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.

thinking God’s thoughts after him

I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.

Johannes Kepler

I love this thought attributed to this German mathematician and astronomer, even theologian, “a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution” (see Wikipedia article). Here is what he wrote where the above quote might have come from, although I don’t think that lessens its thought:

Those laws [of nature] are within the grasp of the human mind; God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts.

Kepler’s Christianity

I know for myself, I can easily become confused in my own thoughts, although I have long since abandoned any belief in their benefit, except insofar as they are latching onto, and derived from God’s thoughts. And where can we find his thoughts except both in the book of nature (general revelation) and in the book of scripture, called God’s written word (special revelation). Not to say that we can’t find something of them even in humans who don’t acknowledge or know God, since they are created in God’s image. But we want to go to the source. So I seek to think something of God’s thoughts after him.

That is my only hope to get through and past what amounts to the confusion within the labyrinth of life, and the deceptive lies of the enemy, which we as fallen, broken humans are all too susceptible to. And so I make it my aim to be in the word as much as possible, throughout my days (and nights), as well as taking in God’s beauty in nature/creation, which I have not done nearly enough in my lifetime. Sleeping Bear Dunes is just one place in Michigan where we live, which helps one do that. I receive a lot of this general revelation through listening to classical music which gives us something of that through humans created in God’s image. And for me again, it’s a necessity for me to try to find and get immersed into God’s thoughts, rather than get literally lost in my own.

Psalm 19 is a beautiful encapsulation of all of this:

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19


nature versus grace

Most of the few films Deb and I go to, I’d rather not know much about in advance, except enough to know it is one of those rare films Deb and I want to see. The Tree of Life is a different matter, which I would have done well to read up on in advance. I think I likely would have appreciated it more.

Steeped I think in Roman Catholic theology, the film begins by quoting Job 38:4,7, and then takes the viewer into scenes of nature, big and small. Characteristic of me, I was dozing off during the first twenty minutes or so of the film, before I got my bearings and was waking up. What I did catch was interesting, but rather beside the point to the uninformed (me) viewer. I would think there was good reason for it. Which in part is why I should have read up on the film (and why I am beginning to think I need to read up on every film before I see it, but especially a film like this). One of the sons, Jack (Sean Penn), as an older man and seemingly successful businessman (I read, an architect) is disgruntled over life. I’m afraid there are some gaps here for me, due to my drowsiness.

At last after seemingly endless footage of this and that in the natural world, the story begins to unfold. Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is every bit the portrayal and epitome of nature. And Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) is every bit the portrayal and epitome of grace. A younger Jack (Hunter McCracken) is also key in the story. The acting by the way is superb. There are parts of the film I’d love to see again, and maybe the entire film if I better understood it.

Again, Mrs. O’Brien is the epitome of grace, as in receiving all of life as a gift. She is lovely in her femininity, but only in a way which harmonizes with grace, not in a way that is tempting to men. The way she is dressed and the way the film is shot does well in doing that. And her acting wins the day in portraying grace. She sees life as a gift to be celebrated and enjoyed. And love marks her way, a love that cares and looks out for the good of the ones loved.

Mr. O’Brien is the epitome of nature in making life work for one’s self. Though he is religious (they attend a Catholic church, and he does the ritual), his real belief is that life consists of people who will beat you, if you don’t beat them. That whatever you get in life, you sure as the devil better get for yourself. Everything is forced. He wants to control everything. His sons, particularly the young Jack, are subdued and flounder around him. At times he’ll have his son kiss him on the cheek. And answer his question: “You love your father, don’t you?” (something like that) To which they are to answer: “Yes, sir.” Always sir.

Mr. O’Brien is as tight and controlling, as Mrs. O’Brien is free and receiving. The contrast between the two is wonderful. Unfortunately the two sons are caught in the middle. The focus is especially on the young son, Jack. (Somewhere in the film, they receive notice that their oldest son has died; I must have been out of it at that point, hardly remember, if at all). One time at the dinner table there is a melt down, as son Jack can no longer contain himself. Mr. O’Brien lashes out angrily at his family in a frightening scene.

By and by the young Jack, in spite of his dislike, even disdain of his father, really begins to act out his father himself. Jack does some serious wrong to his brother and words from Romans 7 are uttered. About not doing as one wants to do, and doing what one does not want to do.

In the end there is to me a surreal change. As if it is heaven, not my view of heaven, unless somehow it fits into the intermediate state between death and when heaven and earth become one in the final resurrection. I didn’t make much sense of it, except that it was an place of joy. Prior to that Mr. O’Brien had undergone a kind of conversion in life, and it was realistic. He didn’t just change and become angelic, or like some “saint”, but he was broken over his job falling apart even after many years of faithful service there. It was wonderful to see the change.

Nature and grace. In Jesus we move more and more away from the old, and live in the new. From our nature in Adam, to the grace that is in Christ.* And it is relational, as well as individual in God’s working.

I would not really recommend this film, unless you want to do some digging, and understand it more from reading. Some love it, and others not. But I found the acting superb, and the portrayal of nature and grace one to be remembered, pondered, and savored.

*Of course one is in Adam, or in Christ. There is nothing in between. But the way we live can differ, though as those having faith, it should characterize our status in Christ.