Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 4: THE PREACHER’S DOWNWARD MUSINGS…Continued

The Preacher is quite pessimistic and the level of seeming despair is evident when he reasons after beholding the defenseless oppressed and those crushed by the strong and mighty:

“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.(Vv.1-4)

The oppressed and their tears exacerbates the Preacher’s experience as he considers the lack of comfort the downtrodden receive, “…they had no one to comfort them…” and the power of those oppressing them.  The weak ruled by the mighty, the defenseless overcome by the strong, and bitterness is the soup of the needy.

The Preacher saw acts of oppression which caused him to conclude that the “dead” (v.2a) are better off than the living.  That’s pessimism on steroids, to congratulate the dead over against the oppressed, but the Preacher is not yet finished.  Not only are the dead praised for not being in the muck of life, but those who have never come into existence are better off than the dead.  How can one be better off than the oppressed and the dead if they aren’t or never have been?  In his view, to behold the evil his eyes have witnessed and the damage inflicted on the soul is so severe, that seemingly what can’t be—a knowing and non-existent knower—is better than the alternative of existing and thus suffering horrible ills.   

While there’s oppression and evil, there’s also liberty and goodness, but then again the gloom that looms over a life without God is acutely unbearable.  I have not experienced the evils many have through the annals of time, but I have experienced despair and wrestled with dark thoughts of suicide because of suffering.  For the follower of Jesus, under such circumstances, Paul reminds us that God is working on our behalf behind the scenes:

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”   (Romans 8:28-30)

So, when despair seems to be swallowing you up believer, know that it is momentary and that the heavenly Father, has not abandoned you, but is rather working through the pain to make you more like Jesus.

To the non-believer or skeptic, my suggestion is for you to investigate the claims of Christ to see whether or not they make sense to you.  For of all the authorities that command us how to live, only Christ Jesus claimed to be the uncreated creator who is self-existent and conquered the grave through the resurrection.  To dismiss his claims, which came through eyewitness accounts as mere fantasy, is not only pedestrian but a brazen refusal to behold the immense evidence to support his claims.

LORD, when darkness comes remind us that you truly are our light, that a life without you truly is meaningless, ugly, cold, and gray.  Teach us to look to you when suffering seems too unbearable and grant the grace required for us to finish the race set before us as we look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 2: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS—VANITY Part 2

In my struggle and acquaintance with failure concerning every sector of existence (E.g., moral, practical and contemplative) the Preacher’s outlook is not re-assuring but utterly depressing.

Vanity, futility, empty, meaningless are all man’s endeavors under the sun and thus so is his life.   The Preacher indulged himself with pleasure and came up empty whether sexual, intellectual or acquisitional pleasure, it’s all empty:

“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had home born slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines.(2.1-8)

He became greater than all of his predecessors and still his activities are considered useless (Vv.9-11).  There’s no boasting here but deprecation of all the things worldly men (of which I once numbered) would die for!  Wine, women and song, riches and pleasures galore—empty says the preacher!

He understood that wisdom far excels folly as the light conquers the darkness and yet even this to him is vain because like the fool so the wise man will die and his memorial will be forgotten:

“So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? 13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. 15 Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” 16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! 17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”   (2:12-17)

The herald understanding his plight completely despaired of life, his legacy and his toil, the accumulation of which is vanity (2:18-23).  Yet, he reflects on the good life and considers that its basis is found in God alone and happiness is to be had in Him alone:

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? 26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” (2:24-26)

God gives wisdom to the wise and good person but for the sinner (who in this context is the opposite) their task is gathering and collecting for those God sees as good.  The struggle and restlessness this nihilistic Preacher is enduring is horrible to bear.  The Preacher is saying that existence without God is empty, a breath not worth taking, toil that leads to “nowhere” in the blink of the eye.

What a dark hole his soul sank into, what an empty chasm he’s fallen into, what a dingy dungeon is his abode, the abyss has (almost entirely) swallowed him up.

God and the meaning of life is the question for the man who has wandered from the paths of righteousness.  His plight is a warning to all who do shun God, deny his existence and indulge in fleeting pleasures—emptiness is the reward.  Why?  Because all pleasures in life that put God at the periphery are vain being He is the giver and sustainer of life in whom there is no darkness at all.

The Preacher is warning me to flee all pleasures that have not God at the hub, to consider the vanity of life without Him and to pursue Him in my gloomiest hour for He alone will not disappoint.

(SDG)

Reflections from NEHEMIAH 1-4: RESTORING WORSHIP IS COSTLY BUSINESS

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Our rebellion results in the desolation of our souls.  Only after contrition and repentance before Yahweh is complete are we His people ready to rebuild that which our sin decimated.

Nehemiah loved God’s people and Jerusalem, for biblically, worship and the land are always closely linked.  The land prospers when the worship of Yahweh obtains but desolation is assured when idolatrous wayward people have their own way.  Nonetheless, God’s promise of returning back to the land from Babylonian captivity after seventy years had come to fruition.

As the kings cupbearer, Nehemiah had favor with Artaxerxes such that he was granted royal support to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild its walls:

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel. (2:1-10)

And yet, Nehemiah had enemies that would linger whose sole purpose was to mock, threaten and discourage the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and infrastructure:

“Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?”Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.” (4:1-5)

 Nehemiah, like a recon man, did not show his hand in the land until after he examined the damage that needed reparation (2:11-18).  Among those involved in repairing the broken down walls were priests, goldsmiths and perfumers yet the nobles did not support the work (chapter 3).

Opposition is often manifested through mockery fueled by anger.  These two go hand in glove by those who hate righteousness and laud wickedness (4:1-3).  The way to combat such spiritual warfare (and it is spiritual wrestling) is sometimes through imprecatory prayer directed to Almighty God.  This type of intercession is pivotal for combating the dangers we His people confront.  When our passion is the renown of God’s Name, He hears our cries evidenced in Nehemiah’s experience (4:7-14).

In order for the work to continue, the laborers needed protection and this through swords, spears and shields.  That is, after the intercession was offered, the people still needed to arm themselves:

“When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.”  (4:15-23)       

I have often felt that that the walls have been torn down in the American church because the culture, not the scriptures, are what dictates to many professing Christians what they believe.  Included in the range of issues are: the issue of origins (a-la Darwinism), the status of the unborn (Abortion), the meaning of marriage (a-la same-sex “marriage”), embracing a pluralistic view of salvation (a-la any religion can lead you to Jesus), etc.  It’s only because of His great mercy we’re not wiped off the face of this earth.

Personally, I’m often overwhelmed and burdened with the sin of unbelief that keeps me from pursuing God in the midst of my anxieties, fears and doubts.  Fortunately, God’s word here in Nehemiah reminds me that where God guides He will provide the necessary resources to accomplish the tasks put before us.  So LORD we look to you to be our strength, light, and courage as we your people endeavor to be salt and light in this land.  Help us be faithful stewards of the gifts given to each one of us for the common good of the Church and our Neighbors.  Give us a renewed vision of your Holiness!

(SDG)

Reflections From 2 CHRON: 35-36 “LAMENTATION IS THE PROPER RESPONSE FROM A PEOPLE THAT REBEL AGAINST YAHWEH”

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The conclusion of this book is sobering and truly lamentable.  After celebrating the Passover Feast like never before under the kings of Israel’s rule, Josiah when hearing of coming judgment turned to the LORD, was then set on pleasing Him (34:27) but the damage had already been done.  God assured Josiah that because of his humility, he would not see the captivity of Judah in his life time (34:28).

Even though Judah’s captivity loomed on the horizon and the word of the LORD would be fulfilled, Josiah’s heart was nevertheless bent towards God (35:18-19).  The king would die before witnessing the shameful and horrific sight of God’s judgment on the land (35:20-25).  Josiah was so loved by Israel that even Jeremiah the prophet lamented his death (35:25).

Unfortunately, the hearts of Israel had gone past the point of no return as the state of their wickedness demonstrated their embrace of the surrounding Nations abominations (36:14).  This is clear as they; defiled Gods house (36:14), continually mocked God’s messengers (36:16a), despised God’s words (36:16b), and scoffed God’s prophets (36:16c).  This resulted in God’s wrath (specifically the LORD’s wrath) being poured out on His people (36:16d).

This wrath was merciless as the Chaldeans “slew Israel’s young men with the sword”, and no compassion was shown to neither; the sick, the virgin, nor to the elderly.  God had absolutely delivered Israel into the hands of foreign kings (36:17).

We can learn many things here and a few are sobering.  First, it’s madness to rebel against the great I AM, the Self-existent One.  Second, we humans are blind to this doom of madness.  Third, when God’s word comes to us it is His mercy for the good of all. Fourth, those who reject the revelation of God Himself will be crushed.  Lastly, today is the day to submit to His will.

(SDG)

 

 

Reflections From 2 CHRONICLES 31-34 “ARE YOU EVER AMAZED BY GOD’S MERCY?”

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The heart of man is deceitfully wicked above all things who can know it?  Other than the LORD God, the scriptures constantly remind me of how deep human depravity goes.  For example consider King Hezekiah who demonstrated his faithfulness to God by destroying the idols in the land, then re-instituting the nurture and care for God’s ministers and reviving the worship of Yahweh in Israel.  Nevertheless, this king still had to deal with his own pride which set him against the LORD God 2 CHRON: 32:23-26:

And many were bringing gifts to the Lord at Jerusalem and choice presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter.  24 In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill; and he prayed to the Lord, and the Lord spoke to him and gave him a sign. 25 But Hezekiah gave no return for the benefit he received, because his heart was proud; therefore wrath came on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. 26 However, Hezekiah humbled the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come on them in the days of Hezekiah.

Manasseh, who succeeded Hezekiah, returned to the idolatrous ways, formerly practiced in Israel and skillfully rebelled against God (33:3-9).  It was only after Manasseh humbled himself that he showed himself to be faithful to Yahweh 2 CHRON. 33:10-16:

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 Therefore the Lord brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. 12 When he was in distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.  14 Now after this he built the outer wall of the city of David on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance of the Fish Gate; and he encircled the Ophel with it and made it very high. Then he put army commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah. 15 He also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, as well as all the altars which he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside the city. 16 He set up the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.

Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.  For under Josiah’s reign there’s a devotion to the LORD God (34:1-13) where the reading of the Torah warns of the coming Babylonian captivity that he would not experience because of his devotion to God but many in Israel would have to endure(34:14-21, 27-30).

God’s mercy is daunting like His wrath.  What a God!  What a patient Creator!  Why don’t we trust Him?!  It’s because of sin.  This menace has blinded God’s people since time and the “Fall” inaugurated it.

LORD, your patience and mercy are stunning.  To consider your dealings with sinners like us through immeasurable grace makes the heart glad.  So may we consider your attributes, and reflect on them as we live out the rest of this journey on until the new heaven and new earth arrive.

(SDG)

Reflections From 2 CHRONICLES: 19-20 “WHEN KINGS RULE WELL”

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          The ruled and those ruling have a long history.  Those oppressed by rulers groan, those with power too often wield it foolishly.  King Jehoshaphat instituted two reforms worthy of note and demonstrated one act of desperation as war was upon him.

First, the king appointed judges in all of the fortified cities of Judah.  He said:

“Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment. Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.” (19:6-7)

When kings rule well judges are appointed to represent God’s authority under which justice is administered.  A judge’s dealings are meticulously before God’s gaze and the corruption of justice will not go unpunished.  Only the fear of the LORD in these judges will assure they act justly, not wickedly.  Note they must be men who can’t be bought, who are not partial, and who do righteousness.

Today it’s no different.  Judges in power will give an account to God for how they have administered their sword of influence (lawyers too), for this power does not originate in man, but in the God of creation they are to mirror.  Yet, when there’s no fear of the LORD, justice is aborted and perverted, folly is exalted, and equity is deplored.  What an ominous thought.  Oh God! may the judges in this nation judge righteously, may those in the three branches of government tremble with the power bestowed on them, and may the righteous truly shine.

Second, Levites and priests were also appointed to judge in Israel.  The king warns these judges that the fear of the LORD, the law ordinances and statutes are to be faithfully upheld to avert God’s wrath and thus assure peace is in the land:

In Jerusalem also Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites and priests, and some of the heads of the fathers’ households of Israel, for the judgment of the Lord and to judge disputes among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Then he charged them saying, “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully and wholeheartedly. 10 Whenever any dispute comes to you from your brethren who live in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and ordinances, you shall warn them so that they may not be guilty before the Lord, and wrath may not come on you and your brethren. Thus you shall do and you will not be guilty. 11 Behold, Amariah the chief priest will be over you in all that pertains to the Lord, and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, in all that pertains to the king. Also the Levites shall be officers before you. Act resolutely, and the Lord be with the upright.”     (19:8-11)

The LORD is a God who loves justice to be done in the land and His people are to also love it.  When a king rules well his main concern—along with the securing of borders—is for justice to be executed in the land.  When this does not occur, the moral fabric of a people eventually deteriorates.  The reason I think is unfortunately quite simple—as the leadership of a home, city or nation goes, so too do those who follow.  People are deeply impacted in their behavior from what they see modeled more (it seems) from what they are “told to do”.

Third, when war was upon the king he cried out to the LORD God of his fathers:

“Now it came about after this that the sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon, together with some of the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and reported to Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, out of Moab and behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is Engedi).” Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the Lord; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the Lord.” (20:1-4)

His nation-wide fast and prayer is an illustration of desperation for divine aid that is utterly dependent on a positive response from God or else hope vanishes.  It is an act of desperate measure appropriate for the occasion.  The king rehearses in his prayer the covenant and its application of being in the land which was now being threatened.  The word of the prophet assured Jehoshaphat that the battle belongs to the LORD God.  The deliverance comes and worship is expressed led by the king:

They have lived in it, and have built You a sanctuary there for Your name, saying,‘Should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house) and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us.’ 10 Now behold, the sons of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom You did not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt (they turned aside from them and did not destroy them), 11 see how they are rewarding us by coming to drive us out from Your possession which You have given us as an inheritance. 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” 13 All Judah was standing before the Lord, with their infants, their wives and their children.  (20:8-13)

Often I feel utterly doomed with the lack of resources in my life (even though I live in America) be they physical or spiritual, and I have the occasion to seek Him through prayer and fasting.  May I seize those moments and not let them go to waste.

(SDG)

Summary of Chapter 3: The Middle Ages_Part 2_THE TWELFTH CENTURY [Pp.81-85]

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            Peter Alphonsi (A.D. 1062-1110) [P.81] was a Spaniard converted Jew who became a Christian at age 44.  In his Dialogue with the Jew Moses, he ridicules the Talmud and mounts a rigorous attack against Islam.

Rupert of Deutz (A.D. 1075-1129) [P.81] writes in his Dialogue between a Christian and a Jew, an apologetic that focuses primarily on the miracles of Scripture.

Peter the Venerable (A.D. 1094-1156) [Pp.81-82] is the most eminent 12th century apologist and the last great abbot of Cluny.  In his Against the Inveterate Obstinacy of the Jews, he aims at converting Jews by demonstrating that the divine Messiah, his humiliations, and his establishment of a spiritual kingdom are grounded in the Israelite prophets.  In his treatise A Book Against the Sect or Heresy of the Saracens, he addresses the Moslems through; reason, not hatred, by words, not force, not in hatred, but in love.   He appeals to them from the Koran and affirms that; their book commands them to look to the Christian Bible as divinely authoritative and it is this Bible which points to Jesus rather than Mohammed as the true teacher.  Hence, in following the Bible one is to reject Mohammed.

Peter of Blois (D. 1202) in his Against the Perfidy of the Jews, he warns Christians of the diabolical tactics by which the Jews evade the evidences.  He also used arguments from the Incarnation, virginal birth, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ in his apologetic.

Peter Abelard (A.D. 1079-1142) [Pp.82-84] gave considerable clout to reason in the area of religious conviction.  He maintained that human reason (unlike the Augustinians), making use of objectively accessible evidences, could achieve some kind of initial faith.  For Abelard, the “blind faith” of Abraham is an exceptional grace, and thus not normative for ordinary Christians.

In his A Dialogue between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian, Abelard discusses the rational grounds for faith and highlights the moral superiority of Christianity, with its’ ethics of charity over every religion including Judaism.

In his Christian Theology, Abelard deals with the divine Logos doctrine, and tackles the Trinitarian implications of the Neo-Platonic doctrine of divine emanations.  Abelard’s enthusiasm to build bridges from Christian orthodoxy to alien religions and philosophies, coupled with his attempt to close the gaps between faith and reason, brought on opposition by Bernard of Clairvoux who distrusted dialectics.  This tension between Abelard and Clairvoux symbolize the struggle of every generation.

Richard of St. Victor (1155) [Pp.84-85] wrote a treatise On the Trinity where he combines the traditional insistence on external signs of revelation with a serious quest for necessary reasons.  He also justifies his initial faith by appealing to the extrinsic evidence of miracles.

Alan of Lillie (D. 1202) [p.85] convinced that Moslems could not be won over through arguments from the Scriptures, vied for using intrinsic arguments for the truth of various Christian doctrines.  In On the Catholic Faith against Heretics of His Time, Alan sought to demonstrate Christianity’s faith by using a few simple truth maxims.  In The Art of the Catholic Faith, Alan (supposedly authored) directs his arguments specifically against Moslem tenets.

THOMAS AQUINAS (A.D. 1225-74) [Pp.85-94]

Augustine’s spiritual theology was declining, while Aristotelian philosophy was coming to the forefront of popular thought.  For the first time since the Patristic era, Christians were being offered a scientific vision of the universe that depended not on the Bible.  Through the Spanish Arabic philosopher Averroes (A.D. 1126-98) the teachings of Aristotle became available and the penetration of Averroes precipitated a major spiritual crisis in the European universities.

Combating Aristotelianism could be realized by simply erecting Christian Aristotelianism.  Thomas wrote a series of philosophical commentaries on Aristotle.  On certain points he conceded with Aristotle.  However, Christian revelation had corrected and completed Aristotle’s deficiencies.

In his Summa Contra Gentiles, (either authored in 1258-1264 or 1270-1272), a work understood by many as addressing Christian missions and the university scholar.  This word has no equal in its field.  The aim of the Summa is to be an apologetical theology confronting the new challenge of the scientific Greco-Arabic worldview.  Among other things, the work deals with:  First Book: Chapters 1-9 deals with all things that make one a wise man in light of the supreme truth (first principles) from which all reality derives.

The theologian who contemplates reality in light of divine wisdom has the task of refuting errors in religious teaching, as well as making known the truth of the Catholic Faith and confuting her opponents.

He understands that if the scriptures are not taken to be authoritative, it is appropriate to argue from reason rather than authority.  This does not mean that Aquinas viewed reason as limitless, but he understood that the human mind could discover the divine.  For him, some truths of God are revealed in nature, whereas other truths can only be known through revelation (i.e., Trinity, Incarnation, Sacraments, resurrection).  Aquinas sees that the chief end of man is to find his felicity in the contemplation of God.

The following are some of His Apologetic Arguments: [Pp.91-92]

Miracles were a sign of being God’s messenger, which are stressed in the prophetic writings.  Aquinas defines a miracle strictly as a work that only God could perform.  Moreover, he argues from the impact of Christianity in the world as a proof of its veracity and he indicts Mohammed’s testimony as that which seduced people with carnal pleasures; it taught no sublime truths but those which are common to man; the Koran is mixed with fables and errors and those who trust Mohammed’s words believe lightly.

Augustine and Aquinas’ Differences: [P.92] His Summa Contra Gentiles is a masterpiece and is considered in the Middle Ages as a work comparable to Augustine’s City of God, of the Patristic era.  Thomas used Aristotelian philosophy, whereas Augustine used Neoplatonic philosophy.  Thomas argues from a metaphysical angle, whereas Augustine argues through interpreting history. Thomas uses dispassionate reasoning in his persuasion, whereas Augustine uses rhetoric as his persuasion.

Concluding Remarks:  In his Summa contra Gentiles towers above all previous apologetic works in its clarity, perfect coherence, balance, economy, and precision.  Aquinas like Augustine responded to the challenges hoisted against Christendom with the tools they had a developed.

Reflections From 2 CHRONICLES: 17-18 “THE CONTRAST BETWEEN A FOOLISH AND WISE KING IS WORD FOCUSED”

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Jehoshaphat followed Asa his father as king over Israel and Judah.  He was like David in his earlier years and did not worship the Baals, but instead sought God, followed his commandments and did not become stiff-necked like the rest of Israel:

The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of his father David’s earlier days and did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father, followed His commandments, and did not act as Israel did. So the Lord established the kingdom in his control, and all Judah brought tribute to Jehoshaphat, and he had great riches and honor. He took great pride in the ways of the Lord and again removed the high places and the Asherim from Judah.  (17:3-6) 

 This king walked with God and was thus honored by Him in battle (18:31).  By contrast Ahab was an evil king, for unlike Jehoshaphat he did not receive the word of the LORD, but instead the word of man as ultimate.  Before going into battle this king would inquire of prophets who would tell him “good news”, but they were merely mouthpieces of deceiving spirits sent by God:

20 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘How?’ 21 He said, ‘I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so.’ 22 Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, for the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.”(18:20-22)

Several observations are evident from the context; first, Ahab viewed the word of God from a true prophet as (Micaiah) evil and the deceptive false word of man as good:

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not yet a prophet of the Lord here that we may inquire of him?”The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me but always evil. He is Micaiah, son of Imla.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” (18:6-7)

Somewhere it is written, “Woe to the nation that calls what is righteous evil and what is wicked good” (sort of).   Second, Micaiah was determined to speak God’s word whether or not it was popular or even if it caused him harm—which it did landing him in prison (18:12-13, 14-18).

Third, God was behind the scenes working out His providential purposes, puzzling as it may be to us:

18 Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. 19 The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 20 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘How?’ 21 He said, ‘I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so.’ 22 Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, for the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.” (18:18-22)

This text is one of many (Is.19:1-15; Ez.14:6-11) that reveals the God of love acting in a way that evil might be attributed to Him; actions that seem cruel, wicked and manipulative for the purpose of ridding Israel of her idolatry and letting the nations know that God is the LORD.

Fourth, Micaiah lets Ahab know that if he returns from battle, then he indeed is not God’s prophet; “27 Micaiah said, “If you indeed return safely, the Lord has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Listen, all you people.”  Here the prophet is putting himself under the authority of God’s word.  He is not above the word, nor is any earthly king.

The events turned out as God said they would, how could they not?!  And yet the choices of human beings play significant roles in how history unfolds.  For every action we take, an account to the God of creation will be given.  This is a deeply sobering matter.

The wise king heeded the prophet’s word, the foolish king did not.  So if any of us are going to be considered either wise or foolish, there’s one issue to settle: what will be our response to the revelation of Yahweh?

(SDG)

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? “Why Black Lives Can’t Matter…If…” PART 1

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We humans share many things in common; we desire to be loved and accepted for who we are not what we can do; we long for happiness and fulfillment; we don’t like it when people mistreat us; we dislike it when people lie to us; we all try to make sense out of reality as we know it.  These dearly held notions are mainly communicated through words.

The “Black Lives Matter” notion is a case in point.  The desire to communicate that “we matter” can be put “our lives have meaning” and we should thus be treated a certain way.  But whether or not that’s actually true depends on the worldview held.

For example, if naturalism is true (a la Atheism), and humans are merely material entities without an immaterial soul, an accident of macro-evolution where there’s no design, purpose or meaning, then “Black Lives” actually don’t matter.  This is true for at least two reasons; first, “meaning” is not something physical—it can’t be tasted, seen, smelled, heard, or touched, but its’ effects (which are immaterial) are constantly seen in the physical world.  Secondly, the basis of naturalism is that there is no “mind”, no “design”, no “better”, no “progress” but “eternal matter that just is”.

According to the this worldview, humans are simply born, live out their meaningless lives, and then die, never to be remembered, cherished or loved again.  It’s a cold reality.  Thus if this position is true, “Black lives can’t matter”.

Another example comes from nihilism (naturalism’s child) which reduces all of life to chance plus matter plus time.  This means that human decisions are matter in motion and are thus determined.  This means that human choices are not significant, but a mere illusion.  The reason is because what seems to be “our decisions” is actually, impersonal, mechanistic matter in motion.  According to this worldview, those in favor of or against “Black lives matter” have no choice in the matter, but are simply determined to one “view” or another.  Thus if this position is true, then really “Black lives can’t matter”.

Still another example is pantheistic monism (a la Buddhism and certain branches of Hinduism), which among other things teaches that the individual is part of the oneness of the universe, that life is illusory and thus “individuality” is not real, but a fantasy.  Trying to get meaning from this position is an exercise in futility.  Ironically, many Westerners have looked to the East for its wisdom and insight on reality, except that at its core, there’s a denial of reality.  According to this worldview, there’s no real “Black lives that matter” because that whole notion too is an illusion.  Thus, if this position is true, “Black lives can’t matter”.

Yet another example is moral relativism (a la the University), which among other things is the self-refuting position that there’s no such thing as absolute truth (i.e. correspondence view of truth) and “we know this to be absolutely true”.  That is, the basis for reality is not any higher power, God, etc., but the individual who creates what is true and right for herself/himself.

If this worldview is true, then “Black Lives can’t matter” for it means that we can’t tell anyone that they are wrong because the individual decides; we can’t complain about the problem of evil because the individual decides; we can’t blame or praise anyone for deeds they’ve performed because the individual decides; we can’t object to injustice because the individual decides; we can’t improve on our morality because the individual decides; we can’t have meaningful moral discussions nor demand tolerance from the opposition because the individual decides.

The “Black Lives Matter” position under this worldview is incoherent at best and diabolical at worst.  Under this self-refuting worldview, “Black lives can’t matter”.

In contradistinction to the aforesaid, theism (a la Judaism or Christianity) holds that the universe—contra naturalism—is not a closed system but one that is open.  This means that both divine and human decisions significantly shape the present and the future.  Moreover, in a theistic world human beings are not chance accidents or illusory entities—contra nihilism and pantheistic monism—but created in God’s image and likeness with the purpose to reflect the wonder of the Creator unlike any other creature.  And in opposition to moral relativism, theism grounds all truth and morality in the Creator not the fading whims of the creature.

Only in a theistic worldview can one coherently and rationally argue that “Black lives matter”.  For if the God of Scripture (I.e., The Law, Prophets, & Writings, and the New Testament) actually exists, not only do Black lives matter, but every life matters.  The reason is because human meaning under this worldview comes from the Self-existent, Eternal, All-wise, All-powerful, All-knowing God who came near to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

And I would further say that only from this theistic worldview can emotions rightly and compassionately be expressed, because they are rationally based on the God who is there, the One to whom all humanity will give account for their lives—which indeed matter.

(SDG)

Chapter 2 Summary: The Patristic Era_Part 7_AUGUSTINE AND HIS DISCIPLES [pp.59-71]

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Aurelius Augustine [pp.59-69]  (AD 354-430) is the first Western apologist to achieve true eminence as a theologian. He was able to place theology in a highly developed metaphysic of religious knowledge.  Of his many apologetic works, the following are:

On the Happy Life, where he notes that man has an insatiable desire for happiness and once the possibility of immortality is known, a drive towards eternal life obtains; An answer to Skeptics; Providence and The Problem of Evil; Of True Religion and On the Usefulness of Belief (AD 390-391); Confessions (AD 397-400).

Augustine’s view of Truth and Reason are the following: First, truth is absolute and above mans’ mind; second, if anything exists that is more excellent than wisdom, it is clearly God; third, to approach God with the mind demands a suitable moral disposition where there’s a: detachment from the senses, restraint of the passions, and an earnest longing for enlightenment.  The reason for the aforesaid is because for the mind to see God, it must be illuminated by Him (Mt.16).

For Augustine, “God is better known by what He is not” and God draws the soul not only through reason but also through authority.  When it comes to the knowledge of God, he held that one must believe before one seeks understanding.  He quotes (Is.7:9) asserting, “If you do not believe you shall not understand”.  His view of Socrates and Plato (Greek giants in philosophy) is that they would be Christians had they lived in his time because, according to Augustine, they were so close to Christ.

Augustine’s view of Apostolic succession; First, that belief in Christ is grounded on the unanimous authority of the Church which/because it is historically grounded all the way back to the Apostles.  Second, that the Bible was the Book of the Catholic Church and thus undermining the Church would weaken his confidence in the Gospel.  Third, that the Churches authority really influenced his belief.  Fourth, that both the size, antiquity, and unanimity of its teachers impacted his views.

Augustine’s Apologetic among other things focused on; The Resurrection, Differentiating between miracles and magic for the latter were seen as perpetual, rather than having ceased, the Virgin birth, the Ascension, Fulfilled prophecy, and the Expansion of the Catholic Church.  In his Manner of engagement with the opposition, Augustine was placid and urbane perhaps because of what great mercy God had toward him.

Augustin’s City of God is the most brilliant refutation of pagan religions up until his time.  It lays down a theology of history from the creation to the final restoration of all things found in Christ.

Paulus Orosius [p.69] was a pupil of Augustine who wrote Seven Books of the History Against the Pagans.  These writings are a history from the time of the flood to (AD 417).  It was intended to be a supplement to the City of God and climaxes at the birth of Christ.

Salvian [pp.69-70] was a monk from Lerins (AD 439-451) who wrote On the Present Judgment where he focuses on the disasters the various Roman provinces had suffered.  He contends that such disasters are evidence of God’s justice, not a case against it.  Moreover, he contends that the Romans of old were blessed because of their natural justice, but now are being punished for their immoral corruption.

Conclusion: [pp.70-71] these apologists were not only lively, but Christian apologists are eternally indebted to the Patristic Era of the Church for their boldness in seeking to relate the Biblical revelation to the areas of: the whole of human culture, philosophy, and history.  These are worthy to be read and emulated.