I unravel from my winding sheet for that is what it is, this flesh which harbors my soul in the same way my soul embraced the flesh in its wanderings like Ulysses aboard his black ships.
As I do, I spy my body at a slowly retreating distance, see its supine figure like a sculpture by Rodin, no, strike that, more like a painting by Caravaggio, the one of Paul struck down on his way to Damascus, every strained muscle in his body and lineament of his face expressing brute confrontation with Truth.
Yes, I capitalized it, or Him, Truth, a living Being, the source and embodiment of the absolute by virtue of His aseity and omnipotence, against whom I thought I could compete with my own truth, small case, t-r-u-t-h, to my own demise when I took up arms against any who would tell me not to heed the siren’s call, or the call of that master rhetorician Ulysses, alive in every age, in every town, in every social circle, school, temple or townhall, the sly, polished poet, a borrower or thief with pockets full of gold who says, “Let’s see what’s out there, so much to see, so much to experience, and oh, the things we’ll learn as we range unanchored to any known shore, pushing that thin envelope of body and spirit to the limit!”
He offered what we all yearn for, knowledge of the world, a wisdom that ordinary people (how we despise them!) in their ordinary little lives could never hope to find, when there’s a world of pure epicurean adventure led by your captain, my captain, let’s call him Ulysses.
I was twenty-nine, hardly naïve, yet naïve as a voter with a politician spinning promises, and so I left my home and went with him, my Ulysses, as ready as he with wit to parley at every Areopagus, eager to hear or spin every newfangled tale ever told, see every exotic sight to behold, by plane, by train, oh, the places to go, to experience every esoteric fad and sensation, and everywhere the dawn rose to the rooster’s call of Carpe diem and the night fell on the cries to transgress, transgress, every boundary, every limit, until my soul gave way from its moorings at the realization that I had gained nothing but lost everything.
Soon I’ll leave for Charon’s Ferry and I wish now – too late — for just one more voyage: a voyage I’ll never know.
Denise's Six Sentence Story Word Promptis "range" so naturally my thoughts flew to that free-ranging (anti-)hero Ulysses and his place in Canto 26 of Dante's Inferno, Commedia.
Canto 26 is one of my favorite cantos in the Inferno, so much being said here by Dante, revealing how much he too is tempted by the same passion as Ulysses whose supple philosophical genius and rhetorical skills are used to deceive the Trojans and ultimately lead to the doom of his own men as he leaves Ithaca, his home. They sail beyond the gates of Hercules where he and his men spy Mount Purgatory before “a whirlwind rose and hammered” at their ships sending them plunging beneath the ocean waves.
*A bibliopole is a person who buys and sells books, especially rare ones.
This Dream recurs — I am the Bird — Neither the Darkness — nor the Light — Ranging over Estates of books Endless — See one Book — now Ubiquitous — contains Life Lights the Path —while others Sound Characterize Reflect Darken Never overcome the Light
A recent post by a fellow blogger1 awakened me yet again to issues of abuse. Extremes of reaction and behavior caused by past abuse. Impossibly high standards it engenders. Unrealistic expectations. Childhood scars that reopen and bleed. Shedding these old habits of thought/behavior and clearing our lungs of them by achieving moderation does take time … but particularly time in the word of God. Diving deep and long, letting the Holy Spirit fill our lungs with His love so we can breathe more easily in our own skin. Theology is not a luxury but a necessity that God alone can provide through the special revelation that is His inerrant and infallible word. Through it we come to know that He is the Rock that is higher than all others, as the psalmist puts it, a fortress of peace, stability and safety. But more: He gives life, abundant life, His own, by uniting us with Himself, Emmanuel, God with us, the incarnate God, Christ Jesus. Finally, union with Christ is God’s divine life poured into us by His Spirit and we become a new creation, leaving the past behind, following a new path that leads to life eternal, and pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”2
Psalm 119:105 (KJV) Thy word [is] a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2Phillipians 3:12,14 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. … I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
I hear the call, Eternal, sound in my heart and in the stars. Is it timeless or infinity itself? Is its Voice a song? I do not question, so much yet to understand and I am not able.
I only respond in gratitude, though one-legged in faith still hobbling, letting go finger by finger my pride, and taking up, hand after hand, my cross of self-denial.
For this Eternal is Love.
By Purgatorio, Canto 11 of the Commedia, Dante the pilgrim has exited Hell and entered purgatory by permission of the angel at the gate who uses two keys, one silver (remorse) and one gold (reconciliation). As he and his guide, the poet Virgil, enter they are warned not to look back at any point in the journey up through the terraces of purgatory to the Garden of Eden. In Purgatorio, Canto 10, Dante had seen examples of humility. Now on the first and lowest terrace he sees souls of the proud bent over by large stones they carry on their backs, due penance for their sin of Pride, of which there are three kinds: pride of family, pride of art, and pride of power.
Purgatorio is filled with the prayers of souls as they ascend the terraces. And Canto 11 opens with the only complete prayer which is really an expanded version or gloss of The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6: 9-13; Luke 11: 2-4).
“Our Father, You who dwell within the heavens
but are not circumscribed by them out of
Your greater love for Your first works above,
Praised be Your name and Your omnipotence,
by every creature, just as it is seemly
to offer thanks to Your sweet effluence.
Your kingdom’s peace come unto us, for if
it does not come, then though we summon all
our force, we cannot reach it of our selves.
Just as Your angels, as they sing Hosanna,
offer their wills to You as sacrifice,
so may men offer up their wills to You.
Give unto us this day the daily manna
without which he who labors most to move
ahead through this harsh wilderness falls back.
Even as we forgive all who have done
us injury, may You, benevolent,
forgive, and do not judge us by our worth.
Try not our strength, so easily subdued,
against the ancient foe, but set it free
from him who goads it to perversity.”
Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto X1, lines 1-21, transl. Alan Mandelbaum
The Commedia ends with Paradiso where Dante receives the beatific vision: “The Love that moves the other stars” (l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle). As Giuseppe Mazzotta notes, Inferno and Purgatorio also end with stelle. “So when Dante says that love moves the sun and other stars, what he’s really doing is placing himself immediately right back on earth, back at the beginning of his quest. He’s here with us looking up at the stars.”
The Creator became the heart of creationwhen in Christ Jesus He took on our flesh. This is no small thing. He who is one hundred percent divine became also one hundred percent man: true God, true man. What but the love that existed in the Trinitarian God frometernity could cause Him who created all that exists and all that has being to take on the rescue of His creatures in this humbling fashion, enduring the darkness of our world and enduring our death in order to free us from evil and death eternally! So great is His love for us that He came down at Christmas to raise us up with Christ and give us Himself for all eternity.
So we rejoice! We rejoice at such a love, such a Creator, such a God who gave Himself for usand to us when He who is “Love came down at Christmas.”And we thank Him, and praise Him, and glorify and worship Him who through this life has promised to never leave us nor forsake us for He has made us His children in Christ Jesus! Hallelujah! For the Lord God eternal reigns! Hallelujah!
Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead, Love Incarnate, Love Divine, Worship we our Jesus, But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token, Love be yours and love be mine, Love to God and all men, Love for plea and gift and sign.
Christina Rossetti (1885)
A note to my readers and blogger friends: I will be taking a blogging break for a while and look to reconnect in the New Year. Merry Christmas to all and to all, best wishes for a Happy New Year!
“Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16) “But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” (Matt. 15:25)
Two women: Queen Esther. The Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman.
One was a Jewish concubine in a Persian king’s harem. The other was a Gentile kneeling before the Messiah.
Both women were pleading for the lives of people they loved, one for the Jews in the Persian Empire, the other for her daughter possessed by an unclean spirit.
One pleaded for community. The other for family.
One came before an earthly king. The other before the Kings of kings.
Both came trusting in a God who “had prepared a table before them” in the presence of their enemies, came in the power of His Shepherding grace and love through the valley of the shadow of death. (Psalm 23)
They came as sheep before their Shepherd, believing in His power to rescue and save.
Two women. Two needs.
Having prayed to the sovereign God, Esther came before the earthly king knowing the fate of the Jews in the land was in the hand of God, as was her fate: “If I perish, I perish.”
Having heard of Jesus, the Canaanite woman came before the Jewish Messiah, knowing He was Lord and her daughter’s fate was in His hand: “Lord, help me.”
They were tried. Haman worked actively against all that Esther would do.
They were tested. The Canaanite woman was asked the reason for her hope.
In both cases, God worked behind the scenes, though in the book of Esther He is never mentioned, not once. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus seemed to be indifferent to the Canaanite woman’s plight, though in her heart He had already laid the groundwork that made her bold and persistent.
They knew what God could do. They didn’t know what God would do.
“Let my life be granted for my wish, and my people for my request.” (Esther 7:3) “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28)
They hadn’t known what God would do, but they knew who He was: He was a God who cared enough to listen.
Two women who had no rights but what were granted as crumbs in the society in which they lived, went away as daughters of the living God, granted more than crumbs, granted their heart’s desire.
A community of Jews was saved. A daughter released from demonic possession.
A tale of two women alone? No. The story is really about God, and how his daughters (and sons) are never alone.
Pray now, and “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Isaiah 49:15-16 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.”
Round and round the kwestions go Where they stop knowbody knose.
“Mr. Knowbody, tell us please! When will our suffering cease?”
“It will end in God’s own time,” Knowbody answers with a rhyme.
“Knose you, knose I knose we by and by when on our knees we make our pleas to Him who does know more than we can know does all things well more than we can tell.”
Knowing this by faith I offer praise To God alone who with me stays.
Yet knowbody’s cries can turn into wails It’s a whale of a tale rehearsed to cat’s tails.
Then round and round the kwestions go When they stop knowbody knose
Cause everybody whales and nobody tales.
Mark 7:37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Psalm 28:1 To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
Philippians 3:20 (KJV) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
I find this to be remarkable: that God is in constant conversation with us who are His own, even when language fails, as it often does. Especially when we feel as if we’re talking in circles around the same things, and it feels like nonsense to our own ears, as we wait on God.
We would be less than honest if we stated glibly that we can be articulate when in pain. That is a luxury most of us are denied. Pain drives us insane. It unmoors us from all that we know. Language becomes meaningless. We become a series of moans and groans and outright wails.
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
2 Corinthians 5:4
Yet the Word who became flesh to tabernacle among us knows each of us, reads us like a book of which He is the Author. And whatever our wordlessness, our communion with Him continues.
It continues in the language of faith. Of which He is the Giver.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
It continues in the language of love. He is love.
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
1 John 4:16
It continues in the language of hope. He is the God of hope.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
It continues in the language of peace. He is our peace.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
It continues in the language of life. He is the Author of life.
. . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
Jesus, the Word of God, is in constant communion with us. Everything we do, say, think, is in the context of conversation with Him.
Prayer is more than words for believers. It is trust. We live in an attitude of trust even when we are bereft of all else, including words. Because we know who He is, the One who first loved us and gave Himself for us.
Our wordlessness, in suffering or in pain, is not an impediment to Him. It is a grace.
Dig deep in communion with Him who never leaves us nor forsakes us. Dig deep in His word. He is not silent.
The one who gave us mouths to speak, speaks to us. The One who gave us ears to hear, hears us.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Jesus said:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
I’d been talking with her on the phone for quite a while. Now I had come to the end of myself, not simply physically weary, but spiritually. She was still anxious, overwrought, doubtful of her salvation, overrun with the voice of the Accuser undercutting the gospel she had known and believed for most of her life. Painful circumstances had brought her to the end of her rope. And I was at the end of mine, spiritual weapons blunted and defeat looming.
I was, in effect, poor in spirit. Impoverished, like the woman who said to Elisha: “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil” (2 Kings 4:2). Destitute.
But Jesus had said this was a characteristic of those in the kingdom. So I was good, right?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 3)
Blessed/Happy: μακάριος “makarios” mak-ar’-ee-os (Gk.) – “blessed,” “happy,” “possessed of peace (shalom), well-being” — in the Amplified Bible: “happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous–with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions”
This is the very first beatitude, a statement of blessing. Jesus’ eight beatitudes are the dramatic opening to his teaching in Matthew 5, 6 & 7. The beatitudes are the tour de force of the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, consummate prophet, priest, king, knows how to grab the attention of his listeners by describing the happy, fulfilled life, the desire of every human being. He describes “the makarios life,” that is, the “blessed/happy life,” of those who follow Him. This life is available to every believer. The kingdom of heaven had already come with His appearance, even as it will come fully on the day He returns. As believers, we are citizens in His kingdom, and as kingdom-dwellers, we should possess all the qualities that the beatitudes describe.
The makarios life is the life of someone described in Psalm 11, and in Christ Jesus, we possess its qualities. So, as Jesus says, happy are we! And this first beatitude gives the foundational characteristic that leads to all the other attributes listed of the blessed life. Living the makarios life means we are first and foremost “poor in spirit.”
Well, I was certainly feeling my spiritual poverty on the phone with my desperately anxious friend.So why didn’t I feel blessed?
Simple. The kingdom of God is not a matter of feeling. It is knowing and believing and trusting that God’s word and promises are true. It is a matter of taking with both hands God’s revealed truth and turning around continually to Him, looking to Him, and relying on Him to provide for all that we need to apply that truth in our lives and our relationships. That is kingdom-living. That is happiness-producing. That is blessedness. That is the makarios life!
So I acknowledge my spiritual lack and gather the riches of the kingdom in Christ Jesus. And I give my friend what Christ gives me: His love.
Do you remember the song we grew up with as children, the one we taught our children? I ask her. We used to sing “Jesus Loves Me”?
Yes, she says.
Can we sing it together?
Jesus . . . loves . . . .
Her voice fades pitifully. I can feel her anguish, hear her cries of panic and uncertainty, powerless to hope, powerless to believe. She can’t bring herself to say “me.” Jesus loves ME.
She hardly has the breath to sing through her cries, so I sing it for the most part alone. She is silent while I sing. Listening. Then I ask her:
Can you, dear one, say “Jesus loves me”?
Patiently we repeat the words of the song. Simple words. Words at the heart of the gospel.
She stumbles many times, as if in unbelief at the immensity of the statement, that Jesus could love her, even her.
Yes, I remind her, Yes! Jesus loves you. Yes! Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones — us, you and me – to Him belong. You are weak and I am weak but He is strong. Say it, dear one: say, “Jesus loves me.”
And when at last she does say it, substituting her name for the “me,” it is as if another gate of hell had been broken through, and the Accuser driven back in defeat.
It is a moment of great victory. You see, the kingdom of God is ours, the poor in spirit, in the person of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself on the cross for us. And He gives us the kingdom He won for us.
I am weak but He is strong. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Sister! Brother! Preach it to yourself, to each other. We are living the makarios life. Hallelujah!
1Psalm 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
A good and timely reminder from Rev. Shane Lems of Reformed Reader: “To Christians Who Are Suffering“. May our Lord use it to touch the hearts of the suffering with his unceasing mercy and grace.
For it is written, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1: 2-4).
Psalm 115:1 — Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
If someone were to tell us that knowing God is Three Persons in One is an easy concept to understand, we would have to declare them either a simpleton or a liar. But if someone were to tell us that this concept of the Trinity makes all the difference to how we interact with him in adoration and joy, with his overflowing love as the driving engine of our evangelism, we may just stop and ask this rejoicing Christian to explain. And Michael Reeves, president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in the UK, does just that in Overflow: How the Joy of the Trinity Inspires Our Mission.
There is a reason that Christ commanded, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19, bold italics mine), and Reeves does a great job spelling it out for us simply and convincingly in this short book that will leave a lasting impact.
Charles Spurgeon once said this: “The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.” (p. 11)
Reeves shows us that “the Trinity is not a weird puzzle for theological nerds but glorious good news for every Christian to enjoy”; that “the radiantly self-giving nature of God as the wellspring of all love, joy, goodness—and mission” is revealed from Genesis to Revelation; that when the Trinity is denied, love is denied; and “how, when Christians share God’s own outgoing fullness and radiance, we shine as lights in this current darkness.”
Reeves writes, “Mission is rooted in the Trinity, in the very being and nature and heart of God. And this is something deeply heart-winning and attractive in Him. If there is one thing I really want, above all, to communicate in this book, it is the great truth that God is mission. Wherever you’re at with God, particularly if you aren’t too thrilled with Him at the moment, I’d love for your eyes to be opened so you see just how stunningly beautiful and satisfying He is. I pray that your heart begins—maybe for the first time in a long time, maybe for the first time ever—to burn with a love for Him. Not just a duty that compels you and tells you what you ought to do, but rather, that you truly love Him! And then, out of this deep love, you will want to see the whole world come to know about Him too.” (p. 18)
“Mission is the outworking of God’s very nature. Before we ever did anything for Him, this God comes and gives His life away for us. So mission does not start with something we do, but with something done for us” (p. 48).
“Mission is the overflow of love from the enjoyment of divine fellowship. As we partake in the Father’s pleasure in His Son, and the Son’s pleasure in His Father, and the Spirit’s enlivening of their mutual love, it causes us to share their love for the world. Thus we become like what we worship. It is then, friend, you will want to sing of Him: when you are basking in the sunshine of God’s love. Because, as Jesus said, the ‘mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart’” (Luke 6:45 HCSB) (p. 56).
Reeves reminds us of the Father’s eternal love, what Christ has done for us on the Cross, and the Spirit’s regeneration, and encourages us to live in the light of this gospel truth: “You can live by the flesh, which means living under a spirit of slavery, always propelled by an insatiable lack, by guilt, by greed, by the desire to justify yourself. Or you can live as a child of God, by the Spirit of adoption.” (p. 82) “The children of God live from a fullness of life, a fullness of blessing. We can’t help but overflow with it. Other people need it too.” (p. 89)
This book is full of encouragement for those who feel themselves spiritually weary or empty. It is Christ-centered, Gospel-proclaiming, and Trinitarian-affirming and celebrating. I heartily recommend it.
In the underground caves we lived the squalor that passed for life Each of us coveting the other’s baubles, driven by transient desires One took another’s wife, someone her neighbor’s pearl of contentment Deceived and deceiving we lived as opulent moles in a darkness unrelenting.
We were aware of an abundant life above ground, one richer in life and meaning We yearned to quench ourselves in the unfathomable joy of its Light pouring Through the dim recesses of our shadowed being, but mechanically going to and fro We multiplied our labors seeking promised pleasure in glinting mirrors of craving eyes.
Dear reader: A little background to the above poem.In reading the 20th-century philosopher René Girard, one can’t help but be struck by how the last of the Ten Commandments focuses exclusively on covetous desire, something that the second tablet of the law enumerates to a certain extent. Thou shalt not covet. Girardfinds the breaking of this law to be the root of violence in every culture. Here’s how he explains his theory of mimetic desire:
In reading the tenth commandment one has the impression of being present at the intellectual process of its elaboration. To prevent people from fighting, the lawgiver seeks at first to forbid all the objects about which they ceaselessly fight, and he decides to make a list of these. However, he quickly perceives that the objects are too numerous: he cannot enumerate all of them. So he interrupts himself in the process, gives up focusing on the objects that keep changing anyway, and he turns to what never changes. Or rather, he turns to that one who is always present, the neighbor. One always desires whatever belongs to that one, the neighbor. Since the objects we should not desire and nevertheless do desire always belong to the neighbor, it is clearly the neighbor who renders them desirable. In the formulation of the prohibition, the neighbor must take the place of the objects, and indeed he does take their place in the last phrase of the sentence that prohibits no longer objects enumerated one by one but “anything that belongs to him [the neighbor].” What the tenth commandment sketches, without defining it explicitly, is a fundamental revolution in the understanding of desire. We assume that desire is objective or subjective, but in reality it rests on a third party who gives value to the objects. This third party is usually the one who is closest, the neighbor. To maintain peace between human beings, it is essential to define prohibitions in light of this extremely significant fact: our neighbor is the model for our desires. This is what I call mimetic desire.
I’ve been reading David R. Helm’s Commentary¹ on Jude while finishing up Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy. She’s a gifted writer is Mantel. Her incisive yet poetic imagination will send chills up your spine. And Helm unfolds his commentary with a literary feel that many theologians sadly lack.
If you live in the world long enough, you will go through hard and painful times when, as the Psalmist writes, darkness seems your closest friend. The atheist and the Christian alike cry out, “Why?” Yet even when you know the answer is the fallen world in which we live, there is no satisfaction but what we most desire: help, release, escape from our anguish and circumstance, those things easily cried out for but often bitterly delayed.
As with Job, there seems no shortage of counsel to be got from trusted sources. “Offer your sufferings to God,” says one. But what does that mean? “Our hope lies in heaven, think on that,” says another. But does God then deny us help on this side of heaven? “The real miracle today is faith; the miracles of the New Testament have ceased and were for the early church.” But is that scriptural? Then the counsel most often given: “Pray and believe in the promises of the Bible.” But which ones, whose interpretation, and to what extent?
It’s the last piece of wisdom that troubles the most. If you are one of those least prone to truncate scriptural promises by rationalization, prepared to be as a child looking to the father, this one should give unmitigated hope:
The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. — James 5:15-16 (CSB)
But prayer, when uttered in the darkness, feels hopeless after many a cry and many a month or year has gone by:
I am like a man without strength,
abandoned among the dead.
I am like the slain lying in the grave,
whom you no longer remember,
and who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,
in the darkest places, in the depths.
… But I call to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer meets you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?
— Psalms 88:4-6, 13-14 (CSB)
Faith, even as it’s being tested, seems too feeble to do the job. The very struggle seems designed to undermine what little there is so that, like the man who came to Jesus pleading for his son’s deliverance, we are even inclined to doubt out Lord’s willingness or even power. We judge His resources, His compassion, by ours which lag behind to an infinite degree.
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”
Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief! ”
— Mark 9:22-24 (CSB)
So where does that leave us? Not with the unwise words of comforters who say “yes & no” to the imperishable faith in God’s very present help. Not with words at all. After all, the last words of that most bleak psalm are, “Darkness is my only friend” (88:18). Yet the sense of hopelessness, even in the psalmist, is deceiving. There is hope. A glorious one.
The man who cried, “Help my unbelief!” was helped because he was looking straight into the face of Jesus. So too must we look not at ourselves or at the unwise words of our counselors who muddy up the waters of scripture according to their own doubts and fears, but to One who is the Light in our darkness.
As God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes and no.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you … did not become “Yes and no.” On the contrary, in him it is always “Yes.” For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in him. Therefore, through him we also say “Amen” to the glory of God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:18-20 (CSB)
Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
This morning I read chapters 12 through 14 in the book of Job, the words of a man alternately addressing God and his deluded comforters in the midst of his suffering. Immediately after, I read the first chapter of Luke. The juxtaposition of the two readings left a strange sensation, a net of chiaroscuro, light and shadow, the sunrise of salvation and the nihilism of pain.
Oddly, there came to my mind, Agatha Christie’s psychological novel, Absent in the Spring, and Shakespeare’s sonnet from which it drew its title.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
Caught in the pain of loss, the poet’s world is colored by it. What used to penetrate his senses with beauty now sharpens the knife’s edge of absence. Everything is a shadow of what it once was or ought to be and he is deeply aware of it.
Not so the narrator of the psychological Christie novel. She is absent to her own loss, that is, she doesn’t know what she’s missing. For a brief time an awareness of her loss, her failure to “be there” for those she claims to love, all of life that she’s failed to see and missed, cuts into her consciousness. Her grief is almost unendurable and she is overwhelmed by regret. She determines to change and make amends. But the moment passes like a mirage in the desert heat. She returns to her narcissistic life “absent” once again, oblivious to the misery of those who need her the most.
The pain of loss absorbs Job’s consciousness. But he engages with God through it all. While his “comforters” try to justify his suffering, Job goes straight to the One who can get him though it. He will not “curse God and die” as his wife advises. He will not absent himself to his suffering. He will neither deny it nor flee from it. Instead, in his suffering he looks for God. He remembers who God is. He knows that whatever the season, the summer of abundance or the winter of loss, God is unchanging, steadfast in love and faithfulness and sovereign in power. This knowledge emboldens Job and shores up his hope so that he doesn’t fall into the despair with which Satan tempts us during hard times.
It is the first chapter of Luke that puts it all in perspective. This is where Christ’s birth is announced. Zechariah breaks into a joyful song of expectation and Mary bursts into a paean of praise as her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. Jesus’s birth breaks into history, the history of the world and our own personal history. His birth is pivotal to our understanding of temporal loss because His birth is the moment in time when the eternal becomes more real, more true, more present than absence caused by loss, whether the loss of health or loss through death.
His presence overtakes the absence. His reality in history, in the flesh, through His death and resurrection, overshadows everything. Eternity trumps the temporal. And by the word of God through the Holy Spirit we glean it daily as God who suffered here on earth suffers yet with us, making more real to us the glory that awaits us when we see Him face to face.
Praise God for that day!
Job 19: 25 (NASB) “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV) For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Hebrews 2: 14-15 (ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darknesse nor dazling, but one equall light, no noyse nor silence, but one equall musick, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but an equall communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings; but one equall eternity. Keepe us Lord so awake in the duties of our Callings, that we may thus sleepe in thy Peace, and wake in thy glory, and change that infallibility which thou affordest us here, to an Actuall and undeterminable possession of that Kingdome which thy Sonne our Saviour Christ Jesus hath purchased for us, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible Blood. Amen.
In speaking of the passing of a fellow man of God, R.C. Sproul, theologian, teacher, and founder of Ligonier Ministries, said at the time,“A mighty general has fallen on the field, in valiant service to his Lord.”¹ Yesterday, R.C., as he was known to many, passed away and the same tribute can be paid to him. He labored to preserve the purity & simplicity of the gospel, and he was a great communicator of gospel truths. I am personally indebted in my spiritual growth to his many lectures on video (at ligonier.org) and his books (Knowing Scripture, The Holiness of God, The Consequences of Ideas, etc.). In the final line from his final sermon (11/26/2017) on Hebrews 2:1-4, he said: “I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.”
Below is a sermon of his which pastor and speaker Kevin DeYoung writes as being “one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.” In it, R.C. says, “I suspect that when my eyes open in heaven in the first five minutes of my beginning of eternity there I will be absolutely staggered at the sudden increase of understanding that will come to me when I behold the Lamb who was slain and to hear the angels and archangels singing in my ears, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive, honor and glory, riches and dominion.’ And to see the Apostle Paul and say ‘Thank You for knowing nothing but Christ and Him crucified.'”
I expect that when I reach heaven’s eternal shores, among those whom I will thank for their faithful teaching of the gospel, there will be few more important than R.C.
May God be praised for the eternal work of this His faithful servant!
Once when he was very young, I remember my son looking at me through the very real pain of getting a shot at the doctor’s and saying in surprise and accusation, “It hurts!” I was his mother. I wasn’t supposed to allow such pain, much less engineer it. In his dependance on me, it must have seemed like a betrayal. “It hurts me more than it hurts you,” I’d have liked to have said, but I don’t think he would have believed me, that I would have spared him if not for the ultimate good the injections promised.
And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
Revelation 11: 3-4
I long for the Lord’s return as does every disciple of Christ in heaven and on earth. So in anticipation we labor to understand John’s visions in the book of Revelation, visions that are couched in poetic form, heavy with imagery, rife with symbolism, and characterized by repetition. Truly, the eyes of our mind have to be opened by the Spirit of Christ to understand the Scriptures as once He did for the disciples before His ascension to show, as He said, “that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 14: 44-45).
If we understand that Revelation was given to us so that we may see the end of all things as being Christ’s final victory over death, the devil, and the world, we will see it is as a joyful summons to “Lift up your hearts!” a sursum corda, to rejoice in what Jesus has achieved and will achieve in the coming of His kingdom, and the new heavens and the new earth.
The images from Revelation 11 appear random but are fraught with meaning and I have written about the entire passage in “The Two Witnesses.” What I left out was a closer look at how the imagery of the two olive trees and two lampstands complement the image of the two witnesses and how wonderfully rich they are.