On the birth of my daughter

It’s Labor Day, and my wife is in the throes of delivery. At first glance, this is not a place for a man to be. There is pain, but I can not bear it, there is work to be done, but I can not do it. My love is lying in a bed and she is aching and I am reduced to holding her hand and watching the contractions come one after another. On the monitor beside the bed, the readout show each contraction’s intensity. They have been steady at 50 and 60 for several hours now, but numbers are often misleading. The scale goes up to 100, so 50 can only be so bad, I think to myself, knowing the foolishness of the thought even as I think it. For my wife, 50 means that she leans forward in the bed, her toes curling, her breathing rapid. When it’s over, she smiles faintly. “Thirty hours since the first contraction”, she says, “I hope it’s not much longer.”

It isn’t. It’s only ten minutes later that I hear a sound from Susan that I’ve rarely heard in the eight years I’ve known her. She is slumped sideways in the bed, and she is weeping. On the monitor thick black lines – two mountains – tower over the previous hills. They leave the scale at 100, heading off the chart for who knows where. I hug Susan. She is trembling, her lips parted, but no sound emerging and in that moment I am forcibly reminded of Genesis 3:16, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children”. This is sin, I think, a down payment on death. A man and woman sinned, a piece of fruit was eaten and this exists to remind us. It exists for no other reason than that. It is the reason that there are thorns and weeds, it is the reason that men must work and sweat, it is the reason that my sister’s baby died. It is the reason that I and my wife and our children will die one day as well.

It is only a few minutes later that the midwife tells us that Susan can begin pushing and it is only an hour later when we first see our daughter. She is beautiful, with her mother’s dark almond eyes and my thick brown hair. The room is not quiet by any stretch of the imagination, it is bustling with people and activity, nurses cleaning and talking and clearing away the soiled detritus of delivery, but to me, the room seems silent. To me, it has become a sanctuary. I stand there, wearing what I am sure is a foolish smile on my face and I hold my daughter in my arms. Behind me, the contraction monitor is still, the thick black lines long gone from the screen, the thoughts of sin and death pushed aside by this glorious reminder of life. I stand in the room and hold my daughter and then I hand her to my wife. She is smiling.

A Three Ghost Night has been e-published

Some time last month I got an offer for A Three Ghost Night to appear in the December issue of the ezine Next-Wave. Well, they just published the issue a few days ago, so here’s a direct link to the article for anyone who wants to go there and post a comment or vote on the piece.

On the stillbirth of my nephew

The broken child upon the bed,
The stains from where his mother bled,
The crown of tears wreathed round his head,
The ache and fear of faith misled;
On bended knee with arms outspread
With wordless cries my heart has said,
And wept the prayers this night has bred:
“O Lamb of God,” my son is dead.
“My God, that I had died instead.”

Night and day, grief and peace,
between each there is a moment that is neither one nor the other,
where both fit neatly on the same horizon,
or in the same heart.

The broken child lies on the bed,
The morning sky grows soft and red,
Bathed in the glow it’s softly shed,
I hold my son and stroke his head,
And think on words that David said.
This precious child – not broke, nor dead,
I’m promised that he sleeps instead,
Thus grief and joy are ever wed,
My grief and joy are ever wed.

Predestination, Free Will, and Obedience

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that predestination and free will are mutually exclusive, but I’m not so sure that I buy it. Scripture talks about both predestination and choice and from my understanding of this issue, the two can exist quite happily side by side.

The best analogy that I have for what I’m talking about is this: Let’s say you and I sit down to play a game of chess, and I have absolute foreknowledge (i.e. I know every outcome to any move I make). From my point of view, I can determine your resulting actions with my first move, what’s more, the knowledge I possess makes the actions that I cause you to make, a conscious choice on my part. But this is the interesting part: from your perspective, you are just playing a game of chess. My foreknowledge does not affect your game in any way, unless you choose to think about it (and to dwell on it). Of course, if we were to flesh the analogy out a little more to represent Him more fully, God would also have the advantage of having created/fashioned his “opponent”, the chess board, the rules of the game, and everything else involved.

So how can God hold people accountable for what he has pre-determined?

The short answer is because he is God. Come to think of it, that’s the long answer as well. As a parent, I have to say that it’s not that much different with my 18 month old son, and I’m not anywhere close to being omni-anything (omnivourous, maybe). There are plenty of times that I know he is tired, or very suceptible to some temptation and I choose to put him into a situation where I “know” he will fail. And I punish him. Even though I’ve been responsible for his training, even though I can see it before it happens.

But doesn’t that make us into puppets? How can God take pleasure in puppets?

Ask an author. Ask a movie director. If a human being can write a story and love his creation, if a director can make a film and be pleased and thrilled with his work, why can’t an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God create a universe, tell a story, and reveal himself in all His glory and be pleased with what he has done? Or to say it a different way: On the seventh day of creation, did you think that was going to be the last time that God looked at what He had done and said it was very good? Do you believe that when the world has run its course and God reveals to us His grand design, that He will look back at any place in time and say, “This was not supposed to happen…” do you believe there will be any blemish upon the canvas?

But if God has “stacked the deck” and pre-determined all things, why do we proclaim the gospel? Why bother?

In such a scenario, the reason for doing anything is obedience. In the chess game analogy above, we know the objective, but in life, we have a more limited sense of understanding of God’s ultimate goals. What I mean to say, is to some extent, we don’t know exactly what God is about. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

In the end, this ties back to everything I’ve said previously on this blog about gender issues and the church. We know that wives represent the church and husbands represent Christ, we know that the oneness of flesh and the mystery even of sexual union has some symbolism of God’s ultimate plan, but it’s not clear. And so we obey. Usually with great hesitation and with horrible motives, but as we draw closer to Him, with greater and greater fervency. And all the while, we think: When the light on the other side of the glass comes on and it becomes clear, what will we see, what will we be, and what will we know and understand of Him?

Testimonials vs Scriptural Arguments

Testimonials vs Scriptural Arguments

Over at Scot McKnight’s blog, there is an article by Stan Gundry. In it, he makes some interesting statements

Arguments in which both sides launch aggressive offenses and structure fortress-like defenses can be unnecessarily adversarial. I am not suggesting that such arguments have no place, but let’s acknowledge that their value is vastly over-ratedStories cover the same territory, but they are testimonialsand it is hard to argue with someone’s testimony.

I take issue with his presuppositions regarding testimonials, especially when the “goal” of the testimonial is to change our understanding and processing of Scripture. Let me give an example. If you have a minute, go and read Genesis 16 and 17, if you don’t have time, here’s a recap of the story.

God has promised Abram that he will be a great nation. His wife, Sarai, is, up to this point, barren. Sarai says to Abram,

Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

This is fairly interesting for a number of reasons, but the one that is most interesting to me is that Sarai is clear as to why she believes she has not given birth: The Lord hath restrained me from bearing. So, Abram goes into Hagar, and she conceives and Ishmael is born. Now, fast-forward thirteen years to the beginning of chapter 17. God comes to Abram again and makes the promise of a great nation, he changes his name to Abraham and he institutes circumcision. Then God says,

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? (Genesis 17:15-17)

And then Abraham says:

And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

Thirteen years after he goes into Hagar, Abraham is still trying to sell Ishmael to God as the Son of Promise. God says, no way, but, I will bless him.

And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
(Genesis 17:20-21)

Now, we skip ahead to Genesis 25 and read this:

And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
(Genesis 25:13-17)

We know a little more about Isaac. We know that he married Rebekah and that he had two sons, Jacob and Esau. We know that he became wealthy. We know his story in greater detail without having to look it up. But, here is my question; Ishmael had twelve sons, each a prince with castles and lands. If someone looked at the fruit of Abraham’s actions, his child with Hagar and his child with Sarah, which one would they conclude was more “successful”. Would they conclude that going into Hagar was such a bad thing after all? Could they even conclude that it was a good thing? Based on Ishmael’s life, would the modern church have told Abraham, go down into Egypt and purchase from the slave blocks one hundred Hagars and get them all with child and raise up an army of Ishmaels? I wonder.

This is just one of the problems with interpreting Scripture through the lens of personal experience. Last week, I read a piece by Bart Campolo with the following statement (this excerpt is from a letter someone had written Bart) :

When you came to visit my team, you told a story about how when you first started working in rough neighborhoods, you got to know a girl who was gang-raped as a nine-year-old and – after her Sunday School teacher told her God must have allowed it for a reason — rejected God forever. Because you believed God was indeed in control, and because you believed that girl’s lack of faith doomed her to eternal damnation, you decided that God must be a ‘cruel bastard.’ [Emphasis mine. the full article has been removed from the Youth Specialties site, but can be accessed via the Google cache here ]

When I read the article the first time, I remember thinking, rejected God forever?!? How does he know? And even if she never received Christ as her Savior, I reject the idea that it makes God a “cruel bastard” and I do think it shows the difficulty of our defining God based on our limited frame of reference.

I guess the closing thought is this: Hindsight isn’t 20/20. We like to think it is, but it’s just another perspective and full of it’s own pitfalls. In the end, it is Scripture and Scripture alone that instructs, corrects, reproves, and indoctrinates, and when we try to elevate our minds above it, we become the worst sort of fool. I should also say, that I’m not against testimony/personal experience and that I’m not saying it is worthless, quite the contrary. What I am saying is that we are never to use our perception as a lever to move Scripture. Instead, we should let Scripture bring clarity to our experience.

Language and The Inability to Communicate

Recently, in a comment on the article Deepening Spiritual Wonder at the excellent and constantly updated blog, Bittersweet Life, tim wrote (in part):

Unfortunately (lamentably, actually) the ability to articulate with power and lucidity is something that belongs to few; and for many a simple “wow” is all feeble lips can muster…

This got me to thinking as well. My son, Gavin, is in the middle of learning to speak, and my wife made the comment one day that it must be frustrating to not be able to communicate what you want to say. It lead to an interesting discussion and in the end, we decided it was a bit of a paradox. Gavin has a desire to speak, and there are moments where it is obvious that he wants to communicate something to us but cannot. But at other times, until we have taught him how to communicate something, or until he gets the notion that it can be communicated, he (seems to) show no visible interest or frustration in his inability. Clearly, we can’t see inside his mind, but if I switch to thinking about it from my point of view I can remember times in my life (some fairly recently) where I experienced feelings that at the time I did not feel I could adequately put into words. It’s interesting to me, because there were moments when I felt both at peace and frustrated with my inability. What I think I’m beginning to see is that there is not an end to the process we begin as children, of quantifying the world and our experiences in it, and that sometimes, our limited mental vocabulary limits our ability to be aware. As we are able to express more, we sense more, and as we sense, we come to terms with expressing it. I don’t think the two can be separated, and perhaps that’s one of the danger of language. By naming a thing, we sometimes believe that we have mastered it and can now isolate it.

I realize now, reading back through this, that I have illustrated my point quite well. My own level of articulation* in describing how I feel about feeling about something that I cannot quite say how I feel about (does that make any sense at all) is somewhere in the middle of this process, and basically, not ready for expression.

* Literally, to divide into distinct but cooperating parts

Sodomy in the Church

Marriage is not about you. This life is not about you. Consider:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. Hebews 11:3

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33

Marriage is about Christ and the church. It is a witness. It is a symbol. We do not need to ask ourselves why sodomy is so rampant in our culture. We need only look at the marriages in the churches of our nation. With every husband that refuses to lead, with every wife that lifts her head to rule, we have shown the world how we can place a skirt upon Jesus Christ. We have shown them that the words chosen to frame the worlds, were poor in their choosing. We have said to the world, “the sexes are identical” and they have responded with the homosexual movement, a movement whose very name means “the sexes are identical”. Should it come as a surprise? Our attitude toward sodomy begins in the home and in the church. Our attitude toward sodomy begins everyday. Because marriage is not about us. This life is not about us. It is all about God.