Pray for Magistrates

In this election season, we should ask that God work in our leaders such that our lives might be peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified and that the gospel message would be unhindered. From the look of things, diligence in this effort will become more urgent in the years to come. Many are regularly requesting of Him for our leaders’ good but more of us need to become consistent in obeying the command:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformer, John Calvin, examined the implications of these verses in detail. First, God appoints civil rulers to administer His justice:

The apostle…expressly enjoins Christians to pray for [their civil rulers]…seeing that God appointed magistrates and princes for the preservation of mankind.

However much they fall short of the divine appointment, still we must not on that account cease to love what belongs to God, and to desire that it may remain in force.

[For this] reason, believers, in whatever country they live, must not only obey the laws and the government of magistrates, but likewise in their prayers supplicate God for their salvation. Jeremiah said to the Israelites,

“Pray for the peace of Babylon, for in their peace you shall have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7.)

The universal doctrine is this, that we should desire the continuance and peaceful condition of those governments which have been appointed by God.

Second, God restrains evil, protects His church, and upholds society through His appointed government:

…[The Apostle Paul]…enumerates the fruits which are yielded to us by a well-regulated government. The first is a peaceful life; for magistrates are armed with the sword, in order to keep us in peace. If they did not restrain the hardihood of wicked men, every place would be full of robberies and murders…

The second fruit is the preservation of godliness, that is, when magistrates give themselves to promote religion, to maintain the worship of God, and to take care that sacred ordinances be observed with due reverence.

The third fruit is the care of public decency; for it is also the business of magistrates to prevent men from abandoning themselves to brutal filthiness or [villainous] conduct, but, on the contrary, to promote decency and moderation.

And without His appointed government, we descend into barbarism:

If these three things are taken away, what will be the condition of human life? If, therefore, we are at all moved by solicitude about the peace of society, or godliness, or decency, let us remember that we ought also to be solicitous about those through whose agency we obtain such distinguished benefits.

Hence we conclude, that fanatics, who wish to have magistrates taken away, are destitute of all humanity, and breathe nothing but cruel barbarism…

Calvin then raises the obvious question that is so pertinent for our times:

“…Ought we to pray for kings, from whom we obtain none of these advantages?” I answer, the object of our prayer is, that, guided by the Spirit of God, they may begin to impart to us those benefits of which they formerly deprived us.

It is our duty, therefore, not only to pray for those who are already worthy, but we must pray to God that he may make bad men good.

To emphasize the point that we should pray that these bad persons be made good, Calvin draws a severe analogy:

We must always hold by this principle, that magistrates were appointed by God for the protection of religion, as well as of the peace and decency of society, in exactly the same manner that the earth is appointed to produce food.

Accordingly, in like manner as, when we pray to God for our daily bread, we ask him to make the earth fertile by his blessing; so in those benefits of which we have already spoken, we ought to consider the ordinary means which he has appointed by his providence for bestowing them.

[Then,] if we are deprived of those benefits [that] the…magistrates [should provide], that is through our own fault. It is the wrath of God that renders magistrates useless to us, in the same manner that it renders the earth barren; and, therefore, we ought to pray for the removal of those chastisements which have been brought upon us by our sins.

So, magistrates’ failure is God’s wrath on us who have sinned by not relying on Him alone for good governance; a severe chastisement, indeed. Are we in the situation Daniel found himself and his people in Babylon?

However, Calvin states, our sin does not absolve these magistrates of their responsibilities before God to carry out their appointed administration:

On the other hand, princes, and all who hold the office of magistracy, are here reminded of their duty. It is not enough, if, by giving to everyone what is due, they restrain all acts of violence, and maintain peace; but they must likewise endeavor to promote religion, and to regulate morals by wholesome discipline.

The exhortation of David (Psalm 2:12) to “kiss the Son,” and the prophecy of Isaiah, that they shall be nursing — fathers of the Church, (Isaiah 49:23,) are not without meaning; and, therefore, they have no right to flatter themselves, if they neglect to lend their assistance to maintain the worship of God.

The earth seems barren, and repentance is called for. If we ask Him for daily bread, should we not fervently ask for rulers made just? Whatever political view you may hold, we all, in obedience to God, must implore Him for our leaders good that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

The Weekly Republican Address: A Bold, Pro-Growth Agenda for 2016, Jan 16, 2016, Speaker Paul Ryan

Why We Use Scripture Extensively in Our Posts

It’s not because we’re lazy (but, if you knew me better, you might disagree.) Nor is it because we can’t write well; though you may disagree with this as well. It’s because His word is what He says He will use to save us from the penalty of death which our sins against Him alone so richly deserve. He says:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

   and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

   it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

His purpose, His eternal purpose is realized in Christ and the Church. The Lord alone is the objective source of knowledge and action who has entered into what we consider our world. Of course, it is His and is His forever.

When He was drawing me to Himself, He made my reading from the scriptures irresistible. I remember dwelling in long passages from a large bible at the front of a main line church sanctuary so many years ago. Months later, when He was ready for me to submit to Him in repentance, He sent an evangelist who read from the scriptures in answer to my doubting questions. And I trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ that evening after that sent one left.

You might think: “What does this have to do with me; I’m doing okay. It’s you, Adolphus, who needs a crutch to face the inevitability of death.” Well, I thought the same back then; so did everyone who professes belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His sovereign will that chooses and saves you. No one, by strength of will, can save themselves. Everyone, whether saved or not, will stand before God’s judgment seat and give an account of ourselves. It is only by the merit of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, conferred to us through faith that we can face that judgment and live. All others will be sent away from His presence.

I offer you, not only the links above, but this verse for your consideration:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)

Please, we beg of you, repent and believe.

Albert Mohler: The Authority of Scripture, Ligonier Ministries

The Shocking Concrete Abstract Universal

Flannery O’Connor meant to shock us by her storylines and imagery:

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience.

When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.

Anyone who has read The Violent Bear It Away or Everything That Rises Must Converge would have to agree that O’Connor had the ability to shout and startle.

On a more philosophical note, she reflected on the imbalance between abstract and concrete knowledge of her day in her essay: ‘The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South,’ p 858–9, Collected Works:

It takes a story of mythic dimensions; one which belongs to everybody; one in which everybody is able to recognize the hand of God and imagine its descent upon himself.

In the Protestant South the Scriptures fill this role. The ancient Hebrew genius for making the absolute concrete has conditioned the Southerner’s way of looking at things…

Our response to life is different if we have been taught only the definition of faith than if we have trembled with Abraham as he held the knife over Isaac.

I’d say it was God’s genius for making the absolute concrete; but who’s quibbling. To paraphrase O’Connor, the point is that the abstract is transformed into the concrete thereby making the universal accessible. That’s what God has done throughout the Scriptures. To illustrate, I cite two examples.

The intricate description of the ephod and breastpiece of judgement belonging to the High Priest’s garments culminates in Exodus, chapter 28, verses 29 and 30:

So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly. English Standard Version

If we have ears to hear it, all the concrete details of these garments portray the concern Aaron was to have for the people of Israel as he regularly bore their judgement on his heart while he brought them in remembrance before the Lord. We later learn, in the Letter to the Hebrews, that Aaron and his line are a shadow of the reality residing in the Lord Jesus Christ’s intercession for His own before the Father.

Another example of the abstract being made concrete is the bread and wine of communion. First, the Lord Jesus shocks the religious rulers of His day (and us, if we’re honest):

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:51-54 (ESV)

Then in the Upper Room, the Lord inaugurates the commemoration of His death and resurrection:

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25 (ESV)

Finally, Paul explains its significance

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

Which brings us full circle back to John, chapter 6:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35 (ESV)

Even the Prophet Isaiah said as much:

“Come, everyone who thirsts,

    come to the waters;

and he who has no money,

    come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

    without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,

    and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

    hear, that your soul may live;

and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

    my steadfast, sure love for David.

Isaiah 55:1-3 (ESV)

Indeed, come and eat.

High Priest's Garments

The High Priest Aaron, Illustration from Brockhaus and Efron Jewish Encyclopedia (1906—1913), Public Domain in the United States

Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences?

Eugene Wigner, theoretical physicist and mathematician, famously addressed the effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences in a lecture delivered at NYU on May 11, 1959. The Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) recently held their spring 2015 essay contest on the same topic.

According to Wikipedia, there are three main responses to Wigner’s lecture:

Richard Hamming, applied mathematician and a founder of computer science, extended Wigner’s arguments. But finally, he considered them unsatisfactory. They were:

  1. Humans see what they look for.
  2. Humans create and select the mathematics that fit a situation.
  3. Mathematics addresses only part of the human experience.
  4. Evolution has primed humans to think mathematically.

Max Tegmark, physicist and Scientific Director of FQXi, suggests Our external physical reality is a mathematical structure, which posits we are living in Platonic reality.

Ivor Grattan-Guinness, historian of mathematics and logic, found mathematics’ effectiveness explainable in terms of analogy, generalization, and metaphor.

The same Wikipedia article offers quotes from famous scientists on the subject. Many more responses can be found on the FQXi site. They are complicated and some are bewildering.

In all these musings, no one even contemplates the possibility that humans can describe the world mathematically because both mathematics and the world were created by the man, Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul declares:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

This truth holds for Astronomy through Zoology and all the sciences that derive from them. Yet no one considers Him:

For thus says the Lord,

who created the heavens

    (he is God!),

who formed the earth and made it

    (he established it;

he did not create it empty,

    he formed it to be inhabited!):

“I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45:18 (ESV)

Take into account, however, that these scientists have been given gifts by virtue of bearing God’s image as His creations. They’re just like any of us. Ask the Lord that these men’s and women’s eyes be opened and that they’d be saved.

Lightning

Lightning, NOAA, in the Public Domain

Idols

Scripture is clear: Idols are nothing. However, the scriptures point out that it is not the physical manifestation of the idol nor the demonic forces it represents but the disaffection of peoples’ hearts from their Lord and Creator that is deadly.

In one of the more amusing Old Testament passages, the Prophet Isaiah shows the futility of idols by describing a man using half of a wooden log to warm himself and cook a meal and then worshipping the other half:

He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god! Isaiah 44:14-17 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Prophet Jeremiah says physical idols are mere inanimate articles of superstition:

Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,

   and they cannot speak;

they have to be carried,

   for they cannot walk.

Do not be afraid of them,

   for they cannot do evil,

   neither is it in them to do good.”

Jeremiah 10:5 (ESV)

The Prophet Ezekiel emphasizes what was true all along; idol worship is a question of a person’s heart disaffection from the Lord:

For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. Ezekiel 14:7 (ESV)

John Calvin comments on this passage:

He who caused his idols to ascend unto his heart, he who placed the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, that is, was drowned in his own superstitions, so that his idols bore sway in his heart.

Lastly, he who is so forward in audacity that he did not conceal his wish to oppose the Almighty: if anyone, says he, came to a prophet to inquire of him in me, or my name, I will answer him. He [the Lord speaking through the prophet]…could no longer bear the hypocrites who deluded themselves so proudly. And certainly when they openly worshipped idols, and were [filled] with many superstitions, what audacity and pride it was to consult true prophets?

It is much the same as if a person should want only insult and rail at a physician, and not only load him with reproaches, but even spit in his face: and should afterwards go and ask his advice, saying, “What do you advise me to do? How must I be cured of this disease?” Such pride could not be borne between man and man…How then will God permit such reproaches to go unpunished?

The Apostle Paul addresses the question of idols directly:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (ESV)

Calvin disagrees with the translation no…existence:

…As to the words, Erasmus reads thus — “An idol has no existence.” I prefer the rendering of the old translation — an idol is nothing. For the argument is this — that an idol is nothing, inasmuch as there is but one God; for it follows admirably — “If there is no other God besides our God, then an idol is an empty dream, and mere vanity.” When he says — and there is none other God but one, I understand the conjunction [as giving this explanation].

For the reason why an idol is nothing is, that it must be estimated according to the thing that it represents. Now it is appointed for the purpose of representing God: nay more, for the purpose of representing false gods, inasmuch as there is but one God, who is invisible and incomprehensible.

The reason, too, must be carefully observed — An idol is nothing because there is no God but one; for he is the invisible God, and cannot be represented by a visible sign, so as to be worshipped through means of it. Whether, therefore, idols are erected to represent the true God, or false gods, it is in all cases a perverse contrivance.

Hence Habakkuk calls idols teachers of lies, (Habakkuk 2:18) because they deal falsely in pretending to give a figure or image of God, and deceive men under a false title. Hence οὐδεν (nothing) refers not to essence, but to quality — for an idol is made of some substance — either silver, or wood, or stone; but as God does not choose to be represented in this way, it is vanity and nothing as to meaning and use.

Paul takes it further and calls covetousness, which is a specific heart attitude, idolatry:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:5 (ESV)

Calvin points out this identification is representative of a greater issue:

Nor covetous man, who is an idolater. “Covetousness,” as he says in another place, “is idolatry,” (Colossians 3:5) — not the idolatry which is so frequently condemned in Scripture, but one of a different description. All covetous men must deny God, and put wealth in his place; such is their blind greediness of wretched gain.

But why does Paul attribute to covetousness alone what belongs equally to other carnal passions? In what respect is covetousness better entitled to this disgraceful name than ambition, or than a vain confidence in ourselves?

I answer, that this disease is widely spread, and not a few minds have caught the infection. Nay, it is not reckoned a disease, but receives, on the contrary, very general commendation. This accounts for the harshness of Paul’s language, which arose from a desire to tear from our hearts the false view.

Calvin says that all heart passions that disobey God deserve being labelled idolatry. But, he says, Paul is emphasizing covetousness because of its effect in man. As his Lord had said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [or possessions].” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

The same also recorded in Luke 16:13. Calvin draws an important distinction concerning this passage in Matthew:

…Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh…where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority. True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.

…What is here said with a special reference to riches, may be properly extended to every other description of vice. As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2) all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart.

All, indeed, confess in words, that, where the affection is not entire, there is no true worship of God: but they deny it in fact, when they attempt to reconcile contradictions. “I shall not cease,” says an ambitious man, “to serve God, though I devote a great part of my mind to hunting after honors.”

It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters.

For their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

Scarecrows out standing in a field

Scarecrow, Japan Paddy Field, By FG2, released into the Public Domain by its author

Deluding Influence

Delusion is defined as:

De·lu·sion /dəˈlo͞oZHən/ noun: delusion; plural noun: delusions

An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.

“The delusion of being watched.”

“Was her belief in his fidelity just a delusion?”

The action of deluding someone or the state of being deluded.

“What a capacity television has for delusion.”

And, perhaps more directly:

De·lude /dəˈlo͞od/ verb: delude; 3rd person present: deludes; past tense and past participle: deluded; gerund or present participle: deluding

Impose a misleading belief upon (someone); deceive; fool.

“Too many theorists have deluded the public.”

In the second letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul speaks of deluding influences and the man of lawlessness:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness [emphasis added].

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin has much to say about these verses: 1–2, 3–4, 5–8, and 9–12. We’ll concentrate on what he said about verses 11 and 12:

Verse 11 – The working of delusion. He means that errors will not merely have a place, but [that] the wicked will be blinded, so…they will rush forward to ruin without consideration.

For as God enlightens us inwardly by his Spirit, that his doctrine may be efficacious in us, and opens our eyes and hearts, that it may make its way thither, so by a righteous judgment he delivers over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28) those whom he has appointed to destruction, that with closed eyes and a senseless mind, they may, as if bewitched, deliver themselves over to Satan and his ministers to be deceived…

Verse 12 – That all may be condemned. That is, that they may receive the punishment due to their impiety. Thus, those that perish have no just ground to expostulate with God, inasmuch as they have obtained what they sought.

For we must keep in view what is stated in Deuteronomy 13:3, that the hearts of men are subjected to trial, when false doctrines come abroad, inasmuch as they [the false doctrines] have no power except among those who do not love God with a sincere heart. Let those, then, who take pleasure in unrighteousness, reap the fruit of it.

When he says all, he means that contempt of God finds no excuse in the great crowd and multitude of those who refuse to obey the gospel, for God is the Judge of the whole world, so that he will inflict punishment upon a hundred thousand, no less than upon one individual.

The participle εὐδοκήσαντες (taking pleasure) means (so to speak) a voluntary inclination to evil, for in this way every excuse is cut off from the ungrateful, when they take so much pleasure in unrighteousness, as to prefer it to the righteousness of God.

For by what violence will they say that they have been impelled to alienate themselves by a mad revolt from God, towards whom they were led by the guidance of nature? It is at least manifest that they willingly and knowingly lent an ear to falsehoods.

But none of this is new. Throughout history and in all lands, God has given over the disobedient.

Roughly seven hundred years before Christ and more than a century and a half before their decreed release by Cyrus the Great, the prophet Isaiah encouraged the future Babylonian exiles to flee from there and, by faith, return to the Promised Land. Speaking of their spiritual blindness, he says to them:

They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. Isaiah 44:18 (ESV)

Speaking to His disciples about the crowds gathered by the Sea of Galilee to hear Him, the Lord Jesus Christ cites Isaiah (Is. 6:9–10):

And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,

    and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Mark 4:11-12 (ESV)

Later, during Lord’s entry into Jerusalem prior to the Passover, John recounts what Isaiah said about God’s hardening of hearts as a commentary on those who did not believe in the Lord:

“He has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their heart,

lest they see with their eyes,

    and understand with their heart, and turn,

    and I would heal them.”

John 12:40 (ESV)

Later still, Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome says:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:18 (ESV)

This is a clear expression of God’s sovereign kindness and severity.

And yet, He sets Eternity in the heart:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)

Truly, His ways are past finding out:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33 (ESV)

Even though we deserve ruthlessness, He Himself seeks to persuade us with rational arguments:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;

But if you refuse and rebel,you shall be eaten by the sword;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 1:18–20 (ESV)

Then, of course, He speaks to us of an unmerited gift:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)

With Paul (and Isaiah), I say to you: sleeper, awake!

Fall of Rebel Angels - Brueghel

The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562), Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), PD in US

No Rest

We are now planning Mandated Memoranda Publishing’s next novel: Who Shall Be God. We have characters, certain scenes, and even a cover image in mind already. We’re investigating background materials for the theme of the novel. Since it deals with political conflict reflected through two families, we’re reading The Fourth Revolution by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge and Alien Powers by Kenneth Minogue. However, we always have a biblical theme in mind too.

The scripture: Isaiah 57 jumped out at us based on our reading of The Art of Dramatic Writing by L. Egri. Here are the pertinent parts:

The righteous man perishes,

    and no one lays it to heart;

devout men are taken away,

    while no one understands.

For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;

    he enters into peace;

they rest in their beds

    who walk in their uprightness.

Isaiah 57:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)

But the wicked are like the tossing sea;

    for it cannot be quiet,

    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.

There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 57:20-21 (ESV)

We commonly know the last verse (repeated elsewhere in Isaiah 48:22, 57:20, 57:21) as the phrase:

“No rest for the wicked [or weary]”.

As we always do, let’s consult Calvin to get his take on Isaiah’s verses:

The righteous man hath perished…And no man layeth it to heart. …The Lord holds out as a mirror this event of his providence, more remarkable than all others, that he takes away good and worthy men out of this life, when he determines to chastise his people severely. But no man considers it, or reflects that it is a token of approaching destruction, that God gathers them, and places them in safety from being distressed by prevailing afflictions.

…The general meaning is, that wicked men grievously deceive themselves by supposing that there is no greater happiness than to have life continued to a great age, and by thus pluming themselves on their superiority to the servants of God, who die early. Being attached to the world, they likewise harden themselves by this pretense that, by nothing else than a manifestation of God’s favor towards them, while others die, they continue to be safe and sound…

Men of mercy are gathered. …But, since God, in many passages of Scripture, represents gentleness and kindness as a distinguishing mark of his children, this may be, as I have said, a definition of true righteousness.

Hence we see that the Lord, at that time, gathered many good men, whose death portended some dreadful calamity, and yet that the Jews [the Prophet’s proximate audience] paid no regard to such forewarnings, and even proceeded to more daring lengths of wickedness; for they thought that all went well with them, when they were the survivors of many excellent men.

Peace shall come. The Prophet describes what shall be the condition of believers in death; for the wicked, who think that there is no life but the present, imagine that good men have perished; because in death they see nothing but ruin. For this reason he says that “Peace shall come,” which is more desirable than a thousand lives full of trouble; as if he compared them to discharged soldiers, who are and allowed to enjoy case and quietness.

They shall rest in their beds. He adds the metaphor of sleep, in order to show that they shall be absolutely free from all the uneasiness of cares, just as if they were safely pleasantly asleep “on their beds.”

Whosoever walketh before him. …as if he had said, “Whosoever walketh before God shall enjoy peace.” Thus, when righteous men die, and their various labors are finished, and their course is ended, they are called to peace and repose. They “rest in their beds,” because they do not yet enjoy perfect blessedness and glory; but they wail; for the last day of the resurrection, when everything shall be perfectly restored; and that, I think, is what Isaiah meant.

By these comments, Calvin seems to echo Revelation 18:4.

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,

lest you take part in her sins,

lest you share in her plagues;”

Revelation 18:4 (ESV)

As for Isaiah’s second couplet, Calvin says:

But the wicked. …But because the reprobate make false pretensions to the name of God, and vainly glory in it, the Prophet shows that there is no reason why they should flatter themselves, or advance any claim, on the ground of this promise, since they can have no share in this peace. Nor will it avail them anything, that God, having compassion upon his people, receives them into favor, and commands peace to be proclaimed to them.

As the troubled sea. That metaphor of “the sea” is elegant and very well fitted to describe the uneasiness of the wicked; for of itself “the sea is troubled.” …Most appropriately, therefore, has the Prophet compared them to a stormy and troubled sea. Whoever then wishes to avoid these alarms and this frightful agony of heart, let him not reject that peace which the Lord offers to him. There can be no middle course between them; for, if you do not lay aside sinful desires and accept of this peace, you must unavoidably be miserably distressed and tormented.

There is no peace to the wicked. He confirms the preceding statement, namely, that in vain shall the reprobate endeavor to seek peace, for everywhere they will meet with war. It is God who threatens war, and therefore there can be no hope of “peace.” Wicked men would indeed wish to enjoy peace, and ardently long for it; for there is nothing which they more eagerly desire than to be at ease, and to lull their consciences, that they may freely take their pleasures and indulge in their vices.

They drive away all thoughts about the judgment of God, and endeavor to stupefy themselves and to repose in indolence, and think that these are the best ways and methods of obtaining peace. But they never shall enjoy it; for, until men have been reconciled to God, conscience will never cease to annoy and carry on war with them.

Saith my God. Thus he represents God as the only author of peace, that he may, by this dreadful threatening, tear from the Jews their dearest pleasures; and calls him “his God,” in opposition to the vain boasting of those who falsely boasted of his name; for they cannot acknowledge God, so long as they reject his Prophet and his doctrine. For this reason the Prophet boldly declares that he has received a command from God to declare perpetual war against them.

There is no rest for the wicked; no rest now or in eternity. Turn away from evil ways and do good.

Triumph of Death, 1562, Pieter Breughel the Elder

Triumph of Death, 1562, Pieter Breughel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), Museo del Prado, Madrid, Public Domain

You Thought I Was Like You

This IS a new blog post. We rehearse again the same opening statement from an Aeon article on the possibility and ethics of a human imposed artificial hell as we did in a previous post:

Even in my most religious moments, I have never been able to take the idea of hell seriously. Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment.

However, this time we explore a different facet of the Aeon article argument. Is God like us doing what no human parent would? Although we could spend time expounding on human parenting, both good and bad, I think all of us know those stories either through the media or through our experience. In our age, it’s God’s declarations we’ve forgotten.
The obvious place to start is Psalm 50:21:

These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

The psalmist describes God calling His people to hear Him speak. He rebukes His faithful, not for being delinquent in ritual sacrifice of bulls and goats which are His anyway, but for not offering sacrifices of thanksgiving, performing their vows to the Most High, and calling upon Him in the day of trouble. And He promises in response:

“I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

To the wicked He says that they have no right to recite His statutes or covenant because they hate discipline and reject His words. He goes on to say that they are pleased with thieves, keep company with adulterers, speak evil and deceit, and condemn and slander even their own kin.

These are the charges over which He kept silent. But not for the reason they might have thought, that He didn’t notice or care, but for them to have time to repent.

Finally, He calls those thus condemned to repentance, even warning them of the penalty if they do not:

“Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

Reiterating this theme, He says through His prophet, Isaiah:

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

He calls yet again, through His prophet Ezekiel:

“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”

And through His prophet Paul, He states that He: desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This God gave His own Son as a sacrifice for us, His enemies, that whoever believes in Him should not die but live, eternally. What human parent ever did that?

Ecce homo! (Behold the man!), by Antonio Ciseri, 1871

Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people Ecce homo! (Behold the man!), by Antonio Ciseri, 1871, in the public domain.