Step outside and see the world biblically

A few weeks ago I read James B. Jordan’s book Through New Eyes, and it did indeed leave me with new eyes to see. The book is essentially a primer of biblical worldview. This is not, Jordan explains, the same as Christian worldview in a philosophical sense. Rather, it is about how the Bible portrays the world we live in, all on its own terms. This involved two main categories: symbolism and history.

As Jordan explains, the world is designed to reveal God and His glory. This isn’t a secondary function, or frosting on the cake of creation. It’s what the world is at its heart: a symbol of God. And every part of the world symbolizes God in its own way. Through New Eyes uses the Bible to show demonstrate how certain different parts of creation symbolize God, so that you can go outside and see, instead of just matter, a world on fire with the glory of God.

While Through New Eyes looks at lots of different symbolism, I just want to highlight here some of the stuff that stuck out to me the most and has had the largest impact on my own vision. So here are a few natural symbols in biblical perspective:

Sky
The sky is called “heaven/the heavens” in Scripture, and it’s not a coincidence that this word is also used for the realm of God and the angels. The two are not the same place, but the sky is the image of heaven. It is above us no matter where we are, symbolizing that God and His host are watching over everything. Being higher also symbolizes God’s authority. The sun symbolizes the face of God, which shines on the righteous and the unrighteous, giving light, heat, and glory to the world, yet also scorching and burning. The sun, the moon, and the stars together also symbolize the rulers and authorities in the world, both earthly and heavenly. The clouds also represent the weight and glory of God, along with His double-edged comings of blessing and judgment.
Trees
Trees represent people, as can be seen throughout the Bible, such as in Psalm 1. Trees and men both come from the earth, and both grow up toward the sky which represents heaven. Those which are healthy and well-watered flourish, creating shade and fruit as a blessing, just as the Christian is given new life when baptized by the Spirit, which leads him to a life of love and fruit which blesses others. Unhealthy trees represent the wicked, who are dry and lifeless and good for nothing but to be cut down and thrown into the fire. People tend to surround homes, apartments, schools, and other such places with trees, and these trees represent the intended flourishing of the people who populate those places. Trees also represent a ladder to heaven, reaching from the earth to the sky, something which men are meant to become by the Spirit.
Animals
All animals are designed to represent God in various ways. They variously represent strength, power, beauty, sight, or other things which God has in abundance. Most interestingly, the animals which were unclean represented death. This is because the curse of human death was bound up with the cursing of the ground and its dust.
Rocks and stones
The Bible calls God a “rock.” He is strong and hard and massive, and this has two edges. On the one hand, rocks represent the safety God gives to His people. In the cleft of a rock a man can find shelter and shade. On the other hand, rocks represent the danger God poses to unbelievers. Whoever falls upon the rock will be broken, and if the rock comes falling down, whoever is beneath it will be crushed. The rock of the kingdom of God grows into a mountain, which elevates God and His people, Christ and His Church, above the whole world. It will stand and never be shaken. Smaller stones, like rubies and diamonds and the like, represent by their inner glint God’s fire of purity and holiness, and His Holy Spirit. By their brilliance they represent the glory of God, the shining and luminescent aspect which beautifies Him and His world.

So go out, look at the world, and see God. He is behind it all, and it all is meant to be a picture of Him.

Faith grows

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Everyone familiar with Genesis knows the story of Abraham and Hagar. God promised to give Abraham a son. But it was taking a very long time, and his wife Sarah seemed simply barren. Eventually, they reason that he should try the common practice of taking his wife’s slave as a second wife. So Abraham slept with Hagar and got Ishmael. Impatience and perhaps some lack of faith created another line, outside of the promise, which led to lots of trouble down the road. God promised Abraham children, and he didn’t know what to think about that promise based on his life situation, and he messed things up by trying to fix it himself.

Abraham, however, did not stay this way. In Genesis 24, another stage has come to the story of Abraham and God’s promise. Abraham is old and about to die, and Isaac is all grown up. Isaac needs a wife if he is to continue the line of promise. So Abraham sends his servant back to his extended family to find a wife for Isaac. The reason for this restriction is obvious: Abraham’s family worshipped Yahweh, but most other people were idolaters.

But if Abraham’s family is to provide a wife for Isaac, and they don’t live in Canaan, what happens if they don’t want to send a daughter into a distant land to marry Isaac? The servant asks Abraham about this possibility, and the conversation goes as follows:

The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?”

“Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.”

Genesis 24:5-8

Abraham has certainly changed. He is no longer worried about how God will fulfill His promise to give them descendents. If Isaac can’t get a wife from Abraham’s family without leaving the promised land, then Isaac will just have to wait. They will not leave the land. They will simply have to trust God that He will provide for Isaac as He provided for Abraham. There is no doubt here, only faith in God and His promises.

This, of course, is by the grace of God. God worked on Abraham, trying and refining him over the years to hone his faith. He brought Abraham from faith to faith, and the growth brought about great good. So if our own faith is weak, and it tries to fail, we must persevere. We must keep holding on, despite the difficulty, for God will work on us and teach us to trust Him. Abraham’s faith grew, and so may our own.

The doctrine of objective coolness

How do we know what is “cool?”

I was having a discussion along these lines with someone the other day. He was saying more or less that if you think something is cool, it’s cool for you. This was part of his point that he doesn’t hate on what anyone else thinks is cool. Whether anything truly “is” cool is nothing but a matter of taste.

I was not entirely comfortable with this. Anyone who has read C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man will understand why. The claim my friend made about coolness could be rephrased like this:

When the man said This [waterfall] is cool, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall…Actually…he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Cool”, or shortly, I have cool feelings.

This might sound like common sense, or it might sound ridiculous, depending mostly on how you have been raised. But in any case, this is what my friend and many other people seem to think about coolness. When we call something “cool,” we really just mean that we like it and find it, personally, interesting. But this is a worse idea than it sounds.

As Lewis goes on to show in The Abolition of Man, there is no reason to stop at any one kind of value judgment. If the words “cool” and, to use his own example, “sublime” are just about our personal feelings, do any words about something’s value or worth mean something real, or are they all just personal opinion? Is anything objective, or is everything limited to our individual hearts? For example, if “cool” is just an opinion, then why not “worthy,” “just,” “fair,” “noble,” “true,” or “good”? Or what about “evil” and “wrong”? Obviously this is a deadly and treacherous path to take. We must be able to say that some things are really true, good, and beautiful. (If at this point my argument seems cut short, my answer would simply be this: read The Abolition of Man.)

So my point is that coolness is real, and coolness is objective. We do not make things cool by thinking they are cool. Things are not cool strictly within the confines of our hearts. Things are cool in themselves, and we respond to that coolness. So we call them “cool.”

But if I am right, how do we know what is objectively cool?

Easy: everything is cool.

God made everything, and He made everything cool. Everything in the universe from the lightest quark to the greatest of the supermassive black holes was designed with skill and intent by the omnipotent God. He crafted each and every part, and He knows and upholds all of it by His own pleasure.

This makes everything cool. Everything which exists right now exists because God chooses to keep it in existence. Everything is a carefully wrought gift of God, full of more parts, aspects, and dimensions than we will ever comprehend. So everything is cool. The reason we don’t find everything cool is that we are too small. We are limited by nature, habit, experience, and sin. We can’t take in all of the coolness that the universe contains, so we specialize on this or that thing which has a kind of coolness we can most easily see. But that doesn’t make other things not cool, nor does it mean things are only cool to us personally. For objective coolness is nothing other than the doctrine of Genesis 1:31. In the end, G. K. Chesterton was right:

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.

When it comes to Christianity, listen to the experts (and they’re not who you think)

In most things, if you want to succeed, it is very helpful to have expert advice. This, I think, applies to the Christian life as much as anything. This might sound a bit off at first, especially if by “experts” you think I mean Bible scholars and famous pastors. Can’t you thrive in Christ without that kind of help?

But those aren’t who I’m talking about. Experts are generally people who have had lots of practice and have learned successfully from that practice. They’ve spent thousands of hours learning and training. Expertise is the result of a long, slow, devoted process.

What we often forget about Christianity is that, with this kind of qualification being the most important to define an expert, we have loads of them in almost every church. And they are unfortunately the people we tend to listen to the least. A lot of times we even treat them dismissively and condescendingly.

I call this group “experts,” and the Bible sometimes calls them “elders.” But too many people call them just “old people.”

Yes, it is of the senior adult Sunday school class that I speak. These experienced Christians often have behind them decades of service to Christ and tens of thousands of hours of “practice” at Christian living. But for some reason, at least from what I’ve seen, younger people make very little use of their wisdom.

Of course, we have our excuses. I mean, some of our elders voted for Trump. Some of them say rock and rap music are of the Devil. Some of them are KJV-only. A lot of them don’t seem to understand our super-serious theological debates like Calvinism v. Arminianism. And instead of serious doctrine, a bunch of them seem to have nothing to say but “pray more” and “it’s all about loving Jesus.” Aren’t these all proof that the seniors don’t have what it takes to lead us in our Christian walk?

The responses to this kind of nonsense seem obvious to me. All generations have their flaws, and one flaw doesn’t poison everything else a person believes. If Brother Tom voted for Trump, that doesn’t mean he can’t give you sound advice on how to flee temptation, how to spend effective time with God in prayer and Bible reading, and how to share your faith with others. Maybe Mrs. Edith won’t use anything but the KJV, but she has been in so many ways transformed by the renewing of her mind.

There is also wisdom in the way many older people do seem to care less about theology and more about Christian living. For ultimately, it is the living which counts the most. The most ignorant Christian who has lived a consistent life of faith, hope, and love will be greater in the kingdom of heaven than the most theologically astute Christian whose sanctification never made it past infancy. As Paul said, knowledge without love is worthless, but love is enough to fulfill the whole law, with or without knowledge. Many people come to realize this more and more as they grow older, and we would do better to pay more heed for that reason alone. Mrs. Edith might not have anything to say except, “It’s all about loving Jesus, and don’t forget to pray,” but in 10 years when you’re spiritually burned out from life’s troubles, that may be the most nourishing thing you could possibly hear, and it will seem infinitely more important and memorable than how Peter Leithart exegeted that one text in 1 Kings.

So, in the end, I’m just saying that we (young people, Millennials, etc.) need to listen to the experts more. We don’t do a good job heeding our elders, whether because of pride or culture or whatever else. Of this we must repent. They know what they’re talking about.

The female form is a fountain

Some ramblings about the natural place of the woman’s body:

Contra a popular, fake C. S. Lewis quote, we are not souls who have bodies. We are body and soul equally, and in truth the line between the two is blurry and ambiguous. So to speak of a person’s body is to say something about who and what they are. In modern culture we like to pretend that this isn’t true, which is why Western progressivism is really Gnosticism reborn. But I digress.

Back onto the point, the woman’s body is extremely unique. It, and thus she, is literally a source of life. She is a fountain of flourishing. I’ve said before that the man makes a home a household, and a woman makes a household a home. This is true, and comes close to what I’m saying here. It begins with the beginning of life. The first woman was called Eve, Mother of All the Living, and the first man was not called the Father of All the Living. For the woman is more inanimately associated with the spread of life. When a new human comes into being, he emerges in the womb of a woman. This womb gives him protection and health, everything he needs to grow and enter the world of the living. His mother swaddles him in her very flesh, and she, like Christ to us, nourishes him with her own body and blood.

This role, of course, does not stop after birth. A child born is still bodily dependent on his mother. For the longest time, he can eat and drink nothing but what comes from her breasts. Her body saps her own nutrients to give strength to the infant. Even once weaned, she continues to expend her physical energy, aging time, heart, and many opportunities to go, do, and be in order to grow the child from infancy to adulthood so that he can have a life of his own. His life is a gift from his mother.

Even after the child grows up, the female form remains a source of life. But at this point it is not the mother, but the wife. People make a lot of jokes and throw a lot of disdain to the male sex drive, but few stop to think just how vital it is to masculine life. There is a very real and very serious sense in which a man comes alive by his union with woman. When her flesh meets his in a healthy context, he can receive a strength, boldness, identity, and place in the world which is simply absent otherwise. In so many cases, men become men precisely because they are united to a woman. She empowers him and gives him something to fight for, something to (literally) lean on, and the assurances that he is worth something to at least someone. She does this all by the gift of her body.

The female form is the fountain of life, then. This is its, and thus her, nature. Woman are life-givers in a way that men aren’t. The man helps create life in a one-off action, and the woman nurtures and grows it in an ongoing manner. This is like the relationship between God and man, in which God is, as Father, the one who creates us ex nihilo and the Church, as mother, nourishes and teaches us that we might grow up into the image of our elder Brother, who was Himself grown in the womb of the Church when she was known as Israel. This is why the Spirit is also the only member of the Trinity who is sometimes referred to with a feminine pronoun in the Scriptures, for God as the Spirit uniquely continues in the ongoing action of sustaining and forming human life towards its fullness.

In the end, this is largely why I am so skeptical of modern feminism. Even when it gives lip-service to motherhood, it militates against it. The push for endless birth control and abortion proves as much, along with the push to fill corporations and legislatures with women as well. They try as hard as they can to rip the woman from the home, where she is an omnipotent goddess, to the workforce and the state, where she, like men before her, may easily become either a faceless cog or a soulless beast. They may possibly be right to suggest that no one hates women like some redneck Trump supporter with a picture of Hillary Clinton on a dart board, but I suspect that no one hates Woman as much as these feminists. Let them not dry up the fountain of life. Let them not tame the woman and turn her into an atom. If they succeed too far, it will be everyone who perishes.

The rape of the princess

Just a thought for all of you guys out there.

Every woman is a miracle. She is handwoven of God, His walking and breathing image before you. She is His daughter, His bride, and His sculpture as He is her Father, her Groom, and her Moulder. Even is she doesn’t now know or want Him, He made her, He died for her, and He is striving with her to bring her to glory. There is no woman on the planet for whom this is not true, and if there were, she would not be a woman but a succubus.

The point of this is to say that God has destined femininity for the glory of queenhood. A woman is the raw material from which a queen is formed, and for God, this is the point of the matter. In Christ, the human race is exalted to the highest place of royalty and honor under God, in which we will all participate if we are in Him. This makes men into kings and women into queens on the last day, and in the meantime, we are thereby princes and princesses, whether we want it and know it or not, and even if we never, in fact, reach out destiny because we despise the God through whom it must be realized. Every woman you will ever see is a princess, and the queenly glory for which she is being prepared is as close to the glory of a goddess as you can imagine.

More important than the woman’s status and destiny considered in itself, however, is the context in relation to God. She is God’s princess, the daughter of the One True King. She is the bride-to-be of the Lord of Lords. She is the masterpiece of the great Potter. He is the ultimate, the only real source of her glory. Everything good that she is or ever will be comes from Him. Her beauty, her honor, and her royalty are first and foremost His own, given as a gift.

But just as God gives to the woman all of her excellence as a gift, so He gives her entirely as a gift to whomever He chooses. Some women He reserves for Himself alone, and to give them a peculiar kind of glory He will share them with no man. But for many, even most, He gives them to a prince so that they can together learn how to become king and queen. He unites the two as one flesh, and He gives each to the other as an exclusive investment to be redeemed at the end of the world.

So what am I actually on about? It’s just something that occurred to me the other day. If a woman is a prince, and she is on sacred reserve for the King himself or one of His princes, that must determine how we treat her. This goes deep. It must affect how we see, think, feel, and act about and to her. We must recognize her dignity, her beauty, and her splendor as a queen-to-be. We must recognize as well that all of these are from God. Any offense against her is therefore against Him.

To get to the point, this is a lesson about lust (though of course there are many other possible applications). As Christ said, to look at a woman to lust upon her is wickedness, and it is easy to see why. She belongs to God. She is a princess for Him, perhaps with a prince waiting for her, or already with her. She is destined for the glory of the bride of the Lamb. To look at her and claim her in the mind, to reach out with your heart to grasp the one who is not yours, is to violate something sacred. It is to profane the goddess, to desecrate the image in the sanctuary, to rape the princess. She may not ever know, and she may not ever see, but God who exalted her, who adopted her, and who prepares her glory does. He sees the thought and knows your claim. He recognizes your depraved fantasy of grasping His princess and taking her for your own use. He will not ignore such a blasphemy. His royal household will not be desecrated. If the sons of Jacob slaughtered a village for defiling their sister, what will their God do to you? He is more merciful than they, so that He will forgive whoever repents. But He is also more just and furious than they, so that you would be better to fall into their hands than His if you do not repent.

Therefore look for your own princess. Receive her by grace. Do not touch her before the King gives her. Never look for or to another one. The wrath of royalty must not be taken lightly.

When the world is absolutely broken

[Trigger Warning: I am not the world’ biggest fan of trigger warnings, but I’m also not their worst enemy or opposed to them all in principle. In this particular instance, I feel the need one for, because this post will include discussion of child sex trafficking and related abuses.]

I just finished another one of Steven James’ Patrick Bowers books (see here for my last post on them).

It was hard.

This most recent offering, Every Crooked Path, tackles the topic of child sex trafficking. It is dark and frightening, and as a father myself I often needed to intentionally keep my imagination at bay lest I fall into despair at the idea of my children going through the events it describes. A lot of people should probably not even attempt to read it.

This isn’t to say that James is gory, graphic, or gratuitous. He’s pretty reserved in how and what he describes, but even so the things which are going on, and the gaps he leaves to the imagination, are harsh. The plot is about a group of child porn producers called the Final Territory. They kidnapped children, often brazenly, and kept them for molestation/torture/porn production for 6 months to a couple of years. Sometimes they would even go live and take requests.

To get away with all of this, they made use of the Dark Web, a massive underground part of the Internet which connects through Tor, a highly encrypted and anonymous network which must be accessed by a special Tor Browser.*

What is awful in this book is not so much the story itself, which if nothing else we can always remind ourselves is fiction, but the real-life data and information it contains. The story never happened, but the background which makes it plausible is basically factual. Children as young as the ones in this book are being taken. They are being abused. They are being molested, exploited, and put on the Internet (particularly the Dark Web) for the entertainment and profit of more people than you would be willing to imagine. And it’s not just a few children. There are thousands and thousands throughout the world.

This just brings me, then, to thinking about how absolutely broken this world is. It—including all of us who make it up—is depraved, wicked, broken, and self-destructive. We are evil, our communities are evil, this world is evil, and evil is ubiquitous. We live so much of our lives in largely willful obliviousness, pretending that our personal bubbles are the norm, with our highs as the normal highs and our lows as the normal lows.

As if this were not bad enough, we are often personally complicit in the worst ways of the world. The topic of Every Crooked Path is a prime example. It is our second glances that lead to lust, our lust that leads to watching porn, our watching porn that makes us want more in quanity and intensity, and our increasing demand that leads to a thriving and corrupt market which reaches out to include abduction, murder, torture, and molestation.

We are all guilty. We are all damnable. The world we create and live in, the world which creates us and lives in us, is rotten to the bone and devoid of all hope in itself. Nothing from among us is sufficient to solve this. None of us have the power to end these atrocities. We can fight, and we must in order to stem the tide of evil, but the corruption in the world is too extensive to be truly and fully healed by human efforts, even divinely blessed and Spirit-empowered ones. The problems run too deep for anything but total gut job, for humanity to be broken down all the way to the roots and built a new. We are stuck on a plane far too finite and compromised to solve the absolute brokenness of the world.

There are only two options once we realize and accept this. We can cling to eschatology or fall into nihilistic despair. Or, to put it in simpler words, we can hope for Jesus to return or give up all hope for all things. The world is either worthless and meaningless, with this present evil age being a fluke of cruel apathy, or it has a destiny in resurrection. If the former, we have nothing. There is only extensive and pointless suffering and brief, superficial joy, both of which are ended when we collide with death. If the latter, there’s a reason to breath and fight. We can’t prove which of these is true. But only one choice of these allows us to survive in the absolute brokenness. We need faith for absolute restoration. We need to cry out for an absolute Savior.

*It’s not actually difficult to access the Dark Web. It’s as simple as downloading and installing the Tor Browser, which is just a modified version of Firefox. But the Dark Web is a labyrinth, hard to search, and many websites can only be accessed if someone on the inside gives you the URL. Also, as a side note, the Dark Web is not all bad. It’s also used by political refugees/dissenters, whistleblowers, persecuted religious groups, ordinary people in heavily censored countries, and even law enforcement or intelligence agents.