Sunday, January 25, 2015

Treasures of the heart and soul

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. (Jesus, in Matthew 12:34-35)
As my teen Bible class works through Proverbs, we've considered a lot of instruction about what we say, how we say it, and when we say it. We've looked at how the proverbs cover different steps along the way, from recognizing evil to avoiding evil to recognizing good to pursuing good. 

We've looked at Solomon's devotion to wisdom, and his challenge to all people to add wisdom to our lives in any measure we can receive it, to pursue it openly and passionately:
If you call out for knowledge, and cry aloud for understanding;
If you seek it as silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures,
Then you shall understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
(Proverbs 2:3-5)
The treasure of our heart is clearly tied to wisdom and understanding ... to the Spirit of God and true knowledge of God. In this way, again the scriptures suggest an intimate connection between wisdom and love. There is an ancient Christian saying, "Knowledge becomes love." I'm becoming more intrigued with the relation among them. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Because it is our Creator who gave the word

For what purpose would God command something? It depends very much on who "God" is. If we think of God as a slavemaster and ourselves as his servants, then it is not our place to ask why. If we think of God as a more powerful being who has no special love for us, there may not be a purpose to what he commands. But if God has created us ... then what he tells us to do is part of the same picture as why he made us. What he tells us to do will be the sensible enactment of why we are here. Living that will be the true and ultimate purpose of our lives. Consider this: Would he command something besides fulfilling the purpose for which he made us? To put it another way: if the command came from the Creator, wouldn't the that imply that the command was to live out the purpose for which we exist? If the divine law comes from the Creator, then keeping that law simply means being who we were intended to be, and fulfilling all of our human potential. And it means that straying from it is always cutting short our own potential as humans.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The stones cry out

"I tell you, if these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out." (Luke 19:40, Jesus' reply to those wishing to silence those who were celebrating him by shouting, "Blessed is the King that comes in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.")

At this point, the people very nearly are repeating the song of the angels to the shepherds. But I found myself wondering, what with the possibility that Jesus might be making allusions and with inspiration  a thing to consider, whether Jesus had wanted us to remember any particular stones that might cry out "peace in heaven, and glory in the highest". I found myself thinking most about:

* The stone that the builder rejected
* The stones not one on top of the other
* The living stones being built into a Temple for our God
* The stones dropped from the hands of the accusers
* The stone rolled away from the tomb

The first three are actually part of a set: one thought of God's Temple on earth and in heaven. The next two are more independent, but are definitely stones that cry out the glory of God, and peace and goodwill towards men.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Silent for the sake of the angels

There is a puzzling reference in the Bible when Paul discusses orderly worship, where he instructs that women should be silent during the worship service "for the sake of the angels", and save their questions to ask their husbands at home. While I'm sure nobody wants the worship service disrupted with whispered questions and answers, what do angels have to do with it?

I think I may have found the Jewish context that makes sense of that, the missing piece of the puzzle. It starts with the Jewish understanding of a certain Psalm:
Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

The Jewish understanding of this verse was that the "night-time" reference was about the song of the angels: "in the night his song shall be with me" was the angelic hymn of praise. And why was the angelic hymn of praise heard specifically during the night? According to the Talmud, it is because during the day, the angels kept silent for the sake of Israel, that God might hear Israel's prayers.
"there are companies of Ministering Angels, who utter divine song by night, and are silent by day for the sake of Israel's glory, for it is said: By day the Lord doth command His lovingkindness, and in the night His song is with me. (Talmud, Mas. Chagigah 12b)

Some helpful footnotes to the Soncino Talmud explain that the angels are silent by day "because Israel utters God's praise by day" and that, "By silencing the angels by day, God shows his lovingkindness to the children of Israel, who are thus permitted to win divine grace by their prayer."

Apparently, when Paul cited that the women should be silent "for the sake of the angels", it may have meant: If even the angels in heaven are silent during human worship that God might attend to it, how much more should the mortals be silent from things that would disrupt it. So if some congregation had an issue with some wives who didn't understand some aspect, they shouldn't be whispering to their husbands during the service for an explanation, but saving their questions for home, and keeping silent "for the sake of the angels" who also kept silent so as not to disrupt the prayer and praise.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Best of the Blogroll 2014

To start off the new year, here are my favorite posts of 2014 from the blogs that I read regularly: 

Thin Places continued a blogging hiatus this year; still hoping for a return to blogging. 

Blessings to all of you and yours in the New Year. And a special thanks to all those who blog and continue to let their light shine. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Is human reason capable of knowing God from nature?

Those who study the nature of God sometimes consider: Is human reason capable of knowing God by its own light, from the natural world and from human nature? I suspect this is one of the times when we, seeking God, and arguing amongst ourselves over how we can know God -- or about how capable we may be -- manage on both sides to miss the point. Once we accept that question as a starting point, we have accepted a very questionable premise.

Both sides of the argument acknowledge that we can look at the natural world and the nature of man and deduce many things about God. We may hold to humility, and to God's place in our abilities, by pointing to the image of God within us as the source of this light of reason. We may argue that man's reason is capable, either by itself or with the grace of God of reasoning from the natural world to true knowledge of God. We may argue that man's reason is not capable by itself: our self-interest gives us the capacity for self-deceit.

But does God want our knowledge of him to be based solely on the natural world and human nature? Doesn't God ask for our knowledge of him to be based also on his acts of love, mercy, and compassion? (Even if we were to deduce God's love, mercy, and compassion from the natural world, what would that be worth if we did not see his actual actions among people? Do we overlook God's actions in the world because we do not recognize them, or because we do not value them? Or are we more interested in what our human reason can do blindfolded, and less interested in how much more we could know without the blindfold? Do we ever ask whether God has asked us to use that blindfold, or whether he considers it a useful thing to know, what we would reason about him if we overlooked his actions in the world?  And why would we place the blindfold just there, so as to hide from our view God's actions among humanity?)

Doesn't God ask for our knowledge of him to include his actions and his continuing presence in the world, rather than simply the world's existence? Doesn't God ask for our knowledge of him to be based on his promise of faithfulness? Doesn't God desire and intend that true knowledge of himself includes not merely reasoning about him but knowing him and hearing him, not only from the heavens glorifying him in the ineffable language, but in plainer words in language that we understand? Doesn't knowing God include knowing that he is not a passive and hidden God, but the living and present one? If we try to know God from reason and nature alone, either we are not that interested in knowing him fully, or we are considering a very different kind of God than the Christian God.

There is a scene in the American sitcom The Office in which one character, sitting outside the CEO's luxurious home, goes through the CEO's trash and finds clues that the man is wealthy. He prides himself on having deduced this from the trash. But he overlooked the mansion and headed for the trash; he also overlooked that he actually knows the man himself.

So in the end, my question would be: what kind of "knowledge" of God do you get by knowing God based on reasoning from the natural world? Is this the kind of knowledge of God that God wishes us to have? Is this the highest and best kind of knowledge of God? If it is not, then we must say: "Not really, we can't know God in the ultimate way from things other than God. We know God better when we approach God."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Heaven and nature sing

Nature's sounds tend to have a rhythm, from the birds to the wind to the crickets. The lyrics of "Joy to the World", where "heaven and nature sing" have always resonated with me. Here is a collection of some verses in the Bible about nature joining in the praise of God, beginning with the Psalms that were probably the most immediate sources of the hymn "Joy to the World":

Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad,
Let the sea and all within it thunder
The fields and everything in them exult
Let all the trees of the forest rejoice
At the presence of the LORD, for He is coming,
For He is coming to rule the earth,
He will rule the world with justice,
and its peoples with faithfulness.
(Psalm 96:11-13)

All the ends of the earth beheld the salvation of our God.
Raise a shout to the LORD, all the earth,
break into joyous songs of praise!!
Sing praise to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and melodious song
With trumpets and the blast of the horn
raise a shout before the LORD, the King.
Let the sea roar, and all within it;
The world and its inhabitants
Let the floods clap their hands
The mountains sing joyously together
At the presence of the LORD
For He is coming to rule the earth;
He will rule the world justly,
And its peoples with equity.
(Psalm 98:3-9)

The floods (streams) have lifted up, O LORD,
have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their waves.
(Psalm 93:3)

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the firmament shows the work of his hands.
Day unto day utters speech;
night unto night displays knowledge.
There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.
(Psalm 19:1-3)

If they should keep silence,
The stones will cry out!
(Luke 19:40)