Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: God

Scaredy-cat

Image by JL G from Pixabay

We used to have a nice screen door. We still have the door, but it’s not so nice anymore. The wind slammed it against the railing, more than once. I tried to straighten it, but it will never fit right again. Then the latch mechanism wore out. It would cost a lot to replace the latch and the door is no longer worth that kind of repair. So I installed plain handles inside and out and an old-fashioned screen door catch that goes snap! when we open the door and snap! when we close it.

One of our cats has always been wary of doors. Angus is afraid there might be something scary on the other side; he approaches with caution and peers to see what might be out there before stepping through the open door. The snap! the door now makes has unnerved him. He comes to the door and meows to come in. Before I even open the door, he has run halfway down the walk. I guess it’s the back door for Angus from now on. At least until he gets used to the snap! of the front door.

Pookie, our other cat, trusts that whatever we have done to that door is not any danger to him. He is not going to let a snap! stop him from going through an open door.

This has got me to wondering – when God shows me an open door, am I like Angus? Or am I like Pookie?

The lament of the creator

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.
– Isaac Bashevis Singer

Do you suppose that’s why Monet painted so many pictures of his flower garden — he was trying to capture it on canvas exactly as he was seeing it?

I don’t believe a writer is ever fully satisfied that he has communicated exactly what he wanted to say, in exactly the way he wanted it to come out.

God the Creator is also painfully aware of the chasm between the world as He wanted it to be and the world as it really is. But in this case it is not the fault of the Creator. After all, He started with paradise, the Garden of Eden. We, the creatures, messed that up; and we continue to mess up the world, because we think we have a better idea.

Heart Health

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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities have been telling us that elderly people are most in danger from the virus. Mortality counts appear to bear that out. However, studies of the data are refining that message, showing that heart health is the critical factor in whether or not one survives an attack of the virus. To be sure, the elderly are far more likely to have heart problems, but younger people with heart problems are just as apt to succumb to the disease, and the elderly with healthy hearts are likely to be survivors.

The heart is just a pump, but when the health of that pump is impaired the cells of the whole body no longer receive sufficient oxygen to function effectively. In some cases the heart is weakened by genetic defects or by disease, but most commonly it is harmed by poor nutrition and lack of exercise.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us there is a close parallel in our spiritual life: Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. No MRI will detect the heart spoken of here, yet the similarities between physical health and spiritual health are very striking.

  • Comfort food may taste good, but if that is all our diet consists of our health will suffer. We can subsist for years on familiar Bible stories and spiritual platitudes, but our health will go steadily downhill.
    For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
    And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. (Luke 21:34)
  • Exercise is essential to our health
    But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
  • God supplies the “oxygen” to purify our hearts.
    Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. (James 4:7-8)
  • A healthy heart can resist invasion by a virus, or temptation
    But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Timothy 6:6-9)

Are you a deist or a theist?

If you are a deist, you believe:
– that there must be a higher power because this complex world could not just have happened;
– that there are moral lessons in the Bible that will help us to find happiness;
– that the Bible as a whole is mysterious and confusing and better left alone;
– that it is good to pray when in need, because the higher power might hear and help.

If you are a theist, you believe:
– that God is not an explanation, He is a revelation;
– that the God who created all things reveals himself personally to us;
– that the whole Bible is an introduction to God;
– that we need to read the whole Bible to recognize how God speaks to us;
– that God is near, hears our prayers and answers them;
– that true happiness can only be found by making God the Lord of our life.

Two way communication

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God has spoken once, His words are written in the holy book and it is the whole duty of man to obey all that is taught in the holy book. Religious leaders help to understand parts of the holy book that may not be clear, but God does not speak to people today.

The religion which believes that is called Islam. There are more than a billion devout followers of this religion.

Christianity also teaches that God has spoken in the past and His words are collected in a holy book called the Bible. But Christianity teaches something more than that: God speaks to people today by His Holy Spirit and by His church. There is full agreement in what God says by these three means.

If there is discord in what we are hearing, we need to search for the problem. Perhaps we have been taught an interpretation of parts of the Bible and the Holy Spirit is saying something that does not fit with what we have been taught. Is the problem with the interpretation we have been taught, or are we listening to a spirit that is not the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps the church to which we belong is teaching something that doesn’t seem to agree with what we read in the Bible or what the Holy Spirit is telling us. We need to be very careful to not become one who believes that he alone has the correct understanding of truth. But when it is clear that the church to which we belong is faithful to neither the Spirit nor the Bible, it is time to search for a church that is.

If we find the Bible difficult to understand, the best answer may not be to look for a Bible that is easier to understand. The best way to increase our understanding of the Bible is to be obedient to the parts that we do understand.

Prayer should not be a one way conversation. God wants us to talk to Him; He also wants to speak to us. If we are hearing nothing, we should search our hearts to see if we have obeyed the instructions He has given us in the past.

To be in full communion with God, we must be obedient to the things He says to us, whether through the Bible, the church or the Holy Spirit. This connection with God will also connect us with other true believers. This is not a man-made unity, which is fragile, but the unity of the family of God, founded on the bedrock of God’s truth.

The voice of God

Early in my Christian life I obtained some literature that gave an intellectually logical explanation of the atonement. The theme was that Jesus had suffered punishment in hell equivalent to the eternal torment of every soul that would ever be saved. Therefore there was no way that a saved soul need ever fear hell, because his penalty had already been fully paid. On the other hand, there was no hope for those for whom Jesus had not borne the eternal punishment.

This is just the briefest of summaries of what I read, the subject was expounded at considerable length with selected Scriptures that seemed to support the view of the writers. I considered this explanation for some time. It was a watertight argument, intellectually precise with no loose ends that I could find. Yet in this mathematical precision I could find no means for a person to know in which camp he was; was he predestined to salvation or to damnation? Was it possible to know?

Finally, in the turmoil of these questions, I knelt to pray, asking God to give me an understanding of how the death of Jesus made it possible for God to forgive the sins of mankind. The response was immediate – it was silent but unmistakably from God: “You don’t need to understand.”

I was disappointed for a moment, then realized that the turmoil was gone – my mind was at rest.  I had been seeking an understanding of the mechanism of the atonement that would be intellectually satisfying and set my mind at rest. I realized now that it is not possible for that kind of understanding to bring rest and peace. Yet it only took five words from the voice of God to do that.

To know that God was aware of my turmoil, that He was waiting for my prayer, that He had answered in a way that addressed my real need, was of more value than any intellectual understanding could ever have been.

Change and decay in all around I see

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

It surely does seem that God is shouting at us right now. But what is He saying? Is he telling us to repent? Most likely that is part of it for most of us. But I can’t tell you what you need to repent of, that is a matter between you and God, No one else knows exactly what your need is.

What should be clear to everybody by now is that we have been trusting the wrong things. Money, jobs, health care, our own plans, all seem shaky now, not at all so sure and solid as we thought. One thing, one person, remains unchanged.

For I am the LORD, I change not (Malachi 3:6)

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 30:6)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4)

The following hymn, written by Henry F. Lyte almost 200 years ago, is known throughout the English-speaking world. If anyone is thinking of singing something meaningful to strengthen and comfort folks in nursing homes, this hymn should be at the top of your list.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

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.

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