Archive for April, 2012

I am reticent to comment on Andrew Sullivan’s latest contribution to contemporary Christianity. I am sure that his comments, as controversial as they are, will ignite a firestorm of comments on the blogosphere, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse. I’m hoping the horse isn’t completely dead yet, and someone has thrust a stick into my hand.

Sullivan has not said anything new. He raises a concern he has with Christianity seeking power in the political realm. He believes that Jesus never sought that power and because Christianity is seeking that power, it’s in crisis. The “radically simple” message of Christ was his “greatest miracle”:

It was proven by his willingness to submit himself to an unjustified execution. The cross itself was not the point; nor was the intense physical suffering he endured. The point was how he conducted himself through it all—calm, loving, accepting, radically surrendering even the basic control of his own body and telling us that this was what it means to truly transcend our world and be with God. Jesus, like Francis [of Assisi], was a homeless person, as were his closest followers. He possessed nothing—and thereby everything.

While Sullivan does not deny Christ’s deity, he does identify the significance of Christ’s life as his attitude toward life. I could say much about Sullivan’s error in reducing Christ’s message to his attitude toward the world (wasn’t the death and resurrection an essential part of Christ’s message?). I would rather focus on the phenomenon of transforming Christ into a visage of what one thinks Christianity ought to be.

In reducing Christ’s message down to the “radically simple essentials,” Sullivan rejects the Bible’s message about Christ (he does admit that the New Testament is just “copies of copies” which I think means he rejects inerrancy). What we have about Christ is contained in the Bible. In rejecting the New Testament’s portrayal of Jesus, he remakes Christ, albeit with the help of the New Testament, into the man of his own image. He then uses this man to make his argument about true Christianity. How is this any different than what he’s accusing “organized religion” of doing?

I do think Sullivan has a point though. We should reform our own thoughts about who Christ is. He’s not the NRA card-carrying republican, and he’s not the radical hippie liberal. Jesus is like the rock cut out of a mountain. No hands cut that rock out, and when it was cut out, it smashed all the false conceptions of Christ into pieces. What we need is not to remake Jesus, but understand what his Bible says that he is. What will solve the “crisis” of Christianity is radical devotion to the Christ of the Bible.


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Just Write It

My personal struggle is knowing where to divide the line between investing time in research and begin writing a paper. Sometimes, my desire for the “perfect paper” causes me to squeeze sentences out a drop at a time. For someone whose perfectionism often acts as a writer’s block, “just write it” is a keen bit of advice.

Writing helps me process my own thoughts and allows me to be creative. I need to write, but I don’t have the mental capacity to.  Writer’s block is a legitimate malady. Sometimes, I just need to steep my mind in new ideas in order to collect some ideas of my own. At some point, those thoughts need to be written down or, in the case of this blog, etched forever into the fabric of the internet. At the very least, writing allows me to look my own foolishness in the face before I deem it worthy to broadcast to the world.

I suppose writing is sort of like running. The difficulty in running is starting, the joy in running is finishing, and the product of running is the development of a higher endurance. The difficulty in writing is starting, the joy of writing is finishing, and the product writing is a further development of your own thought process. Whether I am writing a term paper (like I should be at this moment) or blog post (like I am at this moment), I find that when I push beyond the apathy and dissatisfaction of my own imperfection and begin to write, I am able to see with greater clarity the state of my own ideas about a subject. I suppose that’s the wisdom of “just write it.”

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I was reading through Deuteronomy in Hebrew when I came across an interesting parallelism in the text:

כִּֽי־תַשֶּׁ֥ה בְרֵֽעֲךָ מַשַּׁ֣את מְא֑וּמָה
לֹא־תָבֹ֥א אֶל־בֵּית֖וֹ לַעֲבֹ֥ט עֲבֹטֽוֹ
‏ בַּח֖וּץ תַּעֲמֹ֑ד וְהָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ נֹשֶׁ֣ה ב֔וֹ
יוֹצִ֥יא אֵלֶ֛יךָ אֶֽת־הַעֲב֖וֹט הַחֽוּצָה

וְאִם־אִ֥ישׁ עָנִ֖י ה֑וּא
לֹ֥א תִשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּעֲבֹטֽוֹ
‎‏ הָשֵׁב֩ תָּשִׁ֨יב ל֤וֹ אֶֽת־הַעֲבוֹט֙ כְּבֹ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ
וְשָׁכַ֥ב בְּשַׂלְמָת֖וֹ

וּבֵֽרֲכֶ֑ךָּ וּלְךָ֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה צְדָקָ֔ה לִפְנֵ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ

This is a law regarding the just collection of pledges. I’ve divided the section into three “stanzas.” The first  “stanza” begins the law text:

“When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to collect his pledge.
You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you.” (ESV)

Notice that the law plays sort of a mini narrative “When this happens, you will not do. You will do, and he will do”

The second “stanza” is where is gets interesting. Here, you could very easily retain the structure of the previous “stanza”:

“And if his a poor man, you will not sleep in his pledge. You will restore to him the pledge and he will sleep in his cloak and bless you”

The ESV and other translations, however, opt to subordinate the last two verbs:

“And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge.
You shall restore to him the pledge as the sun sets, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you.” (ESV)

The ESV’s translation makes sense. When you restore the pledge, the result is that he will be able to sleep in his own cloak (i.e. pledge). The problem is that the text does seem to want to set up antithetical parallelism between the situations:

1) You will not go in…and he will come out.

2) You will not sleep in his pledge…and he will sleep in his cloak.

Though I think weqatal can be subordinated to the previous clause, the ESV’s translation seems to partially obscure the parallelism of the passage. On the other hand, the translation I provided brings out the parallelism more explicitly, but “and he will sleep in his cloak” is less clear than “that he may sleep in his cloak” (obviously the passage means the latter).

The question we face in translating this passage is: what translation brings out what the author is intending to highlight? The final “stanza” says:

And it shall be righteousness for you before the LORD your God. (ESV)

The point is that in treating your neighbor and the poor man justly, you will be considered righteous before God. Thus,

“You will not go into your neighbor’s house. Outside you will wait and he will come out.
You will not sleep in a poor man’s pledge, Surely you will return it and he will sleep in his cloak and he will bless you (your gain is the blessing not the loan).
Furthermore, by doing so, you will be considered righteous before God.”

The author uses parallelism to highlight a need to be just toward those who are in debt especially to the poor. Though the ESV and others still preserve the parallelism somewhat and I’m probably a bit biased, but I like my translation more. I’d rather take the weqatal as an independent clause parallel (and he will sleep) to the clause in the case law above it (and he will come out).

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Art of the Bible

I came across this C.S. Lewis quote the other day as I was reading about the genre of poetry in the Bible: “Poetry too is a little incarnation giving body to what had been before invisible and inaudible.” The medium is important; it provides us an ascetic touch to message.

To say that a Psalm is about the Messiah or about God’s sovereignty is easy, but it takes more time and effort to appreciate the medium that presents that message. Psalm 136’s clear message is that God’s loving kindness endures forever, but it conveys this message with a canvas of God’s acts in history. Each new picture deepens the reality of God’s loving kindness. Psalm 89 lifts us with thoughts of God’s unfailing love, his faithfulness, righteousness, and holiness, and his unswerving commitment to his promises, only to jerk us completely the other way when he says, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” and “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” We feel the full force of Psalmist’s mourning by the juxtaposition of his praise and lament.

The medium whether by poetry or by narrative can help us to experience the message and to reflect on it in new ways. The medium is meant to captivate our thoughts and to engender a response proper to the message. We could say, “God is sovereign” or we could echo the Psalmist in Psalm 89:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!

Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

 Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.
 His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

 The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

This hymn only causes us to respond in praise to God with a clearer image of God’s sovereignty in mind. For me, as an engineer who is not in the least artistically minded, I know that I need to take the time to appreciate how the author “incarnates” his message in order that I may give proper response to its contents.

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One of the papers I have to write this semester is how Job answers the problem of evil. I don’t really think that the book answers the problem, not the intellectual problem anyways. The book more keenly addresses the issue of why the good suffer, but it even does that in a different way than Modern might expect that issue to be addressed. Here are some observations:

1) The problem of evil (as presented in modern times) is particularly focused on the existence of an all powerful, all loving god (lowercase g is meaning a god in general)

2) Job assumes that God is the sovereign Lord over his creation. Furthermore, this God is Yahweh, the God who has made himself known through his acts in history. The starting point is different than in 1).

3) God does allow and use evil for his own purposes.

4) The book maintains that, in general, God rewards the faithful (those who fear him) and punishes the unrighteous

5) Job’s (the person) friends all assume that Job has sinned because he is suffering. The narrative maintains that Job is righteous and did not sin. Thus, the book rebuts the idea that God is shackled to 4) in the way that Job’s friends think.

6) Job (the person) seeks for God to give him audience that Job (again, the person) can bring his case of innocence before God.

7) God grants Job an audience but faults him for seeking to justify himself rather than God.

8) God overwhelms Job with questions about creation that Job did not know how to answer. If Job does not have enough wisdom to understand creation, how will he have enough wisdom to understand why he is suffering?

9) Job admits his inadequacy and God restores Job’s fortune.

Suffering, because it’s so personal, is a difficult topic to deal with. Even in Job’s suffering, however, God asserts his sovereignty. As difficult as suffering and the problem of evil is, I think it’s important to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and to take comfort that Yahweh, the all wise God, is in control of every situation. Secondly, Job’s fortune, health, and family was restored. He does reward the faithful, not out of compulsion to a principle, but because God never fails to do what he promised. I think we can draw great comfort from that fact too. We can say in times of trouble, “Yahweh is king, and he will do what he says he will do.”

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