Penal Substitution versus Cosmic Atonement

It has been suggested by many conservative evangelicals that penal substitution is an all-encompassing explanation of the atonement, unlike other approaches such as the ransom view and the moral influence view. This is the position laid out by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology and, I am told, by the book “Pierced for our Transgressions”, a popular Conservative Evangelical work explaining and defending penal substitution (in reaction to Steve Chalke’s apparent rejection of it). I want to suggest, on the contrary, that whilst penal substitution is both a true and useful perspective on the atonement, it is far from all-encompassing and can end up distorting how we view the atonement when mistakenly viewed as the ‘main’ approach. At the same time, I want to maintain that there really is a ‘main’ approach encompassing all of the others, which I shall outline in due course.

Firstly, which aspects of the atonement are neglected when we focus exclusively on penal substitution as a model? Here are a few examples:

  • The abolition of the Old Covenant Law and the bringing together of Jew and Gentile into one body (Ephesians 2:11-22)
  • The coming of the Spirit in a new way at Pentecost (Acts 2)
  • The propagation of the Gospel throughout the whole earth (Matthew 28:18-20)

All of these are important aspects of what the atonement means and yet none of them can be adequately accounted for by penal substitution on its own. And there are serious consequences in neglecting these aspects of the atonement. If we treat the atonement as being exclusively about saving individuals, rather than about forming a new community (the Church), then we have individualised the gospel. If we treat the atonement as being exclusively about the work of Jesus on behalf of the Father, then we have excluded the crucial role of the Spirit in salvation. Lastly, if we treat the atonement as being something done exclusively by Jesus wholly apart from us, then we will fail to appreciate our own role in seeing men and women come to faith through the preaching of the gospel. So there will be a deficiency in our Ecclesiology, our Pneumatology and our Missiology.

So then, what is the alternative? Is there no organising principle by which we can understand all of the other aspects of the atonement? Well, it turns out that there is. It’s a view which we might like to call “the cosmic view”. It goes something like this:

Jesus has in his death abolished the old creation under the law and subject to decay and has in his resurrection founded a new creation, set free by the Spirit and established in the Church.

There are a number of Biblical passages which we might draw on to establish such a view. There is Romans 5, where Jesus (as head of the new creation) undoes the work of Adam (the head of the old creation). There is Colossians 1, which teaches that Jesus has brought a new unity to creation in himself. There is Ephesians 1, which places the Church at the centre of the renewal of all creation. I could go on.

This view can encompass all of the other views. It undergirds the ransom theory, since the devil is an agent of the old creation, with no place or inheritance in the new. It undergirds the moral influence view by teaching us to put to death deeds pertaining to the old creation and to embrace the Spiritual freedom of the new. It even undergirds penal substitution by treating us (and our sin) as belonging to the old creation and becoming subject to the penalty of death in Jesus’s crucifixion, such that we are now raised with him in his resurrection and are full participants in the new creation.

It can also encompass the other aspects mentioned above. If we understand the old covenant law as a central aspect of the old creation (law written on stone) and the Church as a central aspect of the new creation (law written on flesh) established in Christ, then it encompasses the establishment of the Church. If we see the Spirit as associated with the new creation (Romans 8), then we can begin to understand why the Spirit plays a central role in the atonement. Finally, if we see the Gospel as the announcement of such a new creation (one in which Jesus is established as Lord of all), then we can begin to understand how evangelism relates to the atonement. In fact, we can see the Church as the supreme embodiment of this new creation, with a task to bring healing and renewal to all nations by the power of the gospel and the boldness of her witness.

“Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Fighting the Dragon: Language & Dying

In the Martyrdom of Felicia and Perpetua, there is a section where Perpetua has a vision where she enters the arena to fight an Egyptian, armed with servants and weapony. Perpetua finds herself surrounded by vigorous young aids, and she is stripped to reveal a man. She then says how she is washed and girded, as appropriate for a combatant, and smashes the Egyptian in the head with her heel. She slays him and exits the Coliseum with cheers and a branch, received by a voice bringing peace upon her.

Perpetua understood what the dream meant: when she entered the arena, she was not doing battle with beast or gladiator, she was armed against the Devil and would emerge victorious.

Of course, she entered the arena and was eventually killed, becoming a martyr for Christ in refusing to reject His Name. By dying with Christ on her lips, she defeated death by death. The Satan’s pressures were for not. Perpetua awaited the resurrection as a soldier of Jesus Christ.

Now this sort of martyrdom account is very odd, rather morbid, and considered fanciful for most civilized people today. Even amongst Christians, Perpetua’s vision would be considered unsettling and fanatical. Instead, we hear Christians mostly bewildered and enraged at the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians*. Where are the victorious accounts? The World, including one of its religions (ISIS), say that the Jihadists were victorious. But in Christ, we can see that His faithfulness witnesses are the one’s who conquer death.

But that’s the problem: we don’t think that way. Instead, death is considered in two ways, missing the point entirely.

The first way is the Platonic method, which tends to be the philosophy of death-bed comforters. We have language of ‘moving on’, ‘passing away’, or  ‘going home’. It’s comforting to think that the body is some used up rag, and our eternal souls will float on to find a better world to dwell. It is the most beautiful poetry that Pagans have written, Plato being their chief minstrel. It brings one to near tears to read Socrates’ description of a better world in Phaedo. Death is not an enemy, or a fiend, or a terror, but a pleasure cruise to the great beyond.

It’s a nice fiction, but that’s all it is. Despite NDE literature, we have no positive idea of what the realm of death really contains. But if it is so good, why don’t we just kill ourselves? Socrates puts up a pathetic justification. In fact, a gnostic tract like Heaven is For Real can’t do much better. Being older, the kid is still reeling from his experience, and while he is tasked to tell people about it, he can’t wait to return.

I won’t spend much on this approach, but it does not belong in the Church. Yes, the dead in Christ await the resurrection, but this is a waiting stage, not a hope or a glory. In fact, the constant refrains that the Israelites would ‘sleep with their fathers’ is a prophetic. It would take the Messiah to point out that, contrary to the Sadducees, God is the Lord of the Living because He has not forgotten those who’ve gone before. The sleep is awaiting the reawakening. Death is not a friend, but, if anything, a temporary lock-up.

The second approach, more common to our day to day experiences for those outside of the hospice, is that death is a monster, yes, but, in reality, the ruling god. Some pair this with the hope of the platonic-dream world, others are not sure, and even little will openly admit that we are consumed by worms and maggots.

The connecting point is this: death makes you irrelevant. You have become a ghost, a shade, a shadow on the institutions, families, and people who bear your name. You fade out, and are perhaps happier, but no longer returning. There is a real existential fear here. Death is the end of you in this world. Your memory may instill fear still, but the most savvy will realize that narratives are inert. They will rewrite the story. We see this in conservative rhetoric that tries to construe MLK Jr. as some kind of latent patriotic conservative. Despite the names, the statues, the holiday etc. Dr. King is now shadow and dust.

But this is according to the reign of King Death. According to the reign of the Abyss, when a cancer patient dies, he has ‘lost the battle’. When children are gunned down in gang violence, it is a pure tragedy. I don’t want to trivialize murder, but as Christians, we need to see the world differently. The terror of King Death is real, but we see that there is One who has conquered even this monarch of the Pit.

Like Perpetua, are not the faithful victorious soldiers? Is Death truly a tragedy? What if our deaths become not the end of us, but the defining moment. Are we as the Church living so that we might die well? Are we training in life so that we might “conquer the dragon”?

This is my preferred articulation. For the Devil’s last and final weapon is his hound Death. The Devil thinks he is triumphant in weaponizing God’s curse in such a way. The demons think they can circumvent the prophesy that while they may bruise the heel, the Son of Man will smash the Serpent’s head. Through death, Christ conquered death. He burst through the gates of the Hades, and freed those captive to the fear of death. No longer must Christians fear death, for death is not the end. We triumph just as Christ did. We too must face the monster, but the Word of God has pierced its head.

It’s a heady amount to contemplate, I will admit. But if we are being faithful to the Biblical witness, we must adjust our language to fit the reality. If Death is both an enemy and a hollowed conquest, then we must neither speak in praise or of dread. Death is the doorway we must punch through. We must hate death and rattle its walls with the battle cry: Christ is risen!

Paul speaks of dying as going to be with Christ. Well, where is Christ? He is the triumphant conqueror who has sat down at Majesty. We may sleep in peace, for we have smashed the tyrant. We are in Christ, and in our bodies and minds, we fill up on the life of Christ. He triumphed over death, so will we. This is the abounding joy of eternal life: not that we do not die, but we have the Faithful One who will raise us up as victors, united to Christus Victor.

Let us not live according to beggarly ways and means. Let us speak with confidence. Let us weep with the dead and dying. But when we must face that final battle, may we do so in the full armor of God. May we slay the dragons with that Sword of the Spirit, that Word of God, which echoes truly and eternally:

Lazarus, Come Forth!

*This is presuming that the 21 Copts were indeed Christians. This is not some moralistic or fundamentalist reckoning. Cultural christianity does not mean Church, nor does it mean Christians. Despite a healthy pessimism, I’m going to assume, for sake of argument, that these are believers.

New Contributors

Well, I have had a good solo run, but have invited some new authors to join the conversation hear at LeadMe.

Welcome Chris and Will joining the LeadMe team. We all have diverse opinions, and we might seriously disagree down some important lines. But we are all brethren in Christ, committed to searching out the riches of His Truth.

Look forward to their incoming postings!

 

I am Waldo: An Old Way Forward

Over a year ago there was a small conference held on the ‘Future of Protestantism’. In it, several voices tried to find where Protestants stand in relation to Rome and Constantinople, and what the way forward is. There were a diversity of answers, of varying ecumenical stripes, of course the obvious main assumption was that in this was the schism. That when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenburg Cathedral, he put a crack through Christendom. Rightly or necessarily, the Church was split.

I have issue with this casual retelling. Firstly because it sets the tale for a unified Christendom that had become corrupt, and a break needed to be made. This is is a simplistic understanding that no scholar would accept. The Reformers were all different in their ideas and directions, most of them had no intention to leave the Church Catholic in the West, but demanded substantial changes and purification. In a sense Roman Catholic only became Roman in light of the changes made at Trent. Despite Papal prerogative, there was still much diversity that was all over Europe..

The above is generally why I find the word “Protestant” unhelpful in the extreme. It was a label applied to all who severed communion with Rome in light of Luther’s “protest”. While a rallying cry of the Reformation was Justification by faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone, this doctrinal formation was not accepted by all. Luther thought the Church stood or fell with this, not everyone agreed.

Other issues, pertaining to sacraments, politics, and ecclesiology, fragmented the many Reformers still. Zwingli denied that Sacraments were anything but memorials. Calvin’s Christological articulation broke communion with Lutherans to his East. The Anabaptists, falling out from Zwingli’s Zurich, were massacred for their refusal to conform. The Peasants who sought freedom were blasted from Luther’s pulpit, and the German reformer advocated that princes put them down like dogs. Simon Menno maintained respect, but refused collusion with princes, and stood outside the generally friendly view other Reformers had with their magistrates. All of this is to say that there was a diversity of fragmentation.

But another problem is that Luther is the first one to mount a major program of Reform.

Let it be said that it is true that Luther was the most ‘successful’ to mount a campaign of Reform. Others, like Wycliffe or Hus, were blackballed or executed before anything substantial could rise. Luther was the first who caused a major shift that affected almost the entirety of Europe with varying successes. He was the first to successfully create a political coalition who backed his changes, as any good theological understanding will effect one’s philosophy and politics.

Also, let it be known that we cannot merely lump in a category called ‘Reform’. Erasmus, who ultimately remained loyal to Rome, was primarily a concerned ‘moralist’. Erasmus and Luther were early allies, but the different essences of their reforms became more substantially clear. Erasmus was railing against the widespread corruption and lechery amongst the clergy, he was calling for every Christian to take up the path of virtue. Luther had a much deeper critique, that it wasn’t mere morals, but the Church had traded the Gospel for something else. It wasn’t merely filthy, it had ceased to proclaim Jesus Christ. We have to be clear here, there are different meanings to Reform.

With that all in mind, let me explain a much forgotten group called the Waldenses. They began in the 12th century where they were called to give away much of their riches and preach against the Cathars (a gnostic sect). Yet they never received formal authority to do so and were sanctioned by Rome. However, despite Rome’s condemnation, the Waldenses grew. They translated the Bible into the vernacular, and their study of Scripture led them to outmatch many a country priest who had no understanding whatsoever. The Dominicans were formed to combat the Waldenses spread, but also do their job in fighting the Cathar heresy.

The Waldenses went underground, and existed in small communities across the south of France, throughout the Alps into Germany, and in Northern Italy. They were diverse in their doctrines. Some rejected the sacraments outright, others accepted them. Others rejected devotion to Mary, purgatory, and the cult of the saints. Some were pacifists, others allowed the possibility of armed defense. This group had roots in many places, impacting the Hussite Revolution in Bohemia, and coming out of the woodwork in light of widespread Reformation. Calvin and his friends made special missions to find them in France and Italy, and many adopted Reformed creeds and confessions.

The Waldense distinction was lost, and they were footnoted as ‘proto-protestants’.

One interesting fact was how some of them would tell their own history. The Waldense are believed to have originated with Peter Waldo, a merchant from the 12th century Lyons. Disgusted with the treatment of the poor, he sold all and gave himself to preaching the gospel.

However some traced themselves back to elders who existed at the time of Constantine and Sylvester. After seeing that Sylvester had accepted the gifts of land and treasure of Constantine, they departed, believing Sylvester had sold himself out. This movement remained hidden and at work, and was revived at the calling of Peter Waldo.

The historicity of this is irrelevant. The interesting thing is that they trace themselves to a time where they believed the Church went horribly wrong. They thought that when Constantine gave gifts to Bishop Sylvester, and he in return baptized the emperor, the Church sold out for power, wealth, prestige, and a number of superstitions that did not belong to the Gospel.

The Waldenses believed the Church fell into sin with Sylvester’s deal with Constantine long before the Anabaptists came along! The point I’m making here is that a tradition of resistance has existed long before Luther. Even a voice like Vigilantius, squelched by the famed heresy-hammer Epiphanius, spoke similar criticisms against the cult of the saints, icons, devotion to the Emperor etc. They complained not merely against morals, though this was a component. They blasted the reign of ecclesiastics and not the Father of Jesus Christ.

Waldenses were found carrying translated copies of Augustine’s work, besides their copies of Scripture. It was for this reason that many joined Calvin’s Reformed. They had a strong doctrine of predestinating grace that would overwhelm any claim by a Papal sacramental system.

Now I sketch the brief history not to argue for any particular Waldense doctrine, but to point out a different articulation of where we, the Church, are going. The Waldense remained an underground resistance, they operated outside the norms of Medieval society, sometimes secretly, other times more openly. Their distinction lay in telling a tale where the Church traded its political station of being an alternative society, for one where they were fused to the ruling caste. Being a good citizen of the Roman Empire meant being a good Christian. For them, this was a dark day, for no man can serve two masters.

Many recognize we’re living in a “post-Christendom”. Some have renewed interest in Anabaptist theology to chart a new way forward. I’m not hostile to the Anabaptists, their heritage is commendable. But many times this distinction implies certain attitudes, and shallows out the historical rootage. The neo-Anabaptists, and ressourcement that is happening among groups like the Mennonites (vis. the work of folks like Bender, Yoder et al.), are not the only way forward.

See, I am not a credo-baptist, and I have a strong predestinarian bent. I am not advocating a counter-culture, but an alternative society. I am pacifistic, but not a doctrinaire. In fact, generally, I have a lot of similarities with, and have been influenced by, the Reformed. I can agree with Kuyper’s cry that every square inch of the cosmos belongs to Christ. Every fiber of life is touched by the reality of the Gospel. Everything we do is touched by the reality of Christ.

However, the Waldense distinctive is that I am pilgrim, not conquest minded. The Waldense distinctive is being an alternative society, underground. There is no need to master the culture, but to know the mastery of God’s hand over all things. It’s living faithfully with a pessimism that Satan still prowls mightily, even though Christ will toss Him into the Abyss.

This may seem like a quibble. Who cares what we’re called? Yet at once, I am not at home with the Magisterial Reformers who believed in sitting in courtly prestige. Yet I can not identify with the Anabaptists theologically or historically. I don’t wish to erect a denomination, or a new sect. The difference is in disposition.

I do not believe in Post-Christendom, because I do not believe there ever was a Christendom, only a Christ-glossed Paganism that worshiped the Messiah Jesus, along with Money, Nation, Power, Pope, Nobility etc. I am glad that God has called up a scourge called Post-Modernity and Deconstruction to level the idolatrous Enlightenment Moderinity. Yet even the Enlightenment was a Scourge called up to destroy the foundations of the idolatrous false Church. Babylon was called up to destroy Assyria who destroyed Israel. God uses many instruments in His theater of glory.

I am associated with the Reformed loosely, but I am not so as a Protestant. I do not look at divides as between Rome and Constantinople, or Rome and Wittenburg/Geneva/Canterbury. The question is framed poorly. As in the old story, the divide is between Waldo and Sylvester. Faithfulness unto death, or synthesis for recognition and prestige. Even though Aaron, Moses’ very brother, built the golden calf, we must not worship it. The difference is a Church who loves Christ the King or the kings of this Earth.

For that reason,  I am in the underground. I am Waldo.

 

A Covenant with Constantine

Peter Leithart is a pastor and teacher who I find very insightful and helpful. He has helped me develop reading the typologies of Scripture and grow in being ‘catholic’. That is to say, grow in the universal reality that is the Church, in all eras, places, and peoples.

However, Leithart, while recognizing patterns and shadows through Scripture, is poor in applying them. On example is a recent blog post through the book of Revelation. In it he continues his dissection of Revelation 13 with the rising of different kinds of beasts. There are false prophets and monsters all around!

He helpfully notes that distinction between land and sea. In the Biblical imagination, the Land is connected with Israel, God’s People, and the Sea is the turbulent and dark nexus that is the Gentiles and powers of the world. In John’s vision, there are monsters, warring against Jesus, emerging from both.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Idolatry flows from the Gentiles, yes, but Israel falls over itself many times in seeking other gods and masters. How many kings and priests turned elsewhere, anywhere, to avoid YHWH? It is the most recurrent theme, whether false people, false kings, false prophets etc. Many serve everyone and everything else besides the God of Abraham who freed them from Egypt.

But Leithart, in his analysis, strangely locks himself into a preterist mode in describing. Maybe this is precaution, preventing analysis before weighing things more. However, he proceeds to describe the Jews who refused Jesus as Messiah as those who would turn towards Caesar. The passage, he argues, means that Jews were either turning to the Christ or turning to Caesar in the wake of so much destruction. I don’t know if Leithart believes Revelation was written before or after the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem, but it’s not relevant.

Despite perhaps a too easy dichotomy, but that’s not what’s odd. It’s the fact that Jews do not transcend the category and that the land could mean the people of God now(then), i.e. the Church. Christian groupings are not labeled as possible beast worshipers in false churches.

Now it’s not that Leithart won’t say there are false churches, but not seemingly in the same bestial sense of falsehood. Rome, to Leithart, is uncatholic, ruled by a Jeroboam (aka. the Pope), and is separated under bad pretensions. But this too is God’s will. However, this isn’t the same as a Church that proclaims a different Messiah, worshiping the Prince of the world, rather than Jesus Christ.

The whole model of Christendom, with the two-swords doctrine of collusion with princes, or the Caesaropapism of the East, fits this model. It might be hard to hear, but there are churches among us that worship the Beast, promote its icon, and listen to a lamb with the voice of a dragon. Constantine is a mere figurehead and nominal placeholder. In America, a whole lot of churches are mere congregations of bestial worship.

We need to soak in this hard truth for awhile. I am not promoting manufacturing crucifixes or even crosses, but does it bother no one to find an American flag in the heart of many assemblies? Is it not disturbing? This is patriolatry, worship of the nation and blood. As William Stringfellow once prophetically said, the Spirit of Nazi Germany won World War 2, and was willingly received by the US and USSR.

Even Two-Kingdoms types don’t go far enough. Let me explain through the lens of the family. Yes, we have blood family, and we are responsible to those under our own roof. But the reality of birth families are not under-girding the Church as a family, but rather are submitted to the Church as a family. Your own house belongs to a wider community. Paul’s admonition was due to proximity and need: if you’re not taking care of those closest and most dependent on you (i.e. your family), then you’re in sin even if you have high aspirations.

In the same way, you need to take care of your immediate neighbors, who will (probably) be of your nationality. Neighbors are not just those next door but those in your context (your block, your neighborhood, your town/city). But how this explodes to mean nationalism is a sleight of hand that the witchcraft of Nationalism promotes. I have a passport and drivers license that tells me I’m American, I have certain cultural practices, but that is not who I am.

Yet many churches worship the Beast and go about lapping up blood through its many empire projects. Instead of spilling their own blood, they drink blood. They are not even bold enough to shed it themselves. They lie in their luxury, legs open, like the Whore of Babylon, and wait for their cup to be brought to them. Our modern clerical cabal is no different than the craven and craving coven of Cardinals that covered the continent.

I hope Leithart might one day abandon his postmillenialism, his optimism and misapplication of ‘disciplining the Nations’. I hope he one day is able to appreciate the underground faithful who were massacred by Rome, Constantinople, Wittenburg, Canterbury and Geneva. That Waldense, and not Protestant, becomes the watch-word.

The Truth is the Truth, and He will liberate as He sees fit.

A Whip in His Hand: The Mystery of Providence

The question of evil is a strange thing:

If God is All Good and All Powerful, from whence evil?

Modern Christian alternatives, instead of fielding Scripture, has been many times suckered by Pagan philosophies and gut-level cringing. There have been calls to the free-will argument. Here God does not desire evil, nor does He bring it about. Man instead is the cause of all evil, and God, who desiring the greater good of freedom, allows man his atrocities. Yet this is horribly inadequate. Not only does it demote God to a creaturely, pleading nanny, but it runs rough-shod over reality and biblical data. Natural disasters do not have a Human origin. There are ways this is nuanced. Sometimes it is still attributed to Humanity (i.e. tracing to Adam’s fall), or to spiritual powers (i.e. demons bring down floods and volcanoes).

But it still lacks Biblical warrant. The Lord is not reluctant to accept His working through evil means. Sometimes direct and sometimes indirect. Throughout the TaNaKh (Old Testament), the Lord would bring down judgment. Sometimes “natural” (i.e. Judgments on Pharaoh) and sometimes “agential” (i.e. Ordering Israel to invade Canaan). Even in the New Testament, the Lord brings death to Ananias and Saphira for lying to the Holy Spirit, trying to cheat God through His commissioned Apostles. The Lord even brought judgment on Herod for thinking himself a god.

We’re squeamish to admit it, but the Lord is no pushover. It’s been hard to see God, the Lord of Life(!), be at anyway involved in death. And yet, harder still, if He is such, then why not more consistently? There are thousands of oppressed, many who claim the name of being His People has wrought much chaos and evil. Is God not so mighty and interventionist? For reasons, one or another, some have argued so. God is in the Process of the World becoming. He is the Spirit to the Body that is the World. There is a climax coming, and mankind needs to act and bring this about.

Some of the popularity of this is in the trauma and tragedy of the 20th century. Where was God, some ask, in the Holocaust? Or in the Gulags? Or in the mass oppression of Colonialism and Western governance? It is perhaps nicer to think that God, who can do no more than cry, is doing the best He can. If He is merely the substance of Freedom, the grounds of our being, and our ultimate concern, then He is doing His job, we need to do ours. A synergism of sorts comes about, as the Body must be beat into Fitness at the Behest of God (World-Spirit).

But a god of this kind only leaves me feeling mugged. When I watch a movie-comic like Watchmen, I do not sit with any kind of comfort from the above god. Instead, the truth is that we are abandoned. Such a god is no god in a world this bad. Frankly, there is no comfort in a crucified god. It is a tragedy, perhaps being assumed into the god, but still a tragedy. Rorschach’s recognition rings true: “It’s not God who kills the children…it is us, only us”.

It’s this darkness that led Niebuhr’s Realist crusade against the Social Gospelites and any face towards the future. The world is dark, sin is real. Niebuhr (at least his thinking) was not a Christian, but he, like a Cicero, could see the World clearly. People, even oppressed people, were no different, and their chains would only pass on to another. As a song lyric put it,

“Guillotine blades release peasants and slaves,Peasants turn Princes and chain them again”

Or a quote from a TV show,

“Slaves do not dream of being free, but of being masters”

These are not comprehensively true, nor are they an excuse to validate oppression. It’s just a part of the reality. The argument for the World-Spirit god is overly optimistic, and bound for failure. The argument from the Niebuhrs, the Ciceros, and the realistic Pagans of the World is many times used to maintain the status-quo and promote sin. Better an authoritarian system that is well constructed, then wild anarchy. So they say. Of course they are beneficiaries and are not run ragged by it.

While I appreciate the cry for freedom, such a god is useless. While I appreciate the bitter realism, their view is a descriptive wisdom, not a proscriptive one. The former is sub-Christian, and the latter is Pagan, and sadly, the Pagans have a better grasp of the situation. But they both make a similar claim: the Cross is both the axis of Christianity and it is purely tragic.

But, as a blind prophet like Rorschach will admit, it is still up to us.

But what if Christ truly rose from the dead? What if He truly ascended? What if He rules from the Right of Majesty? What if the events of the world are in His hand? Well, how would we know this? It sure doesn’t look like He is ruling over the rebellious cosmos of sin and death. This is why Providence is not evidentiary, but an article of faith.

How would Israel have known what the Lord was doing when Assyria approached? A crumbling kingdom was on the bring of annihilation before a world-consuming empire. As the Mouth-Piece would shout at the walls of Jerusalem: what god has resisted Sennacherib? Do not all gods bow before Assyria’s might?

The Prophets presented a different message: you are judged, yes, but trust God, He will not forget His promise.

It was only in the mouth of an Isaiah that a Jew would know that Assyria was a tool of judgment in the Redeemer’s Hand. The Lord raised Assyria up to chastise Israel. However, at the same time, the Lord maintained another reality through His Prophet: Assyria was sinful, full of oppression and arrogance, and would be smashed for the worthless pot it was. Assyria was a tool and a demon. It had a place to be used, and a time to be destroyed.

The above will boggle us, for it reveals the Wisdom of God is manifold and deep. It is beyond our two-dimensional sight, for how may the creature lay claim to the Mind of the Creator? It leaves us with unanswered questions, and an awe that will leave us stuttering in asking them.

Chelcicky is a Christian who sought Lady Wisdom, and applied the objective Truth, the Reign of Christ, to his own personal situation. He was a man who lived in the 14th century, a time of chaos in his homeland of Bohemia. It was the Middle Ages where, for many, Feudalism was the Divine Law. Church and State were the Two Hands of God. But with a prophet’s mouth, he denounced such blasphemy.

Chelcicky understood the biblical witness. The Church had cast her allegiance to an Earthly Master, and the State had taken up divine prerogatives. Like Revelation would tell us, a Whore masqueraded as the Bride, a lamb with the voice of a dragon, and she spread her legs to the kings of men, drunk with the blood of the saints. He saw that much evil was done, and it was called good.

This is the mystery at work. Chelcicky would raise much anger against injustice and wickedness. Feel his anger:

The authorities think that the best way to get rid of contrary things is through fighting or other forms of revenge and repulsion.  Therefore, they rise up against enemies with force, wage war against them, repay evil for evil, and murder them in order to establish peace – this is the whole aim of the military service.  And propaganda always runs ahead of the struggle saying, “This is not for our sake, but for God’s sake.”  God knows this propaganda, and the people know it too because, were it God’s struggle, they would all be long-suffering, and accept afflictions…  But the warriors’ behavior shows that they are lying and that they are serving God falsely when they cannot stand a slander at home, while at the same time they take no thought of blasphemies against God

Substitute “for God’s Sake” with the many justifications proffered today, and it rings true now as it did then. Chelcicky was not in the business of justifying the evils of this World. However, he was not advocating violence or revolution. He was not a synergist, but believed in the mighty Hand of God, Jesus Christ, and His patience. The only reason that Feudal order, and all its horrors remains, is it still has a place. Even for all its terror, it promotes some semblance of a ‘common good’. The Sovereignty of God “suffers [empires] in order to keep the world together”.

There were a flood of violent revolutionaries (Taborites) who wanted freedom from Roman authority, whether it be the Pope or Emperor. Yet they still subverted the authority of Jesus Christ, and made themselves into God’s Hand. Chelcicky refused their calls for him to join them. Even though they fought against the current order of oppression, their method would only lead them back to a road of murder and authoritarianism. Peasants turn princes once again.

It might seem fanciful to cast your faith onto a Providence. But that is the claim of resurrection. If Jesus lives and reigns, if He is King, then no other power is legitimate. The Christ suffers them for His purposes. We don’t know why or for how long, but we know He rules.

God is not tragic. He is not powerless and only able to cry. He is not distant and aloof. He has not left us to ourselves to offer up pragmatics. The cry and anger of the Psalms should echo our cries. The Saints beneath the altar (in Revelation) cry for justice to be done. We can bang on the Lord’s door because He has adopted us into His Royal Son. Clever theology cannot mask that God is the Stranger Whose shadow casts a question over all claims to authority, nor can it mask His Voice that rings out and shatters.

May we await His Coming with our own cries and shouts. May we appropriate Christ the King’s Reign for our own times.

Porn

“I’ll know it when I see it”

These famous words were uttered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on a trial of public obscenity. The case dealt with the ambiguity of the term “pornography” and whether the material in trial was such and should be censored. The words above have become the sliding scale standard for how most think about porn, and it’s an impossible measure.

We might all say that porn is explicit sex, but what does that even mean? In the Muslim world, showing a woman’s hair is considered intimate and not public knowledge, it has strong sexual connotations. In the 1920’s America, ankles had a similar effect, essentially the cleavage of that decade. It was both an immodest provocation and a sign of female public equality. So our are definitions of pornography limited to cultural conditions and standards?

In current America, no one is moved by ankles anymore. Even short skirts and short shorts are becoming less and less provocative and taken as a norm in style. I’ve seen godly women wear them without a twinge in conscience. Has the bar moved? Or is pornography in the reception? Is it the effect of ankles, or hair, or legs, that moves an other?

Consider the case of nudity: one will be hard pressed to see empty shelves of National Geographic, and yet some issues have full page nudity. But the nakedness is not provocative, but descriptive. There are peoples, ranging from South America to New Guinea, whose women wear next to nothing. These photos are merely showing them. Yet Playboy magazine will fly off the shelf with women who expose much less. Why? One woman is completely naked, the other wearing lingerie, but the latter is seductive and pornographic, while the other lacks any sort of appeal.

Does the reception have something to do with the intention? Sex appeal certainly comes in presentation. A dour look, a drowsy disposition, anger, horror, terror, sorrow, all of these will do havoc on the ‘sexy factor’. Cuteness and interest create an atmosphere which is more apt to arouse. But then this is not even true. S&M contradicts this, where replicated (or real) pain, fear, anger become sexually arousing. This is considered deviant by most, but that general disgust doesn’t remove it from the equation. It’s still pornographic.

Why is any of this important? It is because this issue is so easily sublimated into our Roma-Redux, our social and cultural apparatus. If the Lord commands us to flee from sexual immorality, porneia, then what are we supposed to do? How is this applicable?

My main contention is that by making the Command into a Rule, many (in good Pharisee form) try and excuse themselves. However, there then is created a separate box for the trespassers, those who’ve soiled themselves in the polluted waters of porn, and need to find guidance. But, as Wisdom will prove, it’s not that simple.

Consider the fact that while many will claim to not watch porn, will watch a show like Game of Thrones. I have watched this show, I am not outside of this category. The story contains a vibrant and powerful story, good character development, and contains explicit, graphic sexual scenes. Some are scenes of whorehouses, some are rape scenes, others are intimate couple moments or adulterous affairs. Is this pornography? When most will consider a Porn with a plot, it’s no more complex than a woman who can’t afford a pizza. How is this not pornography?

I had a friend who was so thoroughly enmeshed in pornography, that it stopped even having an arousal effect on him. But he still found it interesting. He’d claim that he would watch it for hours “just for fun”. Is this still pornography for him? If yes, then how is viewing Game of Thrones not porn, even if the sexual elements are merely drama? If no, then is pornography purely subjective?

I use to say, and know others who do, that I did not watch Game of Thrones for any sexual reasons, I enjoyed the story. This was true for me, and I’m sure for some others. But is my will really that pure and unbreakable? How can someone watch a complete sex scene without blinking? For myself, as expected, my feelings became convoluted. There were times I closed my eyes, yet had I not claimed that I didn’t watch it for sexual titillation? And it, or the threat, was still occurring?

I would say, and it was true, that these scenes contributed to a deeper appreciation that the world was depraved. So does that mean I should spend my Friday at a Strip-club to see how American sexual mores are bankrupt? If I justify Game of Thrones for the plot, I could equally justify that I wanted to make friends with some in the shady part of society. Yet I know full well that if I went into the strip club to make friends, even if I thundered it from my will, I would fall prey to desires swirling in me.

The reality is that we are all perverts and whores. None of us, truly, are guiltless in this regard. If we catch our eyes wandering on a Victoria’s Secret commercial, we must be honest that we’ve fornicated in our hearts. Well, we might protest, I didn’t put it on! It was a commercial on during the Football game! True, I’ll say, but what did you do in the moment? Are you willing to turn the TV off, even if it means getting strange looks? Or are you willing to give up Football games, and TV generally, to avoid the possibility?

The above queries are not options I’m necessarily advocating. What is revealed is that our motivations and intentions are revealed. We don’t need naked women to lust after them. It could be hair or breasts, it could be from anything or from any motivation. But are we realistic?

I watched a music video from a popular rapper, and my heart was twisted up in it. I was enticed by lust, but it’s a music video? Is it porn? The reality is yes, The rapper even knows it. That’s part of the game, it’s part of the hustle. In this particular case, sex appeal, at the basest and most powerful level, is a power grab. While we might primarily envision this as the province for women, men are also guilty in committing the same horror.

Around the time I became a Christian I was able to walk away from explicit, internet pornography. But this is not a badge to wear. For the longest time, I would say that I didn’t watch porn. But I’m not so sure. The fact I don’t masturbate or watch self-described porn is merely a different point of the continuum in regards to mental fantasies or allowing my heart to be captivated by a TV show or a music video, let alone actual fornication.

I am nothing more than a pervert and a whore.

If you’ve read anything on this blog, you will know that the solution is that Jesus Christ, who shed His cleansing blood on the cross, rose from the dead on the 3rd day. I could wax eloquent about atonement, but allow this to be a given, lest this post get longer. The question is: how do we live as the redeemed?

Let me qualify that I know I’ve been talking about men near exclusively, but the condemnation falls on women too. It’s a smaller percentage of women who look at the physically graphic pornography then men. So the above applies to them. But there is a different kind of pornography that is considered benign: emotional porn.

What fuels the Rom-Com industry of vapid plots of boy meets girl, and live happily ever after? It’s a similar objectification and reification of the emotion in an intimate relationship, appealing to what a lot of women want. It’s as fake and staged as filmed sex, and is deleterious for the imagination and the intellect.

Anyway, what do we do? Well, many could take the above and retreat to the mountains. There’s a long tradition of monastic retreat. There are nuances, but, to paint a broad-brush, is just a worldly solution and will end worse. The demon of lust for flesh is replaced with a sevonfold demon of lust for godhood. Sexual immorality is replaced with pride and arrogance. The Apostle calls this solution false humility, an empty display of godliness, and useless. I’d wager even to call it demonic, as the Devil can appear in bright light and majesty.

Despite the negative connotations of the word lust, the problem is that we do not lust rightly. The Spirit is said to lust against the lusts of the flesh (c.f. Galatians 5:17). I do not wish to reclaim the word, its negativity is rather fixed and I’m not in the business of fighting up-hill and useless battles. So let us use the word ‘groan’.

When we hunger for bread, we groan. Can Man live by bread alone? No. But implicitly it means that, indeed, man lives by bread.  Where evil manifests is when a man would take the bread out of another’s mouth to feed himself. I mean this literally and figuratively. This is where a groaning becomes a lust. Where life-affirming reality becomes destructive.

Now sex is not afforded the same place as bread, but the same structure can be applied. The Scripture has a strong, but ordered, place for erotic love: it is called marriage. Ultimately, marriage, between man and woman, is an ikon, an image, of God’s communion with man, manifest as the Christ and His People, His Assembly.

Perhaps our groans for sex, as sometimes our groans for bread, are denied, instead finding true delight in the Lord of Life. This is the call of celibacy, sometimes spanning a lifetime, which is afforded equal good in God’s sight. However, perhaps we find our groans filled in the bonds of marriage.

Augustine is generally misunderstood in his councils, and his deep psychological insights are condensed into half-truth platitudes. But he is popularly cited as the figure who invited guilt into sex, even between married couples. He is claimed to say that sex is only justifiable to produce children, any other time is sinful indulgence.

That is a lop-sided argument, and while Augustine did give this advice to couples, and even worked it into his doctrine of sin, it was out of his own reflection on his own heart and desires. Augustine knew that sexual groans can easily become sexual lusts. He believed self-concern will always trump love of the other. He was afraid that giving unqualified permission would lead Christians into excusing sin, a problem that was rampant everywhere in his day.

His point stand: marriage is not an unqualified approval of sex. There is such a thing as marital rape. One’s groan and love for the other can easily become lustful and utterly self-concerned. Husband and wife can utterly destroy each other with sex. Some popular Evangelical advice denies this and affirms marital sex without any qualification or understanding. It is just naive and reactionary pendulum swings against a culture of repression and false humility.

But what Augustine said is of no concern, he did not understand the Apostolic council nor the beautiful and graphic poetry of the Song of Songs. And that’s the point: overcoming porn can only be found in rightfully subjecting our groans beneath the Word of God. Yes we will groan, we will hunger, we will thirst. But none of these are enough. Only the Word of God can rightly order and maintain.

Loving God does not lead to hating the creation, but learning to enjoy the creation ‘in Christ’. We are called to hate the world of this age, not the creation. We are to hate porn in all its manifestations, but not the created goods of sex and pleasure, which come from the Father of All Lights.

May my reflections help prime the pump and keep seeking the truth.

Je Suis Christien

Here’s a post by my friend over at The Pilgrim Underground about the Charlie Hebdo Murders: I am not Charlie

Check it out for yourself. He makes good points about how the media ignores other massacres and deaths because of general propagandist reasons. The deaths were bad and the murderers evil, but the coverage is skewed. Why is it funny and acceptable to insult and ridicule Muslims, but not all peoples? Why are some jokes funny, and others off-limits? Many christic-Americanists will snort at anyone getting upset at a cartoon. But then what happens when an American flag is burned?

To conclude, here is my comment I left on the post:

I end up seeing bits and pieces of “Fox & Friends”, which is truly abysmal. However, I remember them freaking out when Chris Rock made jokes involving September 11th. They were highly critical and considered him classless and unAmerican (which is almost a denial of humanity for them). Then months later Charlie Hebdo happens…How dare these Muslims? Free speech is free speech, you can insult anyone and no one should be hurt!

At the end of the day, as Al-Jazeera points out (to their own criticism), there is an anti-Muslim sentiment that is rampant. We obsess over the specter of ISIS when more beheadings and murders and cult-like activity happens in Mexico with the Cartel’s steady advance of influence and the increasing worship of Santa Muerta. How many Americans are concerned? None, because the Cartels will not be a serious competitor to the religion of Americana. ISIS is in the way of our global political dreams, the Cartel can be bought off.

Really, as it has always been, it’s a war of the gods. Like the worship of Roma and the Caesars, you can worship any gods as long as it is within the shrine of America. Allah, and ISIS, threatens that existentially. Sadly Christians, by and large, have forsaken Christ, and built their own Jeroboam-esque altar in Washington.

Not to sound Hegelian, but Islam is the anti-thesis to the Paganism of RomAmerica. The war is a battle over liturgy in the worship of Death. It’s this clash of beasts that the faithful live beneath and continue to spread the Gospel, the Victory of Christ and end of all beasts and demons, yea, even death.

Je Suis Christien,
Cal

Blood: Consumption, Cannibalism, and Communion

Blood is a major object and theme throughout the Bible. The Torah tells us that “Life is in the Blood”, and the Jews are implored to not eat meat that contains blood. Even the Gentiles, for the consciences of their brethren, are also enjoined to abstain from eating blood. Women who have their periods are considered ritually “impure” and must wash before they may lay with their husband or attend to worship. This is twisted to be some strange patriarchal fetish, but these are not the words of men.Ultimately, we are washed clean by the shed blood of Christ.

The theme of Blood is not misplaced, it is has power and significance.

Blood is certainly something that separates living creatures from dead. It separates the warm from the cold. It is a principle of vitality that most societies have understood and honed in on, and many believed strange, odd, and magical properties about blood. None of these are necessarily relevant to the Biblical witness, but it does highlight how well the ancients picked up on the significance of the plasma in our veins.

So, “Life is in the Blood”, and this works itself out in Christ’s hard saying: “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you”.

There’s a reason that the Israelites would not bloody their sacrifice like the Pagans and yet the Messiah offers Himself to His people. This does not devolve down into magik religion and transubstantiation. Instead, it has a very strong and powerful message: Life is only found in God. Unlike the Pagans, who drank the blood of their animals, the Jews would only find life in the Living God. The Nations turned to the creation, Abraham’s seed turned to the Creator.

And if this sort of life comes through blood, restoration only comes through the blood. The author of the Hebrews says firmly: there is no forgiveness without blood.

Blood not only is a foundation for life, but it is the means for washing. It reestablishes the bonds between two parties. For Abraham, the LORD offered Himself twice in His covenant with him. The LORD passed through the torn animals twice. He pledged Himself for Himself, and for Abraham. If one party failed, blood was promised. And in the Messiah Jesus, God’s blood was shed for us (c.f. Acts 20:28). His Blood for our blood: His life for our Life. This is the essence of forgiveness. Something is sacrificed in order for communion to be restored. Life dies in a dimension in order to heal. But we worship a God who stands over both life and death.

For if the Father of Heavenly Lights is not the Living God who can breathe life even into the dead, then we are left with nothing better than the Pagans. The alternative to eating God’s blood is eating the creation’s blood. If we find no consummation in our Creator, then we will, by distorted desire, find it in the creation. We will eat the blood of created things, and find our life there.

There’s a reason why vampires are terrifying creatures that exist in every culture’s mythos. We project our fears of blood drinking outwards in order to hide the vampiric monsters within. Creation has no eternal life to offer, so by eating the blood of creation, we will inevitably kill it. We find this acceptable with less beasts and other things, but not with each other. But it will turn into this so easily. The vampire in us all is at work in the shadows of all that we do.

Sexuality is twisted into the idolatry of a partner, or of the experience (which usually means multiple partners). The apocalypse of the orgasm becomes our life-blood. This is the ultimacy of communion, we touch, with extended arm, the whispy throne of Aphrodite before we rapidly plummet back to Earth. We drink the blood of the one or or many in our pursuit of life. If this is too brutal a description, William Stringfellow puts it quite well when he says:

Here are the lonely whose search for a partner is so dangerous, so stimulating and so exhausting that the search itself provides an apparent escape from loneliness. But when a partner is found for an hour or a night or a transient affair, the search immediately resumes, becomes compulsive. And while erotic companionship seems more appealing – and more human – than resignation to boredom, while touching another may be more intimate and more honest than watching another, no one may really find his own identity in another, least of all in the body of another. Perhaps this is the most absurd fiction of them all: the notion that is present, primitively, in erotic partnerships but also very often in other relationships – between parents and children, in friendship, in marriage – that one’s own identity must be sought and can be found in another person.

But sexuality isn’t the only blood-eating endeavor. Our corporate worship of the State through the cult of the Military, the Flag, and Freedom. This involves blood-letting, not only of the enemies, or the scape-goats, but offering up soldiers are holy and pure. Being in the military is called “service”. The death of a soldier/sailor/airman/marine is called a “sacrifice”. Entering in, you are brought to a crisis where you receive a new name and identity. You are drilled with mantras. You are catechised with a new code. This all maintains a religiosity about it. But this isn’t new. Militias and ragtag military forces will never stand up before a sacralized army. It’s not for no reason the Romans were saturated with military gods. I don’t believe there was any part of Roman society that was as religious as the army.

And of course, an institution built on the defense and advance of the Nation will involve the shedding of blood. Soldiers become living sacrifices, laying themselves down upon the altar of the Nation. It becomes a sacred brotherhood of gun-toting martyrs. And it is blood that makes this real. Whether its in the dying or the killing, it marks a shared experience and a bind that is stronger than anything else.

But in the haunt of sacral christendom, as Pagan as it remained, the shell maintained a sense of fear and dread. One could not openly admit to, or participate in, these forms and means. While eating blood was deep-seated, just as most of Europe and the Americas had Pagan roots syncretized with Constantine’s legacy, it still could not be open. But we are returning to Pagan days.

Instead of the dread-lord Nosferatu or Dracula, we see Twilight and Interview with a Vampire. Instead of morbid and lecherous, the vampires are sexy, inviting, friendly, fun. So with our vampires, so is our culture. The collective mouth of Americana is hot with the eating of blood. Consumerism is a way of life. We are defined by what we buy. George Bush told it was our duty to buy after the events of 9/11; this was the proof that the terrorists did not win; the rival god Allah had not killed our goddess Columbia.

Consumerism is merely an outworking of Pagan thinking. While Pagans weren’t buying from stores, they were busy buying from the temple. There’s a reason most markets were populated by the statues of gods and the presence of priests. There’s a reason many storefronts were built into the sides of temples. They were consumerists, but in a different form. Yet we still buy our technologies with prayers to Vulcan, we still buy our sex with odes to Aphrodite, we still buy our guns with kisses towards Mars. Our medicine bears the mark (his Caduceus) of Hermes the Magician and King of Thieves.

I paint a colorful picture, and this may a small exaggeration. But we needn’t take fear. The Apostle tells us that the gods are nothing, the Prophets glory in the Living God who can smash all the gods with the Breath from His Nostril. We need not hide or seek to tear down all the temples. We can still buy and sell in the Market, but we should be disturbed with the shadows cast by the many idols.

How can we? Because we imbibe the Life of God. In the Lord’s Supper we are given tangible symbols, visible promises, that we eat God’s Blood, we consume His Life. For despite Paganism’s devouring of the Creation, it’s not because Man is not a Eater. We were made with a stomach and a mouth. This I speak spiritually. We are derivative creatures. Once cut from the Tree of Life, we were doomed to die.

Either we eat of our Lord’s Table, or we fashion another god or king to eat before. However, while our God feeds us from His bountiful Hand, the idols devour men. The God is Giver, while the gods take and steal. There are two paths available, Life and Death. It’s Jesus or Belial. We cannot share a table with both. May we be fed and washed with God’s blood, which He freely offers in love and peace. May we turn our back on the endless gods who, like the Twilight Zone Episode, offer to “serve men” only to tear us apart.

For unless we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, we have no life.

Shadows & Lies: Broadchurch, Trust, & Human Nature

I’m late to the party, but I just got done watching the BBC crime-drama Broadchurch. The general setting is that a boy is murdered in a small, sleepy, English town that is the picture-perfect example of neighborliness and simple living. Everyone knows each other and is friendly. There have been 0 murders in the town’s history. Yet in the death of this one boy, the entire fabric of society is undone.

One of the show’s main protagonists, Detective-Inspector Alec Hardy, is an outsider and a hardened man. The problem with the town isn’t this external attack (the murder of a boy), but what this evil does in revealing the actual lives of the people in Broadchurch. It’s not so much of the evil of the murder, but the evil within men’s hearts that brought this about. The murder of Danny Latimer reveals the intricate webs of deceit, malice, and lust that were formerly underground.

As Hardy says to his partner Miller, “Anyone’s capable of murder, given the right circumstances”. The theme of the show is a harrowing, and bleak message: trust no one.

I’m not going to say anything more about the plot, less I reveal something. The show is well shot, great dialog, and a masterful use of themes and symbols. However, I will discuss, with the most subtlety I can conjure, the thematics.

A major one is nature of knowing and trust. Multiple characters are surprised at what those who are closest are capable of and have done. And yet, at the same time, there is an unfathomable mystery in much of the actions. Things occur for reasons that baffle the mind. Emotions and feelings crop up without any explainability. Why one love exists for another is completely mystifying. There are existential motifs, but they are self-referential. “Because it’s there” doesn’t do much to let another into one’s mind, but it’s a near refrain throughout the show.

Alec Hardy is a broken man, and yet he sees rightfully where many would look away. He is unafraid of confronting the sickness in Humanity. A couple characters say things to him like “How do you sleep with your mind?” or “I can’t imagine being inside of that head of yours” or even “You cannot belittle my faith because you have none”. Yet, as I watched these words spill out in confrontation, I could only laugh to myself. As much as they are directed at Hardy, they’re pointed at me. I do not expect truthfulness as the common instinct of men. Lies roll effortlessly out of our lips in a bid for survival.

But in a dialog between a minister and DI Hardy, there is an interesting contrast that begs the question of whether or not it is an actual conflict of ways and means. The minister is horrified at the accusations and insinuations that Hardy is making. He, a man of faith, who acts as the hope and conscience of the town, cannot abide the state of suspicion that Hardy lives by.

But that’s the question: can one live in a state of pessimism, knowledgeable of human wickedness, and constant suspicion, and also be a man of hope? Hardy is dark, and Paul Coates (the minister) is a man of light. Hardy turns to evidence, Paul turns to a confused faith in the Almighty. Hardy believes human wickedness will continue to seethe, Paul believes the town can put this evil behind them.

But I’d argue Paul Coates stands in a sub-Christian assessment. He’s trying his best in a generally agnostic town, and seeks to act almost as a mediator between God and the faithless and agonized congregation. I appreciate a sympathetic angle for a Christian, but he’s woefully ill-equipped to deal with a Fallen World.

The question is revolves around this: can we have hope or is the World really a dark and haunted place? The Christian answer, despite the split in the show, is: Yes.

The Bible will constantly evaluate men as cons, as fools, as capable of great acts of idolatry, betrayal, and murder. The hearts of men are wicked, who can know them? This only, seemingly, should weigh atop Hardy’s assessment. Not only is world Dark in the moral sense, but also in the intellectual sense. We can’t understand what others do, we can’t even understand why we do what we do. There is a mystery of the World. We are perplexed when the covers are thrown off and our bubbles are popped. Things seem arbitrary, perhaps capricious, perhaps indifferent. We look for a reason, and we intuit there is one, but it is hidden from us, no matter how hard we dig.

Yet the Bible maintains this mystery. We are never given easy answers or philosophically arranged arguments for explanation. We are not provided with a ‘what’ or even a ‘why’, except in broad sweeps. However, we do receive a ‘who’.

God tells Job, not why the evils that afflict him happened. Instead, God poses questions and riddles to him. The ultimate reality, and confession, is that Job is only a man, and cannot even begin to reckon with God. But, the Sovereign Lord promises to be good, and to be on the move. Job walks away with a renewed trust in the God who listens and watches, and yea, even speaks and works.

It is this hope in an utterly faithful one, that gives us the ability to maintain both a suspicion and a hope. It is the twin reality that the Apostle enjoins us to: wise as serpents and innocent as doves. That we are to discern, and yet take risks. We see Jesus knowing full well the hearts of men and what they desire and are capable of, yet He, the only true pure One, enters into the fray. He will upend His opponents with questions, parables, and riddles, bringing about ‘dark-sayings of old’. He embraces His friends with affection, even with a recognition of betrayal and cowardice. He is able to bless Peter in one moment, but call him out as ‘Satan’ in another.

Jesus was not the “beautiful soul” of German romanticism, idyll and at bliss, and yet He was pure and righteouss. Jesus was not a grizzled killer, nor a Niebuhrian ‘realist’, and yet He saw right through people and called them out on their intents. He is the fulfillment of God’s cadre of prophets and martyrs, who manifested similar veins of wisdom and innocence.

It is only from trust in the Sovereign King and God that we can even take risks. That we might be purified by the hope of the resurrection, and yet crafty and wise to see schemes and lusts for what they are. May we be rid of the dichotomy.