Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Power of God

Alot of times we spend so much time meditating on the love and tenderness of Jesus, that we forget about the sheer, glorious power of God. The magnitude of His being is so vastly beyond our comprehension, and it is essential, for humility's sake, that we reflect on the mighty words of God. This passage in from Job 38, verses 1-21.

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:

Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,
that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?
The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment.
The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!

The things that strike me most about this passage is both it's incredible and majestic self-description by God, and His magnificent use of sarcasm. In this last line, He's basically telling Job, "You idiot...I'm the creator of reality itself. I existed before time, because I created time! No measly amount of experience you can boast in will even come close to being able to compare with Me!" It's a beautiful mental picture...just close your eyes, and imagine God speaking this to you. You'd have no room left to feel offense at His criticisms, because you'd be too full of wonder and awe at His mere voice. You'd never question His judgement of you, because you'd know from the moment He spoke that, not only would you pale in comparision to Him, but your inferior state make it impossible to compare yourself at Him at all!

In Isaiah 40:12 and 15, we see another striking description of the Lord...

"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?" (v. 12)
"Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust." (v. 15)

However...the most beautiful thing is the seeming-contrast that we see in the verse directly before...

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." (v. 11)

How is is that God--is who is so obviously powerful, wise, sovereign, and superior beyond our wildest dreams--could be "gentle"? Why would He bother to tend to us like sheep, when His vastness must make us beyond miniscule in His sight? Perhaps this is exactly why He cares for us so tenderly...because...

2 Corinthians 12:9-10~ "But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Desires of Our Hearts

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” ~Psalm 37:4

First off, let me give the credit for this idea to a friend of mine, whom I recently had a brief conversation with about the topic. Too often the constraints of the English language keep us from getting the full effect of this verse. In fact, I would venture to say that, oftentimes, we get it completely wrong. As my friend pointed out to me, in English we have one word for both the desires themselves, and the object being desired. Annoying, when you consider the fact that Taiwan has 20-some words for “rice”. You’d think that the British could have been a wee bit more creative. Could it be that we’ve misinterpreted this verse? Is it possible that…perhaps…"delighting ourselves in the Lord" isn’t a free-pass to a Celestial-Santa Claus? Maybe (prepare yourself), this verse actually means that, instead of giving us what we desire, God will actually plant new desires on our hearts. Good, Godly desires. Desires that will further His kingdom, enhance our lives, and, ultimately, bring glory to Him.

However, before we can achieve this, the question is to ask ourselves is…are we really willing to give up our worldly desires? In the book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis writes, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell." How willing are we to completely empty ourselves of all of our earthly desires? For gaining Heavenly ones isn’t simply a matter of “making room”. Holiness cannot dwell alongside worldliness. Galatians 2:19-10 says,

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

It seems to me that we must first start out by putting to death our human nature. By completely surrendering everything that we consider “ours”, we allow ourselves to prepare a dwelling place for the vastness of God’s righteousness. As Jim Elliot so aptly said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” So…what exactly does dying to self entail? Is it wrong to have desires for things other than God? Is it wrong to derive pleasure from earthly things? My opinion is that, no, it most certainly is not. I believe that what we should strive for is actually relinquishing our hold on things of the world. Bringing yourself into the mindset that nothing we “own”, as far as earthly things go, is truly ours in the first place. All things belong to God, and God alone has the power to both give them, and take them away. Job finally came to this very conclusion, after several chapters of wrestling with God, and said,

“Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21)

If we can simultaneously enjoy the rich blessings that God has poured out on our lives, and realize that He has both the power and justification to take them out of our lives whenever He deems it necessary…can we do anything but feel in awe of such a Being? Can we do anything less than be utterly delighted with a God from whom all good things come from, and to whom all good things will return? Lewis wrapped up this concept nicely when he wrote, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you get neither.”

Delight ourselves in the Lord. It is a constant struggle for me, and it is something that we must always be on our guards about, lest we fall into the trap of worshiping the creation instead of the Creator. But the Lord God is faithful in keeping His promises. He will give us the strength if we only ask Him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Platonic Allegory Revisited

Actually, this title is somewhat misleading. It should say something like, "A Platonic allegory rewritten, Megan-style...with an entirely different ending tacked on." However, I thought that the lengthiness of such a title would severely damage the post's aesthetic appeal, and therefore, drawn even less readers than it currently has. This story is based off an allegory that can be found in the book Republic, by Plato, at the beginning of chapter 7.

Once upon a time there was a small cave, completely surrounded by a beautiful, tropical paradise, and in it dwelled three people. There was something interesting about the way in which these people lived inside this cave…namely, they were all strapped to chairs, unable to move their limbs, or even turn their heads. They each sat facing a cave wall, and behind them roared a great fire. The only images these people could see were shadows reflected onto the cave wall by the light of the fire. They did, however, still have voices to communicate with…and they did just that. Although none really knew what the others looked like, save for the blurry cast of their shadow, they thought they must know all things very well…for they could not well imagine anything besides the small existence they had known. These three cave-dwellers had very different personalities. The first one, Ann, was very set in her ways. Actually, it went beyond that…change was her biggest enemy, and her greatest fear. She earnestly enjoyed being strapped to the chair…because she never wanted to see beyond what she knew. The second one, John, made famous the motto “ignorance is bliss”. Change was a subject of apathy for him. He could live with it, or without it. Truth was irrelevant…all that mattered was what he could see, and he had no desire to venture beyond it.The third cave inhabitant—Sarah—was unlike both Ann and John. She longed to break free of the binding chains. She desired nothing more than to see for herself the world which she knew existed, yet beyond that, of which she knew nothing. One day, a vision came to all three of them, and they were told that if they struggled hard enough, they could indeed break free of their chains. Each one’s reaction was different. When Ann heard they news, her fingers curled tightly around the arm of the chair, gripping it fiercely. Her movements (what little she was able) stilled further, so as not to upset her position. She whispered a prayer that she would never, ever be wrenched from her precious chair and chains. As the news sunk in for John, not much changed. He decided that anything that he might “discover” outside of his cave wouldn’t really be worth the effort it took to get there. All that struggling, grappling, and straining was bound to work up a sweat, and John simply didn’t have the energy. Maybe one day he would try…but it was doubtful. As Sarah absorbed the vision, she was emerged in a sea of hope. Feeling giddy with anticipation, and ferocious with determination, she immediately began struggling against her ties. All day she pushed and pulled and strained against the wretched chains that had been a part of her forever. Her body cried out in pain as she pressed on, never letting up in her fight. She had a singular goal, and nothing was more important.Eventually, her hard work paid off. All the effort, pain, and times of doubt were rewarded when she finally heard the clink of breaking metal. As Sarah’s chains fell free, she began to shake. What to do now? The struggle was over…she could walk into the light. But what if it wasn’t light, at all? What if dreadful evils lie outside of the cave…outside of her line of vision? The thoughts surfaced in rapid succession. Why had she not thought of these things before? She knew the answer…she had been too focused on ridding herself of what kept her bound in falsehood to ponder whether or not falsehood was that bad of a devil at all…and, if it was, whether or not it was worth entering into something so completely unknown in order to rid herself of it. With a deep breath of fortitude, laced with the shakiness of uncertainty, she decided then and there to not let her agonizing effort go to waste. Quaking to her bones, she slowly turned her head and rose from the chair. It was then that she entered into pure Truth...pure joy.