Sunday, May 30, 2021

Prophecy and the Spiritual Relevance of the Promised Future

[On the topic of prophecies of the future] In fact, if it weren't spiritually relevant in some way to the time period before the fulfillment, there would be no point in God revealing it. -- St Aron of the neighboring blog Undivided Looking

On Aron's blog recently, he touched on a question that I had not given thought: Why does God give us prophecy? I had considered what I saw in Scripture when there were accounts of previous prophecies being fulfilled: that people might (or might not) recognize a prophecy as it was fulfilled; that people might (or might not) consider God faithful as he kept his promises. Those things are true enough, and either look backward at fulfilled prophecy, or look to the present to see if any signs are occurring at the time. But Aron's comment added more depth to that: the idea that God likely intends some spiritual benefit to us in the meantime. My thoughts turned to how very likely that is, and what spiritual benefits may come:

  • Hope - The expectation of justice and peace can sustain hope
  • Preparedness for adversity - Physical preparation leads us to to be ready with prudent reserves of earthly supplies; spiritual preparation may lead us to treasure Christ in our hearts, or to keep our treasures in heaven, and be mentally prepared for both physical and spiritual hardship
  • Peace - The recognition of God's plans can bring peace to our hearts that insulates us against the chaos in the world
  • Confidence - Trust in God's promises can bring us boldness and a willingness to act even when things seem bleak
  • Faith - Recognizing God's providence, God's compassion, God's mercy can empower us to see the future more calmly and wisely
  • Joy - A foretaste of the feast to come can bring us a moment of joy now as a down payment on the joy of the future

For the promised future: Thanks be to God!

Sunday, May 23, 2021

"Give your church, Lord, to see days of peace and unity"

On Pentecost each year, the churches to which I belong usually sing a particular hymn with a prayer that calls for the peace and unity of the church. In practice, unity comes from having one leader. I believe that the only possible unity of the church comes from recognizing one leader: Christ. And yet Christ's presence is not a physical, visible, tangible presence. The leadership vacuum is variously filled in ways that create either separation (you go your way and we'll go ours) or turf wars where one group believes that others owe them allegiance. It is easy to look at teachings that divide us. Is it the teachings, or is it the attitude? If each group believes it is infallible or inerrant, it is closed not only to correction but also to other understandings. By the way, mention of infallible or inerrant may have the surface appearance that it is meant to discuss Rome or fundamentalists, but it is not intended that way; my experience is that all groups believe that their distinctive teachings are beyond dispute. 

It is human nature to believe we are right, to trust our own thoughts even when we have reason to double-check them. Whenever we are proved to have been wrong, it is easy to dismiss that as a mistake, as a product of a temporary and unusual situation -- instead of part of the human condition where it is all too common to be missing important information or to be swayed to an error in judgment.

And so this year I would add to the prayer: 

Give your church, Lord to see days of true humility
Guide us then to seek you Lord, unity within  your fold.
Lord have mercy!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Some areas where our culture can grow: Faith, hope, and love

In Christian values, the greatest virtues are faith, hope, and love; the greatest of these is love. These are in stark contrast to the fear, apocalyptic expectations, and hatred that have seeped into the culture. I will admit that I have underestimated the value of faith, hope, and love many times. There is a corner of my mind that is skeptical of them as virtues compared to (say) honesty or courage. Yet people can have honesty and courage while doing things without love and without hope. Honesty and courage are virtues that can be shared by hero and villain alike. And so faith, hope, and love are the type of virtue that will give us the better direction than we would have otherwise.

"Faith" as a virtue was often a relationship-word, something similar to trust. Without faith or trust in someone or something, what remains is a free-for-all, a street brawl, a power struggle. There is no peace without faith in something. It remains to be seen if faith in each other is possible without shared values. Is our shared humanity enough to help our culture? Possibly, if we insist that we do in fact share humanity, and cease dehumanizing each other.

Hope is important as an antidote to despair. Actions of despair, "desperate" actions, have a reputation as showing bad thought, being rash and destructive. Despair prevents us from thinking clearly, prevents us from seeing solutions or from working toward them. Despair is the voice of self-sabotage; hope is the prerequisite for a solution or a reconciliation. Hope can build on the observation that life keeps trying to find a way forward, that people continue working to solve problems, that few people genuinely wish harm on their neighbor. Hope can be a thoughtful hope, considering how many imagined catastrophes have never come to pass, or have fizzled before they materialized.Those who hope in the Lord hope still more.

Taking a stand for the virtue of "love" seems awkward or embarrassing; it's easier to discuss "kindness" (which is also lacking far too often). And "love" can have unintended overtones; it may be helpful to think of it, at the most modest level, as a vested interest in the well-being of another. We do have a vested interest in each others' well-being. There can be more to love than that, but I do not see how there can be less. 

There was a popular commentator who would often say that he chose hope: that giving up is easy, and that hope was a conscious choice (or words to that effect). Let me make a conscious choice for hope.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Unexpected moments

I know for a fact that this photo is not altered because I took it myself.

That's my chopping block as the background, though I no longer remember what I chopped before the bell pepper that left the little scrap. (I'd considered using the photo for an April 1 post some year when April 1 is suitably far from Holy Week, with a premise that it was an apparition of the smiley-face emoji.)

Lately I have been struggling with maintaining Christian hope toward the future while looking at the amount of dark in the world. And, sure, the smiley-pepper is not exactly a game-changer. But it is the kind of thing I can easily miss if I am focusing only on "worthier" things. 

Fellowship is built one day at a time. Consensus is built one conversation at a time. There is much darkness; perseverance is a virtue well-suited to dark times. And in the middle of dark times, sometimes we need to come up for air. Even that can be a moment of shared humanity.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

An Ecclesiastes kind of day

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit has a man of all his labor which he takes under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever.
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arose. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-4)

Some days my efforts here "under the sun" seem more empty than others. I once heard the human condition referred to -- not so eloquently as above -- as "arranging deck chairs on the Titanic." Even on the Titanic, there were a few stolen moments of humanness, of compassion and kindness. To moments of kindness!