Regarding Balance…

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, and neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that not withhold your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them…

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

Very often – not always, just very often – there is no right or wrong.

 For instance, what do women really want? Do they want some guy who’s tough, cocky, and permanently self-contained? Or do they want some mushy clown, who cries at the drop of a hat?

 The answer is both… and neither. Being confident and strong gives her a sense of peace, something to lean on. Being vulnerable gives her something to love, to truly bond with. Women need both qualities… or rather, a balance between the two, and the man who can balance those qualities will land himself a ‘keeper’.

 While God does not tolerate sin, ever, what good does it be to be so heavenly-minded that one is no earthly good? To be so self-righteous that one is completely unrelatable? Didn’t the Apostle Paul say ‘ I became all things to all men, so that I might preach the gospel…’

An immature Christian goes around spouting thoughts such as ‘speak the truth in love’… Which is Scripture, but it’s only half of the equation. Thus, such a one will usually dwell more on his version of truth than on loving anyone. A similarly immature Christian will beat the idea of ‘Grace’ and ‘God’s Patience’ to death, until he’s more of a sinner than most Worldlings. God, however, lies somewhere between the two extremes… and laughs in amusement at them both.

A good soldier knows when to hold back, and when to blow someone’s head off. A good actor knows when to ham it up, and when to just say his lines.

So seldom is there ever any ‘right’ answer; we can only ever balance two wrong answers, and hope that the resulting amalgam could possibly be construed as ‘right’. It’s a devil of a tightrope. I must balance being fiscally responsible with enjoying the life God gave me. I must balance being evangelistic with not being obnoxious. I must balance indulging my wife with being a firm guiding hand, so that she feels safe in the relationship. (I adore my wife, by the way.) Love and tough love, thriftiness and profligation, Godliness and relatability, strength and softness, kindness and sternness… Life, I think, consists of nothing more than trying endlessly to make the swinging pendulum of events stop right in the middle. Of course, it seldom does.

Every one of us is two beings, a walking juxtaposition hemmed between an eternal series of  conflicting ideals. Conflicting… or harmonizing? Are conflict and harmony one and the same, or… well, conflicting? Ugh!!!

Half the time, when the proverbial moral pendulum swings… I think it hits me in the ‘nads on its way by!

On the Multi-Faceted Divine…

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

                Matthew 28:18-20

            A part of me really resents old-time religion for originating the term ‘Holy Trinity’.

            I find this distasteful simply because the very phrase makes it sound as though there is not one God, but three. I prefer the phrase ‘triune God’, which leaves the decidedly singular nature of God intact while still acknowledging the three distinct facets of His being. (‘Triune’ means ‘three-part’.) I freely admit that I don’t understand this at all, and that’s okay, for I am human and don’t understand a great many things about God. For instance, how can He possibly have no beginning? I can’t wrap my mind around that, because I do have a beginning. It’s like trying to explain the concept of ‘light’ to a man who was born blind. He may accept that you understand it, and he may believe your explanation, too – but he won’t really grasp it.

            One of the original Hebrew names for God was Yahweh Elohim. ‘Elohim’ is a fascinating word because it is decidedly singular in nature; it is used in the Old Testament when God speaks, and we translate it (based on context) as ‘I’. Yet there is a clear familial status inherent to the word well, the implication of being multiple as well as singular.

            Scripture makes the nature of God – at least inasmuch as the frail mortal mind can comprehend Him – quite distinct. The beginning of the Gospel of John says that ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning’.

            Who is ‘The Word’? John writes, a few verses later, that ‘the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’.

            This verse immediately does what the entirety of the new Testament does; it deliberately mixes tense, names and nouns to sometimes make God appear as one omnipotent Being, and then a moment later something will be worded in such a way as to separate His various faces. Mere sentences later, John writes: ‘For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known’.

            John starts by inextricably meshing Jesus Christ with God the Father. Then he immediately refers to Jesus as a separate entity. Then he refers to them both as ‘God the One and Only’.

            I don’t understand how that can be, but I accept that it is so, as God is greater than I, and John was given the knowledge to both understand and record His will with absolute authority.

            Thus we see God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son who was originally referred to as ‘the Word’.

            The third face of God is the Holy Spirit.

            The Holy Spirit is, to me, the most mysterious part of God’s personality. Jesus refers to Him as ‘the gift my Father promised’. The New Testament has numerous references to the Spirit being ‘received’. Yet He is most definitely not an ‘it’ but a Being, a face of God – and in that sense, He is God. But in what way is He God?

            Peter said to ‘repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’. John refers to Him as the ‘seed of God’. Several of the Apostles refer to the indwelling Holy Spirit – received at Baptism – as ‘Christ in you’, or ‘the Spirit of Christ’.

            And then Paul writes, regarding Jesus, that ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’. Which brings the entirety of the Triune God – Father, Son and Spirit – back into Jesus.

            Again, I don’t understand. I’m not meant to. God is God, the One and Only. Yet the different sides of Him play distinct roles in our lives.

            I liken it to human nature, in a sense, and I mean no disrespect by this; we are, after all, made ‘in the image of God’. I have a heart; it feels, loves and hurts. I have a mind; it thinks, reasons, and attempts to soothe my sometimes-bleeding heart. I have a body; it moves the mind around, and feels in the physical sense – receiving sensations that are then interpreted by the mind. I also have a soul; it is the side of me that was once damned, which now belongs to Christ. It is the imperishable side of me, which will live on once all that is imperishable falls into decay.

            Yet all these parts of me are one being, and comprise a being that is decidedly singular. And I relate to others in this same multifaceted way. I comfort others from my heart. But I do it speaking with my mouth, part of my body. I reason with others with my mind, tempering my logic with empathy, and speaking from my mouth – engaging mind, heart and body. I worship with other Christians, engaging my soul with that of others, as all baptized believers share in the selfsame Holy Spirit.

            Yet none of my friends refer to me by such titles as ‘his heart’, or ‘his mind’ (although I suspect God shook His head and said to Jesus, ‘we need to do something about his soul…). I am, simply put, Me – although some still refer to me as ‘that $#@&!’, and their assessment may be right. I’m working on that.

            My point is, despite all those facets I am still but one man, whole, singular and clearly identifiable. Yet that does not nullify the existence and distinction to those sides of me. And I suspect that it is thus with God, God both the singular Almighty and God who is Father, Son and Spirit. However, His nature is obviously exponentially more complex than mine, because I was simply made in His image – much like a picture of a Camaro is still representative of a Camaro, but yet is not the Camaro itself. You can’t, after all, drive it out of the picture; the image pales in comparison to that which it represents. 

            We see all the facets of God present at the beginning of our Christian walk. The beginning of wisdom, that sneaking suspicion that we need to seek God, comes from God the Father; it is God who draws us to Jesus, the Redeemer – and it is Jesus who sheds his blood, washing our sins to remove Satan’s taint, and marking us as His own so that we may presentable and blameless before His Father.

            In between the Call and the Redemption, though, there must be repentance. ‘Repentance’ is from the Greek metanoia, a compound word that when translates literally means ‘to think differently after’. It is, in English, a ‘change of mind and heart’, or ‘a change of consciousness’. (NOTE: This is NOT to be confused with Jerome’s translation of metanoia. They translated it as the Latin penitentia, which means to be really, really sorry. This mistranslation spawned a host of ridiculous practices such as monasticism and self-flagellation, and was later corrected with Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible.)

              Repentance is brought about by God, as referenced in several places. Another verse says that repentance is given by Christ – and remember that Christ is sometimes meshed with the Holy Spirit, as least in the sense of which parts of God’s being dwell within the believer.

            All of these things – the call from the Father, the repentance brought about by Christ and His Spirit – culminate in baptism, the act that brings salvation. All three faces of God play distinct roles in baptism, which is why Christ ordered his Disciples to baptize ‘in the name of’ (or ‘by the authority of’) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This mandate to baptize, by the way, is indisputably applicable to all of us (not just preachers, or priests), since the word ‘disciple’ simply means ‘student’ – and we the believers are repeatedly referred to as ‘disciples’ all throughout the New Testament. 

            To wit: One is baptized ‘in’ or ‘into’ Christ, as written all through the New Testament. More specifically, we are baptized into His blood, the sacred sacrifice, the one thing in existence that is pure enough to nullify all sin. It was, after all, both blood and water that came from the wound in Jesus’ side. It is Christ also who authorizes this sacrament: ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…’ The act of immersion is synonymous with the death, burial and subsequent resurrection of the Messiah  (‘Christ’, by the way, is not a name. It is a noun, a title, and it means ‘Messiah’, which is more easily understood by paraphrasing as ‘Savior’.)

            One is pushed under the water; the old, sinful being dies.

            It is my firm conviction that the Holy Spirit is already with the repentant sinner as he/she walks toward the water. However, the million-dollar change takes place as one ‘dies’ in the water of baptism. At that point the Holy Spirit moves into the being that was once a sinner – and thus he/she rises, a new creature, pure, sinless by virtue of having been united with Christ, and now able to stand boldly before God the Father. God the Father, the Holy of Holies who will not even look at sin.

            We also see this full involvement of God in prayer. It is God the Father who governs, who decides what to grant us in answer to our requests. It is Christ – the mediator, the face of God that is also fully human – who carries our cries before the Father. It is Christ, also, who intercedes on out behalf when we sin.

            Another verse, however, says that the Spirit intercedes for us as well. It is the Spirit, remember, who lives within us; the Spirit is the whispering voice of conscience. He is sometimes referred to as ‘the Counselor’. It is the Spirit who reads our hearts, and articulates our needs to the Father when we can’t even see clearly enough to understand them ourselves.

            In prayer – as in baptism – Father, Son and Spirit are fully involved with Their/His beloved child. Yet our relationship changes with each part of God. To God we are clearly ‘heirs’. Which would make us brothers and sisters to Christ, in a sense – but Christ is also God, which brings us back to ‘heir’.

            But the Spirit, as far as I can tell, is with us more out of duty, hence His role as ‘Counselor’. Yet there is love in this role, too, for He ‘groans on our behalf’. When’s the last time a lawyer talked to a judge for you and ‘groaned’?

            God the Father.

            Jesus Christ, the Son.

            The Holy Spirit.

            Three, but not a ‘Trinity’, for that implies a separation of facets. There may be a separation of duties, of roles, but in the end there is only one God. One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. Yahweh-Elohim.

             One God. One sacrifice, and therefore one redeemed sinner – in my case, me. I don’t think that I understand a whole lot more than I did when I started writing this, and that wasn’t very much.

            But I understand enough to be grateful for Him, and for all that He has done for me.

Forsaken

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

                                                                                                                         John 1:14

            Yeshua Bar-Joses.

            If indeed they had birth certificates in Bethlehem, that would’ve been the name on one filed at the town clerk’s office about two thousand years ago.

            There would’ve been nothing odd about it, either. ‘Yeshua’ – a Hebrew name derived from the name we translate as ‘Joshua’ – was quite common. ‘Bar’ means ‘the son of’, and Joses (or Joseph) was quite commonplace as well. If little Yeshua went to school, his teacher probably called him something like ‘Yeshua J.’ to distinguish him from all the other little Yeshuas.

            Of course, that was before his thirtieth birthday, when he came to be known as Yeshua Mi’Nazareth, or ‘Yeshua from Nazareth’. Bear in mind that this didn’t necessarily separate him from the other Yeshuas from Nazareth. When the twenty-something Yeshua filled out building permits for his father Joseph’s carpentry business, I bet he signed his name ‘Yeshua Bar-Joses Mi’Nazareth’, just to avoid confusion.

            But at the age of thirty-three, right around the time of the Jewish Passover, Yeshua Bar-Joses Mi’Nazareth picked up a name that was all his own, a name that would forever separate him from the hodge-podge plethora of Yeshuas that wandered the width and breadth of Israel.

            Yeshua Mashiakh.

            Translated in Greek as ‘Yesous Christos’.

            In English, ‘Jesus the Messiah’… or ‘Jesus Christ’.

            Referred to by numerous titles ranging from Emmanuel to the Son of Man to simply ‘The Lord’, Jesus Christ was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the fulfillment of God’s promise made to Abraham: ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations’. Through Jesus all men – men of ‘many nations’ – can come into the covenant that God made with Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people.

            In the beginning – as in around 4000 or so B.C. – God’s relationship with man was imperfect. This was not because God is imperfect; far from it. It was because that through Adam sin entered the world, and sin absolutely cannot stand before God.

            Under the Law of Moses – God’s first formal law for the nation of Israel – this was dealt with through sacrifice. Since the beginning of time, transgression could be atoned for only by blood. Thus, under Judaic law, hapless sheep, cattle and the like paid the toll for men’s misdeeds.

            But such sacrifices were imperfect, and served only to delay punishment; they did not completely cancel the debt that man owed to the Living God, a debt created by the enormity of his own sin. While the full wrath of God may have been appeased temporarily by such sacrifices, such a lopsided relationship between the mundane and the Divine could still only end one way: in the eternal destruction of all that is mortal.

            But God never desired such a relationship, and it was God who worked out a plan to free us all from that debt. It was God the Father – whom the unbelievers like to paint as a cruel tyrant, bent upon damning mankind – who set events into motion that would forever cleanse sin from those who choose His redemption.

            ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.’ I’m not sure what ‘the Word’ was, although He was certainly a part of God, one of His mysterious facets – much like ‘God the Father’ and ‘the Holy Spirit’ are unique faces of the multiple-yet-wholly-singular Deity.

            What is more certain is this: ‘the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us’. The Word, whatever His holy nature may have been before, was born sometime between 4 and 6 BC, and given the name Yeshua Bar-Joses. And while He was indeed still God, He was born in the humble body of a human child.

            I often wonder what Jesus was like as a baby. He was, being fully God as well as fully man, completely without sin. But did he cry a lot when he was sleepy, or was he a perfect angel of a baby? Was he fully cognizant as a child, being God, or did he – being also man – come into a knowledge of Himself only slowly, as we do? Did He torment the family cat because He didn’t know any better – or did he know better, because He was God even if he was a toddler, and therefore left the cat in peace?

            I don’t know that answers to those questions; neither does anyone else, and anyone who says he does is lying. Scripture is silent about such things because we don’t need to know them; they are peripheral curiosities, and nothing more. Jesus didn’t come to torment the cat, or for that matter to spare the cat; He came for a much more noble reason.

            Not much is said about Jesus’ actions until He was twelve years old. He was already wise and full of God’s grace; scripture says that His teachings amazed even the teachers at the temple. He was quite aware that He was the Son of God, too, for he told his mother that He had to be ‘in his Father’s house’.

            (Some ascribe to Jesus’ mother Mary the nature of a goddess, and she is often the favored recipient of prayers. But scripture makes it quite clear that Mary was most ordinary, and somewhat befuddled regarding her task of raising the Son of God. She was – just like me, and any other believer – just a flawed human being, whom God chose for His own reasons to use for great things.)

            Nothing else of significance is written about Jesus until He was baptized at the age of thirty, the Jewish age of manhood. While ordinary men are (or should be) baptized for the remission of sin, which makes them pure in order that they might receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus had no need of this. He was just as sinless – just as pure – going into the water as He was coming out of it. What was accomplished, though, was that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, so that He might begin His ministry. The Spirit took the form of a dove, the traditional symbol of peace. (Remember that one of Jesus’ names is ‘the Prince of Peace’.)  

            While scripture – as it should – focuses on Jesus’ ministry and deity more than anything else, I wonder what His mundane life was like. He was baptized at thirty years of age, which means he’d already lived through his teens and twenties; His personality, habits, and hobbies were already pretty well established. (I, for instance, am forty-one and I have a great many quirks; I imagine that Jesus was much the same.)

            For instance, while Jesus is generally called ‘the carpenter’s son’, He was almost certainly a carpenter Himself. One can just about take that for granted; it was the family duty of boys to pitch in and help their fathers, much like the girls were expected to shoulder some domestic responsibility. I picture Jesus looking much like I do some days, wandering across the jobsite, clutching His hammer and scratching his Head, because Joseph told him to hang all the doors but neglected to tell him that the doors were still ‘back at the shop’. (‘Back at the shop, by the way, is always where something is when you can’t find it on the jobsite!)

            I work construction; I know how these things work. And Jesus would have been scratching His head, too, and unable to locate the doors. Because although He was God, Jesus seemed to have accepted certain limitations, perhaps so that He could fully relate to us. To wit: He wasn’t completely omniscient. While He could read the thoughts of all men – at least while in their presence – He wasn’t immediately aware of John the Baptist’s death; He had to be told. Neither did He know that it was the bleeding woman who’d touched Him so that her affliction would be healed.

            I also find it amazing the Jesus could be a carpenter without ever breaking something, but even in death He was kept whole. Not a single one of his bones was broken. How did He manage to avoid smashing his thumb? Falling off a scaffold and breaking a rib? Dropping a board on his toe? Somehow, He did. I find this to be a miracle in and of itself, which pre-dates even His turning of water into wine.

            I see a twofold purpose in Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. First and foremost, it was ministry of wisdom and compassion. Jesus cared deeply for the poor, for the sick. He also selflessly gave His time, even when He was exhausted, to the masses who’d come to listen to Him. He was defined by (or perhaps tormented by) deep emotion. What is the shortest verse in the Bible? ‘Jesus wept’. (The italics are mine.)

            Secondly, Jesus began an arduous task which continued on with His apostles, and indeed plagues the true believer to this day: He went head-to-head with the hypocritical and heretical religious orders of his era. Just as King David’s nemesis were the Philistines, Jesus’ archenemies were the Pharisees, the most prominent body among the Judaic religious orders.

            We see this today in our own lives. The true Christian, with a decent understanding of scripture, must understand and combat a wide spectrum of denominational bull-hockey when trying to win converts. Modern faith is endlessly tainted by modern heresy, and so it was in Jesus’ day as well.

            Jesus worked a fair few miracles…

            He healed a great many sick…

            He raised a couple of dead people…

            He preached…

            He took vengeance upon those who made a mockery of His Father’s house. He ate, drank, laughed, loved, cried, and lived.

            And when he’d done enough, enough to fill all the books that have ever been written, He finally did that which He’d really come to do.

            He died.

            The perfect sin offering come at last, the sacrificial lamb that could wipe away all sin, once and for all. Despite all the fire that he showed in life, despite all the sternness with which he could rebuke and chastise, Jesus Christ died with absolute meekness.

            The last prayer Jesus prayed before Judas Iscariot betrayed Him was a twofold supplication: He prayed first for His disciples… and then he prayed for us. Past, present and future, to the Father He referred to us as ‘those you have given me’. And we ‘who have been given’ are many and timeless; Peter refers to us, saying ‘you, your children, and those who are far off.

            Here we see a man going to the worst possible death – and the last thing He prayed for… was us, even thoughit was we who crucified Him, each and every one of us. You and I may as well have picked up the hammer and nailed Him to cross personally.

            I could go on and on about what a physically horrifying death Jesus suffered. I could write about how traumatic it was to have the flesh scourged from one’s back, to have been beaten, to have had a crown of razor-sharp thorns forced into one’s head.

            I could impress upon you, my unknown reader, the feeling of having a nail the size of a railroad tie pounded in between the bones of your wrist. I could go on about how much it hurts to have your feet impaled, too, and how agonizing it is to push up on those nails just so that you can breathe.

            I could do all of that, with style and aplomb; I was once an expert writer of horror and dark fantasy, and I challenge anyone – even Clive Barker himself – to write as sadistically as I once did. I could make your skin crawl if I wanted to, and the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

            But I won’t.

            I won’t, because I don’t believe the physical torment was what hurt Jesus the most, nor was it what worried Him most as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. No, I believe what hurt Him the most was the state in which He died.

            In all the history of the world, there is no man who has ever died knowing that he was separated from God. No one, with no exceptions. Some may not believe in Him. Some may have placed their faith in pagan ‘gods’, or in denominational teachings that make a mockery of God. Some may not know about Him. But the simple fact of the matter is, that anyone who has ever come into the full knowledge of God will run screaming to Him, entering into the Kingdom through the blood of the Son. Such men may even fall away later… but they do so making excuses for themselves, and not really believing that Eternity will be denied them.

            Any man who knows, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he is separated from God will move to repair that oversight. No man has ever deliberately died cut off from the Creator.

            Except Jesus.

            The last sound He made was an inarticulate cry, but His last coherent words were ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ (‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?’).

            What do we know about God the Father? First and foremost, He cannot look upon sin. That was why the Levitical priests had to go through massive purification rites before entering the temple area known as the ‘Holy of Holies’. It’s why sacrifices were constantly required from the Israelites.

            In the moments approaching death, Jesus Christ of Nazareth became the filthiest flesh-and-blood being ever to have lived; only demons were more impure than He. He took upon Himself all the sin that had been – or ever would be – committed, and nailed it to the cross.

            Somehow during the course of that process, Christ did exactly what we fear to do; He cut Himself off from God, from Himself. And then He did what no man has ever knowingly done; he perished in that state. He gagged on His last breath, keenly aware that the God whom He’d known – who He was – since the beginning of time had forsaken Him. Not by choice, but by a self-imposed limitation. God must, by His very definition, be kept holy. Yet Christ, in dying stained by our sin, became most unholy. 

            I’m sure Jesus didn’t like being scourged, beaten, or pierced by thorns and nails.

            But I am also sure that those became a small matter, overshadowed by the horror of being abandoned. Of being left to die as something foul, something unclean. I don’t know at which point God became unable to look upon His Son, upon the part of Himself that He’d sent to redeem His creation. I suspect it was right after Gethsemane, for Christ told those who arrested Him that ‘this is your hour, when darkness reigns’, and I think that his anguished cry of ‘Eloi, Eloi’ simply came out when He was unable to bear the separation any longer.

            I could be wrong. Just as I cannot see Salvation (yet), I cannot read Damnation. Only God knows when His own being became fragmented. But beyond any shadow of a doubt, that agony tore apart God’s heart just as surely as it did Jesus’.

            We love so much to talk about the courageous men of our world, the George Washingtons and the William Wallaces and the Robert E. Lees. They were great men, too, and worthy of honor. But human courage always shares one element, one that subtly robs it of its grandeur, and that is this: human bravery is simply a virtue born of necessity. Courage only blossoms as a last resort, the alternative to the unthinkable.

            No one ever chooses to be courageous, any more than he chooses to die separated from God.

            Yet God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit all suffered the unbearable agony of having His inner being ripped apart, and He chose it. He always had the option of walking away – for He is God, after all. He could’ve turned around and made another world, a better one, instead of hurting so badly for this one.

            But He didn’t. He willfully chose to suffer the single worst torment of all time, and He chose it because He loves us so very, very much. 

            Christ was resurrected by the Father in whom He’d placed perfect trust; after three days, He emerged from His borrowed grave…

            But sin didn’t. It can come out of that grave only when we willfully pull it out. Otherwise it just lies there, inert, made a silly thing by Christ. But as quickly as we can repent and be baptized, all the sins that we’ve retrieved can be forced right back into that grave, and they will stay there for as long as we remain faithful.

            Under Moses, the blood of sheep and cattle was sprinkled upon altars of stone, so that men’s sins might find some measure of imperfect mercy.

            Under Christ, His perfect and blameless blood is sprinkled upon our hearts, splashed freely across an altar of flesh, so that we might come into perfect mercy. Pagans will reject this truth. Atheists will scorn it. Denominationalists will flirt with it and, ultimately, miss its point entirely.

            But for those of us who know, who understand what was done for us and what we must do to claim that Gift, there is eternal life. Life lived out side-by-side with the Son of Man, who sits at the right hand of God, filled with the Holy Spirit.

            ‘Repent and be baptized,’ said the Apostle Peter, ‘in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…’

That’s great news. But Peter didn’t stop there. ‘The promise is for you and your children,’ he continues, ‘and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.

            Christ died for all. For those to whom the Apostles spoke, and those before them. For their children…

            And for those who are far off.

            In case you need further clarification… that would be us!

On the Blessed Doctrine of 'I Dunno…'

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

1 Corinthians 1:25

Such humble words, especially coming from the man who wrote the bulk of the New Testament. A man whose writings – at least the ones which the Holy Spirit allowed to transcend time and decay – carry the full authority of God Himself. For the first time in my life, I know exactly what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote that.

One my pet peeves regarding modern religion is its need to reduce the Word of God down to a series of trite practices, a list of ‘things to do’ that are cut-and-dry, easily understood. This began in the first century, but it didn’t end there. Christianity has fragmented into countless denominations, and has spawned a host of quasi-pagan groups who only use Jesus’ name to sucker in ex-Christians.

The Church has split, fallen away and scattered for no other reason than man’s inability to shrug his shoulders and say ‘I don’t know’. To admit that he doesn’t grasp all of Scripture, and that he can’t wrap his mind around the concept of the Omnipotent, Triune God. We make up doctrines to fill in the gaps in the Gospel, and create practices to satisfy our small-minded inability to grasp His awesome nature.

What we’ve all missed is that those apparent ‘gaps’ are there for a purpose. The Bible was not written as a clear-cut, A, B, and C series of directives for a reason. Because to have done so would have taken all the mystery, the majesty and wonder out of the nature of God. We were meant to always seek, to ask and ponder. We were meant to always stand before God with that big question mark floating over our frazzled little heads.

I’m not saying that the Bible doesn’t have the answers to all the questions that really matter. The monumentally important commandments regarding everything from baptism to stealing to murder are crystal-clear, and unmistakable.

Yet the finer points of doctrine are often fuzzy, and difficult to figure out. Equally as difficult to grasp from the Scriptures is the nature of God Himself, even though the important facets of His nature cannot be misunderstood. We know that He loves us. We know that if we reject His love, His just nature leaves him no other option than to judge us – and doing such a thing grieves Him immeasurably, precisely because He loves us so.  

But is it okay for a woman twice married, who just became a Christian, to go back and marry her first husband even though he’s divorced and belongs to a different denomination? Should baptisms be performed immediately upon request by the sinner – or does the Church have a responsibility to make sure that the sinner has repented first, and understands what he’s doing? What if the sinner gets hit by a bus while the Church is sorting these things out; does the Church then have blood on its hands? On the other hand, was Mr. Drop-of-a-Hat-Baptisee’s conversion really honored by God if he didn’t repent first?

Am I bad Christian with a poor understanding of Scripture, for not knowing any of these answers?

I don’t know that answers to any of these questions. To further complicate things, I can make up arguments (using the Scriptures) for all sorts of opposing viewpoints regarding them.

And that’s okay.

Because what matters is that I tried to understand them, to have a clean conscience before God regarding His commandments. After all, what need is there for faith, trust and hope when one is handed a legalistic set of picayunish rules, such as one finds in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches?

When I stand before the Great White Throne of Judgment, what will count is not that I understood the entire word of God. It will not matter that I was unable to fully grasp the majesty of the Lord. It will be inconsequential that I couldn’t make heads nor tails of a great deal of the Bible.

Absolutely none of this will be important to God; I am entirely convinced of this.

What will matter is that, by the grace of God, I believed in the absence of understanding. What will matter is that I worshipped wholeheartedly, that I trusted completely. What will matter is that I let God to be God, and didn’t try to force Him to fit within the confines of my own mind. (As if I could really do such a thing, anyway… but trying is the ultimate arrogance!)

What will matter is that I didn’t try to make up a bunch of hokey explanations, that I simply looked upon the wonder of my Creator and said ‘I don’t understand’ – but believed anyway.

If only all of Christendom could do the same. It might then all be saved, instead of being half damned.

It’s important for me to understand God, of course. But what is more important is what I don’t understand. Because in my ‘not knowing’ – in those ambiguous spaces between the clear-cut truths – there lies unlimited room for faith, love, hope, humility and trust.

Praise be to God for all that He has revealed to His church, His people – those whom He has snatched from the jaws of Hell.

But more importantly, praise be to God for the realities hidden from us, for those hard to understand truths…

Praise be to Him for all that He didn’t reveal!

Bless This Toilet…

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God…

            Philippians 4:6

            Oh Lord Jesus, please let this work…

            I hate felt toilet seals.

            They use ‘em for the back of wall-mounted toilets, to seal up the connection between the toilet and the wall. They suck. They always leak and I hate them. Any plumber in his right mind will use a rubber seal, not a felt one.

            But we didn’t have a rubber seal. So I stuck the felt one on and connected the toilet to the wall, praying fervently as I did. And, miracle of miracles, the darn thing actually worked. I couldn’t believe it.

            “Of course it worked,” retorted my boss, in response to my prayer of surprise. “You prayed for it to work, didn’t you? God always listens to you. He don’t me, though.”

            Prayer has always been my second biggest struggle as Christ’s disciple. (The first is getting along with His other disciples.) I struggle with believing that I’m being heard, that my needs are being considered. I struggle with thinking my prayers will have any effect, particularly an immediate effect.

            And had I had a moment to think, I would never have offered my heartfelt request for that pesky toilet seal to work. I would have felt silly about bothering God with my picayunish headaches. I would have felt that if God didn’t fix my toilet – perhaps to test my faith – that my faith would have been tarnished. And thus I wouldn’t have asked.

            But in my scatterbrained state, I found more faith than I usually do during my more collected moments. Jesus walked the earth for thirty-three years, working construction for a fair amount of those years, and He was very concerned about the day-to-day affairs of those around Him. This is the same Jesus who promised to walk with me ‘until the very end of the age’, and who is concerned about my day-to-day affairs – right down to the toilets I have to keep fixing, because fat ladies keep pulling them away from the wall.

            The privilege of being heard by God, even on frivolous matters, is the unique gift of the true Christian, appropriately baptized and living the life he’s been called to. ‘All kinds of requests’, scripture says to make.

            I have God’s ear, always; such is an honor, and I should bend God’s ear more often than I do.

            Jesus told His disciples, ‘You are my friends if you do what I command you.’ And of course your friends are the first people you ask to help with your projects, right? In fact, they kinda get annoyed if you don’t call ‘em.

            A small part of me is still tempted to feel like God’s desire to be troubled is a bit trifling, but the bigger part of me knows better. To trouble God about the immediate minor headache – as opposed to the distant catastrophe – is to demonstrate faith in a way that is both immediate and dynamic. To get an answer is to see one’s faith rewarded, as often happens. And to have said answer delayed – or denied – is to learn trust, despite appearances.

            Either way, you win. Christ is the Lord of everything, and our desire (or lack thereof) to acknowledge that is laughably superfluous. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it… even toilets.

            Remind me to ask Him about the silly things a little more often than I do.

Angels We Have Heard on High…

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord.

   2 Peter 2:11

            Angels are fascinating pop-culture icons.

            In storytelling, they can be frightening (Gabriel, in the film The Prophecy). They can be somber, and sad (Seth in City of Angels). They can be whimsical (Gabriel again, but this time in Constantine). They can even be sarcastic and a little belligerent (‘Cash Money’ in The Family Man).

            To the artist, of course, angels are the perfect, anthromorphic and mold-able subject. Their long, flowing robes and hair, their expansive feathered wings… They are much more fun to draw than demons. Demons, by contrast, have those drab ol’ bat wings, and they’re generally bald so that you can clearly see their horns. Quite boring, demons.

            But what are angels, really?

            Well, they are spiritual in nature. And they work for God. By virtue of this, I think, they are very beloved of those who cling to something I refer to as ‘Oprah spirituality’. While soccer-mom demagogue Oprah Winfrey is not solely responsible for this mentality, she is one of it major proponents.

            ‘Oprah spirituality’ gives one an illusionary peace of mind born of some vague, ephemeral belief in a ‘higher power’. It allows one to seize both false hope and vainglorious moral superiority, all the while conveniently ducking accountability and obedience to any one doctrine.

            God doesn’t honor Oprah Spirituality. Oprah does, but that doesn’t make her godly.

            But I digress…

            One thing that we know about angels is that they are usually really, really scary. The only exception to this may be Gabriel, whom Zechariah had the gall to question, and the Virgin Mary seemed to find comforting.

            They are also flagrantly zealous, too. On the occasions upon which God unleashed one to torment someone, He usually has to call him off rather vehemently. ‘ENOUGH!!! Withdraw your hand!’ I picture the hacking, slashing angel lowering his sword with a disappointment on his face, and reluctantly trudging off to find something else to do.

            A myth common to Christianity is that angels are led by ‘archangels’, angelic commanders of other angels. There were once three, said the legends – Michael, who leads the angels called as warriors, or killers, Gabriel the messenger, and Lucifer.

             However, Scripture only actually uses the word ‘archangel’ in reference to Michael. Elsewhere it uses the phrase ‘with the voice of the archangel’ – which may imply that there is only one, which would be Michael. However, it doesn’t say that there’s only one; it may just be referring to the archangel present in that particular situation.

            Gabriel is mentioned by name on several occasions. His first appearance (at least in which he is mentioned by name) comes in the Old Testament, when he explains – upon God’s order – a vision to the prophet Daniel. He also appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

            Of course, we know him best as the angel who spoke these legendary words:  “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

            Michael is mentioned less often, and in less detail. He ‘disputed with the Devil over the body of Moses’, whatever that may have entailed. He also led the battle against ‘the dragon’ during a ‘war in Heaven’, which could mean that he fought Lucifer when Lucifer rebelled against God. (However, I don’t know that. That passage is in the Book of Revelation, the greatest mystery of the Bible. Any man who says that he does know what Revelation is talking about is a liar. We all have a theory, but no one knows for sure. Even John, its author, didn’t try to make head nor tails of it. He just recorded what he was told to.)

            Then there’s Lucifer.

            Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets of all time, wrote regarding Lucifer: ‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners? All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house. But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.’

            I don’t know what that means, exactly. Was Lucifer just a Joe Schmoe angel? Or did he, since Isaiah refers to him as ‘Son of the Morning’, hold some sort of special favor with God? It would seem so, and perhaps Lucifer – much like a spoiled child – chose to rebel to gain even more than that with which he was already blessed. Or maybe I’m reading more into that passage than Isaiah really meant.

            Was Lucifer perhaps just a man, much like Adam in his Garden of Eden, and not an angel at all?  I wonder if he didn’t desire to be like an angel, coveting an ‘ascent into Heaven’ like Isaiah wrote. I wonder if his world wasn’t flooded with water like ours was in Genesis, which would explain why, ‘In the Beginning’, the Spirit moved across the face of the waters. I wonder if Lucifer’s world of eons past wasn’t just flat-out destroyed for his sin, for his leading even of angels astray, while Adam and his world were made with the foreknowledge of Adam’s sin and Christ’s redemption – for Adam, after all, didn’t invent sin. He was just seduced by it.

            All theory. I don’t know. Nobody does.

            To further muddy the waters, the name ‘Lucifer’ does not appear in Isaiah’s writings. Jerome added the Italian name to the text in order to differentiate the ‘son of the morning’ (who was clearly an evil entity) from the ‘Son of Man’ (a name for Christ).

            One thing is for certain, Lucifer, son of the morning – whoever he was – is now dead and gone. His name was probably granted by God himself, and I am guessing that he probably rejected the moniker. We know him now as Satan, which is from the ancient Hebrew word for ‘adversary’. His first biblical appearance may have been in the Garden of Eden, when he tempted Eve into sin. Or not… perhaps the snake was just that, a snake, and he himself listened to Satan’s temptation.

            Satan is known by many names, much like Christ, whom he hates. Apollyon, Beelzebub, Belial, Lord of this World, Son of Perdition… But generally, we just call him ‘the Devil’.

            One thing that makes me unsure about whether Satan is a fallen angel or an ascended mortal is his manifested nature. He displays many characteristics unique to celestial beings, but yet he displays many weaknesses common to men.

            For instance, Satan is fairly omniscient. He, like God, knows the hearts of all men. That’s how he tempts us, whispering things in our innermost natures that appeal to our various unspoken depravities. His omnipresence is part of what makes him so dangerous.

            Yet for all his power, he seems flat-out shortsighted and more than a little stupid sometimes. For instance, unlike God, he cannot see the future. Nor is he bright enough, apparently, to see that God plays him like a fiddle. To wit: God clearly used Satan – and those he influenced – to facilitate the crucifixion of Christ, thereby bringing salvation to all who accept it. Yet Satan apparently had no clue that this may have been the case. He cheerfully watched the Messiah die, thinking in his childish vanity that he’d won his war with the Almighty.

            Satan’s influence is apparently limited; he had to ask God for explicit permission to torment Job. Also, even now, God allows Satan to torment those ‘dis-fellowshipped’ from His church to teach them a lesson, to help lead them away from sin and back to the fold – but He must allow it.

            For all I don’t know about Satan, though, I do know one thing: He is the alternative to God, just as good is the alternative to evil, and because we could have chosen him, we have the knowledge that we have instead chosen God. Free will, after all, is the divine characteristic by which we choose salvation. Of course, as the rock band Rush put it, ‘if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice’ – which is the unfortunate-if-passive decision that most of the world makes.

            However, while Satan – inasmuch as he represents the cause of Evil – is the opposite of God, he is not His equal. In regards to who and what he is, I agree with C. S. Lewis’ opinion: that Satan is not the equivalent to God, but instead a corrupted version of Michael – an angel (or some other created being) gone bad.

            Most theologians paint angels as ‘neutered’ beings, mere creatures of service with no real gender. I passionately disagree, although I have no solid ground whatsoever to base my assertion, save my own idle ponderings.

            In Genesis, Moses writes (regarding Adam and Eve) that ‘male and female he created them’. Most of us, I think, take for granted that this was the first time that the idea of gender – not the anatomical man and woman, but the roles associated therewith – occurred to God.

            While only God knows for sure, I disagree. I think the concept is as old as God himself, and inherently intrinsic to beings of any sort. God, for instance, portrays characteristics of both. While the strong, occasionally-vengeful God of the Old Testament is indisputably masculine (if not male, per se), Jesus said ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’ Which to me, reveals a nurturing, loving side to God that could be interpreted as distinctly feminine.

            I think angels – while most likely not ‘anatomically correct’ – reflect their Creator’s nature, in regards to their assigned gender roles. But I think that angels, unlike God, were made in one ‘gender’ or the other, whereas God Himself reflects both sides of the spectrum.

            For instance, Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer (if indeed he was an angel) are indisputably male, as divinely-inspired Prophets and Apostles refer to them as ‘He’. However, Scripture also refers to angels whose job it is to guard and protect us – and it my firm belief that such beings are female, as this strikes me as the sacred duty of a nurturer, a mother of sorts. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel appeared and ‘strengthened him’. This also seems a motherly sort of thing to me.  

            On the other hand, we often see angels used as the agents of vengeance. This would, to me, seem a role fitting for a male. I just can’t see a woman – unless maybe it was Lizzie Borden – gleefully hacking her way through Egypt, doing in all the firstborn.

            But virtually all of these points are merely my pondering, pointless speculation, and I – like all men – must never forget this. Peripheral curiosities should never distract us from the most important facets of doctrine – lest we, like the Pharisees of days past – ‘strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel’.

            We aren’t told much about angels because angels matter not whit regarding our salvation. What is explained to us in great length, however, is God and Christ and the Holy Spirit.

            Angels are amusing to wonder about, to attempt to understand. But it’s okay if we don’t figure out one daggone thing that’s worth knowing about them.

            Where we absolutely cannot make such a mistake is in coming into an understanding of the God whom the angels serve. Pondering is just that, pondering…. But we should never ponder at the expense of learning!

            Even Gabriel himself, I am certain, would tell you that.