Iraq, Martyrdom, and the Whore of Babylon

I end up watching bits and pieces of Fox News, which I find detrimental for my mental capacity. I try and ignore it, most of it is rather idiotic and circus-esque. How is a bus crash, a random car explosion, or a man swimming from a crocodile actually news? It’s not, but it’s “fun” to watch. My mind feels a certain tingling of flatness, so I try and ignore it. However, today, I saw a story on the Vatican’s call for US, and international, air strikes on ISIS in Iraq.

Now, let me lay out the background and some immediate thoughts. ISIS is an organizational movement to exert an explicitly Islamic dominance. Dreams of the days of old, where there was a universal caliphate, certainly fire up not a few militant Islamic factions. Ironically, where the same idea in Syria is posited ‘freedom fighters’ against Assad, they’re ‘terrorists’ in the corrupt and collapsing Iraqi Maliki government.

ISIS,and sister militias, imbibes the same drive for an empire-Babylon as the US or China. They want to make the world in their image. They’re much more overt in attaching religious significance to their actions, they see themselves as holy warriors fighting for their god’s struggle to bring the ‘telos’ of Man. Or we could say they seek a unity in submission to Heaven’s will. Well, perhaps it’s not any more or less religious than the US or China, but more self-pronounced. Don’t be fooled. American lingo of spreading ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ carries about the same language of eschaton and human flourishing. China, despite the cracking husk of Communism, is really reasserting its ancient role as being the world power. The idea of China as the embodiment of Heaven’s will, in the reign of a dynasty, is very ancient and certainly pervades the present.

Perhaps ISIS is just more zealous and mystical than Chinese economic advance through Africa or the American surveillance superstructure and apparati across the globe. Anyway, I find them utterly repugnant and wicked, though their cause makes a certain amount of sense. I’m no fan of a propped-up, Western-lite, government of Maliki. He can’t even maintain tranquility like the reigns of Feisel and the British-backed monarchy and the formerly US backed Saddam and Baathist party. They’re also wicked (though in differing amounts).

However, the major thing is the advance of persecution upon Iraqi Christians who refuse to submit to ISIS’ attempt at unity through Islam. I am in solidarity with these Christians who have to suffer heavily beneath the hand of would-be conquerors, and I applaud their perseverance and not merely bending, and converting, to Islam. Now whether this is out of Gospel conviction and the movement of the Holy Spirit, or cultural attachment and westernisms, I don’t know. I won’t, and can’t judge, collectively. It’s probably a mixed bag of both.

However, what I find sad and pathetic is the refrain for, and the initiation of, US violence and bomb strikes across Iraq. Geo-politically, this looks somewhat akin to Vietnam, where the US is trying to retain whatever successes and at the same time keep a distance from a publicly disparaged war. Despite the hawks who call for a reinvasion, this would be too politically deleterious. Especially for Obama, who would decimate any morally high-handed rhetoric the Democrats purchased from the Bush administration’s warmongering. Of course, Obama is equally engaged in bloodshed, but he’s maintained a better image and facade over and against the war-party neo-cons who reigned for sometime unopposed.

Now I don’t know how much Iraqis, themselves, are calling for these attacks, or if there are particular vocal spokesmen among them, and whether it’s just the culturalists among them. But any public call for public witness, to despise the weapons of war, and proclaim the Prince of Peace despite the violence of men and demons, is null or quieted.

Now martyrdom is not death for death’s sake, or sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake, but a willing to proclaim the Truth, that this is Life, over and above any who seek to exert contrary, especially when sinning in murder, abuse, and torture.

Where are the shepherds and leaders of God’s people who seek to suffer with the Iraqi believers? Who trust that loving one’s enemy is the way to overcome them? That cry out for a cross-shaped vocation and discipleship? Instead I see the Vatican now deciding that US bombs, and whoever else wants to jump in, will be the means for saving the Iraqi Christians.

Perhaps it’s not just that they’re Christians, that ISIS hates them? These measures and  calls for military intervention play into militant’s arguments that these believers are just 5th column for America and the Maliki government. This is just feeding into the death cycle that won’t end and only reinforces this idea that Western presence in the Arab world is a re-invigoration of the Crusades.

At one level it’s not, but at another it is. While some Crusaders came to the Levant in some misguided quest of holiness, absolution, or fidelity, many came for the promise of riches and new land. The stories of wealth and extravagance in the East have existed in the West since the days of the Roman Republic. Many Frankish nights marveled at the towers of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, Edessa etc. as these cities dwarfed their little castle villages. The Middle East was the cross roads of many a kingdom. Spices, silk, gold, gems, fertile fields, all of these were available for those who could take them.

Today, the new prize is oil, and the geo-strategic worth of the Middle East is desired by many players. The US, British, French, and Russians have cut up and divided these lands in the past hundred years, creating states with about as much legitimacy and historical rootage as the Latin principalities a thousand years ago. Many in the Arab world see this as a replay, and wish to drive out the Christians (read European) and their sympathizers and hirelings.

For as much as Francis was touted as some sort of “radical” pope, he’s nothing different than past popes. He is utilizing violence and the means of this world in order to secure the borders of christendom. No wonder people designate Christianity as a mere sociological category. It really is for some. Strauss and Feurbach are God’s scourge upon those who distort God’s Kingdom into another Babylon.

In fact, John’s Revelation sees this phenomenon take place. It’s the Woman who whores herself to the kings of men, riding the Beast, decorated with jewels and fine clothing. This is nothing else but the Church that cozies itself to being just another function of the World. Francis should renounce his name, he’s just another Hildebrandt. Not that Rome really would ever do that; that’s her glory. She is just as haunted as during the Pagan days with demons of lusty ambition for the flesh, and the pride of life.

I know that I comfortably write this from a soft chair in a living room with lighting and no fear of being killed. Perhaps this invalidates some of my urgency and robs potency. But what if a bishop of God’s people called to be living sacrifices, literally and truly. What if there was a harkening to actually stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi Christians and refuse the demands of a neo-Caliphate without turning to the sword or to the quasi-pagan, materialistic West.

Or perhaps families and individuals ought to flee, and settle elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong in shaking off your feet, and moving elsewhere. Whether one ought to do this or not, that’s up to the particular conscience. But to call for the powers of the world to boast in Lamech’s infinite violence, while wearing the cross of Christ? This cannot be. But for a false Church, speaking with a Dragon’s voice, I suppose it makes sense.

Though it all saddens me deeply.

Robin Williams, Depression, and Emptiness

Everyone and their brother is writing about the apparent suicide of a comedic great. I liked Robin Williams, though he was always a little too spastic for me. However, his death has lit up all sorts of commentaries on why someone who seemed to have everything would throw it all away. Why a man with success, “friends”, and wealth would hang himself to death leaving a widow with three fatherless children.

I have no idea what went through his head, but the editorials I heard from Larry King was rather naive and foolish. He couldn’t believe it. Well, depression isn’t something that follows from some materialistic law-book that could easily determine whether one should be happy or sad at any moment. Of course, another comment, to merely give pep-talks every once and awhile to someone on your phone roladex was equally facile. No one wants a fake, pity call out of sort of patronizing desire to make sure everything is smooth sailing.

Robin Williams’ death was not tragic, but just empty. All clowns are sad on the inside, and why their jokes are so funny. Kierkegaard made a similar observation about poets. Let me retool it. Comics are the strange creature whose cries come as the most light and delightful commentaries. The crowd laughs. More, they say, more. That inner sadness, those twisted lips that produce jokes, they say, we wish more of it upon you!

I love comedy and joke-telling, it’s an art I regular perform. But, the slobbering demands of the mob, the raving audience, only rip apart these men. Of course the news will reel, round and round, with commentaries, commendations, crying etc. for Robin Williams. Then time will pass, and everyone will move on. Scratch that. Everyone will forget. His years will become a footnote on a wikipedia page. It’ll be old hat.

The problem is not depression. I read one commentary that said depression killed him. Not quite. There is a difference between depression and the emptiness called despair. I speak as someone with depression, though perhaps a mild case of it. Some days, internally, you are ripped to shreds. It doesn’t matter your circumstances, any thing can be a trigger that send you into a spiral.

But I’ve learned to understand that, perhaps, depression is a gift.

What killed Robin Williams is the full demands of that depression. Now I’m not going to give a mere answer that if he had Jesus in his heart, he would have been swell and fine. As pious as it sounds (and it really isn’t), it’s fairy tale junk. It’s the equivalent of Buddy Jesus from Dogma. However, despite the repudiation of the bobble-head Jesus religion of most of America, Jesus really is the only answer.

However I mean to say something a little more rugged and painful. Our Savior sweat blood in terror of the path before Him. He prayed His Father take the Cup out of His hands, a cry to be redeemed from irredeemable pit of Oblivion (a prayer that was, indeed, answered in Resurrection). Jesus was a Man of Sorrows, and carried about the tears of a Creation in chains, and a people crying. Jesus would never cease to hear Rachel weeping for her children.

The victory of Resurrection does not eradicate depression. For me, I don’t think I will ever be rid of it. It’s almost a part of me, my identity, my emotional complex, my soul. But depression does not need to lead to despair.

For any who follow Jesus and have depression, perhaps we’re called to be a sort of Holden Caufield from Catcher in the Rye. By this I mean the strange vision he has by misreading the poem. Standing in the field, catching little children before they fall off the cliff into the abyss. Being watchful the pit doesn’t swallow up.

Perhaps we’re to be perpetual valley dwellers. Beneath cracked sky, we scour the crags, caves, and cracks looking for souls in need. Yes, we may need to take shelter from the storms. When our own sadness rears up. Perhaps we’ll be in hiding for days. Maybe we’ll even have someone near by to hide with, while the terror passes over head. But on we go, searching and seeking those who do not believe the storm will ever end.

That’s the difference. Robin Williams died in the storm. His character(s) was always on. He never ceased emptying himself. But he turned not to the Man of Sorrows, who could fill him with bread in the wilderness. Just for the day. Just for the moment. The Emptiness ate him out until he was a hollowed shell that could care less for those who were subjected to seeing a bloated corpse hanging from a rope.

I pray God may indeed have mercy on Robin’s soul. Christ’s blood is for him, and may have been applied yet. Satan loves to assail, and kill us on our life’s journey, especially through these internal means.

But for us who remain, for the time we have, may we make more. May those who live in the Valley, until the Day comes for the Feast, look out for others there. May we apply the blood of the Lamb, commissioning more to go and do likewise.

Liberated for the Void: Thoughts on Anti-Christ

Nietzsche liked to style himself as the anti-Christ in his writings. He thought that the emptiness of Western Civilization was bound to eventually crumble, but not quite yet. That was the point of his parable of the crier of the Death of God. The ‘evangelist’ (this might not be the right word for it) comes shouting that God has died, and everyone in the town looks at him funny. The messenger realizes that these people, who themselves had murdered God, were not ready for the news yet. So he departs with the knowledge that his fellows were ignorant of the reality.

Nietzsche’s point was that Western Civilization, post Enlightenment, was built upon the corpse of a god. Hegel and Kant may be considered as a strange pair of morticians who arranged the god’s body in such a way so that he still looks like he’s alive and kicking. Like a sick rendition of Weekend at Bernie’s, the Philosophs know that god is no more, but they still have use for that hypothesis.The divine need to be the a priori to explain morals, ethics, civilization, culture, and the movement of history. Without this god, the West would collapse.

This is exactly what Nietzsche would hope for, but not in a death-drive, suicidal way. He thought that this destruction would clear the way for a new set of lies. Nietzsche did not believe there was anything but the void. However, while we Humans, strange as we are, remain, we might gracefully dance before Oblivion. There was no “truth”, but differing degrees of lies. We must strive for the most beautiful and majestic of the lies. We need a remolding after the likes of the heroes of Homer.

Nietzsche was sick and tired of what he called “slave morality” of Bourgeoisie Christianity. We needed fierce, cruel, and beautifully horrifying movements of passion.The industrialist Bourgeoisie were dull and life denying, which Nietzsche equated with the contents of Christianity. He wanted to liberate all our violence and passion. He wanted to be a Dionysus, awakening both ecstatic pleasure, violence, and madness. There would Eros and Thanatos, in Freudian terms, unbound.

Nietzsche ended his life in a madhouse, he drove himself insane. But why? Because his eyes were opened, but only to see the Void. He respected Christ Jesus, but he gazed into the Dark even deeper. He lost his mind in pondering what it would be like to dance before the Black Hole of Nothingness. He was free to move amongst men, and there is a certain nobility in this.

Nietzsche was wrong about what the Gospel was, and what the Church is. However, he represents an interesting point: was he anti-Christ? Or let me refine: is anti-Christ present in the lukewarmness of the evils of Sacralized and Socialized Christianity? Or is it in this turning to the Void? With eyes opened, gazing deep into the darkness and trampling the Christ beneath our feet? Or both?

I won’t answer the question, but give more thoughts to the latter. Don Draper in Mad Men represents one of these Void-Gazers. In seeing him interact, in some ways he seems to merely move through people and mores like a shade. Problems of conforming to social mores and norms never afflict him in the same way that they do to other characters. He is free from this. Even the Bohemians, which he occasionally interacts with, are shackled on the otherside of the spectrum. They war against society, but in order to reform, alter, and change it. They are looking for the flip-side of the same thing. They’re, so to speak, playing by the same set of rules.

Like Nietzsche’s anti-Christ persona, Don is free to see the emptiness that people build upon. This is not a moment of despair, but a moment to really live, to dance gracefully before the Void. Or in his words, living like no tomorrow because there isn’t one.

There is majesty in this because of the brief moment of serenity it can create. Some see the emptiness, but try and sure up the foundations. Someone like Robert E Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, would write and lament the endless cycle of civilization and barbarism. There was space, in the moment, to fight the hordes, but for him it was hopeless. We must try, however, to preserve and last before we plummet into the primordial ooze we are shaped from. However, the liberated Void-Gazer, can breathe easy. He isn’t frantically trying to preserve his favorite myth.

The reason this person could be considered anti-Christ is because he has rejected that Christ came in the flesh. That is to say, they reject there is a concrete hope that has plummeted through the Void and returned with its key. That there is a god who is not dead, but a Living God, more mysterious and profound than even the Void, whose voice melts the very elements of Creation, and reshapes them accordingly.

The Bourgeoisie alternative may be equally damning, subjecting the Holy One to conventions and structures for the purposes of Men. This is the project of Babel, this is Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.  Sometimes these men are busy, busy bees, other times they’re the Ciceros and Kissingers who see Nothingness, but fight to protect the city gates from the Barbarian onslaught.  Either way, they do not believe the Christ is Risen and Ascended on High.

My fondness for Don Drapers and Nietzsches is in their freedom. Sadly, we many times cannot see that the Spirit of the Lord promises that Freedom and more. Not only can we live as Pilgrims, not slaves to the systems of Men, but we can live. Our lives are not brief flutters before the Abyss. Or as Henry VIII in the Tudors described it: the brief flight of a bird through a banquet hall before returning to the English winter of Nothing. Jesus brings Life and Life Abundantly.

My personal struggle is with this Freedom. It is so very hard to live free. It is hard to keep the barnacles of the demands of this world to attach to my soul. But the truth of this freedom is love. May my, and your, heart be inflamed by love. May the Holy Spirit dawn. May we have true freedom and life, not as a Nietzsche or a Tillich.

Christ Reigns. Amen.

Blessings of Future Past

Today’s thought is on Jesus’ command to constantly ask for forgiveness. This appears all throughout many gospels, and this can seem a bit odd in light of certain considerations, such as: what about the cross?

What I’m asking is that, how many might teach it, on the cross, Jesus atoned for the sin of the world. There a forgiveness was brought about that, in its ultimacy, blotted out all crimes and wickedness. This might be tempered with considerations about the unforgiveness for the blasphemy of the Spirit. But then, this teaching came before the crucifixion. Now some have posited that the forgiveness that accompanied the healing was in light of the future event. Which is interesting for my point.

Consider also the Pauline emphasis on the once-and-for-all nature of what Jesus had done in light of the very, seemingly, contingent nature of what Jesus teaches. Paul preaches a forgiveness wrought within an event, Jesus talks about the constant need to turn towards Heaven. Is there a divergence? I do not believe certain interpretations that there were different schools of the Gospel, rather modern people might be jamming the thoughts of the Apostles into false categories.

What I’m getting at is a certain question of time and the Jesus event. There is a reality of an ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ at work in the Gospel. There seems to be a couple definitions of time, between Chronos and Kairos. The former is the regular linear progression, whereas the latter has to do with ‘age’ shifts. This is not something we’re not accustomed to consider, with the Modern age flattening out time to be a straight line. There are no breaks, there are no parallel lines, there is no intervention of timeless eternity shattering the mold.

Time is a strange concept. We can’t really ever see it. As Augustine would comment: we recall and draw up the past, we speculate about the future, but we flip in and out of the present without the slightest awareness. This is very true, time is a slippery and strange thing, if we can even call it a ‘thing’ in the first place. However, even with such impossibilities in handling time, which has rightly been likened to stand, sliding right out of our grip, it doesn’t mean time is merely subjective.

Kant would posit that time is an imposition of the Human mind upon things. This is wrong. Even if we can’t catch time, we’re effected by its passing. Despite sci-fi movies where memories are implanted, I’m skeptical about the validity of this happening. The imprint left from real, past, events is different the ethereal remains of dreams. External realities have a certain gravity to them, and though minds are involved, the mental worlds we build lack permanence. I won’t get into the epistemological knot this might pose, that’s for another day.

However, time is a creational ordinance, even if we’re promised an ‘age’ or a ‘world’ without end. It’s immortality, perhaps like our resurrected bodies and souls, is conditional upon the Creator who made such realities. While some philosophers, akin to the Greek fables of old, posited time as eternal, that old man Chronos sat with his hour glass alongside Terra Firma. The Pagans, whether ancient or modern, believed created things to be gods. Yet the Truth would still have its day, and Einstein, among others, would posit and show proofs that time, while real, was conditional and flexible. Time was not universally the same. I’m not really sure what this even means.

Why I’m talking about time is how it links up with how we consider the events of Golgotha for ourselves. Why do we ask for forgiveness if we’ve already received it? Or have we? Or are we?

The question revolves around how God interacts with time, and the reality is we haven’t even a clue. It’s like a fish trying to describe what being in outer-space is like. Perhaps the swirling repetitions in John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ can give us a glimpse. Time seems to repeat the same story, through many different angles, stopping to explain this, speeding up to the next point, going backwards. It sounds rather authorial, an art of sculpting. But we don’t know, not really.

One of the major themes for Paul, and even the whole of the Scriptures’ writers, is that the Messiah changed everything. In Jesus Christ, there is a whole new world, a whole new creation. This is a break in the Human times we’re used to. The death, resurrection, and ascension of the Christ, which did indeed occur in our chronos, was the Time, the kairos, where something new began. Yet things keep on going. This is the already/not-yet I mentioned.

But are they really just going on? Yes and No. In Christ, there is a new world, a hope for reconciliation, whereas those living beneath the aegis of the Old continue on. For the New, there is everlasting life, boundless love, and the increasing growing into our Lord. For the Old, there is alienation and obliteration; the Creation disintegrating into the formless mass that it began as. In Jesus, we see the New at work, but all around us, the Old screams that it is all that it is.

However, as we see Jesus, we see that we’ve not received what He received. The dead still lay dead. However, perhaps, in Jesus, the promise is so sure, we live in hope, in confidence, of things we do not have, but are promised to us. We are not yet justified, but because Christ was justified, declared not to be the guilty blasphemous worm that the powers that be marked Him as, we who are with Him will be as well. The Future has not yet come, but it has come. In Christ, the Future for us has reached back to all our Presents.

But it has not yet come. We ask the Lord to forgive us, because we are not yet forgiven. But in confidence, in asking for forgiveness, we know it is bestowed upon us. Christ is the forgiveness of all sins. We ask because we know. In such a forgiveness, we will be justified and sanctified. But such hasn’t happened yet, but the Holy Spirit has placed such a mark. The Promise is carved into our new hearts, hearts cut from the same Holy Heart of our Lord, not made of stone.

Many times our prayers seem uncertain, and we must ask in humility for God’s will to be done. But in the cosmic sense, we know God’s will. His name is Lord Jesus. We can continue to utter muddled prayers for this and that with confidence. His life is our future.

Plato was a Thief

Through a couple conferences I’ve been to, through my congregation’s ecclesial network, and the conversation with a couple others, the phrase ‘metaphor’ has come up more than once. The context of this is in describing God’s designations throughout the Bible, some of which are ‘Healer’, ‘Warrior/Lord-of-Hosts’, ‘Judge’ etc. The following will be some of my thoughts, without any real conclusion on this mental knot.

At first, I was a little disconcerted with the idea of ‘metaphor’, but I wasn’t quite sure why I had issue with it. In fact, in the past, I might have been comfortable and used this term in arguments and disputations. However, recently, I was able to put my finger on my growing discomfort with this phrase. It puts the weight of importance upon Human reception and articulation, and less on the Divine Revelation Himself. At one conference, the constant refrain was “God is like a Warrior…God is like a Judge”.

Is it too much to wonder if they’re putting the burden on the Human reception of God’s Word? This has certainly happened, and is a hallmark of christic Liberalism. This religion teaches the Biblical witness is Man’s attempt to make sense of God, which they might put in quotations to denote even this word’s fleeting use. The Scripture contains no infallible, Spirit-writ, Truth, but a fallible approximation. It’s a fumbling in the dark instead of harkening to the Light.

Now, the group I’m referring to are not adherents to Liberalism, though I think their pool has been tainted by certain assumptions, but I’ll come back to that. Let’s, instead, allow Liberalism’s stance, including the fleeting use of the term ‘God’. It is true that the word ‘god’, in the Hebraic/Near-Eastern context, was not all encompassing phrase. It had to do with judgement and reign. That’s why there could be varying degrees of god in the Canaanite pantheon, just as in the Hellenic and Norse pantheons. Some gods were enthralled to others, some could be wounded, some had narrow roles, while others were more managerial. This was the world which the Biblical witness operated within.

But even if the word ‘God’ is conditional, this isn’t the problem. The issue is the starting point of the entire conversation. The inherent assumptions in the use of ‘metaphor’ are in the operation of the Scriptural witness. What we are saying is that Human interpretations are coming first within Revelation. It means the Human author, and Human reception, are taking precedence within the act of Revelation. God’s revelation is conditioned by the Human audience.

This does not mean Liberalism, where man is poking and pondering about the divine. Liberalism promote the view that all religions are grasping at the same reality, none of it divinely ordained, and some of which are closer to reality. However, ultimately, we’ve progressed beyond the limitations of earlier times. Liberalism’s project may be found in a combination of Hegel’s systematics and Kant’s skepticism of metaphysics. It’s all in a Christian shell, but it’s a totally different nut. When I read about Hegel’s triune modeling of reality, I could only shake my head. This is a completely different religion.

This isn’t what my compatriots are doing. They’re not denying Biblical inspiration or Christ’s exclusivity. The ‘metaphor’ language is, perhaps, an attempt to maintain the multiplicity of revelations and self-descriptors that the Lord of Glory uses. It’s not allowing one to run-over all the others. It’s keeping in check our human propensity to control the Divine Word by vain imaginings. I’ve certainly read some very odd theological thoughts regarding the Lord as Husband and sex. The mystery of God is maintained, and all we have is Divine stooping.

However, is that how the Scripture testifies? I’m all for suspending man’s arrogant speculation, and trying to build our little intellectual towers of Babel. But consider the example of the priesthood, written in Hebrews, involving the institution of the Aaronic High Priest, the Tabernacle, and both of their fulfillment:

Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.

This frame puts everything backwards than the language of ‘metaphor’ and ‘stooping’. Instead, the Humanly is the copy, the shadow, of the Heavenly reality. Moses and the Israelites were not commanded to make sacrifices based upon ANE culture-induced assumptions of sacrifice and the holy. The Lord wasn’t reacting to what was, but setting a strict copy-based reality that unenlightened Humans fumbled about with. The human institutions of government, priesthood, marriage (and many others) are not autonomously invented, they’re copies of reality. At their best, they’re shimmering reflections of God’s Reign and Reality, at their worst, they’re imposters and distorted and twisted corruptions.

I suppose this question gets at the philosophical distinction between Realism and Nominalism. How much stock are we putting in the things around us? Are their names really real, or are they convention? Or are they some sort of middling? But this is a little too far off scope.

Instead, let’s consider the writings of formerly Pagan, and philosophically inclined, Justin Martyr. One of his major arguments, and accusations, was that Plato stole from Moses the idea of the ‘Forms’. This defended the Church from accusations that they were a novel cult, and had no root in history, but also turn the argument around on the critics. They were heirs to a plagiarizer, and their ideas had shorter roots than the Christians.

Despite the title, I doubt Plato ever read Moses. However, he was heavily influenced by Pythagoras, who spent many years learning in Egypt. This is a red herring, and we’ll get nowhere trying to hunt down what exactly happened, and how Pythagoras, and Plato, developed the forms, both mathematically and ethically respectively.

Now it is popular to talk about the Hellenizing of Christianity over the centuries. I don’t doubt that it happened, but generalizations are misleading (I’m aware of the irony of this statement). We have to take each writer, and each voice, in their own place, and not lump them all together. Some Christians attempted to synthesize with the prevailing currents to gain intellectual respectability. Others might have seen the use in pulling certain phrases and insights and repurpose them. Even more, language and grammar might be inherited without active consideration for its origin.

There is no doubt Plato had a major influence in the early Church, but we might exaggerate this. We have to ask where the overlap with observance and mere grammatical similarity occurs. Where is the difference between using Plato and following Plato? An example, I would argue, might be between Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, or even between Ambrose and Augustine(!). It’s my contention that Augustine was not a Christian Platonist, though he certainly borrowed grammar and concepts. At least, not as he matured. He certainly found much to use amongst the neo-Platonists of his day.

The point is not what Augustine, or anyone else thought. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if I was wrong. The point is how we go about receiving God’s self-revelation, which truly and fully is in Christ Jesus. None of my friends would ever say “God is like Jesus Christ” at the expense of confessing “God is Jesus Christ”.

In fact, in Christ, all of the shadows of the Old came to fulfillment. Jesus was, is, and will be, the Real which all of the other shadows stood as copies. Jesus is the King, not merely like a king, though David, and his line, were copies of the divine reality. The mark against Kingship, in Samuel’s dialog with his Lord, was not Israel having a king, but denying God as their King.

It may seem crude to some, but we can, and should, talk about Heavenly realities in the terms the Bible gives. Paradise will be a city, the Heavenly Jerusalem. In fact, it’s not a city, but the City. It will be more City than any other city has ever approximated, yea, even Jerusalem, which was the God-ordained copy. Even more importantly, our lives and existence are not not metaphors, but copies. We won’t be something else, but more us than we could ever conceive of.

However, this also raises questions of other earthly realities. Here-and-now, there is marriage and sex, but in the resurrection there will be no more marriage. Is this a case of a metaphor in action? Maybe there’s a mix employed, where some of creation is a copy or shadow of the Reality, where others are creaturely ordinances to be enjoyed, and point away from themselves, as differences to the Reality. Thus, there is no sex in the resurrection, but because this was employed as a metaphor to true unity and life-creation.

Whatever is the truth, the point of these considerations is too take the Lord seriously on His own terms. He set the boundaries of peoples and sustains all things. He was not limited by the appreciations and understandings of His people, though the means He employed were not perfect, and were to be replaced by the better. Maybe our assumptions that the Almighty would work this or that way need to be questioned. Regardless, His Wisdom surpasses our attempt at cultural analysis and apologetic defenses.

May we seek the Truth in reverence.

The Cursed Middle Way

I came across this while re-reading Petr Chelcicky’s Net of Faith

[M]an is not as bad as to want to deny God and relinquish Him; on the other hand you will find very few who want to cling to God with their whole heart.  It is this accursed middle way that offers a relaxation to both [priest and layman].

Here Petr points out a rather interesting insight, one that is rather damning for our christic American religion complex. He is revealing how mankind’s tendency to be lulled into apathy, lukewarmness, and general self-indulgent approach becomes part and parcel to demoniac religion. How much more in America where the slothful and self-absorbed is the way of life, and the norm.

Chelcicky is not downplaying man’s rebellion toward his Maker, rather this comes across through a different path way. It is by far the rarer for a man to openly be hostile and hate the Creator, to despise and scorn his rightful Lord. Especially in our liberal climate, most have high ideas and thoughts and want the best for this world. It’s a much darker reality that man would snicker at his King, than out rightly attack him.

Of course, this sort of cultured-dispiser attitude, which might characterize the Athenians who attended Paul’s preaching at Mars Hill, was not what Chelcicky was attacking. His invective was not directed at these tepid peoples. In fact, the tone of this passage is one of pity. Petr was describing poor, uneducated peoples who were at the behest of the clerical authority in Medieval Europe. These priests, who were many times just educationally a rung higher above the common people, would teach and maintain man-made traditions and quench the Gospel. It became about liturgical routine instead of life in the Spirit. It was about Latin formulae, and not peace, joy, love, and righteousness.

The peasant and lay peoples wanted to honor God in some capacity, but in another, never wanted too much demanded of them. It was perhaps a reason why the Medieval Sacral Complex arose, with the common people left to the ministration of the clergy, and the monks to live out the heroic demands of what was so-called “perfection”.

It’s apart of the flood of the church by the half converted, and ambitions in newly minted Christian empire. How many joined the church out of desire to be apart of Constantine’s, and his progeny’s, new nobility? And many were welcome to rearticulate the Truth so it was palatable for everyone. There was no shock or demand from the Gospel. God was not the Resurrected Lord, revealed completely in His Incarnation, Jesus Christ. Instead vague notions of God being the Governor, the supreme ruler, who was reflected in the ministration of the Emperor, became the norm. Jesus was never cut out, but the Scripture’s narrative was trampled beneath half-Pagan notions.

Today, there are many who are essentially the same. Notions of God, whether christianly defined or not, are conformed not to the Spirit of God but the spirit of the times. So many a preacher are willing to accommodate the Truth, twist and morph it, and present some other gospel than the King of Glory being nailed to a tree.

Many could point out this or that preacher or church for their faults. Some have banished the concept of sin, and man’s radical corruption. Others have domesticated the Jesus of Scripture, either robbing Him of His holy and fierce divine love, or stripping Him of His humanity, and making Him mythological and shade-like. Others have introduced entertainment and crowd-pleasing as the ethos, investing in the modern methods of mass-media and propaganda that our news and advertisement industries do so well. It’s almost beautiful, in a sickening and hideous way. We don’t need to burn books anymore, the American mind is so diluted and unfocused, the Truth could be standing right in front of us, and we’d merely yawn. But I digress.

The point isn’t the above, these are just symptomatic. What’s at root is generally putting man at the center, and God is the major supporting actor to our individual dramas. So we are fed accordingly, but not even so. The disordered desires that afflict us, including me, are not “natural” but sculpting of twisted seedlings within. As an example, we may be born with broken sexualities, but our minds are sculpted by our society to be thoroughly pornified.

Our religions thusly accommodate, allowing people to feel ok. In contradistinction, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ calls everything into questions. Our whole way of life and being is called into question. Whatever we were doing, Jesus intervenes and commands: “Follow Me”. There is no time to bury the dead, or to plant fields, we must immediately run to Him, wherever He takes us. This is not to deny struggles with the flesh, the world, and the Devil. But there is a shift, a changing of loyalties.

But this religion of Christ is too much, so it’s watered down. Instead of being free, in light of the power of Christ, we’d rather dream that everything is smooth sailing. Instead of seeing all our wickedness nailed to the cross, we’d rather it just not be there. We’d rather have a means to deal with it, and excuse ourselves of the implications.

The clerics of Chelcicky’s day, and ours, many times would sell us whatever it is that we want to hear, whether masochistic writhing from a fundamentalist, a coma-inducing balm from the legion of Oprah, a patriotic oeuvre to America, or a humanistic call to social justice in the best of the Liberal tradition. People want to feel like they’re doing right by God, without the taking to bearing our crosses, as Jesus commands us.

Now let it be known, I’m not calling to a heroic life. Chelcicky may be wrongly thought to be saying that man can love the Lord with all his heart, and maybe that is what he said. But I understand him rather that our calling, our religion, is the want to love God with all our heart. That’s not saying that man will even want that love all the time. Instead, it’s the Spirit within us that stirs us to want that want of the Love of God, to follow Him all the closer.

The difference is that our hearts have become flesh, and live on a rhythm of repentance, as our lungs live on a rhythm of breathing. It’s all in the little things, following the Faithful One, even as we fall short. Such is hard in a milieu of the cursed middle.

Sin and Life

I write a lot of criticisms about many evils that people call good, and sometimes worship. However, may it never come off that I somehow hold myself exempt. I have whored around, I have been vicious. I struggle with colossal pride, and an “only the strong survive” internal ethic. Everything I write about, I struggle with in some capacity. Yet there is a higher calling at work in Scripture, that in following Jesus, one is born into His life. This can be a confusing dynamic, no longer in sin, yet always struggling with it.

Without further ado, here is a quote from P.T. Forsyth on this topic. I found it helpful and worth meditating upon:

The difference between the Christian and the world is not that the world sins and the Christian does not. It suits the world to think that it is; because it offers a handy whip to scourge the Church’s consistency while resenting its demands. But such a distinction is no part of the Church’s claim. Nor does it mark off the Christian’s worldly years from his life in Christ. A difference of that kind is merely in quantity—all the sin on the one side, none of it on the other. But the real difference (I must say often) is not in quantity; it is in quality. It is not in the number of sins, but in the attitude toward sin and the things called sin. It is in
the man’s sympathies, his affinities; it is in his conscience, his verdict on sin, his treatment of it—whether the world’s or his own.

The world sins and does not trouble; it even delights in it. In sin it is not out of its element; it may even be in its element and most at home there. The fear and hate of sin is not in the least its temper. But with the Christian man there is a new spirit, a new taste, bias, conscience, terror, and affection. His leading attitude to sin is fear and hate. His interest, his passion, is all for good and God. He himself is different from himself. He is renewed in the spirit of his mind. He may indeed lapse. The old instinct, the old habit, breaks out, and surprises him off his guard. The old vice fastens on him in a season of weakness. The old indifference may creep back. Mere nervous exhaustion may make him feel for a long time as if the spirit had been taken from him.

But these are either interludes, or they are upon the outskirts of his real nature. The loyalty of his person is still true, and his course in the main is right, whatever deviations the storms may cause, or however the calms may detain and irritate him. What is the thing most deep and assertive in him? I mean, what is most continuous in him? I do not ask what asserts itself oftenest, but what asserts itself most persistently on the whole, and in the end most powerfully and effectively.

What is the real and only continuity of his life? Is it a sinful temper and bias, a sinful joy or indifference, broken only occasionally, and ever more rarely, by spasms of goodness, glimpses of holiness, freaks of mercy and truth? Or is it the sympathy and purpose of holiness, clouded at times by drifts of evil, and cleft, to his grief, by flashes of revolt? That is the question. And it is the way the question will be put at the last. It will not be, How many are your sins and how many your sacrifices? but, On which side have you stood and striven, under which King have you served or died? A man may abide in the many–mansioned, myriad–minded Christ, even if the robber sometimes break into his room, or if he go out and lose his way in a fog. You stay in a house, or in a town, which all the same you occasionally leave for good or for ill. The question is, What is your home to which your heart returns, either in repentance or in joy? Where is your heart? What is the bent of your will on the whole, the direction and service of your total life? It is not a question settled in a quantitative way by inquiry as to the occupation of every moment. God judges by totals, by unities not units, by wholes and souls, not sections. What is the dominant and advancing spirit of your life, the total allegiance of your person?

Beethoven was not troubled when a performer struck a wrong note, but he was angry when he rafted with the spirit and idea of the piece. So with the Great Judge and Artist of life. He is not a schoolmaster, but a critic; and a critic of the great sort, who works by sympathy, insight, large ranges, and results on the whole. Perfection is not sinlessness, but the loyalty of the soul by faith to Christ when all is said and done. The final judgment is not whether we have at every moment stood, but whether having done all we stand—stand at the end, stand as a whole.

Perfection is wholeness. In our perfection there is a permanent element of repentance. The final symphony of praise has a deep bass of penitence. God may forgive us, but we do not forgive ourselves. It is always a Saviour, and not merely an Ideal, that we confess. Repentance belongs to our abiding in Christ, and so to any true holiness.

The Nihilism of Utopia

My dad would, after having listened to Michael Savage or Rush Limbaugh, reminisce about the golden days of the 50′s, against the supposed griminess of our modern world. This world was the the crystal days of Eisenhower. These were the days of an America at peace. These were the days of economic boom, where every family owned a house in Levittown and an automobile. These were days of religious fortitude, unswerving faith, and good moral backbone, standing against the godless Soviet hordes. These were the days of blue skies, apple pie, and the American way. These were the days of happiness.

Of course, this is sheer propaganda, but much of the Conservative agenda will harken to this as an era worth returning to. It was certainly apart of Reagan’s rhetoric, where he promised to turn the Nation out of the chaos of the 60′s and 70′s. It was to be morning in America again. Just as it was with the Puritans, with the Founders, with the Greatest Generation. This is a fabrication based upon the foolishness that there is some Golden Age worth returning to.

America had no golden age. The Massachusetts Bay Puritans massacred Indians and were so paranoid and fearful that they sowed the seeds for their destruction. Their dream to rebuild a pure society, an Israel of Englishmen, would force them to whip up the necessary constraints. External conformity was demanded, apostates would be scourged. Of course this social draw would command a reformulation and articulation of the vision in solid, infallible, logical deductions. This would lead from Protestant Orthodoxy (which is not completely biblical either) to the Unitarianism of the Revolutionary era, all the way to the idyllic utilitarian and polite agnosticism of 20th century New England. That was the engine that would drive America to be the nation of faith, for its own sake. That’s a kind of insanity for another discussion.

Within the supposed idyllic era of the 50′s, there was rampant wickedness of all sorts and kinds. The boilingpoint of the sixties was not from nowhere. It was a generation fed up with the plastic smiles and the absurd mannerisms of an empty bourgeoisie. It was a world that was founded upon the rapid ascension of the United States as supreme, while the old Western Empires were collapsing into the mud. England and France were rapidly deteriorating, exhausted and bankrupt from two prongs of a global bloodbath. Germany was a smoking wreckage. The United States, relatively untouched by the conflict, had only to gain. Its titanic industrial engine was rolling ahead full-steam, and the people had only to prosper.

With Eisenhower, a war hero beloved by all, at the helm, the economic and geo-political boom paved the way to happy days. Of course, the rampant racism and segregation were part and parcel to this order. One can only look back favorably upon this era as a white man. But with subtle racism aside, this is done quite frequently. Perhaps these little doses of wickedness are excused in comparison. Perhaps today, with its crudity and explicitness, are infinitely worse. Better to have foibles amidst civilization, than the gutter culture today. So they say.

I’m late to the conversation, but I recently started watching the show Mad Men. There are many things to commend about this show. However, the one I want to appreciate is how the show exposes the nihilism lurking beneath the world of Americana, and how today is little different than the 1950′s.

America during this era has been conceived as being a god-fearing nation, as bearers of the good in humanity, as being the faithful. This was in comparison to the atheistic and totalitarian Soviet Union. But as I mentioned briefly above, this was a nation of belief. We believed. Of course, this was wrapped up with Christianized language, but it had everything to do with our particular civil religion. This had to do with freedom, democracy, capitalism, the American way. All of these, more idealistic than concrete, were imbued with sacred function and holy language. It was for these that men would fight and die for, it was for this cause that the United States stood, and why we would cheer and wave the flag.

But this religious vision, which is hardly about Jesus, only produced white washed tombs. Behind the fake smiles were adultery, alcoholism, abuse, lies, gossip, and idiocy. The following generation, which would bring about the sexual revolution, drug culture, acceptable public atheism or agnosticism, wanted to live up to the reality in the shadows. They wanted to stop faking all the nonsense that no one believed anyway. They wanted to be able to articulate the way they wanted to live.

In the end, the attempt to conserve the old civilization ended up redefining terms and allowing the wide net for the old ways. Fox News is a pericope for this phenomenon. The old christianized civil religion is rebuilt to allow for things formerly taboo, such as divorce, modern psychology, and immodesty. It wouldn’t surprise me that if in 50 years, many taboos for today, including nonmarital sex, homosexual sex/marriages, use of marijuana, would also go. Every generation will produce a new set of conservatives that will make room for the liberalism of the day. Tillich’s thought is the cornerstone to the complete identification of church and culture.

Behind all the material and ideological clutter lies nothing but the void. The redefinition of a conservative vision to maintain the old ways in speech, but adopt the new in action, is the survival mechanism of civilization and culture. I’m thankful for this reflex, it keeps a semblance of order. However, it doesn’t mean that it has any substance or hope.  It’s a mask.

In the first episode of Mad Men, the main character, Don Draper, broadsides the notion of love and companionship. He says: “You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one”.

As far as I can tell, he’s the only honest man in his business. He has no time for a soul, or some floating, after-death paradise. While he attacks the concept of Valentine’s Love, and how it is really a creation to make money, this is an unmasking of all these fantasy visions our culture provides. Of course, Don makes his money creating wants and filling them, building fantasies to profit off them. It’s not as sinister as it sounds, it’s only apathy. But Don, knowing what it is that he does, isn’t going to get high off his own supply.

Ecclesiastes is a book that ought to be read often. The oft repeated phrase is “under the sun”, and I think this ought to color how we understand it. That is, Ecclesiastes teaches us what this world is like without Heaven’s intervention. That’s why the conclusion is to obey God’s Law. In a similarly mysterious conclusion to Job, the reader is redirected to a promise, God’s righteous faithfulness. But for those who are pledged to the Messiah Jesus, it is a reminder that Don is right.

What I mean is that resurrection changes everything. It’s not resuscitation, but a cataclysmic event where the ‘world to come’ has broken in. ‘This world’ stands under judgement, it will return to the abyss from which it was called. From the dust we come, and to it we return. All golden age ideologies, especially the conservative 1950′s idyllic, are just putting plastic smiles over top Oblivion. They are trying to build something over top the reality we are born in alienation, and death will swallow up whatever remains of us.

But Jesus’ resurrection from the dead changes everything. The belly of the Beast, Death, is split open. It’s why the demonic powers that be, both spiritual and temporal, seek to subdue the Christian witness. This has many, many forms, too many to name. However, Jesus becomes an ideal, a platform, a childish fable. But this is Satan appearing as an angel of light. These may have provided moral, technological, and civilizational progress, but this means nothing to their credit. The Lord brings goods from many kinds of evils.

Resurrection is the final word, striking the world as an otherworldly hammer falling from the heavens. Don Draper’s comments reveal the nothing behind the masks, and they are to be appreciated. They are a reminder that, as Paul said, if Jesus did not rise, our faith is just another mask over the void. That’s why some confused Paul’s message for proclaiming two gods, Jesus and Resurrection.

Either Jesus was raised, and there is a tomorrow, or there is no resurrection, and there’s no tomorrow. No fantasy can change that.

The Veil Betwixt Life and Death: Jesus, Frankenstein, and Life After Death

What is life? This simple, and yet unendingly deep, question is foundational to understanding and framing what we are and what our purpose in being is. It determines what we choose to do, even in the most mundane, and why we do it. It shapes the fabric of reality, even as life is a tiny, glowing ember in an inorganic universe.

Many will take this to mean that life, as it were, is an abnormality and a sort of fluke in the course of lifeless matter. Now, there are the extreme and the nihilistic, who take this as a sign that life really ought not to be. It is a passing flicker on the wall of a generally hostile universe. Actually, hostile bestows too much personality, and thus, they might say, it is a backdoor to our self-importance as the living. Instead, the Universe merely is. It is apathetic and uncaring. The Cosmos crushes life beneath its unbreakable heel in the same way most people kill ants. They step on them without even knowing, and move on.

But as I said, there are few who would accept the nihilistic fatalism that our fragility implies. Instead we concoct speculations regarding other life-bearing planets, though none have been found. We all assume that life is a good thing and that it has a place in this world, though only Earth supports it.

However, there is also a love of Death at work in humanity. We slaughter each other mercilessly, and have done so through almost all of our time present as a race. We exploit, manipulate, rape, mutilate and distort. In a sense, life is at the same time very precious and utterly worthless and devoid.

Amongst some, this might be given a cheery and smiley wheel-of-life explanation. We all had a chance at life, we must enjoy it, and then get out of the way. There’s a time for us under the sun, and then we need to accept a return to the inorganic majority. We need to rot back into our primordial condition of non-entity. Animals do it, why can’t human?

However, no one really would accept such a premise. It’s why Humanity’s propensity to murder and mutilate is ever-present and always present. While our chest may be moving up and down, we spend most of our days looking for life. It’s not enough to have food in our bellies, we need a drive, a purpose, a future. It’s interesting that in Latin, the verbs for breathing and hoping are separated by a single letter.

As we breathe, we must hope. There must be a way forward.

At one level, this is primarily about the biological. We must sooth ourselves in the wake of a death. We speak pious fictions of seeing our loved ones again on a far away shore. Or perhaps in some happy land made from cloud and sunshine. Our bodies may expire, but we must believe that we survive.

The Ancient Greeks would mourn wildly and women would lacerate themselves in sorrow for the dead. For them, unlike our sheltered society, death was a tragic and utterly depressing affair. There was no good in the afterlife. The dead would fall into an abyss, led to a kind of rest of huddle and confused masses. The living would be terrified that an escaped shade would come back to haunt their neglectful or disrespectful relatives. Eventually, it was believed, the dead would drink of the River Lethe, whose waters brought forgetfulness. From there, they would mindlessly roam Hades for eternity. As the shade of Achilles put it: It’d be better to be a slave on Earth than be king in Hades.

As the upper classes of Hellas developed, and were less in terror of being ripped from this world, there were mystery cults and heroic paens that promised something more substantial. Eventually the small thought of existing by your progeny’s reverence gave way to more substantial ideas. Plato would posit the immortal soul ascending to a realm of Ideas, Pythagoras argued for a karmic cycle of reincarnation, and Stoics would have an eternally recurring universe. But the masses would, in general, remain content to the existence in Hades. While Socrates might have been fine with his death., most people weren’t and it was tragic.

Perhaps the Greeks were not as self-deceived as us, but perhaps also much has to do with conceptions of our weightiness. The Greek aristocrats would indulge in mystery, contemplation, and philosophy. They could not merely pass into the abyss, there was greatness to be had. In our modern world, this self-exaltation has been democratized and given to all. There is a popularly conceived idea of the worth of all people, intrinsically.

Therefore, as we breathe, we must hope. But Platonic dreaming and culture-christianity have gone under heavy fire. Marx would call this distant and whispy hope the “opiate of the masses”. However, he was blind that his own middling class and nobility shared the same neurotic hope for an afterlife, and perhaps even more so than the proletariat. All of it drugs us to the miseries of this life, most especially the poor who have no ability to partake of material blessings. They have no access to fine wine, tasty food, comfortable bedding, and workless leisure.

The advances in technology and applying the scientific method to our own biology has done much damage to our vain imaginings. While the Mind and the Soul are beyond the complete power of the magnifying glass, our urges and desires have root in chemical equations and electrical charges. This does not damage the value of life, but for materialists like Marx, it removes the baseless blindfold of much of bourgeois philosophy and religion.

Again, this was not new. Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher, believed that we, as men, were what we saw. There was no indissoluble, indestructible immortality. Hades was just a myth for the uneducated. We are only to return to the dust. Therefore, life ought to be about being happy, that is, to flourish.

While his namesake is attached to debauchery and indulgence, he would posit that philosophy, inquiry and contemplation, was the greatest joy for men. Life was precious for the time that we had it. Thus, even though Julius Caesar was a Roman General and Patrician, he was also a devotee of Epicurean philosophy. It was for this reason that he objected to the execution of Catiline, convicted of treason and revolution. Even for a traitor, he was a Roman, he didn’t need to be banished to oblivion.

When Life is seen for what it is, fragile and fleeting, its importance skyrockets to the top. Dreams and fantasies are way to cope with the power of death’s imposing rule. When divested of this kind of hoping, new methods and manners are passionately engaged. When we awaken from our saccharine dreams, we are beset with dread. What horror to hear the ticking of a clock or the falling of a leaf. It’s a reminder of what is coming.

Therefore, the banishing of culture-christianity’s promise of pie-in-the-sky from modern discourse led to a different obsession. This is most prominent in the story of Dr. Viktor Frankenstein. His obsession, and the creation of his ‘monster’, was due to a hope for life. He wanted to know what it is that separated the veil between the organic and inorganic, the living and the dead. He wanted to ascend beyond our doom.

Frankenstein is an example of eyes wide open desperately searching for a hope. If life could be understood, if we knew how to pass through the veil that separates us from the void, then we could transcend it. This is a prominent theme in our modern science-fiction. There’s even a movie called Transcendence about uploading a human mind into a computer mainframe!

This isn’t just fiction but the hope of some who are working, day and night, for the technological capability to transfer our humanity into something more lasting than our mortal coil. If our brains could be preserved, and new bodies could be built, than immortality is only limited by the power of the machine. Our life could stretch beyond what it is limited by, so we must strive!

Of course, this may end up exactly like Frankenstein’s eponymous monster. He was not the secret to Humanity, he was confused, enraged,  and beast-like. Dr. Frankenstein had not unlocked the key to saving Mankind, only butchering our humanity. This is part of what drove Nazi experimentation, though it never reached the level of how fiction portrays it. They searched for ways to improve, purify, and sustain the “master-race”.

Now a days, everyone is looking for more life. Even for those devoid of intellectual brilliance, Oprah, and the guru-industy, have made billions off the pop attempts at life renewal. Whether it be through yoga and zen meditation, or eating and exercising, it’s all apart of the neurotic quest to survive a little longer. Plastic surgery is the attempt to attain youth, carving our bodies into a recycled shape.

Israel was no different. Yet Israel’s God did not conjure fantasies like the false gods. Instead He gave a promise of life restored. Culture-Christianity, conditioned for state-craft and  the use for the powers that be, had abandoned the radical doctrine of resurrection.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Promised One, is not one more mystery cult figure or philosopher trying to reason out the meaning of life. He pointed to Himself, which confused the hell out of His disciples. But on the 3rd day, when He rose from the grave, what he had been saying finally made sense. Finally, their ears were unstopped and they could hear Him bellow: “I have come to bring life, and abundantly”.

Jesus came to bring Life, but it is more than we could even imagine. For Him, as it really is, life is not just about the small flicker of the biological, or the movement of the mind. It is holistic. The entirety of Man needs life, in body, mind, soul, strength, emotions, spirit.  But we are already dead and dying, what of those who perished? Jesus is Resurrection. In His Body, He rose. That is the Promise we stand upon. He welcomes us to Him.

What separates this faith, this trusting in this story and idea, from everything else? Simply because it is real. It is not something that occurred somewhere else, but on Earth. It was not something taught, received from another realm, it happened before the eyes of men. In the fullness of time, a world-changing event occurred. What Frankenstein sought for happened in a singular, cosmos shattering event.

As sons of the Earth, we scurry and dig in vain for a way to prevail over Death, but we cannot. Instead, the Man from Heaven, God with us, in the flesh, dwelt with us and fulfilled all the promises of Israel, the promise given to our ancestor in the Garden. The Messiah brought age-abiding life in His own body, and He has come to give, and give to the fullest.

We spend our days juggling the many problems of our existence. We try to stop our bodies decaying. We try to keep our minds from becoming inept and decrepit. We seek to give our spirit a purpose and drive. We yearn for a future. All of these are the workings of Death, and as we try to fix the one, the ones fall to pieces. We’re disentegrating day by day, we’re perishing moment by moment.

Jesus comes for man as he truly is. Our Maker promises, and fulfills such a glorious thing, to make all things new. Resurrection is the victory of Life over all kinds of death.  Resurrection brings the whole man to life. While our bodies will not be raised until that last day, resurrection is now. Jesus brings Life in this age and the age to come.

In His Death, He killed the Beast. Death died. This is a stunning paradox. In walking through Death, He destroyed Death. It is in this way that we, as men who follow our Lord, can do the same. We may boldly face our death, in all ways, and see death die. This happens now! We put our ways of life, zombie-like means to survive, to death. Only in that may we rise from the dust, here and now. Yea, we may even face bodily death boldly. The whole man will be brought to life. He will make all things new!

Unlike the phantoms of some and the neurotic hurrying of others, we may live life to the fullest now. We can enter death, and in so doing, destroy its power. We can live beyond the Fear of Death in the Truth. The pit, the return to the inorganic, does not have the last word. Jesus does:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Unless One is Born Again

The insights for this post come from the night-time conversation between Christ Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus. Here’s the relevant section:

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus sneaks away from his fellow councilors to approach this wonderful, and powerful, teacher named Jesus of Nazareth. That is, this is what Nicodemus thinks as he approaches Jesus. He begins with a mix of flattery and recognition. Despite what other Pharisees have said, and the majority of the Sanhedrin, not everyone is against Him. Nicodemus wants Jesus to know that His miracles are clearly signs of God.

Or are they?

The first time I heard this passage preached, the explanation for Jesus’ instant, and bizarre, response was His single-minded dedication. Jesus, being cryptic, just changed the conversation from where Nicodemus wanted it to go. I think the Messiah was intentionally cryptic, and have no problem with that, but it’s too simplistic to merely attribute this was an out-of-left conversation shift. Jesus’ response was intentional to what Nicodemus had said.

Jesus’ teaching, that one cannot see the Kingdom without being born again, is intentionally playing off Nicodemus’ statement. Nicodemus makes it clear that it is obvious to the teachers of Israel, so-called, that these signs mark out Jesus as sent from God. But, I don’t think Jesus agrees. In fact, it’s not the miracles themselves but the Spirit behind them that reveals where they are from.

In fact, apprehending the Spirit within Jesus, His Holy Spirit, is what reveals that Jesus is indeed God’s Face. If we cannot see, and blaspheme in ignorance, we could, like the Pharisees, see God’s finger and proclaim Satan’s kingdom. We could hear a Divine Voice and think it only thunder rumbling in the clouds. Yea, we could see the Red Sea part and think that only a strong gust had blown the waters apart. The plagues of Egypt are viewed not as the Lord’s judgment, but the work of the magicians named Moses and Aaron.

How do we enter this? Jesus tells us, and we, like Nicodemus, should be taken aback. Just as flesh births flesh, so does Spirit birth spirit. We can’t perceive the Finger of God unless He opens our eyes. And yet, there seems to be the very real reality that, once seen, the cross is scorned, forgiveness of sins rejected, and the Holy Spirit is blasphemed. This, above all, is the unforgivable sin, because it rejects that God indeed brings about the resurrection from the dead, the forgiveness of sins. The two are spiraled around each other, since Adam both sinned and died in the very same moment that he dragged his race into the chains of the abyss.

This does not result in some kind of fideism, where trusting the Son of God is this irrational act. Perhaps in the eyes of a blinded and dead world, following Jesus into death, bearing our crosses, does seem irrational. However, reason has a place within this new trust, just as all our reasons are grounded upon certain trusts we decide to make. If we trust our minds to accurately report sensory data, then we will be able to empirically observe. If we trust the universe somehow polices itself, then we act knowing unseen crimes somehow find a kind of recompense. Whether or not what we trust is true, it is what we act upon.

Yet, to see God’s Kingdom, a supernatural awakening occurs. Supernatural is perhaps the wrong word, because it makes it seem unnatural, or that God speaks outside of created means. No, Heaven and Earth are not so separated. The Word of God appears in Human dreams, speaking Human words, and is understood by Human minds. Regardless, we must be born from on high to truly see the Kingdom, built through the redemption by the Son of God’s blood.

Thus Jesus responds to Nicodemus in such a way. No, it is not apparent from the miracles that Jesus is the Teacher, since these same men reject Him as God’s Word. They are not born again through the Only One who has come from the Throne. They are not seeing clearly, they are blind leading the blind.

It is why Augustine, when he could finally see the Lord, would talk of his eyes being opened, his lungs being filled with breath, and his heart burning with love of Peace. It’s why CS Lewis could speak of his conversation not as a radical existential experience, but an awakening from sleep. Like the sun lighting up the world, so too does the Truth enlighten all things to be seen.

To see God’s work in the world, we need to be awakened. Only then will we see, and rejoice, in the little things, the small reconciliations, the acts of repentance, the fastings and prayers for complete redemption. That is the Kingdom at work, and only those with open eyes see it.

Son of God, lead us into greater vision. Selah.