THE ROMANTIC CONUNDRUM

The romantic must oscillate frequently. Pendulum will swing fro and then to.

The romantic is an idealist. An idealist sees the self with idealist and hope-filled spectacles. But then reality hits, the vision is shattered, and the romantic becomes depressed.

The difficulty with the romantic is that the pendulum will keep swinging between ideal- kept and ideal- shattered.

Reality is both rejected and the stone on which the romantic stumbles. The romantic is confronted by reality often, but seemingly willfully blind to both reality’s harshness and goodness.

HOPE - Sage Vs. Apostle

Seneca on hope: “where hope goes, fear follows. … Both belong to the mind that is in suspense, that is worried by its expectation of what its to come. The principle cause of both is that we do not adapt ourselves to the present but direct our thoughts toward things far in the future” (Letters on Ethics, Letter 5:7-8).

How different is the Christian view! For instance, Peter writes: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

For the Christian, the hope is sure and certain, so that this hope is what affects one’s living in the present. Far from making present living “suspenseful,” there is a solid foundation for faithful, uptight, Christ-like living - the promised future. Hope is what lets the sure glories of what is to come change how we live in the present. This depends on divine revelation of what is to come.

The sage and the apostle hold this in common: It is important to live in the present, not governed by fear and worry.

MOON OR LAND?

Appreciated this article from The Front Porch.

The author contrasts the vision of conquest with the vision of contentment. He does this by contrasting US President John Kennedy’s “moon speech” with the agrarian John Crowe Ransom’s thoughts on industrialization.

Conquest is tied to achievement, tearing down boundaries, and the justification of loving one’s neighbour.

Settlement is tied to harmony, ease, contentment, and living within limits.

While I’m more drawn to the vision of contentment painted by Ransom, it seems to me that the best option is to redefine what is meant by both categories and then to balance them.

The biblical vision, it seems, is a balance between work and rest. Achieving and being satisfied are tied together, not to be separated in this life.

"ILLEGAL BUT ALSO EFFECTIVE" or "FINDING REST IN GOD"

While doing some research on death and afterlife in the Bible, I came accross one scholar’s understanding of the situation with King Saul and the witch/medium of Endor and the summoning of Samuel in 1 Samuel 28.

”… a straightforward reading of the text would lead us to conclude that it was indeed the spirit or ghost of Samuel who appeared on this occasion, and who communicated (whether directly or indirectly) with Saul. Nothing suggests that the medium was mistaken or being deceptive; thus we can conclude that the text depicts either a visionary apparition or a genuine encounter with Saul’s ghost. Some have suggested otherwise: that a resuscitated or resurrected body was involved. However, a temporary physical resurrection seems ruled out if, as the narrative seems to imply, this ’ĕlôhîm or ghostly figure was seen only by the medium herself; so most likely what is described here is a genuine encounter with Samuel in his disembodied state. … the text clearly implies that communication with the dead was certainly possible, albeit illicit and strongly discouraged. (Paul Williamson, Death and the Afterlife, 43-44).

I am in agreement with this view. In regards to death and the afterlife, what this shows is that there is indeed an existence beyond death - even in the OT.

Maybe I’ll be posting more about a biblical understanding of death and the afterlife in the future, but for now, I want to move on.

In relation to using mediums, Williamson quotes another scholar in a footnote:

“As Johnston (2002: 158) correctly observes, ‘this narrative and the various prohibitions suggest that from the earliest period Israel saw necromancy as illegal but also effective’” (195).

It is this phrase that grips me: “illegal but also effective.” I want to tease this out a bit.

There are many activities that fit in this category of “illegal but also effective.” I should clarify at this point - what is coming to mind is the use of pot or cannabis. Cannabis is legal in many places now. And it seems like the trend is that more and more drugs will be made legal.

We know, however, that “legalized” doesn’t mean “made good” (for what has changed other than our label?). We also know that “effective” does not mean “good” and that when we use the word “effective” we often have shortterm matters in mind.

Perhaps a currently popular formula for wisdom can be given the form: “effective = good.” And “effective” often means “feels pleasant to me” + “doesn’t harm anyone else.” Therefore, perhaps the deeper formula driving current wisdom is “pleasure = good.”

What is cut out here is any sense of the importance of the divine or of any sense of boundaries beyond simple human interactions.

The biblical truth on wisdom is: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1). And this account of wisdom takes into account the fact that reality impinges upon us and gives us perameters. Biblical wisdom sees that God sets up perameters for us not only in His law, but also through creation; and, for Christians - through the new creation.

By using the phrase “simple human interactions” in partially describing the current formula of wisdom, I mean that the field of view is so small. What is so often assumed is that “I am able to keep this pleasure within bounds; I am in control of it.” But, biblically, this thought is foolishness. Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? (Proverbs 6:27). We may feel like we are in the driver’s seat. But the deeper reality is that we are driving a Transformer. Or, perhaps we feel like we are the “trainer” of a lion. Don’t forget the Manticore incident, either.

Perhaps a more important question is: “What is best?”

A related issue in our time is, well, how we divide our time. What I mean is that resting and sabbath are essential, as is work.

But behind our rejection of - or perhaps ignorance about - sabbath rest is perhaps the belief that we must be working all the time in order to “get ahead.” Who can we trust to provide for us other than ourselves? For we must provide for our own heaven on earth. We must try to create our own utopia.

And when we do have times of rest, these can easily become really self-involved. I know that is true for me. But what is gained by watching 5 episodes of some show on Netflix in a row? And is this really the taste of heaven/utopia that our souls and bodies are longing and hoping for?

As human beings under God, how will we live? How will we live in the time given to us so as to honour our Creator, so as to delight in the Saviour?

This doesn’t mean work, work, work. In fact, I do think that these questions show up the “smallness” of pleasure. Pleasure, which seems to be so high in importance on our list of “things to get,” knows very little of the deeper gratifications of delight, gratitude, and being at peace with God.

Related to the “smallness” of pleasure is the “smallness” of comfort and ease, which could easily tie into this discussion of pleasure and rest.

As we read about King Saul’s life in the Bible we find a man who, in his deepening insecurity, increasingly tries to find his own solutions. He tries to create his own peace. But he becomes increaslingly idiotic, blind, and vulgar. What becomes striking in the text are those rare moments when King Saul actually seems to be seeing clearly!

Much better it is to trust in Christ, who has created all things, who prepares a place for those who believe in Him, who transforms the whole of us.

How do we trust in God rather than in our own wisdom? A good beginning for us is to notice those areas where we feel so frantic, and to begin unravelling what it means to trust in Him in those areas.

May God give us wisdom.

"CONSTANT DIGITAL FLATTERY"

“Constant digital flattery” (Trevin Wax, This Is Our Time , loc. 566. Quoting from Andy Crouch’s article: http://andy-crouch.com/articles/small_screens_big_world).

That is a great phrase for expressing why we can be so enslaved by our devices and social media.

We do love our escapism. We love feeling rewarded, like we’ve done something or are someone.

We lose focus on tangible, real, present realities. The present reality can be just too difficult to face. Pascal loved making that point. He loved to share how we seem oddly afraid of the present.

We are so unsteady on our own two feet. Easily seduced.

MATTHEW 5:21-26 - CONTEXT & THEMES

CONTEXT

Jesus is saying He does not erase or change the words of the Law. He fulfills them. He is also saying that he brings the kingdom and that those who are in the kingdom need to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees. The key is to not relax the commandments in either one’s own life or one’s teaching role. Apparently the Pharisees do something wrong in one or both of these regards.

The Pharisees seem to have had a God with earthly “teeth.” But Jesus comes and shows that God has eternal “teeth.” When we deal with God we are in danger of the worst or best fate. There are earthly courts. And then there is the heavenly court.

Murder, anger, cruel words. They all have this in common: they lead you on the path to judgment. This is a judgment leading to an eternal sort of death. And you are guilty, you are culpable. So avoid that destination before it is too late.

The Pharisees didn’t see this. They were focused on the consequences of earthly judgment and with the mere letter of the Law. Living relationship with God is perhaps too frightening of a venture.


THREE MAIN THEMES:

A. CONFLICT with other people.

These might be either internal (i.e., the emotion of anger that is not acted on) or external (i.e., anger acted out through words and/or deeds). The issue is that people matter to God. And He judges us based on our thoughts, words, and treatment of others. “Being angry and insulting another person made in God’s image (cf. James 3:8–10), not just the outward physical act of murder, is wrong and worthy of judgment” (Pennington, 182).

B. JUDGMENT.

Either before a human court (i.e., the council or Sanhedrin) or a divine court (resulting in being sent to Gehenna’s fires or requiring an action before sacrificing at the altar). The real issue is that the ultimate judge is God. So the stakes are higher - having not only to do with this life, but with the life after. And God’s judgment is perfect. And God knows everything about your heart, your words, your deeds.

I think the examples prove that the real issue is God’s judgment. It is the key motivator here. This is seen in the escalating consequences of vv.21-22 which climax with the fire of Gehenna. There is a leap from human to divine judgment.

This is also seen when one looks at leaving the altar in order to bring about human reconciliation. But the ultimate goal of that horizontal reconciliation is so that when one communes with God, that one will not be liable of approaching God with falseness in the heart. And this is such a decisive, massive move because of how far the altar probably was. See France, 203.

And so I read the second situation (vv. 25-26) as illuminating the first situation in vv. 23-24. In going to the altar while I have unresolved sin with another (vv.23-24), it really is as if I am walking into court where he has a sure case against me (vv.25-26). I’m walking to my sure sentencing. Better to humble myself and go to the person I’ve wronged and make it right. “The exhortation to be reconciled horizontally with one’s brother or sister is tied intimately to worship and devotion to God vertically” (Pennington, 184).

France says this of the second “situation”: “But the inclusion of “I tell you truly” (see on 5:18) alerts us to a more ultimate purpose than merely avoiding imprisonment; like the other parable of debt and imprisonment (18:23–35) it is a pointer to the divine judgment on those whose earthly relationships do not conform to the values of the kingdom of heaven. Luke similarly sets his parallel to this saying (Luke 12:58–59) in a context of eschatological readiness” (France, pp. 203-204). Likewise, Pennington: “In going to the altar while I have unresolved sin with another (vv.23-24), it really is as if I am walking into court where he has a sure case against me (vv.25-26). I’m walking to my sure sentencing. Better to humble myself and go to the person I’ve wronged and make it right. (That is, I see that the second example illuminates the first.) “The exhortation to be reconciled horizontally with one’s brother or sister is tied intimately to worship and devotion to God vertically” (Pennington, 184).

What is hopeful here about God’s judgment of us is that there seems to be a time in which we can surely set things right. So we need to jump on it. It is not like with murder where it is done and that person will surely be executed.

C. RECONCILIATION.

Resolving interpersonal conflict as the key to peace - escaping the consequence of judgment.

This involves humility, admitting of wrong before self, God, and other people.

“The situations Jesus describes are situations where the person who is being commanded has done the wrong” (Leithart, 1884). What is also true in both cases is that it is always incumbent on you to make things right. You don’t wait for the other person.

Coming face-to-face, as it were, with our judgment brings a new clarity. Like with Eveneezer Scrooge encountering the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Seeing the wrath we legitimately deserve, we are moved to take advantage of the moment we have to make things right and cover over our illegitimate judgment and execution of our neighbour.


JUDGE NOT

The whole process seems to go wrong. There is a snap judgment, usually irrational and not having taken into account all the facts. Indeed, usually the facts are skewed or removed in favour of backing up the supposed truth of the initial snap judgment. This is part of the profile on anger’s energy - to reinforce this snap judgment. Anger’s energy is focused on an enemy and it is powerful, but not particularly intelligent. Anger is “the jock.” It is fitting that anger’s focused and powerful energy then tend to burst out from the heart/mind and through the mouth and fists. The ultimate goal of anger is to remove the problem, to blast away the blockade, to clear a path.

Anger is one of the best friend’s of our will. Anger reinforces the judgment of our will and then acts as executioner of the enemy.

Anger is mustered when we feel small and a problem seems big and threatening. Anger comes about as we encounter a perceived wrong and we want immediate results. Anger sprouts from weakness or insecurity.

The goal here is not so much about never being angry. The goal, it seems is seen in the two “situations” where we are exhorted to be reconciled, and quickly!


WHAT ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW?

He is not saying that murder is okay. He is not saying that the 6th commandment is wrong. It is still true that “thou shalt not murder.”

Jesus is not adding anything to the OT in terms of targeting the heart, not the activity; for both sources deal with both. “Never in the Mosaic covenant (or at any other time) did God ignore or disregard the ethical state or inner disposition of the person. The point of the Ten Commandments was never “just do these things outwardly and don’t worry about your hearts.” Quite the opposite. The message of the prophets is largely one of calling God’s people to pursue righteousness and to do it from pure, whole hearts” (Pennington, 183).

What Jesus adds or changes or fulfills is this: you will face the eschatological judge based on Jesus’ own words. His words as in parallel to and even as more authoritative than the Scriptures is also a new and important revelation here.

Jesus is not merely saying that we should avoid having a heart that is against God - that this is righteousness. No, he points us to action as well.


WHERE IS THE BITE? OR, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?

MATTHEW 5:21-26 OUTLINE

[Ancient:]

A.i. You have heard that it was said to those of old:

B.i. You shall not murder.

B.ii. Whoever murders

C.ii. will be liable to judgment.


[Jesus dynamic:]

A.ii. But I say to you:

B.iii. Everyone who is angry with his brother.

C.iii. Will be liable to judgment.

B.iv. Whoever says Raca to his brother

C.iv. will be liable (i.e., has to answer) to the council

B.v. Whoever says “You fool!”

C.v. will be liable to (i.e., deserving of) the Gehenna of fire.



[Situational commandments:] SO:


[Situation #1:] If you are offering your gift at the altar

[Problem:] And there remember that your brother has something against you

[Solution:] Then leave your gift there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother

Then come and offer your gift.


[Situation #2:] While you are going with your accuser to court.

[Solution:] Come to terms quickly with your accuser.

[Problem/Result:] Lest your accuser hand you over to the judge,

and the judge to the guard,

and you be put in prison.

Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.