Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The Sabbath

God instituted a day of rest per week, because, after six days of toil the human body and brain need rest. That’s makes good sense, doesn’t it? Except that the Bible says nothing like that.

What we find in the Bible is that God completed all the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day. There is no hint that on the first day of the following week God picked up his lunch bucket, punched the time clock, and began another week of work. His work was finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3).

The seventh day was the beginning of a never ending rest for God and the promise to us is that we can enter into that rest. The once a week Sabbath was commanded as a memorial and as a foretaste of the spiritual rest that would become available through the Messiah.

Unfortunately, the human mind finds it much easier to grasp the idea of physical rest than of spiritual rest. We have been aided in this by the reasoning of Greek philosophers and their followers in the churches.

The fourth commandment decrees that all labour cease on the Sabbath, but it gives no hint that this was because of the need of our bodies for physical and mental rest. The purpose of the Sabbath was to separate people from earthly cares so they could contemplate eternal realities. The New Testament makes it clear that the labour that must cease is our futile attempts to earn salvation.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites us to cease our labours, lay down our burdens and He will give us rest for our souls. Hebrews 11:1-10 is an invitation to cease from our labours and enter into God’s rest, the Sabbath. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).

We enter into that rest when we are born again. We know God as our Father and we are assured that He knows us as His child. He fills us with love, joy, peace and all the fruit of the spirit. He guides us, comforts us and helps us in all the troubles we face in life.

We are no longer anxious about food, clothing, or the health of our body. Our Father knows what we need and He will provide (Matthew 6:25-34). We should not take that as meaning we are now exempt from physical labour, that is still necessary and good for us. But we need no longer be burdened by worry and care as to how it will all turn out.

We have entered into the Sabbath, not a day on our earthly calendars, but a time that will continue to the end of time and into eternity. Spiritual realities now take priority over material realities. We need not worry about our status in the eyes of other people, what matters is that we are a child of God, surrounded by His love.

Living in the Sabbath also requires us to forgive others, hold no grudges, not to favour one person above another, but to see others as God sees them. Some are God’s children, God wants them all to be His children and so should we.

God gave the prophet Isaiah a beautiful picture of the right way to fast and to observe the Sabbath. Does any of this sound like something that one ought to do on certain occasions only, or one day a week? Doesn’t it rather portray the New Testament kingdom of God when God’s children will live the Sabbath every day?

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:6-14).

The fourth commandment does not give any instruction for gathering for worship one day a week. In the Old Testament era there were only three annual festivals when all adult males should assemble for worship in Jerusalem.

Neither is there instruction in the Old Testament for establishing synagogues and holding one day a week worship services. It was a tradition that appears to have begun during the Babylonian captivity, and it was a good tradition. Christians have adopted that tradition and the weekly worship has become the primary source of sustaining our spiritual life. It is not a law written on tablets of stone, but it should be a law written on our hearts that we would want to gather where and when spiritual nourishment is being served.

What is a miracle?

canola-field-3436417_640A few weeks ago farmers in our area seeded many fields with tiny, round, black Canola seeds. Before long green leaves appeared and grew large. Then flower spikes grew upwards and little yellow flowers appeared. Now we are seeing golden yellow fields like the one in the picture above.

That little black seed contained coding that enabled it to take nutrients and moisture from the soil and turn them into a plant many times larger than itself. Each flower will form a seed that is an exact copy of the seed from which the plant grew.

Is that a miracle? No; it is a predictable result of putting that seed in the ground. Do I  comprehend how the seed is able to do that? I can explain what happens, the why is beyond me. Only God could build a seed with life in itself and the ability to reproduce itself.

Have you ever thought about how much rain must fall from the sky to produce a crop? One centimetre of rain on one hectare of land amounts to 100 tonnes of water. Canola plants need 20 cm of rain between seeding and harvest to make a good crop. That is 2,000 tonnes of water per hectare. All that water is held in clouds in the sky and delivered to where it is needed.

Is that a miracle? No, it is simply another of the wonders of cration. Solomon described the cycle of water several thousand years ago: “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again” (Ecclesiastes 1:7).

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Jesus fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread. I expect the loaves looked much like the ones in the picture above, as housewives in Israel weren’t using bread pans back then.

I expect that it was done so simply as to be almost imperceptable. Jesus broke a large piece off a loaf and gave it to one of the disciples. When he went to break off another pece to give to another disciple the loaf in his hand was about as big as before he tore anything from it. The disciples had the same experience. They kept breaking smaller pieces off the large piece in their hands and there was always more to break off. After everyone had eaten there was more bread left than there had been at the beginning. Now that was a miracle.

Jesus could have asked for a thousand loaves of bread to appear in the midst of the crowd. Think of the tumult as each one tried to grab some for himself. That was not His way. He blessed the bread and broke it to give to the people and it was clear to all that He was the giver. Most miracles occur quietly, almost unseen.

A few years ago Doctor Kevin Dautremont wrote in his blog of such a miracle. A young man had been a Christian, but became angry and bitter when he developed cancer and had to have one of his legs amputated. He turned away from God and from his family.

He was in palliative care and near the end when Doctor Kevin was called to see him. The young man’s voice had previously been almost inaudible, now he asked in a clear strong voice for help to stand. He stood on his remaining leg, looked at his mother, smiled and said “I’ve been with Jesus. And we were running.” Then he laid back on the bed, closed his eyes, and died.

Doctor Kevin asked: “Is there a greater miracle than a heart changed? A soul saved? A prodigal returned to the loving arms of His Father?”

You can read the full text of Doctor Kevin’s blog article here.

The Logos

Greek philosophers believed the world had always existed and realized that there must be some active principle that made the world function in an orderly fashion. Heraclitus, Zeno and Plato described this principle that ordered and maintained the universe and permeated all reality as the Logos. Logos means word, reason, plan and all that might be included in their meaning.

Then Jesus was born and walked this earth with a few followers. One of those who walked with Jesus, described him this way:

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. And the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (The gospel of John chapter 1, verses 1 to 5 and verse 14).

Do you see what John is doing? He is telling us that the Logos is much more than philosophers have been able to grasp by their reasoning. He is a person, He is God, yet in some way separate from God the Father. He has created all things, He is the source of life and of light. John is saying I have met Him and I want to introduce Him to you so that you may also know Him and walk with Him.

John also tells us that the darkness did not comprehend the Logos when He came into the world. The English language has a million words, yet lacks a word to describe the kind of darkness that John is speaking of. This darkness is not the mere absence of light but the home of Satan and all that is opposed to the light. In French it is called ténèbres; many other languages have a similar word, but not English. Most of the time when the New Testament uses the word darkness it means that kind of darkness:

Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Colossians 1:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness (ténèbres), and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness (ténèbres) to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres) rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

The English Bible (AV) says that the darkness (ténèbres) did not comprehend the light. Comprehend comes from the French word comprendre which sometimes means understand, but the root meaning is to take in. The French Bible simply says the ténèbres did not receive the light.

Let us rejoice that the Logos, the light, has come into the world. May we truly know Him and walk with Him. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Merry Christmas!

Darkness and light

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)

The Scriptures speak of two kinds of darkness: the one a natural darkness which is simply the absence of natural light: the other a spiritual darkness that is opposed to God and which is the dwelling place of spiritual beings opposed to God. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible use different words to differentiate between the two forms of darkness. Many languages have two words for darkness, English has only one and that can lead to misunderstandings of the text.

In French Bibles the underlined word in the above text is rendered ténèbres. The dictionary defines this word as profound darkness, most often considered to be a material environment; in a religious sense, that which is opposed to the light of God.This captures well the meaning of the word used in the original Hebrew.

Understood this way, the verse is telling us that the forces of spiritual darkness were present on the earth from the beginning of creation. It also explains why God created light on the first day of creation, but the sun was not created until the fourth day. The light of the sun cannot drive away spiritual darkness, only the light of God’s presence can do that.

The next verse tells us that God divided the light from the darkness. The conflict between light and darkness has continued from that day and will continue until the end of the world. Natural night and day are realities that should remind us of the deeper reality of spiritual darkness and light.

Many cultures confused the light of the sun with the light of God and worshipped the sun. God showed His judgment of Egyptian sun worship by bringing darkness on the land of Egypt. The word used in Hebrew (and in the French translation) denotes spiritual darkness, but it also manifested itself as natural darkness. The land of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, had light, both natural and spiritual.

Later on, when God called Moses to go up Mount Sinai, we are told that the mountain was covered by a cloud of thick darkness. The word used here simply means natural darkness. In French it is rendered obscurité. When Moses climbed up the mountain he was obscured from the view of the people below. When he reached the top of the mountain, the natural light of the sun was completely obscured and he was illuminated by the light of God’s presence.

Moving on to the New Testament, the gospel of John, speaking of Jesus, tells us: In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:4-5) Here again, the underlined words are rendered ténèbres in French, an accurate translation of the Greek word in the original.

Here are a few more New Testament passages:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres)rather than light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness (ténèbres) even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness (ténèbres), and walketh in darkness (ténèbres), and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness (ténèbres) hath blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

(This is a good verse for discerning those who profess enlightenment in social, environmental or spiritual matters, but react angrily to anyone who dares to disagree with their enlightenment. It should be first and foremost a standard to prove our own spirit in these and all other matters.)

Finally, there shall be an eternal separation between darkness and light:

Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness (obscurité) of darkness (ténèbres) for ever. Jude verse 13

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. Revelation 21:23

Let there be light

This is the time when darkness is winning the battle with light. We now have 13½ hours from sundown to sunrise, in another 2 months it will be 16½. It feels like our bodies and our minds slow down with the increasing darkness. For some people, this actually becomes a state of clinical depression, known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I think we all suffer from it to some extent. The remedy is a little lamp that emits light that replicates the spectrum of sunlight. If we sit under this light for about 15 minutes every morning. it stimulates the release of happy chemicals into our brain. Therefore it is called a Happy Light.

When spring comes the night and day scenario is reversed and we need no artificial light. The increasing daylight triggers spring fever, where we begin itching to get outside and get to work on various projects in our yards. These are very real phenomena that really don’t have anything to do with the fact that it is cold outside in winter and warm in summer. It is the daylight that causes grass to grow, trees to leaf out, flowers to bloom and people to do silly things. The warmth helps, of course, but it is not the primary cause.

The creation account in the Bible tells us that light appeared on the first day, but the sun, moon and stars didn’t show up until the fourth day. I believe God was telling us that it is pointless to worship these celestial bodies because He is the ultimate source of light. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” The amount of exposure we have to this Light makes a world of difference in our outlook on life and our happiness.

C.S. Lewis said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

 

Nature: red of tooth and claw

Welcome guests:

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Unwelcome guests:

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The welcome mat is out in our yard for goldfinches, swallows and all of our beautiful native songbirds. We wish that there was some way to convince the murderous English sparrows that they are not welcome here.

For several years we have had swallows nesting in a box clearly visible from our bedroom window. This year the swallows started building a nest there again, then we saw that sparrows had taken over. Chris took down the box to clean out the sparrow nest and found the body of the swallow they had killed at the bottom of the nest.

We have now declared open season on English sparrows in our yard and several fathers have brought their boys over for a little target practice. I don’t own a gun and don’t like the idea of killing, but if we do nothing all the birdhouses on our yard will be filled with mother sparrows raising more baby sparrows.

There are also native sparrows: chipping sparrows; song sparrows; grasshopper sparrows and more. They are interesting and inoffensive. It is only these foreigners who have no respect for the native citizens that we consider to be pests.

The title of this post comes from Tennyson and it is an accurate description of nature. There is beauty all around, but there is also savage killing and destruction. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). Everything changed when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Even the murderous sparrow is evidence of that

“I marvel at the audacity with which some people presume to speak of God. In giving their evidence to unbelievers, usually their first chapter is to prove the existence of God from the works of nature. . . . But that is not how Scripture speaks, with its better knowledge of the things of God. On the contrary, it speaks of God as a hidden God, and because nature has been corrupted, he has left men to their blindness. They can only escape from this through Jesus Christ, for without him all communication with God is severed.” – Blaise Pascal.

Transcendence and Immanence

The more one understands about the order of the universe, the inter-relationship of all its parts, the harder it becomes to believe that it could be the result of mindless chance. It is the same when one gets just a layman’s grasp of the minute detail of living things, the intricacy of DNA and the complex functions of microscopic organisms. If we acknowledge that blind chance could not have produced any of this, we are left to contemplate the possibility of a Creator whose intelligence is vastly superior to ours.

The Creator must transcend that which He has created; that is, He must be outside of, and greater than anything else that exists. The Bible describes just such a God: “O LORD, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep. A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this” Psalm 92:5-6. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8-9. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” ! Kings 8:27.  ” For all those things hath mine hand made” Isaiah 66:2.

Nevertheless, a great and almighty God would not inspire trust in mankind if He was far away, unknowable, uncaring and unreachable. That is not the God described in the Bible. God is Immanent – present everywhere in His creation. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee” Psalm 139:9-12.

The immanence of God is more alarming than His transcendence. He knows everything about me, my present, past and future. He know what I am going to say before I say it. But the wonder of His immanence is that He wants to use it to help us: ” This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” Psalm 34:6-8. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” Isaiah 41:10

It can be a fearful thing to contemplate the transcendence and the immanence of God. In fact, there are many who are running away from God, trying desperately to convince themselves that it cannot be true. But to those who understand that to run away from God is to flee the source of genuine peace and happiness, it is confidence building.

In defence of doubt

As Christians, we tend to have this utopian belief that a true believer will never have any doubts about matters of faith. Thus, when a brother or sister has the courage to admit to doubt, we react with something akin to panic.

Why do we react like this? Isn’t it because deep down we ourselves doubt whether there is a satisfactory answer for the doubt expressed by our brother or sister. So we label the doubt as unbelief and tell the doubting person to repent of that unbelief.

In most cases doubt is simply a feeling of uncertainty, a longing for answers and not a refusal to believe. We all have doubts at times and it is not healthy to suppress them. If we go on for too long simply stifling our doubts, they are apt to erupt one day into a major crisis of faith.

We need to look for answers to our doubts, and to the doubts of others. Right here we often encounter the biggest doubt of all: are there really answers to our doubts? How can we even know that God exists?

We should be wary of answers that assume that faith and reason are mutually exclusive realms and that we just need to have faith. Sometimes Christians use a variant of this type of answer by coming up with stories that supposedly prove Creation, the existence of heaven or hell, or some other tenet of the faith and say we have a different kind of knowledge than the world has. Most of these stories do not stand up under close scrutiny and have the effect of confirming the world’s perception that Christian’s aren’t very bright.

Blaise Pascal said “The heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know.” Yet he went on to develop arguments to show the reasonableness of Christian faith. There is no contradiction here — Christian faith does provide the best explanation for things as they really are. Those who rely on reason alone and deny the very possibility of God have created well thought out explanations for the existence of the world and all natural phenomena, including the workings of the human mind. The problem is that new evidence keeps cropping up that does not fit these explanations, so new explanations need to be developed.

There is no absolute proof for any aspect of Christian faith; on the other hand, there is no evidence that contradicts the faith. When looked at objectively, without the blinders created by a refusal to admit any possibility of the existence of God, it becomes clear that God is the explanation that best fits all the available evidence.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith then is really all we need, faith in God and faith in what He has revealed to us in His Word. But questions and doubts will arise, and we need not fear them.

The world has developed supposedly scientific ideas about what is best for the mental and emotional well-being of mankind. Here too, an unblinkered look at the evidence shows that they don’t really work. Having confidence that there really is a God who created the world and everything in it, including us, should give us confidence to trust that His plan for the church and the home are exactly designed to meet our real needs. Let’s not panic when someone expresses doubts. Consider that an opportunity to examine the evidence and have our faith renewed.

What people need from a church

There are three things that every human being needs, and the Christian church is the only institution on earth with the potential to meet those needs.

First, there is a longing in the heart of every man, woman and child to understand the meaning of life and their place in it. People who reject God also tend to reject the idea that there is any meaning to life. That leaves them free to live as they please, or so they think. In reality, we keep bumping into the consequences of our actions. That is frustrating and it sets in motion internal conflicts that cannot be resolved and often lead to despair and even suicide.

It may seem at first a restriction of our liberty to believe in a God who created the universe and everything in it and placed me here for a purpose. I don’t even have a very clear picture of what that purpose is, but as God leads me daily by his Holy Spirit my life is painting a picture that will one day make sense. To simply accept that is a wonderfully liberating experience.

Secondly, because we are created in the image of God, we have a longing to have a relationship with him. That longing exists in everyone, but most people cannot identify what it is and they try to satisfy that longing with all kinds of things that give a temporary thrill, then leave them feeling empty and unfulfilled again.

Thirdly, there is a longing to be part of a community of love and understanding.

All of these longings are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. His life, death and resurrection are the central events of history and reveal the meaning and purpose of everything that came before and everything that has happened since. Both the good that has come when people did what God asked them to do and the evil that has been done by people who rejected God.

In Jesus Christ we can be forgiven and experience the love of God and the fellowship of his Holy Spirit. The bad things that we have done in the past can be forgiven, the wounds caused by bad things others have done can be healed.

This forgiveness and love then enables us to love and forgive others. If we become a follower of Christ, we will want to live in close relationship with others of his followers.

The real needs of men and women have not changed. The church of God does not need more and better programs, better music or more powerful preachers, we just need to trust that there is still power in the blood and grace to cleanse and revive. The Spirit is still calling the lost to repentance and the believers to lift up their eyes and see the awaiting harvest.

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

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