In Love

At first glance, the phrase in love might lead some to think that this is going to be a piece about love.  It sounds like I am about to wax poetic on puppy love or lovey dovey things.  Of course, that could not be further from the truth; however, I may devote a post in the near future to that topic.  During my morning devotions, the phrase, in love, jumped out at me as I read the following verse:

“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14, ESV).

When I read over this verse, it feel like I need to duck from these commands.  They are like bullets from a machine gun.  Is this Paul’s intention?  My answer is no, but it might take some explaining to get there.  After reading this verse a third or fourth time, the second half of it seems to be the foundation.  I can be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, etc., but without love, who cares?  In fact, the apostle Paul conveys this message in his justly famous love chapter, which is the thirteenth chapter to the same letter of the above text.   By the time we get to our verse, Paul throws out some concluding exhortations and reminders.  It makes total sense for Paul to repeat the love theme of chapter thirteen as he brings his letter to the Corinthians to a close.

In the English language, in love is a prepositional phrase.  My readers and followers might be thinking, ok, Mr. English Lit guy, so what?Prepositional phrases either modify nouns or verbs, which means in the above scripture text, the phrase in love modifies the action being performed by the person.  The apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to characterize their actions in love.  This means that the actions rest upon the foundation of love.  The next obvious question to ask is what kind of love is this?  According to the Greek lexicon, the word for love is agape, which comes from the Father in Christ by the Spirit.  Do these Corinthian believers exhibit such divine love in and of themselves apart from the Father?  The answer to that question is an obvious no.  Paul spends the entire first letter to the Corinthians reminding them of their position in Christ, and the responsibilities that result due to their union with Christ.

God’s love in Christ through the Spirit draws the Corinthian believers into the body of Christ.  Another way to say this is that God’s love characterizes and establishes these Corinthian believers in the body of Christ.  According to Paul’s words in chapters twelve and fourteen, these believers exhibit unique gifts of the Spirit in order to edify each other and to display Christ to the world.  All of these doings and manifestations of the Spirit have their foundation in love, God’s love.  When Paul fires off his quick list, be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, etc., these qualities are not possible without being in God’s love.  How does one wind up in God’s love?  There are a number of ways to say it, but I will stick with a Pauline answer from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The Corinthian believer’s position, and all believers’, is secure in Christ, it was a gift, and it is in love.  From this place, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be on the alert in love, to stand firm in the faith in love, and so on and so forth.  The manner of our being strong must be characterized by God’s love.  If one’s position is in love, then it follows that one’s actions may be in love, too.  It is not possible to exhibit God’s love without being in his love.  He is the source from which believers draw from in order to live.  Apart from God and his love, all that believers and anyone accomplishes is zero.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;


“Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,


“And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.


“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
(Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” The Mountain Interval, 1916)

The Road Not Taken

Tim Keller on Redefining Work

Last year, the Gospel Coalition held its national conference in Orlando, Florida. At the end of it, Tim Keller headed up a brief address and panel on the relationship between believing faith and the workplace. The following video is Keller’s short talk that he gave prior to the panel discussion. What Keller puts forth requires any honest Christian soul to rethink his or her approach to life in the workplace. Faith in the workplace is a hot topic, and there are some aberrant views. Keller touches upon those briefly while still advocating the real tension Christians face at work.

Always Seeing and Never Believing

Always seeing and never believing describes the people of Israel in the wilderness.  Out of the thousands initially delivered from bondage to Egypt, two men crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  Joshua and Caleb led the nation of Israel into the land of Canaan.  Both men witnessed the Lord’s exacting judgment upon Israel’s unbelief.  At or around eighty years of age, Joshua and Caleb were far from being spring chickens.  They were old men, but God’s Spirit kept them young at heart.

Whenever I read through the book of Numbers, I wonder what unbelieving Israel makes of Joshua and Caleb.  The Lord declared through Moses that none of the adult generation would see the land of promise.  Immediately after this word of judgment, a plague struck down the ten spies who stirred up their brothers and sisters into unbelief and rebellion.  Because of this sudden act of judgment, the people hastily entered the land of promise only to be attacked and pursued by the Canaanites.  After this defeat, the harsh desert remained before them.

Joshua and Caleb do not make an appearance until near the end of Numbers.  One by one, they watch their fellow brothers and sisters die in the wilderness according to the word of the Lord.  Some of their countrymen raise themselves up against Moses and Aaron such as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  These three men gathered their families and allies to head back to Egypt.  The very next day, the earth opened up beneath the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  Many of the people screamed in terror at the sight of the earth swallowing up their countrymen.  It was a harrowing display of judgment.

Nevertheless, the people grumble and oppose Moses the very next day, which leads to a plague breaking out over the camp.  In the midst of this severe judgment, the Lord demonstrates great mercy toward the Israelites as Aaron heads out into the camp with a censer to halt the plague.  Nearly 15,000 people lost their lives.  Once again, the Lord proves himself and his word true to all.  No doubt these various incidents may have confirmed to Joshua and Caleb their standing before the Lord.  It seems like the people suffered from severe short-term memory loss.  Always seeing and never believing…much of the Israelites’ experiences in the wilderness could have been avoided by simple faith in God.

Nowhere in the book of Numbers does the writer indicate the musings or ruminations of Joshua and Caleb.  Everything I could say is pure speculation.  Did Joshua and Caleb experience affirmation and confirmation of their union with the Lord each time he distinguished between those for him and against him?  Each time these judgments took place, did the unbelieving Israelites ever second guess their decision?  These questions intrigue the mind and heart, but the biblical narrative remains silent.  For all I know, the rebellious Israelites probably did not care at all about God or Moses or their conscience.  The sad fact remains that most of them failed to live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4, ESV).

Hollywood and the Bible

For decades this alliance has produced some of the most vivid and captivating movie epics in cinema history. During the silent film era, Cecil B. DeMille stunned the movie business and the world with The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927).  DeMille remade his 1923 epic into the 1956 masterpiece starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.  For some, DeMille’s rendition of Moses and the Exodus remains the standard by which to judge all subsequent pictures based on the Bible.  For others, William Wyler’s remake of Ben-Hur in 1959 is the gold standard for all epics regardless of the story’s origin.  The original version of the Ben Hur story had been released in 1926 after several uncredited directors and a troubled production; however, it unseated DeMille’s silent version of The Ten Commandments as the costliest movie of the silent era.

There are other biblical epics to boot, which my readers and followers may have seen in the theater or on television.  Some of these lack the staying power of DeMille’s The Ten Commandments from 1956 or Wyler’s Ben-Hur from 1959; however, they deserve a mention since these exist because of the artists’ fascination with the biblical stories.  Victor Mature starred in Samson and Delilah (1949), which made plenty of money while resembling the bible’s storyline only in the name.  Richard Burton headlined the The Robe from 1953, wherein he played a Roman soldier haunted by participating in Christ’s crucifixion and the spiritual power contained in Christ’s robe.  This picture never really convinces despite an intriguing premise.  The best of this no-name bunch is Nicholas Ray’s vastly underrated depiction of the Christ story called King of Kings (1961).  Ray’s version has eclipsed DeMille’s silent epic from 1927, and in my humble opinion, it remains Hollywood’s best effort at chronicling Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.

What is it about the bible that has inspired Hollywood’s best and brightest to keep going to it again and again and again?  Anyone can supply any number of answers to that question.  From my perspective, the bible contains darn, good stories.  Some Hollywood artists have no affiliation for the God of the bible; however, they recognize a good story when they read one.  The first five books of the Old Testament contain larger than life characters and events, which transcend any and all eras.  How does a screenwriter, producer, director, or executive choose between Noah, Joseph, or Moses?  Darren Aronofsky’s recent adaptation of Noah demonstrated how frightening the deluge may have been in those days.  DeMille wowed audiences with the parting of the Red Sea and the writing of the Ten Commandments.  The wonder and awe of those images more than likely fueled their passion in bringing Noah and Moses to life.  It is virtually impossible not to have the mind blown away by such awesome displays of grandeur.

Personally, I would love to see a story made about Joseph.  It might not be as epic as either Noah or Moses, but the drama is no less compelling, if not more so…Ten older brothers sell their second youngest sibling into slavery in the hopes that they would be rid of him and his dreams.  In Egypt, Joseph rises to the second highest position in this Old World Empire.  His once traitorous brothers travel to Egypt during a severe famine seeking food for their families, but they fail to recognize Joseph.  How does the betrayed respond to his betrayers?  Joseph recognizes them, but will he help them and by extension, his father, whom he has not seen in nearly two decades?  Merely recounting this narrative from the book of Genesis stirs my heart and mind.  I want to see a movie about Joseph.  When will it be made?  I know that a television miniseries had been made over a decade ago; however, I want to see this “small” story on the big screen.  Come on Hollywood, get your act together, and allow your hearts to be pulled and stretched by the life of Joseph.

The Connection between Work and Eschatology

Dr. Vincent Bacote serves as an Associate Professor of Theology and the Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. Last month, he spoke at one of the chapel services for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.

Dr. Bacote gives an intriguing message about how someone’s eschatology shapes his or her mindset about the extent of one’s engagement in the workforce. He highlights the two main positions: he calls one The Messianic Temptation, and the other is the temptation to meaninglessness. For Dr. Bacote, those two views represent the two extremes of the pendulum.

During his address, Dr. Bacote illustrates that the way one moves past the above two temptations necessitates embracing the already and not yet aspects of the Kingdom of God. He never uses that terminology, but it lies underneath the subtext of his comments. Sometimes we will see a measure of influence for the better in this life through our work. At other times, there may be no discernible impact at all. There is plenty of wisdom in this message.

Noah: A Review

Darren Aronofsky is one of those directors whose work causes an even split right down the middle.  His movies usually leave the viewer with only two options: love it or hate it.  This is mainly due to his bold and singular vision, which he brings to each of his movies. Aronofsky co-wrote and directed Noah, which he culled together from a variety of Jewish sources including the bible.  This fact alone should have caused many, if not all, within Christendom to pause.  What I mean is this…first, consider the source, and second, reflect on the artist’s approach to the material.  According to Gregory Thornbury’s review of Noah, Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, view their movie as a midrash aggada, “which is a form of rabbinic literature that provides expansive commentary and discourse analysis on why certain things happened in Scripture.”  Another way to say this is that midrash is interpretative license of scripture.

Now that the dust has settled with Noah, what are we left with in hindsight?  Aronofsky and his creative team fashioned a vivid and strange world into the antediluvian era.  It seems to resemble ours today, but there is an elusive quality to it.  Aronofsky’s longtime cinematographer and creative partner, Matthew Libatique, provides a huge assist with colors and lighting that straddle the fence between fantasy and hyper-realism.  In many ways, Libatique is more successful visually than his director friend in creating that uneasy mix, but more on that later.  The sequences with Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, played with flair and whimsy by Anthony Hopkins, convey something of what the Garden of Eden might have looked like had mankind not broken the world.  These Methuselah moments remain the movie’s most profound.

One thing that Aronofsky’s Noah conveys beyond a shadow of a doubt is the sheer depravity of pre-flood man.  In comparison to the rest, Noah is a saint, but he himself is not nice.  I found this quite intriguing, if not totally convincing.  Noah is both a family man and a warrior, which continues Aronofsky’s theme of juxtaposing concepts and ideas that normally do not mix.  From a viewer’s perspective, I wanted Noah to protect his wife and kids from the darkness around him.  When Noah fights off the bad humans, those scenes have a tendency to play like an antediluvian version of Conan the Barbarian or Middle Earth.   This is not your Sunday school version of Noah.  The entire first half of the movie exhibits standard fantasy-adventure fair, but it holds the viewer’s interest.

Before watching Noah, I wondered how the Nephilim would be portrayed in this day and age of CGI.  The Bible does not present much in the way of information about the Nephilim except their descending from the union of the sons of God and the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4).  Because Aronofsky and Handel approached this narrative as a midrash, they changed the name of the Nephilim to the Watchers. This name has its roots in some of the Jewish extra-biblical accounts of the days of Noah.   From my point-of-view, the Watchers evoke either the Ents in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series, or Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations from the 50s and 60s. Either way, this means that The Watchers lack originality and credibility despite assisting Noah in building the ark, and sacrificing their lives by preventing the race of corrupt humanity from entering it.

Noah’s main antagonist is Tubal-Cain, played by Ray Winstone.  This character has the stones and chutzpah to stand toe-to-toe with the ark-building protector of his family.  During the movie’s expositional moments, the viewer learns that Tubal-Cain had killed Noah’s father right before his eyes.  This builds the audience’s distaste for the villain and provides us with a rooting interest in Noah.  When the flood hits, it is gripping and vivid.  There was no way to survive this deluge unless inside the ark.  If the Watchers lacked all credibility, then so does the movie the moment Tubal-Cain stows aboard the ark by chipping away at the wood.  Once everyone is safely aboard, the story never stays afloat even though I believe this is the heart of the movie.

What began as a fairly compelling fantasy-adventure yarn turns into a contrived and pretentious psychological exploration of madness.  It is at this point that Aronofsky turns the tables on the audience as Noah, the hero, transforms into an antihero.  His descent into madness is melodramatic to a fault as he goes beyond the Creator’s edict and takes on a mission to prevent humanity from proliferating after the flood.  This means intending to kill his daughter-in-law’s unborn children should they wind up female. This flatlines the drama as it strains for effect.  Besides, the artistic choice to make Noah the antihero is bold, but it gives the viewer no one to root for at this stage in the story.  Even worse, all of the supporting characters within Noah’s family remain flat including the villain, Tubal-Cain.  This is by design as Aronofsky has turned the movie into his own midrash about the person of Noah, or the type of person it takes to be a Noah.

I see the movie Noah as the midrash of Aronofksy and Handel that operates as a psychological allegory.  For example, the setting and the supporting characters wind up being types or representations of Noah’s psyche.  This is especially the case in the second portion of the movie since the first half plays more like an adventure flick.  The ark symbolizes Noah’s soul, and the characters function as different aspects of it.  At the risk of invoking Freudian theory, an argument could be made that Tubal-Cain represents Noah’s id, Noah’s wife is the superego, and in some twisted way, Noah’s youngest son, Ham, might be his father’s ego.  This reviewer is not sold 100 percent on the Freudian aspects that I interjected at the end; however, I am convinced that the second half of Noah is allegorical, which lacks credibility, depth, and subtlety.

What have we learned about Aronofsky’s Noah?  From a technical standpoint, the film is fairly top-notch with the exception of The Watchers.  They are bad CGI characters.  When one views Noah from a structural standpoint, it is two movies juxtaposed into one unit that blend together like oil and water.  The first half is a fairly compelling fantasy-adventure yarn, which shifts abruptly into an overblown, psychological allegory about one’s sanity.  I really wanted to like Aronofsky’s Noah, but the second half cancels out everything that preceded it.  The movie barely grades out to a C in my book.