Wednesday, June 29, 2005
...and he's spot on, IMHO.
Monday, June 27, 2005
These are probably just for hardcore Jordan fans (like myself) but there are audio James Jordan lectures (with Polish translation) here and here.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Peter (above) has designed a new blog for my brother Mark, who has just turned 21. Happy birthday Mark and good work Peter!
There is an Irish habit of asking if you want something three or four times, until you finally give in. “You’d like a tea, wouldn’t you?” “No thank you, I’ll be fine without.” “Really, you’ll be having a tea.” “No, I’ll be OK.” “Ah c’mon, you’ll have a tea!” “Ah, you’re forcing me!” At that stage you would give in, having said exactly what you were expected to say. It is generally considered polite to turn down the offer the first few times and only then allow yourself to be won over. This really annoyed some foreign visitors, particularly Germans, if I remember correctly. They used to complain that, if you said you didn’t want tea, once should be enough. People should take you at your word. On the other hand, Irish visitors to other countries occasionally complained that no one gave them tea! This is a harmless and charming cultural habit taken by itself (allowing others to persuade us to avail of their hospitality is not a bad thing). However, in Ireland the need to be polite and please other people in conversation is taken to extremes. My father made an interesting observation today. Looking back over his time of ministry in Ireland he often wondered why the Irish so frequently failed to keep their word. If you invited someone to a meeting they would say that they would be there but wouldn’t turn up. After a while he realized that people were not trying to lie. Rather, they were trying to be polite. They wanted to say whatever pleased you. If they knew that you wanted them to go to a meeting, that is what they would say they would do, even if they had no intention of turning up. Conversation was often so geared towards pleasing people and being polite that truth-telling was marginalized. Words were chiefly designed to form and maintain relationships, rather than to make truth claims. Words were used primarily to manipulate people, please them or move them to action, rather than to convey clear statements of truth or error. The relational function of language could often eclipse the truth-telling function of language. Consequently, you couldn't take someone at their word. It was always a distinct possibility that they were just saying what they were saying in an attempt to please you. When someone said that they didn’t want tea, they really did. When someone said that they would go to a meeting, they really wouldn’t, but they wanted to please you. The first case can be merely a harmless wish to allow others to persuade you to partake of their hospitality; the second case is a lie. The Irish occasionally commented that it was appropriate that the symbol of the Irish nation was the harp, because the nation ran by pulling strings. People would talk about different levels of traffic offences, for example. A ‘constable offence’ was an offence that you needed to know a constable to get away with. Much depended on the people that you were in with and what people you knew. Laws and words were not as reliable as they should be because relationships were often what really counted in the final analysis, not truth and trust of people’s words. The country often ran by getting in with the right crowd, exchanging favours, pleasing the right people, psychological manipulation, arm-twisting, putting others in your debt in some way or other and the like. My dad observed that such a society was utterly consistent with the sort of God that was worshipped in Irish Catholicism. Irish Catholicism tends to work on much the same principle as Irish society. Knowing and trusting God’s Word is not that important thing (implicit faith is enough); having the right connections is that which really matters. One attends church because doing this will get you in God’s good books. One prays to Mary because mothers always have a strong influence over their sons. Having an influence on Christ through Mary is a safer route than taking Jesus Himself at His Word and approaching Him in faith. Mary will put in a good word for you with her Son. If you are not good enough to get in Mary’s good books, then try St. Anna, she’ll pass on your message to her daughter. Mary can then speak to her Son and He can give the Father a nudge. Within the relational logic of such a society, good works will play an important role. People aren’t thinking of keeping the Law perfectly or anything like that — that’s not how it works. Rather, good works serve as an important means of influencing others in your favour and getting them to give you favours in return. The treasury of the saints is quite significant for this reason. They have a number of uncalled favours with God and if you get on their good side, they can call some of these favours for you. Those who have merit with God can exert greater psychological pressure on Him. One asks the saints to pray for you because one believes that the efficacy of prayer lies primarily in the influence exerted by the praying person on God, rather than in trusting prayer itself. It is imperative that we appreciate how serious a departure from Christian faith all of this actually represents. The Roman Catholic Church is frequently seriously misrepresented by its critics, but this sort of widespread and corrupt folk religion that is practiced within its walls falls far short of biblical Christianity. Also, given the widespread character of such folk religion in Roman Catholic countries we should not be surprised if the rule of law flourishes primarily in historically Protestant lands, where a culture of trusting people’s words and letting your yes be yes has really taken root. (This post has been modified, as the original version was quite poorly worded and left itself wide open to misinterpretation.)
Saturday, June 25, 2005
The Biblical StoryThe myth of romantic love and the myth of the family as the key place of human fulfilment are two of the key myths that we are presented with in our day and age. Like any ‘myths’, these myths invite us to enter into them, to ‘inhabit’ them. These myths shape our perceptions of our roles in life. They help us to form us our self-identity. They shape our values and expectations. They also serve to determine the form that our society will take. Any long-term single person inhabiting such myths will find them to be places of pain and alienation. These myths have little or no place for the single person. The Bible presents us with a very different ‘myth’, one that shapes us in a manner quite unlike the myths of romantic love and the idolization of the family. I will try to present this ‘myth’ in broad brushstrokes, focusing on particularly illuminating episodes of history. Creation In Genesis 1:28, God blesses mankind and commands them to be fruitful and multiply. Fruitfulness and multiplication may seem to be impossible outside of the relationship of marriage. The person who is outside of the marriage relationship may seem to be left outside of such a role, unable to fulfil one of the most basic tasks given to humanity. In the light of Genesis 1:28 it would seem that marriage is a moral necessity. To wilfully remain single is to reject God’s purpose for humanity. Singleness can only be conceived of as a state of lack and falling short of what God intended. Single people are to be regarded with pity or moral disapproval, depending on whether they have chosen to remain single or not. According to this reading of Genesis 1:28 pursuing marriage is a moral responsibility. I am persuaded that, in the light of the rest of Scripture, such an application of Genesis 1:28 to our context needs to be radically re-evaluated. However, I believe that it is important that we appreciate that, in the original context, the task of biological reproduction seems to be in view as part of mankind’s primary vocation in creation. In Genesis 2:18 God declares that it is ‘not good’ for man to be alone and determines to form a helper for Adam. Adam needs someone to aid him in the fulfilling of his vocation. God could have created Adam to be self-sufficient and reproduce asexually. The fact that He didn’t teaches us something about the nature of man. Although many have read it in such a manner, this verse is not intended to teach that it is not good for people to be unmarried. This would directly contradict the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:8. What this verse does teach is that man needs society. Fellowship with God in creation is not enough. To be fully realized as a creature made in God’s image, man needs fellowship with God in the gift of other human beings. There is a ‘human-shaped hole’ in each person’s heart that only other people can fill. This need in each of our hearts can only be truly satisfied as God conveys His personal presence to us by means of other people. Ultimately, God is the One who fulfils all of our needs, but only as He gives Himself to us in other people. Man’s need is not merely the psychological need for human intimacy. Man also needs support and aid in the fulfilling of his vocation. The woman brings particular gifts to the human task that men need. Man cannot properly fulfil his task without woman. This does not merely apply in marriage. Man’s need for the woman and woman’s need for the man applies in every area of life and should also serve to shape our psychology. It may have been ‘good’ for Paul to be single. However, in his task of raising up seed for God, it was not good for him to be alone. The ideal would have been that he would have been accompanied by a sister woman (or deaconess, not necessarily a wife — 1 Corinthians 9:5; cf. 1 Timothy 3:11). The role of women as helpers in the Church’s mission deserves a lot more attention than it often receives (Luke 8:1-3). Human beings need fellowship, intimacy and support. Remove fellowship, intimacy and support and we cannot survive. Being ‘alone’ is the most dreadful state imaginable. This does not just hold in the relationships between men and women; it also applies in a broader sense to relationships between people of the same gender. Moses needed Aaron as a ‘helper’ suited to him. The apostles needed elders; elders need deacons. We all need helpers suited to us; no man can successfully live as an island. Fall In Genesis 3 we read of the Fall of humanity. God promises that He will deal with the serpent through the Seed promised to the woman. This seems to directly connect the hope of salvation with the hope of physical seed. It seems as if the single person cannot truly be part of such a process. Once again we should take note of this verse and then be patient to see how the rest of the Scriptural narrative goes on to exegete it. We should also observe the manner in which the Fall complicates the relationship between the sexes. Following the Fall we should not be surprised at the development of the idea that women should strive for independence from men and the despising and avoidance of women by insecure ‘macho’ men. At the Fall the project of attaining absolute autonomy from God and from others began in earnest. These facts must be kept in mind when we examine the question of singleness. Often the practice of singleness in our fallen society is motivated by the hatred of men and quest for dominance on the part of women and by the fear and rejection of the woman on the part of the man. The quest for autonomy and the avoidance of commitment to and sacrifice for others is that which motivates many single people today. It is important that we distinguish this powerful and destructive myth from the story that undergirds the practice of Christian singleness. The Patriarchs The call of Abram has much to teach us in many ways. The very calling of Abram (‘Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house’) seems to allude to Genesis 2:24. The suggestion may be that God is about to form a new type of family, related to the natural family of Genesis 2:24, but going beyond it. This new family will serve to bring God’s salvation to all of the families of the earth. The nation of Israel begins, significantly, with a disruption of family ties. John Goldingay writes:—
The ancestors’ story opens with a God-commissioned family disjunction as Abram is charged to leave his father’s household (Gen 12:1). In emphasizing Abram’s “leaving,” Israel’s story begins by denying the significance of ties to country, home and family. Human beings treat these ties as having ultimate significance, and country, home, and family will be central to Israelite faith. Jesus’ charge to his disciples will also take up this note in denying the significance of family ties, which contrasts with regular Christian attitudes to country, home and family. Being involved in the fulfillment of God’s purpose means abandoning your parents, brothers and sisters, though not (in Genesis) abandoning dependents such as your wife and your dead brother’s offspring, nor servants and property (Gen 12:4-5). Abram is forming an independent household (bayit) of his own (cf. Gen 15:2-3; 18:19) and parting from the rest of the extended family (mišpāhâ) in order to bring blessing to all the “families” in the world (Gen 12:3).Israel’s identity is formed by an initial separation. This initial separation effected by divine calling relativizes the ties of family in an important manner. The call of the covenant takes priority over the call of the family. The new family that God is going to form must first depart from the families of the world if it is going to be the means of redeeming them. The promises that God makes to Abram in Genesis 12 are important to notice. He promised that Abram would be fruitful and multiply. In this promise the command of creation was transformed into a promise. The command of creation is going to be fulfilled in the family promised to Abraham. In the coming chapters we see that God’s promises focus on seed and inheritance (the land). As the life of the people of God was orientated towards these promises, we should not be surprised that marriage, family and sons are central to the patriarchal narrative. Throughout the story of the patriarchs the role of the man seems to be that of bringing forth a son. The woman serves as his helper. Barrenness plays an important role in the stories of the patriarchs. To be childless is to be cut off from the promises of God, which are focused on seed and inheritance. The religion of the patriarchs is a family-based religion. God is the God of the fathers. Sexual activity plays a prominent role in the story of the patriarchs. The rite of circumcision directly deals with male sexual activity. Circumcision was first given along with the promise of Isaac. Circumcision symbolically declares man’s impotency to bring forth the promised seed and declares dependence on God. Abraham will receive the promised seed, not as a result of his virility or the fecundity of Sarah’s womb. When Abraham grasps for the seed in a fleshly manner with Hagar, pain results. Rather, Isaac is given as a gift, apart from Abraham’s power to bring him forth. The practice of circumcision serves to symbolically remind Abraham that his sexual powers count for nothing in terms of God’s larger purpose. Man will not be saved by sex, nor by the natural power to bring forth seed. God continually teaches His people that they are incapable of bringing forth the promised Seed. Circumcision also serves to stress the priority of the covenant over the family. Many of the original people to be circumcised were not physical descendents of Abraham and any of Abraham’s physical descendents who rejected circumcision would be cut off. The fact that Abraham went on to have other children by Keturah after Sarah’s death should remind us that being a physical descendent of Abraham was not that which marked out the true people of God. The blood of the covenant of circumcision was stronger than and relativized the blood of the biological family. Circumcision teaches us of the reality of adoption, whereby strangers, orphans and aliens can become full members of the household of God. The fact that the life of the patriarchs began as a life of wandering also served to prevent the development of a ‘blood and soil’ mentality. Throughout the patriarchal narrative it is repeatedly underlined that it is God who is forming Abraham’s family, rather than Abraham and his offspring. God chooses Isaac rather than Ishmael, Jacob rather than Esau. Abraham must learn absolute trust in God’s power to form the promised family, beyond all human means. He must be prepared to sacrifice his ‘only begotten son’ (the words of Hebrews 11:17) at God’s command, trusting God to bring him to life again. He must trust in the power of God completely. Israel Throughout the OT, it seems that the people of God are organized around the institution of the family (although the picture is far more complicated when one examines it more closely). Those who are born out of wedlock are unable to exercise positions of leadership in Israel, nor are those who are emasculated (Deuteronomy 23:1-2). The rites of Israel were also centred on the family. Circumcision was administered by the head of the family and the Passover was initially a family celebration. This was the case because Israel was orientated towards the promised Seed. The Seed-focused character of Israel’s life made the family far more central. Barrenness and singleness were regarded as deeply negative realities as, to some degree, they cut one off from God’s promises and inheritance. It was necessary for such a state to persist for a time. The fact that the world was structured in such a manner for a period does not mean that God intended this to be the lasting form of society. Israel may not have had the power in herself to realize the hope of the promised Seed. However, the fact that it was Seed that was promised granted marriage and the family a more central role in Israel’s life, at least initially. Even though the family was central in many respects, the family didn’t ultimately set the terms (e.g. Deuteronomy 13:6). The covenant was more primary than the family. The OT is also certainly able to present a critique of the sins of the family. Despite the close connection between circumcision and the family, circumcision also served to reveal that Israel was bound together by covenant first and foremost. The family was only secure within the covenant. One would be cut off if one was not circumcised. In addition to this, there were many circumcised Israelites who were not descended from Abraham. It becomes increasingly clear that the Abraham’s family was going to be formed by something more powerful than family bloodlines. In the OT we see the biological family gradually being drawn into something far deeper and more determinative than itself. Significantly, as the story of the OT develops, there is a focusing of certain metaphors that initially appeared to be very familial beyond the biological family. We move from Eve, past barren Sarah (in whose case the promise character of the seed becomes apparent) and the wives of the patriarchs to Daughter Zion travailing in birth. No longer is there a clear focus on biological offspring as there was in the case of Eve and Sarah. The focus is on national restoration and widespread adoption of people from other nations. The teaching of divine marriage also serves to clarify themes that may have originally been interpreted as familialistic. The celebration of such feasts as Passover also becomes less familial in the passage of time. Tribal boundaries become less important. The prophets also speak of a time when the biological family and marriage would become even less determinative realities (Isaiah 54 & 56). In addition to the above points, we should recognize the gradual movement beyond the focus on biological offspring that one sees in the prophets. The continuity of patriarchal, priestly and kingly lines was of considerable importance. As one enters into the prophetic era, however, the focus on the continuity of family lines becomes far less prominent. The offspring of prophets served as prophetic signs (e.g. Isaiah 8:18), but there was no focus on a prophetic line of fathers and sons comparable to that which can be seen in the case of kings and priests. The manner in which the wife of the prophet serves as his helper is far less focused on ensuring the continuity of his bloodline. The continuity of the prophetic line tended to work in a different manner (see Elisha asking for the portion of the firstborn and treating Elijah as his father in 2 Kings 2). The prophet’s bearing of sons might picture God’s sovereign act whereby He would reject, form or reform His people, but God’s creation and recreation of His people was less and less centred on the biological family. As the nation as a whole took on more of a prophetic character, biological procreation was still important, but it was nowhere near as primary as it was in the past. As people’s understanding of the promised inheritance became less focused on a plot of turf in a particular land, biological offspring became less important (situations like that seen in Numbers 36 would be far removed from the concerns of cosmopolitan Jews of the Diaspora). Inheritance in the resurrection would not be so familial in character. Even the unmarried could be assured of a permanent stake. Already in the OT we can see the promise of seed becoming associated with the rebirth of resurrection and the restoration of Israel that the image of resurrection speaks so powerfully of. The prophet speaks of a strange coming time when the one who was cut off would see His seed and the barren and single woman would have more children than the married woman (Isaiah 53:1—54:3). Even eunuchs would receive an everlasting name that would not be cut off (Isaiah 56:3-5). New Creation When the Seed finally came, He was born to a virgin. This was a sign that it was God’s grace that triumphed, not the virility of man. Salvation was achieved by God, apart from the sexual activity of a married couple. God would form Abraham’s family in a manner that may even involve forming children from the stones. The miraculous raising up of a child from the womb of the woman, which had been subject to a curse in Genesis 3, stands as a sign of the future raising up of a man from the lowest parts of the cursed earth. It is important that we appreciate the full significance of the coming of Christ for the life of the people of God. If the true Seed has come, then assurance of inheritance comes as one is a member of that true Seed. We already have a stake in this future inheritance by the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who guarantees our share in the inheritance, not our biological offspring. Hope becomes resituated and the whole life of the people of God becomes re-orientated. The decreasing primacy of biological reproduction as the means by which the creation mandate would be fulfilled is seen even more starkly. If the promised Seed is a present reality then marriage and seed-bearing are no longer entered into out of any necessity. The creation mandate has already been fulfilled in principle. Our seed-bearing is merely one way in which we can implement and proclaim this fulfilment. Willingly remaining single or childless are other ways. The future inheritance has already been guaranteed and the fulfilment of the creation mandate can take place even apart from marriage and biological offspring (cf. Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20; Colossians 1:6). Marriage can now be entered into as a free vocation. From the earliest period of the Church, singleness was regarded as an equal vocation to that of marriage. Such a movement beyond the societal structure of the OT should not be passed over without comment. One of the most radical aspects of the belief of the early Church was its belief in the relativization of the biological family. For the Church water came to be understood to be thicker than blood. One’s baptism was a more definitive event than one’s birth. The kingdom of God set a sword in family relationships. One must leave father and mother to be joined to Christ (Matthew 10:34-38). The loyalty that Christ demanded was stronger and more fundamental than that of family. The basic relatives of the Christian are not those of the biological family, but those of the worldwide family of God (Matthew 12:48-50). Jesus’ training of His disciples differs sharply from the training of Abraham in certain respects. Abraham was trained to be the faithful man by whom God would bring forth a family. He had to leave his own family for this reason. God’s promises to Abraham focused on future seed. The rite of circumcision was focused on the act of seed-bearing. We know hardly anything about the families of the apostles, because there is no pressing need to have physical offspring in the new creation order. This was not the focus of their task. We don’t read about the barrenness of Andrew’s wife, or anything like that. Abraham left his family for God to form a new family through him. Whilst Abraham’s family was characterized by separation, the Seed that has come in Christ is characterized by reunion. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, are brought together in this new family. The most determinative relational reality that we are part of is the Church. In Christ man and God and man and man are united to a degree that is impossible even in the closest marriages and families (the very idea of sharply distinguishing between our ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ relationships makes no sense in the God-man). The Church is to be the place where this reality is lived out. The Church is the eschatological society. Consequently it does not exist as some ‘sphere’ parallel to the natural family. The Church’s relationship to the family is probably best conceived in temporal rather than spatial terms. Whereas the covenant primarily worked in terms of linear historical progression in the OT and was closely tied with the continuation of bloodlines, in the new covenant the Church is the future come into the present. The natural family must live out of the age to come that has arrived in the Church and into the present age. The Church isn’t merely some institution of the present age, alongside the state, the family and the individual. To think that the natural family is necessary for the formation of the Church is to forget the eschatological character of the latter. The natural family may be a means by which people are called into the eschatological life of the Church, but the existence of the Church is secured quite apart from any of the activities we engage in in the present age. Our activities in the present age are designed to bring the life of the age to come to bear upon the present world. They do not serve to bring the age to come into existence. Whilst the old covenant believer acted forward into the future, our primary movement is working from the future (as it has arrived in Christ) into the present. Equating the old covenant order with that of the new covenant is something that we are tempted to do by the strong connection that many Reformed people have drawn between circumcision and Baptism. We need to resist this. Circumcision and Baptism are different in very important ways. Covenantal theology is not merely familialism under another name.
I expect that we will see more things like this in the coming years (thanks to Lucy van den Broek for the link).
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Singleness is far from a straightforward issue. Different forms of society produce different forms of singleness. Whilst there have been people without marriage partners (or ‘sexual partners’ in our society, where marriage is swiftly becoming less of a determinative social reality) in every society known to man, the shape that singleness takes can vary considerably, depending on the shape of the society in which it occurs. The manner in which singleness is perceived and shaped within our society owes a lot to certain ‘myths’ and social structures that hold sway. If we are to come to a more biblical account of singleness, it must be by means of a critical awareness of the manner in which we ourselves are shaped by the reigning ‘myths’ of the societies in which we are part. Revealing some of these underlying myths may be regarded as part of the necessary prolegomena to our discussion. Reigning Myths As we grow up we find ourselves powerfully moulded by the social and ideological structures into which we are inculturated. Our self-perceptions and roles in society are not generally things that arise naturally from within. Rather, we are presented with them by the governing ‘myths’ that exist in our societies. The rule of many of these myths is often so complete that we see the roles that they present us with and the self-perceptions that they shape in us as part of the natural order of affairs. Evangelical discourse about singleness leads single people to perceive themselves and live their lives in a particular way. In addition to the strong cultural movements within evangelicalism itself, there exist massive cultural currents in the society as a whole. I will begin by examining the manner in which these trends shape the discussion. I will then seek to partially extricate the discussion from its current position, by questioning the common terms in which it is framed. My goal is to attempt to present a distinctively Christian ‘myth’ that provides us both with the linguistic tools to positively articulate and with the social space to actively embody a powerful form of Christian singleness (I am using the term ‘myth’ to refer to account that embodies the ideals and institutions of a particular society or part of society, not to make a claim about the truthfulness of a given account). Evangelical Discourse on Singleness Evangelical debates surrounding singleness tend to be framed in a manner that presupposes marriage as the normative pattern. Christian singles tend to be defined by lack relative to married Christians. The Marginalization of Singles In particular, it is frequently presumed that every Christian who wants to achieve personal fulfilment should actively desire marriage. For this reason, much of the material directed at singles focuses on how to escape singleness or on how to stoically live with the lack, when all appears to be lost. Year by year acres of trees are felled to write new books on courtship, dating, the Christian family, motherhood, fatherhood, being a good wife or a faithful husband; precious little is written to address singles as singles (rather than as those seeking to escape the fate of singleness). As a result of this, Christian singles faced with no immediate prospects of marriage feel marginalized. Somehow their lives haven’t followed the expected script of Christian existence and in many respects they feel condemned to silently stand in the wings of stage of the Church, watching all the happy married couples and nuclear families with 2.4 children get on with the play. Churches often try to deal with singles in a manner that reinforces the conception that marriage is the normative state. Singles’ groups at churches tend to degenerate into arenas for spouse-hunting. Rather than serving primarily to deepen faith, encourage godliness and nurture close friendships (that are not regarded merely as stepping stones towards marriage), they often serve primarily to reinforce the myth that true fulfilment is to be sought in the married over the single state. Relationships among singles are often regarded as means towards marriage or as compensations for the absence of marriage. It should be no surprise that pain frequently results when one of the partners in these friendships gets married. Seemingly strong relationships can be swiftly dismantled and abandoned and those who remain single often end up feeling used, betrayed and rejected. It should also be observed that many singles, in close friendships with members of the other sex, face the continual expectation of other members of their churches to take things further and aim for marriage. This expectation makes it very hard for them to enter into and enjoy natural friendships with members of the opposite sex without misunderstanding creeping into the relationship or characterizing the response of others to the relationship. When we have the strong impression that other people bring such expectations to their relationships with us and they have the impression that we bring such expectations to our relationships with them, we should not be surprised that natural friendships between the sexes often find it hard to get off the ground. Lacking the linguistic and social means by which to assert the possibility of close friendships between members of the opposite sex, outside of the context of marriage, many long-term singles feel limited in the degree to which they can enter into friendships with over single people across the gender divide. This problem merely exacerbates the problem of loneliness faced by many singles. Strong relationships with both men and women are important for healthy development. It is far from ideal to only enjoy strong relationships with members of your own sex. The need of men for women and the need of women for men extend beyond the boundaries of the marriage relationships. When single men and single women relate to each other they do not relate to each other as androgynous beings. Rather, we are to cultivate femininity and masculinity in such relationships. The lack of such relationships in our lives leads to the distortion of both masculinity and femininity. Given the unhealthy expectations and values of many of the contexts in which we find ourselves, such relationships demand particular sensitivity, but they should never be neglected. Those who do not actively run after marriage when opportunities seemingly present themselves are often looked upon with disapproval. As the state of marriage is at least subconsciously presumed to be superior (often morally) to the state of singleness, those who do not pursue marriage are perceived to be falling short of God’s ‘perfect plan’ for their life. Many singles in such a position can feel preyed upon by married people, who come across as smug and self-righteous. It may well be the case that, underlying the reaction of married evangelicals to those who willingly persist in singleness, there is a feeling of concern that a particular myth that has powerfully shaped their lives to that point is being directly confronted and exposed. They have framed their lives in a manner that presupposes that marriage is the position of privilege and should be universally sought after by Christians. They feel incapable of adequately defending that which they have taken for granted to that point. They may feel that their own identity is, in some manner or other, under attack. The state that they have idealized is relativized by content Christian singles. We should not be surprised if such married people (and there are a significant number of them in evangelical churches) who wish to defend the superiority, universal desirability and privilege of the position of marriage, subconsciously feel a need to see all singles as dissatisfied, disappointed, lonely and desperate to be married. Such an attitude on the part of singles serves to reinforce the power of the myth that married Christians have been told and lived concerning marriage. The presence of people who are content and joyful in a state of singleness is disconcerting to them. Evangelical churches’ teaching about the sexuality of singles is also worth observing here. Singles are continually reminded that engaging in sexual intercourse outside of marriage is a bad thing. They are given a large number of prohibitions and instructed about a host of sins that need to be avoided. They are told that they must abstain from sex and wait until marriage. They are reminded that sex is always more fulfilling within the context of the committed long-term relationship of marriage. There are some important things to recognize here. Singleness is consistently defined in terms of two governing myths: the governing myth of the family and the governing myth of personal fulfilment. The message that is given is that personal and sexual fulfilment is only truly found in the marriage state. Abstinence is a negative state that is wholly orientated towards marriage, where fulfilment is supposed to lie. Singleness is presented in a negative manner. The subtle message that is conveyed here is that long-term singleness is not a positive and fulfilling way of living one’s life. The fruit of such teaching should not be surprising. Those who live in terms of this teaching and never actually manage to marry are more likely to end up regarding themselves as failures, ending up disappointed and possibly even bitter. Another manner in which churches reinforce the conception that marriage is the normative state can be seen in the way in which families are given forms of special attention that is commonly denied to singles. Most churches have regular family meetings and meetings geared to minister especially to husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. Few pay anything like the same amount of attention to developing ways of ministering to the needs of those in long-term singleness. Many evangelical churches go to great lengths to be ‘family friendly’ and attract married people and families. They try to develop a family image. However, the form of ‘family friendliness’ and family image that is cultivated is often one that can leave long term singles feeling alienated and sidelined, as little place is found for them within such a vision of the Church. They gradually become invisible. Single people are often marginalized in terms of church government in evangelical churches. The sort of family image that many churches wish to cultivate does not sit well with the idea of having single men in key leadership positions within the church. Older prejudices about celibate clergy also come into play here. The lack of single people in prominent leadership positions within the church can lead to insensitivity on the part of pastors and elders to the concerns of single people. I believe that it is important that we properly name the focus on the normative character of marriage and the family over the state of singleness. Such an emphasis stands in opposition to the teaching of Scripture in a number of key respects. For this reason, I believe that within modern evangelicalism there is a serious case of the idolatry of marriage and the family. It is important that we have the courage and wisdom to recognize and name it as such. When a good thing like marriage or the family are given inordinate or ultimate value in a way that displaces God to some degree or other, we have a case of idolatry. Such a good thing swiftly becomes a bad thing, exercising a powerfully negative force on society. A number of scholars have argued that this is precisely what has happened in the case of marriage and the family. As I have argued so far, any discussion of singleness will be distorted by this idolatry. For this reason, I hope that the present discussion of singleness will have much that is of profound relevance to married Christians as well. Privatization and Individualization A further thing that shapes evangelical discourse on singleness is the individualization and privatization that is so strongly evident within the Church. Within the Church today far too many Christians regard their genitalia as their own private property. Rather than the church being regarded as a place where one is held accountable to others and subject to discipline and tradition, the church comes to be regarded as something that we ‘buy into’ as religious consumers. If we don’t like the demands that the church places on us, we can just as easily ‘sell out’. The decisions that people make about marriage and singleness tend to be governed by their own private needs and reasons, rather than by those of a broader community. Many believe that marriage is ‘private’ and that fellow Christians do not have the right to hold one accountable for the way that a Christian husband treats his wife in the ‘privacy’ of the home, for example. Seldom do people regard marriage or singleness as primarily being for the service of the larger body of Christ, so that one owes one’s faithfulness in the vocations of marriage and singleness to the body as a whole and that the body is perfectly within its rights to demand such faithfulness and call one to account for unfaithfulness. To the degree that many people seek the church today, they tend to seek the church as a means of self-fulfilment in their own private and individual ‘spiritual journeys’. The church comes to be seen as a ‘life-style enclave’ (as Mark Searle puts it), where people who enjoy the same thing meet together. The Christian community is not regarded as the context out of which we live our new lives as Christians; rather, the community is a means to our own individual ends. We participate in community to meet our own individual needs, but are reluctant to submit ourselves to the constraints that true community places upon its members. As the processes of individualization and privatization takes place, the central locus of community ceases to be the Church. True community, which goes far beyond a vague and transient feeling of togetherness, can no longer be found in most Christian churches, which merely peddle a ‘synthetic’ form of community, a form of community that is no real community at all. Much attention is given to creating a sentimentalized ‘sense of community’, but the reality of community is seldom present. Real community hurts and is not what most people are looking for. All of this has taken place as churches have ‘bought into’ the individualistic market-orientation and privatization of our culture. Nowadays, if people want community they seek it in marriage and the family. They can no longer find it in the household of God. At least marriage and the family promise tradition, long-term commitment, obligation, discipline and accountability, which are necessary for the real community of ‘belonging’ to one another. Deep down many Christians know that such true community cannot be found in voluntaristic institutions. As the Church has become just such a voluntaristic community, they have lost hope in the Church. Single people are thereby marginalized from the deepest form of communal belonging. Their aloneness is deepened by the fact that those who exist outside of communities of belonging are also often subject to mistrust and suspicion. All of this merely serves to fuel the myth of the superiority of marriage and the idolatry of the family. If single people are to be rescued from their isolation their saviour is marriage and the biological family, rather than God’s adoption of them into the family of God (which in many evangelical circles has been reduced to little more than a cosy theological abstraction). As one author writes: “In a church that assumes the married state to be normative, single people are often left without this kind of accountability and support. Without it, their needs for intimacy, affirmation and character formation often go unmet, making the single life difficult and intensely lonely, and the potential benefits of their relational availability go untapped by the church. Such privatization of sexuality also can lead single people to hold unrealistically romantic views of sexuality after marriage.” Society’s Discourse on Marriage The problem with modern society is not that it despises marriage. It is that it idolizes marriage. Alexander Schmemann writes: ‘It is not the lack of respect for the family, it is the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it.’ Many in modern society regard marriage and the family as the great hedges against loneliness. Marriage and the family are the key places of psychological and moral fulfilment. The family will collapse under the weight of such expectations. Ultimately, the family is unable to save us. Modern society has given us an idealized portrait of love. The powerful myth that society gives us is the myth of romantic love. This myth is propagated in many ways, as we all know. Many Christians are powerfully shaped by this myth, as we all know. The romantic myth is a relatively modern one. For most of written history the myth of romantic love has exerted far less power over the actual shape of the practice of marriage in society. The freight of expectations that we bring to marriage is noticeably absent in many previous societies. Marriage was not regarded as a panacea, nor did people presume that marriage needed warm romance at its root. Fidelity was regarded as a far more important indicator of the quality of the relationship than romance. For many (most?) people in the history prior to the modern era, romance was at best a marginal concern when entering into matrimony. However, many of these people found marriage to be a place of deep joy that eludes many who enter into the union of marriage today. Exuberant love and passion certainly have their place in marriage, but they are never enough of themselves to sustain a successful relationship. The finite ideal of romance is bound to disappoint (as any finite ideal is). Romance is not the key to lasting marriage. The reality of marriage is far more painful than the romantic ideal suggests. Far from being the best place for self-fulfilment, marriage is a place where people must die to their self-centeredness. Far from being the locus of true self-realization, it is a place of continual self-denial. Our society has also depoliticized and privatized marriage. The romantic myth presents marriage as a relation between two people for their mutual fulfilment. Such a conception of marriage turns marriage in on itself and results in the problems listed above. Historically, marriage has been deeply ‘politicized’. By this I mean that the marriage of two people was directed to a purpose outside of itself, to the service of a larger community. The shared external focus of the husband and the wife within the marriage served to integrate all of their lives to the service of some greater aim. The displacing of such a ‘politicized’ view of marriage by the privatized notion of marriage can account for the weak character of many modern marriage bonds. When all that unites you to another person is your desire for personal, sexual, emotional and psychological fulfilment, your relationship will, of necessity, be a weak one. The privatized view of marriage has an impact on singles. Marriage becomes closed in on itself and those outside the bond feel alienated. The Christian view of marriage must always ‘politicize’ it. Marriage must be entered into for a purpose greater than the psychological fulfilment of the married partners. Those entering into marriage must do so believing that their marriage will enable them to serve and love God and His people better. They must not presume that the same is the case for every other person. Such a marriage will serve to benefit and serve singles, rather than leaving them feeling isolated. Many Christians have adopted the ideal of romantic love. They argue against sex outside of marriage by claiming that sex within marriage is far more fulfilling. That may well be true, but Christians can easily forget that God’s primary desire for us is that we know, serve and love Him, rather than for our sexual fulfilment. Genital sex must always be subordinated to this far greater purpose. Sex Perhaps the deepest problem in our society’s discourse about marriage is the great focus placed upon sex. Our society has taught us that active sexuality is both a right and a necessity. One cannot be fulfilled apart from genital sexuality. In our society so much of the fabric of intimacy has been lost. People look for intimacy wherever they can find it. The message that society gives us is that true intimacy is only found in genital sex. As a result to place prohibitions on the free expression of people’s sexuality is to commit a sin more grievous than almost any other. Marva Dawn has written insightfully on this subject in her book, Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy. As our society has been starved of love it idolizes sex as that which will give it what it so desperately seeks. However, sex outside of the broader fabric of intimacies that are established in the Church and marriage is bound to disappoint. By itself, genital sex is totally insufficient to bear the burden of expectation that our society places on it. Consequently, people go to great lengths to make sex more ‘exciting’, trying to develop new techniques to deal with the act itself. In a society that idolizes genital sex, long-term single people will be made to feel like unfulfilled failures. Furthermore, when the vocabulary of love becomes so impoverished that it can only truly apply to genital sex, the possibility of true, deep, intimate and fulfilling friendship apart from sexual overtones will be doubted. In our society authentic friendships (especially across the generations, social classes, and across the barriers of gender) are becoming harder to find as sex increasingly comes to be regarded as the true locus of intimacy. Friendships with people of similar age are often sexualized in people’s mindsets. Close and intimate relationships between people of the same sex are often presumed to be ‘gay’ (for example, the relationship between David and Jonathan in Scripture and Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings). Singles often feel the need to prove their heterosexuality. This further complicates their relationships and frustrates their quest for genuine friendship and intimacy.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
This guy is amazingly gifted.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
The Australian tour so far has been an unmitigated disaster. After this I can imagine that many of them feel like throwing in the towel and going home.
My e-mail has been playing up. If you sent me any e-mail after midnight on Thursday, I probably have not received it. My e-mail will hopefully be working again on Monday morning. Until then, please contact me at alastairdotrobertsatntlworlddotcom. Thank you.
Friday, June 17, 2005
I watched The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro) last night with Jonathan and Monika and another friend from our church. I was surprised by the film; I had expected it to be far less even-handed a treatment of its subject than it actually was. In fact, far from being a piece of straightforward propaganda for euthanasia and assisted suicide, which is what I had braced myself for, I felt that the film got to grips with the complexity of the moral questions involved. I highly recommend it. I think that it would be a shame if Christians miss such opportunities to engage in conversation with non-Christians. Such a film raises deep issues about how we view life, love, death and freedom. Rather than simply bombarding non-Christians with evangelistic films, there is much to be said for interacting with thoughtful films that non-Christians themselves are making. We might at least appear to be less arrogant. I never watch films alone, mostly because I find solitary viewing boring. One of the advantages of watching films with other people is that one has the opportunity to discuss one’s thoughts and impressions afterwards and be challenged to explore how and why the film connected with you and moved you. Even a bad film can serve to trigger a good conversation on occasions. If we are to mature in our understanding and appreciation of stories, such conversations are invaluable. I am strongly inclined to believe that learning how to appreciate, enjoy, deconstruct, critique and inhabit stories is a central skill for the Christian. A failure of imagination should not be regarded as a minor flaw in the character of a Christian. I have suffered from this flaw in the past and am working at trying to rectify it, by God’s grace. In The Sea Inside, Ramón Sampedro, who has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident, fights for the right to end his own life. There were many moments in the film that will stick with me. The following are just two. At one point in the film, Ramón’s elderly father says something to the effect of: “There is only one thing worse than your son dying before you do: him wanting to.” This remark served to highlight the tragic betrayal that Ramón’s desire to take his own life constituted. In a society that has been shaped so powerfully by such notions as private property, it is hard for us to recognize that our lives are not ultimately our own — that speaking of ‘the right to life’ can lead us into serious error, just as speaking of ‘the right to choose’ can. Our lives are continually given to us by others, but the gift of our lives that we receive never becomes purely our own private property, which we are free to determine for ourselves. Rather, the gift of our lives is a constant summons to unceasing reciprocity. To refuse to continually give your life (and your faithful death) to others is an act of treachery and robbery. Life must be shared in fellowship. When you have given your life to someone and that person chooses to commit suicide (or adultery) they rob you of your own life in some measure as well. Your narrative identity is poisoned. In the case of suicide, where hope of reconciliation seems impossible, the crime is all the greater. All of one’s memories with that person are soured because they were unwilling to give you the gift of their faithful death. Ramón’s unwillingness to be present in his continued suffering to those who take care of him and love him deeply serves to compound their pain. At another point in the film, Ramón is on the phone with Rosa, a local lady who has started to visit him regularly. His lawyer, Julia, who shared a passionate kiss with him the previous evening, asks him about his relationship with Rosa. Ramón says that he does not feel that he owes her an explanation. It becomes clear that Ramón is determined to live life — and arrange his death — on his own terms and the idea of faithfulness to others is obscured in his thinking. It becomes clear that Ramón’s desire to die is connected with an attitude that has infected his relationships in general and is not merely a detached desire. A determination to go on living in the midst of acute suffering can only flow out of a peculiar posture towards life and freedom that fewer and fewer people possess today. Suicide is the ultimate quest for autonomy, for escape from the givenness of relationships to the ‘freedom’ of self-determination (this was the sin of Adam, the attempt to find true fulfilment by breaking communion with God). As Wittgenstein observed, if suicide is allowed, anything is allowed. Our society seeks to escape from faithfulness and the sharing of life in fellowship with one another to individualistic autonomy, thinking that freedom will be found in the process. Such virtues as trust, hospitality, thankfulness and love wither. Lady Wisdom was far more astute than many of us appreciate when she observed that all who hate her love death (Proverbs 8:36).
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
This is obvious when someone points it out. Unfortunately, I don't always ask the right questions when I'm reading Scripture.
I really don't know why more people don't understand this and why so many churches consistently focus their primary evangelistic efforts on reaching children. As David Murrow points out:—
It's time to face the truth: if we're going to pass a lifelong faith to our children, we must re-engage men. No amount of Sunday school, VBS, or youth group will do the trick. We might as well fold up our flannelgraphs and go home. In fact, we might reach more kids by canceling the entire children's ministry and focusing our efforts on men. This strategy would, in the long run, produce more lifelong followers of Jesus.I suspect churches fail to target men because they know that the anaemic religion that they peddle is not strong enough to address the concerns of leaders. I have already posted the following quote from Ann Douglas' book The Feminization of American Culture, where she examines the emasculation of the clergy in the 19th century, but it bears repeating:—
The clergyman’s chance, like the woman’s, was now coincidental with the weakest moment of his parishioners. No longer confident that he could meet his congregation at their strongest or impress its ablest representatives — the men of intellect and talent in their stores, counting-houses, and courtrooms — the minister increasingly fell back upon an inner parish of women and those men who had been reduced to playing the woman’s role; his congregation consisted of those who were feeling rather than thinking.Unfortunately, the same is true in many churches today.
There are only a few days left of the first quarter century of my life and I'm feeling depressed. Looking back over the last ten years of my life I can only wonder how different it could have been if certain things had not happened. It is hard not to feel a little bitter about how things have turned out in some respects. Such anniversaries, which challenge us to take stock, do, however, hold out the promise of drawing a line under certain events and opening a new chapter. At present we can only see in a glass, darkly. However, no matter how painful and frustrating the past has been, the grace of the future may well permit me to read its events with different eyes. By the mercy of God I trust that this might be the case in my situation. Please pray for me. I have not achieved an awful lot in the last week. I finally finished reading Vision: The Scholarly Contributions of Mark Searle to Liturgical Renewal, a book that has whet my appetite for more of his material. 'Infant Baptism Reconsidered' is one of the very best articles I have encountered on the subject of paedobaptism and other essays like 'Private Religion, Individualistic Society, and Common Worship' are deeply insightful. I also read Alexander Schmemann's Introduction to Liturgical Theology, which is a superb book. His treatment of mysteriological and ascetical piety is something that I will undoubtedly return to in the future. I have already read The Eucharist, For the Life of the World and Of Water and the Spirit. It is very hard to say which one of Schmemann's books I liked the most. I also finished reading Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist, which I enjoyed. At present my brother Mark is doing his placement in our locality and is staying with us. It is good to have him around again. He turns 21 in just under two weeks' time (Jonathan, Mark and I celebrate our birthdays within 15 days of each other; Peter, as usual, is the odd one out). Jonathan (A-Levels) and Peter (GCSEs) are in the middle of exams at present (not that you would notice in Peter's case). Jonathan has been taking time off work for his studies. Lord-willing, if he gets a B in his Spanish, he will be studying Linguistics in Manchester University in September. I am starting to prepare for university. There is an awful lot to do, particularly on my Hebrew. I will probably cut down my blogging significantly from the end of this week until I start at St. Andrews. I would appreciate if you would pray for my studies, that I will get up to date in time. Most of my study has to be done during lunch breaks at work and on the bus. Unfortunately, both places are far from ideal. My job may be mind-numbingly boring, but it does give me to opportunity to listen to Christian material while I work. I have almost finished listening to James Jordan's 46-talk series on 1 and 2 Samuel, a series I would highly recommend to anyone else. Last Saturday I played football for the first time for over a year (since this). It went well and I scored a number of lucky goals. However, I have never felt so stiff as I did on Sunday! I will be playing again this weekend and I will remember to warm up this time.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Why is N.T. Wright so consistently misrepresented by writers in the Reformed world? Surely if Wright's theology were orthodox such criticisms would be less common. Does the widespread nature of such claims imply that there is some substance to the claims made against Wright? Are these misrepresentations indicative of a failure to communicate on Wright's part? I have been asked these questions on many occasions. I think that there are good reasons why Wright has been consistently misrepresented by certain writers in the Reformed camp. Here are just a few:— Wright's Reformed critics are not sufficiently immersed in Wright's own theology to be able to treat it on its own terms. Frequently, by placing Wright's theology within the conceptual frameworks provided by their own theologies (or by the confessions) problems result that are seen to be easily reconciled and dissolved when one approaches these statements in terms of Wright's own theology (imputation is a classic example here). Many of the Reformed authors who criticize Wright make some clearly counter-factual claims concerning Wright’s theology that can be easily exposed by anyone who has read Wright in much depth. Some of these claims are nothing but supposed implications of the position put forward in What St Paul Really Said. The inner logic of Wright’s theology has not been understood and when Wright’s statements are explored in terms of the critic’s own theological logic, bizarre heresies emerge. We should also recognize that many of the traditional dichotomies that have decisively shaped traditional forms of theology are rejected by post-modernist (in distinction to 'postmodernist') theologians. Subjective/objective, ecclesiology/soteriology, forensic/participatory, declarative/transformative, internal/external, individual/corporate are all dichotomies that have been complicated, problematized or rejected. When one is accustomed to framing one's theology in terms of these dichotomies one will find it difficult to understand the work of someone who does not. When so many of these dichotomies have traditionally framed a particular doctrine, the result of a rejection of these dichotomies may look remarkably like a total rejection of the doctrine itself, although the new epistemological environment may provide for its working in remarkably analogous ways. Traditional Reformed doctrines of justification have been decisively shaped by all of the dichotomies listed above and more besides. Wright frames his doctrine of justification in a significantly different way, as would many in the so-called (and largely mythological) ‘FV movement’. It seems to me that many of Wright’s Reformed critics lack the epistemological teeth and juices necessary to break down and digest a system of theology as anti-modernistic as Wright’s. It would be like trying to understand Einstein without moving beyond the framework of Newtonian physics in any way at all. In addition to the above factors, I believe that there is a fundamental lack of charity which is betrayed by the tone of the arguments. I also believe that is a pattern of scapegoating to be observed by anyone who has studied René Girard. Those involved do not fully realize what they are doing, but anyone who looks closely can recognize what is taking place. In the absence of true charity and in the process of scapegoating misrepresentation is hardly surprising. Silences on particular issues are presumed to constitute denials of certain truths. Other statements are taken in their worst possible sense and subjected to interpretations that are revealed to be unjustified in the light of the larger body of Wright’s writing. The political reaction against Wright and the NPP in Reformed circles muddies the debate considerably. People are pressed to reach conclusions as soon as possible and not given the time to properly apprehend and mentally process Wright on his own terms. Understanding Wright properly is a matter of delayed gratification; it can take many hours of study. One will probably not understand Wright by reading a quick potted treatment in someone like Waters (or myself). One has to be disciplined and focused. One also has to be open-minded for quite some time before one is qualified to make up one’s mind. Keeping one’s mind open really is quite an achievement in the Reformed world at the moment, where one is expected to be able to jump to a pro or anti position after a quick skim of What St Paul Really Said. Anyone else have any thoughts?
Friday, June 10, 2005
LECTURE 6A few words about the Song of Solomon. The Song of Solomon still waits for a really good treatment. The title of the book is 'the best of Songs, which is Solomon's'. This may mean that Solomon wrote it, or simply that it is about Solomon. It is kingdom literature. The theme is the love and union of king and bride. There are four lines of interpretation that the book has been subjected to. It has often been treated as an allegory of Christ and the Church, often without any real attention given to historical context. During the 19th century a few read it as having three, rather than two principal characters. It was a drama, critiquing Solomon's lustful pursuit of women. There is the girl, the shepherd she loves and the evil greedy Solomon. Solomon ends up being thwarted. Keil and Delitsch and some modern commentaries have adopted this position. The literary structure does not sustain such a reading. The woman's name is a feminine form of Solomon's name ― 'Girl Peace'! It is a marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Peace. In the 20th century Song of Solomon has been read as a celebration of marital love. It is a picture of what marriage should be like within the Garden of Eden. To read the book this way involves a lot of speculation about the symbolism. Almost invariably it is read in terms of ANE erotic literature. This determines the meaning of the book. Some things don't fit. For example, the woman wandering and being struck by the watchman of the city. Where and when would this book have been read? There was a difference between written and spoken Hebrew. Very few could read and write. The priests had their own kind of writing, a specialized language, highly literary in its allusions. It would have been read to the people on the Temple steps. Biblical Hebrew is not broad enough to be a spoken language; it was a particular written language. Genesis was not written by a regular Israelite, but by a priest, working within a range of allusions in a particular language. Where then would Song of Solomon be read? The king's bedroom, with a solely aristocratic audience? In such a setting our mind goes to love poetry. However, it was probably heard by regular Israelites on the steps of the Temple, in the synagogue, or in a Levitical city. Within such a setting, the allegorical reading makes a whole lot more sense. More and more scholars are returning to such a reading. In Song of Solomon the Hebrew verb forms can tell us who is speaking. There are two pictures of union and communion in the Bible. Marriage is one person with one person. It is private, behind closed doors. Children coming forth out of the body are the result. Shared food is a public reality, things going in, rather than out. To understand our relationship with God we need both these pictures. The two pictures come together in the image of the marriage feast. The place where the marital union takes place is the threshing floor. The threshing floor (2 Chronicles 3:1) is where food and marriage are put together, in the context of the Temple. The threshing floor is where food is prepared. There are three characters in the Song: the daughters of the city, the bride (representing the people) and the ruler of the people. On another level it is shepherd and shepherdess. On another level it is Solomon and his first Egyptian wife. In the ancient world, everyone would have seen God/Solomon relating to the people. This is due to the use of temple/palace imagery for the man and land imagery for the bride. This use of imagery can be seen in chapter 4. The reference to honey and milk in 4:11 point to the land of Canaan. The woman is clearly the land, unless we choose to read this as sexual symbolism. The man is described in terms of temple imagery in chapter 5:10-16. Lilies, pomegranates, etc. can all be found in the temple. In order to be in the right frame of mind to read this book, you must understand the temple imagery and other such things. Another example of such imagery can be found in Song 1:4, where there is probably a reference to the chambers of the temple. The cedars of Lebanon are continually referred to. Myrrh (incense) is referred to as well. For these different reasons, the traditional reading is essentially correct. It has been argued that the book could be read as symbolizing marriage more generally. The Messiah will not have an individual as His queen (as he is divine), but a corporate body. This makes it clear that the book refers to a relationship between the Lord and his people. In many respects the more natural reading of Song of Solomon for an Israelite prior to Christ would be that the book depicts the relationship between the Messianic king and the people.
LECTURE 7Who wrote Job? Some argue that Job was a very early book, earlier than Genesis. The proverbial parts of it link with the other Solomonic literature. The events take place in Edom; the characters are descendants of Esau. The situation occurred early, but it has direct significance to the situation in Israel. The characters are believing Edomites. The names Job, Eliphaz etc. are given to us in Genesis, particularly in Genesis 36. Here we read of the kings which preceded Israel. Jobab in Genesis 36:31 is traditionally considered to be Job, something mentioned in the Masoretic text of Job. We know that Uz is in the land of Edom (Genesis 36:28; Lamentations 4:21). Job is the king in this land. The word 'king' is used of him in Job 29:25. Job was not merely the wealthiest man around; he was the leader of the community. That which happens to Job is about being a king. David has three mighty men. The Hebrew word for the king and his three mighty men is 'cornerstone'. In 1 Samuel 14:38, the word 'corners' is used for the three chiefs of Saul's army. The nation is like a house, built on a chief cornerstone (the king) and three other corners. Jesus and Daniel also have three mighty men. The men who came to visit Job are called 'friends'. The word 'friend' means chief counsellor. Jesus calls His disciples ‘friends’ (cf. John 15:15) because they have fully entered into His counsel. Abraham is the 'friend' of God in the scripture; God consults with Abraham. Job's friends are not merely buddies, but advisors. The reason why they come to see Job is not merely because bad things happen to him. This is not why the book of Job is so long and boring. Job is mainly about the king and his counsellors. We can draw implications for personal suffering, but it is about far more. There is a national disaster. After Job 1:15 there many widows, and even more after 1:17. The food has also been destroyed; there is a coming famine. Job tears his robe, the symbol of his kingship. The three friends tear their robes in Job 12:12; they join with Job in proclaiming national disaster. Job's boils are a symbol of the body politic; the land itself is full of open sores. [Man is made of earth; there are parallels between man and the earth. The darkness of the earth is paralleled by man's sleep. Leprosy also parallels the land.] So far this is just a national disaster. However, God marks out Job by killing his family. We are led to suspect that this is Job's fault. God covers Job with sores; now it really looks as if it is Job's fault. Job must repent. If he doesn't he must be put to death and another put in his place. This is what Eliphaz points out.
LECTURE 8A: 1:1-2:13 1:1 1:2 1:3 1:4-5 1:6 — 2:10 2:11 2:12-25 B: 3:1-26 C: 4—27 D: 28 C’: 29—37 B’: 38:1 — 42:6 A’: 42:7-19 42:7-8 42:9 42:10 42:11 42:12 42:12-15 42:16-17 The seven sections Job roughly follow the seven days of creation. The A section describes Job being reduced to a formless, empty and dark state. A' is the Sabbath reinstatement of Job. In B Job curses the day he was born. Every phrase in this chapter recurs in B', which is God's speech to Job. God answers Job's complaints as if nothing happened between. Job 3:8 is answered by God in great detail later on. This is one of 25 or 30 parallels. The two C sections deal with Job's conversations with his accusers. The first three friends are clearly wrong. In D, chapter 28, there is a description of wisdom by the author of the book. Wisdom belongs to God and is too high to comprehend, paralleling the fourth day of creation. David Dorsey points out that the first and last sections of Job are chiastically matched. At the beginning and end we have Job himself. We then have sons and daughters, feasts and livestock, sufferings/reversal of suffering, friends come and are silent for seven days/the sacrifice seven bulls and rams to atone. Job interacts with each of his friends. There are three cycles, but there is no final speech by Zophar. Many scholars argue that 27:13ff is Zophar's final speech. 29:1 indicates that 28 is not by Job. The book of Job teaches us that we must live by faith alone. Things will only be explained at the end by God Himself. The king suffers for his people. The book of Job is about the suffering of the king. Job 1-2 is a greatly intensified form of Genesis 3. The three friends become the voice of Satan in the book. Satan's original word to Adam and Eve was that God did not have good intentions for them. The same temptation faces Job. His society, his wife and his friends have turned against him. When he turns around and looks for God, He's nowhere to be found either. Man is made in the image of God, who is a society. It is a complete contradiction of human life to be completely alone. God always intended Adam and mankind in general to have all sorts of relationships. God will reveal at the end of the book that He has been there all along, but Job has no sense of it. Job's friends become his enemies. In human society there are always those who are admired and imitated. This is called ‘mimesis’. As long as this imitation is at a distance, it is only imitation. However, in society, those who become close to the leader envy the leader. We fight with those who are closest to us. This is why brothers fight. Those closest to us irritate us. Job was the idol of all the people in the society, admired and looked up to. However, because of sin, there is always envy involved in such a relationship. When a leader falls, everyone happily turns against him. The mob welcomes Jesus on Palm Sunday as the admired leader; five days later they seek His blood. Job has become the scapegoat. Disaster has come upon society and Job is the scapegoat. The mob will always find someone to blame. The scapegoat is marked out by God as different and envied by others. These are all social factors in Job. Job is a book about society, not merely about an individual person suffering. We don't feel satisfied unless we get the scapegoat to confess his guilt. The fear of being alone drives people to confess. We are willing to confess things we didn't do, rather than be left alone. The threats against Job get worse and worse, because no-one can pin anything on him. The friends start by claiming that certain people deserve to die, they move to say God will kill such people and that they will do it if God doesn't. Job knows that all he has to do is lie and tell himself that God is unfair. This temptation is so strong because of the Trinity; man cannot bear being alone. Those who are alone are insane. Job is experiencing a 'dark night of the soul' or 'desertion'. Psalm 88 is a great example of this, ending unresolved. The positive aspect of this is that the psalmist is complaining to God ― an act of faith. The cup Jesus asks to pass from him is the cup of desertion. Job feels deserted; Jesus is deserted. Job's greatest suffering is the silence of God. In chapter 28, the author reminds us to trust in God. This is followed by one more speech by Job and the words of Elihu. Does Elihu give good advice? There are good arguments on both sides. Elihu's advice is probably good. He is probably a priest or a pastor to Job. Speaking of himself as 'young' may carry priestly connotations. Job does not answer Elihu. Elihu does not accuse Job of bringing the troubles upon himself, but of complaining too much. God sends suffering, not to punish us, but to make us mature. Suffering can prepare us for expanded dominion. Going through death prepares us for knowledge of good and evil. This proves to be true in Job's case. His capacity for life is doubled as a result of his suffering. Even if God seems absent, trust Him to answer. This is the message of Elihu, the message of a good pastor. This is as good an answer as we can receive before the end of time. God, however, brings Job, as it were, to the end of time. God's control of Leviathan is a picture of God's control over Satan. All things are for Job's good, even the actions of Leviathan. All of God's omnipotence is exercised for Job's good. Job repents for his lack of faith. The social situation is resolved by God's words to Job's friends. Job becomes a mediator, and more than a king, to his friends. This parallels with Christ. Jesus is vindicated after death and becomes our mediator. Job teaches us that social disasters aren't necessarily one person's fault and exposes the scapegoat mechanism in this regard.
LECTURE 9Every year the Israelites were to celebrate the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. It is known as the Feast of Succoth (the Feast of Clouds). Every year Israelites made their own clouds to camp around God's cloud. In other senses it was a tree house. On the first day the houses were green and leafy, by the end of the week they were falling apart. God's cloud, however, did not disintegrate. Man's work is like an attempt to gather mist. 'Vapour, vapour, everything is vapour'. The author of this book is the Qoheleth, the one who gathers the people together at the Feast of Tabernacles. This was the duty of the king. The author of Ecclesiastes is Solomon. 1:16 lends support to this. God gave wisdom to Solomon greater than that of all before and after. Melchizedek, Aboni-bezek (in Joshua) and David were all kings before Solomon, as well as other Jebusite kings. [This statement of Ecclesiastes gives us good reason to deny that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Christ]. Some argue for pseudonymous authorship, due to late Hebrew forms. Just because pagans accept pseudepigraphical books does not mean the Jews did. Books that lie about their authorship were not acceptable in Israel. The argument for late Hebrew forms is based on imagination. The Old Testament is all the literature that we have. There is nothing to compare it with. The word YHWH is not used in Ecclesiastes. The word 'elohim' is used 28 times. The context is Genesis 1. The book focuses on man as a sub-creator, who does the same sort of thing God does. The king, as a mature man, is an elohim, who makes his own world, which keeps falling apart. Solomon fell into deep sin and judgment in the middle of his life. Translated accurately, however, there is nothing necessarily sinful in what he does. The book is not about sin, but about creativity. The theme is the limitation of wisdom. Wisdom is associated with kings. Wisdom recognizes things that are not good and has the skill to change things. Proverbs teaches us that life makes sense and can be understood. Wisdom will enable you to prosper in the world — it's an American book. Ecclesiastes is European. Wisdom is limited and so, under the sun, we must live by faith alone. Not everything makes sense. A second theme is that of mist and vapour. The first man was earthly. The first man was Cain, a smith from the Earth; the second was Abel, a heavenly cloud. Everything is like a cloud (not ‘vanity’ or ‘meaningless’). You can see, feel it and move it, but it won't last. It is like shepherding the wind (1:14 ― the word is 'shepherd', not 'strive'). These words continually recur. 'Mist' and 'shepherding wind' occur 40 times. Life is uncontrollable, whether it consists of your personal life, family, church or society. We don't have full understanding. We cannot mentally or physically understand or control the world. We cannot control weeds in a garden. As the world is not under our control, we cannot live by sight and must, therefore, rejoice in God's gifts and be grateful. ‘Eating, drinking and being merry’ is an allusion to Deuteronomy 14. This is a reference to the Feast of Clouds and the gift of the sacraments. The Feast of Clouds was the time for the reading of the Law. The Law is like nails driven into a wall (12:11). This contrasts quite radically with mist. God's Word is reliable and solid. Here we see the Word to go with the sacrament. The mistiness of life means that it mysterious, confusing and enigmatic. However, in the centre of the cloud is God Himself. We cannot grasp the wind and shepherd the mist. Ecclesiastes 2:26: what is vapour and shepherding the wind? God is the one who is shepherding the wind here. God is capable of shepherding the wind. When God's cloud appears in Ezekiel 1, God can move it directly, wherever He wants to. This is the main picture in the book and where it comes from. 2:3-10 describes Solomon's world, which he built by wisdom. The world was without shape, empty and dark when God created it. Solomon shapes his world in 2:6. He fills his world in 2:7-8. In these verses he does exactly what he is supposed to do. However, in verse 11, he appears defeated. Man is limited in his control, unlike God. It is good and necessary to do these things, but not to expect them to last forever. Solomon alludes to light, formlessness and emptiness in 1:14-15. Filling and shaping is hard for human beings. These themes are continually repeated in the book. He says there is nothing new under the sun. What he means is that, under the firmament ― in the present age — we never come to full understanding. Full understanding can only come when the firmament is removed. A: 1:1 B: 1:2 C: 1:3-11 D: 1:12 — 3:15 E: 3:16-17 F: 3:18-22 G: 4:1-3 H: 4:4-12 I: 4:13-16 J: 5:1-7 I’: 5:8 — 6:9 H’: 6:10 — 7:29 G’: 8 F’: 9:1-12 E’: 9:13-18 D’: 10 C’: 11:1 — 12:7 B’: 12:8 A’: 12:9-14 A and A' are the works of Qoheleth. B and B' is the statement 'mist, mist, all is mist'. C and D are sections that present two problems. 1. In C we see that creation cannot be understood and is therefore tiresome and wearisome. 2. In D Solomon addresses the problem that wisdom makes good new worlds, but folly destroys them. Why bother with wisdom? The problem in D is answered in D': wisdom is better than folly, even in the present, because God is going to bring everything into account. The first problem is answered in C'. Creation cannot be understood, but if we live by faith we can know that our world is not, in fact, tiresome. E and E' deal with the political side of this problem. Those who are wise are seldom put in charge. People would rather be ruled by idiots. In F and F' he moves to the boundary of human life. Both deal with death. Death comes to man and to beast and to the righteous and wicked. G has to do with light; H with form; I with filling. G refers to lights in human forms ― the oppressors. Those in authority are usually not wise. The stars are usually not wise. H and H' talk about form ― life in community ― how to live in your place, with other people in their places. I and I' have to do with generations, filling the Earth by having children. How will our children fill out the world that we have created? The centre of everything, J, is to fear God and live by faith alone.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I recently attended a conference in Poland, where James Jordan spoke on the subject of Solomonic literature. I took extensive notes. The following is the first of two installments.