O Believer Art Thou…

O believer, art thou in poverty and straits? There is an incorruptible treasure in that house.

Is thine honour in the dust? A crown for thy head and a sceptre for thy hand await thee there.

Art thou shut up in solitude? There you shall enjoy eternal converse with God, the angels, and the saints.

Is your life full of bitterness? You will find rivers of pleasures there.

Are you weak and sickly? There grows the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

Are you groaning under the tyranny of sin? There you shall walk in the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Are defiled garments making you hang down your heads? You shall there shine in spotless robes of holiness.

Is fighting hard work? In that house ye shall for ever triumph.

Are you weary and almost fainting under the labours of the Christian life? There you shall have perpetual rest.

Is your communion with God here frequently interrupted? There will be no interruptions there.

Are you in darkness? There is no night there. Are you in fear of death? There you shall enjoy eternal life.

Thomas Boston

A house of glory

Thomas Boston writing of the resurrected:

“When the tabernacle of the saint’s body is dissolved by death, they have a house of glory in heaven ready for them. Man when he is dead, is not done; though the body dies, the soul doth not. Death is but a departure or change, to some it is a miserable, to others a happy change. So it is to the saints. Their souls depart from the earthly house, to a house of glory. I design not to handle at large this great subject, but only to glean a few things to shew what sort of a house the glory of heaven is.”

Rational Evidences for Heaven

What struck me was his description of heaven and the pleasures of heaven. The new body is fit for such of place. It is body fitted for such joy. I think too often I conceive of a change in place without the realization that my capacity will be new; I will be new.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. http://esv.to/1Cor15.42-44

The Subalterns

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I

Poor wanderer,” said the leaden sky,
“I fain would lighten thee,
But there be laws in force on high
Which say it must not be.”


II

– “I would not freeze thee, shorn one,” cried
The North, “knew I but how
To warm my breath, to slack my stride;
But I am ruled as thou.”


III

– “To-morrow I attack thee, wight,”
Said Sickness. “Yet I swear
I bear thy little ark no spite,
But am bid enter there.


IV


V

– “Come hither, Son,” I heard Death say;
“I did not will a grave
Should end thy pilgrimage to-day,
But I, too, am a slave!”

VI

We smiled upon each other then,
And life to me wore less
That fell contour it wore ere when
They owned their passiveness.

Thomas Hardy

This poem is a compliment to Hap, the poem which sorrows for the meaninglessness of pain in a world without even a spiteful god.

Here there is a rule, but no meaning. Death and pain are built into the fabric of things; the come by compulsion.

He even seems to make a friend of pain and death, “We smiled on each other then”. What a curious line. I believe that line makes the poem neither cynical nor cute. There is something Stoic about a smile upon death (because death cannot help it). But unlike the Stoics I don’t know that Hardy held to any universal Reason.

What then is the rule or force from “on high”? The crushing nature of the world is unavoidable but not meaningful.

A matter which might make for a n interesting comparison in this point Hardy and the younger American H.P. Lovecraft saw a terror in the world which sprang from something ancient.

One made the terror more superhuman and pre-human in source. The other lodged pain in bones of civilization.

But neither could make sense of the horror of this world. Yet, they could sketch its contour with rare skill.

Some brief observations on the Church and heavenly realities.

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One of the critical aspects of the Christian religion is the nature of the Church. There have been many ways this could be understood and explained.

In this short summary taken from an article “Some Classic Views of the Church”in the Ashland Theological Journal, Owen H. Alderfer provides the a summary of the self-understanding of the Eastern Church:

The church is a means whereby the ideas and experiences of the divine realms—the real world—are communicated to men. Indeed, as the future concerns of the Eastern church would show, there must be concerns for truth—orthodoxy, the law of God, and clerical orders, but these are of value only as they contribute to experiencing the relation to Christ and the attainment of immortality through Him.
Such a view of the church resulted in the development of an extensive liturgy as an aid to the attainment of spiritual reality. Congar in his work After Nine Hundred Years shows that the Eastern church across the years has placed great value on “a line of descent from celestial realities to the midst of the sensible world,” so that there developed “a rather sumptuous liturgy, imbued with Holy Mysteries and the idea of ‘Heaven on Earth.’ It was a church essentially sacramental, a church of prayer with less attention to the exigencies of its militant and its itinerant state.”

First there is something important in this understanding of the church; something which is routinely absent in any self-understanding of the average American evangelical congregation: the church is an outpost of another age. It partakes and points forward to the age to come. The church is an outpost of heaven and the worship of the Church resounds in heaven.

The contemporary Church is too mundane; too immanent in all its concerns. The head of Church is ascended in high; we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; or we are blessed not at all.

If the Church does not express divine worship, it is not the Church of Christ:

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Col3.1-4 (ESV)

But there is a danger in this self-understanding, particularly with an emphasis on sacrament and liturgy: while typical American worshipper can sing his contemporary songs which make him feel good; the practice of words and forms of precise character and order can become magic. The worship again becomes immanent: but here my behavior wrenches some sort response from heaven.

I believe it was Pelikan who wrote of worship being mystery but not magic.

We are such instantaneous and easy isolators that anything can be wrenched to bad end.

Another concern I have here is the apparent Platonism: where physical forms portray heavenly reality.

I see the physical form we have here being the Word of God, baptism and the Supper. But the ornate forms, the gold and incense were not prescribed for the worship of Christ. The temple forms pre-represented truths about Christ which became moot when Christ appeared.

The power of God is the Spirit of God working in the Word of God. The forms place too great a premium upon human ingenuity and cultural taste.

A Tent is Still Weaker

Thomas Boston preaching in 1715:

A house may be weak, but a tent is still weaker.
Consider also what death is. It is a dissolving of the tent, a loosing of the frame of it, and then it falls down. Our bodies are not castles and towers that must be blown up, or battered down by main force: not even ordinary houses that must be pulled down with strength of hand. But tents, where there is nothing more to do but to loose the cords, and pull up the pins, and immediately it lies along
.

Three hundreds year ago. Boston’s tent is now well loosed, and his point is well made.

Of course death itself is a natural terror; we have no good defense against it, our body being so weak.

The question thus is not whether we can avoid the tent stakes being pulled-up. That is a given: we will loose. A tornado which tears down a town or a virus which breaches a cell wall will suffice.

Every day, every moment is the moment before judgment. Every second the curse on Adam is proved true. As Boston continues:

It is a house that is daily in danger. Though a house were very weak, yet if nothing were to touch it, it might stand a long time. But our house is in danger daily and hourly. It is in danger from without. There are storms to blow it down, and a very small blast will sometimes do it. Though we walk not among swords, daggers, and bullets, yet a stumble in the highway may do it; as small a thing as a pear, yea a stone in fruit, has laid the house on the ground. It is in danger also from within. There are disorders to undermine the house. There are the seeds of a thousand deaths in our mortal bodies; which sometimes quickly, sometimes leisurely undermine the house, and make it fall down about our ears ere ever we are aware. The seeds of diseases, when we know not, are digging like moles under the mud walls, and soon destroy the house.

Here then is a great weight in the measuring of life. What does this matter since this tent will be pulled down?

Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then

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The quotation below is from Philip K Dick’s Through a Scanner Darkly. The work is an extended meditation of identity and paranoia; not for the faint of heart. In this section the protagonist is trying to determine whether he is really being targeted by someone for something:

One of the most effective forms of industrial or military sabotage limits itself to damage that can never be thoroughly proven—or even proven at all—to be anything deliberate. It is like an invisible political movement; perhaps it isn’t there at all. If a bomb is wired to a car’s ignition, then obviously there is an enemy; if a public building or a political headquarters is blown up, then there is a political enemy. But if an accident, or a series of accidents, occurs, if equipment merely fails to function, if it appears faulty, especially in a slow fashion, over a period of natural time, with numerous small failures and misfirings—then the victim, whether a person or a party or a country, can never marshal itself to defend itself.

And:

Still moving about alertly with his gun, Barris ignored him as he sought to discover telltale traces. Arctor, watching, thought, Maybe he will. They may have left some. And he thought, Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then, briefly. Under very specialized conditions, such as today.

It reminds me of the line from William Burroughs, Paranoia is having all the facts.

The current terror about a virus, unseen; of unknown danger (is it terrible or mild) seems to stir up a similar fear. We live in a world which pretends to have tamed and managed death. And yet here it is again. It wanders about at its leisure like a virulent man of wealth and ease.

It has provoked paranoid and panicked responses. The paranoia of Did I really see that?

And so I wonder, how we’ll have those fears been packed away? Were they just waiting for an opportunity to come out? How easily will they be returned? How firmly will paranoia link up with reality?

What does a culture like ours offer for the fear of death? What happens when do many become paranoid at one time?

It seems we will find out.

The Temptation for Peter

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The circumstance:

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.
3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.
4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”
5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.
6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. Acts3.1-8

The temptation:

The temptation for Peter to make something of this for himself was a strong one. He could become famous in the capital city as a healer. His name would be well known. He could, possibly, make considerable financial gain if he was careful in planning his future, spelling the end to the fishing business in Galilee. But Peter would have none of it. This was Jesus’ doing. Peter had been but an instrument in the hands of his Master.
It looks as though Peter thought about this subject a great deal. Christians are bestowed with gifts by God in order that God may be glorified. Writing at a later period, he would say:


As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10–11)


Our chief end in all of life is to glorify God!

Derek Thomas sermon on Acts 3:11-26

Some observations on the “absurdity” of faith from Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling

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Kierkegaard’s Fear and Loathing considers the fact of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. A central concern of this work has to do with the obvious ethical problem of murder: how can Abraham be a great man of “faith” when his greatest act of “faith” is so obviously unethical?

Kierkegaard takes on this problem from multiple directions. Here, to merely get the ideas straight in my own mind, are certain elements of this text which I found most interesting and useful.

“The old saying that things do not happen in the world as the parson preaches.” (Cambridge University Press, trans. Sylvia Walsh.) Too often philosophy is too abstract, to pat; too often sermons are more platitude than help in patience.

When it comes to the question of Abraham, this book works to avoid neat theories of Abraham’s act: What could he do? God was making him do this thing. Or, well he knew that Isaac would live again in the resurrection; so what does it matter? Or Abraham knew it was some mere trial.

The work (written by a pseudonym; thus, there is some distance between Kierkegaard and the “author” of the work, does nothing to shy away from the fact this great act of faith hinges upon a murder; and thus, unethical in the fullest sense of the world. “What is left out of the Abraham’s story is the anxiety … to the son the father has highest and most sacred duty.”

The ethical makes a demand upon Abraham which runs counter to the command of God; thus, the ethical paradoxically becomes a temptation!

One aspect of the analysis lies with the common understanding of ethical as merely a culturally determined pattern for behavior. While faith may be consistent with such ethics, faith is not necessarily constrained by such ethics.

Abraham cannot kill Isaac and point to some greater ethical good. If it were, then Abraham’s killing could be justified on the ground of the greater good.  But, there is no argument of the loss of the one for the community. And yet somehow, Abraham’s act is a matter of faith. He is not a “tragic hero” who ultimately has an ethical justification for an unethical act.

Kierkegaard aims to disentangle the matter of temptation (by the ethical) from the matter of paradox.

Next, faith is not merely resignation to the greater will of God and a willingness to lose Isaac.  Kierkegaard writes at length of the Knight Infinite Resignation. This knight resigns himself to the loss because there is (again) a greater context in which the paradox of God’s command “makes sense”.

A common intellectual tactic is to resolve a present problem into an unknown future good in the world to come. There is something in the “infinite” which justifies this action in the “finite”. In such a circumstance, the present loss and conflict removes the difficulty of the command of God.

Again, the resolution of the matter is completed by resolving and dismissing the “paradox” of God’s command.

But this will not work, because Abraham does not proceed according to some platitude and hope for the vague future. Abraham expects to murder and receive Isaac in the same act: “By faith Abraham did not renounce Isaac, but by faith Abraham received Isaac.” (41)

In another place, Kierkegaard notes that Abraham was not hoping for some future but was hoping for something in this life: God had promised Abraham that Isaac was the son of promise.

How then does this work out? Abraham is tempted to the ethical; but how could God command the unethical. Abraham is tempted to merely resign himself to duty or overwhelming power, but instead expects to receive Isaac back.

Moreover, Kierkegaard rules out another escape hatch. Abraham is not believing in something merely improbable (which is another dodge undertaken in the name of faith).  Kierkegaard expressly does not mean by faith, something highly unlikely.

Rather, solves his problem by grasping it squarely and stating that faith is a paradox; it actually does hinge upon something “absurd” which we too often which to domesticate.

Abraham believed. He did not believe that he would be blessed one day in the hereafter but that he would become blissfully happy here in the world. God could give him a new Isaac, call the sacrifice back to life. He believed by virtue of the absurd, for all human calculation had long since ceased. (30)

By absurd, he does not mean “the improbable, the unforeseen, the unexpected.” (39). Before Abraham can believe that he will receive Isaac in this life, he must first fully resolve himself to the fact that Isaac is lost. He knows that Isaac is lost, utterly lost. That is the “movement” of infinite resignation. Faith then takes an “absurd” step to believe that Isaac will be restored in this life – knowing full well that Isaac is lost. Faith then says, Yes, Isaac is lost and I will receive Isaac back though he is lost.

One could ask what this dense, often difficult discussion of faith and ethics has to do with the actual life of a Christian today? I do not necessarily find myself struggling with Hegelian categories of thought on the same grounds as that faced by Kierkegaard in the 19th Century church of Europe.

The answer lies in our constant tendency tame faith in some manner.

Olivia Walsh, in her essay, “The Silencing of Philosophy” makes the observation

This idea of the absolute duty to God in faith can lead to some rather remarkable commands, such as the Gospel injunction to hate one’s “own faith and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life” (Luke 14:26 RSV) which exegetes tend to water down in typically ethical fashion.

I will testify to having heard this and similar texts being domesticated by turning the word “hate” into the phrase “love less”.  But the language itself is shocking. We can say this means hyperbole; but if so, what is the toned-down understanding of “hate”.

Moreover, Jesus in nowise ever abrogates the duties to one’s family. Indeed, he commands love even of one’s enemies. Kierkegaard helps us here by seeing the paradox in the duty toward God and human beings. There is a resignation to loss and recovery back which refuse to be resolved by ethical games or linguistic tricks.

Indeed, the Christian religion itself hinges upon the most profound of paradoxes:

2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God made Christ sin – the one who was sinless; so that we who are sinful might become righteous. There are no ethical tricks, no linguistic tropes, no logical move which resolves the utterly paradoxical movement in this passage. Faith takes hold of the paradox in joy.

Introduction to Biblical Counseling, 20-25 (Depression and Anger)

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Schopenhauer On Happiness.11 Life of the Party

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(https://www.si.edu/object/saam_1996.63.185)

In this section of his advice, Schopenhauer becomes both grumpy and arrogant. But his argument is very seductive at the same time:

All society necessarily involves, as the first condition of its existence, mutual accommodation and restraint upon the part of its members. This means that the larger it is, the more insipid will be its tone. A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.

And:

Further, if a man stands high in Nature’s lists, it is natural and inevitable that he should feel solitary. It will be an advantage to him if his surroundings do not interfere with this feeling; for if he has to see a great deal of other people who are not of like character with himself, they will exercise a disturbing influence upon him, adverse to his peace of mind; they will rob him, in fact, of himself, and give him nothing to compensate for the loss.

            ***

So-called good society recognizes every kind of claim but that of intellect, which is a contraband article;

            ****

No man can be in perfect accord with any one but himself–not even with a friend or the partner of his life; differences of individuality and temperament are always bringing in some degree of discord, though it may be a very slight one.

Let’s pick this argument apart. The argument begins with the truism, that no one is exactly the same in public that one is in private. We do monitor our behavior when we are around others.

From that he draws out a second move: since we monitor our behavior, we are not ourselves, we are not free.

There is a third move in his progression, and this is the seductive move, this is truly a burden for the great.

Conclusion: therefore, happiness can only take place when we are alone.

Let us consider this argument. Being absolutely alone is not known to be a means of happiness. In fact, we put the people we are most unhappy with into solitary confinement. It is an extraordinary punishment to force isolation.

Second, while introverts may like quieter settings than others, it does not mean no social contact at all.

Third, why does monitoring one’s behavior mean a lack of freedom or from that happiness? Part of maturing entails controlling and monitoring one’s behavior. Schopenhauer’s entire book is the result of extraordinary self-control. He has had to learn exceptional skills to be able to communicate by means of a complex book.

We can also think of self-monitoring as entailing courtesy and kindness. The very act of considering the good of another human being is a well-known means of obtaining happiness.

Put conversely, does anyone think that Scrooge is the happiest character in A Christmas Carol?

And what does this mean to be oneself? The way I am when I am alone is myself; the way I am in front of others is also myself – in that circumstance. And what sort of self does Schopenhauer mean?

Does he merely mean he likes to avoid boring conversation? That is the case for everyone. I am certain Arthur bored many people. Others found him fascinating.

Now if he wished to be “himself” everywhere, the Cynics gave a perfectly acceptable means of behaving. Their name comes from the Greek word for “dog”. These philosophers simply did whatever they felt like doing wherever they happened to be. You may not appreciate a person who was also “free” coming over to your home. It would sort of like a cross being an undiapered toddler and an ill-behaved dog.

But as we think this through, does not think that Schopenhauer was “happy” being this solitary “giant”? This sounds more like a self-justification for his misery.

He thinks that the reason all social contact is difficult (and I am writing this as person who tends toward introversion and who finds large parties painful) is because he is great.

Now everyone feels uncomfortable in some circumstances. Even the most vivacious often is trying to avoid their discomfort by sheer exuberance.

Thus, according to Arthur, we are all great – because we all feel discomfort in some circumstance.

It seems that he is painful awkward and seeking to solace himself. I tend to think that a friend would do him a great deal more good than nursing an enormous sense of self-worth.

These guys pretty much sum of Schopenhauer’s point: (1) I can’t be myself, and (2) my pain is because I’m special: