“It’s Good to Be Seen”

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I say to people, quite often really, “It is good to see you.”

And a few of my friends return their customary greeting, “It’s good to be seen.”

Most of those friends are older. They might add, “I’d rather be seen than be viewed.” In their stage of life, they go to their share of visitations and funerals. They’re happy to count one more day as a gift.

But there is another way this riposte could be interpreted. Not everyone feels seen. Some people feel isolated, alone.

A greeting, offered in kindness, could then be a salve, a healing balm, a reminder to another human being that they are valued, loved, welcomed, and included.

It’s good to see people.

And it’s good to be seen.

The Laboratory of Life

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Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.”

Proverbs 8:17 promises, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

Jeremiah 29:13, likewise, promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

1 Chronicles 16:11 exhorts us, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Perhaps most famously, Jesus, in Matthew 7:7-12, says, ““Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Jesus then assures his hearers of God’s goodness, saying, ““Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

But then interestingly, right on the tails of his invitation to ask God for anything, Jesus offers a command: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Seeking doesn’t only involve asking, it involves acting.

Seeking is an invitation. And it is open to everyone. I can respond to the invitation to seek everyday. I can ask, and I can act. Then, I can see what happens. Just like in lab work, I can develop a hypothesis, I can conduct an experiment, I can make observations, and I can evaluate the results. The hypothesis is simple: God is active and at work in our world and in my life, invites me to seek him, and in seeking him, I will find him.

In Letters by a Modern Mystic, Frank Laubach put this to the test. In his ministry, he saw those of another faith seeking obedience to God. He was challenged, not only as a human being, but as a Christian. He wanted to be in fellowship with God, and to live a life of faithfulness. He believed Christianity was true. Since he believed God was active and at work in the world, inviting us to seek him, and that in seeking him, we could find him, he gave it a try. In his journals, Laubach wrote:

But this year I have started out trying to live all my walking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, ‘What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?’

It is clear that this is exactly what Jesus was doing all day every day. But it is not what His followers have been doing in very large numbers.

What would occur if more of Jesus followers did this every day, all day?

It sounds like a worthwhile experiment. Let’s try it, and see.

Constant Vigilance

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, Brendan Gleeson, 2007. ©Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

In the Harry Potter books and movies there is a character named Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. While there is debate among fans as to whether or not Moody actually said and encouraged “constant vigilance” against those who have committed themselves to the “dark arts” of magic, it is a phrase widely attributed to him. Hermione Granger attributes the saying to him, which is good enough for me.

The phrase came up in a conversation awhile ago, while I was talking to a friend about the insidious nature of sin and the dangers of temptation. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Philippians 4:7 promises, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We stand sentry. But so does Jesus.

The spiritual life is active, not passive. Be on guard. Be active. Constant vigilance.

The Communion Cup Slam Dunk

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A couple of weeks ago our congregation celebrated World Communion Sunday, and like many other congregations, each person received what I’ll call a “personalized wafer/grape juice combo pack” upon entering the sanctuary.

After we received the elements together as a congregation late in the order of service, I was amused when I caught sight of a young boy, maybe around eleven or twelve years old, make his way to the nearest trash can at the rear of the worship space, take a final swig of his juice, and windmill slam the container into the bottom of the can. Two points. And with authority.

I also found it funny to observe another boy, maybe around six, double-fisting his communion cups, gulping down the juice representing the blood of Christ first from his left hand, then from his right. This is the Lord’s table, where an abundance is found.

Vaccination, the Divine Image, and the Creation Mandate

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One aspect of God’s having created us in his image is that we are capable not only of knowing truths about the world but also truths about ourselves. We can know, for instance, that human testimony is only significantly reliable when there are multiple witnesses (see Deut. 19:16; 2 Cor. 13:1), that bearing false witness is an abomination (see Prov. 6:16-19), that a true witness gives honest evidence (see Prov. 12:17), and that “a truthful witness saves lives” (Prov. 14:25). We also know that only untrained, overly credulous people believe everything and that the prudent give thought to their steps (see Prov. 14:15). We have an obligation, in other words, to discover truths that should guide us regarding what we should believe (see Prov. 26:22-25; 1 John 4:1). The discovery of reliable methods for discovering medical truths is one step towards fulfilling that obligation, no matter whether the search for those methods is the result of conscious obedience to the creation mandate or not.

Mark Talbot, The Bible and COVID Vaccines

Mark Talbot argues that scientific discovery, the advancement of medicine, and the development and deployment of vaccinations flow naturally from ideas that are found in the early words of Genesis, particularly God’s command in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

As seen in the block quotation above, Talbot believes the human capacity for knowledge and for discovery of truth is grounded in what it means to be created in the divine image. Talbot believes medical advances, and the methods by which discoveries are made making those advances possible, are the result of common grace, evidenced by his claim that “conscience obedience to the creation mandate” matters not. He writes, “Virtually any human being, simply by being made in God’s image, may serve as one of God’s providential instruments to discover some feature of his creation that conveys the health and healing that, ultimately, comes only as a gift from him. The COVID vaccine is, I think, one of those gifts.”

Talbot’s article drives toward answering the question, “So should Christians take this vaccine? I think so.” The development of COVID vaccines and their effectiveness in mitigating the disease is a sign, for Talbot, of God working through human beings to alleviate suffering. Talbot draws a parallel to smallpox, noting that many of us who are alive today are likely here because of advances in medicine that prevented a very significant percentage of deaths. Talbot admits that the COVID vaccines, like the inoculation against smallpox, do pose a risk to those who receive them. But, nevertheless, Talbot argues that the positive benefit outweighs that risk.

This article does leave a couple of ethical questions unaddressed, including concern as to the kind of research methods used in the advancement of medical science are permissible and whether or not certain methodologies (such as experimentation on animals, human stem cells, and like matters) should or should not be verboten, especially in light of the fact that Talbot’s argument does, in part, appear to be utilitarian. Furthermore, by citing the example of Washington’s inoculation of the Continental Army against smallpox, Talbot appears to endorse vaccine mandates.

Our existence is ethically complex. I received the vaccine, and I am thankful to be living today, when the advancement of medicine has made so many good and wonderful things possible. What a time to be alive! But as a Christian , I continue to discern good from evil with regard to not only what we can achieve through medicine, but how we make those discoveries and advances. I lean towards emphasis on personal responsibility, freedom, and conscience rights, and so I do have some concerns about the public health policy that could be inferred from Talbot’s article; I think persuasion is better than coercion.

I doubt the majority of persons, even among Christians, who received a COVID vaccination gave more than a passing thought to the theological underpinnings and biblical justifications for the advancement of medicine and the grounds upon which we might choose to inject a foreign substance into the body in the hope we are protected from a contagion. But there you have it. It is possible, and necessary, to think about such questions biblically and theologically and to test whether or not such decisions are wise, good, and in keeping with righteousness.

In Secret

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“Let there always be quiet, dark churches in which men can take refuge. Places where they can kneel in silence. Houses of God, filled with His silent presence. There, even when they do not know how to pray, at least they can be still and breathe easily. Let there be a place somewhere in which you can breathe naturally, quietly, and not have to take your breath in continuous short gasps. A place where your mind can be idle, and forget its concerns, descend into silence, and worship the Father in secret.”

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

I’ve been in many a silent church, a place of worship, ground designated for meeting with God. Most of these spaces have been found in cities. Those spaces are a gift. During my youth ministry years I traveled to Philadelphia, Chicago, Omaha, Minneapolis, and Houston to serve in urban contexts. If I’m in a downtown and I come upon a church, I pull the door. If it is open, I go inside.

A church building is, on the one hand, just a building like any other building. On the other hand, whether it be a simple A-frame building located in the countryside or an elaborate cathedral, there is something special about those spaces. There is a spirit to them, a character. There is a sense of history. Even if the singing in that space has long since ceased, and the prayers offered on those grounds have long echoed into silence, there is a resonance. It invites me to sit awhile, and wonder, think, pray.

Let there always be such spaces.

Drawing Out

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Education comes from a Latin root that means “to draw out.” Though I am not opposed to the traditional lecture format, I have always believed strongly that my role as an educator involves not only pouring wisdom into my students’ minds but drawing it out as well. Students, like all people, know far more than they think they know. There is much wisdom buried deep in the subterranean recesses of our souls–if only we can access it. Or, to put it another way, it is not solely by means of our five senses that we gain access to knowledge; true knowledge may reach us as well from outside our spatiotemporal world (via revelation) and from within our heart-soul-mind (via intuition and recollection).

Louis Markos, From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith, p. 49

I happen to agree. When teaching brothers and sisters in Christ, I rely on Christ as our teacher, the inner witness of the Spirit, and the formation each person has already been received through the ministry of the local church, and often students discover they know much more than they thought they knew.

How do you know?

I understand the sentiment. But how do you know those prayers were ignored?

And if you cannot know whether those prayers were ignored, rather than answered in the negative or not according to your timing and preference, is the best response really to burn down a house of worship? The symbol here, I’m guessing, is meant to suggest the abandonment of faith.

Anger toward God when things don’t go your way is understandable. I’ve been angry with God. But to abandon faith altogether when life don’t go as you’d prefer is like saying, “God, I don’t think you are competent to manage the cosmos. You are not seeing the big picture and making very wrong calls. I could do it better.”

What the Bible Says About Suffering

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The reality is that the Bible doesn’t tell us everything we might wish to know about suffering, but it doesn’t set us adrift either. The Bible simply keeps God front and center. God knows about suffering. God cares about suffering. God is at work in the midst of suffering. God is at work against suffering. God reigns over suffering. God suffers. God will one day declare final victory over suffering.

Brian Han Gregg, What Does the Bible Say About Suffering?

The Bible isn’t silent about suffering. It doesn’t address it exhaustively, either. We’re not given a definitive “why” in every circumstance. Not all mysteries are resolved this side of the veil dividing time from eternity. But the Bible does tell a story of a God who suffers, who is well acquainted with grief, who draws near to us when we suffer, and who sustains us through suffering.

God is in the mix, somewhere operative in the suffering, somehow working in and through the pain.