Saturday, March 27, 2010

Go to Dark Gethsemane

As we head into Holy Week, I wanted to say something about this post. I'm a bit hesitant about doing so, because the author is obviously in pain. But unfortunately, he seems to be making some theological implications that are not right, and it seems to me that Holy Week is a good time to answer them.

In brief, the author of the post, Anthony Sacramone (whose work I have never read before), says that he does not want to believe that God had a purpose in allowing his mother to suffer a painful death, he does not want an explanation of this, because that would have to mean that he considered that suffering to have been "O.K." He says,
And so, no, I don’t want to know whether there was a “reason” for it all. I don’t ever want to get to the point where what happened becomes tolerable. I want it forever to be ugly and pointless and cruel.
One interesting thought that immediately comes to mind is that his mother (from all he says about her) almost certainly would disagree with him right now about "wanting it forever to be ugly and pointless and cruel," since it sounds as though she now understands better than any of us here on earth just what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the joys that lie before us.

Sacramone's answer to the problem of pain is the fact that Jesus wept when confronted with human death. Now it is indeed true that Jesus came to bear our suffering with us and to be a High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. That is a great Christian truth. But it is not by any means the sum total of Christian truth on the meaning of suffering, and to truncate Christian teaching on that matter, especially to do so on principle, is to rob oneself of resources of strength and courage that Scripture has to offer. They are in many ways difficult passages to bear, but they are there for all of us and have been, I believe, inspired by the Holy Ghost, in some cases spoken by Christ Himself, and preserved for our edification to strengthen us in trouble. Here are just some of them:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work,...(James 1:2-4)

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted....Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you...Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven... (Matt. 5:4, 11-12)

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt. 16:24-25)

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:17-18)

It is a faithful saying, for if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him. (II Tim. 2:11-12)

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

Scripture is unequivocal that there is an explanation for suffering, that God does desire to use all things in us for our sanctification, and that our acceptance of this is an essential part of becoming that which He intends for us, which is our only way to joy. We cannot reject this teaching; it is at the crux of the whole Christian view of the world.

Of course suffering is not "okay" in some shallow sense. Of course we should seek to alleviate suffering. Nor should we seek it for ourselves in some masochistic way. But that there is, in the mysterious yet at the same time openly stated purposes of God, a meaning for it, that it is allowed by Him for a reason, is one of the greatest truths He has given us. It would not be an exaggeration to say that one of the reasons Jesus came to earth, died, and rose again was to reveal to us that all human suffering, like His suffering, is both "not okay" and also not meaningless--not merely "not okay." Rather, suffering, which came upon us initially by the sin of Adam, can be by the terrifying favor and operation of God an opportunity and a means of grace. I do not claim to understand this at the deepest level, but I must try continually to remember it and never to reject it. It will, I pray, be a lifeline to me when my testing times come.

If I were Anthony Sacramone's personal friend, I hope that I would have the sense not to beat him over the head with these verses. Now is doubtless not the time. But I offer them to you, my readers, that they may be a reminder and strengthen you now.

Go to dark Gethsemane, ye that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away; learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

Follow to the judgment hall; view the Lord of life arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall! O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss; learn of Him to bear the cross.

Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die.

Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom. Who has taken Him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes; Savior, teach us so to rise.

Bad Christian art humor

I laughed and laughed. These posts are incredibly funny. The Crescat, about whom I know little otherwise, is a rather salty-tongued Catholic blogger (medium-range language warning on the site) who collects and doles out to her readers images of truly dreadful Christian art. They comment and suggest captions. She has some very funny readers, too. My favorite image so far, with the caption, is this one (linked here at Scott W's blog). The comments when Crescat originally put it up are hilarious as well. One reader asks why Jesus' tunic appears to have a zipper, and whether that's a hoodie flung over His shoulder. Another says that the picture is obviously a portrait of Gladly, the cross-eyed bear. (Groan.)

Then there's this picture and comment thread. I'm with the reader who wants to know what's with the male pattern baldness on the Lord.

Here is the entire set of posts under the "bad art" label. If you have a slightly strange sense of humor, as I do, and a slightly thick skin, read the comments and enjoy a good laugh.

A friend showed me a picture once by a Baptist artist that portrays Yahweh in the Burning Bush as Mr. Clean. I have to see if I can get the link...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Strangers and Pilgrims

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country....But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

That passage from Hebrews is one of my favorite Scripture passages of all, and it seems to mean more with every year that passes. I realize that the people to whom the author of Hebrews is referring are the Old Testament saints. That is why he says that they died without having received the promises. They died before the coming of Jesus Christ. But he is also offering them to us as an example of faith, and their confession that they are strangers and pilgrims on the earth and their desire for a heavenly country are surely meant to be examples to us. We must confess that we are strangers and pilgrims here and that we seek a better country in order that God shall not be ashamed to be called our God. For He has prepared for us a city.

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are thy which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell amopng them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. (Rev. 7:13-17)
The following song is another of those that I had forgotten until reminded of it by my daughter. Beautifully done by the Gaither Vocal Band together with Signature Sound. When the crowd comes to its feet during Guy Penrod's solo, I'm much inclined to do the same.

"These Are They":

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lisa Miller update--Vermont judge has issued arrest warrant

As of last month (but I just found it now) a Vermont judge has issued an arrest warrant for Lisa Miller, holding her in contempt of court. Apparently the original warrant was only within Vermont's jurisdiction, but somebody-or-other in Vermont can expand this to a nationwide search for Lisa and her daughter Isabella. The intent is to force Miller to give full custody of Isabella to lesbian Janet Jenkins, who is no biological relation of Isabella's. Previously, a Virginia judge had refused to issue a Virginia arrest warrant for Miller, presumably preferring that Vermont do its own dirty work. Lisa's and Isabella's whereabouts are not known.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Weary of Earth--Great Protestant hymn

I want to introduce the words of this hymn, which we sang this morning, to any readers who may not be familiar with it. The lyrics are by Samuel J. Stone, who also wrote the words to "The Church's One Foundation." I've put in brackets the verses that don't appear in our hymnal at church; it's pretty long, and I think cutting a couple of verses was a good idea. Also, the words to the final verse don't seem to have the same poetic stresses as the words in the other verses, which would make that verse hard to set to music.

The present tune is very repetitive and dull, and I think it would be wonderful if one of our talented modern hymn writers got inspired and wrote a new, singable, tune to this biblical hymn:

Weary of earth, and laden with my sin,
I look at Heav’n and long to enter in,
But there no evil thing may find a home:
And yet I hear a voice that bids me “Come.”

[So vile I am, how dare I hope to stand
In the pure glory of that holy land?
Before the whiteness of that throne appear?
Yet there are hands stretched out to draw me near.]

The while I fain would tread the heav’nly way
Evil is ever with me day by day;
Yet on mine ears the gracious tidings fall:
“Repent, confess, thou shalt be loosed from all.”

It is the voice of Jesus that I hear;
His are the hands stretched out to draw me near,
And His the blood that can for all atone,
And set me faultless there before the throne.

’Twas He Who found me on the deathly wild,
And made me heir of Heav’n, the Father’s child,
And day by day, whereby my soul may live,
Gives me His grace of pardon, and will give.

O great Absolver, grant my soul may wear
The lowliest garb of penitence and prayer,
That in the Father’s courts my glorious dress
May be the garment of Thy righteousness.

Yea, Thou wilt answer for me, righteous Lord;
Thine all the merits, mine the great reward;
Thine the sharp thorns, and mine the golden crown;
Mine the life won, and Thine the life laid down.

[Naught can I bring, dear Lord, for all I owe,
Yet let my full heart what it can bestow;
Like Mary’s gift, let my devotion prove,
Forgiven greatly, how greatly I love.]

According to the Cyberhymnal, Stone said, "Of all my hymns [this] one…is the most dear to me be­cause of the let­ters I have re­ceived from or about per­sons to whose joy and peace and be­liev­ing it has been per­mit­ted to be in­stru­ment­al."

Notice the emphasis on the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ as our "wedding garment" (2 Corinthians 5:21, Matthew 22) and on Jesus' substitutionary atonement.

Great hymn words.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Rifqa Bary Update: Judge throws out parents' frivolous motion

Good news: The judge in Rifqa Bary's case has thrown out the parents' motion to set aside dependency declaration and go to trial. This is a big victory, because it indicates more clearly than anything that has come before that Rifqa is not going to be sent back to her parents against her will. She turns eighteen in five months, on August 10.

This also vindicates the strategy of Rifqa's lawyers in getting the dependency declaration in the first place. As I have said repeatedly in other venues, a dependency declaration is a dependency declaration. Because the parents made this blatant power grab in attempting to get it thrown out, Pamela Geller has, unfortunately, been saying that Rifqa was "tricked," that the dependency declaration in January is "useless," and things of that sort. But actually, today's hearing confirms the legal situation: This wasn't some sort of agreement that the parents could simply "renege" on at will. They tried that and learned (surprise!) that a court declaration of dependency has a certain status and that it's up to the court whether to throw out its own declaration. That it was arrived at by way of the parents' having dropped their objections back in January doesn't make it a "deal" they can simply "back out of."

Unfortunately, Rifqa's immigration status remains up in the air. Her lawyers have filed motions with the court to declare a) that reconciliation with her parents is impossible and b) that it is not in her interests (no kidding!) to be sent back to Sri Lanka. It appears that, under federal law, these declarations by the state family court are part of the apparatus needed for getting her legal immigrant status here in the U.S. independent of her parents. It appears that the judge did not grant those motions today, but I haven't been able to find out if the judge rejected them or did not rule on them. It is apparently rather important to get this immigration thing sorted out for Rifqa before she turns eighteen, and that is why her lawyers are pursuing a special visa for her called (I'm told) an SJLV. That remains unresolved, as far as I can tell.

Let's praise the Lord for the good news thus far.

(I'll probably cross-post later at W4, but for now I want to leave Todd McKimmey's gorgeous photos top and center and not upstage them.)