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“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria

Sad day yesterday – although every day is a sad day, seeing the mounting body count, the maimed, the refugees around the world, especially in the Middle East, and especially Syria – but yesterday, July 29th marks one year since Father Paolo Dall’Oglio disappeared in Raqqa while on a diplomatic mission. I know him, and spent time with him and his associates back when I was teaching with the Kurds. I hope to write more on him in the future, but can’t bring myself to it now. This article does it better than I can, anyway.

Quite Alone

Last night (29 July) the news came through from Syria that Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a highly respected Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for thirty years, had been kidnapped. Rumours began to swirl on social media, first about his kidnapping, then about his supposed late-night release.

At this writing (30 July) it’s not clear exactly what’s happened, or where Father Paolo is.

This is no ordinary abduction (if abduction it is). Since the revolution began in Syria in 2011 Father Paolo has campaigned vociferously among the Syrian people and the international community for a peaceful democratic transition. In 2012 he wrote an open letter to the UN’s envoy Kofi Annan. Then the Assad regime expelled him. He has been living in exile since – and continues to call for ‘victory without revenge‘. His is a voice of sanity amid the madness which has engulfed his…

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A bit of silence

I’ve been observing silence on this blog for a while. I’ve never had this much time away from it before.

I like silence. Sometimes it’s needed. To step back and contemplate, observe, and listen a bit more. Lately, I would rather take in and learn more than speak out. As the ancient saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

How responsible we are for what we say. Especially in cyberspace. Once you say it, it’s out there for any of the billions of internet users to access. Words are powerful. They can save lives or kill them. They aren’t to be used carelessly. I’m seeing too much of that. I don’t want to do that because I write on serious things. Perusal of my prior posts and drafts shows eating disorders, mourning the murder of my friend, the quest of the search for God, definitions of marriage, poverty…

Fools have no business commenting on these things. Funny thing about fools — fools usually don’t think they are fools to begin with.  Worse, some people think they are quite wise but are not. “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 26.12). I don’t know if I’m a fool, but I do know I don’t want to be a self-recognized wise man.

For now, on a day when I turn yet another year older, I listen and learn, observing a beautiful yet terrible world, wishing there was something more I could do to make a difference. God give me wisdom!

Web Musings of Mid-March

I’m on break from school and have done a lot of web-surfing. Good stuff this month so far, and many are worth sharing:

From the BBC

“A Point of View: Churchill and the birth of the special relationship” on the Churchill’s stance on the relationship between Britain and the US.

Also found a significant article on the Chinese economy and need for reform China is one of the most influential nations in the world right now, so an economic reform there would surely affect the world.

“Encylopedia Brittanica ends its famous print edition.” Thus ends a 244 year era of those precious volumes of knowledge. This made me sad. No more pulling out random volumes and flipping through pages to peruse any article that catches your fancy. They continue their digital version and online prospects… but it’s not the same! 😦

LED bulbs: The end of the lightbulb as we know it? LED is being demonstrated as a much better lighting option. It looks like Edison’s 150-year old invention is going the way of the dinosaurs. End of an era! This makes me sad too… Am I too sentimental?

Other News and Views

From The EconomistThe rise of evangelicalism is shaking up the Church of England.  The article implies that this new fervor is influenced by America, which may be true, but it ignores that this is really the fruit of British Evangelical intellectuals like the late John Stott and Lesslie Newbigin.

Nice piece from CNN, Saudi Women: Pampered or oppressed?Do the restrictive laws on women painfully violate their rights or does it pamper them and make “men the slaves of women”? This article challenged my prior opinion a bit, and shows there are varied viewpoints even among women… Oh, and sorry, can’t help but link to singer M.I.A.’s strong opinion on the issue in her song, “Bad Girls.”

“Eyewitness India” from World Magazine. An upstart news agency is giving the people, even some of the rural poor, the power of journalism.

Seth Godwin youtube video, says, “Be curious!”

From the Christian blogosphere:

Tim Nichols at Full Contact Christianity has an excellent series on the necessity of the ordination of women, part 1, part 2, and part 3 Some will say he goes too far; others, not far enough. But it’s exegetical and made me think.

“Some Preach from Envy and Rivalry” by Nick Bogardus.  Very pertinent points in light of the severe problem of sharp polarization in Christianity right now.

Jim McNeely “The Life of Jacob According to Grace” The last few paragraphs really took me. Grace is a powerful thing.

An article on the fact that the atheist gathering, “The Reason Rally”, invited Westboro Baptist Church to their conference (but not legitimate Christian groups). This is yet another example of my long list of disappointments with atheists today.

Parchment and Pen featured Paul Copan on “Longings and Needs as Reasons for Belief in God.” Despite its brevity, I haven’t read anything this good on longing/reason relationship to God’s existence since the hefty bio article on George John Romanes I read last year.

The White Horse Inn posted a thoughtful article by Brooke Mintun in honor of National Women’s Day analyzing Dorothy Sayers on men, women, and humanity. Yes, there is such a thing as National Women’s Day, and must have trended big this year since this is the first I’ve heard of it. Maybe that’s why so many of these links here are women-related.

Clay Jones, Why I Look Forward to Eternity is a fun read to end with.

“Has Christianity Failed You?” A review of new book by Ravi Zacharias

I picked up this book as soon as I saw it. The title intrigued me, and I love Ravi Zacharias, the Indian Oxford graduate who travels as an itinerate speaker, apologist, and evangelist for Christ. Also, at several low points I’ve gotten the feeling that Christianity has failed me; and certainly many other people have left Christianity totally with some story of how inadequate this religion was in one way or another. Ravi’s aim is to discuss this question with just such people.

I liked the tone of the book. Ravi is both sympathetic to the straggler and uncompromising in his convictions. I found this commendable because it is not easy to strike that balance. It is easy to try to be so sympathetic that you compromise truth to make them feel better, but this doesn’t do anybody a favour. It is also easy to say with a hard-nose “this is how it is” without any sympathy.

My favorite chapters were the ones on who is Jesus, does prayer make any difference, and points of tension, which was about the tensions of life and how Christianity handles them. That chapter had a good sections on pain, loneliness, and sexuality. Ravi’s approach is to expound beautifully on what Christianity is, and how it answers our deepest needs.

On the negatives side, this is not a definitive defense of the Christian faith if that’s what your looking for. Ravi speaks in generalities rather than specific details, does not have much in the way of analytic argument, and tells many stories and illustrations, or “fluff” if you’re looking for carefully crafted, to-the-point arguments. But I don’t think that was Ravi’s intention. He is basically expounding on various aspects of the Christian faith in a way that is keen to the questions of disillusioned, yet open and sensitive people.

So, I think this book will only convince a certain kind of person. Someone who is already open-minded and has a keen sense of feeling, longing, and sensitivity; Who is doubting or has left the faith for emotional reasons.

It definitely made a surprising impression on me that is hard to describe. Ravi’s strengths as a communicator is to show the existential strengths of Christianity, and this book was him at his best in doing so. It’s worth a read!

Quotes:

“The skepticism about God arises from what we perceive as unanswered questions about life. But in spite of our skepticism, our hearts still beat with those persistent, unanswered longings, and in desperation or cynicism our minds continue to ponder the deep issues of our existence.” (p 27)

“Not only did he [Jesus] love every human being, especially the downtrodden; the core of his message is that he came to embody the rejection and suffering of every person who has ever lived.” (p 38).

“The language of lust and the language of love are much the same. Both say ‘I love you,’ but one says it for a night and the other for life.” (p 46)

“We resist pain because we think of the ‘now’ rather than of life’s ultimate purpose; Jesus endured pain in order to restore ultimate purpose to us and to our existence.” (p 110).

“To all the searches of men and women, boys and girls, kinds and emperors, cities and realms for another way to assuage their thirst for the eternal by any means other than what God has provided – digging their own streams or denying the existence of eternity or giving themselves full autonomy – the Lion of the tribe of Judah revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Bible says, ‘There is no other stream.'” (p 146).

“The paramount need in the church today and in the individual Christian is the indwelling presence of God.” (p 156).

Hell’s Bell or just Bell on Hell?

Rob Bell’s video and marketing of his upcoming book Love Wins has made some huge waves. I’ve seen it posted on facebook and blogs everywhere. Bell does his little artistic media blurb he does so well, asking questions and leaving you. . . confused. Many, such as Justin Taylor, have inferred he is a universalist and wholesale condemn him as a heretic. On the other hand, Greg Boyd, who actually read the manuscript, has responded emphatically that Bell is not a universalist… but then seems to backpedal a bit saying it can leave you with the impression he is. Read Boyd here. I noticed the book is endorsed by Eugene Peterson, who is not a universalist as far as I know, but again that’s not saying alot.

I find this firestorm over Bell all very interesting, but generally disappointing. First, in Rob Bell because he is so unclear. This is unfortunately typical of him; he’s great at asking good questions, but not so good at giving answers. And to top it all off, he’s fine with that. I disagree with many things Bell says and does, but so far it seems to me he is roughly evangelical. What would disappoint me more is to find he really has left orthodoxy to become a universalist, something that has yet to be discovered – which leads me to disappointment with his critics:

Many seem to be jumping the gun to label Bell a universalist so early, when they really haven’t even read his book and assuming things from his marketing ploys that are so vague. Attributing a belief to someone which they haven’t claimed then attacking them for it? That’s just quarrelsomeness. What’s worse, it makes the critics look foolish to those watching this (The NY Times even noted the controversy) and sheds poor light on everyone who does believe in hell. There aren’t very many of us! Why make it harder than it already is to persuade people that there is a hell and they need a Savior from it? They see this as rabid fundamentalism at its worst, not the Gospel of God’s love that saves us from eternal wrath.

What is Bell trying to say? Maybe he is a annihilationist, or of the “new hope” theology, or something else. Who knows? What’s disturbing (if Boyd’s article is any clue) is a read through the whole book may leave you with the same question. This is the paralyzing problem with Christianity in the West today (especially the Emerging church strain of which Bell is a part). On difficult issues we no longer take strong stands, but become increasingly more vague. The Bible has answers for difficult issues. In fact, it has all the answers, especially on life after death. In a time when our world is as pluralistic and confused as ever, this is the time to know what God says and say what God said.

Anyway, if anything good can come out of this hellish debate, it brings more attention to the biblical doctrine of hell. Too many of us believe in hell, but live as though it doesn’t exist – we don’t tell people on the path there to switch paths and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, or thank God every day for saving us from there. Many good men are speaking and writing about it; hopefully it will help wake up the church to its reality. For example, Al Mohler’s article analyzing the desire to “Do Away With Hell” is a great read.

Bell’s book comes out in a few more days yet. We’ll see what happens. I just hope and pray those involved will speak to make Christ exalted and come to the truth of His Word.

Who is the worm?

There is an old hymn I sung last night in church. It goes, “Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” This is the original anyway. Many modern renditions quietly replace “such a worm as I” with “such a sinner such as I.” True, all Christ-followers agree we’re sinners. But are we as low-down as to be called “worms” too? I’ve read or heard a few Christians say that we should not call ourselves “worms.” It is degrading, because people are made in the image of God. What’s more, as Christians, we have been redeemed and God calls us “saints.” They say we’re not worms anymore, if we even ever were.

Before going further, please read this carefully:

“But I am a worm, and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads, saying ‘He relies on the Lord, let Him rescue him, let the Lord deliver him since He takes pleasure in him.’ . . . My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you put me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me, a band of evildoers has closed in on me, they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves and cast lots for my clothing.” (Psalm 22.6-8, 15-18 Holman Christian Standard Bible).

If you haven’t guessed yet, this is a prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Psalm 22 reflects Jesus’ point of view as He hung on the cross, being mocked and subject to sarcastic jabs as He is humiliated in excruciating pain from being beaten and having his hands and feet nailed to wooden beams. He did this to satisfy the penalty for our many sins.

The Supreme Being, God Almighty, became a human, named Jesus. Jesus means “Yahweh [the personal name for God] is salvation.” Jesus called Himself the “Son of God,” but also the “Son of Man.” God becoming human is stooping down quite low in itself. Yes, humans are made in God’s image, but God is still infinitely more than us. For God to manifest Himself into a finite being is an amazing act of love. But He goes yet further in His humiliation, and from the cross He says He is “a worm, not a man.”

From God, to man, to worm. From the highest of the high to the lowest of the low. The Bible says that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corin. 5.21). Jesus became the shameful and despicable as an innocent man, thus making atonement for our sins and everyone who is in Him therefore no longer sinners, but righteous. “Since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5.1 HCSB). God then glorifies Himself and and receives the eternal love of His followers through His own humility.

I am a sinner. I am the lowest of the low because of my sin. I deserve to be a worm forever in hell in unquenchable fire. Yes, my Savior did bleed for such a worm as I; not for me to stay a worm, but to have Christ’s righteousness and live eternally with Him in total awe of His glorious grace.

I’m sorry, this question is lost on me now. Who is the worm?