Sunday, November 28, 2010

quote of the week, november 28-december 4, 2010

The world cannot redeem itself from all that is evil, enslaving, dehumanizing, and tragic. Only sacrificial love can do that - first Christ's, then ours as members of His mystical Body. That is the essence of the Mass and so of the whole Christian life. If our worship is to mean anything, as the biblical prophets never tired of saying, it must be translated into daily mercy and justice. When our self-offering joined to Christ's is sincere, the altar becomes the very platform of our charity. As we leave church, we carry Christ and His transforming love into our homes, schools, workplaces, and public squares. By loving and living the Mass, we draw our earthly city closer to the heavenly City, wherein all truth, goodness, and beauty coalesce in the God whose very essence is love. (Kocik 2007:82)

Kocik, Thomas. (2007). Loving and Living the Mass. Bethesda, MD: Zaccheus Press.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

quote of the week, november 21-27, 2010

The following comes from William Barclay's commentary on the Gospel of John. In this particular section, he is treating John 6:59-65:

The real difficulty of Christianity is two-fold. It demands an act of surrender to Christ, an acceptance of Him as the final authority; and it demands a moral standard wherein only the pure in heart may see God. The disciples were well aware that Jesus had claimed to be the very life and mind of God come down to earth; their difficulty was to accept that it was true, with all the implications which are in it. And to this day many a man's refusal of Christ comes, not because Christ puzzles and baffles his intellect, but because Christ challenges and condemns his life. (Barclay 1965 [1955]:234)

Barclay, William. (1965). The Gospel of John: Volume 1: Chapters I to VII. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press. (Original work published 1955)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

the paradox of rest

"For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter into that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience." (Hebrews 4:8-11)

Drawing a connection between ourselves and the Israelites whom Joshua led into the wilderness is perhaps a bit difficult given the various gaps that lie between us. This same issue, though perhaps minimized to some degree, exists for a comparison between the original readership of the epistle to the Hebrews and those who entered into Canaan. Still, there are at least two principal relationships that we are to consider between ourselves and those whom God, through Moses, led out of Egypt to enter into His promised land, through Joshua. First, just as Paul exhorts the 1st century church at Corinth that many of the events from Egypt to the wilderness "happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved [...], and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). Hebrews repeatedly encourages us to learn from those who fell in the wilderness, so that we do not "fall, through following the same example of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:11; see also 3:6-19; 4:1, 6-7). Second, though we live in a different place at a different time, and though many if not most of us are in no way connected to the Israelites of old in a physical sense, there is much that can (and does) wed us to those who did enter God's rest. As much of Hebrews argues, it is not the temporal or spatial/geographical or ethnic aspects that unite us, but rather faith (4:2; 10:39-11:40) and belief in (4:3), and obedience to the call of God through the Holy Spirit (3:6-11; 4:6-11). And, most importantly, since Joshua (Greek, Iesous, or "Jesus") did not (and could not) truly grant the fulness of God's rest, we are united across space and time to those who "have come to Mt. Zion"(12:22) and "to God [Himself]" (12:23) through the true Jesus "who has passed through the heavens" (4:14), granting us eternal rest in the presence of God, predicated on Christ's Person and work.

Yet, though entering in God's "rest" in Hebrews 4 entails cessation from work, rooted in the rest that God instantiated when He ceased His initial creation, we are nevertheless neither expected nor encouraged to do nothing, even though "we who have believed enter into that rest" (4:3, emphasis added). Rather than being motivated toward inaction, we are compelled to action as we are transformed by the power of God, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. The rest of God may very well be cessation from works, but it is not the absence of action. The rest of God to which we enter in through Jesus Christ is a dynamic relationship of active participation of love and adoration of the Triune Godhead, whom we worship in both this present world and the world without end. And this occurs by God's direct invitation, who has called to participate in the rest of Himself by initiating a relationship with humankind through the God-man Jesus Christ, of whom the "Jesus" of old (i.e., Joshua) was but a type. So, just as Jesus, the Son of God, is greater than the angels (Hebrews 1 & 2), and just as He is greater than Moses (Hebrews 3), so He is greater than Joshua. Therefore, Jesus alone is the "door" through which we enter into God's rest; He alone is "the way" to the Father (John 10:9). And, Jesus alone earned this entry on our behalf through His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. For this reason, faith, belief, and obedience in Jesus Christ are paramount in establishing a lasting relationship that transcends space, time, and ethnicity in order to unite the people of God who enter His rest through the Son.

Moreover, the dynamic, participatory elements of God's rest illuminate the seeming paradox wherein we are called to "be diligent to enter that rest" (Hebrews 4:11). This exhortation appears paradoxical for at least two reasons. First, how can we enter into something to which we have already entered in (see 4:3)? Second, how can we "be diligent" or "labour" (4:11, KJV) to enter rest that has already been won/established on our behalf? Both of these relate to the the "already/not-yet" tension that we discussed in a previous post, and they also pertain to the very nature of the rest itself, mentioned above. That is, Christ, through His own eternal merits, has labored and earned for us the ability to enter God's rest. Furthermore, we experience that rest now by believing in Christ and being found in Him. Still, we "await" Christ and the "salvation" that He will usher in at His second coming (9:28, NASB). It is at this time when the life of the world to come will be realized in all of its eternal glory, filled with the "light" of the "Lord God," when we "put on immortality" and "imperishable[ness]" and are "made alive" with Christ at His "coming" (Revelation 22:5; 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, 51-53). In that interim, that is, until "we see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2) and God "reign[s] forever and ever" (Exodus 15:18; Revelation 11:15; 22:5), we are encouraged to "be diligent to enter into that rest" (Hebrews 4:11). Our ability to do so is not even truly ours, as it is God who work in us "both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). But, that we must do so is evident, "so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience" as did the unbelievers in the wilderness (Hebrews 4:11).

The key then, to "be[ing] diligent to enter [God's] rest," is to not only hear the words of God, but to have His words "united by faith in those who heard" (4:2). Rather than exhibiting "unbelief" (3:12, 19) and being "disobedient" (3:18; 4:6, 11), we are called to believe, and to obey in love. And, as we "labour [...] to enter into that rest" (4:11, KJV), let us be ever mindful that we are "protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:5, NASB). Jesus did not "lose" any of His disciples (John 18:9), and He will not lose us "who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). For, we give glory to God the Father,

who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise and glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:3-6)

We are confident to labor in order to enter into the rest of God, for we know that God, who began the "good work" in us, will "perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). We who believe in Him and His words are assured entry because of the glorious Person and work of the true Jesus (see Hebrews 4:8). We know that we await the "Sabbath rest" of God, for "His works were finished" at the very moment when "He chose us in Him": "the foundation of the world" (Hebrews 4:3; Ephesians 1:4).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

quote of the week, november 14-20, 2010

[T]he apparently inevitable next step in answering the question, Does it make sense? is the sub-question, What is the best analogy for the Trinity? This sub-question is usually the death-knell for Trinitarianism's relevance. Analogies can play a useful role in thinking about God, but when the hankering for an analogy arises right here, on the border between "Does it make sense" and "Does it matter," it is usually a sign that Trinitarian thinking has developed into a verbal project for its own sake. It has become a matter of getting the right words, so they can lead us to more of the right words. Serial proof-texting gives way to broken analogies, confronting us with an unanswerable "so what" question. How do we fall so quickly from three perfectly good questions (Is it biblical? Does it make sense? And does it matter?) to a form of discourse as hollow as an echo chamber? What is the difference between a belief in the Trinity that simply doesn't matter and one that changes everything?

What is needed is an approach to the doctrine of the Trinity that takes its stand on the exceptional reality of the Trinity, and only then moves forward to the task of verbal and conceptual clarification. The principle is, first the reality, then the explanation. (Sanders 2010:35)

Sanders, Fred. (2010). The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

(note: Dr. Sanders frequently posts essays on The Scriptorium Daily. Click here to learn more)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

You are our rest, You are our peace

"...although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; and again in this passage, "They shall not enter My rest." Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His." (Hebrews 4:3-10).

I have to start this entry with a bit of a disclaimer on biblical hermeneutics. Taking elements from popular culture as a starting point and then working these into biblical texts is never a good idea, and this strategy often ends up as interpolation and eisegesis. Furthermore, it is generally a controversially issue as to whether popular texts can (or should) be appropriated for, say, devotional use, and, to be honest, I usually trend towards disfavoring such usage.

Notwithstanding (and a big 'notwithstanding' at that!), I wanted to share a poem by Friedrich Rückert that was transposed by Franz Schubert entitled Du Bist die Ruh ("You Are the Peace"). I think many, if not all, of us have genuinely experienced a time when we became utterly enraptured at hearing or seeing some work of art or other. For me, one of these experiences was the first hearing of Schubert's Du Bist die Ruh when listening to a classical music broadcast on the local public radio station. There is often disagreement as to whether this was originally written as a divine poem or if it was penned for a lover. Taking the latter position, the author of a June 2008 article from Harper's online magazine writes that "Rückert's language wells with passion and is plainly a composition of temporal love." Still, the article goes further, describing the composition as such:

Schubert has transposed the work into an ethereal world of spirit and faith with music which is a marvel of simplicity, classical and romantic at once–music that soothes like a balm applied to an open wound. The song is haunting.

But, you need to listen to the song for yourself in order to appreciate how unmistakably apropos this characterization actually is. Then listen again, and again, and again, and again...well, you get the picture.

The first link above to the original Harper's article has a great 1932 performance by soprano Elisabeth Schumann, conducted by Carl Alwin (available on iTunes). Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau also performs this song quite well. Below are the lyrics in German, as well as the translation that Harper's provides. Again, I suggest listening to it first, then reading the lyrics (for example, while listening to it a second time).

Du bist die Ruh,
Der Friede mild,
Die Sehnsucht du
Und was sie stillt.
Ich weihe dir
Voll Lust und Schmerz
Zur Wohnung hier
Mein Aug und Herz.
Kehr ein bei mir,
Und schliesse du
Still hinter dir
Die Pforten zu.
Treib andern Schmerz
Aus dieser Brust!
Voll sei dies Herz
Von deiner Lust.
Dies Augenzelt
Von deinem Glanz
Allein erhellt,
0 füll es ganz!

You are the calm,
The restful peace:
You are my longing and
what makes it cease.
With passion and pain
To you I give
My eye and heart
Are yours to live.
Enter here and close
Quietly behind you
the gates of your
Gentle embrace.
All other grief
You dispel from my breast:
My heart swells
With the love of you.
Your brightness alone
Lights the canopy of my eyes
Oh, fill it fully!

I'll briefly conclude with why I post this in association with Hebrews 4. The theme of God's "rest" resonates throughout this chapter (the word 'rest' occurs 8 times in the first 11 verses). The title of Schubert/Rückert's work has various translations, for example, as "You are the Peace" and "You are the Calm" are both mentioned above. But, the phrase is also often translated "You are the Repose" or "You are the Rest." Considered in any (and each) of these aspects, it is intriguing to me how suitable this notion is, along with the poem in its entirety, in light of the fact that Christ, our Bridegroom who "Himself is our peace," beckons us by saying, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Ephesians 2:14; Matthew 11:28, emphasis added). I won't labor to try and convince you of this, but, to me this song expresses verbally what I have before communicated to God as an unuttered prayer. Whether it is truly proper to appropriate this song in such a manner, I won't address here, but for now I am content to know that God is our peace, He is our rest, and He is both our "longing and what makes it cease."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

quote of the week, november 7-13, 2010

Jesus' challenge, which he set out from Scripture and through his sayings and acts, was that God's long-promised and longed-for kingdom rule had broken into creation through his ministry. God's promise of hope and life, the provision of the Spirit, forgiveness, and a vindicated rule had come in him. Jesus according to Scripture is a powerful figure who makes what people think of him and his mission the primary question that one must face in life. The question of Jesus is primary because it asks of us not only who Jesus is, but also who we are as God's creatures. If one seeks to know oneself or find life, one must measure oneself against the Creator and his plan. Jesus never is assessed alone, as if his identity were a historical or academic curiosity or merely a matter of private opinion. For what we think of Jesus reveals what we think of ourselves, our capabilities, and our needs, given the way that Jesus presented our need for God and Jesus' own role in that plan. Even as Jesus is the revelator of God, he is also the revelator of our hearts before God. (Bock 2002:647)

Bock, D. (2002). Jesus According to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic and Apollos.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

everlasting bloom

"For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; and again in this passage, "They shall not enter My rest." Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His." (Hebrews 4:3-10)

Though we experience tension from the aspects of salvation that are, from our perspective, "not-yet," there is a strong sense exhibited in the New Testament in which, for the believer, both the future and the past converge upon our present reality - we have access to a a future reality that is predicated upon the atoning work of Christ. This, then, both stirs in us a deep longing while simultaneously enacting (and drawing us toward) endless satiation of such. So, though we reside on this earth (albeit as "strangers" and pilgrims) we nevertheless are "seated [...] in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" by having been "made alive" and "raised up" with Him (1 Peter 2:11; Ephesians 2:6; 1:20). Though we breathe, are alive, and are visible on this earth, still we are "d[ead] and our life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). Though we belong to terrestrial nations, yet "our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ," who will both "transform" and "reveal" us by "conform[ing]" our bodies unto His at His "glorious appearing" (Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:4; Titus 2:13, KJV/NIV). Though we are scattered in cities throughout globe, yet we are gathered together because we "have come unto Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22, NASB). Though some have departed from us and have "fallen asleep," and though we long to see and be with God forevermore, indeed we also have come "to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 4:14; Hebrews 12:22-24). And, as this passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews reveals, though "there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God," yet "we who have believed enter that rest" - the rest that God alone gives (4:9, 3).

The aforementioned tension is especially prevalent in our this-world experience of the "rest" of God. Even though we recognize that "we who have believed enter [God's] rest," still we have need to bear the exhortation to "be diligent to enter into that rest" (4:3, 11). In his commentary on Hebrews, John Calvin notes, "But though the completion of this rest cannot be attained in this life, yet we ought ever to strive for it" (Calvin 1853 [1549]:99). For Calvin, this striving was a "condition" upon which the believer entered into God's rest, echoing the sentiment of the exhortation in Hebrews 4:11. With that in mind, we do well to "fear," as the author of Hebrews instructs us, so that we do not "come short of" entering the rest that God has promised, especially since the promise to enter still remains (Hebrews 4:1, 6). Those who fell in the wilderness, not to enter the rest of Canaan because of a divine oath (see Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11, 18; 4:3, 5), serve as an "example of disobedience" that we, in Christ, are not to follow (4:11). Later in Hebrews, we read that we are indeed "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" of those whom we are called to imitate, whose legacy is an example of obedience, of faith and faithfulness (Hebrews 11; 12:1).

Moreover, these "witnesses," including with those who did enter into Canaan led by Joshua, direct our gaze to Jesus Christ, the preeminent example of absolute obedience, who calls us to abide in Him so that we might obey in love and enter into the fulness of God's rest, of which Canaan was a type (Hebrews 12:2-3; John 15; Hebrews 4:6-11). The promised land of Canaan was not intended to remain the fulness of God's plan; its beauty, though tangible, is as Calvin describes, "evanescent." Again taking our cue from the text of Hebrews, the writer clearly argues from a hypothetical that "if Joshua had given them rest" then God, through David, "would not have spoken of another day after that" (4:8). God still spoke of the promise long after Joshua led the people of Israel into Canaan and, furthermore, "He again fixes a certain day, 'Today,'" for us to respond to His invitation by not only hearing the "good news" but having it "united by faith" (4:6-7, 2). For this reason, "there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (4:9). And, "the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his" (4:10; see also v. 4). This "rest" includes cessation from works, but it also involves a dynamic participation in the unity of God to which Christ has called us (John 17:21). Concerning verse 10 of Hebrews chapter 4, we turn once more to Calvin's exposition:

This is a definition of that perpetual Sabbath in which there is the highest felicity, when there will be a likeness between men and God, to whom they will be united. For whatever the philosophers may have ever said of the chief good, it was nothing but cold and vain, for they confined man to himself, while it is necessary for us to go out of ourselves to find happiness. The chief good of man is nothing else but union with God; this is attained when we are formed according to him as our exemplar. (Calvin 1853 [1549]:97)

Not surprisingly, since the "perpetual Sabbath" involves the "chief good" of enjoying God forever, the theme of God's rest has richly contributed to Christian worship over the centuries. I'll close with a few relatively recent examples.

Hezekiah Butterworth, in his 1875 work on "hymns that have a history," remarks that Dr. Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), after preaching on the text of Hebrews 4:9, read, as was apparently often his custom, a self-composed hymn in which he immediately related the teaching in meter (Butterworth 1875:34-35). The following is the final verse in the hymn now known as Lord of the Sabbath, Hear our Vows:

O long expected day, begin,
Dawn on these realms of woe and sin!
Break, morn of God, upon our eyes;
And let the world's true Sun arise!

According to Butterworth, this yearning for the Sabbath rest of God deeply resonated with Dr. Doddridge in the days immediately before his passing:

Dr. Doddridge, in his last years, seemed to have a spiritual foretaste of the heavenly joy and rest. Embarking for Lisbon, in the hope of benefit from warmer air, he was able to say to his wife in his cabin, when conscious that his life was almost ended, these cheerful and triumphant words: "I cannot express to you what a morning I have had. Such delightful and transporting views of the heavenly world as my Father is now indulging me with, no words can express." He died at Lisbon of consumption, at the age of fifty. He anticipated to the last the glorious rest he sings in his hymn.

May we, too, anticipate to the last, the dawn of the day which is the eternal beginning - the day which has no night - whose every waking moment is the perpetual reality of the "highest felicity" (Calvin 1853 [1549]:98), that is, union with the Triune God.

Blessed homeland, ever fair!
Sin can never enter there;
But the soul, to life awaking,
Everlasting bloom shall wear (from Frances Jane [Fanny] Crosby's Blessed Homeland)

Butterworth, Hezekiah. (1875). The Story of the Hymns; Or, Hymns that Have a History: An Account of the Origin of Hymns of Personal Religious Experience. New York, NY: The American Tract Society.

Calvin, John. (1853). Commentaries of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews (J. Owen, Trans.). Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society. (Original work published 1549)