I’ve been reading Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card recently, and I encountered a statement from the protagonist, twelve year old Ender Wiggin who has been pushed into a rigorous military training regime from age six to make him the ultimate commander for a war that could come any time soon, quoting his older brother, Peter, a needlessly cruel and manipulative individual.
What he said was this: “Peter had been right, always right; the power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can’t kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.” Granted, this statement came off the back of a particularly brutal episode where some other boys attempted to kill him out of jealousy at his inexplicable run of successes, and perhaps things will change as the story progresses, but this also seems to be a major theme of the book as a whole thus far.
On reading the above statement something in my spirit rebelled against it. Surely that can’t be the only kind of power that matters.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
“Sweety, you know you have to eat all your vegetables before you can go and play.”
“And don't hit your brother.”
“It's not fair! You hate me! You never let me do anything.”
I hear the word “hate” being thrown around a lot lately, particularly in the context of people rebuking Christians for our often socially unpopular standpoint on a number of subjects. Lately the issue of gay marriage, along with other issues like abortion and euthanasia, but these are only the issues that are in the spotlight at the moment, there have been plenty of others and no doubt there will be more.
My dictionary defines “to hate” as: “to feel intense or passionate dislike for something or someone.” In the little dialogue I created above, the child accuses the parent of hating her; of being hateful. But any adult will recognise that the parent in this situation is actually showing love to the child. They are trying to teach them in this case to eat foods that are good for their body and to control their emotions rather than lash out in anger and hurt people nearby.
These are good and important lessons for the child, but to the child they just look like a curtailing of her personal freedom. In her state of immaturity, she is not fully aware of the physical and social consequences this kind of behaviour will have on her future, she has no frame of reference for that kind of thinking.
Proverbs 3:11f : "My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights."
1 Corinthians 13:9-12: "Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely."
If we put God in the role of the parent in the dialogue, we find the scene to be uncomfortably familiar. God comes along and, through Christ and his Church, He proclaims to humanity, “I love you, but you must know that your behaviour is sinful and destructive. You need to change.”
Most Christian leaders admit that post-ministry time is one of spiritual lows. For instance, a Pastor once told me that people should leave him alone on a Sunday night; it’s a dark time that he feels no need to share. I understand this to some degree: Biblically speaking, Satan loves to point out to God how sinful we Christians are (think: the book of Job)… lucky for us, God loves to point out to Satan how forgiven we are (think: Joshua in the book of Zechariah). Yet we, who minister, get caught up in the crossfire: the collateral damage, so to speak. If Satan shows my flaws to God (as if God didn’t know them anyway) he doesn’t get the reaction he wants. Unfortunately, when he shows my flaws to me, I react perfectly for him. I feel downtrodden… I get (to quote the Pastor) “dark.” This is why post-ministry time is best for him to strike: leaders are sinners, and we know it. Personally speaking, whenever I preach it is always from the Biblical standard, not mine. O, what a chance for the Devil! But what a chance for us too: if your life is lacking the standard you preach (which, if you’re a preacher of any worth, must be the Biblical standard) it ought to be resolved in two ways:
Recently the questions were posed to me: How did I come to believe Jesus and why do I still believe Him? In truth, I can whittle my answers right down:
How did I come to believe Jesus? The Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8)
Why do I still believe Jesus? Well… the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:28-30)
: But I believe God works these things out a little more practically. So if I were to exchange Him as my answer for something else I believe to be true I’d say this:
How did I come to believe Jesus? The Church (Romans 10:10-15)
Why do I still believe Jesus? Well... the Church (Hebrews 10:19-25)
: To state it simply, I grew up in the Church and it brought me the opportunity to believe Jesus. I would even go further than some and say that the Holy Spirit caused me to believe: all glory for my salvation goes to Him.
But the way He did so was through the Church.
The first question is not enough though. There are many people who have grown up in the Church, having had similar experiences to me, but are no longer around. So the second question becomes very important (plus it’s also Biblical!): why do I still believe Jesus? Alas, the answer is exactly the same: because of the Holy Spirit through the Church.
This answer, dear Christian, is also your answer. There’s nothing unique about my situation.
In my time I’ve had many discussions about certain worship songs and their constant infatuation with talking about the me instead of the He. To be perfectly honest there have been Sunday mornings where I’ll refuse to sing certain lines.
The reasoning is this: if I know I won’t do it… I won’t sing it.
Even if I don’t know if I’ll do it, I feel uncomfortable about singing it. And worship is ruined. There are actually songs that exist with lyrics about “lifting my hands” and there are some Christians out there who don’t lift their hands in worship. Now, is this right? Why would a Church sing songs that cut them out? That forces them to feel uncomfortable about how they worship? Why are we constantly singing songs about what we’re going to do anyway? Why are we singing any songs about what we’re going to do? And where we're going to go? And how it’s going to be? Is worship about me, and what I’m currently doing or will do?
You already know the answer.
The impression I get from the Bible is that, primarily, worship is first and foremost about God; this is worship for everyone. Secondarily, Biblical worship is reactionary or, to say it another way, it is about the doing; this is worship for the individual.
We have confused individual, reactionary, man-focused, worship with congregational, God-focused, worship.
Making matters worse, many people get their theology from worship songs and, shamefully, not from the Bible. So when you have songs that go, “do-do-do,” you get a theology that goes, “do-do-do.” And, after a while, you forget to sit back and remember: ahh… it’s all done.
In summary: lame worship + Biblically ignorant people = a disaster waiting to happen.
A disaster indeed.
In the 3rd century, Cyprian of Carthage famously said, “you cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” There’s much truth in that statement. There are three types of children here: 1) The child who scoffs at his Mother while proclaiming relationship with the Father. He won’t make it. 2) The child who’s Mother mothers too much. He might make it. 3) The child who loves both. He’ll make it. The Scoffing Hypocrite
The child who scoffs at his Mother is the hypocrite. Rather than seeing the church as fellow sinners saved by grace, people who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and cleansed from sin by the atonement of Jesus, they just see the church as fellow sinners, who are always doing something wrong (if only they would listen to his wise counsel!). There are a few reasons for this: one is a commonality; the others are differences: 1) They are not fellows 2) Perhaps they haven’t been saved by grace 3) They are sinners (the common ground) : There’s a ridiculously obvious truth they might be escaping here: that if the church they attend apparently sucks it’s probable that maybe, possibly, I don’t know, definitely (?), means they suck too. This is Church 101, people! Almost the first thing we Christians learn about the church is this: the church is the people; the people are the church. This is why the scoffer is the hypocrite. He sees the church’s faults (of which there could be many) but never speaks of his own (of which there are many). He speaks of how the church should act but he… he ne-ver acts. Would you trust a “doctor” who always prescribed the medicine, and never dispensed it? That’s not a doctor; it’s a fool. Beware of this person: he is not a fellow and he has no grace to give (for perhaps he was not given grace). He is a goat at best, and a wolf at worst. But this doesn’t mean the Mother is perfect.
Have you ever been asked the question “if God is so powerful that he can do anything, can he create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift?”
It’s a logic game, and the reasoning goes like this:
God, if he exists, is omnipotent [can do anything],
Therefore, there can be nothing that he cannot do.
if something can be found that God cannot do,
then he is either not omnipotent,
and not really God,
or he does not exist.
If God can create a rock that God cannot lift,
then there is something he cannot do [lift the rock]
if he cannot create such a rock,
then there is something he cannot do [create the rock]
therefore, in either case, he is not omnipotent,
and not really God
or he does not exist.
A lot of people consider this argument to be fair reason to disbelieve God’s existence entirely.
We need AFEW good men.
What is AFEW? I just made it up.
It stands for Alien, Fatherless, Elderly, Widow. Have you ever noticed how often the bible talks about these folks? The Old Testament has numerous instructions to have a care and respect for foreigners, orphans and widows. I have added the aged members of our society to the list because I see a common trend in the list.
Consider the culture of Old Testament Jews. People relied heavily on family. Men had a responsibility to work to provide income for their family and women had a responsibility to deal with the needs in the home. There was no welfare system; a married couple would have as many children as possible so that they could be cared for when they were too old to work anymore, and if they were suffering hardship for any reason, they would go to members of their family, parents or adult siblings for help.
What does that mean for the widow and the fatherless? A woman who had lost her husband to illness or injury had to rely on her children for provision if they were old enough to work, assuming she had any children. Otherwise she would have to go to her parents or other family members for help. If she had no family to go to she might end up being forced to become a beggar or a prostitute in order to survive, her situation became even more desperate if she had small children who also needed care. The situation was similar for children that had become orphans, and for aged people who found themselves childless and alone.
It was considered a great disgrace for the relatives of such a person if they allowed them to suffer that kind of fate without doing anything they could, even to the point of becoming beggars themselves, in order to help.
What about the foreigner? Someone who was disconnected from their homeland, customs they understand and family and friends they could rely on? Having recently spent a year as a foreigner in another country, away from so much that I was accustomed to, and with only a small number of people that I could effectively communicate with, I have some appreciation of what that feels like. What would have happened to someone in that situation if they became ill and couldn’t work? They may not have had family to count on.
If you read the book of Ruth, you can see a situation like this in which a widow, Naomi, whose sons have died, and her daughter in law , Ruth, who is a foreigner, and also a widow, are cared for by a relative, a good man named Boaz.
George Carlin, who would have to be in the top 3 comics of all-time, once said: "I wanna live. I don’t wanna die. That’s the whole meaning of life: Not dying! I figured that out by myself in the third grade."
It is a shame, then, that both atheism (which people ascribed Carlin to) and agnosticism (which his daughter ascribed him to) give up when it comes to the question of death. Most of the answers that (another atheist comic) Ricky Gervais gives are to live a good life, be a good person, and enjoy it while it lasts.
Ironically, the Apostle Paul understood such sentiments. He even said himself, 'If the dead are not raised, "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."'
He only understood such sentiments apart from the resurrection of Jesus. See, Jesus died... and Paul hated Him... and then he met Him. This is what led Paul away from that type of hopeless thinking. No matter how it was philosophised, atheistic or otherwise, Paul could not deal with hopelessness.
He met Hope.
I agree with Carlin. In a very humanistic sense the whole meaning of life is not dying. Totally agree. But if there is no resurrection there is no meaning to life. None. And so for Carlin to even quip about meaning or for Gervais to even advise on the good life is nonsensical.
Pain? … Good?
There’s an illustration I remember from childhood, and it goes like this (I believe it was Mick “The Brick” who shared it with us kids in Church. I’ll use his example with my words):
Suppose the nerves in your hands didn’t work, and thus you felt no pain. Sure, it might give you advantages in a boxing match (provided you don’t get slammed too often), but what about in life? Why do you need nerves, why do you need pain?
To show something is wrong.
The illustration Mick used (from memory… and if it was him in the first place) is of a person he knew that would rest his hands places he shouldn’t… for instance… a barbeque plate. Unbeknownst to him, his hand was intensely, and rapidly, depleting. If only he could feel pain. Wouldn’t that be… good.
He was reliant on others to warn him.
The big idea is this: the goodness of pain is true for every sphere of life (physical, mental, relational, spiritual, etc).
Oh, boy … how ‘bout we test this out in the world of luuuurve.
Suppose, gentlemen (or the laaa-dies, as this works both ways), that you were quite fond of a woman. But, o, how strange, it seems there’s a bountiful of pain in that process. I’d like to submit then: something is wrong.
I would also submit: something is wrong, and maybe you’re the pain. Not her.