the distressing times of the last days (now)

You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unfeeling, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!

2 Timothy 3:1-5; NRSVue

The last days in Scripture seem to be from Jesus’s ascension to his return. So every generation since that time can lay claim to that. But the final end and new beginning from that has not yet come. In the meantime, what is told us here in 2 Timothy is plainly evident. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen it like now, as plain as day. We’re told to avoid them.

It’s important to not only dwell on the good, but to be aware of what is not good and live in wisdom with reference to everything and everyone. There’s much good we can do, but there’s some things we can’t do. But we can and must always pray for everyone, including those whose lives fit the description above. Even while we avoid them.

what does love think?

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by him.

1 Corinthians 8:1b-3; NRSVue

[Love] hopes all things…

1 Corinthians 13:7; NRSVue

Knowledge is given much pride of place in our world, even if there has been a severe backsliding in that area as of late. There’s no doubt that it has an important place in human existence. Wisdom must accompany it, or otherwise we’re stuck with problems like the specter (fearful threat) of nuclear holocaust. Along with wisdom, something even greater must accompany it, according to Paul. Nothing less than love.

Surely we need to read the Bible and all of life with both the lens of Christ and love. Of course people will rightfully want to know what our definition of love is, and just who this Christ is we profess. As Christians, Christ-followers, people of faith, we point to the cross. To understand God, we have to look to Jesus hanging on the cross, God in Christ thus reconciling the world to God’s self. The God who is love is Jesus.

Only love knows in any true sense of the word, according to Paul. Only the mind animated and moved by love, considering all things with the love of God in Christ at the center, and through which we consider everything, is of any value. Sheer knowledge by itself is not only not enough, but ultimately ends up being devilish, puffed up.

Just a simple word that I always need, to apply to everything.

we can’t live on anger and hate

You must understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for human anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:19-27

Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.

Richard M. Nixon

There’s not a few things to be angry about and hate these days. And that’s surely true any time, just ratcheted up now. If you don’t react with anger and grief over many things, then you’re not human.

James doesn’t tell us in the above passage not to be angry. And it seems to me to be in the context of human relations into which James is speaking. We’re told to be slow to anger, and that human anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

We can’t live on anger and hate. I find myself believing that I don’t hate the people, but just what they do. That might be true at least to a significant extent, but does anything they do or say get under our skin, so that it becomes personal, and we hold it against them? If so, we’re probably off the green and onto the yellow or red.

As we’ve all probably found out to some extent, and some as in the quote above on public display, anger easily can at least border on hate, and if we’re living on those fumes, it neither helps ourselves or others. We end up going down. I certainly know that firsthand.

It’s far from enough just to abstain from this anger and the hate which so easily accompanies it. If we do that and that’s it, then our faith and religion according to James is empty. We have to act according to God’s word, which means we act in love for God, for our neighbor, for those in need, even for our enemies.

We remember that what we hate is not that far removed from ourselves. There are things in or about us or what we do which are also hate-worthy. We’re all in need of God’s grace. We extend that grace to all others, even the ones we consider totally undeserving, just bad, even dangerous.

We hate all that is wrong, but abstain from expressing such hate to those who are not loving. We do not do as they do, but instead we commit ourselves to living in love. Doing just what needs to be done, including what needs to be said but with careful wisdom, in that love only. And when we are not animated by that, we hold ourselves back and do nothing until we can get our proper bearings.

Avoiding the destructive anger and hate which will help no one. And committing ourselves to the love with which we’re helped to help all others.

(I’m having trouble linking right now.)

why can’t we see?

Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint,
but happy are those who keep the law.

Proverbs 29:18

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
But whoever obeys the law is joyful.

Proverbs 29:18; NLT

I entitled this before looking further into the passage I was thinking of. Translated in the KJV: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The NET note is helpful I think in trying to get to the best way to translate and understand this passage.

Times are always difficult, and particularly in certain places here and there. But it does seem that we live in an especially precarious time. It’s a free for all in the sense of an unparalleled emphasis on individual rights with the idea that as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else, it’s perfectly fine.

What is missing, or so it seems to me, in part anyhow, is just an openness to divine guidance. On the individual level, yes, but on every other level as well. Why are we thinking and acting the way we are? What fallout do we see from that? Why can’t we see better, come to something much better for ourselves and society as a whole?

We’re instead beholden to something else. And as long as we continue that way, we’ll continue to reap the consequences.

another earthquake to kill 20,000 more people (and counting), and don’t forget the war, etc.

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.

Job 1:1a

I would like to camp in the book of Job for like a year. Actually if I could become quite a number of people at the same time, I would choose to stay put in various places in Scripture, including the Apocrypha, and just take it in and remain there. Other places too, like in nature. Listening to music, I’ve begun to see the value of just playing the same album day after day, say of piano pieces of Brahms or whatever, instead of just listening to it, and going on to the next.

Job is a wisdom story. There’s no way in my view that it actually happened. It certainly puts God in a disastrous light at the beginning. But it teaches us wisdom. An  important part of that is just the sheer and complete utter unhelpful conventional “orthodox” ways of helping Job dished out to him by his friends. Job couldn’t stomach any of it, not helpful in the least, but quite the contrary, off the mark.

But God finally answers, initially rebukes Job, and then goes on to talk about creation, and if we really can’t fathom its depths, just how can we fathom the depths of the person who created it all. In the end Job is left speechless. It ends up being quite beyond us.

While I believe there are good answers from a God that is good and that all will be good in the end, and yes, I really do believe that, nevertheless there are many many things in this life which can shake us to the core and leave us not only empty, but deeply unsatisfied.

Yes, the book of Job is good, so much depth. Just like all of Scripture we do well to remain there for a time. We should consider it well and camp there, but ultimately we turn to Jesus, God’s revelation in him, Jesus the Word of God. If God became human and died for all to bring life in the love of God, then God will see to it that each and everyone of humankind is taken care of.

But even so, that does not answer the loss of children and others (even cats and dogs, I’ll add horses for my wife, etc.) in tragedies and illnesses. We do well to, unlike Job’s friends, keep our mouths tightly shut while being present, and in the end along with Job not think we have the answer needed.

In the meantime we want to do all we can, somehow enter into the suffering of all through prayers and good works such as sending support to those in need. And while we marvel at the good we find now, we look forward to the Day when once and for all and forever, the great healing will come, and all will be well.

pressing ahead to God’s peace

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

There are times which trouble human souls (as the saying goes). And in this world, even during the best of times, there can and will be things which are unsettling. Scripture never promises us that all things always in this life will go well, that nothing bad will happen. No, not at all. But we do have promises that God will be with us, that Christ is with us, that no matter what we face, we can navigate it, even go through it well with God’s help.

We should be careful not to act out of fear or in reaction to whatever it might be. We do well to hold back, to try to look at the larger, even big picture, to pray and seek wise human counsel, and then let it go and wait. We’re going to be spinning our wheels, getting deeper in the dirt, going no where if we keep proceeding with a sense of panic.

It is hard at the moment and during that period of time, but we can actually grow substantially through it in ways we could never imagine. It has to be experienced, we have to be taken there, to a better place than we were before. A process which doesn’t end in this life, though I’m probably too glad myself for the intervals in which I’m okay in the inevitably imperfect state I’m in.

doing the best imperfect we can

Let your work be manifest to your servants
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:16-17

I’d like to know one single thing that humans ever did perfectly. That probably depends on what you mean by perfect, and what measure is put forward to determine that. For example, humankind has flown into space, even landed on the moon. The technology to engineer and perform such feats had to take a measure of perfection. Maybe there’s some margin of error in the mix, but if it’s outside of the parameters set, disaster could be the result, or hopefully instead a scrubbed launch or whatever.

When it comes to ethics, we humans usually if not always have something of mixed motives. Maybe not all the impurities are actually sinful, like for example we may feel clumsy among others, and fear being looked down on, or something to that effect. I think we can have the right heart in doing something, out of love, and I’m a bit suspicious that any sin, latent or otherwise has to be in the mix with that.

Regardless of how we parse that, I am encouraged by the thought to just keep doing the best imperfect that I can, and together with others to do the best imperfect we can. Yes, we’re going to make mistakes, and we’ll find out down the road a way that we could have done something better. But I don’t think we humans are called to make sure we do everything perfectly. What does that mean, anyhow? How can we really know? And most importantly, is there anything that is perfect in this existence in some sort of final, permanent sense? I don’t think so.

So we happily press on, just trying to use the best judgment and make the best decisions possible with the limited resources and time we have here. But believing in all of that, that God is able to take our inevitably imperfect thoughts and acts done in love into the perfection of God’s working, both for the present and for the time to come.

don’t go there

You must understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for human anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

James 1:19-20

I don’t know how many times I’ve said or written something with some measure of anger. I’m not sure at all how to parse this, because there may be a time to answer immediately even when angry, though one would have to be even more extra careful with what words are chosen.

It’s probably best as a rule of thumb to simply do nothing until one’s anger subsides. The fact of the matter is that some things irritating to us might need to be addressed. But what good will anger be in doing that? People see through not only on our words, but the spirit with which they’re given.

If we’re angry at all, we should stop. We need to keep our mouths shut, and give it some time. Sooner or later we’ll get over it, and then, if we’re to address it at all, we can do so much better, in a way that’s possibly helpful to the other and not harmful to them or ourselves.

There are so many things I find myself wanting to respond to, that either I probably should not because I’m rather ticked off, or simply because I can’t do everything, and need to just settle into what it seems like I’m supposed to be doing. Something that I want to keep improving in.

know and accept yourself

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 (see also 12:8)

There is something very basic to life and living, which I think if we understood better, it would do us and others a whole lot of good. And it’s part of the point of one of my favorite books of scripture, Ecclesiastes. Simply the idea that if we would know and understand ourselves better, that could go a long way in helping us accept certain things about us, and in getting the help we need, and actually finding wisdom in the process.

To do this, I think we need to be attentive to life, just as “the Teacher,” Qoheleth was. And we need to pay close attention to ourselves: our tendencies; weaknesses; our interactions with people, especially those closest to us. If we think that this somehow is unbiblical or a waste of time, then maybe we need to reread Ecclesiastes (click the above link for the entire book).

Beginning to know ourselves won’t solve anything. But again, it can be the beginning of getting the help we need. And at least understanding why we struggle the way we do, why we do what we do. This is never meant to excuse ourselves. In the end, just like the end of Ecclesiastes, and really interspersed throughout, we need to come back to devotion to God, to attention to God’s will, and to keeping our attention on God. All the while seeking to understand ourselves better.

Accepting ourselves, and wrestling in all of that to find wisdom for life is also something for us in this life, if the example of Qoheleth is for us today. I think it is.

no, keep on learning, overthinking, etc., all in awe, or “the fear of God”

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-14

I have to wonder about interpretations of Ecclesiastes which essentially say that it demonstrates what thinking and all of life is without God or consideration of God. Maybe something like that, much more nuanced is a strand in considering the teaching of Qoheleth, “the Teacher” (1:2-12:8). I think I’ve heard or seen people suggest that basically what Ecclesiastes is saying is that all the machinations of reflection and thought along with most books is simply a waste of time, even worse than a waste of time. Maybe that is true of some philosophy books, ha, although just to try to understand what is being said or what might underlie that surely has value. And what I consider a questionable and unthoughtful reading of the scripture above might seem in full support of that.

No, Ecclesiastes, even if something of this like in other writings needs some qualification in light of Christ, is still chalk full of wisdom, evidently a needed compliment to Proverbs and perhaps a bit more in line with Job. And in the “Epilogue” (NRSVue heading) quoted above, the one who shares this wisdom thinks something quite different. I don’t think there’s a least bit of doubt in the thought that we read the Bible much better if we read life which includes many books along with it. Yes, I know, and I stand as a good example of this, we are limited for many reasons on just how many books we can read. But if we would learn to at least appreciate the many good books out there, classics and present day works, I think we would be better off as individuals and as a society, even as the church. Of course there’s much value for those who read the Bible and little or nothing else. But you won’t understand the Bible as well, the point that is being made in the story in it unless you work and work together with others at becoming well versed in life. And that will require attentiveness to life itself, and to books.