holding on to faith in the midst of a pandemic

Christians are not afraid of death, even though it remains an “enemy,” the last enemy that will be done away with. We realize it’s both inevitable, and that through Jesus’s resurrection, it is not the end. Through faith and baptism (Romans 6) we participate in that resurrection so that in and through Christ death is not the end for us.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic, for some reason the book of Job comes to my mind. Everyone has an opinion, and often the opinions are at variance with each other, indeed in opposition. Everyone has their say along with Job, who questions God and finds no easy answers. Job’s faith is tattered, maybe one might say shaken, yet is not in ruins. It remains, as he continues to answer those who have all the right answers from their ivory tower position. We know that God steps in and points Job to his creation, things well beyond Job, and somehow in that, Job is able to find peace in realizing that he simply doesn’t know, and in accepting that.

For me, I am questioning the faith of others who seem to deny science, and want to carry on as if everything is normal, and much of that with the view I suppose of trusting in God. Of course nowadays there are all kinds of political stuff thrown in, so that your views and how you think are often mostly partisan, determined by your political party and its platform or general view, or what it holds to. Not really dependent on faith, and I would say a well thought out faith.

Science is in the crosshairs and crossfire of all of this, being the bogeyman for too many. There is no way we can understand what to do about a virus by opening up our Bibles and praying. Yes, we need to do that always, every day. But to understand natural phenomena, we have to study it on its own terms. I won’t understand a whole lot about a flower except by learning from those who have studied it, how it takes hold from being a seed in the soil, how it grows, how it thrives and passes on not only its beauty, but provision to nature. So it is with the virus: We have to listen and take seriously science, or pay the consequences.

To think about science would require another post and much more. Modern science is simply the discipline of observation, hypothesis, testing, verification, and on and on. It is not closed, so that it doesn’t purport to have final answers. And indeed it can’t speak in matters in which faith speaks, like why the flower exists beyond the scientific reasons given.

All of that to say this: In the way of Jesus, we hold on to faith in God, but an intelligent or thoughtful faith. Refusing to give in to fear, but not acting foolhardy, either. Not jumping off the cliff like Satan suggested the Lord should do, who promptly quoted him Scripture in context, that we’re not to put the Lord our God to the test.

This can test us, how we see others expressing their faith, not unlike Job’s struggle, I suppose. In the end we have to do our best, but wait on God. Only with God’s help and through his word will we eventually come to more and more of the perspective we need. In and through Jesus.

stilling the storm of words

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.
A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

I think I’m a word person, so words are important to me. I want to know truth, and I want to communicate. It is probably something of the gift God has given me. So if there’s a storm of words, I may not like the storm, but I might easily be taken into the storm. And I’ve found over the years that such participation does little if any good. All too often it feels like one is only becoming part of that storm, certainly not helping to still it.

And now we have a pandemic which has hit the United States in full force economically, politically- exacerbating the great divide, and certainly physically, with the mounting death toll. And politically, it’s an election year. So all of this gets played out into a never ending storm of words. The map for this weather front sees little break in the clouds and storm to come. And not sure where the light at the end of the tunnel might be, if it’s coming at all.

Qohelet, the main writer of Ecclesiastes, seems to be a pessimist by nature, maybe what we would call a realist. He/she seems to be something of a hard core skeptic. I can resonate with that. When people think they have the answer to something, they’re never at a loss for words. But when one is not sure, or knows enough to know that they don’t know that much, then less words come, or maybe none at all.

The book of Job is a case in point. Filled with words from Job questioning God’s justice, and Job’s friends, correcting Job, and the words go on and on. But after God speaks, Job shuts his mouth, and continues to listen. And then repents in dust and ashes. Yes, we need the word from God, and much less of our own words. But to get to that point of listening, maybe we have to experience something of the storm of words, our own and others.

When one considers all of Scripture, and I’m especially thinking of the psalms, it seems like pouring our hearts in prayer to God, and expressing our unvarnished thoughts to him is commendable, and seen over and over again in Scripture. I think what we need a good healthy dose of though, is to learn to say less and listen more. And the one we need to listen to is God. To hear what God is saying to us ought to be our goal. We need to speak less and listen more. Yes, to others. But above all to God. Then the words we do speak might actually matter more.

 

against full knowledge in this world or even in the word

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12b

Sadly, too many Christians nowadays seem to think they have some sort of inside scoop on what’s going on in the world. Or that they unlike most other Christians possess some superior knowledge of God’s word and the gospel. Either thought is dangerous.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I believe any idea of some inside scoop or full knowledge of anything should be dismissed, or at least viewed with profound suspicion.

Yes, God does give us revelation of Christ and the gospel by the Spirit, and helps us through the word, no doubt. But we have to be humble, especially when it comes to what we think we understand about what is going on in the world. We need to stick to what God plainly tells us in the word, and refuse to get sidetracked on what too often become tangents that get us sidetracked from God’s will for us.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t push hard for truth and what is right, just and good. It does mean that we do so believing that only God understands and knows and works in God’s own sovereign way, as he sees fit.

We do so in full confidence of nothing other than God and God’s work through the word in the world. In and through Jesus.

 

“incremental”

The word “incremental” has become an important word for me at work. It probably is not hitting the precise meaning, or the way it’s used, but I see it as meaning little by little, to add up to making work easier for me and others. It’s not like I’m trying to slough off of hard work, but making it manageable, and being willing to relax more when things don’t work out, even when mistakes are made. But to keep pushing on this direction.

I used to work full tilt, kind of trying to do something of this, but with more of an accent on working hard. I still work full tilt, but in a different way. Now it is more thoughtful in terms of trying to keep myself relaxed and through that example, to help us all do the same. So that others aren’t stressed out, beginning with the fact that I’m not stressed out. Of course I can’t handle how others do their work, but hopefully my example can rub off on others, if it’s really helpful. And part of my goal is to make everyone’s job easier, so that they can concentrate on what’s in front of them, to minimize the extra they have to do.

This is making a world of difference for me. I keep thinking of the word, “incremental.” I have it firmly in my memory, finally now, or so I think. But my first thought as far as my work is concerned is to do it little by little, in manageable chunks, even if that means more movement on my part, which it inevitably does. And trying to avoid being in a hurry, insofar as that’s possible. I find the hard work is in a sense easier, certainly easier to manage, and therefore less stressful. In fact there seems a fallout in stress, none or not much at all. Kind of a part of my goal, to avoid undue stress beyond just the normal minimal stress each part of the job requires.

Add to that just lately, I realize I won’t entirely achieve this, so that I have to depend on others to pick up where I can’t. So learning to relax, even when I can’t always achieve “incremental” as I intend to. But making it my first priority as far as the nuts and bolts of my work is concerned; to do so incrementally, little by little, with plenty of room to get things done comfortably. Something I consider clearly to be a needed help of wisdom to me from God. Sometimes in God’s generosity, a kind of wisdom given to anyone. And for us “in Jesus”, it is always in and through him.

“What is truth?”

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:33-38a

The ongoing reality that truth is under attack seems especially prominent in our thinking today in the United States. And it doesn’t matter which political side you might be on, or your political thinking in general, it does seem indeed that “truth is on the scaffold.”

I for one accept truth gathered from science as part of God’s general revelation to us, hopefully that, not sloppy thinking. Always a work in progress, but not to be disregarded as a result. Most all of the advances we’ve gained in medicine and technology are due to science. And there is truth in the sense of integrity in people trying to pool knowledge as to what is good and right and helpful for humans individually and in community. That I would take as a part of what theologians call “common grace,” God’s gift to all humanity.

The truth Jesus was getting at is different in that it goes beyond what humans can actually measure and tell, even if there’s a sense that something like this exists. There is a certain knowing that goes beyond what humans can test and verify in any scientific way. We might well be learning more and more about what the universe consists of, mysteries in that, and its origin. But can we really venture an answer scientifically as to why this is so? I don’t think so. I remember a few decades back there seemed to be a movement to try to figure out that puzzle scientifically, maybe in a modernist optimism. But it seems to me that has long since been abandoned perhaps influenced by a postmodern realization that the good found in modernism has its limits.

Jesus comes and gives us the sense that there is something found in his mission, even in him which gets us to the reality of what truth is at its center, and heart, without disregarding the truth humans come up with, however so limited. In this case there is no limit, but its our own blindness and limitation due to our finiteness as humans, and brokenness which keeps us from seeing it, indeed, even taking it seriously. Maybe we can see that in Pilate who seems to me to be skeptical of it.

All I can say for myself is that I try to see everything in the light of what I would call this ultimate truth found in Jesus, who himself said elsewhere:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

That is where I rest, and what I am assured of. But given by God, not something we humans can come up with ourselves. Yet something we have to be open to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

the needed difference

צ Tsadhe

You are righteous, LORD,
and your laws are right.
The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
they are fully trustworthy.
My zeal wears me out,
for my enemies ignore your words.
Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.
Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands give me delight.
Your statutes are always righteous;
give me understanding that I may live.

Psalm 119:137-144

It seems like those who are in the know are the ones who seem to lack heart in listening to God. When one has been given something of a heart to listen to God, they come to realize what little they know, that actually they are completely dependent on God for the knowledge they need for life. Such knowledge is given by revelation, in other words revealed to us humans by God.

Those not privy to this are cast on their own devices and lack of knowledge, but often with seemingly little lack of self-confidence, completely or largely unaware of what God can give. And therefore not understanding those who do receive this revelation from God.

For those of us who have, we know the needed difference it makes in life to fulfill the righteousness of God given to us in and through Jesus.

 

 

 

accepting one’s lot in life

Moreover, when God gives someone…the ability…to accept their lot…—this is a gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19

It may seem strange to read that someone in their 60’s, approaching retirement age struggles over accepting their lot in life, just how it turned out. But that’s me. After all, I have two academic degrees. Yet it turns out that I worked in a factory setting, for decades now, and where I’ll end Lord willing, albeit in a wonderful ministry until “retirement.”

I have struggled with “what ifs?” and “if onlys?” off and on. Those thoughts will probably hit me at least now and then the rest of my life, but hopefully they’ll ebb and become less and less as I learn more and more to simply accept and learn to embrace where my life is today.

There are some things that I can understand from my past, even important things to remember both in what became not helpful attitudes and actions. It’s not like I’m immune to such now. Not at all. But I believe by God’s grace that the Lord has helped me to come a long way, and in some respects 180 degrees from the worst or critically bad of that. And that wasn’t easy and took time. It’s one thing to confess one’s sin, it’s another to become a person who never would do such a thing as a rule, because their character has changed (1 Peter 4:1-2).

But there’s much of my past I don’t really understand. What comes to mind now is what some evangelical theologians have termed as “middle knowledge,” the idea, whether it has much merit or not, that God knows the entire range of possibilities in the life of the world, and specifically in an individual’s life, and moves accordingly. On the face of it, that makes plenty of sense to me, but in the end I want to remain in the testimony of Scripture along with what the church by the Spirit holds as truth. So when it comes to some theology, I just don’t know. But I have so many thoughts and questions, along with regrets. I have my own ideas, not that far removed from what they’ve been for many years, but I hold them more tentatively now. And I know in an important sense for me, none of that probably matters anymore. At best it’s water over the dam, or it could even be a mistaken notion on my part.

As my wife has told me time and again, there’s no sense rehashing the past, all the mistakes I’ve made, many the kind which most everyone makes. Do we trust God for the present as well as the future, even in spite of the past? That’s an apt question to ask.

We all have our limitations, along with the gifts God has given us. We might be able to get some help in this life to overcome or do better with illnesses we have, be they physical, or even in some measure mental. Such help should be considered a gift from God, to what extent it’s God-given. And above that, the blessing that is ours in Christ through the gospel. We find helpful for us the words of Scripture as we read it, prayerfully meditate on it, and study it.

The bottom line is to accept one’s lot in life as given from God. I think we can argue in the context of the passage quoted from Ecclesiastes above (click link to see NIV paragraph) that it’s about learning to live as humans, the humans God created us to be. And we learn from the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that we are restored into the fullness of humanity through the God-Human, Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

Despite my past failures and above all, lack of faith, or thoughts that I wish I would have done this or that differently, I have to learn to let go of all of that entirely, and learn to accept and thankfully appreciate where I’m at, seeing the good in the present circumstances as God’s provision for us, for my wife and I, along with our ongoing natural concern for our family. And seek to be faithful in serving Christ in the place and with the service he has given me. In and through Jesus.

the primacy of love

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

The story goes that late in Aquina’s life he had an experience and said that his writings were worthless. Of course that wasn’t the case. But evidently he picked up something of what Paul was referring to here. He had something of a seeing or new sense of the God who is love.

We have revelation from God in Scripture, Christ and the gospel. We shouldn’t discount what God has given us in terms of truth. These words from Paul are in the midst of a letter. Paul certainly had plenty of knowledge from God and he had to make that clear to this very church. But here we read that it’s worthless if not motivated by love, specifically God’s love in Christ given by the Spirit.

To know that our knowledge is limited is an important, essential part of knowing. Whatever knowledge we have is completely a gift from God. And it’s in terms of love. The love of God in Christ is what’s behind the gift of knowledge along with all the other gifts. And the gifts are given primarily for the good of others.

What edifies others is love, but it’s a love that is joined to truth. Knowledge by itself puffs one up with pride. It’s always and forever to be motivated by love. And you can’t separate love from truth and still actually love. Love doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

Perhaps what this is saying to me right now more than anything is that I need to humbly hold to whatever gift I might have, as well as receive from the gift of others, doing that in love. Love it the point of all. Too often, I’m afraid we think of what we know as absolute and complete, an end in itself. Love is needed to inform and form what knowledge we have. And love helps us to hold to what gift and knowledge we have with the utmost humility. Knowing it is in part; we never have it all in this life. The gifts are given to us all by God out of his love and meant to be helpful to ourselves and to each other in that same love. In and through Jesus.

the unreal real world

“Get a life,” we sometimes think, in our own words perhaps, but when we view others who seem self-destructive, and on their path, destructive of others. Not to mention all the conflict and strife in the world, with cruel despots in power in too many places. It’s all quite real, the reality in which we live.

But it’s not at all the reality that God intended. In creation, God made everything “good” and in the end after he had created humanity it was all “very good” (Genesis 1). God’s blessing was on everything, with his full blessing contingent on whether or not humankind, that is Adam and Eve would be obedient to the only prohibition God made, that they should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Whether or not this is symbolic or literal, the point is that Adam and Eve (humankind) had the choice of trusting God, in God’s goodness and word, or in ultimately being left to themselves, losing their so-called innocence, more like the wisdom and knowledge God was ready to pour on them. And instead knowing good and evil in their experience in a way God never intended. When Eve ate of the fruit of that forbidden tree, then Adam, their eyes were opened in a way God never intended. For the first time they felt shame and wanted to hide from each other as well as from God (Genesis 3).  And humankind has never recovered.

We live in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be, and that includes ourselves, who we are. Neither we nor the world has arrived, for sure. Instead, in biblical theological terms, we’re fallen and broken. It’s a mistake to think that somehow through the means of this present time, we can arrive to an idyllic world. It’s also equally an error to think that excuses humankind for not striving for a better world in which love for neighbor, for everyone is taken seriously. But evil has to be dealt with, sometimes in no uncertain terms.

We in Jesus have begun to live in the real world as God intended. Although it seems incremental, and sometimes all but lost in its already present / not yet completed state, nevertheless it’s as undeniable as the breath we breathe. Sometimes we’re left with just knowing intellectually, we know not why experientially, but based on faith in Christ and his historical resurrection from the dead. Other times, the experience of God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit makes life seem more than worthwhile as God’s righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17-18) becomes the place in which we live.

So we in Jesus live as those of another realm in this realm. As lights in a dark world, citizens of heaven, partakers of the new creation, longing for and looking forward to the redemption of all things. In and through Jesus.

“the redemption of reason”

The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?

Jeremiah 8:9

In a challenging, but interesting article, Dallas Willard speaks of a crisis of reason not only in the universities, but right in our Christian schools. Aptly called, “The Redemption of Reason,” because Willard is making the point that sin through bad philosophy has shipwrecked reason, so that it is now essentially meaningless. And what has gone down with it is any idea of moral knowledge. All lost because it has been separated from its source and ground, or place, from God who is spirit, and why creation exists in the first place (my words in part here; I would highly recommend a slow read of that article).

The Bible is essentially reasonable, even when we can’t track with all that is happening entirely. Taken as a whole, then considered in its parts, we can say without a doubt that there is plenty of sense in the story, whether or not it jives with all of our sensibilities. The problem nowadays is that our outlook has been shaped from centuries of what amounts to essentially bad philosophy in different forms, which end up denying truth because they’re untethered from the one source of truth, God. And so we go gallivanting, who knows where.

Religion is looked down on as something like old school. Of course the one revelation is fulfilled in Christ and the good news in him as unfolded from the pages of Scripture. Reason is very much apart of our faith, essentially Christ’s resurrection in history at the center of that, along with the reality of God mediated to us in Christ by the Spirit.

Where does that leave us? In a crisis even in our Christian circles, because we’ve by and large retreated from reason because of how it is understandably failing in the secular universities. We have done so by placing our study and appropriation of Scripture in a separate category probably without knowing it, because we have to make do in the real world. And Scripture seems different, anyhow. Well it is, and it isn’t. It’s from God, but it’s right down to earth where we live in our humanity. And that certainly includes reason.

Again what’s needed is nothing less than the redemption of reason, according to Willard. And Christians must lead the way, or show the way, because reason itself loses all significance apart from God, and won’t stand on its own, completely dependent on the meaning assigned to it. It’s not like we have to figure out the problem; it’s in the air, just assumed, grounded somehow in whatever human endeavor, good things like science, which essentially can’t be the basis of meaning since God is not in their equation.

So we shouldn’t flee from reason, or be apologetic about it. Instead we need to demonstrate through faith the reasonableness of it all, while at the same time holding on to mystery as part of the story, what’s up, and what God is doing in our lives and in the world. And see the gospel in Jesus as essential in all of this, leading us to God and the new life in him.