Who Will Deliver Me From This Body of Death?

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Romans 7:24

There’s a moment in The Understudy1 when the novel shifts focus from what it means to be human to what it means to be religious. It’s a question introduced by an AI that’s a hybrid of microchip and flesh-and-blood tissue. Wondering aloud at his mistaking someone as religious, Attik is asked in turn: Are you a religious man? Are you religious? Without hesitation this organically grown hybrid replies, Of course. Human in every way except for his brain, he knows without a shadow of a doubt that his being is subject to contingencies, therefore dependent on a higher power. He knows too that this is an instinctively religious apprehension.

Attik is no Frankenstein’s monster. Yet this perfect invulnerable being has his fall. He is human after all. His is a body of death, just as the humans who designed him, full of rebellious and covetous desires. As he realizes just how human he is, he recognizes the need for absolution, for peace and reconciliation with the One who gave him and all humanity the gift of being.

Towards the end of the novel, Attik finds himself in the ironic position of a priest.

He knew the ritual. He had the bread and wine. It only wanted a God to make it body and blood now. …

They were all orphans here.

God could make a priest out of anything, metal or mud.

Whatever you were made of, you borrowed your blood, anyway.

Following Attik through the novel, one is following the growth of a religious man and, in a sense, traversing anew old ground, the fall and redemption of mankind, the journey to God. Which is what makes this sparely written scene so poignant and tinged by the piercing cost of sacrifice: the bread is Christ’s own flesh, the wine is Christ’s own blood shed on the cross.

And [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:19-20

As Attik intimates, we are all orphans: that is, until we find our home in Christ Jesus by way of his flesh and blood, his body the torn veil into the holy of holies where we can have eternal communion with God.

And as Attik finds, we are all religious, whether or not we choose to acknowledge the contingency of our being or not. We don’t have control over our lives, not even our own desires. We all need to be set free from the bondage of sin and death. And who can deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7: 25)


1For more on this novel see post below; click here for author’s blog.

O Christian, In Whom Do You Trust?

In my lifetime of walking with the Lord, I have met many weak Christians and a few mature ones. The latter always catch me off guard, so humble are they that it’s sometimes easy to miss them. I would like to think of myself among the latter but I have to live with myself and know better. So I keep praying for wisdom.

In general weak Christians fall somewhere between two extremes: those who carry their doctrine into the world in order to preach it or those who leave their doctrine at home in order to conceal it. The first group tend to be legalists and the second group antinomians.

The legalists take their doctrine and shove it in people’s faces, much like the Pharisees. So the biology professor who is a legalist will continually enter into disputations about creationism versus evolution, and make sure that everyone knows how doctrinally pure he is. He professes his doctrine but notably fails to live it. He keeps to the letter of the law and doesn’t live up to its spirit.

The antinomians take their doctrine and keep it closeted in the private sphere, so that their dealings in the world are indistinguishable from those of non-Christians. They compartmentalize their lives to such an extent that they freely transgress and justify their worldly-mindedness by claiming freedom from the law.

What both categories of weak Christians share is a distrust of God and a high degree of trust in themselves. The legalists are performance-based, trusting in their own works not God’s work on the cross and through the Spirit in them. The antinomians rely on their own partaking of the grace of God through the cross to complacently forego their reverence of His law in every aspect of their lives.

Neither one places her full confidence in God. And by so doing they fail to trust in Him at all. The Gospel is a tool or a plaything, to be used at will, not a way of life. One eye is on Christ Jesus, the other on circumstances.

A mature Christian is not so double-minded. She has relaxed her claim to herself, and committed herself wholly as a “living sacrifice” to her God and Savior. There is no holding back of anything. And she brings nothing but herself to the Cross to which she clings. And in her life “now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Home

Yesterday I saw this on Twitter: I just wanna go home, wherever it is … The  writer was a young Indian woman and an author with over 21K followers. But her age, background, and success at her vocation fades into irrelevancy beside the plaintive cry of her heart.

Those simple words struck through the heart of me because I remember as a child, sometimes, out of nowhere would come an inexplicable longing, and wherever I was, even if with my family at home, I too would say aloud to no one in particular: “I wanna go home.” And the moment I said it sadness would flood my soul and I would be reminded of the absence of something or someone vital to my well-being. But I couldn’t define what it was. Or who it was.

Continue reading “Home”

Francis Schaeffer & Dorothy Sayers

from Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (1976)
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“No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions. Christians [have] that absolute in God’s revelation.”

from Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (1940)
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5105N7SP7VL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it …. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever his peace was, it was not the peace of amiable indifference.”

Hesed Love

A wet stone in my open palm
and the water trickling down my arm
returning to the brook like tears,
the only sign that eyes
set like stones yet can weep.

Such moments deserve better frames
from the hand that sends them
down the assembly line of time
even the luxury to inhabit them endlessly,
a black hole until all feeling is gone.

Holding on to the resentment kept me sane,
kept me from screaming, until I entered
into the rock, limestone hard glitter
so that Elijah-like the earthquake, the storm,
the fiery shaking of world passed over me.

What I feared the most was the whisper
when it came, that would not break a bruised reed
or quench a smoking flax, that would not leave me alone
but sought me out as if this Person
from whom I have a right to expect nothing
would give me everything.

Hesed. Lovingkindness. Waiting for me
to come out of the cave-harbored wretchedness
into the healing light of grace unlooked for,
undeserved, mine to harbor
forevermore.

John Singer Sargent,
John Singer Sargent, “Magnolias” (c. 1890)


1 Kings 19:9-13

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Isaiah 42:1-4

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Note: In this poem, I use a line from the following excerpt:

“In the Old Testament, God defined himself by the term hesed. This is an untranslatable Hebrew word which is sometimes rendered mercy, loving kindness, covenant-faithfulness or even love. It takes a whole sentence to even begin to translate the term, but this is a good place to start. When someone from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything, I experience hesed.” – Michael Card

Selkies, Us All: The Curse and the Cure

There she stood, in a pool of light on the stage, and in the silence between songs she told a story from her native land in the western isles of Scotland, of children born to the king and queen of Norway, born only to be cursed to dwell in the ocean as seals, “always on the shore, never able to go home.”

800px-Small_waves_grinding_the_rocky_shore_of_the_Bengtskar_island

I didn’t at once think of the selkie-folk, stories of whom abound in the northern climes, including the Orkney isles where they are believed to be fallen angels that fell into the sea rather than on land like the faery-folk.

I thought of the damned around us, immortal like us who are Christian believers, but for whom eternity will be in the “lake of fire” (Rev. 21:8), the “fiery furnace” that Jesus warns us of in Matthew 13:50 and Mark 9:43.

Once I too was damned, cursed like the selkie children of folklore, cursed for my sins, born of a sinful nature which I had inherited from my parents, from the race of Adam. As a sinner I too had been banished from Eden, always on her shore – longing for perfection from myself, longing for a perfect world free of hatred, violence, war, famine, disease, pain, and suffering – never able to “go home” to that garden where God descends to walk “in the cool of the evening” (Gen. 3:8) as a Father with His child, made in His own image.

But He didn’t abandon us, sinful creatures though we had become, His image defaced in us by our sins. He took on our flesh. He came down to the shore and walked with us, teaching us, healing us, and reminding us of His love. And He allowed Himself to be spat upon, beaten, torn and nailed to a cross so that “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Is. 52:14).

He allowed the atrocity of His crucifixion out of love for us who were damned. He bore upon Himself the judgment that was ours. All the wrath that was due to us for ours sins was poured out on Him.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed  (Isaiah 53:5).

What, then, are we healed of? What peace do we have?

We are healed of the curse of sin. We can shed our “selkie” skin and be clothed with His perfect righteousness. We have the peace of eternal reconciliation to God our Father.

Dear Reader, are you healed? Do you have this peace? Or will you be doomed to the shores until that day when you will be judged for your sins and suffer the eternal punishment of the damned in hell?

Believe now in the Lord Jesus, and by faith receive the salvation He offers you, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). He is waiting for you, as a loving father waits longingly for his wayward child (Luke 15: 11-32).

You don’t have to remain a “selkie,” trapped in the coming flames of judgement you richly deserve for your sins. You can go home.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

 

 

Elementary, my dear Watson, Elementary

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as religion,” said [Sherlock Holmes], leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Naval TreatyRoses

Don’t Be Weary

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)

Have you seen the “Unsung Hero” commercials of Thai Life? They’re not the usual “roll your eyes” fare. I can’t say many commercials have really reached out and touched me but these did, and especially this one: three minutes long and worth every second. Hats off to the folks who made it. It’s got heart. Take a look:

Continue reading “Don’t Be Weary”

At 5:30 A.M.

An awakening: into steady loss
Dreams escaping into the darkness before dawn
Beloved voice cut short, echoing in the void
To a bereaved daughter, groping
Her way past slumbering husband and child
To a lamplit corner in the pulpit shadow of her father
Cold apparition reaching beyond the grave
Promising all he had failed to give her
Had given to countless others in passing
Like confetti, in deliberate clerical abandon,
Overlooking the child craving him, idolizing
With all the passion of the forgotten lonely.

She sat now in disciplined lamplight
Opening the Scripture chapter by chapter
As if to uncover the key to all mythologies
Of the patriarch, under headstone, after all these years
By her alone lamented, having rested in the peace
He had never thought to reveal to her, to say to her,
That she by grace had a Father who chapter by chapter
Spoke to her His love, a Father who would never fail her.

Many times I think of her172px-StAlbansFiveDock_StainedGlass_JesusKnock
And many times in prayer
Many times I’ve wept for her
Wondering through the years
If she ever heard the still small voice
That called her in the dawn
The voice of our dear Savior
Each day
At 5:30 A.M.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20 ESV) 

Not Good Works, But God’s Work

I was one of those who was brought up to believe that life’s fullest purpose was to serve mankind, to do good works, that the most joyful life was the most productive life of service. Two fellows who were often quoted to me were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Rabindranath Tagore, for self-evident reasons, but here’s a sample of why:

Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.  (Longfellow, last stanza, “A Psalm of Life,” 1838)

I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I awoke and saw that life was service, I acted and behold, service was joy. (Tagore, 1861-1941)

Yet I had seen enough folk as I was growing up with a stoic sense of responsibility who were as joyless as the day is long, but who were happy enough to criticize those who lived for the joy of the coming life in eternity with their Lord as if their constant desire for heaven was somehow a serious flaw in their character. Escapists and weaklings, they were said to be, with no true love of humanity, living for the joy of what is yet to come when Christ returned instead of the practical demands of the day.

Continue reading “Not Good Works, But God’s Work”

Fauré’s “En Prière” (In Prayer)

To tell you the truth, it’s the lyrics by Stéphane Bordèse that hit me before the music, which is unusual, at least for me. Not that Gabriel Fauré’s “En Prière” (1890) isn’t a beautifully poetic piece of music. I’ve heard it performed recently with harp and voice but Kathleen Battle’s performance below is just as exquisite with piano.

“En Prière” (In Prayer)

As the voice of a child can reach You,
O my Father,
Hear my prayer, on bended knee before You!
As You have chosen me to teach Your
laws on earth,
I will know how to serve You, noble
King of kings, O Light!
On my lips, Lord, place the salutary
truth,
In order that he who doubts should with
Humility revere You!
Do not abandon me, give me the
necessary gentleness,
To ease suffering, to relieve sorrow,
Misery!
Reveal Yourself to me, my Father, in whom I
trust and hope:
For You I wish to suffer and to die on
The cross, at Calvary!

Continue reading “Fauré’s “En Prière” (In Prayer)”