“If God exists, why doesn’t he prove it?  Why doesn’t God appear with lightning and thunder to accompany his presence?  The story of the Bible gives a full answer to this question.  God did so appear; He will appear again.  The reason He does not now appear is not that He is reluctant to persuade atheists but the opposite.  God withholds the burning revelation of His holy presence because He withholds the day of judgment that it must bring.  The God of glory has already revealed Himself as the Father of mercy by sending His Son into the world.  He restrains the glory of His appearing so that men may respond to the call of His mercy and taste the wonder of His love.  Men who demand that God show Himself do not know what they are asking!”

 

(Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, “The Lord and His Servant,” Chpt. 5, pp 102-103, 2nd Ed., 2013)

Withholding Judgment in order to Reveal Mercy and Love

The Lifter of My Head

When I took my first creative writing class in college, I remember the professor stating that writers write what they know.  I interpreted this to mean that my past and present, life experiences serve as the reservoir for ideas.  Another suitable image is that of a well dug deep in the earth.  Good writing evokes truthful portrayals of life’s most basic emotions and experiences: growing up, sorrow, love, betrayal, getting old, and death.  There are more that I could have stated, but those are enough to convey the point.  I cannot remember who said “if you want to write about mankind, write about a man.”  The point behind this statement has to do with being specific.

All of this brings me to the wonderful, Old Testament (OT) book called the Psalms.  These hymns, songs, and poems represent hearts poured out onto the page.  Someone took the time to write out his emotions without realizing that they would be collected together and canonized as divine scripture.  Most of the Psalms read like a personal diary that one keeps in his or her nightstand by the bed.  I am not sure that I would want any of my journal entries canonized as Holy Writ for all to read, sing, and study.  It feels like being completely nude in front of a stadium crowd.

Many of the Psalms spawned from the anguished life of King David.  Some were written by men before, during, or after the king’s life; however, those represent a tiny fraction.  King David contributed the lion’s share of the Psalms.  This suggests that this OT book functions like a memoir or diary of the king’s life.  Some Psalms convey King David at the peak of his rule and reign over the kingdom of Israel.  There are others that portray him at his lowest points.  A few of the Psalms illustrate King David expressing both of those extremes.  For example, the third Psalm seems to fit that bill.

The historical backdrop of Psalm three is a real pressure cooker.  King David flees the kingdom of Israel because his own son, Absalom, seeks his life and those of his mighty men.  Absalom has declared himself ruler and king right under his father’s nose.  He accomplished this through enlisting the support of disgruntled citizens who entered Jerusalem by its main gate (2 Samuel 15:1-12, ESV).  If things were not bad enough, one of King David’s most trusted counselors, Ahithophel, joined Absalom’s conspiracy (2 Sam. 15:12, 31, ESV).  Betrayal is a strong theme in the account recorded for us in second Samuel.  Ironically, that is not King David’s focus in Psalm three.

When reading through the third Psalm, it is important to notice that verses 1-2 and 7-8 function as bookends.  This pair relates by way of contrasting the wicked speaking lies that the Lord does not save and King David’s heartfelt plea for the Lord’s salvation.  Between the bookends lies two verse pairs: 3-4 and 5-6.  King David expresses profound faith, hope, and trust in the Lord for deliverance, preservation, and protection.  My main focus will be on the following verse pair:

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.  I cried aloud to the Lordand he answered me from his holy hill” (Psalm 3:3-4, ESV).

Because this section starts out with the conjunction but right away, this reveals to the reader that these two verses contrast the preceding ones.  King David cries out to the Lord in verses 1-2 that his enemies are too numerous, and that they taunt him regarding his trust in the Lord.  Something reminds the king that the Lord is his protector or shield.  King David goes on to declare that the Lord is the lifter of his head.  This carries with it a notion of restoration or rejuvenation.  It suggests that prior to this lifting of the head King David had been in a state of emotional despondency, or like one who is cast down, defeated.  The very next verse reveals that the king cried out to the Lord for deliverance and he answered him.

Unlike King David, I am not experiencing a life-threatening situation brought about by a close family member.  It is clear to me that there are spiritual principles contained within the third Psalm that apply today.  This must be the case or else it is pointless for it to be Holy Writ.  One takeaway from verses 3-4 is the importance of speaking out the truth of the Lord in prayer.  It sounds simple at first, but it really grounds our prayers.  If I do not trust the Lord for who he is, then there is no reason to seek him for wisdom, protection, and deliverance.  Another point of application has to do with pouring out my heart to the Lord.  King David states that he cried aloud to the Lord.  I doubt that he maintained his composure and talked in a monotone voice.  It seems to me that the king lets it all hang out in the Lord’s presence.

If I bring Psalm three into the 21st Century, I could say that King David may have beat a pillow, screamed into it, or done both.  The main point here is the expression of raw emotions in the Lord’s presence.  King David exhibited the willingness to engage with his Lord in this way.  The king of Israel does not care how he looks and sounds.  He is desperate for the Lord’s salvation.  Am I bearing all of my heart to the Lord in prayer?  Do I exhibit something like desperation to the Lord over the dire circumstances in my life?  What will it take for me to cry aloud to the Lord like King David?  Should I even need to have circumstances develop to such an extent that raw and heartfelt prayers come out for the first time?

 

 

From My Youth

For the sake of disclosure, I am not a father of a son or daughter.  My time will come, but at the present time, I do not have any children of my own.  Do I fully understand what my siblings and relatives and friends deal with on a daily basis with their children?  It is not as if I can exchange knowing glances with any of them about potty training little Johnny or Lucy.  There are some things that I will need to experience firsthand in order to grasp in a fuller way the weight of fathering a child.  This is not to suggest that I cannot empathize with the struggles and hair-pulling circumstances faced by my siblings, relatives, and friends.

Here is an example of what I mean.  I have zero experience raising a child who later rebels against everything I taught him or her.  What I do have some experience with has to do with rebelling against authority figures.  When I attended middle school, I warred against my teachers.  I talked back to them, refused to follow directions, and basically acted like a little stinker.  Needless to say, my behavior lead to many after-school detentions.  During these middle school years, the Lord took hold of my life in a profound way.  I repented of my sin, professed faith in him as Lord, and followed him in believer’s baptism.  Little by little, my defiant or rebellious spirit began to lessen over time.

My experience is rare for a twelve year old.  Most adolescents continue in their rebellion throughout high school and into their early twenties.  Some turn the corner, but many remain steadfast until the end.  It seems to me that fathers and mothers need to spend many hours on their knees before the Lord.  It was the Spirit of God who reined in my heart and soul.  If the Lord had not plucked me out of my rebellion at twelve, I would be on a very different trajectory.  I still have memories of friends and acquaintances from middle and high school who took sharp left turns toward shaky living.

During my teen years, I remember becoming more aware of the differences between my peers and me.  No matter how awkward or imperfect I was in following Jesus, I kept seeing how he preserved my life from life-altering choices.  My friends and I bonded because of our shared experience with living in a fractured home.  I cannot explain what lead me to run to the Lord while my friends ran away from him.  It had nothing to do with being smarter, being wiser, attending church, you name it.  In fact, the youth group that I attended and the surrounding church culture actually made it harder to follow Christ.

Divorce was a bad word twenty-six years ago within certain Evangelical streams of the church.  This brought with it a stigma much like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter.  Because my two brothers and I came from a divorced home, this put us at odds with our peers.  There was pure nastiness taking place between the church leaders and my parents.  Those church leaders had kids who attended the same youth group as my brothers and me.  Please excuse my language, but like my dad used to say, “crap flows downstream.”  Both of my younger brothers hated the youth group, and they stopped going as soon as they could.  I understood their decision, but I knew that I went to the youth group because of the Lord rather than my peers.

Where did I get the will to behave like that let alone the idea?  Again, I see this as insurmountable evidence of my genuine conversion by the Spirit of God.  There was a moment where I made a decision for Christ as the saying goes; however, an objective, third party would struggle long and hard to find any compelling reasons for the choice that I made at twelve.  If I had written out a list of pros and cons with respect to following Christ, the latter column would have won out by a wide margin.  My background was no different than that of my friends.  I did have an inner desire to obey the Lord, read my bible, and live it out.  Frankly, I attribute all of that to the Lord.  His fingerprints are all over my salvation.

Two verses come to mind as I end this piece.  They capture the essence of my youth to a tee:

“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds” (Psalm 71:17, ESV).

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67, ESV). 

Leave it to the Psalms to contain pithy statements.

King David: Create in Me a Clean Heart

When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then ordered the death of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, the king’s life never would be the same (2 Samuel 12:9, ESV).  The prophet Nathan informed the king that perilous times lay ahead for him and his family as a consequence of his sin (2 Sam. 12:10-12, ESV).  I do not know if David found the Lord’s words frightening that the sword would never depart from his house (2 Sam. 12:10a, ESV).  The text is silent on the matter.  Perhaps that is for the best.  The fallout from this one moment of sin forever marks a turning point in the life of King David.

To the king’s credit, he repents of his sin and submits to the discipline of the Lord.  Psalm 51 provides the basis for this assertion.  Most Old Testament (OT) scholars attribute this Psalm to the pen of King David.  It represents one of the most heartfelt confessions ever written.  One of the things emphasized by the king in Psalm 51 is that his sin with Bathsheba ultimately was against the Lord (Psalm 51:4, ESV).  This is the sort of admission that runs counter to human notions of right and wrong.  How could the sin really and solely be against the Lord of heaven and earth?  At no point in Psalm 51 or in 2 Sam. 12:13, do we see David pointing the finger at others for his mess.  He accepts the full responsibility as a man.

Today’s culture and society needs a few more men like King David.  Women need men who own their crap and everything that results from it.  Children cannot afford men who run away when the going gets tough.  A man is not only someone who makes wise choices, but who takes responsibility for his mistakes.  He does everything in his might to set things right with his family.  Much of this might come off as pure poppycock.  Everywhere one turns, there are reminders to take what’s yours.  There are only so many hours in the day.  I am not promised tomorrow, next week, next month, or the next few hours.  Admittedly, this was the heart attitude of King David before Nathan confronted him.

According to Psalm 51, the king underwent a massive, spiritual transformation by acknowledging that he sinned against the Lord and only him (Psalm 51:4, ESV).  Some of the most amazing words in all of Scripture occur in Psalm 51:6-11.  King David pours out his heart to the Lord for redemption, for the forgiveness of his sin.  He yearns for the inner restoration or cleansing that only God can provide through the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  What fascinates me about Psalm 51 is that more than likely David wrote it after Nathan confronted him.  Everything that the king expresses in this Psalm already has taken place.  The reason that I point this out is that back in 2 Samuel 12:13, Nathan proclaims to King David that the Lord has dealt with his sin in such a way so as to spare his life.  I think this echoes Christ dying in David’s place for his sin.   Let me develop this a little bit.

In some sense, Nathan’s words that God has put away David’s sin foreshadows Christ’s atoning death on the cross.  It is through the Son that the Father deals with sin once and for all.  Jesus is King David’s sacrificial substitute as well as ours.  From the Triune God’s eternal perspective, he already solved King David’s sin problem before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23, ESV).  If this was not the case, then Nathan never could have told the king “the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13b, ESV).  At some point, King David embraces this marvelous truth because he writes in another Psalm that “blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity…” (Psalm 32:2a, ESV).  The king rests upon the reality of his promised justification, which has nothing to do with him but everything to do with the Lord (see Romans 4:5-8, ESV).

One more thing, I say promised justification in relation to King David only from the standpoint of human history.  1000 years still needed to transpire before Jesus came on the scene in the first century A.D.  Like I mentioned earlier, King David’s justification was a done deal from God’s perspective.  This should build our faith and hope in God and his promises.  When he declares something, it is a reality.  His word does not return to him void no matter how long it takes to unfold from my time-bound perspective (Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV).  There are some things that the Lord has set in stone.  One of those things is the justification of sinners based upon Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  It is a glorious message of good news.  If this was not good news in any tangible sense, then King David never would have written Psalms 32 and 51.

“…it’s quite common to hear from former evangelicals now within the Mainline Protestant tradition that if evangelicals, with their persistently conservative theology, would only liberalize on such issues as biblical authority and sexual ethics—they’d find a newfound opportunity for cultural influence and increased opportunity to “reach the next generation.”  The problem, however, is that the statistical evidence suggests just the opposite: It’s the liberalizing trends of American life that work to calcify vibrant, growing, and orthodox belief.  The report indicates that a nominal, religious middle is simply dropping out altogether.  The almost-Christianity of liberal Christianity is proving, in the long run, to not be Christianity at all.  Either failing to grow or literally dying out, Mainline liberalism offers little as far as attractional gravitas once it surrenders core doctrinal beliefs to progressivism.  If anything is clear from the Pew report, it’s that evangelicals should, once and for all, ignore the captains at the helm of the Mainline Titanic.”

 

(Andrew Walker, “Sorry Progressives – Civil Religion May Be Dying Out, but Evangelicals Aren’t,” 13 May 2015)

Ignore those at the Helm of the Mainline Titanic

This Sounds like Science Fiction

I want to begin this entry by quoting Nick Loeb, who wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times on April 29, 2015.  It boasts the following attention-grabbing headline: “Sofia Vergara’s Ex-Fiance: Our Frozen Embryos Have a Right to Live.”  Here are Mr. Loeb’s own words:

“When we create embryos for the purpose of life, should we not define them as life, rather than as property?”

I agree with him that frozen embryos represent lives.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that these embryos in question contain all the necessary DNA for developing into female, human beings.  Every person that has ever lived and died began as an embryo.  This is where human life begins, which defies fullness of understanding (Psalm 139:13-16; Ecclesiastes 11:5, ESV).

How did these embryos come into being in the first place?  According to Mr. Loeb, both Sofia Vergara and he agreed to use in vitro fertilization and a surrogate mom to have children.  The process started and ended before the surrogate mom stage.  Both Mr. Loeb and Ms. Vergara signed an agreement stating that both parties must consent to moving forward otherwise the embryos stay frozen indefinitely.  It is this aspect of the process that Mr. Loeb wants to overturn, but his signed agreement pretty much ends the story.

Let me restate that I agree with Mr. Loeb that those two female embryos represent human lives.  In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a powerful means of assisted reproductive technology for those married couples unable to have children due to medical reasons.  At the risk of coming off like the moral police, I want to point out that Mr. Loeb and Ms. Vergara were not married.  Yes, they were engaged, but I disagree with their use of IVF from a moral standpoint.  What we have here is a man and a woman starting the IVF process before following through on their commitment to each other in marriage.  It reeks of selfishness because these two adults began a process that had the potential of depriving their children of a mother or a father much less a stable home.

From my perspective, this is an alarming display of adults asserting their desires or wants above those of future children.  With all due respect to Mr. Loeb, his actions come off more like a boy than a man.  Real men count the cost of being a father before the kids arrive on the scene.  I have no bone to pick with a man who chooses celibacy, or a man who marries and decides against having children.  Those two examples represent men who were honest about the question of fathering kids.  I cannot say the same about Mr. Loeb.  It is true that celibacy and not having kids in marriage raise other questions; however, those are outside the scope of this entry.

There is another aspect to Mr. Loeb’s story that raises moral questions.  The frozen embryos contain the DNA of Ms. Vergara and Mr. Loeb, which is the good part.  Because they had been pursuing a surrogate to carry the embryos, she would have zero, DNA connection to the child; however, she would have an emotional one with the baby and the baby with her by virtue of the pregnancy.  The articles here and here underscore this point.  I stated earlier that Mr. Loeb’s parenting scenario highlights how adults elevate their desires over those of their unborn children.  For me, the surrogate aspect of Mr. Loeb and Ms. Vergara’s fiasco amplifies this even more.

Near the end of his piece, Mr. Loeb reveals that he broke off his engagement with Ms. Vergara because she no longer desired to have children.  Here are some hypothetical scenarios that could have taken place had Mr. Loeb and Ms. Vergara worked things out in order to proceed with the surrogacy stage.  How does Ms. Vergara answer questions from her daughters about what it was like to carry them for nine months?  Will any answer be sufficient for her daughters, or will they wonder if mommy really loves them?  What does Mr. Loeb say to his daughters?  Do the surrogate moms breastfeed them?  In some sense, I am glad that Mr. Loeb and Ms. Vergara are not parents.

Lastly, there are two female, human embryos that remain frozen in time due to this whole mess.  In the meantime, Mr. Loeb pursues his “legal fight” for their right to live.  This whole thing sounds like something out of a science fiction novel or movie.  In fact, Aldous Huxley touches upon test tube babies in his trenchant novel called Brave New World.  Out of all of the science fiction novels that I have read, Huxley’s comes the closest to predicting our present state of things.  He saw a future era in Western Civilization overrun by self-serving desires and motives.  This verse comes to mind: “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8, ESV).