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.

“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.

the danger of relying on feelings

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:24

The Hebrew word translated “heart” here refers to both thinking and feelings, to the entire inner person. We’re told here to guard it above all else. This seems to me to suggest a discipline that refuses to let up. I notice two extremes in my life which I would like to avoid. One is when all seems well and from that I can go off on this or that, getting carried away in ways which aren’t well enough controlled. The other extreme is probably more what I’ve been accustomed to: being dead or overcome with negative feelings, then choosing to ignore them and rely on rational thought with the danger of running roughshod over anything and everything. The self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit can help us navigate and find good throughout all the fluctuations of our inner life.

To much of the world, “if it feels good, do it.” You do whatever comes naturally, whatever that is. That really doesn’t work well unfortunately, because we’re amiss or at least easily led astray even by what in itself is alright and good. This passage suggests that we’re to discipline ourselves in watching over our thoughts and emotions. What we do comes from what we are inside. God’s Spirit helps us both in our thoughts and feelings. It’s not at all like they’re unimportant. And we’re involved in the process. We aren’t just carried around as automatons, but we are completely involved in this walk of life. And part of that is to guard ourselves inwardly so that outwardly we might live lives pleasing to God for the good of others. In and through Jesus.

scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.

a settled trust beyond reason

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3

Life can be a struggle. Ask any homeowner, for example, who is trying to keep up basic repairs. Or concern over a host of other factors. Money is often involved, but other things as well. Priorities, and sometimes dealing with people. One can soon feel overwhelmed by it all.

Then we turn to scripture and read a passage like the one quoted above. In fact a couple years back this passage seemed especially impressed on me.

If there’s one thing I believe in humanly speaking, it’s the importance of reason. Too often people go on their emotions, or impressions, what might seem like the right, or best thing to do. I could wish to be like some who don’t seem to have a care in the world no matter what. Usually I get rid of my cares in a relatively short time, maybe in a day or less, and soon go on to the next care I have to deal with.

Scripture does not tell us to throw our reason away. In fact just to read scripture is in itself an appeal to our reasoning, but that appeal, while not suggesting we leave our reason behind, doesn’t stop there.

We are to employ our human reasoning the best we can, but in the end we’re to rest on God, to trust in him. No matter what we might cover through human investigation and reason, we can’t be foolproof. There will always be something more to know, which we may not uncover until years later, if at all. We do the best we can, but then let it go, and leave it in faith, in God’s hands.

This is a discipline with a much bigger goal in mind than simply succeeding in doing well enough in projects which need to be done, though we certainly want to do our best in them. We want to learn to live in a settled trust in God beyond our own human reasoning, and really all human reasoning. So that we live ultimately in dependence and submission to God. We want to be those who beyond anything else have an unwavering faith and trust in God.

That can be a struggle, since we’re so used to depending on ourselves, or others. But something for us to both aspire to, and grow in, through the normal day to day situations of life which we encounter. In and through Jesus.

just because

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4

We depend on reason, yet we often really are not all that reasonable as in logical and consistent in our reasoning. When it’s all said and done, Christianity is the most reasonable of all faiths because of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (see review of a chapter written by N. T. Wright, entitled, “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?”). I don’t want to fall into a John Locke Enlightenment scheme, in which our faith is in lock step with rationalism. But the faith is not irrational, even if it is definitely suprarational, transcending it as well.

The problem for us with our rationality is in large part the confidence we tend to want to put in it. So that certainty (certitude) can become more or less an idol to us. If we can just be certain about this or that, then we can find rest, and all can be good in our world. Where is God in that equation? And if there is a God, and specifically, the God of the Bible, who knows anything in comparison with God? (See the book of Job.) God alone knows everything, and we know nothing at all like God knows it. It is easy to understand how people fall into rationalism and become inherent skeptics (see the book of Ecclesiastes) apart from faith in God. But for us who have faith in God, such a stance is ironically irrational indeed.

Scripture calls us to a faith in God, no less. Not in reason, not even in our own God-given reason, although in this call, scripture appeals to reason. The only rational choice for us who have faith is to trust the One who knows the end from the beginning, and the depths of everything in between, and knows exactly what is going on, and why, and God’s purposes in it all.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3

“Just because.” We trust in God because we know that God alone knows it all, that God in and through Jesus, has our backs (and our fronts and sides), and above all, because “God is love.” Being love, God wants us to live in that love, as well as in the faith, all of this in and through Jesus.

And so that is where I land today, and hopefully everyday in whatever time I have left. Thankful that it doesn’t depend on me, and on me getting it, but in the God who is love. In and through Jesus. And somehow, “just because.”

intake determines output

A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Luke 6

Sometimes I wonder why I feel so empty. That may or may not be bad, but it might indicate that I’ve been lacking in not being intentional and diligent enough in my intake of scripture.

I can continue in scripture, but the practice can be more like an academic exercise, rather than pursuing God, and God’s will. In my opinion, it’s still good to be in scripture even from that angle, because scripture as God’s word does have a power and dynamic all its own. In fact, the mind angle is one important aspect, and not to be despised. God appeals to our reason over and over again in scripture. Reading scripture regularly helps us train our minds to think, as well as train ourselves to be godly.

And so what enters our minds and hearts impacts our lives for good or ill. Right now we’re in the climax of what surely was the worst US presidential campaign season in history. Two of the most disliked, polarizing nominees from the major parties, facing off against each other, one troubled with baggage which includes laundary not so clean, and the other vulgar and a boaster, who seems to want the focus on their supposed greatness, to allegedly make the nation great again. And plenty of media. So it’s easy to get steeped in that brouhaha to the neglect of God and God’s word. Or you fill in the blank as to what you might be filling your minds with.

While we will attend to, as well as enjoy other things, we need to be sure that our primary, first and foremost intake is the word of God, scripture, and its application in accord with the good news in Jesus. Day after day, in fact “day and night” (Psalm 1). Our minds fixed on what will last, as the world comes and goes. In and through Jesus.

what moves us?

Emotions are a part of life, along with reason, so that there’s a time for a number of activities which need to be done, or at least which we humans do, many legitimate, and some possibly not (Ecclesiastes 3). I am moved by a good number of factors, but one of the most basic and I might add, essential ones, is simply to make a living for my family which involves meeting the responsibilities of my work. And then there’s necessary items I need (or ought) to do around the house. As well other basic things we all regularly do for good reason.

But what underlies all of life at the core of our being? What do we essentially live for, and if need be, above all else, would die for?

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

We know what moved the Apostle Paul who said elsewhere that for him to live was Christ (Philippians 1). What motivates us above and beyond everything else, and actually impacts what we do on lesser levels to some extent, if nothing else except that we are a different person in doing those things, is Jesus and the gospel, and the life and will of God found in him.

Sometimes I’m distracted and detoured by lesser things, which may give rise in me to something lesser, essentially in what can become something of an idol in the heart, something which displaces God and God’s will for us in Jesus. But God in his love convicts and brings me back to my senses in and through Jesus, so that I want to continue on and grow in what matters above all else. And not only puts everything else in place, but helps us glorify God in whatever we’re about.

At times we’ll be moved by lesser things, sometimes for good reason. But those are not where we’re to be anchored and live. We live for God’s will for us in Jesus, for the gospel. Our hearts and lives compelled by nothing less than the love of God in Jesus our Lord.

 

processing thoughts (and life)

I can’t forget either Eugene Peterson saying, or I think writing that we should read less, not more. And slowly. I have been told that I am a thought processor in that I don’t jump on something right away with some kind of insight, but rather hold it in tow, to sift through it. I think that’s right. I hope I’m not addicted to thinking, another new thought which is new and you can find on the internet (a TED talk or two).

I would have liked to have read so many more books during my lifetime. Although I’ve read quite a bit from the books downstairs, I would say I’ve not even read nearly half of the written content in my own personal library, though I have read through a number of the books there. My work has not made that conducive, so the dream of really honing in on some subject, reading widely, then hopefully making some sort of contribution in that discussion or field, is now gone. I have listened to the Bible being read over the years, beginning as a new Christian with the KJV New Testament, then the NIV for so many years, though I haven’t been listening lately, but reading myself in a way in which I might end.

In this information age, we have all kinds of knowledge available right at our fingertips. We can easily get lost in it all, probably in more ways than one. And much of it can be quite good. But that doesn’t mean we’re to spend hours on end in it, from one good thing to the next.

Factory work is not something I planned to do, but only a job until I would hopefully get into the ministry, which didn’t pan out. I have second and third thoughts now, still wanting to do ministry, and enjoying the nursing home on Sundays. But thinking I should have worked on landing a teaching job early on. Factory work has its good and bad aspects. I have breathed some bad stuff along the way (not much, if at all, now). And the days have been monotonous, boredom has certainly been a companion over the years.

But boredom, and being in a place of relative silence, now with my New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs in hand, when I can glance at the next line, but such a place can be quite good for thinking on God’s revelation in Jesus as given to us in scripture and the gospel. And how that relates to life where we live, where I live.

I have to try to fit in well to the life that is, the reality in which I live. And be content there, with all the challenges we face, some of our own making to an extent. But much of what easily happens in the world in which we live.

We all have our place, our contribution to make, along with our limitations. We gather from each other what the Lord gives to us, to the entire church. And we work and rest there. Hoping and praying and looking. As we continue on together in the gift that continues to be given to us even in this life in and through Jesus our Lord.