God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. I get it. But sometimes I wish it were different. Sometimes I wish God chose the weak things, but then decided to make them crazy strong. That would shame the strong just as well, wouldn’t it? Rather, it seems that God chooses the weak and then, well, keeps them weak. And that just isn’t very easy to swallow.
Whether it’s pastoring a church, raising children, or fighting the physical and emotional demands of the day, simply believing God will come through for us can be difficult. It is like being in an old aluminum canoe and trying to navigate Class V rapids. We are constantly taking on too much water, we are constantly almost thrown out of the boat, and it is just a matter of seconds before our sweet little canoe ends up wrapped around a tree. The truth is, God doesn’t always seem like he equipped us to navigate the rapids of this world. It’s like God worked at the boat rental store and didn’t quite hear our plans for the day. Once on the river we realize God gave us a great boat for fishing on a lake, but it’s a little lacking on this raging river. And that is scary.
Of course, God knows exactly what kind of boat we need and what kind of river we’ll be running. He knows that if we have the beefy raft we won’t really need anything else. He knows that if we don’t need anything else, we won’t look for him. God doesn’t just like to redeem once, he likes to keep redeeming.
When Eve gave birth to Cain, she exclaimed that she had given birth to a grown man (Gen 4:1). Ancient writers told apocryphal stories of Cain coming out of the womb and running over to get a branch for his mother. He was a man-child. Abel, on the other hand, was given a name that refers to breath or vapor. Guess which one God received. Abraham was as good as dead and Sarah was barren when God decided to make them parents. Moses stuttered and David was the runt. Not surprisingly, Jesus shows up the way he does - weak.
I want things to feel more secure and more protected. I want things to be strong so I don’t have to keep worrying about them. I want to know everything is going to be fine because of something more tactile than God. But that isn’t really what God wants. God likes to cultivate and be involved. He likes to be needed. He likes to be the Protector and do the securing. Sadly, there are times when that isn’t the most comforting message to hear. There are times when the message of God’s provision is scarier to me than the fear of screwing something up on my own.
God’s work in us and on earth may be stronger than the gates of hell, but it often feels quite delicate. It feels more like a breath and less like a man-child. And that seems to be the way he likes it. So I guess we pray with Paul, “God keep us weak so that you may be proved strong.” O, and please keep this little canoe afloat.
Genesis: The Creation Spirit
This post is part of the contours in genesis series (click to view the other posts in this series).
Genesis 1:2 starts the Bible off on a strange note. There is mention of darkness that is somehow related to the waters - the waters of “the deep.” Of course, there are issues like, where did the water come from? Did it predate creation? Those are questions that the hyper-literalist needs to answer. I, thankfully, am not one of those so I can just let that be a literary device. And literary device is specifically used to give us a very unique picture - a picture of the Spirit, hovering over the water.
According to some scholars, having the Spirit show up like this is meant for us to think of a primordial war, brewing before time began. The Spirit poised for attack. The dark soupy chaos, ready to counter. This definitely fits what the Jews would have expected. Spending 400 years in Egypt and now walking through the wilderness, Israel would know versions of creation that started the same way. But if you keep reading you see God speak, nothing but speak, and light happens. No fight. No counter attack. What a great truth! What a great God! If that were the only point, it would be good enough. But this hovering Spirit keeps showing up.
The flood story of Genesis 6-9 is an account of un-creation. The water God had pushed back to create land, comes crashing back over it. From the deep places below the earth to the oceanic reserves in heaven - it is as if God made a bubble of land and air in Genesis 1, and in Genesis 6 he simply pops it! The rest of the story is meant to reflect that first creation account: several words only show up in the creation and flood accounts, and when Noah gets out of the boat he is told to “be fruitful and multiply.” Sound familiar?
Guess what shows up in the darkest hours of the flood? In chapter 8 the Bible says God “remembered Noah.” What does God do next? God made a wind blow over the earth (Gen 8:1). The Hebrew word for wind and spirit are the same, so we literally have a second act of creation. The Creative Spirit of God blowing through to recreate man and earth.
Fast forward however many years and Israel is standing on the banks of the Red Sea. The sea on one side, the Egyptian military machine on the other. They need a miracle. They get one. God parts the sea and they walk across on dry land! How does God part it? He uses “a strong east wind” (Exod 14:21). If you love science and the Bible, you will take a deep sigh at this moment and realize that God used natural means to do supernatural things. But Jews didn’t care that God was being scientifically proper. These people didn’t have a scientific world view, they had a Genesis world view. And what they saw was another creation. They saw the “spirit” blowing over the water and they new God was giving them land. Land he had created for them!
And finally, we find ourselves in a room in the middle of Jerusalem sitting with a group of scared disciples. When, out of nowhere, a wind rushes into the house (Acts 2:2). The Creative Spirit-Wind of God comes again! This time he doesn’t blow over water, he blows over PEOPLE. The people, themselves, become his new creation. Their lives become the space where redemption would play out, and God makes them into his new nation - born of spiritual decent. In short, the church is born and the New Creation dawns. Not surprisingly, it looks a lot like Genesis 1.
This post is part of the contours in genesis series (click to view the other posts in this series).
Shortest History of Philosophy Ever!
What is the shortest way to explain the entire history of Western Philosophy? Or, maybe the better question is why does it matter? I think this is a helpful exercise for those who struggle to see the forest for the trees or just can't understand philosophy. It is an important exercise because philosophy is the nest from which the ideas of our world hatch. To understand the 1960's Cultural Revolution, look no further than Nietzsche. To understand why artsy movies end so abruptly, look no further than the existential philosophers. Philosophy is all around us - it helps to understand it. To get a handle on this, we will use the illustration of the lamp on my desk. I hope it makes sense. Of course, as with any big picture get ready for some major overgeneralizations.
Greek Philosophy – These guys got us started by considering the lamp in “heaven” – the lamp above my lamp (heaven is not the best word but it will work). The lamp on my desk is a kind of shadow of the True Lamp.
Medieval Philosophy – Then philosophy moved its gaze to the relationship between the “heavenly” lamp and my lamp (the Eucharist is a good example). They weren't ready to get rid of that True Lamp idea, but now the lamp is more a mix of heaven and earth.
Modern Philosophy – Now comes the interest in my lamp as a completely independent object – free of any heaven, god, or thinker. You can understand my lamp without revelation, you can know it fully if you just try hard enough.
Early Post-Modern Philosophy – Then philosophers began to consider the person doing the thinking about the lamp (I am thinking mostly of Husserl). These guys began to notice that we do bring some baggage to our idea of lamps.
Post-Modern Philosophy – And lastly, all that became important was the lamp in the thinker’s mind and experience. They think the lamp on my desk is of almost no importance, but my own experience with lamps is tantamount. Am I biased against lamps because mine always shocks me when I turn it on? That’s the real question… it is all about perspective.
That’s it. For the most part, this little history works. We started out thinking above the lamp and ended up behind it. Once you see this pattern, you may start to notice all over the place - especially in the liberal arts. Whether it is literature, movies, paintings, orchestral music, plays, it doesn’t matter; this pattern is everywhere. I am not sure if it is in all these disciplines because of the influence of philosophy or because it is simply the natural progression of things. Here is a similar pattern concerning the study of the Bible…
Allegorical Question – what truth has God hidden in this earthly vessel?
Traditional Question – what does God want to say to us in Scripture?
Critical Question – how did the Scripture-as-Scripture come to be formed?
Post-Modern Question – from what perspective do we read the Scripture?
Seeing philosophy this way awakens the question of where it goes from here. We already see more and more questions about this from thinkers like Derrida. He states that what matters most is the vocabulary that lies prior to the thinker. You see? He is pushing our gaze even further back. But where does it go from here? Back to “heaven”?
This blog is intended to be read by the curious Christian who wants to know more about their God, more about his Word, or more about their faith.
I am a pastor in a Reformed Presbyterian Church. I have degrees in theology and philosophy and my interests lean towards things like Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics. I don’t have pet theologies and not a lot of soapboxes, but I do enjoy putting ideas into words. I sometimes seem to have different questions than other people, or possibly I don’t have the same hang-ups that other people have. Either way, that can be toxic for a blog. The Internet seems committed to soundbytes and lynch mobs - I am not interested in either. I rarely think a good idea can be summed up with a sound byte. I actually have a desire to expand ideas, not reduce them. And I have to admit the idea of lynch mob is just no good - especially if my questions make me the subject of one! In short, I am somewhat skeptical of the medium I have just entered. But after sitting by and watching the mean people on the Internet gobble up some of the nice Christians I know, I have decided to offer something different. And I am putting my thoughts out there asking for some kind of benevolence from you, the reader.
I admit, here and now, I am not always convinced that I am right and I rarely enjoy a good theological argument. I often enjoy a good question like others enjoy a fine wine. It is certainly more fun to me than a quick answer. I am happily Reformed and Confessional, but I do sometimes see things in shades of gray rather than black and white. I am more curious than polemical. So if that is the sort of thing you enjoy, then welcome to my blog. I appreciate your interest in my ideas and I am confident that God will lead you into all truth, even when I am wrong.