Daily Archives: May 12, 2020

What Did Jesus Mean That We Will Have Trouble in This World? — Christianity.com

Woman in her room looking sad

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As we remain in Him, we will have our peace no matter what troubles that come our way.

All over the earth, there is always someone suffering, praying for relief and peace. Oftentimes, we only see what is presented in front of us. What we see sinks into our minds and can sometimes work our way into our hearts. Right now, the earth is still going through troubled times.

Therefore, peace has been replaced by fear because the only thing the world can see through this tribulation is fear. Jesus, the Son of God, went through hell on earth to give us peace beyond this world. So, if Jesus did that for us and is still alive today in us, then we have no reason to fear. We have peace because Jesus is our peace.

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

Believing without Seeing

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you (Psalm 9:9-10).

In Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus is coming down from the mountain and many people have followed him. A man with leprosy came to ask Jesus “if He was willing to heal him.” Jesus said, “I Am willing, and be cleansed.”

Can you imagine Jesus saying to you, in front of your face, “I Am willing”? Peace and joy probably overcame this man, who had been suffering for however long he had the disease. God had a plan for this man.

Now, not everyone that goes through trouble will have the same result. This does not mean God is not willing to do a miracle in your life. In fact, Jesus did not do miracles and heal everyone (Matthew 13:57-58). So, if God is willing, then are you willing to let Him come take control of your life, even if you do not know what tomorrow will bring?

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:33-34).

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).

Having Faith through Tribulations

Jesus often spoke in parables or stories. These parables were difficult to understand for the disciples and the people that followed Jesus. In John 16:21, the Bible states, “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

Previously, in John 16:16, Jesus spoke, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” The disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying at all.

In fact, they would not understand until Jesus appears to them again after His death and resurrection (Luke 24:36-49). Throughout our lives, we will have circumstances that we will not understand at that moment. But later, God will reveal to us and have us understand what He was doing all along during our tribulations.

An example, in my life, is when I found out that my mother was diagnosed with stage two melanoma (skin cancer). This story goes back to 2017 when some of my family and I went on a cruise. We were all so excited and expectant. But my mother had a huge blister on her arm that looked sore. She was worried but was not aware of how bad the situation was.

After we came back, my mother went to the doctor and found out about her cancer. I was at work when I got the text. Fear rose up in me but, at the same time, peace overcame me. When my mother came home that day, she saw me and began to cry. I came to her, hugged her, and, as she cried on my shoulder, said, “It will all be okay.”

I honestly did not know for a fact that everything would be okay but, somehow, God gave me peace about it. So, through all this tribulation, my mother became closer to God and rededicated her life to Jesus. Oh, and yes, my mother, to do this day, is cancer-free.

Yes, we will have many troubles and tribulations while we are here, but Jesus said that “in Him we will have peace” (John 16:33). So, as we remain in Him, we will have our peace no matter what troubles that come our way (John 15:4).

What Does This Mean?

This peace will remain in our hearts even through troubled times, even when the world hates us. And the world will hate us because they hated Jesus first (John 15:18-25). So, continue to have faith and perseverance through your troubles. God is there with you and won’t leave your side.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5, NKJV).

Father God, I pray for each and every one of you who reads this who gives their troubles to you. I pray for the people who are going through the tribulations that You will give them the peace and endurance that they need. But overall, I pray for Your will to be done in all of us according to Your plans for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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Rebecca Gordon has a bachelor’s in psychology and is engaged to a wonderful man named Joseph. Her favorite time of year is spring because of the many flowers it brings about. She loves to go to the beach, hike, and explore new places. She loves God with all of her heart and will serve Him all the days of her life. She has a blog site and is planning to earn her master’s in biblical counseling. 

via What Did Jesus Mean That We Will Have Trouble in This World? — Christianity.com

Test All Things, Hold Fast What Is Good—But How? — The Aquila Report

The Apostle Paul instructs Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test all things, hold fast what is good.” We all need to develop that ability—and it takes time and effort.

 

A reader recently forwarded to us an email from a fine Christian ministry that bemoaned the proliferation of “fake news” and other bad thinking on the Internet in the novel Coronavirus pandemic. She asked, “The very thing I’ve been thinking, and one of the reasons I dislike watching the news — too many lies. Who do you believe? What do you believe?  Your thoughts?”

Ah, the perennial questions: Whom do you believe? What do you believe?

But better is the question, How do you decide what to believe? That is, how do you discern truth from falsehood? You need criteria.

The first one should be this: Does it contradict, either directly or indirectly, what God says? (Isaiah 8:20: “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”) Answering that question requires broad and deep knowledge of what God’s Word says, and knowledge of logic so as to recognize contradictions when you encounter them. This is the level at which we construct our worldview—from Scripture—which is the paradigm by which we interpret “data,” that is, observations, whether our own or others’. (For no “data” are self-interpreting—which is why “data” is not the best word for the purpose, since “data” means “given,” and nothing is “given” us by observation alone, but all observations must be interpreted according to one or another worldview/paradigm.)

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via Test All Things, Hold Fast What Is Good—But How? — The Aquila Report

Can political liberalism and religious liberty (accommodation) coexist?

thereformedmind

Can political liberalism and religious liberty (accommodation) coexist?

Similar argument made in Smith’s game-changing book Pagan and Christian in the City: “The Supreme Court might soon address this issue. Four Supreme Court justices (led by Justice Samuel Alito) began 2019 by suggesting their willingness to revisit a landmark decision with stark views on this question. In the 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, a five-justice majority (led by Justice Antonin Scalia) made it virtually impossible to secure, under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, religious-based exemptions to laws that apply to everyone and do not overtly or covertly discriminate against religion (what lawyers call “neutral laws of general applicability”). The Smith decision presumes a deep tension between religious exercise and the common good. In Smith’s view, the democratic process must almost always resolve that tension. Courts, therefore, almost always deny religious accommodation requests. Justice Alito and his colleagues, however, said…

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The Law of Christ is the Moral Law — The Aquila Report

The Holy Spirit uses the Ten Commandments to drive even Christians back to Christ so that we will learn again and again to flee to him for righteousness and salvation. By hearing them read week and after week and by meditating on them, we are also driven to our knees and thence to Christ for the grace of progressive sanctification until we are finally glorified.

 

Introduction And Survey

In his provocative March (2020) essay, Matt Smethurst asked “Why Don’t Christians Keep the Jewish Law?” He reminds us that the “Bible is a thoroughly Jewish document,” a note that has been regularly (and properly) sounded in modern biblical studies. From this premise, he asks the provocative question before us. He notes that “God’s people kept it for centuries in the Old Testament. What happened?” He answers by observing that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God kept and completed “the law of God in his people’s place. Jesus embodied in himself everything the law demanded.” Smethurst recognizes two functions of the “Jewish law:”  “God designed the law both to instruct and guide his people and also to expose their sin and need for a Savior.” In the magisterial Protestant traditions we have spoken of these as the normative (third use) and the pedagogical use. Historically there was also a “civil use,” the function of which, according to Louis Berkhof, is to restrain sin and to serve “the purposes of God’s common grace in the world at large.”1 According to Smethurst, the “Jewish law” is a signpost that is no longer needed now that the “new covenant and new age ushered in by a new king” has arrived. As he puts it, “The signage of the law, therefore, can be taken down. It served its purpose.” This is because, we are no longer “under law” but “under grace.” For Smethurst, this is essentially a redemptive historical way of speaking rather than an order of salvation way of speaking. He explains the perspective from which he says these things:

Now, writing from a baptistic, new-covenant-theology perspective, am I saying that Christians have no moral obligations whatsoever? Not at all. Though we aren’t bound to the law of Moses, we are subject to what the New Testament calls “the law of Christ”—a moral norm encapsulated by sacrificial love (Gal. 6:2; see also 1 Cor. 9:21). And the moral norms of the law are not irrelevant to the law of Christ; they are included in it. If anything, they’re just intensified.

Smethurst’s essay is useful because it is a clear and concise account of the way many evangelicals think and speak about the law of God. It is also fundamentally alien to the way the broad Christian tradition, including the Reformed tradition, has spoken about the Ten Commandments as the moral law.

The Moral Law Is Not Jewish

The first issue to be addressed is the unstated but major premise of his argument, that all the biblical law is one and that it is all essentially Jewish. In short, he ignores the ancient, traditional Christian distinction between the three aspects of the Old Testament law: the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial. This distinction, formed this way, goes back to Thomas Aquinas.2 In substance, however, this distinction is implied in Irenaeus (c. 170) who was writing against heretical groups who made a radical disjunction between the Old and New Testaments. In response, not only did he argue for the essential unity of what Reformed theology would later call the covenant of grace, but for the abiding validity of the Ten Commandments for the New Covenant believer:

Preparing man for this life, the Lord Himself did speak in His own person to all alike the words of the Decalogue; and therefore, in like manner, do they remain permanently with us, receiving by means of His advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but not abrogation.

We see it also in several of the 4th and 5th century fathers, e.g., Chrysostom and Augustine both referred to the the OT “ceremonial laws” laws as distinct from the moral law. The abiding validity of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) was a datum in the ancient and medieval church.

The Reformation inherited this threefold distinction and it was received by the Protestant orthodox theologians. In the modern period, however, as Ligon Duncan noted recently, this distinction has not fared well among evangelical biblical scholars where the threefold distinction in the law has been widely rejected. This rejection has (unintentionally) facilitated the theonomic-reconstructionist movement, which also rejects the distinction.

There are thus, as suggested above, two outcomes by failing to distinguish between the moral or natural law as permanent, and the ceremonial (religious) and judicial laws as temporary. One outcome is that, as we see in Smethurts’s approach, with the death of Christ all the Old Testament law dies with him. The other, as noted, is the theonomic approach, whereby the judicial laws are not regarded as “expired” and thus they persist. This they say contra the Westminster Confession of Faith (19.3–5), where the Reformed confess:

3. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

4. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

5. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

In other words, traditionally, Christians have understood that the ceremonial and judicial laws were specific to Israel and temporary in a way that the moral law is not. This is because Christians, including the Reformed tradition, have historically had some notion of natural law. The judicial and ceremonial laws were promulgated with the intention that they should be obsolete. They were never intended to be permanent. This is why the Westminster Divines (following the Reformed tradition) said that the judicial laws expired with “the state of that people.” They are only binding insofar as they reflect natural law (general equity. On this see the resource page on theonomy and reconstructionism where the classical Reformed definition of “general equity” is demonstrated from sources).

According to the Reformed tradition, the moral law, the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) is the natural law. It is grounded in the divine nature. It does not mutate in substance because God is immutable. When asked what the greatest commandment in the law is, our Lord replied:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:37–40; ESV).

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via The Law of Christ is the Moral Law — The Aquila Report

The Excellency of Christ’s Humanity

Possessing the Treasure

by Mike Ratliff

17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 1:17-19 (NASB) 

Several years ago when I took my first Evangelism Explosion class, our instructor emphasized over and over again that our Lord was both fully God and fully Man. Why is it important that we grasp this about our Lord? Gnosticism, for instance, teaches that Jesus is indeed God, but not really Man. Others teach that He was a Man, but not God. Both extremes are wrong and the heresies which flow from them abound. Sadly…

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A Taste Of What Is Coming – Food Prices Just Increased By The Most That We Have Seen Since 1974 — The Economic Collapse

Get ready to pay much more for groceries.  I have been warning that the flood of new money that the Federal Reserve and Congress have been pumping into the system would have very serious consequences, and I have also been warning that food prices would be shooting higher.  When things start getting really crazy, demand for food and other basic essentials goes way up, and meanwhile this pandemic has significantly disrupted production of certain products.  So even though most of the economy is currently still in a deflationary phase, food prices are beginning to spike.  In fact, the U.S. Labor Department says that we just witnessed the largest one month increase since February 1974

The Labor Department reported Tuesday that prices U.S. consumers paid for groceries jumped 2.6% in April, the largest one-month pop since February 1974. The spike in supermarket prices was broad based and impacted items from broccoli and ham to oatmeal and tuna.

The price of the meats, poultry, fish and eggs category rose 4.3%, fruits and vegetables climbed 1.5%, cereals and bakery products advanced 2.9%, and dairy goods gained 1.5%.

Sadly, this is just the beginning.

Prior to this pandemic, Americans spent about 10 percentof their incomes on food.

As this new economic depression deepens, expect that number to eventually more than double.

We live at a time when global food supplies are becoming increasing stressed for a variety of reasons.  In wealthy countries this is going to force food prices aggressively higher, and in poor countries this is going to mean that a lot of people simply will not have enough to eat.

Already, we are seeing some crazy prices for certain items here in the United States.  King Arthur Flour is very popular these days, and because supplies have become so tight a single bag is now selling for more than 26 dollars on eBay…

Five-pound bags of King Arthur Flour have been so hard to score that they were selling this week on eBay for $26.49, five times the store price.

If you planned on stocking up on flour, hopefully you did it ahead of time.

Many out there are suggesting that the best thing that we can do during an economic environment such as this is to keep showering the American people with more government checks.

In fact, Democrats in Congress have just introduced a new bill that would borrow and spend an additional three trillion dollars that we don’t currently have

State and local governments would share nearly $1 trillion in federal aid to cover their coronavirus-related costs and families would get another round of direct payments under a stimulus bill House Democrats unveiled Tuesday.

The more than $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, also would expand unemployment assistance, boost food stamps, increase emergency grants to small businesses trying to weather the COVID-19 pandemic that has slammed the economy and upended daily life in the U.S.

Without a doubt, millions upon millions of Americans are deeply hurting right now.  Just about everyone has been thrilled to receive the first round of “stimulus checks”, and certainly very few people would complain if another round was sent out.

But if sending everyone a thousand dollars is good, wouldn’t sending everyone a million dollars be even better?

Needless to say, throwing giant piles of money around recklessly is not a good idea, because it destroys the value of our currency.

Venezuela tried that, and at this point almost everyone in the country is a millionaire

What if I told you that in the socialist paradise of Venezuela, everyone’s a millionaire?

The Bolivarian Revolution has raised the minimum wage over 50 times throughout the past 20 years. As of May 2020, it’s been set at 400,000 bolivars, plus a 400,000 socialist food ticket bonus, bringing it to an astounding total of 800,000 bolivars per month.

But even though there are so many “millionaires” running around, almost everyone in Venezuela is living in deep poverty because the money has become virtually worthless.

Do we really want to become just like Venezuela?

Because that is the path that we are currently on.

Every time a new dollar is created, every existing dollar that you currently hold declines in value.

And every time a new dollar is created, the value of your paycheck goes down if your employer doesn’t give you a raise to match the increase in the money supply.

But the mainstream media continues to be enamored by the Federal Reserve’s ability to “solve our problems” by creating trillions of dollars out of thin air.  Just consider the following quote from a recent USA Today article

It works like magic. With a few strokes on a computer, the Federal Reserve can create dollars out of nothing, virtually “printing” money and injecting it into the commercial banking system, much like an electronic deposit. By the end of the year, the Fed is projected to have purchased $3.5 trillion in government securities with these newly created dollars, one of many tools it is using to help prop up the ailing economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Oxford Economics.

“It works like magic”?

You can probably imagine how I responded when I first read that.

They make it sound like some sort of Disney production, but in reality what the Federal Reserve is doing is slowly but surely turning us into the Weimar Republic.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media will continue to cheer the Fed on as they steadily kill the U.S. dollar, but none of us will be cheering when a loaf of bread costs 5 dollars and a gallon of milk costs 10 dollars.

A torrent of newly created money is not going to fix our economy.  What we really need is for the American people to be allowed to go back to work, but quite a few states are indicating that some restrictions may not be lifted until August or later.

And even if all of the restrictions were lifted immediately, fear of COVID-19 is going to keep many Americans from resuming normal activities for the foreseeable future

Most Americans say they would be uncomfortable returning to their regular routines today, even as they are increasingly leaving their homes to visit others, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.

The 58% who say they are not comfortable returning to their routines today is similar to the 60% who said last month that they would be uncomfortable doing so if guidelines on social distancing expired on April 30. On the other side, 41% say they would be comfortable resuming their regular routines now.

What all of this means is that we are going to be dealing with an economic depression for a long time to come, and every new crisis that erupts during this period of time is just going to intensify our problems.

For a long time, I warned that an economic collapse was coming, but I don’t have to do that anymore because the economic collapse is here.

Now the value of our currency is being absolutely destroyed by our authorities as they respond to this economic collapse, and that is going to have very serious implications for our future.

via A Taste Of What Is Coming – Food Prices Just Increased By The Most That We Have Seen Since 1974 — The Economic Collapse

The Final Enemy | First Things by Carl R. Trueman

Human mortality has always fascinated the greatest ­creative minds—from Homer declaiming on the slayings of Patroclus and Hector, to Sigmund Freud speculating on death drives. Roger Scruton even locates the significance of artistic endeavor in the fact that we understand our existence to be finite. For Scruton, the prospect of immortality makes life dull and futile. All pleasures, if extended and repeated infinitely, become bland and tedious. It is only because life is finite that our experiences take on significance, as precious moments seized from the jaws of death.

Scruton is surely right that the reality of death casts a backward shadow on our present moment, but his analysis falls short. Most human beings want life to continue and will do a great deal to avoid its cessation. True, Roger Daltrey sang in 1965 that he hoped to die before he got old. But I saw The Who in concert in 2006 and again in 2016, and both times he still looked happy to be alive. Cicero was right: No man is so old that he does not think he can live another year. We accept our own mortality in theory, but we approach each day as if we expect to live for an indefinite time. Far from allowing death to heighten the significance of our experience, for the most part we work hard to keep it out of our minds.

And for many, death renders life not meaningful but meaningless. For Joseph K. as he faces execution for an unspecified crime, or for the protagonists of ­Beckett and Pinter plays, life is a confusing journey toward oblivion. This theme is not a modern monopoly. Ancient literature, too, sounds notes of futility. ­Euripides’s tragedies evoke the nihilism that death brings, and ­Medea’s infanticide and the death of Pentheus at the hands of a Bacchanalian mob render their lives ­meaningless.

Scruton’s optimistic pessimism about death may work for those who practice the tradition of ­memento mori, reminding themselves every day that they will die. But for most people most of the time, the response is recoil, flight, and avoidance. We fear death, we fear that it makes life absurd, and we flee from it at every opportunity. Death imparts a bleak futility to life, as in Act V of Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Death brings isolation, which is one reason we recoil from it. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously declared that death is not an event in life. Rather, it is a boundary, a frightful boundary that separates absolutely the living from the dead. As his illness proceeds, ­Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich is ever more isolated from others, except for the peasant servant Gerasim, who tends to his bodily needs—lack of control over which indicates Ivan’s distance from polite society. Anyone who has witnessed the slow death from illness of a family member or a friend has observed this isolation. The dying person may still be alive, but the separation has already begun.

Death is thus both inevitable and terrible. It is a merciless foe. It deprives us of our loved ones and eventually will take us, too. Most of us respond to it with acts of denial—denial of the radical finality of death, of the inevitability of death, of the sovereignty of death.

We seek to erase the boundary between the living and the dead. Ancient Christians met for meals called refrigerium in triclia, buildings set in the midst of the tombs of the faithful departed. Thus, they refreshed themselves in the company of the dead. Augustine devoted book XXI of The City of God to refuting certain silly ideas of Christians—not pagans—concerning how the realms of the living and the dead interacted. Those silly ideas persisted: The rise of spiritualism in the nineteenth century and the contemporary popularity of mediums, clairvoyants, and reincarnation reveal our basic refusal to accept that death is the end. These movements and practices try to bridge the chasm between the living and the dead. They seek to make the boundary permeable.

Our desire to attenuate death’s boundary also has more benign expressions. Statuary and portraiture were once means by which the wealthy attempted to ensure that they would be remembered after they died. Technology democratizes these methods of keeping the dead present. Photographs of the dearly departed populate walls of living rooms across the world, allowing the living to feel the proximity of the dead.

We may also rebel against death by ignoring its claims. Dylan Thomas’s poem “And death shall have no dominion” evokes the arrogance of youth, for whom death is but a distant possibility. Thomas strikes a different note in his later poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Anticipating the death of his father, Thomas remains defiant but acknowledges impending defeat. His progress bespeaks another truth about the human condition: As we age, death becomes more familiar to us, more obviously powerful, and more terrifying.

The most common response, especially in our era, is simply to ignore death. This is one reason why funerals are so difficult and involve conflicting emotions. We see the dead body before us; yet we manage to persuade ourselves that this is not our destiny, that somehow death, which comes for everyone, will never touch us. When Pyotr Ivanovich views the body of Ivan Ilyich, he is momentarily terrified, knowing that he beholds his own fate. Mere seconds later, he persuades himself that, no, this cannot happen to him, and he is immensely relieved. Only Gerasim speaks truth, while helping Pyotr into his carriage after the funeral. Pyotr remarks that the death of Ivan is sad, and the peasant responds, “It’s God’s will. We’ll all be there.”

Our ability to ignore our mortality is surely one of our species’ most impressive features. In a.d. 410, the Eternal City fell to the Goths. When refugees began arriving in Hippo, Augustine observed that, even when faced with the reality of their own vulnerability, these people preferred to go to the theater rather than come to the church to hear the truth about life and death.

What Augustine observed, his later disciple, Blaise Pascal, made into a fundamental insight. In the Pensées, Pascal states that “The last act is bloody, however fine the rest of the play. They throw earth over your head and it is finished forever.” Death is unavoidable, yet avoidance of the thought of death defined the ethos of the seventeenth-century French court. In a series of aphorisms, Pascal reflects on why kings have jesters, why trivial entertainment so dominates the minds of human beings capable of much more significant pursuits, and why so much of life is consumed with pointless activity. We can bring his questions up to date by asking why the most trivial figures in our world—celebrities—are considered so important. Pascal’s answer: These things divert us from what we fear most. We will do anything in our power, even engage in buffoonish entertainments, to avoid being on our own, in silence, contemplating the fact that we will die.

Pascal’s analysis is persuasive. The role of entertainment in our lives is extreme in comparison to any other period of history. And death has been pushed to the margins. Once, churches stood next to graveyards and the weekly rituals of worship could not be attended without one’s first passing by reminders of our mortality. Today, the death industry is kept at a safe distance except at funerals.

Our obsession with sex indicates another avenue of escape. As the Victorians put death on display and hid sex from view, we have done the opposite. The hedonistic reasons to fixate on sex do not explain its almost compulsive public display. Sex is front and center in part because it offers a means of denying the boundary of death. Analyzing the basic propulsive forces of human existence, Sigmund Freud opposed thanatos to eros, the death drive to the sex drive. The one pushes us toward a return to nonexistence, the other toward self-preservation and propagation. Freud saw sex as the means of defying death.

We can recast this in Pascalian terms: Sexual intercourse is the moment at which human beings are indeed most distracted from their own mortality and most convinced of their immortal, godlike qualities. Whether one follows Freud or Pascal, the public fixation on sex in a society where death has been thrust to the margins makes perfect sense. The two trends reinforce each other, and they tell us a great deal about the deepest desires and fears of a society.

Sex is closely connected with the idealization of youth. The desire to remain forever young is not a recent phenomenon; myths and legends from many cultures play on this theme. But the modern West exhibits some odd tendencies. We sexualize childhood while lauding adults who behave like children, and we invest time and money into never having to grow up, emotionally or physically. Cosmetic surgery intended to recapture youth is a lucrative business. So-called youth culture and styles dominate a range of age cohorts, bringing us the gruesome sight of middle-aged men in skinny jeans. Sex, which should be the most adult of activities, is packaged as an infantile hedonism.

Whether trivia such as cosmetic surgery and skinny jeans have deep significance might be debated. But these are moral developments of undoubted consequence. We are increasingly engaged in an explicit, intentional, and total war against human nature. We advance under the illusion that we have powers greater than death.

An ideology of gender has separated biological sex from identity. If your brain tells you that you are gay, or that you are a woman trapped in a man’s body, then the problem is with your body. What you want to be is considered the center of who you really are.

In addition to overturning any sensible ethical framework, radical voluntarism in the realm of sexual identity represents a metaphysical defiance of the limitations of human nature. To a striking degree, the embrace of gay and gender ideology represents a fight to overcome our very nature as if it were an imposition upon our true identity, a frustration of our true existence. If a facelift is an attempt to defy the aging process, a gender reassignment operation is an attempt to defy the authority of the human body. By engaging in these procedures (and in the latter case, insisting that the ability to do so is a basic right), we are making bids for the total sovereignty of the individual over nature.

Yet death remains sovereign. Like the knight in Ingmar Bergman’s The ­Seventh Seal, we might be able to fool ourselves, for a time, that this is a chess game we can win. But ultimately, death will checkmate us. All the surgery in the world cannot defeat it.

Hence the final, desperate ways in which we seek to manage death: preemptive strikes. If there is a hallmark of the moral inversions of our present age, it is surely the acceptability of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Various rationales have been given for assisted suicide: to end the physical pain or mental distress of a progressive and incurable disease, or simply to end a life that the individual no longer wishes to live. Underlying these rationales is the notion that life is the property of the sovereign self. Those who assert a right to physician-assisted suicide claim to promote “death with dignity.” They claim that we’re not truly human unless we control death by choosing its time and manner. If sex-change surgery is to be called gender reassignment, then “death with dignity” is mortality reassignment.

This rhetoric of rights bespeaks a bid for ­sovereignty. I have the right to end my life on my own terms—the modern definition of “dignity.” Faced with my own insignificance and powerlessness, I can fool myself into believing that I am in control. I can be the agent in my own destruction. I, not God, will decide when I will die. It is an act of great ­self-deception.

The bounds of euthanasia broaden to include the mentally ill, even the young. And, of course, there is abortion. Perhaps the assertion of sovereignty over our lives and those of others is a means of tricking ourselves into believing our own immortality. The killer does not stand at the grave of Ivan Ilyich and deny by force of will that he beholds his own fate. He asserts sovereignty over death by becoming its agent. To determine who lives and who dies makes us feel godlike. It is a feeling many tyrants have cultivated.

With human nature under attack, Christians may well wonder how we can still speak to the world. But death provides an opportunity. You can choose your sexuality, you can choose your gender, you can even choose the time of your death. But you cannot choose whether or not to die. The problem of death persists and cries out for an answer, even if one claims that no answer can be given. As long as death exists, people will ask about the meaning of life. That is good news for Christians worried about their cultural relevance. As death approaches, the noise of affluence subsides. And people become more willing to listen.

But do we have the words the world needs to hear? Contemporary Christian attitudes to death are too much in accord with the age’s strategies of distraction and denial. We often judge Christian accommodation to the world in terms of lax attitudes to sex and ­sexuality. But if our rebellion against nature is more fundamental, then attitudes to death may be a more significant measure of our worldliness. Take the creeping intrusion of “celebrations of life” into Christian churches as the default liturgy of death.

The transformation of funerals into celebrations is an attempt to deny death its due. The attempt is as futile as it is strange—for if you set out to underline the devastation wrought by a death, you could hardly do better than to recollect the joy and laughter the deceased brought to the lives of others. Dante’s ­Francesca da Rimini expresses it well in canto 5 of the Inferno: “Life brings no greater grief / Than happiness remembered in a time / Of Sorrow.” And Dante was describing the Second Circle of Hell, not suggesting an appropriate liturgy for a Christian funeral service.

Why does death hurt? If it is as universal as birth, if it is the terminal point of every life, why should it provoke mourning? Why is the passing of a loved one not just as easy to accept as the falling of an autumn leaf? Death hurts because it is a privation of being. That which has existed has been torn away from us. An autumn leaf is not a unique, self-conscious being in dialogue with which one’s own particular identity is forged. The death of a human being is the death of a person with a history, and the more that history has shaped who we are in the present—the closer we have been to the person who has died—the more the death deprives us of the future we had imagined for ourselves. A little piece of us has died with the death of another—whether a child who emerges stillborn, or a beloved grandparent full of years. We who remain are diminished; a wound is left in our souls. That is a privation of our being, painful and permanent.

Privations of being are not simply nothing. They are absences, but they are absences with a mystical presence. Dylan Thomas captures what this means in a draft of a poem found among his papers after his death. Speaking of the loss of his father, he writes: “Until I die he will not leave my side.” His father is dead. Yet his very absence remains as an unwelcome presence in the poet’s life. Anyone who has lost a loved one can testify that the loss is not temporary but stays with us forever. We do not “get over” the death of a parent or a sibling or a spouse or a child; we simply learn to live with the presence of the absence. Memories crowd in, we imagine the voices of the dear departed, we see them in our dreams—and all of this serves to press the ever-present absence upon us and break our hearts afresh.

Thomas’s father should exist and now does not. His nonexistence is more than a personal privation for the father; it is an interpersonal, relational privation for the son. The bereaved are reduced by the death of a loved one. They suffer the privation of being that lies at the heart of evil. The father who has lost his son is no longer the same person. He has not simply returned to his early state of not being a father. He no longer enjoys the relation of love with another particular, unique, and irreplaceable living creature that once he did. He has been made less, in a painful and unnatural way. The same applies to the child who has lost a parent, the sister who has lost a brother, the husband who has lost his wife, or the friend who has lost a companion. We have words that speak of the ongoing presence of such privations: orphan, widow, widower. And perhaps the fact that we have no word for the parent who has lost a child is itself a testimony to the unspeakable abiding horror and pain of such a circumstance.

Part of the Christian’s witness is thus to be ­realistic in our acknowledgment of the power of death and the tangible reality of the abiding losses it inflicts upon those left behind. We might add that part of Christian witness is to point to the fragility of life. Thus, funerals that purport to be “celebrations of life” fail in yet another way. Not only do they deny the devastation death leaves in its wake, they ignore the vulnerability and mortality of those left behind.

Life is fragile, and death is devastating. These are two biblical truths, which we need to place at the heart of the Church’s life. A moment’s reflection on “celebrations of life” indicates that they can occur only in affluent and comfortable environments. They are an attempt to gloss life and death with the aesthetics of our affluence. Think of celebrating life at a funeral, and then listen to the burial rite from the Book of Common Prayer:

Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour; thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee.

“Man, that is born of woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.” These are hard words, but like the peasant Gerasim, they remind us all of the hold death has upon each and every one. The funeral and the graveside are not places to celebrate strength or to make ourselves the exception; they are places to acknowledge our weakness and our fragility and our common human mortality.

Of course, Christianity involves the hope of the resurrection. As Paul declares, if Christ has not been raised, then Christians are of all people most to be pitied. Yet herein lies a paradox: Christians grieve, too. Indeed, Christians grieve acutely. The hope for the resurrection has to be set within the context of the reality of death, yet that very hope perhaps intensifies the pain. Abraham, the recipient of the covenant promise, weeps for his beloved Sarah. And Jesus himself sheds tears at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, even as he declares himself the Resurrection. Why so? I suspect it is because the very framework of the covenant promise highlights the tragedy that is death. As he stands at the tomb in Bethany, Jesus sees the full horror of what sin has wrought, which only his death and Resurrection can overcome. He knows—he sees—that death is not some part of the natural life cycle. It is a powerful and evil incursion. Yes, we look to the resurrection, but Christians, of all people, should understand the pain and horror that make the resurrection necessary.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought us all a little closer to Bethany. Death, for the moment, is nearer to most of us than we like to think. It is no longer hidden away in hospices and care homes, or domesticated by the cartoonish violence of the movies. It is real. And in this climate, the Church has a moment to think about her priorities. Your best life now? Funerals as celebrations? Liturgies and praise songs that focus on the feelings of the congregants as they struggle with first-world problems? That is not biblical Christianity, and it is wholly inadequate to the current situation—and therefore to our ultimate fate. It is unfortunate that the sense of loss and longing the thought of death brings us should be better expressed in the poetry of Dylan Thomas or the films of Ingmar Bergman than in the contemporary liturgies of many Christian churches.

Can the Church be honest about death in an era addicted to the pleasure of the moment? That is the challenge we face, and it demands that we reorient our thinking from this world to the next, that we prepare ourselves not just to live as God’s people but to die as God’s people. Death should not be, but it is. Only the Church understands this, and only the Church can provide the answer through her preaching, her sacraments, her liturgy, and her pastoral care. But first, she must acknowledge the unfathomable and inevitable nature of the final enemy. COVID-19 poses the question in an acute and unavoidable form. It is doubtless severe, but in pressing the cruel reality of death upon us all, it is a severe mercy.

Carl R. Trueman is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College and senior fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Source: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2020/06/the-final-enemy

May—12 The Poor Man’s Evening Portion

For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord; thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.—Jeremiah 29:11.

My soul! thou art “looking for the mercy of thy Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” This is thy one object, and that one object is centered in Jesus. But in the view of this thou art sadly put to it at times by thwarting providences that seem to come between. It would be a blessed help to thee, hadst thou grace always to keep in remembrance what the Lord saith in this blessed scripture: “I know the thoughts that I think towards you—thoughts of peace, and not of evil.” And how truly fulfilled are these things in the redemption by Jesus! In him the foundation is laid for the accomplishment; and “he is of one mind, and who can turn him?” Be the outward appearances of things what they may, yet the Lord is everlastingly pursuing one and the same invariable plan of mercy. His providences may vary, but his grace never can. It is the deficiency of our faith, and not a defect in the covenant, which makes a believing soul to stagger, and call in question divine faithfulness. “I said,” saith the Church, (at a time when the stream of that river which makes glad the city of God ran low), “I said, my strength and my hope is perished from the Lord.” But how did the Church correct herself soon after! “The Lord is my portion,” saith she, “therefore will I hope in him.” (Lam. 3:18, 24.) It is blessed to rest upon the Lord’s own words, and to give credit to what he hath promised, when, according to all appearances of things, there seemeth an impossibility to the performance of them. This indeed is faith, and faith in her best dress and character. It is no longer faith, when the thing promised is come to pass: this is not trusting God, but receiving payment from God. But when God’s thoughts towards us find, through his grace in our hearts, corresponding thoughts towards him, of his truth and faithfulness, then what ever happens by the way, the soul of the believer is kept in peace, because he knows that he shall have an expected end of peace, and not of evil. Oh! then, for grace to be everlastingly hearing the Lord’s voice in all his dispensations! See to it, my soul, that under all trials, all exercises, all difficulties, be they what they may—as there can be no trial of which Jesus hath not the appointment, no exercise but what he knows, no difficulty that can for a moment alter or interrupt his plan of salvation—oh! learn to lean upon him, and to leave all with him, entertaining and cherishing the same good thoughts of him for ever! for he it is that saith—“I know the thoughts that I think towards you; thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”[1]

 

[1] Hawker, R. (1845). The Poor Man’s Evening Portion (A New Edition, pp. 147–148). Philadelphia: Thomas Wardle.

May 12 The Interpreter: Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible

May 12.—Morning. [Or September 20.]
“The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble.”

WHEN David was settled upon his throne, his people were accustomed lovingly to pray for him. We find one of their prayer-hymns in the book of Psalms; it is known as

Psalm 20

We shall, as we read it, see Jesus in it, and turn it to spiritual account.

The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;

Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion; (Out of heaven’s sanctuary came the angel to strengthen our Lord, and from the precious remembrance of God’s doings in his sanctuary our Lord refreshed himself when on the tree. There is no help like that which is of God’s sending, and no deliverance like that which comes out of his sanctuary. The sanctuary to us is the person of our blessed Lord, who was typified by the temple, and is the true sanctuary which God has pitched, and not man: let us fly to the Cross for shelter in all times of need, and help will be sent to us. Men of the world despise sanctuary help, but our hearts have learned to prize it beyond all material aid. They seek help out of the armoury, or the treasury; but we turn to the sanctuary.) “And strengthen thee out of Zion.” (To the Lord’s mystical body the richest good comes in answer to the pleadings of his saints. This verse is a benediction befitting a Sabbath morning, and may be the salutation either of a pastor to his people, or of a Church to its minister. God in the sanctuary of his dear Son’s person, and in the city of his chosen Church, is the proper object of his people’s prayers, and under such a character they may confidently look to him for promised aid.)

Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah. (Before war, kings offered sacrifice, upon the acceptance of which they depended for success. Our blessed Lord presented himself as a victim, and was a sweet savour unto the Most High, and then he met and routed the embattled legions of hell. Still does his burnt sacrifice perfume the courts of heaven, and through him the offerings of his people are received as his sacrifices and oblations. We ought in our spiritual conflicts never to march forth to war until first the Lord has given us a token for good at that altar where faith beholds her bleeding Lord.)

Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel.

We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the Lord fulfil all thy petitions.

Now know I that the Lord saveth his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. (Chariots and horses make such an imposing show, that vain man is much taken with them; yet the discerning eye of faith sees more in an invisible God than in all these. The most dreaded war-engine of David’s day was the war-chariot, armed with scythes, which mowed down men like grass: this was the boast and glory of the neighbouring nations; but the saints considered the name of Jehovah to be a far better defence. As the Israelites might not keep horses, it was most natural for them to regard the enemy’s cavalry with more than usual dread. It is, therefore, all the greater evidence of faith that the bold songster can here disdain even the horse of Egypt in comparison with the Lord of Hosts. Alas, how many in our day who profess to be the Lord’s, are as abjectly dependent upon their fellow-men, or upon an arm of flesh in some shape or other, as if they had never known the name of Jehovah at all!)

They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.

The enemies of God are uppermost at first, but before long they are brought down by force, or else fall of their own accord. Their foundation is rotten, and therefore when the time comes it gives way under them; their chariots are burned in the fire, and their horses die of pestilence, and where is their boasted strength? As for those who rest on Jehovah, they are often cast down at the first onset, but an Almighty arm uplifts them, and they joyfully stand upright. The victory of Jesus is the inheritance of his people. The world, death, Satan, and sin, shall all be trampled beneath the feet of the champions of faith; while those who rely upon an arm of flesh shall be ashamed and confounded for ever.

Save, Lord: let the king hear us when we call.

May 12.—Evening. [Or September 21.]
“His glory is great in thy salvation.”

IN another Psalm we find King David exulting in the mercy of the Lord his God.

Psalm 21

This has been called the Royal Triumphal Ode. If we can see Jesus the king sweetly prominent in it, we shall be greatly profited.

The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!

Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah. (Souls are saved by Jesus, his people are enriched with all spiritual blessings in him, and this makes him greatly rejoice.)

For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: (The word prevent formerly signified to precede or go before, and assuredly Jehovah preceded his Son with blessings. Before he died, saints were saved by the anticipated merit of his death. The Father is so willing to give blessings through his Son, that instead of his being constrained to bestow his grace, he outstrips the Mediatorial march of mercy. “I say not that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you.”)

Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head. (Jesus wore the thorn-crown, but now wears the glory-crown. It is a “crown” indicating royal nature, imperial power, deserved honour, glorious conquest, and divine government. The crown is of the richest, rarest, most resplendent, and most lasting order—“gold,” and that gold of the most refined and valuable sort, “pure gold,” to indicate the excellence of his dominion. This crown is set upon his head most firmly, so that no power can move it, for Jehovah himself has set it upon his brow.)

He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever.

His glory is great in thy salvation: honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.

For thou hast made him most blessed for ever: thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.

For the king trusteth in the Lord, and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved.

Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies: thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee. (None shall escape from the Great King when he comes in wrath. Be it ours at once to accept his love.)

9, 10, 11, 12 Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them. Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men. For they intended evil against thee: they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform. Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back, when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.

Vain will be all opposition to Jesus, and terrible the overthrow of his enemies. God forbid that we should be among them.

13 Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power.

The whole Psalm is meant to show forth the praises of the Lord Jesus. Isaac Ambrose upon this subject writes:—“I remember a dying woman who heard some discourse of Jesus Christ; ‘Oh,’ said she, ‘speak more of this—let me hear more of this—be not weary of telling his praise; I long to see him, and therefore I love to hear of him!’ Surely I cannot say too much of Jesus Christ. On this blessed subject no man can possibly exaggerate. Had I the tongues of men and angels, I could never fully set forth Christ. It involves an eternal contradiction, that the creature can see to the bottom of the Creator. Suppose all the sands on the sea-shore, all the flowers, herbs, leaves, twigs of trees in woods and forests, all the stars of heaven, were all rational creatures; and that they had wisdom, and tongues of angels to speak of the loveliness, beauty, glory, and excellency of Christ, as gone to heaven, and sitting at the right-hand of his Father, they would, in all their expressions, stay millions of miles on this side of Jesus Christ. Oh, the loveliness, beauty, and glory of his countenance! Can I speak, or you hear of such a Christ? And are we not all in a burning love, in a seraphical love, or at least a conjugal love? O my heart, how is it thou art not love-sick? How is it thou dost not charge the daughters of Jerusalem as the spouse did? I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye shall tell him, that I am sick of love.”[1]

 

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1964). The Interpreter: Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible (pp. 277–278). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

May 12 Life-Changing Moments With God

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Father God, Your love has been poured out in my heart by Your Holy Spirit who was given to me. I did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but I received the Spirit of adoption by whom I cry out, “Abba, Father.”

The Spirit Himself bears witness with my spirit that I am Your child, Father God. I believe in Your Son and have the witness in myself.

In this the love of God was manifested toward me, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that I might live through Him. In Him I have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. That in the ages to come You might show the exceeding riches of Your grace, Father, in Your kindness toward me in Christ Jesus.

Since, Lord God, You so loved me, I also ought to love others.

You are love, God! It’s Your very nature! Fill me with that love, I ask, so that I might honor You as I love people with Your love.

1 John 4:7; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:15–16; 1 John 5:10; 1 John 4:9; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:7; 1 John 4:11[1]

 

[1] Jeremiah, D. (2007). Life-Changing Moments With God (p. 147). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.