Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: God

Treacle and wizards

If you have read Alice in Wonderland and other books of that era written in England, you have encountered the word treacle. It is not much used this side of the water.

Treacle has a history. It was originally a Greek word meaning an antidote for a poisonous animal bite. It migrated into Latin, then French and then English, carrying the original meaning all the way. Then in English the meaning gradually widened to mean medicine of any kind, then to a sweetener added to medicine to disguise the taste, and finally just the sweet stuff itself: syrup or molasses. From there, it developed the analogous meaning of cloying sentimentality.

Cloying is interesting in itself. Oxford defines it as excessively sweet or sentimental, Cloy originates from the same Lain root that produced clé (key) and clou (nail) in French. The only connection between cloy, clé and clou that comes to my mind is the idea of fastening something. Thus, in my mind, something cloying is syrupy sweet and hard to get rid of.

To illustrate where my line of thought is going, here is a quote from Louisa May Alcott:
“People want to be amused, not preached at, you know. Morals don’t sell nowadays.”

I believe the part that people don’t want to be preached at has always been true. The answer is not to forget about writing anything with a moral message. Good writers, inspired writers, have found ways to demonstrate moral truths without preaching.

There are Christian books, stories and poems for children from the Victorian era that some Christian people think are wonderful. It must be an acquired taste, the result of being exposed to that kind of literature all through one’s childhood. I wasn’t; I can’t stand those books and I suspect most non-Christians would find them as sickeningly sweet and meaningless as I do,

The writers are preaching, they have a message, a spiritual lesson, that they are trying to convey. To avoid anyone finding the message distasteful they slather it with treacle. The better way would have been to leave out the treacle and make the characters and the circumstances more believable. The characters are more like cardboard cutouts than living people. I wonder if those who have been fed a steady diet of such treacle really have much idea how a real person responds to the gospel.

There is not much of a market for morality, but there is a market for a well told story about believable people who face real life problems. Let the writer weave in moral and spiritual truth; that is not at all fatal in the marketplace. Think of the popularity of books like C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, and the books from George MacDonald and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Some Christians don’t want their children to read such books because they are fantasy. I think of them this way – children know the world is a mysterious and dangerous place, that bad things happen for no apparent reason. It’s no good raising children on books that pretend everything is always going to work out for the best, because real life doesn’t work that way.

The value in the books by Lewis, MacDonald and Tolkien is that they acknowledge that evil is very present in the world, but show that there is also a supernatural good present in the world that can triumph for those that trust in it. These books do not explicitly mention God, yet His presence is implicit. Other books about good and evil are popular in our day, but they show the good side triumphing by using the same tactics as the evil side. Lewis, MacDonald and Tolkien never do that, evil behaves in an evil way, good triumphs by trusting in the power of good.

That is a real life lesson that children need to hear and learn. It is not taught by treacle, nor by wizards that rely on the powers of darkness.

But God Can Save Us Yet

[This is an excerpt from a Canadian Classic, Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie, first published in 1852.  At the climax of the crisis described here, she buries her head in her apron. It was her custom to  pull up her apron to cover her head for privacy when praying.]

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot summer; and the summer of ’34 was the hottest I ever remember.  No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband talking with his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly on the floor for coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, “Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!” I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.

“What can this mean?” I cried. “Who can have set fire to the fallow?”

John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me. “John, what is the meaning of this fire?”

“Oh, ma’am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it.”

“What is the danger?”

“Oh, I’m terribly feared that we shall all be burnt up,” said the fellow, beginning to whimper.

“We must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its fate.”

“We can’t get out,” said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the concentration of fear; “I would have got out if I could; but just step to the back door, ma’am, and see.”

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute. Judge then my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of fire, burning ferociously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat.

I closed the door and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart – I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children, who had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not believe that we were to die.

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other’s arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth, “The dear precious lambs! Oh such a death!”

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were asleep, unconscious of danger.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there was not a drop of water in the house. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke – could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast on us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

“Ah,” thought I – and it was a most bitter thought – “what will my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet.”

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank to our knees and offered up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness.

“He is their stay when earthly hope is lost,
“The light and anchor of the tempest-toss’d.”

The Pride of Man

Fifty-five years ago I bought Gordon Lightfoot’s first LP record. Most of the songs were ones he wrote. One, The Pride of Man,  was written  by Hamilton Camp. The song is based on Biblical prophecies of the fall of Babylon. Every stanza ends with the line “Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.”

That pretty much describes our situation during this pandemic. My plans, your plans, the plans of people much more important than you and me, they are all broken in the dust. Everything has changed.

Can we accept that? I want to go out, work, visit, shop, go to a coffee shop. It is hard to abandon all those plans for however long this situation may last. Is that an indication that my pride isn’t broken in the dust yet?

The Bible says a lot about our need of humility,  but it also warns of the danger of voluntary humility. Voluntary humility is something produced by my own will. Voluntary comes from French, volonté is the French word for will.

It doesn’t work for me to make myself humble by the strength of my own will. Why not? Because, if I can make myself humble, I am going to think that I am doing a much better job of it than you are.  I won’t say it, but I will have this smug feeling that I’ve got the hang of this humility thing. That’s the opposite of humility.

What I see in the Bible is the instruction to submit. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.” “Humbles yourself therefore under the mighty had of God.” James is very straightforward: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
submit yourselves therefore to God.” “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.”

I don’t want to submit, I want to do this humble thing by myself, my own way. Therein lies the problem. My pride needs to be broken in the dust.

I fight to retain my freedom, but I don’t know what freedom is until I give up fighting and submit. Them I find my heart and mind aligned with the plans God has for me.

“Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.” That’s a good thing. May we allow this season of confinement to bring us down to earth where we can think more of others than of ourselves.

What isolation?

The world has changed, due to modern speed of travel a virus that first infected a human being in China a few months ago has now spanned the world. We are all in a crisis situation;  we are asked to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible. 

But the world has changed in other ways as well:

  • I pay a small monthly fee for unlimited long distance phone calls. Today I talked to a cousin in another city for an hour.
  • I can write letters and send them by email. Today I received an email from a cousin I haven’t seen or heard from since we were children.
  • I can read the news from across the country and around the world on my cell phone.
  • I can deposit cheques and pay my bills online.
  • I can buy ebooks online without leaving home.
  • I can connect online to my clients accounting software and work on it.
  • I can file income tax returns online.
  • I can learn almost anything I want online.
  • I can write articles and post them on this blog to be read by people far and wide.
  • I can send and receive free text and voice messages via WhatsApp or Telegram.

One thing has not changed. I am never isolated from God. We can talk to each other anytime, anywhere.

Therefore choose light

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Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

God has given us freedom of choice: the freedom to choose good or evil, light or darkness, life or death. We grieve when someone who has known the light chooses to walk in darkness. But let us beware lest that grief diminish the joy we should experience with those who have once known only darkness and have chosen to walk in the light. May we rejoice and give praise honour and thanks to God our Saviour, for all who have chosen the way of light and life.

Ephesians 5:8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.

Feeling like a victim?

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; build ye houses, and dwell [in them]; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. Jeremiah 29:4-7

Aren’t we in much the same position as the Jews who were captive in a foreign land that did not know their God? This vile world that we live in is not a friend of grace, to lead us on to God. Do we think it should be? Do we feel like victims?

Victims we may be, but we are not helpless. God is our help and He instructs us to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get on with living a victorious Christian life, right here where we are.  He even tells us to pray for our governments in these heathen lands. And all the countries of the world are heathen lands.

Complaining does not bring peace, it just discourages us. Why should citizens of the heavenly kingdom ever be discouraged? Jesus promises abundant life, it is within our grasp. “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

Pray for all God’s children

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Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

There is an epidemic sweeping the world that no one dares mention. Jacques Ellul, French sociologist, philosopher and theologian, wrote The Technological Society in 1964. In the book he describes how technology has supplanted the church and the Bible as the ultimate source of truth. Efficiency has become the sole moral absolute. There is no room for other moral considerations regarding the use of technology.

Jacques Ellul died in 1994 and did not live to see how horribly prescient he was. The technology now exists to change a person’s gender. If it is possible, then it is wrong to deny it to anyone. Children are being exposed to propaganda in the public schools and on TV telling them they may have a person of another gender inside them. If they decide this is true, then no one can prevent them from allowing that person of the other gender to manifest itself, first through hormone therapy and later through surgery. Parents have no right to interfere. There is no God, therefore man is perfectly free to play at being God.

This is child abuse, pure and simple. But in the view of the technological society it is altogether right and good. Even when it is now generally known that the human brain does not reach full maturity until the age of 25, and the last part that matures is the area governing impulse control.

Our children, all children, need to be told clearly and often that we love them, and God loves them, just the way they are. Let’s pray for the children too, not just our own children and grandchildren, but all children.

The hoary head and wisdom

Today I am 78 years old – it’s surprising how normal that feels. I knew old people when I was a little boy, they seemed like regular people, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever getting that old. Now here I am.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is the fear of the Lord that helps us understand that we are not the most important person in the room. One who lives selfishly all his life does not magically become wise in old age.

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). What is righteousness? Sometimes I am tempted to think that an ability to see what others are doing wrong means I am more righteous than they are. That is a deadly mistake.

Seeing the problem does more harm than good – unless I can also see what the other person is doing that is right. The Bible instructs us to build up one another, not tear down.

In my youth I determined I was not going to be like my father. No way was I going to make the kind of mistakes that he made. Looking back over my life, it is obvious that I made pretty much all the mistakes my father made, and more. What else could I do? That was the pattern I had, I didn’t know a better way to act when things didn’t work out like I wanted them to. It has taken a lifetime to find a better way, one small step at a time.

Along the way, I have gained a more charitable attitude towards my father, and towards other people who are not doing well at handling the trials of life. Perhaps the most important piece of wisdom that I have gained is the realization that I still have a lot to learn.

What is a Biblical ethic of work and wealth?

There are Christians who revere voluntary poverty, seeing it as a means of escaping from the materialism of the world and of not abusing the resources of the earth.

Other Christians revere work and consider the benefits that flow from it to be good stewardship and evidence of the blessing of God.

Those in each group see themselves as being more righteous than those in the other group.

Taking that as a warning and a starting point in seeking God’s will for our material affairs, here are some points that come to my mind:

  1. Self-righteousness is abhorrent to God
  2. We need to do honest work to provide for our needs and the needs of our family.
  3. We should be content; there is no need to envy those who have more than we do.
  4. We need to have enough to give to the work of God and to help those who do not have enough.
  5. If we don’t have time for family, worship, prayer and reading the Bible and other Christian literature, we are probably too busy with material pursuits.
  6. If we are ashamed to ask for advice or help, we are too proud.
  7. Recreational shopping wastes not just money but valuable time that could be spent with family and friends.
  8.  Maybe we don’t need to travel as often, or as far, as we would like to.
  9. It’s not healthy to never leave home; visiting in other communities gives us new insights.
  10. God is interested in every aspect of our life.

What do you think? Suggested changes or additions are welcome.

2020

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Image by eliza28diamonds from Pixabay

2019 is almost done; a brand new unspoiled year lies before us. May we begin it by thanking God for bringing us safely thus far, and trust our hand into His to lead us safely through all that 2020 will bring our way.

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