Category Archives: Reflection

My Catechism: Question 5

Q: Are there more Gods than one?
A: No, not really.

1 Corinthians 8:4-6
4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

How’s that for a memorable answer? No, it’s not pithy but I think it captures the essence of the verse I’ve cited. On the one hand, we find Paul telling the church in Corinth that idols are not gods. On the other, Paul acknowledges that there might be beings which others refer to as gods and to whom they give their allegiance.

I think we see something similar among Western Christians today. For the most part, we would deny the existence of any gods other than the Father of Jesus, yet at the same time we might bestow a god-like status upon sex, power and money. NT Wright was once asked what were the false gods of our times and these were the ones he spoke about. While not personal beings, these three objects appear to operate like forces which drive, guide and consume human lives. For some, this is what they imagine a god does. Not so for us. The One True God motivates and directs the lives of those submitted to Him, but He doesn’t consume those lives. He enriches, enhances and increases those lives.

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My Catechism: Question 4

Q: What is God?
A: God is Spirit, love and light revealed in the person of Jesus and expressed by the Holy Spirit.

John 4:24

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 1:5

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 Corinthians 3:17

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

While I think this is a valid question, I don’t think it belongs in a catechism. Catechisms, by nature, seek to provide succinct and memorable answers to concise questions. I don’t think it’s possible to answer this question succinctly and completely. Summing up the Divine Being in a pithy sentence or two of finite human language just isn’t possible. Instead, this question seems to be better suited for prolonged meditation over the course of a lifetime. Sure, there are Scriptures (like the ones I’ve referenced) which provide an adjective or an appositive to describe God, but all of them together are still inadequate. After all, how can finite language hope to fully express the infinite? Doesn’t the Incarnation suggest that God found language alone inadequate to express Himself?

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My Catechism: Question 3

Q: What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A: The Scriptures principally teach us the answers to the questions; Who is God? Who are we? Where are we? What is wrong? What is the solution?

I’ve heard that it’s rude to answer a question with a question. Answering a question with four questions must be quadruple-rude. And not providing any Biblical references is beyond the pale I guess. And if that all wasn’t bad enough; I borrowed my answer from NT Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God pg 132!
I have a great regard for NT Wright and I think that his characterization of the totality of Scripture as imparting a story (as opposed to a systematic theology) is spot-on.

The story is God’s story. God is the Hero. Creation, as represented by mankind, is His Beloved. He loves us because we are His image bearers. We’ve been unfaithful to God and fallen into peril. He must rescue the Beloved and so He chooses a man out of which to make a nation from which He will come Himself in order to restore the broken relationship and heal Creation. This is principally what we find in Scripture. The laws, genealogies, and cultural information are embellishments and details which ultimately serve the story of God’s love for Creation.

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My Catechism: Question 2

Wow. Only one question into this series and I’m already struggling. If you’ve read the previous post, you know that my response to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism doesn’t really lead into the second question the way the prescribed response does. What to do? It seems that I have two choices: a) rephrase the second question to dovetail with my response to the first one or b) do my best to answer the second question as it stands. I think I’ll try option “b”.

Q: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A: God has spoken to humanity at different times, in different ways which have been recorded in both the Old and New Testaments, but the greatest communication of the mind and person of God came through the man Jesus of Nazareth whose life and teachings are recorded in the four gospels of the New Testament.

Hebrews 1:1-2
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The first question is about purpose; why are we here? The second question is about guidance; how do we know what to do? The short answer is revelation. God has revealed Himself to us and the Scriptures record specific revelations so that we may know who God is, who we are, who Jesus is and how to behave accordingly.

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My Catechism: Intro and Q1

I don’t have a Presbyterian background, so I was not taught the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a child. Yet, somehow I learned the first question: What is the chief end of man?

In spite of the archaic use of the words “chief” and “man”, I think it would be clear to most people that this is a question about purpose. A fair paraphrase would be, “What is the main purpose of humanity?” Some might prefer the more common question; “Why are we here?”

Since I’m not a Presbyterian, I don’t suppose it would surprise you to learn that my response to that question isn’t the one prescribed by the catechism. Please don’t click away just yet. This isn’t going to be a critique of the catechism. I’m not going to go on at length about why I think the catechism is wrong in one way or another in an attempt to undermine the Reformed theology reflected there. Instead, I’m simply going to answer each question for myself in accordance with my current (limited and fallible) understanding of Scripture as a sort of exercise. I’m sure that there’s something beneficial to be gained by doing this, even if I don’t exactly know what that might be at the moment.

In future posts, I’ll give the question, my answer and cite relevant passages of Scripture…if in fact I think there are any. Yeah, that sounds strange. If you’re familiar with the catechism (or just the Reformed way of doing things) you know that there are Scriptural references for each response. I concede that not referencing the same (or any) passages may amount to a tacit criticism of the catechism/Reformed theology…and that’s how I’ll leave any criticism-tacit, not explicit.

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end (main purpose) is to be the image of God within Creation, to increase in number, exercise authority over the Creation and to do God’s will on Earth as His will is done in Heaven.

Genesis 1:26-28
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Matthew 6:9-10
9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

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Theology of Disability

Do you have a “theology of disability”? Probably not. I didn’t either until I read Julie Clawson’s post. Julie has a theology of disability and this is what she says about it:

“I want my theology of disability to be that God made me to be me and uses me as I am. But the Bible seems to contradict that and tells me that I am unwanted and incapable of serving God because of my arm. I have chosen to just go ahead and serve God (as a disabled woman that obviously isn’t in the Orthodox church), but some days that choice can be hard to align with scripture.”

The thrust of that post (if you didn’t click through and read it first) is that Julie read Leviticus 16:21-23 and it really disturbed her. It made her ask these questions about disability and God: “How does not being physically perfect disqualify a person from serving God? How does this (disability) make me any less holy than others?”

I originally wrote a post that tried to answer those questions, but I’ve decided not to share it. Instead, I’m going to articulate the beginnings of my (unoriginal?) theology of disability.

In the beginning (because that truly is where everything started) God made human beings without disabilities. No, the Bible doesn’t explicitly say so but there is no reason to assume that Adam or Eve were missing limbs or were disfigured in some way. I’m not aware of anyone ever suggesting this was the case. (However, I did meet a man in Ukraine who thought that Adam and Eve were able to fly!) Then came the Fall. The whole of creation became corrupted both materially and spiritually. Disabilities, deformities and defects entered the picture along with death disease and man’s inhumanity to man.

I believe that generally (which allows for exceptions) God doesn’t make people disabled, defective and disfigured. And while he may allow such things to exist/happen (and on occasion afflict particular people with them) God doesn’t desire humankind to be disabled. Nor do I think that God ultimately rejects people because of their physical imperfections.

What is God’s attitude toward the disabled? I think we need to look at Jesus (the exact representation of God’s being) to find out. When we see Jesus interact with the disabled, we don’t get the impression that they were unwanted by Him. We get the opposite impression: He wanted them to come to Him. He wanted to heal them. (“Lord if you are willing…” “I am willing…”) And I think that reflects God’s attitude toward the disabled. He longs to restore them to the wholeness that humans had before the Fall. He didn’t make humans to be blind or deaf or deformed. He doesn’t make them that way now. True, He allows physical defects but the miracle healings of Jesus point to a time when He will no longer allow the Curse to afflict His people that way. When the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, the people of God will receive their new bodies. Their imperishable and incorruptible bodies. There will be no disabled people for there will be no disabilities. The old things will pass away and He will make all things new.

And that is the beginning of my theology of disability.

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Why Does a Private US Citizen Need a Semi-Automatic Assault Rifle?

Many people in the US are asking this question in these grief-stricken days following the Newtown slayings. It’s the question that grieving parents and horrified witnesses are asking of anyone who is listening. It’s the question that my wife put to me recently. It is a question that should be answered. I have an answer for my wife and myself, but not for the grieving families and their friends. I do not offer it to the passionately invested. If you are one of them and have stumbled across this post, please consider not reading it. You see, I’m an expatriate American living at a distance from this tragedy. Consequently, my answer will most likely have an emotional quality which may appear cold, perhaps insensitive. I can see how families of the victims might be hurt or offended by the perceived coldness. It is not my desire to hurt or offend. I can only answer from my point of view.

Need. This is the load-bearing word in this question. It is the concept which tilts the question toward a specific answer. After all, we all know that there are things in life which are needed and not needed. Some things are necessary. Others are unnecessary. There are some who pose this question having already decided that a semi-automatic assault rifle is unnecessary. From them, this is a rhetorical question. For them, it is an expression of dismay and disbelief. I am also dismayed that someone would use such a weapon so perversely. Wickedly. But I am not dismayed that someone would own such a weapon. The are some who pose this question as a challenge, an invitation for justification. What I say in response is not an attempt to justify ownership of a semi-automatic rifle or any other firearm.

At this point in US history, I can not think of any private US citizen who needs such a powerful weapon. That does not mean that no citizen does in fact need one. That also does not mean that no citizen will ever need one in the future. I am open to both possibilities. Whether there is a need or not for private American citizens to own such a firearm is truly a matter of opinion. What is not an opinion is the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Obviously the Second Amendment was not added to the Constitution as a direct answer to our question, but it is indispensible in answering it.

If the Second Amendment provides an answer to our question, it seems that the answer is for “the security of a free State”. Consider both wordings of the amendment as found on Wikipedia.

A) As passed by the Congress:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

B) As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.[8]

Apparently the authors and supporters of the amendment believed that the preservation of their new nation required that US citizens continue to own firearms. Yes, I said continue. People already owned firearms. The objective of the amendment was to prevent future legislation which would disarm the populace.  They knew from experience that an armed populace had made it possible to resist King George, whom they saw as a tyrant. Deeply worried about the rise of tyrants, they wrote the Second Amendment. (It’s worth noting that the right to bear arms is second only to the right to free speech, religion, press and assembly.) To their way of thinking: if a State is going to remain free from abusive and oppressive rulers its citizens need to be armed.

So, do private citizens really need semi-automatic assault rifles to prevent tyranny in the United States? I understand why some people think so. I also understand why some other people think not. Whether needed or not, the right to own firearms, and a semi-automatic rifle is a firearm, is protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The choice to own one or not belongs to each citizen.

Since this is supposed to be a blog about my thoughts on God, I want to bring this around to what I think Go would want of me (and all Christians) in the US at this time. First, I think God would want me to choose whether to exercise my Second Amendment right or not. Second, having chosen to exercise my constitutional right, God would want me to use my firearm of choice lawfully and morally. That means I would acquire a legal weapon through legal means. I would submit to the required background checks. If I decided to get a carry permit, I would take a handgun training course. If discharging my weapon would protect the life of my family, my neighbors or any other endangered person, I would hope to have the courage and skill to do so effective. Yes, even if that would mean killing another person. I would strive to use my weapon for good, not evil. And if the time came that the Second Amendment were lawfully repealed (there’s a legal process for repealing amendments) then I would pray for wisdom. It is possible that I would surrender my firearm. It is possible that I would not. If I were to surrender my weapon, I would not do so joyfully or with faith in the government to protect me, my family and my neighbors from criminals…or even from tyranny. I would do so with faith in God to sustain me and with the expectation that dark(er) days were ahead.

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