Empathy

current reading 2It was not that they were looking for meaning, this man and woman on the hilltop in the early morning. They were too tired for that. But it rose like the sun among us, shadowed and slow, revealing a day we did not wish to see. In waiting, in sleepless nights, in labor, in fears, in blood, in tears, in a grave, in the gospel of the brokenhearted, in the life of the world to come, in a moment, our labor is not in vain . . . .” Sarah Willard, “Talitha Cumi,” Blind Mule Blog (Sept. 11, 2018) [link].

Elissa Ely, “From Bipolar Darkness, the Empathy to be a Doctor,” New York Times (Mar. 16, 2009) [link]; see also Alan Jacobs, “Rene Giraud, please call your office,” Snakes & Ladders (August 29, 2018) [link].

Judgment

Judgment&JusticeOur teaching elder has been teaching through the book of Revelation, and it doesn’t look easy. One thing which has been pretty obvious (at least after chapter 5 or so) is that there is a lot of judgment to be meted out in the future.

Of course there is a lot of judgment being meted out now, too.

Everyone, not just Christians, wants justice to be done. More than half of the outrage on the internet is just that kind of thing—people want judgment on Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, Donald Trump, Peter Strzok, the molesting priests, Serena Williams, etc., for the things they did (or we think they did).*

Of course we disagree about the particulars, either because we identify with the person being judged, or we simply don’t know enough of the facts, or because we are willing to give some people the benefit of the doubt.

Andrew Peterson wrote a song which begins “Do you feel the world is broken?” and it is hard to believe that there are many people — believers or not — who would not say “yes.”

Everyone feels the need for justice, and thus first for judgment. Religious people are notorious for it, but non-religious people seem to feel the same way. (It’s a big reason for non-belief—how could a good God permit natural disasters and human evil to occur?)

Some people recognize that honestly, they too, deserve to be judged.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The Gulag Archipelago (1973).

The most obvious theme of the book of Revelation is that, in the end, God wins. But a second theme is that there must be judgment on evil; indeed there must be judgment on all evil.

But that judgment is beyond me, because I simply don’t know enough. I cannot tell whether a person meant what they said, or whether what they did was outside their control, or whether they were warped by the actions of their parents, or whether . . . I just don’t know. And I wouldn’t really make a good judge, because, by all that is fair, that judgment should fall on me, not just Hitler and Harvey Weinstein, because I think and do evil, too.

And in the face of that, the most hopeful message of Revelation is that the God, who has judged and will judge with perfect knowledge, and perfect righteousness, nevertheless offers grace so that none need be separated from his love.

That’s not the whole story, but it is a pretty important part.

*I think only a tiny minority thinks everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want. If you feel like that is a sustainable position, then I guess I am not really writing to you.

 

1st Journey

Acts logoThe kind of thing I always want worked out (but can’t find), so I make it:

13 1Now there were in the church at Antioch . . . .

4So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, [Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark] went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, . . . . 6When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, . . . .

13Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia . . . . . 49And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. . . . 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium . . . .

14 6[They] fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7and there they continued to preach the gospel.

* * *

19But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch . . . .

24Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.

First missionary journey rev3

1st Missionary Journey handout

No true grace without real judgment

reading the law Rachael Denhollander to Larry Nassar:

“In our early hearings, you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

* * *

Continue reading No true grace without real judgment

RLW 1947-2017

Robert Wears was my friend.

I am sorry, I know most of you called him “Bob,” but I met him through his wife Diane, and to me he was always “Robert.” With my wife Katherine, we four were members of a book club for the last 20-plus years. We have met more or less monthly, and read well over 200 books together.

I did not know him in his professional life, I was not a member of his family, we shared no school ties, we did not go to the same church. I interacted with him medically only once, and in that moment, as he visited me in the hospital before my abdominal surgery, he gave me permission and I threw up on him. Continue reading RLW 1947-2017

Worth reading

Three stimulating articles, without any obvious common theme except the most common of all — a fallen world with fallen people in it:

current reading 2
“Ultimately, God is still good. And he is still enough.”  Bekah Mason, “Finding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman,” Christianity Today (June 2017) [link].

“I am capable of any sin. And God loves me in spite of my sinful nature.”  Sanya Richards-Ross, “My Abortion Broke Me, God Redeemed Me,” Christianity Today (June 2017) [link].

“What explains a person or a group of people doing things that seem at odds with who they are or what they think is right?”  Malcolm Gladwell, “Thresholds of Violence,” gladwell.com (October 19, 2015) [link].

But still, there is always the offer of God’s grace.

Tim Farron

libdemIf you are like me, you would not have recognized the name “Tim Farron” until the last few days.

Mr. Farron was the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, and, it is apparent, is a committed Christ-follower.  He decided that it was not entirely possible to be both, but in so doing, I think he encourages us not to give up on the task of living in a world that is not our home.

This is his resignation letter.


Dear Deidre,

This last two years have seen the Liberal Democrats recover since the devastation of the 2015 election.

That recovery was never inevitable but we have seen the doubling of our party membership, growth in council elections, our first parliamentary by-election win for more than a decade, and most recently our growth at the 2017 general election.

Most importantly the Liberal Democrats have established ourselves with a significant and distinctive role – passionate about Europe, free trade, strong well-funded public services underpinned by a growing market economy.

No one else occupies that space. Against all the odds, the Liberal Democrats matter again.

*We can be proud of the progress we have made together, although there is much more we need to do.*

From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.

At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again – asked about matters to do with my faith. I felt guilty that this focus was distracting attention from our campaign, obscuring our message.

Journalists have every right to ask what they see fit. The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.

A better, wiser person than me may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to have remained faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment.

To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.

I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.

There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.

Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.

In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

I intend to serve until the parliamentary recess begins next month, at which point there will be a leadership election according to the party’s rules.

This is a historic time in British politics. What happens in the next months and years will shape our country for generations.

My successor will inherit a party that is needed now more than ever before. Our future as an open, tolerant and united country is at stake.

The cause of British liberalism has never been needed more. People who will fight for a Britain that is confident, generous and compassionate are needed more than ever before.

That is the challenge our party and my successor faces and the opportunity I am certain that they will rise to.

I want to say one more thing: I joined our party when I was 16, it is in my blood, I love our history, our people, I thoroughly love my party.

Imagine how proud I am to lead this party. And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour.

In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something ‘so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all’.

Thank you,

Tim

For Humiliation

We hate humiliation, but is clearly part of becoming Christ-like. 2 Cor 8:9; Php 2:8; Heb 12:2, etc., etc.

This dense paragraph from Karl Barth karl-barthreminds me that humiliation is displayed by Jesus because it is in his divine nature.  (This is pretty obvious, I guess, but I enjoyed remembering it.)

God does not first elect and determine man but Himself. In His eternal counsel, and then in its execution in time, He determines to address Himself to man, and to do so in such a way that He Himself becomes man. God elects and determines Himself to be the God of man.  And this undoubtedly means . . . that He elects and determines Himself for humiliation. In so doing He does not need to become alien to Himself, to change Himself. The Godhead of the true God is not a prison whose walls have first to be broken through if He is to elect and do what He has elected and done in becoming man. In distinction from that of false gods, and especially the god of Mohammed, His Godhead embraces both height and depth, both sovereignty and humility, both lordship and service. He is the Lord over life and death. He does not become a stranger to Himself when in His Son He also goes into a far country. He does not become another when in Jesus Christ He also becomes and is man.

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2, 84 (thanks to Mark Galli).