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“Do you object to the apparent ‘roundaboutness’–it could easily be made comic–of the whole picture? Why should God speak to Himself through man? I ask, in reply, why should He do anything through His creatures? Why should He achieve, the long way round, through the labor of angels, men (always imperfectly obedient and efficient), and the activity of irrational and inanimate beings, ends which, presumably, the mere fiat of omnipotence would achieve with instantaneous perfection?

Creation seems to be delegation through and through.  He will do nothing simply of Himself which can be done by creatures.  I suppose this is because He is a giver.  And He has nothing to give but Himself.  And to give Himself is to do His deeds–in a sense, and on varying levels to be Himself–through the things He has made.  In Pantheism God is all.  But the whole point of creation surely is that He was not content to be all.  He intends to be ‘all in all.’” (C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, pp. 94-95)

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“Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’  And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem.  Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it.  But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate.  He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries.  Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will.  ‘God,’ said Pascal, ‘instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.’ But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity.  It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so.  They have not advised or changed God’s mind–that is, His overall purpose.  But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.  
For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures.  He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.  He allows us to neglect what He would have us to do, or to fail.  Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence.  It seems to involve at every moment almost a sort of divine abdication.  We are not mere recipients or spectators.  We are either privileged to share in the game or compelled to collaborate in the world, ‘to wield our little tridents.’ Is this amazing process simply Creation going on before our eyes? This is how (no light matter) God makes something–indeed, makes gods–out of nothing.” (C. S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays, pp. 8-9)

Caveat Lector

“For Christians, the reading and study of holy Scripture as our authority in all matters of faith and practice is a core activity, not an add-on.  But in our contemporary world, with its proliferating fashions in ‘spirituality,’ more and more people are choosing other authorities and guides to salvation.  As up-to-date and attractive as many of these options may appear, we Christians say no to them.

We say no to working ourselves up into visionary states of ecstasy in order to get into touch with God.  We say no to undertaking Herculean tasks of moral heroism in order to discover the divine potentialities within us.  We say no to going off to a mountain cave and emptying ourselves of all thought and feeling and desire so that there is nothing to keep us from immediate access to Reality.  We Christians are sometimes impressed by these spiritual pyrotechnics and on occasion even ‘ooh and ah’ over them.  But our wiser guides do not encourage us to pursue them.  In contrast to the glamorous spiritualities, ours is a pedestrian way, literally: putting one foot in front of the other as we follow Jesus.  In order to know who he is, where he is going and how to walk in his steps, we reach for a book, the book, and read it: holy Scripture.  

Historically Christians have been as concerned about how to read the Bible as that we read it.  The Christian community as a whole has never assumed that it is sufficient to place a Bible in a person’s hands with a command to read it.  That would be as foolish as handing a set of car keys to an adolescent, giving her a Honda and saying, ‘Drive it.’  And just as dangerous.  The danger is that in having our hands on a piece of technology, we impose our ignorant or destructive will upon it.  

For print is technology.  We have God’s Word in our hands, our hands.  We can now handle it.  It is easy enough to suppose that we are in control of it, that we can manage it, that we can use it and apply it.  

There is more to the Honda than the technology of mechanics.  And there is more to the Bible than the technology of print.  Surrounding the machine technology of the Honda there is a world of gravity and inertia, values and velocity, surfaces and obstructions, Chevrolets and Fords, traffic regulations and the police, other drivers, snow and ice and rain.  There is far more to a car than its gearshift and steering wheel.  There is far more to driving a car than turning a key in the ignition and stepping on the accelerator.  Those who don’t know that are soon dead or maimed.

And those who don’t know the world of the Bible are likewise dangerous to themselves and others.  So as we hand out Bibles and urge people to read them, we also say, ‘Caveat lector—let the reader beware.’  

Men and women shopping in the marketplace for vegetables and meat, carpets and skirts, horses and automobiles, are warned by their experienced parents and grandparents, ‘Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.’  The market is not what it seems.  More is going on there than a simple exchange of goods.  Sellers and buyers don’t operate out of the same mindset.  Their intentions are seldom identical.  Let the buyer beware.  

And let the reader beware.  Just having print on the page and knowing how to distinguish nouns from verbs is not enough.  Reading the Bible can get you into a lot of trouble.  Few things are more important in the Christian community than reading the Scriptures rightly.  The holy Scriptures carry immense authority.  Read wrongly, they can ignite war, legitimize abuse, sanction hate, cultivate arrogance.  Not only can, but have…do.  This is present danger.

So caveat lector—let the reader beware.  Read, but read rightly.  The adverb rightly in this context does not only mean accurately; it means right-heartedly as well as right-mindedly, what the biblical writers referred to as uprightly.  Read the Scriptures, not to learn something that will give us an advantage over our nonreading neighbors or an occasional emotional uplift, but in order to live to the glory of God.

It is essential that we round up all the help available in the acquisition of Scripture-reading skills, skills that orient us in the mind and heart of the Bible as well as the words of the Bible, skills that integrate keen minds and devout hearts, that insist that there is no understanding of Scripture that is not at the same time a living of it, that have no interest in exegesis that is not simultaneously holy obedience.”

(Eugene Peterson, “Foreword” in The Act of Bible Reading, ed. Elmer Dyck, pp. 7-9)

Genesis 6:5-8—“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Genesis 18:22-33—“So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.  Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.  Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”  Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”  Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”  He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”  And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.”

Exodus 32:7-14—“And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”  And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.  Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?  Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’”  And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” (cf. 34:6-7)

Numbers 14:11-20—“And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?  I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.  Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’  And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’  Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.” Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word.”

Numbers 23:18-23—“And Balaam took up his discourse and said, “Rise, Balak, and hear; give ear to me, O son of Zippor: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it. He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them. God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like the horns of the wild ox. For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel; now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘What has God wrought!’

Numbers 25:3-4, 10-12—“So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel…And the Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”

Deuteronomy 13:17-18—“None of the devoted things shall stick to your hand, that the Lord may turn from the fierceness of his anger and show you mercy and have compassion on you and multiply you, as he swore to your fathers,  if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God.”

Joshua 7:25-26—“And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones.  And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.”

Joshua 24:19-21—“But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.  If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”  And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.”

1 Samuel 2:27-30—“And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh?  Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel.  Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’  Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”

1 Samuel 15:10-11, 26-29, 35—“The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night… And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”  As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore.  And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.  And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret… And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.” (cf. 28:16-19)

2 Samuel 24:16—“And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” (cf. 1 Chronicles 21:15)

2 Chronicles 12:12—“And when he humbled himself the wrath of the Lord turned from him, so as not to make a complete destruction.”

2 Chronicles 29:8-11—“Therefore the wrath of the Lord came on Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes.  For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us.  My sons, do not now be negligent, for the Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him and to be his ministers and make offerings to him.”

2 Chronicles 30:6-9—“So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.  Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the Lord God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the Lord your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you.  For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”

Psalm 85:1-7—“Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.”

Psalm 106:23, 30, 40-47—“Therefore he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them…Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stayed…Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage; he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them. Their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their power. Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity. Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive. Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”

Jeremiah 4:27-28—“For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. “For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark, for I have spoken; I have purposed; I have not relented, nor will I turn back.”

Jeremiah 15:5-6—“ “Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem, or who will grieve for you?
Who will turn aside to ask about your welfare? You have rejected me, declares the Lord; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—I am weary of relenting.”

Jeremiah 18:5-11—“Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,  and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’”

Jeremiah 26:1-6, 12-13, 16-19—“In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.  It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds. You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth’… Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard.  Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you… Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”  And certain of the elders of the land arose and spoke to all the assembled people, saying, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’ Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”

Jeremiah 42:10—“If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.”

Ezekiel 18:20-32–“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.  Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?  But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?  When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die.  Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life.  Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.  Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (cf. Ezekiel 33:10-20)

Ezekiel 24:14—“If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.”

Joel 2:12-14—“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?”

Amos 7:1-6—“This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” The Lord relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the Lord. This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, the Lord God was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said, “O Lord God, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” The Lord relented concerning this: “This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.”

Jonah 3:6-4:4—“The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.  But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?

Zechariah 8:13-15—“And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong.”  For thus says the Lord of hosts: “As I purposed to bring disaster to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the Lord of hosts, so again have I purposed in these days to bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not.”

Complacent Morality

“We speak in the first place of inconsiderateness, a lightheaded version of folly. The inconsiderate person acts on the world as it appears, and does not subject the appearance to reflection…Inconsiderateness is reflective to a certain degree. It imagines a world, which it constructs out of bits and pieces of experience, but the pieces have not been interrogated and ordered. The imagination has not undergone a communicative probing and confirmation. It remains as it is received, fresh with the dew of new affection. Inconsiderateness is a failure to proceed towards self-contextualization. The spontaneous self projects its own world as, in Falstaff’s famous phrase, ‘mine oyster.’ The tourists who crowd off their buses to beat the pavements of the great European cultural centers, led by polyglot guides holding their flags of identification aloft on the point of an umbrella, gaze at those who have business in those streets, the buildings which house them, the traffic which brings them to and from work, with unparticipating fascination, as though at interactive images on a screen. They would step into the path of a tram, expecting it to melt on contact. In absorbing and contemplating a world that confronts them as new, they cannot place themselves realistically within it.

We may call this form of inconsiderateness ‘complacency’…For the complacent person morality is a matter of occupying a point of view. The world and its affairs evoke affective knowledge, but it leads to no responsible thought about action. As from a seat in the theater or the football stadium it views the world and its affairs and enjoys the sense of being on the edge of them, as in Lucretius’s famous example of those who watch a shipwreck from the cliff. Anger, sorrow, delight, amusement, all blend together to give us our world-experience, and we would not willingly be without any of them. We like to live life to the full, affectively, and pour our sense of agency into our tears and laughter, our manifold appreciations of the ebb and flow of events. These are allowed to play themselves out before us but are never held up to interrogation; they pose no questions as to their implication for the living of our lives, for the living of our lives has come to seem no more than simply the responses we make to them. Our knowledge of the world has, as it were, swallowed us up. Our satisfaction lies in deploying it, watching it, reflecting and commenting on it…

To a view that is wholly that of an onlooker, all that occurs begins eventually to assume a two-dimensional and tedious character. Spontaneity is paid for by boredom, and boredom by loss of resourcefulness.” (Oliver O’Donovan, Finding and Seeking: Ethics as Theology, Vol. 2, pp. 84-86)

The Providence of God

Here are the various sessions from the recent conference on faith and politics that I was privileged to participate in at Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village in NYC:

“The church cannot have an inner life without having at the same time a life which expresses itself outwardly as well.  She cannot hear her Lord and not hear the groaning of the Creation.” (Karl Barth)


On October 2-3 Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village is hosting a special forum on the relationship between faith and politics called Rendering to Caesar and God: Politics and the Kingdom of God.  This special forum is free to attend, and since it will be hosted over Zoom it isn’t limited to folks in NYC 🙂  There will be lots of space for Q & A with the speakers, as well as for small group discussion in breakout rooms.  I hope to see many of you there!

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Mark Twain once opined, “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” Not a very positive view of those who serve in the halls of government! But despite the failures of many who have filled the role, politicians cannot be done away with. God has ordained that government exist and we must respect and respond to that fact. But what are God’s expectations for those who exercise political influence under His sovereignty? Is there room for criticism from the church? For support and advocacy? Or should the church always strive to remain neutral? What resources are available to the Christian to evaluate whether or not a man or a woman in political office is doing the job they were called to do? 

The upcoming seminar, Rendering to Caesar and God: Politics and the Kingdom of God, looks to offer a biblical perspective on the meaning and use of political power. From Eden to the New Jerusalem, political language is used to express God’s intentions for his creation and his people. Rule, authority, laws, and judgment are all inescapably present throughout the unfolding story of redemption. It would seem wise, then, to neither abandon nor uncritically embrace involvement in politics, but rather to see it for what it is: a creation of God to be used for his glory and for the betterment of his creation.  Politics rightly conceived is a tangible form of loving our neighbors as a manifestation of our love for God. But to both benefit from and speak into the exercise of political power requires wisdom, something that we are told God “gives generously to all without reproach” if we would but ask. The goal of this seminar is to provide the necessary tools so that wisdom can be exercised when engaging one of the most potent and potentially dangerous of human endeavors. 

The forum will be held from Friday 7:00-9:00pm and Saturday 10:00am-3:00pm (with a lunch break from noon-1pm). RSVP to ncgv@ncgvnyc.com if you wish to attend.  The Zoom link will be emailed out only to those who are signed up.  

On Friday night:

Session #1: Politics and the Story of Israel–An Overview of the Old Testament (45 min)

Session #2: Politics and the Story of the Church–An Overview of the New Testament (45 min)

On Saturday morning:

Session #3: God’s Manifold Wisdom in the Church: A Taxonomy of Historical Christian Approaches to Politics (30 min)

Session #4—Discerning the Thoughts and Intentions of the Heart: Our Motives Matter in Politics (30 min)

Session #5—The (Political) Temptations of Jesus as the (Political) Temptations of the Church (30 min)

On Saturday afternoon

Session #6—The Way of Jesus and the Sword of Caesar: God’s Strange Political Strategy in Romans 12-13 (30 min)

Session #7—What Should We Expect from the World? The Art of Making Wise Political Judgments (30 min)

Session #8—Standing Apart to Remain Close: The Necessity of Prophetic Distance (30 min)

We’ll close out our time together with a summary list of principles and convictions that we find especially important and timely in our contemporary context for Christians to recognize and remember.

Barth“In the relationship of man to God’s work and word there may exist not only an unhealthy undernourishment but an equally unhealthy overeating.  A man perhaps comes from a family and environment in which theology was not only the Alpha and Omega (as the case should be) but also the substitute, which it should not be, for all the other letters of his alphabet.  Or, as a novice, he has devoted himself to theology with the incomparable exclusiveness of a first love; and now he lives not only as a theologian in everything, but even entirely as a theologian alone, to the elimination of everything else.  He has no basic interest in the newspapers, novels, art, history, sport; and so he reveals that basically he has no interest in any man.  He is interested only in his theological work and in his theological concern.  Who is not acquainted with this situation? Not only are there students and professors of theology who go beyond their calling, but also preachers who live their whole life hermetically sealed off within their congregations.  They associate with other men only in an hypertheological way.  A dangerous business!…In this way a person can, in fact, destroy himself as a theologian.  The reason for this is not merely the great probability that such a person will fail in carrying out his experiment and will then inadvertently and without admitting it succumb once again, and perhaps quite thoroughly, to the syndrome of the two kingdoms [dualism, sacred/secular divide] and all its corollaries.  The major reason is that, like all hypertrophy, theological overemphasis demonstrably leads all too easily to satiety, in this case to what was called in the ancient monastic language the mortal sin of taedium spirituale, the spiritual boredom, from which only a small step is needed to arrive at skepticism.  Concentrated theological work is a good thing, or even the best thing, but exclusive theological existence is not a good thing.  Such existence, in which a man actually plays the deadly role of a God unconcerned about his creation, must sooner or later inevitably lead to doubt, in fact to radical doubt.” (Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, pp. 115-16)

Protests“The oppression of human beings is a humiliation of God…Justice is not an ancient custom, a human convention, a value, but a transcendent demand, freighted with divine concern.  It is not only a relationship between human and human, it is an act involving God, a divine need…Justice is as much a necessity as breathing is, and a constant occupation…The prophets’ preoccupation with justice and righteousness has its roots in the powerful awareness of injustice.  That justice is a good thing, a fine goal, even a supreme ideal, is commonly accepted.  Moralists of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue.  The distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression, in their comprehension of social, political, and religious evils.  They were not concerned with the definition, but with the predicament, of justice, with the fact that those called upon to apply it defied it…Justice is scarce, injustice exceedingly common.  The concern for justice is delegated to the judges, as if it were a matter for professionals or specialists.  But to do justice is what God demands of every person: it is the supreme commandment, and one that cannot be fulfilled vicariously…The logic of justice may seem impersonal, yet the concern for justice is an act of love…God rules the world by justice and compassion, or love.  These two ways are not divergent, but rather complementary, for it is out of compassion that justice is administered.” (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets)

In the Talmud it is written: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Self-destructive impatience with slow progress and despair over the possibility of genuine, lasting transformation are both flawed responses to the seemingly intractable presence of injustice in the world.  They are real temptations for us today, given the pervasive racial injustices so long entrenched in the United States.  Psalms 9 and 10 (originally a single psalm) are perhaps the pre-eminent protests in the Psalter for the implementation of social justice and against the oppressive presence of the wicked and powerful.  Here lament is interspersed with raw, outraged and yet confident cries for God to “rise up” and do something about the injustices that rage on unchecked in the world and that consume and devastate the vulnerable and marginalized.

It is undeniable that much more than prayer is needed right now–and quite often, mostly something else than just prayer alone.  Yet impassioned, expectant prayer is still critical and as Christians we must not forget, minimize or neglect its role in our lives and in God’s unfolding purposes in history.  God is a real actor on the world’s stage and His agency is not simply a dim reflection of our actions in history.  In Psalms 9-10, the people of God protest and insist that God arise and intervene to do that which we cannot, even as we strive to do what we can and should and must. God’s action in the world does not rule out our action, and often works precisely through our actions.  But there is always more to the story than what we aspire to do or are able to accomplish.  The prayer-less state of so many Christians and churches today testifies to our forgetfulness of this truth, to our underestimation of the sheer potential and power of the God who raised Jesus from the dead after the injustice of his suffering.

Moreover, prayer can form us to be a faithful, just people who can be sustained upon the hard, demanding course of advocating for and engaging in transformative change in the world and in our communities.  Apart from God’s help and support, all too often the early passions and enthusiasms of activism and advocacy can turn into cynicism, despair, exhaustion, manipulation, hatred, or sheer complacency with the status quo.  Too many seemingly successful revolutionaries have become the next tyrants and oppressors in the world’s annals.  We pray ceaselessly so that we can engage and work and labor tirelessly and enduringly for the long haul.  The coming of the kingdom into this present evil age is a marathon, not a sprint.  The people of God need to be trained to become people who are able to be just and to act justly–and this does not come naturally or easily or quickly to any of us.  We cannot bequeath to the world what we ourselves do not have; society will not be influenced in directions that we do not ourselves embody.  The tragic lack of our formation as a people and the superficiality of our discipleship in large swaths of the church that seasons like these reveal is terrifying and problematic.  Being a people who learn to take the language of the cry for social justice in Psalms 9-10 upon our own lips, to make it our own and to have its (theo-) logic shape our lives is one important way–though not the only one–to begin to experience such formation, so that we might be available for and useful to what God desires to do, rather than just another part of the problem.

Please join us for a meditation on Psalms 9-10 and a time of silence and prayer this Thursday, June 11th at 7pm (Eastern).  Here is the Zoom link:

https://zoom.us/j/91231584057?pwd=WWVJZjBneWRPYmx4KzJoNnM1TG42UT09

 

“Rise up, O Lord–O God, lift up your hand.  Do not forget the afflicted.  Why has the wicked despised God.  Why does he say to himself, ‘He won’t call me to account’?  But you do see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.  The victims commit themselves to you, for you have been the helper of the fatherless.  Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer.  Call their wickedness to account until you find none.  The Lord is king forever and ever; the wicked nations will perish from the earth.  O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted. You will strengthen their heart. You will incline your ear and listen, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that human beings who are of the earth may strike terror no more.” (Psalm 10:12-18)