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Archive for June, 2012

“I can never agree with you that the Incarnation, or any truth, has to satisfy emotionally to be right. … There are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive…. The thought of everybody lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me. I believe that we are ultimately directed Godward but that this journey is often impeded by emotion.” (Flannery O’Connor, Habit of Being, pp. 99-100)

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“A story, a fairy tale, or a poem does not lack a referent. Through fiction and poetry new possibilities of being-in-the-world are opened up within everyday reality. Fiction and poetry intend being, but not through the modality of givenness, but rather through the modality of possibility. And in this way everyday reality is metamorphosed by means of what we would call the imaginative variations that literature works on the real.” (Paul Ricoeur, “Philosophy and Religious Language,” The Journal of Religion 54 (1974): p. 80)

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“Paul has as many ways of speaking about Jesus’ messianic death as he has occasions to mention it.” (N. T. Wright, Romans, p. 745, commenting on Romans 15:3)

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“Such a moment [of Christian conversion], of course, is elusive of observation…The possibility of outward ambiguity remains. Love as the shaping force of a life may not declare itself immediately in observable ways.  The most outward and public gestures of reformation and change may be the most illusory.  Without recanting what we said [earlier] about the revelation of character through acts, we have to recognize that the shaping moment of conversion complicates this revelation, since it introduces an inner contradiction, a conflict of ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’, as Saint Paul calls it (Gal. 5:17), into the hidden reality of the character itself.  And that is why Christians are warned not to ‘judge’ people.  We are not able to draw quick conclusions from appearances as to whether someone is a good or a bad person, a saved or a damned soul…Only when that judgment is finally manifest can we expect to see clearly with what design it has cut through the fabric of human conduct.

The words ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’ (Mt. 7:1) are not intended, as a liberal indifferentism can so easily construe them, to forbid moral judgment.  There is a tolerance which comes from not taking moral questions seriously, from regarding the difference between right and wrong skeptically because of the ambiguities with which human behavior confronts us.  There is another tolerance, quite different in spirit from this, which comes from taking moral questions so seriously that we recognize the point at which they exceed our competence to resolve them.  We can speak and think about the right and wrong of acts, the value of virtues and traits of character; but when it comes to pronouncing a verdict on a human being’s life in its totality, we know that too much is hidden from us to permit any anticipation of God’s final word.” (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics, pp. 257-58)

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A helpful corrective to those who go beyond Paul’s logic in Romans 1:18-32 concerning the “process” of how God’s wrath works itself out in our experience:

“Both Testaments suggest that God is in fact so personally and intimately involved in the punishment of sin that we cannot speak of that punishment as if it takes place through a mechanism apart from the being of God…The presence of the Lord is instrumental in the punishment of sin…The relationship between sin and punishment arises from the character of the creation God has chosen to make, which means that the relation still stems ultimately from the will of God himself.  That is to say, God has decided to make the world in such a way that sin will naturally lead to punishment, so that this conception relies as much as any other on a decision, an external imposition or judgment, made by God…Consequently, locating the relationship between sin and its punishment in the moral order of creation cannot be thought to exclude God from the process of punishment to the extent that he no longer needs to be personally reconciled in the atonement.” (Garry Williams, “The Cross and the Punishment of Sin,” in Where Wrath and Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, ed. David Peterson, pp. 87-88, 96-97).

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David Peterson notes an important intertextual connection in the biblical storyline between the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 and the Servant of the Lord who is led like a lamb to the slaughter in Isaiah 53:

“Leviticus 16:22 is the only text where an animal is explicitly said to ‘bear on itself’ the iniquities of God’s people…[and] the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53:12 is the only person in the Old Testament who is said to ‘bear’ the sins of others…The language of ‘carrying’ and ‘bearing’ in verses 4, 11, 12 [in Isaiah 53] points to the Servant’s death as substitutionary, just as the death of animals in the sacrificial system appears to have been substitutionary.  This terminology in the context suggests that the Servant bears the sins of others by enduring its consequences for them.” (David Peterson, “Atonement in the Old Testament,” in Where Wrath and Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, ed. David Peterson, pp. 15, 22)

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“It is not presumptuous for us to say that certain things are inherently necessary or impossible for God.  It belongs to our faith in God to avow that he cannot lie and that he cannot deny himself.  Such divine ‘cannots’ are his glory and for us to refrain from reckoning with such ‘impossibles’ would be to deny God’s glory and perfection.” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 13; cf. Hebrews 9:22)

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