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Greenwich Village.jpgFor anyone in the NYC area this summer, I will be giving a series of lectures at Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village.  Each lecture will explore in various ways the recurring motif of what it means to be human–but from the distinctive vantage point of some of the most beautiful, mysterious and even perplexing themes evoked by the drama of Christian faith.  Each time out we’ll grapple with one such theme–senseless suffering, discerning the will of God, the role of story in constructing human identity, politics and the frustrating pursuit of justice, etc.–through the lens of a particular section of Scripture, with lots of interaction with contemporary literature, film and questions.

The central contention of the series is that following Jesus is not about becoming something more than or other than a mere human being, but instead about nothing more and nothing less than the discovery of what it means to be truly, fully human.  But with a twist…in an upside-down, topsy-turvy, fractured world, being truly, fully human human just tends to look ineluctably strange to people.  But rightly embodied and experienced, this strange way-of-being in the world is (I shall do my best to contend!) a far more compelling and satisfying posture for unveiling the meaning and purpose of our common humanity in the world.
If you or any friends are interested, you can sign up HERE (all lectures are free).  Hope to see many of you there!

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Lament“Meanwhile, where is God?  This is one of the most disquieting symptoms.  When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms.  But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence.  You may as well turn away.  The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.  There are no lights in the windows.  It might be an empty house.  Was it ever inhabited.  It seemed so once.  And that seeming was as strong as this.  What can this mean?  Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon.  He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’  I know.  Does that make it easier to understand?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God is really like.  Deceive yourself no longer.’” (C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 5-7)

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Crenshaw“Our entire human experience militates against understanding God only as the beneficent, revealed God devoted to human beings in his salvific will.  If indeed he is the Lord of all reality, then his nature also includes unpredictability, inaccessibility, and hiddenness, for everything that lives also suffers.  Only an understanding that conceives his revealed nature together with this hidden quality preserves his comprehensive divinity…If our faith is not to run aground on the reef of concrete reality, there must be some mediation between the actions of the revealed God and those of the hidden God, between those of the deus absconditus and those of the deus revelatus.  The traditional speculative solution to this problem by way of universal theodicy–that is, by way of some justification of God in the face of the evil of our world–transcends the limits of human reason. ” (Otto Kaiser, “Deus absconditus and Deus revelatus: Three Difficult Narratives in the Pentateuch,” in Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do What Is Right?, eds. David Penchansky and Paul L. Redditt, p. 73)

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See the link below for three handouts I’ve put together for a talk delivered at Columbia University on “The Story of God’s Spirit.”  The first traces the role of the Spirit in the story of Jesus.  The second lays out a number of biblical passages that strongly associate God’s Spirit with the experience of life (both in creation and redemption)in the memorable phrase of the Nicene Creed, the Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of life.”  The third and final handout lists texts that connect power and the ministry of the empowering Spirit in the existence of God’s people.

Holy Spirit HANDOUTS

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Calvin“The Lord commands all men without exception ‘to do good’ [Heb. 13:16].  Yet the great part of them are most unworthy if they be judged by their own merit.  But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love.  However, it is among members of the household of faith that this same image is more carefully to be noted [Gal. 6:10], in so far as it has been renewed and restored through the Spirit of Christ.  Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him.  Say, ‘He is a stranger’; but the Lord ahs given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh.  Say, ‘He is contemptible and worthless’; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image.  Say that you owe nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound you to himself.  Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions.  Now if he has not only deserved no good at your hand, but has also provoked you by unjust acts and curses, not even this is just reason why you should cease to embrace him in love and to perform the duties of love on his behalf.  You will say, ‘He has deserved something far different of me.’  Yet what has the Lord deserved?  While he bids you forgive this man for all sins he has committed against you, he would truly have them charged against himself.  Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches.  It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels out and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.6)

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2 Samuel 12:15-23Prophet–“And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.  David therefore sought God on behalf of the child.  And David fasted and lay all night on the ground…On the seventh day the child died…Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes.  And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped.  He then went to his own house.  And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.  Then his servants said to him, ‘What this thing that you have done?  You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’  He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?‘  But now he is dead.  Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.'”

Amos 5:14-15–“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said.  Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate–it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious the remnant of Joseph.”

Jonah 1:4-6--“Then the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.  Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.  And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.  But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.  So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper?  Arise, call out to your god!  Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.'”

Jonah 3:8-9–“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.

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?

Daniel 4:27–“Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Zephaniah 2:3–“Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.”

Esther 4:13-16–“Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?‘  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  I and my young women will also fast as you do.  Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.'”

Cf. Isaiah 55:6-7 and Psalm 32:6 for what is, it seems to me, the deeper moral logic behind these strange prophetic sayings.  Also relevant, perhaps, are the statements in Scripture that imply there is a “cut off line” for sin before God’s judgment finally falls (as in Genesis 15:16 and the various “unforgivable sin” passages in the Gospels, Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-31, and 1 John 5:16-17), as well as the frightening occurrences when God forbids a prophetic leader to pray on behalf of the unfaithful covenant people.

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Karl Barth“We must realize that the Christian message does not at its heart express a concept or an idea, nor does it recount an anonymous history to be taken as truth and reality only in concepts and ideas.  Certainly the history is inclusive, i.e., it is one which includes in itself the whole event of the ‘God with us’ and to that extent the history of all those to whom the ‘God with us’ applies.  But it recounts this history and speaks of its inclusive power and significance in such a way that it declares a name, binding the history strictly and indissolubly to this name and presenting it as the story of the bearer of this name.  This means that all the concepts and ideas used in this report (God, man, world, eternity, time, even salvation, grace, transgression, atonement and any others) can derive their significance only from the bearer of this name from His history, and not the reverse.  They cannot have any independent importance or role based on a quite different prior interpretation.  They cannot say what has to be said with some meaning of their own or in some context of their own abstracted from this name.  They can serve only to describe this name–the name of Jesus Christ.” (Karl BarthChurch Dogmatics, 4.1, pp. 16-17)

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