becomes his "father" (2:7, 12). (Some translations of Psalm 2:12 say that God has "begotten" the king.) In John 5:19-30, Jesus is even explicitly revealed as the Son entrusted by the Father with all judgment, wielding his Father's scepter. There is an intimate connection between divine sonship and regency.

This motif is echoed elsewhere in the Psalms. Psalm 89, which implores God on that basis of his covenant made to David (see 2 Sam. 7), records God as saying, "I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him . . . He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.' I will also appoint him [as] my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth" (vv. 20, 26-27). It is through the just and righteous reign of God's anointed "son" that God rules his people Israel and subdues the nations (vv. 22-29; cf. 2:8-12; 72; 110; Gen. 49:10). Yet when Israel backslid into the spiritual adultery of idolatry and apostasy and was carried into exile by godless foreign nations, it was made clear that no such exalted king had yet come. The truly righteous King of the house of David awaited a future era for the people of God (see Jer. 23:1-8).

So by saying that Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible is saying that Jesus is the definitive answer to Israel's hope for a king who would save them through his wise and just reign. He ist the ruler who would usher in an era of unparalleled peace and prosperity for God's people--and destruction for those outside of God's kingdom. In Jesus, the promised shepherd-deliverer had come (Ezek. 34). This is good news for those who will gladly and willingly submit to him, but terror for those who refuse him in this life. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not have eternal life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36; see the parallels with Psalm 2).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jesus, Son of God

If you have read John's Gospel or his letters (1-3 John), you will notice pretty quickly that his preoccupation is that Jesus is the "Son of God." In fact, this was so central to John's view of Jesus that he wrote entirely so that "you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). But what exactly does this title mean? To most evangelicals it means that Jesus is fully divine, that he is God incarnate. And the prologue to the Fourth Gospel validates this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God" (1:1-2). This Word (Greek logos) is perhaps best seen as the ultimate, cohesive, self-expression of who God is in his very essence. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [lit. "tabernacled," as did the shekinah cloud of God's glory] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known" (1:14, 18). In the Word the eternal, hidden God is revealing who he is and what he is like. (In his book The Challenge of Jesus, N. T. Wright points out that Jesus as the Son embodies God in five primary modes of God's action in the world and particularly through and for Israel: Word, Wisdom, Spirit, Temple, and Torah. Jesus is being and doing in the world what only God can do.) Elsewhere in John's Gospel, Jesus the Son of God is revealed as the one who knows the Father intimately and lives entirely in concert with his desires (3:35; 5:16-28).

But perhaps this declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, while not divorced at all from his deity, has as much--or even more--to do with his role as the human king who fulfills, rewrites, and redeems the history of Israel and, through her, the whole world. You see, John uses the title Son of God interchangeably with the title Messiah (Christ): "Jesus is the Messiah, [that is,] the Son of God" (20:31). The apostles also understood the Son of God as synonymous with the Messiah: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:10). I have heard the name Jesus Christ explained this way: "Jesus" refers to his humanity as the virgin-born man (Matt. 1:21), while "Christ" refers to his divinity as the virgin-born man. While this is not entirely wrong, are we missing something? I believe we may be, and I hope in the next few posts to flesh out (pun intended) three ways Jesus-as-God's-Son goes beyond "mere" deity and encompasses also his humanity as the true Adam, Israel, and David.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Glory Days

A few weeks ago our pastor Erik announced that, due to rapidly outgrowing our current worship space, we would be moving to a new site just a few blocks away. I immediately felt the cringe of nostalgia. Even though City Church is only four years old, we have always met in the same small, beautiful church building. I will be a little sad to leave. But Erik quickly reminded those of us who long for the "glory days" that for any church, our true glory days lie ahead in the new heavens and the new earth, when Jesus reigns completely and all things are renewed. What a challenging truth! It made me think: Is nostalgia really some sort of misplaced hope, as if we ever lived in some sort of heaven-on-earth? The apostle Peter warns us that we do not yet live in our true homeland "in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13); a later prophet chided nostalgia as "a desire for something which has never actually appeared in our experience" (C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory").

A few nights ago I was singing to myself Martin Luther's old Christmas hymn, "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come," in which an angelic host proclaim the good news of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. In the fourth stanza they bear this news:

He will on you the gifts bestow
Prepared by God for all below,
That in His kingdom, bright and fair,
You may with us His glory share.

"That . . . you may with us His glory share"--that is the gospel! The good news of the redemption Christ has won for us means that we would not only see beauty--the fiery glow of a sunset, the piercing radiance of noonday sun reflecting from a fresh snowfall, the calm drops of dew glistening suspended from a spider's web, the warmth of a loving family gathered around the hearth, the resounding voices of the chorus inside St. Peter's Basilica, the graceful movements of a ballet dancer, the arms of Mother Teresa around a discarded, sickly orphan, the trade of wrinkled smiles between a long-married couple--but that we would become beautiful and glorious ourselves. Only our glory and beauty will far surpass that of any temporal thing of this earth: we will share the very glory of Jesus the eternal Son ourselves.

The good news of the gospel is that through Jesus Christ, God himself and his saving righteousness have been unveiled (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 4:4, 6). And the result--or, perhaps rather, the goal--is that we share in his glory ourselves. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18). And one day, we will share the very same glory of body, soul, and spirit as the risen and glorified Son himself, full of the Spirit of Life: "For those whom he [God] foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:28-30*; see also Heb. 2:5-10; 1 John 3:1-2).

I think this is something even the best of us evangelicals can miss as we hold forth the cross. We focus so heavily on forgiveness and justification by faith--the open door into the kingdom and into union with Christ--that we lose sight of the end goal, of God's ultimate purpose for us in this life and the next: participating in Christ's glory and so exercising our true humanity. As we set our lives before God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2) and come to a deeper knowledge of God's excellent promises, we "become partakers of the divine nature" and become freed from corrupting desires (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Our life's goal, both now and in the age to come, is to be so clothed with Christ and filled by the Holy Spirit that we take on, participate in, and share the very glory of our Head and King himself. Eastern theologians say that while we do not share God's essence or nature as Diety, we do share God's "energies," his ways of acting and being in the world (known as theosis). We are meant to become, as it were, little Christs, little sons of God, brothers along with the Firstborn who shares his Father's image (Gen. 1:26, 27; Rom. 8:17-18, 28-30; Col. 3:10; Heb. 2:5-17). Not that we ourselves become deified, but that we become flawless mirrors reflecting the light of God's glory and so shine all the more brightly ourselves with goodness and love and joy and beauty. We will become fully illuminated, luminous as the brightest stars in the heavens (Dan. 12:2-3).

*Paul employs the past tense to announce that both in God's eternal purposes set before creation and also in the cross and empty tomb in A.D. 29, all of salvation has already been accomplished--even if it is being applied and brought to fruition across time by the Holy Spirit as he unites people to Christ.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Old Advent Posts

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Apparently this maxim applies to my blogging, too. Maybe I just haven't had the time to think though Adventy stuff. Either way, you can check out my previous posts here, since I don't get around to posting much new material anymore. (However, I have spent a long time figuring out how Jesus as the Son of God means he fulfills the roles of David and Israel, and why this is good news. But apparently I can't copy-and-paste text from Word into Blogger.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Prayer for Today

Over the past few months, since the beginning of the school year, I've been learning the hard lesson on my continual need to open each day in prayer for God's presence and provision, acknowledging his grace. If I don't do so, it's so easy to lose sight of what each day is really all about--glorifying God in a life of transformation and discipleship after Jesus--and instead fret and falter over my performance and acceptance at work. This morning I sat down and wrote out this prayer. While it was originally inspired by a prayer from Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp's excellent book How People Change, some of you may notice it's largely a reflection on Galatians 2:20-21 and the introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism.

"A Prayer for Today"

Good Father, God Almighty,
I thank You for this day, whatever it may bring.
Today greets me full of hope,
Not because I am successful at what I do
Or because people near me appreciate me
Or because circumstances are easy,
But because I am not my own,
But belong--body and soul, in life and in death--
To my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has freed me from a life of performance-based righteousness;
In Him I am freely accepted and loved by Your grace.
His life, death, and resurrection assure me
Of my forgiveness and eternal life.

By His Spirit within me I am set free from sin and my old self.
Christ now dwells within me,
And I am being transformed daily into His glorious image,
Created anew to live out my highest calling:
To glorify You and enjoy You forever.
Insofar as I do this, I am truly alive.

Instead of the futility of trying to perform for You and others
To win acceptance, love, and value,
Or of exalting myself or worshiping vain idols,
I am set free to serve others,
Who are created in Your image and are valuable to You.
I will therefore gladly and generously use all that You give me
Each day to work wholeheartedly for You,
Knowing that it is better to give than to receive.

Make me today, in all I do, a light to others,
Bearing Christ in truth, humility, compassion, and generosity,
And gladly and boldly sharing His gospel.

When I am anxious, I will not be dismayed,
But will turn to You in prayer with thanksgiving,
For You are near and above all earthly powers.
You promise to do all things for my good,
To enable me always to do Your will and to become like Christ.
To look at it any other way is to live a lie.
But to live in truth brings You glory,
And this is my highest form of worship.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Every baptism is an infant baptism"

Last weekend the local RUF (Reformed University Fellowship, that is, not a ministry for canines) pastor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Peter Rowan, was ordained at our worship service. It was a beautiful and moving event to see a young man step forward to commit his life to guiding people to their Savior through the Word of the gospel. Then, in his first act as an ordained pastor, Peter baptized his infant nephew. Peter started his brief explanation of baptism with this provocative phrase: "In some sense, every baptism is an infant baptism." The sign of baptism, Peter explained, shows that we, like newborn babes, live entirely dependent lives before God, living entirely on what he gives us by grace alone in Christ.

I think this really is a beautiful picture we miss often by too quickly getting on with the business of responding to our baptisms by following Jesus' call to death-and-discipleship. No matter how zealously we follow Jesus and serve his church, we must recognize that every good and every blessing come to us not on account of our faith or our energy for God, but far prior to that. Baptism reminds us that it was "while we were still weak" and powerless like a little child with no strength or skill or virtue to offer, "Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). Brennan Manning points out in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel that children are the model citizens of God's kingdom "because they have no claim on heaven. If they are close to God, it is because they are incompetent, not because they are innocent. If they receive anything, it can only be as a gift" (p. 28).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Reformation Day!

It's finally here: this year's annual Reformation Day post! (You can all exhale now.) In case you haven't been reading this blog for years, every October 31st I celebrate the nailing of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg on All Souls' Eve in 1517, ultimately spurring many within the church to return to Scripture and to celebrate Jesus Christ alone as our All in All. This year's quote comes from a sermon of Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled "Justification as the Last Word" (c. 1940).* It's a bit lengthy, but well worth the patience.

All Christian living has its origin and existnece in one single happening which the Reformation called "justification by grace alone." It is not what the individual is in himself or herself, but what he or she has become by this happening which defines a Christian life. Here we have the length and breadth of human life in a nutshell, gathered together at one point; the whole of life is contained in this event. What happens here? An ultimate act of suffering which cannot be grasped by any human being. The darkness, which from within and without takes human life into the abyss of hopelessness is bound, conquered, and destroyed by the power of the Word of God; in the light of this deliverance, we see God and our neighbor for the first time. The bewildering labyrinth of the life we have lived so far is shattered. We are free for God and our neighbor. We begin to know in our heart that there is a God who loves us, accepts us, and that by our side is a brother or sister, whom God loves as he loves us. Also, we know now that there is a future with the triune God, who is present among his people. Now, the human being has faith, love, and hope. Past and future become as one in the presence of God. The whole of the past is gathered up in the word "forgiveness"; the whole of the future is in the safekeeping of the true God. The sins of the past are sunk into the abyss of the love of God in Christ Jesus and overcome. The future will be a life with God, without sin (see 1 John 3:9). Life, then, is revealed as detached from teh temporal and held fast by the eternal, choosing the way of eternal salvation ratherthan the ways of the termporal world, as a member of a community and of creation, which sings praises to the triune God. All this happens with theencounter of Christ with the human soul. All this is truth and reality in Christ. Because it is no dream, it is a dtruly human life, which is lived in the presence of Christ. From now on, it is no longer a lost life, but a justified life, justified by grace alone.

But not only "by grace alone," also "by faith alone." That is what both the Scriptures and the Reformation teach. Not love nor hope, but only faith justifies a life. Faith alone, indeed, sets life upon a new foundation and it is this new foundation alone that justifies it, so that I can live before God. The foundation, however, is the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without this foundation a life cannot be justified before God. It is left to the mercy of death and damnation. Only by living a life by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ can we be justified before God. But faith means finding and standing firm upon this foundation, to be anchored in it and thereby to be held firm by it. Faith means establishing one's life upon a foundation outside one's own self, upon and eternal and holy foundation, which is Christ. Faith means to be captivated by the glance of Jesus Christ, to see nothing other than him, to be torn out of imprisonment in one's own ego, to be set free by Jesus Christ. Faith is letting this action take place, which is an action in itself, but these two are not enough to explain the mystery. Only faith is certain, all else is doubt. Jesus Christ himself is the certainly of faith. I believe that my life is justified in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way to the justification of my life than by faith alone. . . .


*Bonhoeffer, Werke, Vol. 15, pp. 492-98; as found in Edwin Robertson, ed., tr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pp. 160-162.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Triumphs and Tears

I know this is outside the scope or intent of this blog's normal content--if and when I even post anything anymore--but some of you who read this know that I have been a high school track and cross country coach. This year I'm at a new high school and no longer coaching track because it's such a time-sucking vortex, but I had the opportunity to serve as the boys' cross country coach. I ended up being the de facto girls' coach too, however, because Julie (the girls' coach) and I pretty much decided to blend the teams this year.

Yesterday was the day we were all eagerly awaiting: the Capital District Championship. On paper the girls were ranked fourth, and the boys were fifth or sixth out of eight teams in the district. The top four teams advance to Regionals. Despite slow, spongy course conditions due to the storms and tornadoes one day earlier (which forced the meet to be postponed one day), the girls ran really well. As the girls streamed across the finish, I frantically tried running my own scoring of the meet. What I calculated on paper was confirmed later by the official scoring: The girls placed fourth and moved on to Regionals! An added plus was that our top freshman, Katie Sperry, finished 9th to take All-District honors.

Sadly for the boys, our number-five runner and last scorer selfishly quit the team yesterday, leaving us a hole to fill. ("Welcome to the world of coaching," another veteran coach told me.) But our sixth guy stepped it up. We knocked off one of our rival schools that had narrowly defeated us all season long -- except this time we crushed 'em. However, we only ended up fifth place in the district, so our season is over. But I was pretty glad to see that, of all teams in fourth, it was Henrico (where I previously coached) who had defeated us. After all, their top five were all guys I had coached in track last year and recruited to run XC this season. Several other coaches congratulated Julie and I on getting the team off to a good start. It felt good.

Today was an easy, fun day for the kids: the "rainbow run." (Props to Tim Hoshal for that one.) It was a crisp, sunny fall day, with the red maples donned in their characteristic scarlet and the willow oaks and sweetgums in golds and yellows. The kids were in good spirits, and their laughter and smiles added to the bliss brought to me by a beautiful fall day and the joy of cross country. I know that I really need the extra time at school and home afforded by not coaching the rest of the year. I really do. But I'm really quite sad that the season is over for the boys and will soon wrap up for the girls, too. Just like track last year, cross' has been a huge blessing from God in my life, something I'm really thankful for.
Next up: Central Region Championship. . . . And dare I run the Richmond Half-Marathon?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

KDY - The Crust and the Core

Kevin DeYoung has re-posted an old post of his, "The Crust and the Core," which ended up becoming the final chapter in his book about the Heidelberg Catechism. He argues for why doctrine must be studied and alive within a church and our hearts (our "core"), but that it should not become a barrier which prevents unity in the church and keeps others from seeing the glory of Christ (a "crust"). Highly recommended.

On that note, too, I'd like to retag an old post of mine which hopefully embodies the same spirit: "Whose orthodoxy is it?"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thanks for the Dawn

As I've been working my way through the book of Isaiah for this year's BSF study, I've been met time and again with the reality of most people's spiritual stupor before the living God, the Holy One. On one hand, I too feel provoked by visions of the Lord "sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (6:1); I don't see Christ much this way, nor tremble under him in reverent awe.

But I am also filled with a deep sense of gratitude to this same Lord, this reigning and ruling King. Millions of others may spend their whole lives either openly dismissing the gospel, or more likely, going about aloof or ignorant of his resurrection and judgment to come (Rev. 20:11-15). But in his kindness I have been given his Spirit, my sight of him has been restored, and in my deepest being I know that he is true. In fact, the very first time I believe I saw Christ for who he really is, it was an inescapable mental image of what is known as Christos Pantokrator, "the Messiah All-Powerful," who is coming again to judge the living and the dead. But he did not terrify me; he also showed me that he gave up his life in agony upon a deserted cross to remove my sins and to become my own Savior.

Every time I think of those around me who have never seen his Light or who have fallen away from faith in him, I thank God that for whatever reason unknown to me, he has lovingly brought me to faith and has kept me faithful. The words of Augustine come to mind: "Yet if any man makes a list of his deserts [merits], what would it be but a list of your gifts?" (Confessions IX.13). Each day I cannot boast that I have deeper spiritual insight or godliness or purity of will than anyone else. All I can do is boast in the Savior who gives me these things in his time and measure. "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:7).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On Inerrancy

There is (still) a lot of debate within the evangelical world about the inerrancy of Scripture, the belief that the Bible, in its original manuscripts (autographs), is flawless and completely truthful in all its propositions, claims, and all that it affirms. Now, I don't doubt this. "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16) and has the Holy Spirit as its ultimate author, though it was penned in culturally conditioned ways through fallible human authors. In reality what looks like error to us is simply the result of three main phenomena: (1) It was authored by the Spirit of God, and only the Spirit within us knows and interprets and unveils to us God's thoughts. "For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11). Because we are not completely ruled and renewed by the Spirit yet, in many ways Scripture seems opaque, foggy. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).

(2) God's revelation of himself remains under his lordship and at his discretion. Because he must breathe his Spirit into us to comprehend his breathed-out Word, we are at his mercy in all true wisdom we may gain. The fact remains that all Scripture comes from a perfect Mind which is infinitely beyond the reach of our finite, creaturely minds. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9). Only as God chooses to enable our minds to grasp the truth of his Word can we grow in grace and knowledge. The Word is God's self-disclosure, self-revelation; and as such we can never wrap our minds around it fully to make judgments upon it any more than we can scrutinize and judge our Creator. It is as if a paper doll were to lay claim to the child who cut it! The real question for us is, under God's lordship, will we be faithfully submissive to what we do understand, while praying all the while for deeper knowledge of his mysteries? "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29, emphasis mine).

(3) There is the obvious difficulty of our cultural differences and historical distance from the times and places where the Bible was written, and this will always occlude our view of its message. For example, many (though not all) inerrantists claim that you must believe in a single, uniquely-created Adam who was the very first of all humans, if you are to accept an unerring Bible. But that opens up many other difficulties with the Genesis account which they would need to reconcile, if they accept Adam as the original progenitor of the human race. (I am simply using this as an example, not to say what I believe about Adam.) But what if the narrative about Adam's creation wasn't meant so much as to answer the hows or whens of creation, as it was to give Adam and mankind his purpose within the world--ultimately a purpose which Israel was supposed to embody. The Genesis creation accounts could've been penned (carved?) by Moses to point Israel to her identity as the divine image-bearers of God exercising dominion over the world and bringing blessing to it. This example obviously leaves out a lot of details, but I'm simply using it to point out the gaps created by cultural distance.

* * *

Ultimately, though, while I accept inerrancy a la B. B. Warfield and the Chicago Statement, it doesn't matter that much to me. Why not? To put it simply, I don't trust the Scriptures because I believe they're inerrant. (Though because they are inerrant and infallible, we need to accept and live by all that God reveals to us therein, because they are the instrument of his rule in our lives, his words which soar above the puny "wisdom" of man.) I believe them because they revealed to me my risen Savior Jesus Christ. I came to know and believe in Jesus long before I ever knew about the doctrine of inerrancy. And because the Bible pointed me to Jesus, I kept on reading it and found living words that read me, and I found life for my soul. No other book does that. That is why I trust the Bible and rely on it: not because it fits some sort of definition of inerrancy, but because it has brought me to a knowledge of my sin and, more so, of a redeeming God of love who bore my sin on Calvary. I believe it because only its message makes sense of my life and of the world. That is why I trust it. And because I know in my heart that the risen Jesus is living and true, and that I cannot turn away from the inescapable grip his reality has on me, I take his word as trustworthy and true. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gospel Hope for Work (and Home)

On Tuesday Glen Allen High School opened its doors to students. A new academic year had begun. While on one hand I was pretty excited to see all the new faces and ponder what the next ten months will be like, as usual I also had a lot of anxieties about the upcoming year, especially in such a high-expectations environment as a brand new, tech-savvy, innovative school.

But by God's grace I realized that each day's success is not based on whether I garner my administrators' approval, or if my students have high grades and do well in the Virginia Academy of Science, or if I'm integrating enough technology and "21st-century skills," or if my lessons are really interesting and engaging to wide variety of students, or if the cross country team does well. In God's eyes success comes from whether or not I worshiped him in all I did (1 Cor. 10:31). Did I perform my job to the best of my effort and know-how (Col. 3:23)? Did I use my time, abilities, and opportunities to serve and strengthen others (1 Pet. 4:9-11)? Did I treat students with gentleness, patience, and understanding when I could've otherwise been strict, harsh, and demanding (Phil. 4:5; James 3:17)? Did I turn to the Lord in prayer during frustrating, perplexing moments (Phil. 4:6-7)? Did I look for reasons to rejoice in my students and circumstances instead of dwelling on negatives (Phil. 4:8-13)? Did I die to my desires and rights so that I could help others (Phil. 2:3-11)? Did I trust God's presence and his promises that he is, and that he is in control (Isa. 26:3; John 16:33)? Did I step out in faith at the Spirit's leading and share a spiritual lesson or speak about God's holiness, justice, and grace in Christ (Eph. 6:19-20; Col. 4:2-6). Did I live for God's approval rather than my colleagues' (Gal. 1:10; 1 Sam. 16:7)?

To the extent that I do these things, every day is a success, because God's purpose for me is to form Christ in me (Rom. 8:28-30). I know that the list above in many ways this sounds like an unrealistic burden. And we could look at it simply as that--a burden of God's desires and demands under the law. But the good news for me and for all of us, I believe, is that in Christ we are forgiven of all our sins and failures. And through him God has also given us his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ himself alive and active within our hearts and minds to "will and to work for [God's] good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). The watching world of my students, bosses, parents, and colleagues may not see it--all this is foolishness in a world of performance-based righteousness and earned love--but the Lord does not see as man sees; he looks at our hearts, which he possesses and is working to renew (1 Sam. 16:7).

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
(Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q & A 1)

If I love, worship, and glorify God, I've met my telos, my goal. And even when circumstances are tough and comforts flee, I have this sure and solid comfort in life and in death: "That I am not my own, but belong--body and soul, in life and in death--to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. . . . Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 1).

Monday, August 30, 2010

Greetings, NALC!

I've heard this was coming down the pipleline for a while. But apparently it's official: Confessional Lutherans disaffected with the gospel-diluting Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have broken off and formed a new ecclesiastical body, the North American Lutheran Chruch (NALC). I don't know all their doctrinal stances, but if their drive is to return to confessional Lutheranism and to Scripture itself, then why not simply join the more conservative, confessional Lutheran Church--Missour Synod (LCMS)? I imagine the NALC might be like the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), which upholds the Westminster Standards but allows female elders. I wonder myself why there are so many denominations with similar intents, even subscribing to the same confessions and standards and interpretational frameworks. So why not allow for a little more wiggle room in the peripheral matters of difference and unite for the sake of the church's greater unity? Why don't the (Lutheran) NALC, LCMS, WELS, and ELS all join? Why not the (Presbyterian) EPC, OPC, and PCA? There is far more uniting these respective bodies than there is dividing them.

Okay, rant aside, does anyone out there know what makes the NALC distinct enough from the LCMS to warrant a new body?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Huh? Does it really say THAT?

Random thought this morning: Christ is spoken of in the New Testament as the "new Adam" or the "second Adam" (Rom. 5:15-21; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45). The goal of God's work in his redeemed people is to form Christ in them (Gal. 4:19), to conform them to Christ's likeness (Rom. 8:29), or to clothe them with Christ (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:24*; Col. 3:10*). Naturally I guess I therefore thought of our sanctification--our growth in Christlikeness as we follow him in the power of the Spirit--as becoming truly human, becoming the people God had always intended for us to be from our sinless beginning in Eden (Gen. 1-3).

But if you look at the attitudes and behaviors we are to put on and "wear around" as the fabric of our lives, they involve all sorts of things Adam could never have done or been capable of prior to the Fall. Adam never needed to know how to be kind, tenderhearted, or forgiving, because no one had ever sinned against him. He didn't need to know compassion or how to serve the hungry or the homeless because hunger and pain and homelessness didn't exist. So in some way, if God's entire purpose from before time has been to conform people to the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8:29)--and God is doing that now--then somehow God always intended for there to be sin, for our truest humanity to take place in the context of a fallen, sinful world.

Which begs the question too: Did God intend evil and the Fall from the beginning, before his creation of the world, so that we could know and enjoy and celebrate even more of his nature than we otherwise would ever have been able to? We could not know what love is if there were never hatred. We couldn't know faithfulness if it weren't for infidelity and backstabbing. We couldn't know beauty if it weren't for ugliness. We couldn't know grace and mercy if there were no evil to punish. We could never know justice if there were no injustice. Love, faithfulness, beauty, purity, grace, mercy, justice--these are all true and wonderful attributes of God united in the very center of his being which we otherwise couldn't know and glorify him for, were it not for the Fall.

Have I lost my mind?**

*Most translations speak of putting on the "new self," but the Greek literally says "new man," probably a reference by Paul to Christ himself. The risen Christ who defeated death and was glorified by the power of the Holy Spirit is said to be a "firstborn among many brothers" who would follow in God's family (Rom. 8:29). Therefore, to quote Switchfoot, Jesus is the "new way to be human."

**If you really want to know, look up the terms infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. Apparently other people are crazy enough to have wondered this too. And while you're at it, look up terms like transducianism and hypostatic union too. You'll feel smarter . . . or at least smug and theologically righteous.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Trusting God When Your Loved Ones Reject Christ

In the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition where I find myself, we believe very much that God works in families and that he not only saves individuals, but promises his salvation to their whole families as well (see, e.g., Acts 2:39: "For the promise is for you and for your children . . . ."). In fact, among the chief means God uses to raise disciples is the care and instruction of parents and fellow church members.

Sadly, however, we have all seen many examples where this doesn't work out right. A child may be brought into the church and given God's promises in baptism, and his parents might faithfully teach him the faith and pray for him day and night, yet he may never come to know the Lord. (Of course, the Bible says we're not merely neutrally unconvinced about Jesus. Unbelievers, rather, actively spurn and reject him in favor of their preferred idols.) Does this mean God has failed? One can hardly blame a parent when he grieves and is upset toward God when his children drift away or fail to embrace Jesus as their Rescuer and Lord. Is God impotent? Aloof? Cavalier? Arbitrary?

As I've been reading through Romans again lately, these questions find their answers. Of course I do not intend to suppose these will satisfactorily calm all the travail a loving Christian parent will surely experience, but I know that they are true. And I might as well impress these lessons upon my own heart now, should I later find myself in this same predicament. So here are three explanations from Romans 9-11 as to why children raised in a godly home and/or in the church fail to grasp Christ.

God has not chosen some for salvation (Romans 9:1-29). In this section of his letter, Paul addressed the question of why the Jews have pretty much cart-blanche written off Jesus as the Messiah. If God promised to save his people and make them a blessing to the world, why then have the Jews failed both to obey the Law and also to trust Christ and so be saved? Haven't God's promises failed? some might ask. An emphatic NO! is his reply. "But it is not as though the word of God has failed" (v. 6). Paul goes on to argue that while God's salvation was truly promised to all of Abraham's descendants, only a portion or remnant of his offspring--"the children of the promise"--are chosen by God. The reality Paul lays out is that God, in his freedom as Creator, has not shown the same mercy upon all people. Why not? It is so that the world will see that salvation lies not in their own abilities and desires and deeds, but in God's. "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (v. 16; cf. v. 11).

God does have "mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whom he wills" (v. 19). But this is no injustice. In the Bible, when someone is spoken of being hardened in his sin, this is always God's act of judgment by which he simply gives sinners what they've wanted all along: their own kingdom apart from the Lord's rule. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh, who already hated and rejected God, as one whom God hardened. Likewise Paul shows that God lets people feel the full weight of their sin (1:24, 26, 28), as they wish. By even invoking the word mercy, Paul shows that the natural state of anyone is as a wrath-deserving rebel. If you weren't already an enemy of God, why would it be then mercy which God sheds on you? So in saving only some people, God is simply being more merciful to them than to others.

Unbelievers are simply that--unbelievers (9:30 - 10:21). Paul makes it evident that salvation doesn't demand jumping through spiritual hoops or figuring out some enigmatic metaphysical puzzle. Rather, it's as simple as trusting the message about Jesus Christ, who is near all through the gospel. When Jesus is proclaimed, we are called to believe in him in our hearts and to confess his name publicly. It's as simple as that (10:5-13).

What this means is that as a parent or friend, if you have spoken often and clearly to that person of repentance and faith in Christ and prayed for his salvation, it's not your fault that person doesn't know the Lord. It's his. God's call and his promises are for everyone in the church, all who hear, but some refuse to believe. And in the end, that's the fact. They personally failed to obey the gospel (vv. 16-21). And their faithlessness does not nullify God's faithfulness (3:3-4). They simply rather love something more than the faithful God.

Now this may be seem at odds with the fact that no one believes unless God graciously gives them faith (Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). But despite the mysteries of election and God's sovereignty, the reality is that God also freely offers eternal life to all through the gospel (John 3:16). God's offer is no less real, neither is their rejection of the gospel and their failure to repent.

God has a good and wise plan, even when we don't understand it fully (11:1-36). Paul finishes his argument for God's fidelity by pointing out that God hasn't given up on Israel even though only a few Jews now believe. Rather, he has for a time opened the door wide so that people from all nations might belong to God. And in due time, Jews again will embrace their Messiah and find their home in the church. But Paul calls this plan a "mystery" contrary to our own human wisdom (v. 25). In the fullness of God's perfect, superior wisdom and purposes, what looks like a puzzling failure or injustice on God's part actually is serving to make his mercy as far-reaching and expansive as possible (vv. 30-32). This leads Paul to break out in praise:

Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (11:33-36)
Compared to God, our wisdom is but an infinitestimal droplet. And this must be, in the end, what we take to heart. Yes, God calls all to believe in the gospel of his Son, and only those who believe are saved. Yet at the same time, this belief in Christ is ultimately only granted by God to those whom he has chosen. What to do with this seeming antithesis? We have to look to and trust in God's perfect wisdom.

Where is his divine wisdom most fully put on display? It is seen nowhere more radiantly and clearly than in the Cross of Jesus Christ. "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:22-24; cf. vv. 30-31; Luke 11:31; Col. 2:3). When you look at the Man of Sorrows carrying the world's sickness and sin, hanging on the cross in shame, and dying to bear God's wrath and shed forgiveness upon a world of sinners, do you not see there God's love? His mercy? His goodness? His grace? Can you look at the cross and see in it an evil God, lording his might over the world and wantonly crushing sinners under his finger without a care? No! So we can trust that even when it seems like God is aloof or injust, or even powerless, he is working each of us into a wise plan conceived in the benevolence of his heart. We cannot see it now, nor will it make sense or ease our griefs. But we can continue to hope in the goodness of God.

"To the only wise God be glory forevermore though Jesus Christ! Amen" (Rom. 16:27).

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sharing the Spoils

In different ways and for different reasons, the image of Jesus as a victorious leader-king has been for several years the one which strikes me most. As such, Psalm 110 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. It just so happened that it was also the OT reading at church last week, as the sermon text was Mark 12:35-44, in which Jesus refers to Psalm 110:1.

1 The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

2 The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
4 The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

During Communion I had saw this image of Jesus as if he were King Arthur sitting to dine with his comrades, the Knights of the Round Table, after a great victory. It was a merry scene, full of mead and broiled meats. The victorious king had returned from battle and now wanted to share a time of glad rest with his brothers in arms, those for whom he had fought. He sat down to share a lavish meal with them, not as their overlord, but as a friend. In this meal of celebration, the king shared the spoils of his victory with all who were there: gold rings and necklaces, finely embroidered linens, and expertly crafted weapons.

How much so with our King Jesus, whose feet rest on the necks of Satan and his minions and of all the sin, doubts, fears, and failures which plague us. Not all his enemies are under his feet yet; Death is the last foe to be vanquished ("until I make your enemies your footstool"; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). During our Lord's Supper, he is spreading a table for us to celebrate the rest he has won for us, his people clothed in "holy garments" of his own righteousness (Psalm 110:3; Revelation 7:14; 19:8). Jesus condescends to meet with us in glad fellowship and to enjoy rest together. At the table he is also sharing with us the plunder, the spoils of his victory (Isaiah 53:12). He bestows on us life, cleansing, forgiveness, assurance that we belong to the household of God both now and forever, and spiritual power to fight the good fight of faith (see John 6:51; Matthew 26:28; Luke 15:23-24).

In short, the Lord's Supper can be a time for us when we experience and learn in the present what is true of the church and her king through all ages: "They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers" (Revelation 17:14).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Complete in Christ

I recently began reading How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, and it has been simultaneously refreshing, eye-opening, and convicting. Three chapters in, the focus has been on Colossians 2:6-15 and how we drift from the gospel itself as our means of growth and are allured by other plausible philosophies which replace faith in Christ as our means of salvation.

The authors point out that one way to test our grasp of the gospel is how we understand Colossians 2:9-10: "For in Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority." The gospel also includes the reality that "Christ . . . is your life" (3:4). This word really speaks to me, challenges me right now.

Our lives in Richmond aren't all that we dreamed of: no secure job yet for Olivia, a stressful job for me last year, few meaningful friendships, feeling a little unsettled at church, odd neighbors. I'm also aware of how growth in holiness (read: devoted love to God and to others) is often slow, arduous, and humbling. I am most aware of this in my marriage. And yet, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, God wants us to live fulfilled lives in spite of many unfulfilled desires (Brevier). How is this possible? It's only when I acknowledge I am complete in Christ.

If we lose something valuable to us or lack what we desire, even need, we still have Christ. He is our life. He encompasses all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). All he is, he is for us; and all he owns and reigns over is ours as well (Luke 12:32). Christ didn't just earn forgiveness for our past sins. He also, and he alone, holds and secures our good, both today and in the future. Being children of God and heirs of his kingdom (Romans 8:17), beloved, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and completely forgiven of all our sins--nothing can change this (Romans 8:37-39).

When "Christ . . . is my life," this also clarifies my purpose and prevents me from despairing that I may be in a situation where I'm achieving or accomplishing little worthwhile. It also cuts out the fallacy that at some point in the future I might be able to more effectively live out my God-intended purpose. God's real purpose for us, our destiny, is to live as disciples of Jesus Christ and take on his image, renewed in true holiness and righteousness (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). We are meant to share the Son's glory as the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15; 3:3-4; Hebrews 1:3). Joyfully obeying Jesus the Lord, loving and worshiping God, putting off our old ways and putting on the new, and loving our neighbors as ourselves is our life, our meaning and purpose and goal, our telos. Being able to do this does not depend on our circumstances or our means (Philippians 4:4-7, 12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We can love God and follow Jesus anywhere, at any time. All we really "need for life and godliness" is the "knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3-4).

So whether or not the Detroit Tigers win the A.L. Pennant, or if the Glen Allen HS cross country team is a flop, or if I get irritable with my wife for the seventy-eighth time, or if I have to go a month without a paycheck, or if I never go to seminary--none of this matters. I've lost nothing. I don't need to do any more to become more forgiven or more loved by God or more secure in my salvation. I don't need to worry that empty cupboards will threaten our livelihood. I don't need to fear that my sins will overtake me or that I lose if I'm exposed. I've lost nothing. And I don't gain anything else either if all I ever dreamed of happens. I am full in Christ, who is my life.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Body Will Live in Hope

I love trivia. Ergo I was watching Jeopardy! this evening on TV, during which I saw two advertisements per commercial break for the Cremation Society of Virginia. It was really weird. It seemed incredibly out of place. Why? Because TV advertising pretty much thrives on people's endless consumption and search for pleasure here and now. It doesn't ever tell us what their products/services/etc. will do for us in death (precisely because they don't do anything for us). But this ad was actually refreshing; it didn't hide the reality of death. So props to the CSV.

Because I'll die someday--and who knows how soon?--I actually ought to think about my funeral. (Yes, I'm 28, but I'm serious. You'll die too.) One thing I do know: I do not want a fun-eral that is basically a popular "celebration of life," something that declares how great of a guy I was. Save that for the wake. I want my funeral rather to shine forth with the reality of the hope I have along with all who call on Jesus Christ for life and salvation: my bodily resurrection and complete restoration to life in the blessing of God's presence forever. A message of Andrew Hall's life will not, on its own, bring hope to those at my funeral. Only the gospel can bring the dead to life.

As such, I was thinking: Do I want to be cremated or buried? Does the gospel bear upon this? Perhaps it does. The prophet Isaiah prophesied:

But your dead will live,
their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead. (26:19)

Through Isaiah we hear from God that in the Day of the Lord (a catch-all phrase used by the prophets to refer to the whole of God's coming, end-of-ages acts of judgment and renewal) that at the resurrection not only spirits or souls of the dead will rise, but their bodies (ESV has "corpses"). Using birth imagery, the earth's soil will release the dead--clearly a reference to the body's elements. We hear the same testimony elsewhere in Scripture.

So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body*. . . . For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 53)

Paul says that "the body that is sown . . . is raised imperishable." It is our present bodies which will be raised in the future. This is good news for us, because in the beginning God created the world "very good," and it is in a world of visceral pleasures as much as spiritual--albeit those which find their sources and ends in none other than God alone--where we will dwell and enjoy God forever.

How will God raise the very bodies of the dead, and yet so that they are not the exact same bodies as were once buried? As a scientist I stumble over this because I know also that thanks to bacteria and fungi, our interred bodies break down, and all of our cell matter--even the very atoms themselves--are released back into the soil, water, and air to become, eventually, part of my neighbor's azalea or an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. Likewise if only undecayed bodies were raised, then God's promise of deliverance would fall short for not only all his saints who were cremated, but also for men like Polycarp or Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, who were burned at the stake for their faith. The reality is that only one person's body was ever promised not to decay: Jesus himself. Even through King David the Spirit spoke of Jesus when he said, "Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; / my body also will live in hope, / because you will not abandon me to the grave, / nor will you let your Holy One see decay" (Psalm 16:9-10; Acts 2:26-27)

I don't know how God is going to do this. But I know he is going to do it. My whole body--along with those of all who love Jesus and wait eagerly for him--will be raised and transformed when Jesus calls me back to life. So even when at death my soul joins the "spirits of righteous men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23), I want my funeral to declare below what I will be praising my Savior for above: "My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope!"

*By saying that our new body will be "spiritual" does not mean that it will not be physical, corporeal, fleshly. Paul consistently uses "spiritual" to refer to the life-giving and re-creating activity of the Holy Spirit ("Spiritual"), as opposed to the transience and futility of the "flesh." For example, he says that mere "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). Anything "spiritual," for Paul, is about the promised Spirit of God reaching back from the future into our lives right now to accomplish God's salvation and to draw us forward into his eternal kingdom.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Blessings from Track

Today I had a long talk with Lamont Bowles, the boys' track and field head coach at my school. He was congratulating me a stellar season. "We've never had distance runners like this before," he remarked. "You brought something to this team that they haven't had: you made running a mathematical science. . . . And you showed them the purpose behind every workout so that they would have confidence in what you told them and in what they were doing." When I told him that my goal at Glen Allen HS was to win the Capital District cross country title in five years, he said he knew I was going to be a good coach, because I have a clear goal in mind.

As I also found out, my male runners broke three school records this year and missed a fourth by less than one second. I had no idea! I was really surprised, because the few athletes I did have really didn't run any stellar times (2:06 in the 800 meters, 5:00 in the 1600 meters, 11:17 in the 3200 meters, and 8:44 in the 4x800 meter relay).* But when I looked up the school records, I found out that these were all at the top! Additionally, another runner unofficially broke the 800 meter record with his 4x800 m split (2:04), and one who sadly was academically ineligible for outdoor track ran an indoor 1000 meter school record of 2:57. Five school records in my first season? Not too shabby, when I look at it that way. (And this isn't counting previous times that the 1600 and 3200 records had been broken earlier in the season.)

Coach Bowles also said that early on he was "sizing me up" and "getting a good look at me" to see if I was someone he could work with long-term. He said that I was mild-mannered and good-natured, that I quickly built a good rapport with the kids, and that I could take advice and feedback well. But when asked my opinion about something, he noted that I wasn't afraid to speak my mind.

If Gary Chapman's right, then I think words of affirmation would be my "love language." It sure felt good to not only see that I was really something the school needed this year, but that I would be, from both a performance and a personal standpoint, someone valuable to the school for the future as well. Unfortunately for the Warriors--and not without a bit of sadness on my part too--that future lies at a different school.
P.S. Props to my endearing wife for being a "track widow" from November through May and for cheering us on at a few meets!
*Just for reference, here are the top boys' times in the district this year: 800 m - 1:57; 1600 m - 4:26; 3200 m - 9:47; 4x800 m relay - 7:59.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Touch of Class

If I was looking for a lesson on forgiveness (see the previous post), then it looks like I found one--on the baseball diamond, no less.

As a Detroit Tigers fan, I was pretty miffed at umpire Jim Joyce's blown call last night that cost pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. It will probably go down as one of the most infamous calls in baseball history. But what struck me while watching the replays was how Galarraga just smiled and laughed when he heard the call and shrugged it off, going back to business and finishing the game.

Instead of delivering the lineup card for today's game himself during this afternoon's ballgame Tigers manager Jim Leyland had Galarraga deliver it to Joyce as a token of respect and reconcilation. (You can watch the video and read about it here.) Galarraga, Leyland, and the rest of the Tigers weren't going to hold one mistake of an otherwise competent umpire against him. It was really cool to see this because it was a touch of grace, character, and sportsmanship in a world where we don't see much of that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How shall we then forgive?

Christians, in whom Christ himself dwells by his Spirit, are called to embody Christ to the world, loving the world in the way which he loved the world. As such, St. Paul urges the church, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13). In the same vein he admonishes the church to be "kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). But what exactly does it mean to forgive as God forgave us?

For a long time I thought that this means three things: (1) Our forgiveness must be conscious and intentional, acknowledging others' hurts and wrongs against us, yet wiping them away nonetheless, never holding a grudge again. (2) Forgiveness will often hurt and cost us. To continue serving and extending love in a relationship which has brought pain, we have to absorb the pain and free others from it. (3) We should forgive freely, requiring nothing from the offender. After all, such is grace, right?

But in the Bible, while God grants the new birth, faith, and repentance (which are distinct but inseparable) unconditionally, he does not forgive or justify unconditionally. Perhaps we could call this "conditional grace": he only forgives those who repent of their sins and embrace their Rescuer, his Son Jesus. Jesus hints at this in his teaching on forgiveness. In the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35), Peter asks if there is a limit to how much he should forgive someone. Jesus replied that he should forgive in unlimited measure ("seventy-times-seven times"). But the king (representing God) forgives his debtor only when his servant fell on his knees before the king and pleaded with him for mercy (vv. 23-27). The king later said that "I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" (v. 33). While Jesus' main point is that recipients of God's mercy ought to extend that mercy to others, there is a hint even here of granting only conditional forgiveness.

While I don't think it's right--or even practical--to hold grudges on people who've wronged us, does this passage and the necessity of confession and repentance for God's mercy teach us that we are only really required to forgive others when, in contrition, they ask us to do so? Somehow this doesn't sit easy with me because God still gives blessings to those who hate him and pursues them with his call, but I have to think about it nonetheless.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hidden Blessings

Tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday is the Capital District Track and Field Championship. Of the athletes I coach, the boys 4 x 800 m relay team is running, along with two boys and a girl in the 800 m run, three in the 1600 m run, and two boys in the 3200 m run. A few weeks ago our 4 x 800 m relay team did something our school hasn't done in a while: won an invitational. The guys were ecstatic. They even invited me to go to dinner with them that evening at Buffalo Wild Wings in celebration!

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the end of the season. I doubt any of my athletes is going to run well enough to move on to the regional championship except for our 4 x 800 relay team and possibly one runner in the 800 m. The team is simply too small and inexperienced. And let's face it: urban black kids aren't into distance running. If we have a bad day tomorrow, drop a baton, step outside of a lane, or whatever--the season is over. If not, we'll probably fight it out for third or fourth place in our district and move on to race another week. I don't want it to end.

I'll be moving to a brand-new high school next year and coaching boys' cross country there. This week one of my runners, Maxwell, kept asking about possible reasons that might keep me from going to the new school. Today I gave out a sheet with a racing plan and pacing for their races. Maxwell's brother Markus said, "I'm going to put this on my wall. Someday I'll be able to show my kids and say that I ran for the best track coach in Richmond." Amid further protests against my departure, two sprinters, Michael and CJ, also were talking about how fifty years from now there will be a track (or at least an invitational meet) named after Coach Hall.

Coaching track has really been a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating, fatiguing, and futile year of teaching. It has been really cool being able to connect with my athletes, encourage them, and see them achieve more success in middle- and long-distance events than we've had in several years. (Our sprinters and horizontal jumpers, however, perenially top the district and have competed at the prestigious Penn Relays.) Some runners ask me to pray for them before races. If it weren't for track, I think I would've had a difficult time finding much to thank God for about this past year. But every day I look forward to leaving my classroom, grabbing my notebook and stopwatch, and getting outside. It's a surprise gift from God for which I'm really grateful, a beautiful flower growing up from a cracked desert floor.

Now let's go Warriors! Behold the green and gold!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Scary Jesus

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." (Mark 10:32-34)

Jesus is scary. Not like Freddie Krueger or some off-beat Johnny Depp character. Think of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, getting up again and again to take another blow. I remember reading this passage several years ago when the reality sank in of just how, well, bizarre Jesus is. Why do I say this?

He and the disciples knew that in Jerusalem a gruesome death awaited him (see also John 11:8, 16). Yet here Jesus is, "leading the way," preventing anyone else from being a stumbling block by telling him that stuff like that isn't supposed to happen to the Messiah. He "steadfastly set his face" (Luke 9:51 KJV) and marched into a minefield, fully cognizant of what was to come. Who does that? This is not Homeboy Jesus or Kindergarten Teacher Jesus or anything else. This is the ghostly Jesus who walks on water, the one who descends to hell and kisses death, the man who wanders alone for weeks in the desert among jackals and talks with Satan. How are we, as his disciples, supposed to follow this kind of person? How can we even wrap our minds around such determined, purposeful embrace of sacrifice and suffering for the sake of others? And yet that's exactly what he calls us to do.*

Even such a man as Oswald Chambers was freaked out:

At the beginning we were sure we knew all about Jesus Christ, it was a delight to sell all and to fling ourselves out in a hardihood of love; but now we are not quite so sure. Jesus is on in front and He looks strange: "Jesus went before them and they were amazed."

There is an aspect of Jesus that chills the heart of a disciple to the core and makes the whole spiritual life gasp for breath. This strange Being with His face "set like a flint" and His striding determination, strikes terror into me. He is no longer Counsellor and Comrade, He is taken up with a point of view I know nothing about, and I am amazed at Him. At first I was confident that I understood Him, but now I am not so sure. I begin to realize there is a distance between Jesus Christ and me; I can no longer be familiar with Him. He is ahead of me and He never turns round; I have no idea where He is going, and the goal has become strangely far off. (My Utmost for His Highest, March 15)

Yet I cannot get away from following him. Where else can I turn? He alone has eternal life.

*"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I never grow tired of hearing my wife say, "I love you." Nor do I tire of pledging my love to her as well. (In fact, for some reason, I almost find more satisfaction in the latter.) We could say it ten times a day, and each time would be just as refreshing, just as reassuring, just as meaningful.

Perhaps this is why I never grow weary or bored with Communion. Though we celebrate it weekly at City Church, it's never a rote or ritualistic act. So often, as the bread and wine touch my lips, I hear deep within the Spirit's "still, small voice" assuring me that Christ is mine and I am his, and that all I need in life and in death is in him and is now mine too. The moment of peace, joy, assurance, and rest for my soul may be fleeting, and some weeks it's stronger than others. But I hunger for it without fail, and I'm never left wanting.

* * *

Likewise kissing my wife is an amazing thing. Who knew such a simple exchange could mean so much? The Lord's Supper is kind of like this too. The invisible reality behind the kiss (a covenant pledge of love that exists not only in word, but within our hearts) is illustrated and explained through words ("I love you") and is not only symbolized but actually expressed and conferred or communicated through a physical act (kissing). In the Supper we receive the Lord's love in the same way. He uses physical means (serving bread and wine, which we take into our mouths) to communicate himself to us spiritually (forgiveness of sin, joyful fellowship with him, and strengthening of faith), as explained verbally ("This is my body, given for you. . . . This is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you"). So when we receive the bread and wine, we can know we're receiving God's promises sealed with a kiss.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Like a Child

Last weekend my pastor preached on Mark 10:13-16. The focus was on our necessity to receive the kingdom of God like a child, which means that we must believe our Father's goodness as our great Giver of his time, touch, and blessing (note that Jesus says we "receive" the kingdom). We must also learn to call on God as Abba, "Daddy." We don't bring our successes and achievements to the table in order to be fed. Those who are looking to their own merits or worth as a means of entering fellowship with God totally miss the point.

But, as before, this text made me think about faith. Jesus says that "the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (10:14). He cannot mean that it belongs only to those adults or adolescents who trust God and come to him like children. It would be ludicrous to set forth children as models of faith ("I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it.") and yet preclude them from having such an exemplary faith themselves.

Mark tells us that these are "little children" (paidia). What age might these role models be? Matthew uses this term to describe toddlers and infants under two years of age (Matthew 2:8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 20, 21). So apparently even infants and toddlers can have faith and can enter the kingdom of God. Other Scripture corroborates this. John the Baptist leaped for joy over the Messiah's coming even while in his mother's womb (Luke 1:41, 44). King David testified in Psalm 22 that "From birth I was cast upon you [Lord]; from my mother's womb you have been my God" (v. 10). And if this was so in the age prior to Pentecost and the Holy Spirit's outpouring upon the church, how much more so now?

N. T. Wright illustrates this with a clever example:

I once was doing a children’s talk at a baptism. I asked two children to each blow up a balloon. I allowed the first child to only put two or three little puffs into the balloon. The second child went on puffing and puffing and puffing and blew up this enormous balloon. Then I held them up and asked the children, Which of these balloons is fuller? Of course they all said “the big one.” And I replied, “Are you sure? Both of these balloons are full. One is bigger because it has more air, but they are both full—all the space in them is used up.”

A very little person can be totally full of the love of God. Even though, of course, when she grows up and becomes a bigger person, she needs to be filled with more and more of the love of God. But that little person is not half full just because she’s a little person. I realize that this is not a great, well-argued theological justification of infant baptism. It’s simply a way of saying that I suspect that some of our Western cultural prejudices are at stake here. [You can read the full article here.]

Why does this strike or provoke me? Well, lately I have been really deliberating over (guess what?) what baptism means and who is to receive it. I'm beating a dead horse, I know, I know. I've been seeing a lot more validity to the view that while baptism still signifies and confirms participation in Christ through faith, it should only be administered to professing believers. (Gasp! Might I really become Baptist after this long?) But this text throws somewhat of a wrench in that. After all, nearly every example of believers' baptism in the New Testament is that people were baptized shortly after hearing the gospel and responding in faith. But if a child raised in the church and/or in a Christian home may very well believe at age eight months, two years, or whatever, shouldn't we immediately baptize them? What would happen to John the Baptist or to David, those who believed since birth? It seems rather abiblical to me for them to believe and live out this incipient child-faith, while adults refuse them baptism until they achieve a more mature ability to articulate and express their beliefs.

Besides that, if baptism is restricted to a credible profession of faith and regeneration, at what point does that profession really become credible enough to be considered evidence that the Holy Spirit indeed indwells a person? There were evidently plenty of professing believers in churches like Corinth who partook of church activities while nonetheless living unrepentant, "uncircumcised" lives (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-11). Similar warnings are given in Romans 11:20-22, Colossians 1:23, Hebrews 6:1-12, and 2 Peter 2:20-21.

Thoughts? Feedback?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Loooongg Gone! -- But Not Forgotten

Yesterday long-time Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell was taken home to his Lord at the age of 92. (See ESPN's video story of his life here.) The Georgia native called games for the Tigers for over 40 years and was truly for me, as for countless other Michiganders, the voice of summer. One of my earliest memories was sitting on a stool in our garage on summer nights (probably 1984 or '85) while my dad went about his tasks--changing motor oil, mowing the lawn, building us a swingset. Yet no matter what he was doing, the garage radio was tuned squarely to 790 AM WSGW, with Harwell's rich, warm Southern voice calling the play-by-play. Phrases such as "He stood there like a house by the side of the road" (when a batter struck out looking), "It's loooongg gone!" (home runs), and "There's a souvenir for a young lady from Ypsilanti" (he would choose some random Michigan town when a foul ball was hit into the stands at Tiger Stadium or Comerica Park). But what I think I enjoyed the most about his broadcasts was the fact that he often kept silent and allowed the mic pick up the sounds of the ballpark--the crack of the bat, the hot dog vendors, the sound of Tiger Stadium's organ. It was a little taste of being at the game.

As far as I know, Harwell was a believer in the Lord Jesus; at least he often made mention of blessings given by his "good Lord" and spoke with peace at announcing his own diagnosis with inoperable cancer in 2009.

Ernie, we'll miss you. Thanks for all the wonderful memories.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Home for Dinner

This afternoon during Communion, I had the following thought: There are many activities a family does together and many things its members can point to as valued ways they share life together and love for one another. But what stands out to me is the family dinner. Everyone may be scattered during their rest of the day and evening in their own separate events and goings-on, but during this meal everyone comes together. It shows that whatever else the day may reveal, this moment says these people are a family, a home. The parents have prepared a meal for their children, a time to discuss the day, heal wounds and relieve burdens, mend discord, and share laughter and find delight in one another's company. Even when outsiders such as the children's schoolmates are invited over, it's special to be invited over for a real meal.

I thought of the Lord's Supper in this way. All of us at City Church (enter your congregation's name here) may interconnect and share fellowship and continued relationships in diverse ways throughout the week, but it's really for 90 minutes on Sunday afternoons that we recognize we're all members of the same family together, namely, God's. Discord and squabbles must be dealt with and put away. And like needy children, we eagerly await the delights our parents have worked to prepare for us not only for our nourishment and enjoyment, but also as a context for glad fellowship and time together with them. What good parent does not love to have his whole family together? So it must be with God our Father, our Abba. He loves his children and, in accordance with our ever-present needs, he dishes out not a tuna noodle casserole, but the flesh and blood of his very own Son, through whom we receive forgiveness of our sins and assurance of fellowship with him.

Perhaps this is why when the Prodigal Son returned home (see Jesus' parable in Luke 15), his father made no delay in preparing a rich feast. He hadn't been able to do so for so long, with an empty chair (or mat, in those days) leaving a gaping hole in their home. The meal was not only a celebration of the son's return. It was also an event made possible only because the whole family was back together again. So it will be when in heaven we feast with our Father forever.

How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men
find refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights. (Psalm 36:7-8)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kids These Days!

Over spring break I managed to read through about half of Augustine's Confessions. This book is really unique. While written almost entirely as a prayer addressed to God, it nonetheless is meant to function as an autobiographical apologetic for why Christianity is the one true logos and faith over and against Manichaeism and other hollow, worldly philosophies.

Before his conversion, Augustine was a teacher of rhetoric in Carthage (in present-day Algeria) and in Rome, and I'm surprised to hear that his own teaching experiences are uncannily similar to my own. Listen to what he writes about his students in Carthage:
At Carthage, on the other hand, the students are beyond control and their behaviour is disgraceful. They come blustering into the lecture-rooms like a troop of maniacs and upset the orderly arrangements which the master has made in the interest of his pupils. Their recklessness is unbelievable and they often commit outrages which ought to be punished by law, were it not that custom protects them. (V.8)

Many of my students' antics, sadly, could be described this way. They can be raucous and nuts, especially as they return from lunch, and their murmuring and disinterested talking can often continue ad infinitum. Many have apparently been raised in homes in which they are encouraged to outrightly slander and talk back to their teachers. I even had a girl tell me today that if I touched her cell phone she was going to hit me, and "You don't want to have happen to you what happened to Mr. Rowe last year."

But out of the selfishness of my own heart, I grieve so often more for my own sake than for theirs. Rather than having compassion on them and knowing that I can make it through anything "with the strength God provides" (1 Peter 4:11), my usual response is anything but patience (though I'm learning).

Augustine continues:
Neverthless, it is a custom which only proves their plight the more grievous, because it supposedly sanctions behaviour which your [God's] eternal law will never allow. They think that they do these things with impunity, but the very blindness with which they do them is punishment in itself and they suffer far more harm than they inflict. (V.8)

In Romans 1, Paul stresses that as a result of sinful self-will, God gives people over to the very loveless selfishness which they have chosen as their lot. This is his form of punishment. Even in the OT, God is often seen as giving over Israel to fall into the lifelessness and impotence of the very idols they worship. How rarely do I weep that every day they persist in their blindness they are only further sealing their hard hearts against God and entrenching themselves in futile ways of strife and discontent?

Next year I'll be teaching at what will probably be a very different school, one which comes from a higher-earning, higher-achieving socioeconomic region of the county. I think this will ultimately be a better fit for me and will allow me to have more energy and good spirits to give toward my wife and (someday) children. Augustine, too, decided to leave Carthage for greener pastures, hoping that the affluent students in Rome would bring relief. Yet much to his dismay he discovered that these young men had so set their hearts upon the status afforded by wealth instead of virtue that they often dumped one teacher for another before even paying him.

They break their troth with you* by setting their hearts on fleeting temporal delusions and tainted money which defiles the hands that grasp it, and by clinging to a world which they can never hold. And all the while they turn their backs on you who are always present, calling them back and ready to pardon man's adulterous soul when it returns to you. For their warped and crooked minds I still hate students like these, but I love them too, hoping to teach them to mend their ways, so that they may learn to love their studies more than money and love you, their God, still more, for you are the Truth, the Source of good that does not fail, and the Peace of purer innocence. But in those days I was readier to dislike them for fear of the harm they might cause me than to hope that they would become good for your sake. (V.12, emphasis mine)

I can't even count how many days this year I've had a grumpy attitude and been quick to berate students for their immaturity, apathy, and rudeness--if not with words, then at least in my mind. But may it be that they've stayed this way all because they're not hearing that they're anything above this? How will I work the rest of this year and use my words and actions for good, hopeful of the Holy Spirit's power to shed God's grace and bring about good in myriad ways to all people? I don't even really know how to be productive and hopeful in this way, other than to just take ten seconds to say a quick prayer and cool down, take what they say with a grain of salt, and then continue to help them with their assignments.
*To "break troth" is an old way of saying (from Knox's translation) to act unfaithfully toward someone with whom you had a binding agreement.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pray for Turkey

April 18 marks the three-year anniversary of the martyrdom of two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and Tilmann Geske, a German.

The Turkish Alliance of Protestant Churches (TEK) has asked that Christians and churches worldwide would set apart April 18 as a day of prayer for Turkey.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Way to Take Hold of God's Promises

When we speak of human destiny, we are of course speaking of the future. The New Testament is clear that God has a future for this world, and that the transformation of humans is a crucial component of what lies in store. What are the implications of Jesus being our forerunner in resurrection life? The New Testament leads us to understand that the hopes and expectations of God's people are now hidden in Christ. In other words, the only way to take hold of God's promises for the future is to take hold of the resurrected Jesus in the present.

--Daniel Kirk, "A Resurrection that Matters" (emphasis mine)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Good Friday: "A Crescendo of Wonder"

John Witvliet of Calvin College up in the Mitten has written a beautiful (if perhaps over-stuffed) piece about the radical wonder and awe which ought to be brought about through Good Friday's solmenity as we "behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

"A Crescendo of Wonder"

"Making peace through the blood of his cross" is like saying that a nuclear missile has become an olive-branch, that Guantanamo has become a garden of healing, that a sword has been turned into a plowshare, that a tank has been turned into a tractor. The very thought of it leaves us weak in the knees with astonishment. . . .

Our minds wander off trying to imagine what kind of cosmos we live in—where the shameful death of an innocent man can serve as a payment for sin, a ransom for the captive, a conquest of evil, a source of healing, a sacrifice to end all sacrifice (what a gift—all these mutually correcting scriptural images). Imagining that kind of world is enough to make our minds ache, given that we swim in the waters of a culture where debt generates more debt, and violence generates more violence. It takes a remarkable conversion of the imagination to see the world in the Bible's way: a world where justice and mercy do not exist in tension, where "righteousness and peace kiss each other," where the death and resurrection of the Son of God can re-order the moral foundations of the universe.