Posts Tagged With: love

Returning to Eden

I began this whirlwind tour of God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage in the Garden of Eden, and it is to Eden that we are returning, not by way of Genesis, but by way of Song of Solomon. After all, it is no good to speak of unspoiled beauty and splendor. We’re fallen, and the Garden is lost to us, as is the perfection that we would have found there. And so, here we are. We all crave Eden, whether we realize it or not, because Eden represents what should have been. When we contemplate the unspoiled world, it evokes a sense of longing, a half-whimsical desire to be there. We don’t want to read about it; we want to get there somehow. So it is with Heaven, a place we also cannot get to without a bit of unpleasantness. So then, Eden lies in the past, and Heaven waits in our future. What are we to do in the present? There are many answers to that question, but I am going to offer one for your consideration.

Far from being some sort of mystical allegory of spiritual truths, I believe- as many others before me- that Song of Solomon is a celebration of all that is good and right about marriage. Its message is that- while we have been exiled from Eden- we can enjoy intimacy and fulfillment as God’s blessing on marriage partially unmakes the curse that sin and Satan have brought into our world. “The marriage bed undefiled” and all that it represents provides a means of returning to Eden, and through a truly blessed romance, we can see the world we were made for. Matrimony is a blessed reprieve, a retreat from the turmoil of the fallen creation. I’m not just speaking hypothetically or poetically, here. I truly believe the Bible points to marriage as a grace given to make life more meaningful and joyous and less of a burden. But you don’t have to take my word for it (cue Reading Rainbow theme and Levar Burton, sans VISOR). Here’s a quote from Jill Munro’s Spikenard and Saffron on Eden and Song of Solomon: “The garden, which in the Genesis story becomes an inaccessible place from which humanity is exiled, in the Song is rediscovered in the woman; it is in union or communion with her that her lover rediscovers the bliss of which the Eden story spoke. As a result, the world around is recreated; it too becomes a garden, a garden of love which the reader too may enter for a time.” Phyllis Trible has also noticed this similarity, as she writes: “Whatever else it may be, Canticles is a commentary on Genesis 2-3. Paradise Lost is Paradise Regained.”

Make no mistake, however. The couple in Song of Solomon is not perfect. There is struggle, hurt, and sorrow, but there is also healing and growth. It is a beautiful example of obedience to the creation order. Song of Solomon creates a picture of what Genesis 1-2 describe, or as near to it as we can get this side of Heaven. It is as if the Author is telling us that we do not just have to read about the Creation Order: somehow, in some way, we can get inside the story itself. Think about it with me for a moment. Without describing the Days of Creation, Solomon and his beloved enjoy all elements of that creation. There is light and water and animals and fruit and forests. There is music and splendor and majesty. There is gold and wealth, joy and gladness. There is a spoken blessing on the marriage, linking the speaker to the Creator: “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” What we read about in Genesis 1-2, Solomon and the Shulamite are able to experience.  Consider also their marital experience in relationship to the Created Order. They are heterosexual,  monogamous, and co-equal. It’s one of union and communion. The connection with Genesis is no small one. Adam and Eve are parallel to Solomon and the Shulamite.

Who is this Shulamite woman, anyway? To be honest, no one knows for certain. Some suggest that she is Abishag, the female attendant to David in his old age. They claim that she married Solomon officially due to being in David’s harem, pointing to the fact that she was from Shunem as evidence. I would remind the reader that “Shulamite” and “Shunamite” are not at all the same thing, and that there is no concrete evidence that Shulem was ever a village or town in Israel. I do not think this is a name for her birthplace, nor do I think this is a name at all, at least in the normal sense. You see, in Hebrew, “Shulamite” is simply the feminine form of the masculine name translated….”Solomon.” It is her title, not her name. He is Solomon, and she is the Solomon-ess. These names demonstrate that love and commitment has made them equals, but that is not the focus of the book. The focus in Song of Solomon is on their love and their devotion, and in their romance they enjoy something that their very names reveal as well. The name Solomon/Solomoness means peace.

Not only does the Solomon/Solomoness (“Shulamite”) connection reveal a sense of equality and peace, but it provides another link with the Created Order. He is Solomon, and she is the Solomoness. They are equal, but- far more importantly- they are two halves of the same Whole. This is a “one flesh” relationship. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine….”, she says. Later, she adds, “His desire is for me”, a reversal of God’s statement to Eve in the Garden: “Your desire will be to your Husband.” This is the solution to the situation posed by Him at the beginning. Relationships begin fragmenting because of human nature, but they can be mended. The wife has begun by desiring what she cannot always have (she does so twice in the poem), but throughout the poem, they’ve come to desire each other. In this the Fall is partially unmade. Solomon and the Solomoness are mutual, reciprocal partners- fitting helpers for each other. Through their love, commitment, and romance, God has blessed the husband and wife, and they are now experiencing what was described way back in Genesis, something Richard M. Davidson calls “Paradise Love.”

What does this love look like? It is beautiful and sensuous: the Song describes romance using imagery encompassing all five senses. It is an exciting celebration: there is great joy when lovers see each other, and the wedding is one of great splendor. It is a thrilling adventure: the Song is filled with statements such as “Arise my love, and come away with me! Let us make haste!” Davidson notes that the poem describes the exhilaration of springtime, a daring expedition into the rocky clefts, etc. Paradise love is erotic and unashamed, yet blessed of God. It is restrained and in good taste as well. There are jokes alongside passionate romance. It is most of all a mystery, as we see both lovers captivated yet unable to fully explain the power of what they are feeling.

There is much more to say about the significance of Song of Solomon, but I think I’ve made my point for now. There’s nothing worse than spoiling a good poem anyway. Poetry, like romance, must be experienced in order to be understood.

I must thank two people for making this latest post possible. As I hope is obvious, this series of blog posts is the result of a long period of studying and accumulating information on this subject, and I feel I must give credit where credit is due. I’ve read a lot of Scripture, scholarly articles, and books on this subject, but the single most helpful resource on this topic- other than the Bible, of course- has been the work of Richard M. Davidson. His book entitle Flame of Yahweh has put me lightyears ahead of where I would be had I been trying to study the subject on my own. He provides a massive bibliography on human sexuality, and the entire book is a Bible study of sorts. While the previous blog posts have come largely from my own notes on this subject- including notes taken from Flame of Yahweh- this post is largely a summary of the third part of Davidson’s work.

The other person I need to thank is my wife. On August 10th, we will celebrate five years of marriage together. As I’ve said a lot in this post, it is one thing to read and study a subject, but it’s another thing entirely to experience the thing yourself. For Solomon, the Shulamite woman created the loving relationship necessary to experience the romance described in Genesis. For myself, I have been blessed with the love of a woman who has made that possible for me. We have endured tragedy and illness, sorrow and heartache. We’ve also experienced great joy in the adoption of our two boys, and we’ve gazed in wonder at God’s provision in ways we didn’t expect. Laura has provided a loving home for myself and the boys, and she has brought peace to what would have been chaos without her. She calms the storms stirred up by two toddlers running through the house, but she is also one of the few people capable of calming storms within me just by her very presence. She gives unselfishly, even if the cost to herself is great. She is a hard worker, filled with strength and determination. She is loving and compassionate, and her worth is “far above rubies.” She’s a beautiful picture of what Proverbs 31 describes. I can’t wait to see what our future holds together, Laura. I love you.

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Categories: Bible, christianity, Doctrine | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Polygamy as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

We’ve talked already about God’s design for human sexuality, and we’ve addressed homosexuality as a distortion of that design. Now I’d like to address the issue of polygamy. Opponents of traditional marriage will often bring up the subject of polygamy in the Bible, noting that not only are there some famous biblical examples, but there are also specific laws concerning concubines within Scripture itself. The obvious purpose in bringing up these “alternative lifestyles” is to demonstrate that multiple versions of “biblical marriage” exist, leaving room to justify a variety of behaviors and weakening the case against same-sex “marriage.” So what do we do with these accusations? Is it true that God has provided for and blessed more forms of marriage than the Edenic model in Genesis 1-2?

One thing that can be said for sure is that the Edenic model is considered the norm throughout Scripture. Genesis 2 and Jesus in Matthew 19 echo the “husband and wife” formula for marriage. Scattered throughout the centuries in between are countless “one man-one woman” marriages mentioned specifically in the Pentateuch. The Mosaic Law always uses the “husband and wife” formula rather than “wives”, Solomon tells his son to “rejoice in the wife [singular]” of his youth in Proverbs 5:18 and again in Ecclesiastes 9:9, and Malachi 2:15 speaks of a man who is not faithful to the “wife of his youth.” While polygamy does occur, it is clearly outside of the biblical norm.

It is interesting to note that, while polygamy was assumed in Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and a variety of other Ancient Near-Eastern cultures, it is relatively rare in Scripture. When it does occur, modern readers of Scripture are often surprised that there is no explicit condemnation of the practice. However, the Author of Scripture clearly expresses Divine disapproval in more subtle, yet more powerful, ways within the narrative itself- even within the grammar and literary structure. We must remember that the Bible isn’t a book of moralizations or simple lessons, like a Christianized “Aesop’s Fables.” It is the revelation of God and His works to man.

Lamech, Abraham, and Jacob as polygamists

The first polygamist in Scripture is Lamech, a man who bragged to his wives that he had murdered a man, inviting God to judge him worse than Cain was judged. The narrative contains no explicit condemnation of Lamech, but he is portrayed as an evil, rebellious man in just a few verses. Lamech’s polygamy is mentioned three times in this passage, underscoring his sin and removing all possibility that God had approved of polygamy prior to the Flood. In the genealogies in Genesis 4-5, it’s also interesting to note that Lamech is the 7th descendent of Adam through Cain’s line, while Enoch- the man who walked with God- is the seventh descendent of Adam through the godly line of Seth. The parallelism between the two men is clear- there is godliness and monogamy contrasting godlessness and polygamy.

The first case of polygamy committed by a believer is, of course, Abraham. Abraham had come from a land of polytheism and polygamy (worship of multiple gods and multiplying of wives go hand-in-hand throughout history.) Believing that God would make good on His covenant promise to provide land, descendants, and blessing through a son he would have with Sarah, Abraham had journeyed to Canaan. In an infamous period of weakness, Abraham agrees with his barren wife that it would be best to impregnate a slave girl named Hagar in order to provide a son. While this practice seems strange to us, it was actually quite common for wealthy people in Abraham’s day, since that would prevent the wife from experiencing the embarrassment of allowing her husband to marry a second woman. “If the marriage proved to be infertile…the wife was able to present one of her slave girls, sometimes specially purchased, to her husband to produce children for their own marriage…The authority over the children resulting from the union belonged not to the slave girl who bore them but to the chief wife,” according to Martin J. Selman’s essay “Comparative Customs and the Patriarchal Age.”

Humanly speaking, Hagar was viewed as Abraham’s wife, however, God did not see her in this way. Not only was she not the wife of the Covenant with Abraham, but Abraham’s relationship with her had broken the marriage paradigm set forth in Genesis 1-2. When God speaks in the narrative, Sarah is called “your wife” while Hagar is called “the slave girl of Sarah.” When Hagar ran away, it is no accident that God tells her to go back to Sarah, not Abraham. In addition to the obvious evidence, we find there is a more subtle hint that Hagar’s relationship with Abraham was not condoned by God. Ray McAllister and Andre Wenin have both pointed out the similarities between Genesis 3 and Genesis 16. Just as Eve took the forbidden fruit and gave it to her husband, Sarah took her slave girl and gave her to Abraham. As Adam “listened to the voice of” Eve, Abraham “listened to the voice of” Sarah. The similarities between the wording of the narratives are not accidental. If nothing else, the Bible underscores the strife and discord between Hagar and Sarah and between Ishmael and Isaac.

Jacob’s polygamy is a second infamous account, but it is used more often than Abraham’s polygamy because the “Children of Israel” (Jacob) are descended from all four wives/concubines. Is Jacob an example of Divine approval of marriages outside the Edenic account? Jacob clearly intended on only marrying Rachel at the beginning, but he was tricked into marrying Leah instead. Jacob continued to work for Rachel, voluntarily agreeing to follow local customs in marrying both women. Bilhah and Ziplah are called concubines in Genesis 35:22 and wives in Genesis 37:2, they seem to have the same rights as wives, and all four women’s children are given equal standing in the family. However, the entire narrative of Jacob’s family is one filled with jealousy, revenge, strife, and lack of self-control. The children of Jacob are filled with all the same sorts of problems as their parents!

Jacob himself goes through a radical transformation, though. At one point, He encounters God Himself and begins a wrestling match with Him. At the culmination of the match- which God permitted to go on for much, much longer than it should have- God hit “the hand of Jacob’s thigh”, creating a permanent limp. Why did God do this? Stanley Gevirtz’s essay “Of Patriarchs and Puns” suggests that it was a graphic Divine rebuke of Jacob’s polygamy, because He struck Jacob in a region associated with the genitals. (“Hand of Jacob’s thigh” would be the curved region of the inner thigh– near enough to the mark without damaging all chances of further reproduction.) A clear behavioral shift occurs afterwards, suggesting Jacob (I mean Israel) got the message. Prior to this encounter, Jacob has sexual relations with all four women. After the event, however, sexual relations are mentioned exclusively with Rachel, and only Rachel gives birth to a child (35:18). While Jacob called both Rachel and Leah his wives in Genesis 30:26 and 31:50, Rachel is his singular wife by Genesis 44:27, and in the genealogy of Genesis 46, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah are referred to women who “bore to Jacob” children, but Rachel is called “Jacob’s wife Rachel.” (Genesis 46:15-25) It is clear in Scripture who the recognized wife was, and who the counterfeits were. Jacob began poorly, but ended righteously.

Wives, Concubines, and the Mosaic Law

In Exodus 21:7-11, we read the following:

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, orher marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”

Does this law support polygamy and concubinage, as claimed by opponents of traditional marriage? Hardly. This is one of many cases in the Old Testament of “case law.” The purpose of case law in the Ancient Near East is to determine what should happen in a given scenario. Case law does not make the scenario legitimate and legal. It only explains what should happen as a result of the given scenario. If case law in Exodus 21:7-11 legitimizes slavery, concubinage, and polygamy simply because it brings up the scenario, then Exodus 21:37 legitimizes theft by simply beginning with the words: “When someone steals an ox or a sheep…”! I would add as an aside that there are three situations in this passage, none of which deal with polygamy in actuality. If the master rejects the girl as a wife, she is to be freed by being bought back by the father. If the master’s son marries her, she is to be treated as a daughter and not a slave. If the master marries a woman other than the girl, the girl is to be assured of all basic necessities including food, clothing, and shelter. In this third scenario “another wife” has the connotation of “a different wife”, meaning this third scenario doesn’t even deal with polygamy in the first place.

Another similar situation is found in Deuteronomy 21:15-17, in which the rights of the first-born son are dealt with:

“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.”

While some would argue that this passage assumes polygamy will occur, that interpretation is only valid if the intended meaning is that the man has two wives at the same time. That is by no means a requirement of the language or the context- even the grammar in the original Hebrew avoids requiring polygamy in this context. If, however, this case law does provide for a child of polygamy (as it’s tempting to read the Jacob narrative into the text), it is again an example of case law, not necessarily a text condoning polygamy.

Polygamy in Judges, Samuel, and the Kings

In the book of Judges, Gideon, Jair, Ibzan, and Abdon are all judges who had multiple wives. In Gideon’s case, polygamy is again paired with idolatry, as the two are frequently connected throughout history. Judges 19-21 reveals that polygamy and concubinage were not unusual by the end of Judges. However, the world of Judges is not a pleasant place. A hedonistic and decadent society, the Israel of Judges features such appalling violence as a Levite (of the priestly tribe) and his host sacrificing the Levite’s concubine to avoid homosexual rape. When the concubine is left for dead in the morning (but not necessarily actually dead yet), the Levite butchers the concubine (who had previously been unfaithful to him) and sends pieces of her body throughout Israel. When combined with the commentary in 21:25 “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, Judges is a powerful condemnation of immoral sexual activities, not evidence of God’s permissiveness on the matter.

The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles also tell a story of further sexual distortion. Elkanah, the father of Samuel, is a polygamist, as are Saul, David, and Solomon. Six of 20 Judean kings have more than one wife, and Ahab of the northern kingdom has multiple wives. This does not mean, however, that God is permissive, approves, or blesses polygamy at this point. Hannah and her rival “sister wife” experience great personal grief and anguish, and polygamous kings dealt with national and personal consequences. With the exception of two incidents, all instances of polygamy are portrayed as disobedience to God. I’d like to take a moment to address these two supposed exceptions to the rule.

David- in spite of polygamy- is called a man after God’s own heart in 1Samuel 13:14. In his book Polygamy in the Bible, Ronald du Preez makes a strong case against this justification of a non-traditional “biblical” marriage. Du Preez points out that David was not called a man after God’s heart while he was married at all- this event takes place while Saul is still on the throne and all the Philistines still look like Philistines underneath their clothing. (Some of you will get that later.) Du Preez further notes a pattern in David’s life: servitude, supplication, salvation, silence, and sin. As this pattern repeats over and over throughout David’s life, his many wives are only brought up while in the “sin” stage, which is also a time of turmoil and judgment in David’s life. This careful placement of references to polygamy are clearly meant to draw the reader’s attention to Divine disapproval- they are not an accident or coincidence.

Besides du Preez’s pattern, we also notice that Nathan’s parable to David after his sin with Bathsheba also expresses disapproval. However, some would have us believe that Nathan’s statements to David constitute a blessing from God on polygamy:

“Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.” – 2Samuel 12:7-8

People who favor the Divine blessing view completely ignore God’s judgment in verse 11 of this same passage. Because of his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, God says that he will give his wives, in turn, to another. This person turns out to be Absalom, David’s own son. It is unthinkable that this act of giving meant that adultery and incest were in turn blest by God, as they are abominations in Leviticus 18:8. Absalom is clearly a villain in Scripture, a hedonistic rebel who dies tragically. God is allowing something to occur in spite of the fact that it is sin. In cases of this type of permissiveness, the language says that God does what He is technically only allowing to take place. Furthermore, if giving David the wives of Saul was meant to be a blessing of polygamy, then David, in turn, would be committing incest by sleeping with Ahinoam, the mother of his wife Michal. If this is the case, David should have been put to death for something God had blessed! Instead, saying “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your armsspeaks of possessions, not marriage. David became the keeper of all that was Saul’s. Besides all this, Nathan’s parable hints at monogamy by pointing out that the righteous Uriah had only one “lamb” as opposed to the wealthy “shepherd-turned-thief” David. It seems quite clear that David returned to a monogamous state in 2Samuel 20:3, after God’s judgment had taken place. In this verse, David has retaken the throne from Absalom, but he puts his wives and concubines in a separate estate, providing for them and protecting them. It is stated that he does not “go in unto” them anymore. This means that David is strictly monogamous with Bathsheba, a correction of his previous mistakes.

The second supposed exception to the rule regarding polygamy comes in the form of a King named Jehoash in 2Kings and Joash in 2 Chronicles. Let’s take a look at the two relevant passages.

2Kings 12:1-3: “In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.”

2Chronicles 24:1-3: “Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. Jehoiada got for him two wives, and he had sons and daughters.”

Obviously, it is this second passage that causes those who wish to undermine traditional marriage to sit up and pay attention. Notice above that the structure is the same in each passage, even if the wording is changed. Joash begins reigning when he was 7, and he reigns for 40 years. He did right in the sight of God thanks to the guidance of the priests. In the Kings passage, Joash sinned through idolatrous polytheism, the worship of multiple gods. In the parallel reference, Jehoiada the priest gave him two wives, which we have already stated is connected with idolatry: two negative events are placed in parallel at the end of the writing concerning Joash. It should also be added that in the Hebrew, there’s a word which does not usually get translated in modern versions: the consecutive waw. This word can be translated “and” (“And Jehoiada got for him two wives….”) or it can be translated “but” or “except” (“Except Jehoiada got for him two wives…”) The use of “except” in this passage parallels perfectly the negative “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away” in the Kings passage. Idolatry and polygamy are portrayed negatively in parallel to each other, exactly as we have seen in other passages throughout Scripture. Clearly, Joash’s polygamy is not the subject of Divine blessing.

Summary and Application

So we see from this little trip through the Old Testament that God consistently forbids and disapproves of polygamy in all forms. The attempt made by some to question the concept of “biblical marriage” by introducing these false marital forms falls absolutely flat. God does not bless these lifestyles, and He clearly sees them as adulterous. We’ve also seen that there is a relationship between polytheism (worship of multiple gods) and polygamy, even if Yahweh is among the other gods in the pantheon. Today in modern-day America, lifestyles beyond the boundaries of the biblical marriage format are- at the core- the result of worshipping something or someone besides the God of the Bible. It is in casting down the spiritual high places that we can return to a truly biblical understanding of God’s plan for marriage.

However, let’s not forget that God is merciful to nations and individuals who have not chosen rightly in this area. God gave the world before the Flood 120 years during which His Spirit “strove with man.” God did indeed bless Abraham, Jacob, and David in spite of their polygamy because He is good, gracious, and loving, not because their lifestyle choices were always right. Goodness and mercy are in God Himself, not in us, as is evidenced by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. God tends to the needs of the victims of abusive relationships, just as He tended to poor Hagar, the slave. He met people where they were at in life, such as Jacob, and brought them up to places only He could take them.

This post is part of a continuing series on theology and human sexuality. I plan on writing a few more entries on the role of women in Scripture and the ideal picture of love and romance in Song of Solomon. You can read the next post on adultery by clicking this link.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible, Bible Study, Contemporary Issues, Doctrine, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

With My Body, I Thee Worship

I want to suggest here in this post that worship is the greatest need of any human who has walked the face of this earth. That isn’t to say that you and I don’t have other needs that are important. However, the need to worship is what we feel most strongly. The reality is that worship is what makes the world go round. I mean that both in the most positive and most negative way possible. Of course faith is important to people, and many good things have been done in the name of Christianity. Many evil things are done because of worship as well. In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says: “All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Ravi Zacharias defines worship as “a posture of life that takes as its primary purpose the understanding of what it really meant to love and revere God. It is the most sacred intimacy of all.” In other words, when Jesus said that He was the Bread of Life and that He offered Living Water capable of quenching any hunger and any thirst, He intended His words to be far more meaningful than most of us take it. When He said that the greatest commandment was: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, He was referring to a life of worship. He was referring to a relationship that blends together both the physical and spiritual, reverence and passion, intense celebration and deep commitment.

Perhaps this is why Jesus speaks in terms of food and water. Yes, they are needs that must be fulfilled. However, we do not merely eat to satisfy a need. We also eat and drink because it is pleasurable. We enjoy eating, drinking, and being merry. Worship also is pleasurable to us, and it brings a sort of satisfaction and joy that is more celestial than terrestial. Partaking in food and drink are also times of fellowship. Any Christian knows that fellowship and food are virtually synonymous in a church setting. Outside the church, the relationship between relationship-building and food is strong. We meet and eat for business, romance, as a stress-relief, and even as a way of showing sympathy. Worship is also a time of fellowship. It is in worship that we have true fellowship with the Creator, the God Who came near. (Is there a significance in Communion being a time of people partaking of food and drink together? I think so.)

In short, worship is about far more than music. It is about prayer, Bible study, evangelism, discipleship, child rearing, engineering, teaching, construction, rest, travel, and, yes, even meals. Worship is about the whole Being. Notice that Ravi Zacharias says that worship is a “posture of life.” It isn’t about an hour on Sunday, or even several hours every day. It is about every moment of every day being Sacred. It is about doing all to the glory of God. It is about a reverential love for the Creator and Savior.

Thomas Cranmer knew that the English word “Love” didn’t do justice to the reality it was meant to describe. Though it has gone out of practice, Cranmer changed the marriage rite in 1662 to include the line: “With my body I thee worship and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” It was later changed to “with this ring I thee wed.” I personally like Cranmer’s version better. How much better is that line than crassly describing the consummation of marriage as “having sex”? How much more accurate is it to describe the intimacy of marriage as a type of worship, an image of the worship of God that should be a part of every believer’s life.

If it isn’t a part of our lives, we very quickly move on to worshipping something else, for we cannot restrain ourselves from doing so. We may worship power, wealth, fame, relationships, pleasure, false gods, or- ultimately- ourselves. That simply means that we haven’t looked beyond ourselves to see that there is Someone truly worthy of all that attention. If God is the only Thing in this world that can bring true happiness, doesn’t it make sense that we pursue Him with all of our Being? If experiencing Him brings the greatest fulfillment of all human experiences, what aspect of devotion can be deemed unnecessary? We must learn the Truth of Who He is, and we must experience that truth. We must seek the purity of heart He described. We must be willing to make sacrifices for Him because of Who He has sacrificed for us. We must enthusiastically revere the One Who is the chief end of Man.

Categories: Bible, Doctrine, Philosophical Christianity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Entertainment, Bible Narrative, and The Power of Shared Experience

Those of us who grew up in the 1980’s remember the popular slogan for Music Television: “I Want My MTV!” There were commercials, t-shirts, and a host of other paraphernalia on which the slogan was emblazoned. I came from a fairly conservative background and wasn’t allowed to watch MTV (not that we could, since the cable company STILL has yet to actually run cable to my parents’ house), but I was keenly aware of the mania that surrounded the cultural phenomenon that is still a fixture today.

For a number of years I’ve wondered what it is about entertainment (broadly defined in this article as reading material, music, movies, television, video games, and even the sin of pornography) that is so powerful. With the possible exception of reading, each of these forms of entertainment have a certain addictive quality. Of course, when I was a teenager I thought that the content of my entertainment was irrelevant. As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve come to realize that there is a strange power in entertainment. I think I’m finally ready to take a “stab” at what that power is.

The power of entertainment is the power of a shared experience. When I read a book, watch a movie, or play a video game with a decent plot, I am involved in the experience. My heart races during the intense parts. I may like or dislike certain characters. I am emotionally and cognitively involved with the protagonist of every “story” I am told. Such is the power of narrative. It doesn’t matter whether or not the characters are real, I respond to them as if I knew them personally. Music seems to be even more powerful because melody, harmony, and rhythm blend together with the narrative of the lyrics. The musical elements reinforce the power of the experience.

This is what makes entertainment so wonderful….and so perilous. A protagonist that overcomes tragedy can strengthen us. A family in a movie that rallies during a time of difficulty can inspire us. Music that glorifies real love (as opposed to the whimsical, fickle sort) can draw us closer to a spouse. Entertainment that glorifies an immoral protagonist and emphasizes sensual “love” causes us to experience reality as the author sees it, sometimes quite graphically. We may be able to label actions, attitudes, and thoughts as “wrong”, but we cannot escape the experience. This is why we must be so careful what we allow our souls to imbibe.

I’ve also thought about the nature of sharing experience as it relates to the Bible. Perhaps the reason why God shared so much of His Truths through Old Testament narrative is that experience is so powerful. Most of the Bible, after all, is a narrative of one sort or another. There’s really very little in the Bible that doesn’t take the form of a narrative.

Perhaps God wants us to experience the lives of the men and women of the Bible. We can bask in the wonder of the Shekinah with Moses on Mount Sinai, slay the giant Goliath with David, stand boldly before the king with Esther, and sense the wonder of John as he writes: “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father.” Experience is often a better teacher than men. How much better is it to experience life from those who have gone before, to learn the wisdom of the ages vicariously, than to have to learn everything the hard way?

Whether we consider the power of entertainment or the power of the Scriptural narrative, we cannot ignore or deny the hold that a “story” has on us. We must be careful to abhor evil, to cling to that which is good. Because it isn’t just a movie. It isn’t just the Bible. It’s an experience that, once shared, will be a part of us forever. If MTV is what I choose to watch, it really is “my” MTV.

Categories: Bible, Philosophical Christianity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Logos: The Incarnate Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.- John 1:1-5

These verses are perhaps the most profound in all of Scripture. They tell us of the Word Incarnate, Jesus, Who has come to be the ultimate revelation of the Father in Heaven. The Word came to reveal the glory and personality of the Godhead in a tangible form. By coming in human form, we could relate to Him and He could relate to us. We could see God for the first time, and He could experience the suffering that sin had created.

Kant tells us that reason is limited because we don’t know what it is like to BE anything but human. Though we may gain a perspective on a thing, we can never know what it is to be something other than human. Jesus cannot be said to be limited in His understanding of humanity because He is human. That’s the easy part, though.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

By way of introduction, John tells us that Jesus existed before the Creation. When the Beginning (Genesis 1) took place, Jesus already was. He is the uncreated Creator. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17:

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Jesus is unique because He not only existed prior to the created universe (matter, energy, time, etc.), but because He is eternal just as the Father is eternal. This is necessary because He is the ultimate self-disclosure of the Father. The Godhead is revealed in Jesus’ words, emotions, actions, and attitudes. If Jesus were merely pre-existent but not eternal (as some cults believe), He would be unable to speak for God adequately. In order for Jesus to speak for a God Who is infinite in all of His attributes (love, holiness, justice, mercy, grace, power, etc.) He must be eternal because only the eternal can truly understand Infinity. This is where we fall so short. We categorize God using systematic theologies (which are admittedly very helpful), but He is above all categorization. We are accustomed to things having beginnings because we had a beginning, but God never began. He simply is. His very name, “I AM” tells us of His ever-present nature. Unlike us, Christ has missed nothing of God. He also always is.

“The Word was with God…”

If the Word was with God, then He is not the same person as the Father. “With” also implies a unique relationship with the Father. For all of eternity the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had enjoyed unbroken, perfect communion with each other. They understood one another and basked in each Other’s glory and love. God didn’t need a creation to be complete. He was complete in and of Himself. For all of eternity, God loves, glorifies, and communes with Himself, but not in the narcissistic sense we think of when speaking of humans. As a tri-unity (trinity), the Father loves and glorifies the Son and Spirit, the Son loves and glorifies the Father and Spirit, and the Spirit loves and glorifies the Father and Son. So the Persons of the Godhead love and glorify each other infinitely and eternally. So it should be, for God alone is worthy of infinite love and glory.

“…and the Word WAS God…”

John asserts that Jesus was Divine in all aspects. He has the same essence, nature, character, and quality of God. He is no less Divine than the Father is. Though He takes the position of Son for Himself, He is no less than God Himself.

“In Him was Life…”

Jesus came to give us life. This does not just mean that He intends for us to merely have eternal life, but also He intends for us to have abundant life. (John 15) Consider John’s words in the following verses:

  • John 20:31—“But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name.”
  • (quoting Jesus) John 10:10—“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Spiritual (zoe as opposed to bios) life is referenced 36 times in John’s gospel. That’s more than the other three Gospels combined. John emphasizes that Jesus’ life is not just about quantity; it’s about quality. No, I’m not talking about a “health and wealth” gospel. I’m talking about something eternal and intangible that comes our way as a result of faith in Him. He came to give us something unbelievable and indescribable. God stepped into the mess that humans had made and ministered with compassion, healed in love, and spoke truth to all who would listen. Some people didn’t like it though…

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Light. God’s emblem for Himself. It’s the first thing He made, and it’s how He reveals Himself: burning bushes, the Shekinah glory, the Mount of Transfiguration. Hebrews 1:1-3 begins:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person…”

I don’t think it’s incidental that Jesus is called the brightness of His glory in Hebrews and the Light in John. There was darkness as a result of Adam’s fall and now Jesus, acting as the light now points the way back to God. Light symbolizes His holiness, perfection, etc. Darkness, however, is not simply absence of light in John’s gospel. It is a moral category. It is characterized by a hatred of light, evil, and general hostility toward God. Light, however, is able to pierce the Darkness and overtake Evil’s territory. Evil itself is overwhelmed by the “invasion” of God’s Light.

Darkness cannot comprehend the Light. “Comprehend” here does not mean mere understanding. It speaks of overwhelming, destroying, and seizing with hostile intent. Jesus came to give Light, but fallen humanity didn’t like the light they saw. Light is never simply ignored. Darkness attempted to destroy the Light on the Cross. Why? Light reveals Truth even when it is not palatable. Light reveals God for Who He is, and people hate Him for it.

The story doesn’t end there, though. The greatest miracle of all took place three days later. The Father resurrected the Son, and after being seen by hundreds of people, He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the Father’s side.

The Light won.

Categories: Bible, Doctrine, Philosophical Christianity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Change Worth Believing In

Recently, I have been made aware of an argument against Christianity that is really somewhat shocking to me. This argument states that Christianity is not all that unique. In fact, Christianity- so say the critics- is just one more attempt by man to set up moral standards, reward good behavior, and comfort those in need of a “crutch” by offering them a God to obey and lean on. I have to tell you, I just don’t see the resemblance between Christianity and these religions.

Oh, I know that Christianity shares a similar moral code with many different religions. I also know that many religions claim to have a way to God, an afterlife, etc. Every religion has some fragment of truth in it, but a fragment of truth and having the Truth are not the same thing. All religions recognize the obvious flaws in mankind. What religions don’t agree on is how to take care of those flaws. Islam and Judaism, for all their differences, attempt to make adherents follow a legal code. They have their own distinct yet similar Law which restrains evil and makes or breaks one’s chances of a decent afterlife. Buddhism and Hinduism rely heavily on meditation and other practices to focus on inner strength, purity of thought, and peace.

Christianity has a different answer. Christianity also recognizes that humanity has an evil bent. Christianity also has elements of Law and an emphasis on the eternal soul. Law serves a different purpose in Christianity, however. The Apostle Paul writes the following in Galatians 3:24-25: “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith; but after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.The Old Testament Law’s purpose is to teach us that we can’t live up to God’s standard. There comes a point when we “graduate”, though, and we don’t need our teacher any more. Once we “graduate” our souls gain their true significance.

If we can’t live up to God’s standard, what are we to do? Can we just make up for our shortcomings by doing more good works? No, because “good works” are what we are expected to do anyway. Whatever good we accomplish in our lives, we can never undo the bad things we did. Under the law, every lie, lustful thought, moment of indiscretion, bitter thought, etc. is an action that we are “paid” for. Paul tells us of this payment  in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” This spiritual death leaves the sinner in Hell for all of eternity.

What is Christianity’s alternative to Sin and Hell? How do we earn our way to God and His Heaven? The answer is perhaps the most shocking in all of history: we don’t. We can’t. God’s standard is not that we be good, but it is that we be perfect. Many have claimed to be good, but few- if any- would claim to be perfect. This is where God steps in and does the unexpected. He came down into a world of sorrow and violence caused by man’s sin and took on human flesh. He doesn’t take on flesh to advise, encourage, punish, or trick us as the heathen “gods” did. He took on flesh to experience human suffering and, ultimately, to endure the agonies of the Cross “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

When we could not ascend to God because of our sin, God came down to us. This is the great difference between religions and Christianity. Some religions may share similar thoughts with Christianity, but things change dramatically when it comes to Jesus. Muslims are willing to accept Him as a prophet and even recognize His perfection and virgin birth, but they stop short of calling Him “God.” That Allah would take on flesh is akin to blasphemy. Judaism is offended that Messiah would die and thus rejects Him. Buddhism and Hinduism have little- if any- regard for Jesus. In the person of Jesus, the Divine experienced the pain and suffering of this world and the weight and guilt of sin. The Lord of Life experienced Death. This shocking truth is what separates Jesus from all other “gods” and faiths. Trusting in His death and resurrection makes Christianity a “change” from all other religions. It’s a change worth believing in.

Categories: Doctrine, Philosophical Christianity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Change the Nature, Change the Thing

wedding ringsI need to make it clear from the start of this entry that I’m probably going to anger people on both sides of the issue of gay “marriage.” The Christians will say that I’m somehow being too soft, while the gay rights agenda will say that I’m guilty of bigotry. I should add that “gay marriage” doesn’t exist in the Christian worldview. “Gay marriage” is an oxymoron if you believe that God created Marriage (referring to its essence) to be the union of two individuals of the opposite sex. To say that I believed in gay marriage would be like saying that I believed in dry water or that our sun radiated darkness. The folks who want to argue that their rights are being taken away just don’t see what the real issue is here. Nobody’s rights are at stake. (Literally, folks. Look at the wording of the laws protecting marriage. They don’t make homosexuality a crime or remove legal rights from anybody.) I’m not going to say that there hasn’t been some hatred fueling the issues on both sides, but I refuse to say that discrimination is the primary issue of Proposition 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida.

Biblical Reasoning

I have several reasons for taking this position. I am a believer, and I readily admit that my faith in God and His Word guide my thinking in every area. The Bible asserts that marriage takes place between a man and a woman on numerous occasions. Genesis’ description of the first Parents, the Old Testament Laws, the beautiful illustrations of love in the Old Testament (Jacob and Rebekah, Ruth and Boaz, etc.), the blessing of Jesus on the Wedding in Cana, Paul’s teachings regarding marriage and the relationship between spouses, and the picture of Jesus and His Bride the Church spring readily to mind.

In contrast, there are NO positive examples of homosexual relationships (in spite of some assertions by liberal “theologians” and members of the homosexual community) in the Bible. There are numerous passages in Scripture that decry the act in both Testaments. The most famous of these are Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and Jude 1:6-7. In Romans 1, Paul even portrays the existence of widespread homosexuality in a culture as a means of determining the overall “coldness” that culture has toward God. Of course, homosexuals themselves are not viewed as “beyond saving.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 indicates that some of the believers in Corinth formerly identified themselves as “gay.”

Anthropological Reasoning

However, my reasons for taking this position go beyond simply pointing out a few verses. If you read this blog for very long, you’ll find that “proof texting” is not my idea of a good time. God always has reasons for designating things as “sinful” and “pure.” Of course we should take Him at His Word, but further study can be helpful. The issue of gay marriage is, at its heart, not a legal one. It is sad that we must define reality in legal documents, but that is the world in which we live.

The reality is that the institution of marriage transcends the laws of any society. It has existed as long as humans have been around. The institution of marriage is not the creation of any particular law or society. Like Beauty and Morality, it simply exists at the bidding of the Creator.

It also turns out that marriage isn’t just an awesome idea. It is the most practical method for propagating a stable society. Monogamous, heterosexual relationships create a bond that ensures a basic cooperation between the sexes. This is something that cannot be overlooked or brushed aside. Attraction, emotional attachment, and willful commitment ensure that a couple will continue to exist as a stable building block for society.

Both sexes working in unison not only provide a fulfilling relationship for each other, but also provide cooperation between the sexes in general. This level of commitment and intimacy is not experienced in social, work, governmental, or corporate interactions. In short, without committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriages (the only kind), society would lose all of the building blocks that help it to remain stable. Homosexual unions can never provide this level of interaction between the sexes. There is no substitute for the family!

Developmental Reasoning

Marriage provides an ideal situation for the birth and rearing of children. Recent studies have shown that it is imperative for both a mother AND a father to be present in the home. To remove either from the equation destabilizes the familial “building block.” I barely need to mention the necessity of a woman in the home to nurture children. Massive volumes of books and articles published recently describe the role of the father in the development of boys in particular. Boys are naturally more interactive and therefore need a father to model and teach them masculine traits. No mother (or set of mothers) can perform these tasks, no matter how “loving” she is. Girls need the love of a father to feel accepted. Again, numerous studies show that promiscuity among teenage girls is often linked to either a real or perceived lack of love from a father. Only in the context of a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage can this sort of child rearing take place.

Summary/Conclusion

“Love” (loosely defined) is not enough to constitute a marriage. It is not enough to make two people of the same sex worthy of being “parents.” This issue has nothing to do with rights or willing partners. (By the way, just consider for a moment where that line of thinking might get us. I won’t speculate here, but the possibilities are as dark as they are endless.) Marriage is a transcendent institution designed by God that can only be realized in committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships. It was designed by a brilliant Creator to provide fulfillment in individuals and couples, to ensure a proper environment for the birth and rearing of children, and to propagate stable cultures.

Categories: Philosophical Christianity, Politics | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Change the Nature, Change the Thing

wedding ringsI need to make it clear from the start of this entry that I’m probably going to anger people on both sides of the issue of gay “marriage.” The Christians will say that I’m somehow being too soft, while the gay rights agenda will say that I’m guilty of bigotry. I should add that “gay marriage” doesn’t exist in the Christian worldview. “Gay marriage” is an oxymoron if you believe that God created Marriage (referring to its essence) to be the union of two individuals of the opposite sex. To say that I believed in gay marriage would be like saying that I believed in dry water or that our sun radiated darkness. The folks who want to argue that their rights are being taken away just don’t see what the real issue is here. Nobody’s rights are at stake. (Literally, folks. Look at the wording of the laws protecting marriage. They don’t make homosexuality a crime or remove legal rights from anybody.) I’m not going to say that there hasn’t been some hatred fueling the issues on both sides, but I refuse to say that discrimination is the primary issue of Proposition 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida.

Biblical Reasoning

I have several reasons for taking this position. I am a believer, and I readily admit that my faith in God and His Word guide my thinking in every area. The Bible asserts that marriage takes place between a man and a woman on numerous occasions. Genesis’ description of the first Parents, the Old Testament Laws, the beautiful illustrations of love in the Old Testament (Jacob and Rebekah, Ruth and Boaz, etc.), the blessing of Jesus on the Wedding in Cana, Paul’s teachings regarding marriage and the relationship between spouses, and the picture of Jesus and His Bride the Church spring readily to mind.

In contrast, there are NO positive examples of homosexual relationships (in spite of some assertions by liberal “theologians” and members of the homosexual community) in the Bible. There are numerous passages in Scripture that decry the act in both Testaments. The most famous of these are Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and Jude 1:6-7. In Romans 1, Paul even portrays the existence of widespread homosexuality in a culture as a means of determining the overall “coldness” that culture has toward God. Of course, homosexuals themselves are not viewed as “beyond saving.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 indicates that some of the believers in Corinth formerly identified themselves as “gay.”

Anthropological Reasoning

However, my reasons for taking this position go beyond simply pointing out a few verses. If you read this blog for very long, you’ll find that “proof texting” is not my idea of a good time. God always has reasons for designating things as “sinful” and “pure.” Of course we should take Him at His Word, but further study can be helpful. The issue of gay marriage is, at its heart, not a legal one. It is sad that we must define reality in legal documents, but that is the world in which we live.

The reality is that the institution of marriage transcends the laws of any society. It has existed as long as humans have been around. The institution of marriage is not the creation of any particular law or society. Like Beauty and Morality, it simply exists at the bidding of the Creator.

It also turns out that marriage isn’t just an awesome idea. It is the most practical method for propagating a stable society. Monogamous, heterosexual relationships create a bond that ensures a basic cooperation between the sexes. This is something that cannot be overlooked or brushed aside. Attraction, emotional attachment, and willful commitment ensure that a couple will continue to exist as a stable building block for society.

Both sexes working in unison not only provide a fulfilling relationship for each other, but also provide cooperation between the sexes in general. This level of commitment and intimacy is not experienced in social, work, governmental, or corporate interactions. In short, without committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriages (the only kind), society would lose all of the building blocks that help it to remain stable. Homosexual unions can never provide this level of interaction between the sexes. There is no substitute for the family!

Developmental Reasoning

Marriage provides an ideal situation for the birth and rearing of children. Recent studies have shown that it is imperative for both a mother AND a father to be present in the home. To remove either from the equation destabilizes the familial “building block.” I barely need to mention the necessity of a woman in the home to nurture children. Massive volumes of books and articles published recently describe the role of the father in the development of boys in particular. Boys are naturally more interactive and therefore need a father to model and teach them masculine traits. No mother (or set of mothers) can perform these tasks, no matter how “loving” she is. Girls need the love of a father to feel accepted. Again, numerous studies show that promiscuity among teenage girls is often linked to either a real or perceived lack of love from a father. Only in the context of a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage can this sort of child rearing take place.

Summary/Conclusion

“Love” (loosely defined) is not enough to constitute a marriage. It is not enough to make two people of the same sex worthy of being “parents.” This issue has nothing to do with rights or willing partners. (By the way, just consider for a moment where that line of thinking might get us. I won’t speculate here, but the possibilities are as dark as they are endless.) Marriage is a transcendent institution designed by God that can only be realized in committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships. It was designed by a brilliant Creator to provide fulfillment in individuals and couples, to ensure a proper environment for the birth and rearing of children, and to propagate stable cultures.

Categories: Contemporary Issues, Philosophical Christianity, Politics | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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