A Human Being Like Ourselves

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Perhaps it may be well explicitly to note that our Lord’s emotions fulfilled themselves, as ours do, in physical reactions. He who hungered (Mt. iv.2), thirsted (Jno. xix. 20), was weary (Jno. iv. 6), who knew both physical pain and pleasure, expressed also in bodily affections the emotions that stirred his soul. That he did so is sufficiently evinced by the simple circumstance that these emotions were observed and recorded. But the bodily expression of the emotions is also frequently expressly attested.Not only do we read that he wept (Jno. xi. 35) and wailed (Lk. xix. 41),sighed (Mk. vii. 34) and groaned (Mk. viii. 12) ; but we read also of his angry glare (Mk. iii. 5), his annoyed speech (Mk. x. 14), his chiding words(e. g. Mk. iii. 12), the outbreaking ebullition of his rage (e.g. Jno. xi. 33,38) ; of the agitation of his bearing when under strong feeling (Jno. xi.35), the open exultation of his joy (Lk. x. 21), the unrest of his movements in the face of anticipated evils (Mt. xxvii. 37), the loud cry which was wrung from him in his moment of desolation (Mt. xxvii. 46). Nothing is lacking to make the impression strong that we have before us in Jesus a human being like ourselves.

B. B. Warfield, The Emotional Life of Our Lord, p. 96-97

Christians believe Jesus was (and is) fully human and fully divine.

This teaching was clarified and affirmed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. As noted in this article, the Chalcedonian Definition is not a confession or creed, but is, rather, an explanation or commentary on a series of terms appearing in the Nicene Creed, detailing for us how the Nicene Creed should be understood with regard to Jesus’ nature and essence.

When Christians says the Son came down from heaven in the incarnation and was born as a human being, what does this mean for his divinity? And what does his divinity mean for his humanity?

These were challenging questions for the early church. They remain challenging questions for us today. But, as then, so now; these questions remain relevant. In his humanity, Jesus identified fully with us. In his divinity, Jesus accomplished for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves.

B. B. Warfield’s essay The Emotional Life of Our Lord examines the witness of the Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and shows us the ways in which Jesus displayed emotion, that he was “a human being like ourselves.”

In my pastoral ministry experience, I have found that it is common for those inside the church to easily see Jesus as divine, but to be reticent to understand him as a human being, like us.

And with those outside the church, I have found that people are compelled by and interested in Jesus as a human being, but are very hesitant to believe that he was and is divine, worthy of our adoration and worship.

Jesus fulfilled the Law by keeping it perfectly, and by paying the penalty for its transgression as our substitute.

Jesus was (and is) both fully human and fully divine.

Warfield’s entire essay can be read here.

The Paradox of Limitation

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In Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman defines the paradox of limitation this way:

[T]he more you try to manage your time with the goal of achieving a feeling of total control, and freedom from the inevitable constraints of being human, the more stressful, empty, and frustrating life gets. But the more you confront the facts of finitude instead–and work with them, rather than against them–the more productive, meaningful, and joyful life becomes. I don’t think the feeling of anxiety every completely goes away; we’re even limited, apparently, in our capacity to embrace our limitations. But I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are.

p. 32

Facing the way things truly are is the key for a life of wisdom. That insight applies to more than time management.

But let’s stick with time management for a moment. When I was a seminarian, I was introduced to the idea of a well ordered life. I was challenged to think deeply about calling, purpose, and discipline. I was invited to make commitments that would place me on a trajectory that, over time, would make a difference.

One of my professors had a plaque on his wall that said, “As now, so then.” This principle was applied to the spiritual life: your choices in the present have implications for your life in the future, for who you are becoming, and who you will one day be. Those choices can be intentional, or we can drift along.

The real challenge in applying this principle wasn’t necessarily the “now” (though an inventory of present practices can be complicated), but the “then.” What are we made for? Where do we want to end up? What is a life well lived, who is living that way, and how do I do it?

Answers to those questions will vary. But the answer will make all the difference. If we could envision where we’d like to land, could we better plot the course from A to B?

For Christian people, we are made by and for God, and our purpose is to bring God glory. We glorify God when we live as reconciled creatures, a reconciliation made possible in and through Jesus Christ. Once reconciled through the cross, we leave behind our old way of life. We live in keeping with the “new creation” as citizens of God’s kingdom, remaining in step with God’s Spirit, walking in rhythm with God’s reign and rule.

Our “then” is the then of eternity. Our “now” is bound up and constrained by time. Our life is where time and eternity intersect, and in Christ, time and eternity are brought together. His path becomes ours. His salvation takes effect, not in the ledger of the afterlife, but in the here and now. When we receive this grace, our bodies remain mortal, even while our souls are enlivened and awakened to another plane. Our days in this mortal coil remain numbered. But they are given additional weight, a weight of glory. Our days become more significant, not less. Our work, that which is done unto the Lord, not only counts for a moment, but forever.

A truth I often speak to young ministers comes to mind: “We’re all interims.” Here’s another one: ” We’ll all be held to account, for both the good and the bad that we do.” Our work is appointed for a particular time; it will be weighed and measured by the standard of eternity. Be diligent. Choose wisely. Do good.

There are several Scripture passages I could quote here, but it suffices to say that we want to be good stewards, making the most of the time. As finite creatures, we trust the outcomes to God, who is eternal. We manage our time knowing we are given a finite amount.

Our limitations constrain us. We cannot possibly do it all.

But acknowledging our limitations also frees us. It frees us to trust in God, and to differentiate between what is ours to do and what is ours to leave undone.

If you try to manage your time in order to bring everything under your control, you are attempting to be God. You are not. You are mortal. But if you embrace your limitations, if you acknowledge your mortality, you are free to be productive, to find meaning, and to experience joy in those things which are uniquely yours, appointed for you and your life. You are invited to enjoy the life you have been given and to trust that God, who is eternal, is perfectly capable of handling the rest.

The Cross: The Center of the Story

The cross itself, in short, stands at the center of the Christian message, the Christian story, and the Christian life and mission. It has lost none of its revolutionary and transformative power down through the centuries. The cross is where the great story of God and creation, focused on the strange story of God and Israel and then focused still more sharply on the personal story of God and Jesus, came into terrible but life-giving clarity. The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was a one-off event, the one on behalf of the many, the one moment in history on behalf of all others through which sins are forgiven, the powers robbed of their power, and humans redeemed to take their place as worshippers and stewards, celebrating the powerful victory of God in his Messiah and so gaining the Spirit’s power to make his kingdom effective in the world.

N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion, p. 416

The Most Enjoyable of All Subjects

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Because of piety’s penchant for taking itself too seriously, theology–more than literary, humanistic, and scientific studies–does well to nurture a modest, unguarded sense of comedy. Some comic sensibility is required to keep in due proportion the pompous pretensions of the study of divinity.

When the chips pile too high, I invite the kind of laughter that wells us not from cynicism about theology but from lightness about it. This comes from glimpsing the incongruity of humans thinking about God. I have often laughed at myself as these sentences went through their tortuous stages of formation; I ask you to look for the comic dimension of divinity that stalks every stage.

The most enjoyable of all subjects has to be God, because God is the source of all joy. God has the first and last laugh. The least articulate of all disciplines deserves something in between.

Thomas C. Oden, The Living God: Systematic Theology, Vol. 1

Finite beings seeking to comprehend and infinite God, who, for our sake, reveals himself only in part. Imagine the kind of person taking on that kind of work. How funny! Moreover, if its true that God is the source of all joy (and I believe this to be the case), imagine the kind of person who wouldn’t want to do the work of theology. We can’t help ourselves. We all have something to say about God. It’s very serious work. It’s also very joyous work. Thus, to the degree that we reflect something of the God who is there, it is the most enjoyable subject of all.

The Difference Maker

Maturing in our life of faith brings us to a sense of God’s grace. As we realize how vast the resources of energy of God are in our everyday lives, we find that we don’t have to carry the weight of the world’s sins on our shoulders, that our moral sweat isn’t going to make the critical difference in history, but that the difference has already been made by Christ’s blood.

Eugene Peterson, The Hallelujah Banquet, p. 76

Authoritative, but How?

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Students of Christian ethics and of the Christian life may differ widely in the ways they use the Bible and in their interpretation of how it is authoritative, but they generally agree that it is authoritative. Some scholars and Christians in general would cite particular laws or specific rules as authoritative in the Christian life. Those who take this position turn to the commandments of the Bible which they claim are found in both Testaments.

There are others who place the emphasis on the principles or ideals of the Bible instead of on laws and specific precepts. Those who take this approach do not necessarily turn to the Bible for specific answers for every question or as a solution to every problem. They suggest that more important than the commandments are the principles or ideals that may be expressed through the commandments or may be the source of the commandments. Also, some would say that more important than any specific principle is the spirit or attitude revealed by and through the ideal.

T. B. Maston, Both-And: A Maston Reader, Selected Readings from the Writings of T. B. Maston

If you want to be charitable in debates with fellow Christians regarding differences in Scriptural interpretation, keep in mind Maston’s distinction between how and is. Most Christians agree that the Scripture is authoritative. Disagreements arise from how.

The quotation I’ve selected names two ways Maston saw Christians approaching biblical interpretation. The first is law or precept. The second is principle and ideal. The third, which Maston names later, is relationship. And of course, Maston argues that interpretation should not be confined by only one of these approaches, but should enfold them all.

Maston writes, “A strict choice does not have to be made between law, principle, and relationship…It is a question of emphasis or primary concern.” For Maston, it is always a “both-and,” with weight distributed based on the needs of the case.

That’s fine, in so far as it goes. But then it is still a question of how one interprets and applies the Scriptures, because while you may factor more than one approach in deriving at an answer, you are still privileging one approach over another.

The categories may remain helpful, at least in how you listen to your conversation partners. Knowing how others approach the Scripture can help you to trace the source of your differences, not necessarily in the substance of the text itself, but in the disposition towards it.

Ellul’s Religious World

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Never have people believed as much, everything and nothing. The modern world is above all else a religious world. It is loaded with religions–communism, Maoism, nationalism, revolution–all are purely and specifically religious attitudes. The modern world is not really secularized, in spite of all the absurd ballyhoo based on a whole series of misconceptions, and on an extremely superficial analysis. This is essentially a world of the sacred. The political enemy is “damned.” Wars are ideological wars, that is to say, wars of religion. Social movements are sacred. Revolution is an act of God. Technology belongs to the domain of the sacred, and science even more so. The most that can be said is that modern humans have completely desacralized the natural environment, they have transferred all the sacred to the cultural and the social. One need only observe the entranced state of those who talk revolution, or the complete irrationality of discourses on politics, irrespective of the specific question under discussion. The modern world is overflowing with myths. It is constantly producing myth, but they are no longer the same myths as before, and they no longer come by the same process. This contradicts the superficial view that humanity, attached to ancestral forms of myth, is being demythologized. We are caught up in the development myths (and those of underdevelopment), in the myths of self-management and growth, as well as in the myths of fascism and imperialism. World and humanity are crammed with faith, with religion, with belief, with mythology.

Jacques Ellul, Essential Spiritual Writings, p. 40

Right on, Ellul.

These words, sourced from Hope in Time of Abandonment, were written in 1972.

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.

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.