Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hypocrisy and Law

Every once in a while I read something to this effect:
Christians are so stupid and hypocritical. How can they say they follow the Bible when they eat shellfish (Lev. 11:10), wear mixed fabric (Lev. 19:19), et cetera? They don't even know what that book says!

For example, this story about a man who tattoos a verse forbidding homosexuality on himself has been making the rounds recently. That the verse comes shortly before a prohibition against tattoos (Lev. 19:28) strikes non-Christians as the ultimate in idiotic hypocrisy.

To add to the confusion, would-be Christian apologists often provide defenses similar to this little nugget, left on that original post:

Actually it wouldn't be the Christian thing to do because the old testament has nothing to do with Christianity.

(As an aside, the tattoo situation seems incredibly hypocritical and unloving to me, too, albeit for different reasons — at the risk of falling victim to the same folly. But that's not the topic I want to address.)

Why do Christians "ignore" some parts of the law? Do the Old Testament laws have any bearing in our lives? Do we just pick and choose the things that seem easy, acceptable, or can we just ignore the whole lot?

Both responses given above are interesting, because they reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about the Law.

Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith addresses this subject:

1. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

2. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.

3. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

4. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

5. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

Christ's death on the cross was the final sacrifice, so in Him the ceremonial laws that God established as part of temple worship have been fulfilled and abolished. Likewise, the judicial (civil) laws were given specifically for Israel as a political entity. So, as one Q&A puts it,

The civil laws of the Old Covenant (example: Lev. 25:29, "If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a year of its sale. For a full year he shall have the right of redemption.") are abolished and no longer binding on us, and the ceremonial laws (example: animal sacrifices and temple worship) are also no longer binding on the new covenant believer. But the one aspect that does carry over is the moral law (as summarized in the Ten Commandments), and we are bound to keep those.

This is an important distinction. We need no longer follow Kosher rules, wear only unblended fabric, or go outside the camp (except in the Hebrews 13 sense) because these rules have been fulfilled in Christ. But we're not similarly excused from following the 10 Commandments and the rest of the moral law.

Instead of looking for reasons to ignore the law, Christians will find it written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Not an iota of this law will pass away (Matt. 5:18). We're still called to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25), and to speak and act as those being judged under the law of liberty (James 2:8-13). We have died to the law in order that we may bear fruit for God (Romans 7:1-6); God's grace was given us in order that we might do the good works he prepared for us (Eph. 2:8-10).

Update: Tim Keller just wrote similar things in Old Testament Law and The Charge of Inconsistency.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why We Lie

From the Wall Street Journal: Why We Lie.
What we have found, in a nutshell: Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people.

This is fascinating research, but the "why" alluded to in the title is never revealed. The "who" stands as an homage to Gregory House: "Everybody Lies." The interesting information provided within is the "when."

My philosophical take on the "why" is that, unlike the humanistic ideal, people are not essentially good. We know what is good and what isn't, and we want to be perceived as good. Yet we still do the opposite.

Some could certainly consider lying a small thing, and perhaps not even an unethical thing. But it's illustrative of the general case: no one can consistently live up to ethical standards -- whether one's own, one's religion's, or one's community's. We see the macro effects of this in issues of obvious evil such as genocide, but we dismiss those as abberations. However, the behavior is ubiquitous and touches every standard we adopt, no matter how small.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Waiting for the Church

You've probably heard some variation of the Island joke before. There's a particularly trenchant one below, copied from Wikipedia:

A Scottish Presbyterian is rescued after many years on a desert island. As he stands on the deck of the rescuing vessel, the captain says to him, "I thought you were stranded alone. How come I can see three huts on the beach?"

"Well," replies the castaway, "that one there is my house and that one there is where I go to Church."

"And the third one?" asks the skipper.

"Oh, that's my old Church."

The joke is funny because, sadly, leaving one's church has become an expected, almost inevitable behavior. I have felt personally frustrated by attitudes that venture in this direction — always from a distance, and without any of the requisite facts, mind you. There are, I'm sure, many legitimate reasons to move on from a church.

Lately I've been reading Andrew Murray's Waiting on God (available in text, in EPUB, or on paper), and it has proved to be really fruitful. I was especially struck by the meditiation for Day 17, which upended the way I thought about this phenomenon.

"I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him." Isaiah 8:17

Here we have a servant of God, waiting upon Him, not on behalf of himself, but of his people, from whom God was hiding His face. It suggests to us how our waiting upon God, though it commences with our personal needs, with the desire for the revelation of Himself, or for the answer to personal petitions, need not, may not, stop there. We may be walking in the full light of God's countenance, and God yet be hiding His face from His people around us; far from being content to think that this is nothing but the just punishment of their sin, or the consequence of their indifference, we are called with tender hearts to think of their sad estate, and to wait on God on their behalf. The privilege of waiting upon God is one that brings great responsibility. Even as Christ, when He entered God's presence, at once used His place of privilege and honor as intercessor, so we, no less, if we know what it is really to enter in and wait upon God, must use our access for our less favored brethren. "I will wait upon the Lord, who hideth His face from the house of Jacob."

You worship with a certain congregation. Possibly there is not the spiritual life or joy either in the preaching or in the fellowship that you could desire. You belong to a Church, with its many congregations. There is so much of error or worldliness, of seeking after human wisdom and culture, or trust in ordinances and observances, that you do not wonder that God hides His face, in many cases, and that there is but little power for conversion or true edification.

Then there are branches of Christian work with which you are connected - a Sunday school, a gospel hall, a young men's association, a mission work abroad - in which the feebleness of the Spirit's working appears to indicate that God is hiding His face. You think, too, you know the reason, There is too much trust in men and money; there is too much formality and self-indulgence; there is too little faith and prayer; too little love and humility; too little of the spirit of the crucified Jesus. At times you feel as if things were hopeless; nothing will help.

Do believe that God can help and will help. Let the spirit of the prophet come into you, as you value his words, and set yourself to wait on God, on behalf of His erring children. Instead of the tone of judgment or condemnation, of despondency or despair, realize your calling to wait upon God. If others fail in doing it, give yourself doubly to it. The deeper the darkness, the greater the need of appealing to the one only Deliverer. The greater the self-confidence around you, that knows not that it is poor and wretched and blind, the more urgent the call on you who profess to see the evil and to have access to Him who alone can help, to be at your post waiting upon God. Say on each new occasion, when you are tempted to speak or to sigh: "I will wait on the Lord, who hideth His face from the house of Jacob."

There is a still larger circle - the Christian Church throughout the world. Think of Greek, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Churches, and the state of the millions that belong to them. Or think only of the Protestant Churches with their open Bible and orthodox creeds. How much nominal profession and formality, how much of the rule of the flesh and of man in the very temple of God! And what abundant proof that God does hide his face!

What are those who see and mourn this to do? The first thing to be done is this: "I will wait on the Lord, who hideth His face from the house of Jacob." Let us wait on God, in the humble confession of the sins of His people. Let us take time and wait on Him in this exercise. Let us wait on God in tender, loving intercession for all saints, our beloved brethren, however wrong their lives or their teaching may appear. Let us wait on God in faith and expectation, until He shows us that He will hear. Let us wait on God, with the simple offering of ourselves to Himself, and the earnest prayer that He would send us to our brethren. Let us wait on God, and give Him no rest till He makes Zion a joy in the earth.

Yes, let us rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him who now hides His face from so many of His children. And let us say of the lifting up of the light of His countenance we long for all His people, "I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and my hope is in His word. My soul waiteth for the Lord, more than the watchers for the morning, the watchers for the morning."

"My soul, wait thou only upon God!"

Yes, there may be something lacking in your church — many things, most likely. There are myriad points of friction in any group of sinners, and as a result, myriad complaints. The Church is no exception, and is rather a prime example. People are apathetic about the programs, the preaching, or the church's direction. Summer vacation, sunny days, and sporting events all encroach upon Sunday morning worship. People stop showing up to things, stop volunteering, stop giving. The coffee is cold and weak. Et cetera, et cetera.

A lack of waiting upon God is partly responsible for the revolving door church experience. People assume that if they are powerless to change what they dislike about a church, God must "want" them elsewhere — as if Church were just another personally gratifying step towards self-actualization, and God would never call them to endure something that felt awkward or unfulfilling. But this meditation suggests more: that being a meta-critic is also an unproductive, unfaithful response. That is, wringing one's hands and despairing of the fickle, flippant, fussy people with whom one worships will simply reveal one's own fickle and flippant nature.

That result — leaving a church for one's own convenience — is simply one square our deceitful hearts might land on. One could just as easily become an entrenched and embittered fixture in a church, a constant and true attender worshipping one's own righteousness from the pew of despondency. That's why this quote is so poignant to me: "Instead of the tone of judgment or condemnation, of despondency or despair, realize your calling to wait upon God. If others fail in doing it, give yourself doubly to it. The deeper the darkness, the greater the need of appealing to the one only Deliverer."

Remember what Jesus says in Matthew 16:18: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Wait on God for his deliverance. It will come.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

An Aural Assemblage

Here's a quick, off-the-cuff list of music I've been enjoying recently:

Parc Avenue by Plants and Animals

Really fun, melodic, folksy rock. I especially appreciate their rustic, wild tinge — which makes sense, given the band's name. Both the lyrics and the music are contemplative and tender.

For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

Mellow and enchanting. I especially love "Re: Stacks" — sad, yet sweet and hopeful.

Noble Beast by Andrew Bird

Another great album by the loquacious Mr. Bird. I love when musicians manage give dimension to both their music and their words; whistling is a bonus.

The Trials of Van Occupanther by Midlake

I've been listening to this album nearly nonstop; I love it. The music is complex and layered, and the lyrics transport me back a few centuries. Simplicity and yearning.

All We Could Do Was Sing by Port O'Brien

I love the nautical theme, and I love the chaotic swing between raw energy and somber meditation. It's like the Arcade Fire moved to Alaska, got depressed, and read Herman Melville. "Put me on a boat and cut the line..."

That is all; I must away to the land of forgetting to post to my blog regularly.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Phases of iPhone Death

I dropped my iPhone this morning — into the toilet. Don't worry: the water was clean. Well, as clean as toilet water can be. I pulled it out immediately, and tried in vain to turn it off.

  1. The water made it impossible to use the touchscreen. I pawed at the "Slide to power off" bar for a few frantic seconds before giving up.
  2. The screen quickly donned some pixelated version of the multicolored empty-TV-station livery. Not good.
  3. The colored pixels all went black, and rather slowly. It was like watching the phone's soul extricate itself from its metal chassis and sojourn back to the great Jobs In The Sky.
  4. I laid the phone on top of a baseboard heater to encourage evaporation. The screen was still backlit, but showed only black. I went away dejected.
  5. Roughly ten minutes later I came back, and the phone had booted up. I attempted to open Safari, but the touchscreen freaked out: Instead of loading Safari, I wound up calling my friend Paul. I hard reset the phone before the call could complete.
  6. The phone rebooted and asked me to plug it into iTunes, or "Slide for emergency". Fearing the caprices of a sporadic touchscreen, I attempted to power down (again) by holding Home and the Power key. I don't mind calling Paul on an early Sunday, but I'd rather not have to explain my situation to EMS.
  7. After powering down for a moment, the phone booted spontaneously. It told me that it had been freshly activated, and started like normal. The touchscreen failed to respond.
  8. I turned it off, and it began a cyclic binge of rebooting and dying — all on its own. I went away dejected, again.
  9. After church, I came back to a phone that appeared to be fully functional — with the glaring exception that the touchscreen didn't work.

And thus my phone sits, encased in the dysfunctional ice of the 9th circle of iPhone Hell. Lame.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Daily Dose of Infixes

In some of today's random Facebook correspondence, I was struck by the following singular-to-plural conversion:
passerby becomes passersby

Aha - an English infix! Most people are familiar with prefixes and suffixes, but the infix is a rare construction in English (and presumably rare in most of the languages English-speaking students study, since so few English speakers seem to know about them).

30 seconds of Google use uncovered "spoonsful" and "cupsful" as companions of "passersby" — can anyone think of others?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Thoughts

Not mine, but one of my close associates:

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