20160525

The Angry Watchmaker :: Readers’ Choice

Pardon the pun, but I LOVEd your 1 Corinthians 13 remix. Because of it, I’m starting to look for ways to make sometimes-too-familiar Scripture passages part of my heart-song and not just one more bit of knowledge in my head. — Sam

Readers’ Choice (Originally published May 25, 2016)

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. — 1 John 4.8

In the mid 18th century William Paley formulated what is known as the ‘Watchmaker Argument.’ Though Paley’s analogy was meant to provide a God-centered explanation of scientific creation, “There cannot be design without a designer,” it greatly impacted the trajectory of theology in the western world.

The Watchmaker Analogy described creation as an intricate and complex pocket watch. God crafted the heavens and the earth, humans and culture, beauty and brilliance—he set everything in motion—and now sits, detached from his creation, in heaven. Paley explained:

The watch must have had a maker: there must have existed, at some time and at some place or another, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it: who comprehended its construction and designed its use.

The equivalence of the divine with a master craftsman—as fastidious as he is devoid of personal interaction with his creation after it is set in motion—guided many of America’s founding fathers, and continues to shape our culture’s de facto understanding of God.

Later American theology, perhaps in an overcorrection, depicts God as intimately involved—but only because his intense anger demands he wage war against humankind. Entire branches of modern theology start and end with God’s anger. Heaven, in this way of thinking, is the place where God fumes, standing ready to lash out on his categorically unruly creation.

Sin, and God’s anger toward it, are essential parts of Christian theology—how can God be good if he doesn’t bring justice? But God’s anger toward evil is neither the foundation of the Christian story, nor the culmination of it.

Heaven is not a distant place where God sits aloof and fuming; Heaven is where God’s character is in full affect. Scripture confesses that God is love—not just that he has love or shows love, but that his very nature is love. In this sense, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us who God is. The famous passage on love could be paraphrased:

God is patient. God is kind. God does not envy or boast. God is not arrogant. God is not rude. God does not insist on his own way. God is not irritable. God is not resentful. God does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. God bears all things for his children. God believes all things about his children. God hopes all things for his children. God endures all things for his children.

God’s love never ends.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 23 (Listen – 7:13)
Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)

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20160202

Suffering is Not for Nothing :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 2, 2016)

For so long I couldn’t reconcile the idea of suffering and a loving God; this devotional reminded me I didn’t have to. For it’s precisely in God’s own suffering and the sacrifice of his son, that we make full sense of God’s love for us. Truly, suffering is never for nothing. — Hillary

By Elisabeth Elliot

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5.3-5

Malcolm Muggeridge said, “Supposing you eliminated suffering. What a dreadful place the world would be because everything that corrects dependency of man to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now. But he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.” Muggeridge gets at the heart of what I want to say. It’s not for nothing. Now how do I know that?

The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. Out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God. The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering. The greatest gifts of my life for example have been marriage and motherhood. And let’s never forget that if we don’t ever want to suffer, we must be very careful never to love anything or anybody. The gifts of love have been the gifts of suffering. Those two things are inseparable.

When I stood by my short-wave radio in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956 and heard that my husband was missing, God brought to my mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, “When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee.” You can imagine that my response was not terribly spiritual. I was saying, “But Lord, You’re with me all the time. What I want is Jim. I want my husband.”

We had been married twenty-seven months after waiting five-and-a-half years. Five days later I knew that Jim was dead, and God’s presence with me was not Jim’s presence. That was a terrible fact. God’s presence did not change the terrible fact that I was a widow. Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God—my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is—who He is in a way that I could never have known otherwise.

Where does this idea of a loving God come from? It is not man so desperately wanting a god that he manufactures him in his mind. It’s He, who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain—and He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know that suffering is not for nothing.

*Excerpted from an interview with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. For more see Elizabeth Elliot’s 7-part video series, Suffering is Not for Nothing.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 22 (Listen – 5:07)
Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)

Submit a devotional for Readers’ Choice

Contribute your favorite Park Forum devotionals to Readers’ Choice.

Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

Thanks for being part of The Park Forum community. We are so thankful to be part of your devotional rhythm.

20160304

Rats in the Cellar :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (Originally published March 4, 2016)

I think Lewis was dead-on in that the person who comes forward in the startled moment is the one who is most authentic. I hope and pray that should I be in such a situation I would reflect Christ. — Jason

By C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case.

When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed.

And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.

On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is. Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth. If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul.

Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.

And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act?

But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.

*Abridged from C.S. Lewis’, Mere Christianity.


Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 21  (Listen – 2:35)
Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)

Submit a devotional for Readers’ Choice

Contribute your favorite Park Forum devotionals to Readers’ Choice.

Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

Thanks for being part of The Park Forum community. We are so thankful to be part of your devotional rhythm.

20160722

C.S. Lewis on Self-Obsession and Hell :: Weekend Reading List

“His tone is a key to the success,” Robert Fulford writes of C. S. Lewis. Perhaps because Lewis’ built his career in academic writing, the vivid imagery he is known for is matched only by his literary precision and clarity in voice. Fulford continues:

It’s outspoken, often blunt, and clearly directed to those who possess little or no religious knowledge. It deploys his great talents as storyteller and arguer, always in a way that makes Christianity seem a common sense solution to the world’s most basic questions.

As a Christian writer, Lewis was strikingly ecumenical. He swept aside any special sectarian theology and devoted himself to the core belief, as he saw it — that’s what he means by “mere” in his title. He may have taken this position because he was dismayed by the sectarian hatred in his birthplace, Belfast, but it’s just as likely that he wanted his work to reach anyone who might conceivably be converted.

Lewis’s tone of blunt, yet friendly, intellectualism reflects his care for the unconvinced. He speaks as one who had been an outsider to faith himself, having returned to faith after seventeen years of what he defined as self-absorbed atheism. The return was partly due to discussions with his Oxford colleague, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Yet it was not just the like-minded with whom Lewis connected—and theological similarity was not always a predictor of fraternity. Fulford describes Lewis’s relationship with two famous students—John Betjeman, poet laureate in the 1970s, and Kenneth Tynan, the most brilliant drama critic of his time. Betjeman, a conservative religious man, despised Lewis. Tynan, a radical left-winger, admired him and remained grateful for his encouragement.

“Lewis was that rare sort of genius, able to combine high theological insight with vivid imagination, and it is precisely this coming-together that makes his writing so memorable,” says Bishop Robert Barron.

It’s Lewis’ use of vibrant pictures—stirring images of what could otherwise be cerebral spiritual matters—that casts the longest shadow. Of the imagery around hell in The Great Divorce, Bishop Barron writes:

When the narrator, in dialogue with a heavenly spirit, wonders where precisely Hell is in relation to the heavenly realm, the spirit bends down, pulls a single blade of grass and uses its tip to indicate a tiny, barely perceptible, fissure in the ground. “That’s where you came in,” he explains. All of Hell, which seemed so immense to the narrator, would fit into a practically microscopic space in Heaven. Lewis is illustrating here the Augustinian principle that sin is the state of being incurvatus in se (curved in around oneself). It is the reduction of reality to the infinitely small space of the ego’s concerns and preoccupations.

This is a picture Lewis expands in his masterful Preface to Paradise Lost. Lewis points out Milton’s brilliance in making hell look boring. Far too many accounts of hell, Lewis felt, make it a place of intrigue. Instead Milton paints hell as a place of profound dullness. Lewis writes:

He meets Sin—and states his position. He sees the Sun; it makes him think of his own position. He spies on the human lovers; and states his position…. He journeys round the whole earth; it reminds him of his own position. The point need not be labored.

Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace “all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.” Satan has been in the Heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan.

It may be said that Adam’s situation made it easier for him, than for Satan, to let his mind roam. But that is just the point. Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament.

Certainly, he has no choice. He has chosen to have no choice. He has wished to ‘be himself’, and to be in himself and for himself, and his wish has been granted. The Hell he carries with him is, in one sense, a Hell of infinite boredom.

To admire Satan, then, is to give one’s vote not only for a world of misery, but also for a world of lies and propaganda, of wishful thinking, of incessant autobiography. Yet the choice is possible. Hardly a day passes without some slight movement towards it in each one of us. That is what makes Paradise Lost so serious a poem.

“Hell is just – other people,” says Paul Bowles in Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous 1944 play about captive souls, No Exit. Lewis disagreed with his contemporary. In his view, hell is not other people. Rather, hell is the lack of any other with whom to be concerned. Hell is imprisoning ourselves within ourselves.

Bishop Barren concludes, “Love, on the contrary, which is the very life of Heaven, is the opening to reality in its fullness; it amounts to a breaking through of the buffered and claustrophobic self.”

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 18 (Listen – 3:40)
Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

This Weekend’s Reading
Jeremiah 19 (Listen – 2:58) Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)
Jeremiah 20 (Listen – 3:07) Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

20160721

Acts of Faith :: Throwback Thursday

By Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

And [Jesus] looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart. — Mark 3.5

For who will deny that true religion consists, in a great measure, in vigorous and lively actings of the will and the fervent exercises of the heart?

We see the world of mankind exceedingly busy and active—and their affections are the springs of motion. It is affection that engages the covetous man and him that is greedy of worldly profits; it is by his affections the ambitious man is put forward the pursuit of worldly glory; and the affections also actuate the voluptuous man in his pleasure and sensual delights. The world agitates in pursuit of these things.

As in worldly things, where worldly affections are very much the spring of men’s motion and action, so in religious matters: the spring of their actions are very much religious affections. Those who have doctrinal knowledge and speculation only—without affection—are never engaged in true religion.

The things of religion take hold of men’s souls no further than they affect them. There are multitudes who hear the word of God—things infinitely great and important and which are of immediate concern—and yet it seems to be wholly ineffectual upon their lives. The reason is that they are not affected with what they hear.

The Scriptures place religion very much in the affection of love: love to God and the Lord Jesus Christ; love to the people of God and to mankind. So holy desire—exercised in longings, hunger and thirst after God, and personal holiness—is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion.

The Scriptures speak of holy joy as a great part of true religion. Religious sorrow, mourning, and brokenness of heart are also frequently spoken of as a great part of true religion. These things are often mentioned as distinguishing qualities of the true saints and a great part of their character.

Another affection often mentioned is gratitude—especially as exercised in thankfulness and praise to God. The Holy Scriptures frequently speak of compassion, mercy, and zeal as essential in true religion.

The Scriptures represent true religion as being summarily comprehended in love: the chief of the affections and the fountain of all others. And surely it is such vigorous and fervent love—which Christ represents as the sum of all religion—when he speaks of loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

*Abridged, adapted, and language updated from A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 17 (Listen – 4:50)
Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)