Can God make a future so airtight he can't peek into it?

From Jeremiah:

3:6 Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king,
    "Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on
    every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a
    harlot there.
3:7 "I thought, 'After she has done all these things she will
    return to Me'; but she did not return, and her treacherous
    sister Judah saw it.

Are you surprised to find God surprised? I was. No, really, read it again. There's not a lot of wiggle room in this one. God thought his people would do X, but they did Y instead. There's no single word in there we can dispute to say, "oh, well, that word 'frobniz' doesn't mean what you think it means..." These are very basic words in any language: "thought" (although that could be translated "said", doesn't matter), "after", "will return", "did not return".

There's also no loophole for "oh, well this is some human's speculation about God". No, this is God speaking: "The LORD said to me". The only recourse there is for you to believe that Jeremiah made some of it up, or misheard, or made a typo, or perhaps that we don't have an accurate translation or correct source documents. But of course, then you'd have to be a liberal, and you'd already be OK with imagining that God could have some limits. No, this one is juicy precisely because it shocks the conservative who believes in both God's complete sovereignty and the complete inerrancy of the Bible. One or the other of those has gotta give.

That conflict is a continuation of the Greek assumption that any powerful being must exercise that power fully. It just ain't so, people. God has already limited himself by making creation, using language, and making covenants. A miracle's not a miracle if God hadn't designed a "normal" from which to deviate. This just cements the idea that he further limited himself by giving us free will. Granted, the verses above refer to the actions of a group of people, not an individual. I don't think it's a huge stretch to believe the individuals each had their own will: God-given, as all things are with varying degrees of indirection, but provably not under his complete foreknowledge.

Now, when I say "surprised" I don't mean "astonished". That may or may not be true; the text isn't explicit. For a while, I assumed he was astonished, which assumed/required that he had created a universe in which he didn't know any of the future (except what he chose to do himself in that future). It is quite interesting to look at the entire body of foretelling prophecy in the OT and note what a large percentage is God saying, "I will do A", and what a small percentage is "the Perrizites will do B." But my buddy Jon set me straight, noting that God could know every possible future (the complete worldvolume in the future light cone) without knowing the worldline of every free will. There's certainly a difference in astonishment between "the contestant picked door #3" and "the contestant shrunk to 1/5 their normal size"--the former is within the possible, the latter usually isn't. I'm leaning that way, but since I didn't think of it, it must be wrong somehow. ;)

Permalink 07/24/08 03:42:39 pm, by fumanchu Email , 560 words, Categories: Misc , Leave a comment »

Spiritual maturity

I'm constantly amazed at the pervasive idea that we can never be good enough for God, because He's so pure and we're not. Um, hello, McFly?

There's a place for Christian humility and there's a place for Christian pride--not in one's own power, but in the glory of God manifested in us. A pastor I know likes to relate: "people say to me, 'what, you think you're better than me?' and I reply, 'of course I'm better than you--I'm a King's Kid!'".

This issue is insidious, because we use words like "godliness" and "holiness" and expect people know what we mean by them. They don't. People do not understand that godliness is more about what you add to your life than about what you cut out. Holiness (being "set apart") is effected in action, not inaction. You can stop cursing and drinking and carousing, sure, fine, great. That's in answer to Jesus' call to "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." But when Paul talks about training in 1 Tim 4, he doesn't say, "train yourself to remove sin from your life by meditation"; quite the opposite--the passage is against those who "forbid marriage and demand abstinence...". Nothing is to be rejected, for it is sanctified by God's word. When he tells Timothy to "put these things into practice," he doesn't mean "pull back; slow down; stop sinning," but "do MORE--more public reading of scripture, more encouragement, more teaching, use your gift more."

Americans, especially those raised in religious homes, seem to have a lot of guilt. Our churches are dying because of it--we are so fixated on removing our individual impurities that we never work on increasing our acts of love. We're so focused on the skeletons in our closet that we never build that needed second story. C'mon folks--Christ already paid the price for those skeletons. There is no more punishment for them. This is the spiritual judo of Christianity--no longer being slaves to sin we are free to do good. You have 24 hours every day--it's not enough to take the time you used to spend in sin and replace it with a prison of inactive meditation on your guilt, or with paralytic bouts of self-discipline. You ONLY become godly by practicing acts of love; you are free to do so now that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I keep hearing the phrase, "spiritual formation" and "spiritual growth" as if they were static processes that never change, never end. Baloney. All things change, all things come to an end: prophecy, tongues, knowledge. But not love. The spiritual child, the newly-born-again, believes that the Word is primarily for himself and that his new life is eternal and unchanging. The spiritual juvenile has grown, has seen changes in himself, and strives to reach that point of adulthood at which he can say, "I have fixed myself and am now complete." The spiritual adult switches from input to output, from responsibility for self to responsibility for others. It is our modern fascination with fixing, measuring, and therapizing the abnormal that keeps us perpetually juvenile. Stop analyzing your faults and start doing good.

Is there an analog for "spiritual senescece"? Where your spirit has grown so much, learned so much, that the nuances overwhelm and paralyze? Or is Paul saying in 1 Cor 13:10-11 that we cannot even be spiritual adults until Christ returns? I tend to think not. I reject the pervasive idea that God calls us again and again to be like Christ but denies us the ability. He wants brothers and sisters, grown to be fully like him, not eternal babies, or worse, sophomoric punks dedicated to entertainment and self-loathing.

A good friend of mine wouldn't allow the verse to be sung in his church that runs, "brokenness is what I long for..." saying, "brokenness?! NO, God heals us, wants us to be whole and complete." He was right--you must die to leave the kingdom of the world and enter the kingdom of heaven, your old self must be broken--but when he makes you a new creation, you are truly new, unbroken. It's childish to do wrong after you've learned what's right. It's juvenile to want to be imperfect because everyone else is. Be an adult.

Permalink 07/20/08 04:02:08 pm, by fumanchu Email , 732 words, Categories: Misc , Leave a comment »

When is worship not worship?

..."when you interject 2000 years."

A fellow elder is learning Greek from me (and I'm re-learning a few things). He asked me the other day what I thought about the Greek word for "worship" (προσκυνέω ). Here was my response in email:


Here's the word for worship. What does your dictionary say?
4352 προσκυνέω [proskuneo /pros•koo•neh•o/] v.
From 4314

which is "pros" = to or toward

and a probable derivative of 2965

which is "kuon" = dog

That...is a really odd conclusion. My Homeric dictionary says "kuneo" means "to kiss", and I would go with that as the primary meaning, especially given what the TDNT says below about kissing the earth. Although there are many Greek words which begin with "kun-" and have something to do with dogs, that doesn't mean they're related. In English, analogously, "dogma" has little to do with dogs. [10 points to whomever first spots the minor flaw in that analogy...]

TDNT 6:758; TDNTA 948; GK 4686;

I've got the TDNT (abridged) right here...

proskyneo [to bow down, worship]

A. Meaning for the Greeks. proskyneo is an ancient term for reverent adoration of the gods, which in the case of chthonic deities would mean stooping to kiss the earth. The Greeks abandon the outward gesture but keep the term for the inner attitude. Later the word takes on a much more general sense expressing love and respect.

B. Jewish Understanding. The LXX uses the term for various words meaning "to bow", "to kiss", "to serve", and "to worship."... Obeisance is always intended [until Maccabees]. Josephus...Philo...in the sense of respect. In rabbinic Judaism proskynesis is an attitude in prayer (alhough standing is more customary). It may also be a means of showing respect to rabbis...

C. The NT. Uses proskynein only in relation to a divine object...Peter rejects proskynesis in Acts 10:25-26...While proskynein is common in the Gospels and Acts, and then again in Revelation, it occurs in the epistles only in Heb 1:6; 11:21 and 1 Cor 14:25. The last verse offers the only instance of proskynein in the Christian community and it refers along OT lines to the unconditional subjection expressed by an unbeliever. Elsewhere we read of kneeling or raising hands in prayer (Ac 9:40; 1 Tim 2:8) but the word proskynein does not occur. Being a concrete term, proskynein demands visible majesty. It is thus apposite only when the incarnate Christ is present or when the exalted Lord is again manifested.

[Me again...] The important thing is to work forwards, not backwards. That is, when you want to know what a word means, look up all the uses of that word in your source text, and other contemporary texts if you can find them. Determine the context rather than just reading the translator's English word. In the case of "proskuneo", don't just read the English translator's choice of "worship" again and again and think you're learning anything about what the word meant.

It's pretty clear that "proskuneo" primarily means to fall down in reverence toward something--it certainly has nothing to do with singing. ;) The TDNT makes a good point that this act of falling down on one's knees in reverence just didn't merit a mention in the epistles, perhaps because it wasn't common, perhaps because, without Jesus present in the flesh, there's no drive to, or direction for, falling on one's knees toward him.


Meta-commentary:

It struck me that his first reaction was "oh, cool! worship is like a dog licking its master's hand." I just about choked. That is not the connotation at all, any more than the word "ballistics" connotes tennis balls. I wondered if he was going to spend his next Sunday morning with his tongue in the air during the singing.

Preachers especially take note: simile and analogy worked fine for the Ancients, but these days we expect functional and network explanations, even proofs. The ancient Israelites loved their poetic parallels, to be sure. But with the rise of geek elitism, and the application of the long tail to discourse, persuasion is swinging to rely more on systematic delineation than holistic koans. There are still plenty of questions that have no answers, only decisions, but Westerners are being taught to narrow that ratio at every opportunity.

A better response would be, "oh, cool! worship is something you do when Jesus is present in the flesh." Until that occurs again, perhaps we should spend our time in prayer, service and study. Perhaps we should hire an "equipping pastor" before a "worship pastor". I have yet to see a "worship pastor" re-incarnate our Lord; if you know of one, post his phone number here and we'll hire him out to Christian music festivals.

I'll also say aside that an older member of our church recently said, "I don't get modern Christian music--in our day [hymns], we declared the glory of God in his works. Modern music [praise & worship choruses] just ramble on about his ineffable qualities." I rather think they had it righter.

I have performed proskuneesis once or twice in my life. Once was high-school camp, of course. ;) Another was during prayer for a sick pillar of our church. Isn't it odd that the verb occurs 60 times in the NT but the noun not once? Yet we Merkins use the noun, never the verb. I think we're afraid of it. We'd rather "go to worship" than "go worship", because the former implies a level of control over our own schedule and actions. The latter implies a level of control over the schedule and actions of the Holy Spirit. I believe we have sacrificed spirituality for scheduling, and we are poorer for it. The thoughtful church should try to reconcile that.

Maybe your church needs an extra hour (or day) between services. Maybe it needs to design Sunday morning for the people that actually show up--old Christians full of ennui--and abandon preaching in a lecture format in favor of Socratic discussion. I bet your parishioners have had far more education than those present when itinerant preachers first settled down and designed the first sermon series and catechisms. Use that instead of fighting it.

Permalink 07/20/08 12:15:39 am, by fumanchu Email , 1022 words, Categories: Misc , Leave a comment »

Introduction

Intro, intro... lessee, I'm a Bible college grad, currently a Presbyterian elder, en el pasado a missionary for 14 years. I love Foucault and Hofstadter equally. Analysis is my forte. I don't pretend to know the answers, but I got tired of easy questions. I'm asking the hard ones here. Like so many worthwhile things in life, "if you want it done right..."

I'm particularly tired of that feel-good don't-rock-the-boat brand of conservative Christianity that isn't adapting to the real world at any meaningful pace. If you believe the church doesn't need to speak in terms the world can understand, you should leave now before you get mad.

The blog title is "diacrisis", which is a medical term meaning roughly, "changes in secretions which aid diagnosis". I'm gonna secrete some serious change here, folks. If your faith can't handle some spiritual pus, you should leave now before you start to get grossed out.

"διάκρισις" is also the (koine) Greek word for "discernment", or "opinion". I'll be presenting my opinions here, which may not always be orthodox. I'm fully convinced the God of the Bible is real and worth serving; you may not be, at least not enough to weather the storm of crazy ideas I put forth here. If your faith is young, you should leave now before you begin to doubt dangerously.

Permalink 07/19/08 11:29:10 pm, by fumanchu Email , 230 words, Categories: Misc , Leave a comment »

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