Friday, March 30

I've Packed Up

and moved. Come see me at my new place.



Thursday, March 29

Redemption: From What Are Sinners Delivered?

In the last post in this series, redemption was defined as release or deliverance by the payment of a price. New Testament redemption, of course, is the deliverance that comes through the work of Christ, with Christ acting the redeemer and his death being the price paid. Redemption is a way of looking at what Christ accomplished on the cross that brings into focus one aspect of the condition of sinners—they are in bondage. The bondage of sinners can be viewed in at least three ways: they are in bondage to the power of sin; they are in bondage to Satan; and they are in bondage to the legal ramifications of their sin.

Bondage to the Power of Sin
Jesus tells us in John 8 that "everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin." There is something about sin that keeps sinners in it's grip. Sin has it's source our constitution (or our make up) and we are powerless to change this. It's the redemption that comes in Christ Jesus that releases us from our captivity to our natural born sinfulness.
For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) (Romans 6:5-7 NET)
In the "old man"–our natural born state—we are dominated or enslaved by sin, but union with Christ in his death frees us from that domination. Christ's death is redemption from the power of sin.

Redemption, when seen as freedom from bondage to sin, has an "already, not yet" aspect to it. There is a sense in which believers have already been freed from the captivity of sin, and yet another sense in which this redemption from sin is not completed until our glorification, which Paul calls "the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23)." Full and final redemption from everything that came to us as a result of having been born in slavery to sin comes only at the final resurrection.

Bondage to Satan
This is very similar to the idea directly above—that sinners are enslaved by sin. Ephesians 2:2 tells us that a spirit ruled by Satan "is now energizing the sons of disobedience. . . . (NET)" In 2 Timothy 2, Paul says that people are held captive to do Satan's will.

God, on the basis of redemption in Christ, transfers people from Satan's dominion to Christ's own kingdom.
He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13,14 NET)
Then, in Hebrews 2, Christ's death is said to
destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.
The destruction of the devil by Christ releases those held in slavery, so it's through Satan's destruction that sinners are redeemed from their bondage to him.

It isn’t, then, because of a payment to Satan that we are redeemed from bondage, and that’s a point to keep in mind when thinking about redemption as release from bondage to Satan. There is already a precedent for this, for when God redeemed his people from their slavery in Egypt, he didn’t make a ransom payment to Pharoah. What Pharoah received was crushing judgment at the hand of God, and that judgment brought about the release of the Israelites. Christ’s redemption of sinners from the power of Satan is set against this backdrop, and we should think of it as something similar. Christ redeems sinners by his triumphant victory over Satan. If, after reading that we are redeemed from bondage to the devil, you have a picture in your mind of God and Satan side by side making a deal for the release of captive sinners, you should erase that picture immediately and replace it with one of Christ crushing Satan.

Bondage to the Legal Ramifications of Sin
Sinners are condemned to death because of their sin, and Christ's death redeems them from this death sentence. The background for the practice of redeeming someone condemned to death is found in the Old Testament law:
But if the ox had the habit of goring, and its owner was warned, and he did not take the necessary precautions, and then it killed a man or a woman, the ox must be stoned and the man must be put to death. If a ransom is set for him, then he must pay the redemption for his life according to whatever amount was set for him. (Exodus 21:30 NET)
In this case, the man who owned the habitually goring ox is under a sentence of death for his negligence, but a ransom could be paid instead and he could go free.

The thought of ransom from a legal condemnation is found most noticeably in Galatians 3:13, where it says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law”; and Colossians 2:14, where we read that “Christ canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us.” However, anywhere that redemption is set in the context of forgiveness of sin or justification, it is redemption from the legal results of sin that is the focus. In addition, when we look at redemption as deliverance from the legal condemnation of our sin, the ransoming work is directed toward God, since it’s his justice, after all, that has condemned us. So in a passage like 1 Timothy 2:6, which connects Christ’s work as ransom payment with his mediatorial work representing human beings to God, there, too, it is probably redemption of the life of someone sentenced to death that is presented.1

When we look at the condition of sinners in the light of Christ’s work as redemption, our attention should be directed to their slavery to sin and Satan, and their legal sentence of death.

1Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, page 194.

Paul: An Outline of His Theology, Herman Ridderbos.
The Atonement: It's Meaning and Significance, Leon Morris.
The Atonement, John Murray.



Wednesday, March 28

Purposes of Christ's Death: Hebrews 2:14-15

This is another reposting of a piece from the Purposes of Christ's Death series that I began shortly after I started blogging. You can find the other reposts from this series by clicking on the purposes of Christ's death label at the end of this post.

Today's purpose statement comes from Hebrews 2:14-15:
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. (NET)
The purpose statement in this verse is actually a purpose statement for Christ's incarnation, but the purpose of the incarnation as given is so that Christ could accomplish something through his death. Christ became human just like we are "so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death." Christ had to be just like us and live our sort of life in order to represent us as our high priest and offer himself to God in our place (See verse 17.).

The purpose of this representative death is to defeat the devil. The text describes the devil as "the one who holds the power of death". It was Satan's influence that introduced death into creation, and he continues to work within the sphere of death, bringing about as much death as God allows. Christ's death nullifies Satan's deathly power, so that those who belong to Christ are freed from their subjection to Satan. They no longer are forced to live their lives in fear of death because, through Christ and his work, they have freedom from Satan's power and the hope of eternal life.

Another purpose of Christ's death is to take the power of death away from the devil and, in this way, set people free from their fear of death.



Tuesday, March 27

How do we come to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured?

We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured,[1] by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost.[2]
  1. John 1:11-12
    He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . . .
  2. Titus 3:5-6
    . . . he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior . . . .
Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 58

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Monday, March 26

Redemption: What Does It Mean?

What do you think of when you hear the word redemption? Mostly, I'd say, we think of it as a religious word, although sometimes someone might speak of redeeming a coupon or a bond, but even that is no longer such a common way to speak. My mother may have redeemed her coupons and bonds; I use my coupons and cash in my bonds. Used in the religious sense, my dictionary gives redemption as a synonym for salvation; yet while those words may be general synonyms, used biblically, they're not exact synonyms. Redemption is salvation, for sure, but it's salvation—or deliverance—in a particular way.

Christians who lived when the New Testament was written would have understood the more precise meaning of the redemption words, since for them, these were not necessarily religious words, but words that were part of their everyday language and experience. For the Greeks, the redemption words were used, first of all, for the buying back of prisoners of war by paying a ransom for them, but they were also used for other ways of freeing people. When a slave was set free, for instance, the redemption words could be used even when no money was exchanged.

The early Christian writers, with their Jewish backgrounds, would have been acquainted with the way the idea of redemption was used in the Old Testament, so it's probably a safe bet to say that the Old Testament usage of the words coloured the meaning they gave to the word more than the specific Greek cultural usage. When they read the Septuagint, they would find the Greek redemption words used to translate certain Hebrew words whenever the idea of releasing something by the payment of a price was present.

This idea of payment might not be obvious every time the redemption words are used in the Old Testament, because sometimes the words are used metaphorically. For instance, God is said to have redeemed the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Now I've read the story, and nowhere do I see that Pharoah received money or any other benefit from God in exchange for the Israelites' freedom. It wasn't really a business transaction, was it?

Yet, as Leon Morris points out, there are some intriguing phrases that often accompany the idea of God's redemption of the Israelites that shows that while this might not be a redemption exchange, it still carried the idea of payment. God is said to redeem his people "with an outstretched arm" (Exodus 6:6) and "with your arm" (Psalm 77:15). It is God's might or power that's in mind here, and God exerts his power on behalf of his people.
. . .[B]ecause he loves his people he puts forth his power. He saves them at cost. It is this that gives the use of the redemption terminology its point. . . . The term may be used metaphorically but the metaphor retains its point. The idea of price-paying is not out of mind.1
You might say that God expended his power to free the Israelites from slavery, just as long as you don't understand this to mean that God had less power after their redemption than before.

Against the backdrop of the Old Testament, early Christian writers and readers would have understood that redemption and all the associated words had to do with being released by the payment of a price. It wasn't simply deliverance in general, but deliverance that came about at cost to the one redeeming.

Now that we've done a little defining of the biblical term redemption in this post, the plan is to move on in the next to consider from what it is that redemption delivers, and how it is that people are redeemed.

The Atonement: It's Meaning and Significance, Leon Morris, page 114.



Everything's Coming Up Irish: A Blessing

Ellen of The Happy Wonderer has posted an Irish blessing for a new home. Here are a couple of definitions to help you as you read the blessing:
  • kith: friends and acquaintances
  • kin: relatives, either by blood or marriage
There are only a few days of March left, so if you have an idea for an Irish themed post, it's now or never. Once you've posted your bit o' Irish, send me the link and I'll link to your post before the end of the month.



Sunday, March 25

Sunday's Hymn: Irish Hymn Writers

Last week I posted a hymn translated by Cecil Alexander, so this week I've decided to post one she wrote herself. Since it's not long until Easter, I chose one that's an Easter hymn.

He is Risen

Said the angel, “He is risen!”
Tell it out with joyful voice:
He has burst His three days’ prison;
Let the whole wide earth rejoice:
Death is conquered, we are free,
Christ has won the victory.

Come, ye sad and fearful hearted,
With glad smile and radiant brow!
Death’s long shadows have departed;
All our woes are over now,
Due to passion that He bore—
Sin and pain can vex no more.

Come, with high and holy hymning,
Chant our Lord’s triumphant day;
Not one darksome cloud is dimming
Yonder glorious morning ray,
Breaking over the purple east:
Brighter far our Easter feast.

He is risen, He is risen!
He has opened Heaven’s gate:
We are free from sin’s dark prison,
Risen to a holier state;
And a brighter Easter beam
On our longing eyes shall stream.

The tune by Joachim Neander might be familiar to you. You can hear it here.

Other hymns, worship songs, etc. posted today:
Have you posted a hymn for Sunday and I missed it? Let me know by leaving a link in the comments or by emailing me at the address in the sidebar, and I'll add your post to the list.



Saturday, March 24

Saturday's Old Photo

Monday is oldest son's birthday, so shouldn't today's old photo be one of him? This picture was taken sometime in the spring after he turned two.

He'd been crying before this photo was taken. Can you see the glisten of tears in his eyes? He hadn't wanted to sit by himself away from the rest of his family. As long as he was close to his sister or a parent, he was a sedate child who didn't require a lot of attention, but he did not do well off by himself until he was older.

He was a watcher first, and then a doer. No trial and error learning for this boy. He did a lot of sitting and watching older children play—he was not the sort of toddler who required chasing—and then one day he'd get up and do whatever it was he'd been watching the older kids do. When he was eighteen months old, he hopped on his older sister's trike for the first time and pedaled off slowly, which was his normal speed for everything, but without any struggle to coordinate the pedaling.

He was never one to flit from one activity to another. The summer he was four, his goal was to catch a grasshopper. For hours at a time, for days that turned into weeks, he sneaked around the greenbelt behind our home, crouched over Hamburgler style, cupped hands turned downward and outstretched, stalking the elusive locust. He never did catch one, but t*The pursuit kept him busy for almost the whole summer.

He turns 28 on Monday. He still can hyperfocus when he decides he wants to accomplish something, but thankfully, his goals have changed over the years.

*Update: I've been corrected by the locust chaser himself, who says, "I'm pretty sure I caught some." If he did, he didn't show them to me.



Everything's Coming Up Irish: A Legend

I'm so glad other people are contributing to the Irish theme, because, although I still have a few ideas for Irish posts, my mind's been on other things, like spring cleaning, a post on redemption that has taken way more work than I imagined, and the top secret project mentioned earlier.

So let me point you to The Upward Call, where Kim posts the story of the birth of Cú Chulainn. I love legends, but I don't know the Irish ones, so this story is all new to me.

I hope to have the Saturday's Old Photo post up later today; that is, if I can turn my attention to it. I've been sidetracked over the past couple of days by the redemption post, mainly with distilling all the material down to something that has the length and simplicity of a blog post, and juggling posts, jobs, or clovers is not one of my strengths.

Why don't you help me out and post something Irish for the Everything's Coming Up Irish theme? If you leave me your link in the comments or email it to me, I'll link to it, and be forever grateful.



Friday, March 23

Everything's Coming Up Irish: Ulysses is Omnitemporal

but in a different way, says missmellifluous, who contributes to our Irish theme by posting part of an essay she wrote on aesthetics and the transcendence of time through art.

I love someone who can kill two birds with one stone.

Why don't you contribute something to this month's Everything's Coming Up Irish theme? Post anything Irishish, and send me the link and I'll link back. No blog? No problem. Put your contribution in the comments to this post and I'll post it before the end of the month.



Thursday, March 22

A Question of Time

[See update below.]

I've been busy on other projects, one to be unveiled soon, so I haven't had much time to blog. I do have a question for you, though.

What does the word omnitemporal mean? How does it differ from eternal? How does it differ from atemporal?

And who made up that word, anyway? It's not in my spell check, so is it a real word?

Here's one explanation for omnitemporal that's been given: It means "in all times at the same time". I thought time was a succession of moments. How can something be in all of a succession at one point in the succession? Isn't that contradictory?

And yes, that's more than one question. If all times can be at one time, then several questions can be one question. Right?


Update: Brandon explains some views of God's knowledge in a comment, and helps me identify where the so-called omnitemporal view fits. I found Brandon's explanation fascinating. Perhaps you will, too.



Wednesday, March 21

What benefits hath Christ procured by his mediation?

Christ, by his mediation, hath procured redemption,[1] with all other benefits of the covenant of grace.[2]
  1. Heb. 9:12
    . . . he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
  2. II Cor. 1:20
    For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
Question 57, Westminster Larger Catechism

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Tuesday, March 20

Everything's Coming Up Irish: A Yeats Poem

The lovely MissM has posted a poem by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats at the new and improved Regaining Paradise.

Would you like to join in the Everything's Coming Up Irish fun? Post anything related to Ireland or Irish things and send me the link (You can email me, or leave your link in the comments to this post.), then look for a link to your post in one of the upcoming ECUI posts. No blog? No problem. Email me your contribution or leave it in the comments and I'll post what you've contributed in one of the Irish posts.




You thought they were an extinct bird, didn't you? Nope, they may be rare, but they exist, and the Baptist Board seems to have more than their fair share of them. Right now, I'm in a discussion with someone who doesn't believe in duty-faith. In other words, this person doesn't believe that the non-elect have a duty to believe, which is one of the classic hypercalvinistic beliefs.

Because they are rarish birds, the temptation is to ignore them. The problem in this case is that this hypercalvinist claims to be a Calvinist. Spurgeon, says he, is a "weak Calvinist", while he's the real sort. So there his posts stand, confirming all the suspicions about Calvinism that many noncalvinists already have, and it'd be a mistake to leave him unchallenged.

You don't know what hypercalvinists are? They come in different breeds, but here are two common signs of a true hypercalvinist:
  • The denial that people have a duty to believe before they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and enabled to believe. This comes from the idea that God can't hold people responsible to do what they are unable to do. In this case, the argument is that the gospel calls people to believe that Christ died specifically for their sins, and since Christ only died for the elect, if people in general have a duty to believe the gospel, they are being held responsible to believe something that is a lie. Therefore, God cannot hold people responsible for not believing the gospel, since the gospel isn't true for them anyway.
  • Based on the previous point, hypercalvinists deny that there is a universal call or offer in the gospel.
So that's where I was for a while this afternoon. There are some discussions I can take part in without much thought, because I know the various arguments inside, outside, upside down. This isn't one of those. I've never done this before and I've already made a couple of mistakes, but you are welcome to check things out anyway. I figure it'll be a learning experience.

In a related note, someone else in another Baptist Board conversation is arguing that God is the author of sin, and this time it isn't just a terminology thing. This man believes that God causes people to sin in exactly the same way that he causes people to do good: God is ". . . the Agent, or Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing", to quote Jonathan Edwards. I'd comment in that one, too, but I can only handle one thread at a time.

Related post: The Authoring of Sin

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Monday, March 19

Purposes of Christ's Death: Titus 2:14 and Ephesians 5: 25-27

This is another reposting of a piece from the Purposes of Christ's Death series that I began shortly after I started blogging. You can find the other reposts from this series by clicking on the purposes of Christ's death label at the end of this post.

This post looks at two portions of scripture at once, because the purpose statements in each of these texts are similar.
He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good. (Titus 2:14 NET)
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious--not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27 NET)
The purpose statement in the first verse is "to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good"; and in the second text it is "to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious--not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless."

Since I'm concluding these two purpose statements are similar, you can see that I'm making the assumption that the church and a people who are truly his are roughly equivalent in meaning. Each statement, then, says that a purpose of Christ's death is have a group of people who are pure or spotless. In the first verse, these people are called "a people who are truly his." The idea is ownership. These are people who belong to Christ; they are his treasured possession. In the second text, the group of people are called "the church", and you can see the idea of treasured possession here, as well, because the church is likened to Christ's bride—something He loved in the same way that husbands are encouraged to love their wives, and something that He was willing to give himself to obtain.

In Titus 2:14 it is said that Christ's death was "to set us free." This literally means "to release when a ransom is paid". Christ's death, or his giving himself for us, is intended as a ransom payment whereby His people are released from sin, and also as the basis upon which they are purified. I would take this purification to be that of the sanctifying process, although some might argue that. These purified people who belong to him are then identified by their zealousness for good works. To obtain for himself a purified people, then, is the purpose of Christ's death given to us in this verse.

In the second statement, Christ is also described as having given Himself. He gives Himself on behalf of the church, in order to sanctify her; and then, when she is completely sanctified, He presents her to Himself in all of the glorious purity that has been worked in her based on His own death for her. According to these verses, possessing a purified church is a purpose of Christ's death.

One purpose for Christ's death, then, is for Him to possess a purified people.

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Sunday, March 18

Sunday's Hymn: Irish Hymn Writers

What other hymn could I choose for the Sunday after St. Patrick's Day? These words are translated from the Gaelic poem by the Irish hymn writer Cecil Alexander.

St. Patrick's Breastplate (or St. Patrick's Lorica)

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Other hymns, worship songs, etc. posted today:
Have you posted a hymn for Sunday and I missed it? Let me know by leaving a link in the comments or by emailing me at the address in the sidebar, and I'll add your post to the list.

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Saturday, March 17

Saturday's Old Photo

This is a photo of my father at his home in Tribune, Kansas, when he was a baby. My mother's notes on the back say he was eight months old and the year was 1927. Yes, that's a dress he has on. Back then, in the days of cloth diapers and no plastic pants, little boys wore dresses until they were potty trained.

I have a white baby dress worn by my father hanging up in my bedroom. I don't think it's this dress, because the sleeves seem different on this one.

That looks like a little mission style (or arts and crafts) rocker he's sitting in. If you know about old furniture, you're welcome to correct me. And someone else will have to tell us about the car in the background, too. Furniture and automobile experts are welcome to click on the photo for closer inspection.

I love that my dad is more interested in whatever it is he is holding in his hand than he is in the person holding the camera. Do you suppose they were trying to get him to look up and he was ignoring them?

Within a few months of this photo, my dad's father died after his appendix ruptured, leaving my grandmother a very young widow with two sons, aged 3 and 1. There's more to that story, but I'll save that for another day with another photo.



Everything's Coming Up Irish: St. Patrick's Day Round Up

On the life and faith of St. Patrick
Irish hymn, blessings and poems
Irish recipes
Miscellaneous things Irish
I'll continue to update throughout the day, so give me your links to St. Patrick's Day posts, please.



Friday, March 16

Everything's Coming Up Irish: Preparing for the Big Day

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. Are you ready?

The Galway Piper

Every person in the nation
Or of great or humble station

Holds in highest estimation

Piping Tim of Galway

Loudly he can play or low

He can move you fast or slow

Touch your hearts or stir your toe

Piping Tim of Galway

When the wedding bells are ringing

His the breath to lead the singing

Then in jigs the folks go swinging

What a splendid piper

He will blow from eve to mourn

Counting sleep a thing of scorn

Old is he but not outworn

Know you such a piper?

When he walks the highways pealing

Round his head the birds come wheeling

Tim has carols worth the stealing

Piping Tim of Galway

Thrush and Linnet, finch and lark

To each other twitter "Hark"

Soon they sing from light to dark

Pipings learnt in Galway

---John Renfro Davis

Would you like to join in the Everything's Coming Up Irish fun? Post anything related to Ireland or Irish things and send me the link (You can email me, or leave your link in the comments to this post.), then look for a link to your post in one of the upcoming ECUI posts. No blog? No problem. Email me your contribution or leave it in the comments and I'll post what you've contributed in one of the Irish posts.



Thursday, March 15

Doing Our Job

Yesterday I started a fight. I didn't intend to, but I did. For a second or two, I thought it might be the sort of fight that comes to blows, but thankfully, it didn't reach that point. Perhaps you're thinking that this is going to be a story about a couple of young boys—we all know how quickly they can start tussling with each other—but you would be wrong. Nope, this is a story about two grown men, one a hothead and one a gentleman, at the supermarket checkout.

The biggest local supermarket has been short staffed for a long time. That means there are never enough cashiers for the number of shoppers waiting to check out, and this makes for long lines and long waits to buy food. It's predictable by now, but that only makes it more frustrating rather than less, because shoppers arrive at the store expecting things to go badly.

So yesterday I did a little grocery shopping. The line I waited in was surprisingly short. There was only one grocery cart ahead of me—the one of the man who would prove to be a hothead. He checked through without a hitch, paid for his groceries, and began to bag them.

I was next. However, both sides of the checkout stand were full of groceries—the hothead's groceries on my side, and the gentleman's on the other. Since I had just a few items, and by now there was a long line of carts waiting behind me, I told the young cashier that I'd bag my groceries and put them directly into my cart as he checked them through.

Unfortunately, I missed a loaf of bread, and it went scooting on down the line and touched one of the hothead's grocery items. Instead of being angry with me, he became angry at the checkout boy, and he was just a boy. Hothead began yelling at the cashier, and they were vile things he said--the sorts of words intended to be personally hurtful and threatening, not just words expressing frustration or forming a complaint.

The checkout boy said nothing. I don't think he knew how to respond. I was standing right next to the hothead, and it scared me, and I'll admit that I didn't know how to respond. But the gentleman did respond.

He said something like this: "We're all frustrated. We want to get our groceries and get out of here, just like you. There's no need to take it out on this young man. He's just doing his job. Go ahead and complain to the store manager that there aren't enough check-outs open and so you were rushed through. But it's not his fault, so don't yell at him. And there's no need to use the sort of offensive language you are using."

This is the point where things almost came to blows. This hothead didn't like it much that someone had stood up to him. He actually began to move toward the gentleman, but retreated, grabbed his groceries and stormed out of the store.

The incident stayed with me all of yesterday afternoon. It was upsetting. But it was a whole lot less upsetting because someone had acted to stop the threats and mitigate some of the damage they might cause. The gentleman did a good thing.

There's a purpose for telling you this story. Things like this, some less shocking and some way more so, happen all the time. There's an ugly thread weaving through the tapestry of life in this world, a flawed thread that spoils the beauty of whole cloth. Something's quite wrong with things, and we're constantly reminded of it.

The only complete answer is re-creation of the whole cloth—re-creation of flawed human beings and re-creation of a cursed universe—and re-creation isn't something within our power. But the God who cursed, and who will eventually re-create, is also merciful in the here and now. The God who judged creation with perpetual thorns and thistles and will someday redeem the whole of it with a glorious new creation, also graces it presently with sun and rain. The God who intentionally allows each generation to come into the world as natural born wrongdoers and who will, in the end, create a whole new humanity unmarred by sinfulness, also graciously institutes governments right now for the purpose of restraining wrongdoers and encouraging good conduct. God has judged, but at the same time, he is merciful.

And here's where we come in. We are to be merciful as he is merciful. As we work to alleviate the hurt caused by the curse of sin in the world, we are agents of God's mercy toward a world that's turned against him. As sons and daughters of a merciful Father, it's our job to do what we can to mitigate the damage the ugly thread of sin causes in the tapestry of creation, too.

Yes, it may seem futile, since our effort is never completely successful and sometimes it appears as if it does nothing at all. It's easy to grow discouraged. The hug to the mother who lost her 11 month old son after he endured ten surgeries in ten months is entirely inadequate when compared to the depth of her suffering. Yet, in a way that only those who have been through something like it can understand, that hug can a significant light in the darkness. It's not enough, but it's not nothing, either. And it's our job.

Just as it was Adam's job to till the thorns and thistles in order to eat plants grown in the cursed soil, to sweat in order to eat bread, it's our job to work, sweat, and suffer to restrain as much evil and bring as much good into this fallen world as we can. Of top priority, of course, is the gospel, which is a fuller answer to the cursedness than standing up to bullies or hugging a grieving mother. But the God who sent his Son and commissioned us to make disciples also told us to be merciful as he is merciful, and that includes mitigating the effects of wrongdoing and injustice, and alleviating the suffering caused by the curse of sin.