The Equation of Love

Continuing on in the theme of love, here’s a challenge. Write down your simplest definition of love. Then read John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Now, here’s the challenge, examine your definition and see if it fits so that God loved the world and also loved his Son (who he was sending to die at the hands of cruel and hateful men). I think there are lots of “equations” like this in Scripture that force us to stretch our idea of something. As always, feedback is appreciated, and, Lord willing, will be responded to.

Diary of an iPod

I wrote this a while back for a comment on Slashdot and am posting it here just for kicks.

Day 1:
I was bought today. My Owner carries me reverently with both hands so as not to drop me. He drives a Jetta, and does not own a dog. Also, he bought the dock, so, no laying face down on a computer desk for me. Life could be better, but it could certainly be worse. I have no complaints.

Continue reading “Diary of an iPod”

On Simplicity and Scripture: Struggling with the Word

One thing I’ve noticed over the years of being involved and associated with different ministries and programs is this: we seem to crave simplicity. Not that I have a problem with simplicity, it’s just that, in certain contexts, it becomes dangerous.

Let me explain via a couple of scenarios that I find quite common:

  1. I attend a church service in which the preacher’s text is a single verse. And from that verse, the speaker (who is usually quite gifted), paints a beautiful and complete picture of the Christian life. He points out things I have never seen, he reveals things hidden in the original text (because the rough accent mark is used, this word is inverted, giving the word a completely different meaning, etc) Life is g0od. I am enlightened. Until a few days later I try to explain my new-found knowledge to a friend. Questions are raised. The puzzle pieces which fit together so neatly a few days ago now have imperfect edges. I explain that I must have missed some of the points. I assure my friend, the fault must lie with me.
  2. I come across a difficult passage in scripture. I re-read it. I re-re-read it. I consult Strong’s for each word in the passge, including “the“. I check different translations. Finally, I stumble across a translation that abstracts away enough of the text that I make some sort of sense out of it. I am elated. I mark the verse down as “Assimilated” in my Conquer the Bible Diary.
  3. My wife asks me a question about a verse or a passage of Scripture. I begin answering her as best I can. My answer is incomplete and only raises more questions (But if that is true, then wouldn’t that mean…). I grow exasperated. She becomes frustrated. I finally answer the question with an answer to this effect: Well it sort of works like this, blah, blah, and somehow works together with blah, blah, and I’ll look into it and get back to you. I never exactly get around to answering the question.

I hope you can see the common thread that runs through each of these examples.

  1. A speaker takes a single verse and builds a system around it.
  2. I, in my desire to “understand” God, am willing to trade away his word.
  3. I, in my desire to end my wife’s questioning or to get back the television show I am watching or to avoid having to change my life due to the implications of Scripture, simplify the word of God, and in so doing, show contempt for it’s authority

This is where I see the danger in desiring simplicity. God did not give us a single verse, he gave us his complete word. God did not give us 500 translations to pick and choose from, there are good ones and there are bad ones, and we are to seek HIS meaning, not the verson that is simplest or the most expedient or the most culturally correct. God did not say that every verse would take five minutes to explain, he did not say that his teachings would fit in an email tag line or on a T-shirt. We are to struggle with the word, we are to wrestle with his meaning. No single verse can give us a complete understanding of God. No ten minutes of study will equip us for life’s battles. No man-created system can ever replace a dynamic relationship with Him.

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.

The Audit

They will show up at your door, and you will be expecting them. They will, of course, be on time. They will be wearing suits, black and flat, made of fine Italian silk. Their shirts are always white or cream, bright and starched, and their ties are serious and dark. They will stand in the doorway and smile and shake your hand, and make comments about how hot or cold or wet it has been of late. They will bring a present for your wife.

When you invite them in, they will stand awkwardly in your living room or den or foyer saying nothing until you ask them to sit. Then they will sit down on your couch and will accept the coffee that you offer them. They will make small talk with you, while your wife fills their cups, and then they will quickly drink it, no matter how hot it is, they will not let it cool, they will drink it down and then they will thank your wife and smile, baring straight white teeth.

They will have the records with them, printed on neatly folded paper in clean dark lines. You are free to have your own lawyers and accountants look at them if you wish, but no mistakes will be found. Others have paid more than you have ever owned looking for errors and have found none.

They will be patient with your questions, and will take whatever time is needed to satisfy you, but in the end, you will agree with them. You will hear yourself say, everything seems to be in order. You may think to ask if there is not a need for signatures and if you do, they will make a sound like laughter, high and tight in their noses. It is not a pleasant sound, but they will make it and they will say that no, there is no need for signatures today. That was taken care of years ago, are you quite sure that you don’t remember?

This is when you must be brave. The next knock at the door will be the knifeman. He will be dressed in black as well, but his clothes are made of coarser cloth. Under his arm he will carry a case, also black, and he will ask that you clear a place where he can unroll it. His knives are sharp and bright and there are so many of them. Do not worry about whether you will panic. You will not. You will stand still in your living room, your wife standing beside you, and you will ignore the scream that lodges in your throat, the voice of what can only be your soul as it tells you to fight, to turn and flee, to do anything but stand and watch this happen. You will ignore it.  You will stand still while your wife stands and watches, while the knifeman makes the incisions, while he flays the skin and drains the blood. You will not feel a thing is all that he will say to you and when you hear it, you will wonder, perhaps the very last thought you will ever have, have I ever?

On writing

Here’s a struggler for the muse,
looking for the rush of insight,
the thrust and turn of thought,
meme blades seeking out the real,
the true,
the blood to spill onto a page.

Here’s a wonderer,
sitting at a keyboard,
a sheaf of paper,
the edge of some class notebook,
fingers poised,
pencil raised,
ready for the flood to come.

Here’s a vandal,
sneaking through classics,
crawling through anthologies,
randomly reading the first lines of novels,
dragging his sponge across the page,
seeking unspent thoughts for his own.

Here’s a dreamer on the hillside,
watching clouds and stars and dancing shadows,
treating thoughts like seeds,
and words as leaves,
begging nature for its freshest breath.

Here’s a child,
rhyming madly, playing stories, making, laughing,
loving the sound of her voice,
the rhythm of nonsense,
the taste of surprise.

Here’s a writer…

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?