Analogous Grace: Why God chooses to bless certain things

In my last article on grace, I wrote about Prescriptive Grace and the way that grace is always applied specifically according to God’s desires. In this post, I want to talk about grace in a slightly different way, but first I want to clarify some things. Because this post is about why God chooses to bless certain things I don’t want to give the impression that I believe that we can control or even manipulate God, however, because God has told us that He is a God of order and because He has revealed a great deal about Himself through His Word and through the world, there are things that we can know about His behavior and that we can, through faith, respond to. Of course, God can do anything He chooses at any time and is not bound by anything other than His own nature. As C. S. Lewis writes of Aslan in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe: He’s not a tame lion.
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Worshipping Youth, part II

This weekend I saw a commercial for Disneyworld vacations. It was brilliant. It began with a father and a son sitting side by side atop a giant waterslide. They look at each other, they grin competitively, and then they slide toward the pool below. But when they reach it, a transformation has taken place, and the father has become a boy as well! The son gives his father/new playmate an appraising glance, then an approving smile and they race off together. The rest of the commercial is a series of images showing the two enjoying their time playing, exploring, riding rides, and so on. When it ended, I was left with a feeling of wistfulness for my own childhood.

And that was when I realized that I was being played.

I said that the commercial was brilliant, and I meant it. It was brilliant in the same way that the first commercial ever made was brilliant. Maybe you’ve read about it:

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
(Genesis 3:1-6)

Talk about knowing your target demographic! And Disney knows theirs as well. They know that most Americans believe that childhood is magical, and that being a child preferable to being an adult. And if you’re like me, your brain is yelling, “But it is magical.” Let’s be clear: it isn’t, at least, it isn’t any more magical than the rest of life. Don’t get me wrong, childhood is great, it’s fine, it’s part of the process that God designed us to go through. In short, it’s good. But don’t go any farther. When we magnify childhood, when we make into the be all and end all of greatness, we cheapen every other part of life that God has made. We begin selling the idea that God made the first part great and everything after it is punishment.

If you don’t believe me, just try imagining the commercial if it were the other way around. The father and son sit at the top of the slide, they slide down, the boy is transformed into a man, and then what? They work 9 to 5 jobs together? They pay bills… in tandem? Watch TV together? That might work for a beer commercial, but even then, it just sounds too depressing.

The problem is that we think being an adult is drudgery. And whether we realize it or not, we communicate that thought to our children. Of course, if all you think of yourself as is just a consumer of goods and services, then perhaps you are not mistaken. Of course, if that is the case, you might also want to ask yourself why it is that you believe you are a Child of God and called according to His purpose.

Am I making sense here? As Christians, we have a sworn duty to become men and women of God. And part of that is raising our children to become men and women of God as well. We cannot fully do that if we ourselves believe that our children are better off staying children. We cannot do it if we believe the age old lie that we are raising children. We must remember that we are raising adults.

What do you say?

Protecting your family

There are certain Bible verses that stay in the forefront of my thoughts. They are typically verses with strong imagery, with straightforward application, the sort of verse that you can see in action around you practically anywhere you look. I Peter 5:8 is such a verse:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour

I think about this a great deal lately, about the last five words in particular. I know people who have been devoured by the adversary, people who have been eaten and metabolized by the awful work of sin. We think of being devoured as being destroyed, but nothing eternal can be destroyed, it can only be changed, and we all know people who bear the marks of such a transformation. To some degree, we all bear such scars ourselves.

I think about these things when I look at my children, when my daughter is squeezing my hand and looking up at me with large and innocent eyes, when my son is standing in the center of our living room staring up at the television and drinking in whatever we have chosen for him to see, when my wife is at home and I am at work and she is facing the dark thoughts of a dreary afternoon. I think about these things, and I wonder what, if anything, I have done to keep this beast at bay. Some days, I know and fear the answer to that question.

But I should be clear here, we are not to fear Satan. There is only one thing that we are to fear, and that is not fear itself, but God Almighty. For Satan, we reserve our vigilance. For Satan, we reserve our seriousness and our sobriety of mind. And we know what this means. It means no more laughing at little sins, at cute wickednesses and clever blasphemies. It means being wise and alert and sleeping with one spiritual eye open. It means going through our homes and looking at everything with an air of suspicion, with an air of caution, with the thought in the back our minds that our families and our own lives may depend upon it. Because whether we like to think about it or not, there is a beast out there, and he is hunting for more than just you.

The First Type of Evangelism

Our church’s verse for the year is “He that winneth souls is wise”, and while I have no problem with Scripture or focusing on winning souls, I’m a little underwhelmed with the modern concept of “soul winning”. And no, I’m not talking about my frustration with the concept of door-to-door evangelism, though before all is said and done, it might sound like it. You see, my understanding of the foundation of soul winning is found in the Shema Yisrael.
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Marriage, Children, Love, and Responsibility

I’ve always been interested in the nature of responsibility, and in what makes a man or a woman finally pick up its mantle and seriously begin the journey toward true manhood or womanhood. I think for a lot of people, the catalyst is their first child or children. I used to think it was marriage, but after getting married, I realized that it is quite easy to have a pleasant marriage and remain quite selfish. There’s still plenty of time in a day for two reasonable people to basically do what they both want to do. Tonight we’ll eat at your restaurant and tomorrow night we’ll eat at mine; Friday night, the mall, Saturday morning, the golf course; etc…

A child changes that. Free time suddenly dwindles, days and night inexplicably become both longer and shorter, typically expanding or contracting as necessary to most effectively limit your perceived freedom. Everyone becomes more stressed out. Throw a little sickness or depression into the mix and you’ve got a custom designed crash-course entitled The Selfish You: Learning How To Defeat the Me-Monster. For those of you who don’t have children yet, I am not joking.

To be fair, the reason that a child can be so shocking to the system is that the experience challenges our beliefs regarding the purpose of our lives. Someone who is already living a life based on sacrifice, humility, and unselfishness, will notice only the blessings that a child brings: the first smile, the first laugh, the feel of the tiny head resting on their shoulder. To the selfish man, these things seem like such consolation prizes. Look at all that I gave up,” screams the selfish soul, “and all I get is laughs and smiles? I could have rented About a Boy or My Life and saved myself the trouble”.

Where am I going with all this? That’s a fair question. It’s partly a confessional on my part, an admission of my own failures, and an attempt to be more transparent, but it’s also an attempt to frame a question. Does this resonate with other first and second time parents? I have two children now, Gavin will be two near the end of May and Petra is going on eleven weeks. In many ways, the second child was harder than the first, but the first taught us so much that it’s hard to really compare them. God says that the fruit of the womb is his reward, and his blessings tend to be things that go against our nature (Matthew 5:11-12, Isaiah 55:8) How does this thinking compare with what others have experienced? Has God used children or marriage to move you toward responsibility and away from selfishness?

Sheltering Children: Faith, Virtue, and Knowledge

Parents are always talking about how to protect their children without sheltering them. Invariably, in these conversations, the word “sheltered” is used as if being sheltered is a bad thing. I presume that most of the people who makes these arguments live in modern houses, with four or more walls and a roof and everything, and not, as they would seem to be advocating, on a bed of pine needles beneath a canopy of (preferably) sparsely limbed trees. To be fair, and to go ahead and make the anti-shelterian counter-argument before one of them does, yes, my house has windows. To go further, if a window overlooked an Adult Drive-in (my crack research team assures me that, while rare, they still do exist) I would either move, or keep that window closed.

My opinion on protecting children without failing to prepare them for life, is as follows. Anyone who reads the Bible to their children will have a hard time “sheltering” them. We have fratricide and other brutality in the first few chapters; keep reading and you’ll hit rape, incest, idolatry, rebellion, war, famine, pestilence, etc. And while I’m not advocating providing details to children, I am advocating the idea that they can understand more than we give them credit for. I have a friend who told his children that a prostitute was someone who behaves as if they are married when they are not. In the children’s minds, the prostitute was taking money to make dinner or to lay in bed and talk. But this was sufficient. The cynical mind says: but the child doesn’t truly understand what goes on when a man goes into a prostitute. A wise man says: do I? Proverbs says that the way of a man with a maid was too wonderful for him, Paul says that the true nature of the relationship between a man and a woman is a mystery. In the end, I think it is our foolishness that bites us, in that we believe that our exposure to sin has made us wiser rather than just more knowledgeable. We are become Eve, eating fruit not meant for us and gasping at the joy of untimely knowledge.

As a side note, in my experience, the problem with a sheltered child is that parents have often failed to give their children any real responsibility (authority for which they are held accountable). Responsibility and accountability allow obedience to perform it’s work, taking faith and adding virtue, and to virtue finally, knowledge.

Any thoughts?

Postpartum Depression, Love, Joy, and Marriage

I’ve been making a point in this last year to be more transparent. There is a tendency among people and particularly among Christians, to pretend that all is well. That joy means happiness, that peace means a life without conflict. We all have problems, we all have conflict, joy is from knowing that these conflicts are the work of God, peace comes when we accept the things he has put into out lives – the good and the bad.

We had a baby girl this past December, and while it was joyous, we’ve had a difficult time with postpartum depression. My wife had a bit with our first child but it wasn’t quite as bad. Some of it is just due to differences between the two children, but I think (from hearing the same thing from many women who have had 4+ children) that girls are harder on the woman than boys are (even the Torah says the period of rest after childbirth is longer after a girl). So it’s been difficult. I’ve spent a lot of time at night praying, dreading when our daughter would cry, knowing that each time she screamed that Susan was battling with how she felt, struggling with thoughts she did not choose to have. It would be foolish for me to suggest that she was the only one struggling.

There has been an aspect of humility in all of this; I realized that I had not prepared my family in some ways for the challenges of a new child, that I had not been spending time in the Word of God with my wife like I should have been. I had let the world inform our minds on the value of the home, and on the value of children. And so there were many hours spent in prayer: Dear God please help my child to have faith so that she will not demand to be held constantly, please help my wife to call upon you, to cast her cares upon you, to take the thoughts she is having captive. Please help me to be wise in my words, prompt in my actions. Help me to be not so foolish as I have been, Above all else, thank you for this child, thank you for these sleepless nights, thank you for showing me my failures before they cost me more than they already have. It is getting better, much better, but it is still on occasion difficult. The real difficulty is in not falling back into old habits as I see improvement, in believing that the crisis is over, that I can return to my foolish ways without consequence.

There is more about these things that I would like to say, but they can come later. For now, this is sufficient. For those of you who read this, how does this compare to your own experiences? How did you deal with similar struggles?

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.