Condemnation Vs. Repentance

Perhaps it is not the culture that needs to repent of its failure to be Christian, but Christians who need to repent of being so lax in following Christ.

Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it before the king. And when the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his clothes.
( 2 Ch 34:18–19 ESV)

From a modern perspective, king Josiah’s response in 2 Chronicles seems difficult to understand. After all, the book of the law had been discovered as a result of a massive campaign to rebuild the temple, and move the nation away from its apostate worship of false gods. Wasn’t Josiah already doing the right thing? Wasn’t the nation already moving in the right direction? Hadn’t the government found a correct footing, and wasn’t the worship of the one true God already ascendant again?

In this context, Josiah learns the law of God, and how much the people of Israel had failed to obey God for generations. As we read the context, it seems clear that he is correct in thinking that God would rightly punish Israel for its disobedience and apostasy. Yet this seems puzzling at some level as I read.

I can think of a few reasons for this:

1) I misunderstand because I think I’m owed forgiveness. I find it difficult to understand why God would punish even after people seem to have admitted their wrongdoing and moved to make things right. Yet is this really so hard to understand? Does good work after a grievous sin change the grievous sin at all? I don’t think it does. Part of my issue here seems to be that I have so deeply ingrained the forgiving nature of God into my thinking that I have come to presume upon it. It is not so much that I think Gid is laudible because He is forgiving, but that I think he is NOT laudible if he refuses to forgive, it is as if forgiveness has become my right instead of God’s privilege.

2) My lack of understanding comes also from my failing to see a communal side to my life. Being a 21st century Canadian, I often tacitly assume the (rather insane) idea that I am an island unto myself, and that my own righteousness or lack thereof has no effect on others, and that the fialings of others in no way reflect on me. Of course, I have no right to compel righteousness in others, but how often is the lack of righteousness in those around me part of my own unwillingness to live righteously before others, and to speak of the glories of a life abandoned to God? How is the community I live in to hear of God unless I am willing to speak of Him?

Yet very little of my (admittedly pretty insular) life are without affect by the community I live in. I have food, electricity, heat, and security, all because of the ongoing work of others. The fortress of solitude is not so solitudinous that I lack television, internet, and radio, all produced by countless others. While they do it also for their own benefit, they are working on my behalf. I am also in a better position because, by in large, many of those around me assume at least a basic level of moral action. Few steal, and most respect the closed door on my apartment as a desire to be alone unless I let them in.

I have come to assume that too as my right instead of the grace of God working through the consciences of the community around me. How much more have I failed to see that I am responsible directly (not merely through the machinations of government) for the wellbeing of those around me.

3) I don’t want to understand, because it feels better to condemn than it does to repent. The very statement of this point is causing a bit of moral upset in me, because even now part of me is wanting to make this about other Christians and not me. The fact is that it is always far easier to point at others and say “you’re doing it wrong” than it does to look at myself squarely and do the hard work of thinking of how I need to change. It is far easier to stay the course and convince myself that at least I’m better than . It can even hide in my desire to criticise “Christians” or “the Church” or any other group I can abstract myself from, even as I abstractly realize I’m part of the group.

In the end, perhaps I should be reacting like Josiah and praying God will be gracious.

Keep me in coffee

The author is often highly caffeinated. Keep him that way!

C$2.00

Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

A Christian seeking to think through smartphone use, and indeed any social technology, would be well served to give this little book a thoughtful read.

Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. (2017: Crossway)

While it is common to find Christian books that fall short of, or meet their stated goals, It’s rare that I find one that transcends its own stated purpose. The clickbait-titled “12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.” is one such book.

This may be a function of my own very low expectations on beginning the book, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that, instead of being a string of barely related pseudo-facts, the book is a tightly reasoned, astute and solidly Biblical examination of the issues raised for Christians by the now near-ubiquitous use of smartphones.

While the book does actually match its title, and gives 12 things that happen to the Christian through their use and ownership of a phone, it does so with clear knowledge of the science, philosophy and cultural theory bearing on the subject. All of this knowledge is then brought under the direct tutelege of a consistent reading of scripture, providing a useful guide for Christians thinking through the use of mobile phones.

All of this is to simply say that the book meets its stated goal.

More than all of this, however, by being a biblically astute, thoughtful and honest examination of the themes of media in the smartphone age, it seems to do what Neil Postman did for media theory in his seminal work “Amusing Ourselves to Death”; it gives a model for thinking through the issues (though, spoiler alert, Reinke pointedly critique’s Postman’s views from a Christian perspective).

It remains to be seen if Tony Reinke’s work will match the longevity and use that Postman’s work received well after its release, and after the technology it spoke of has lost its cultural pride of place (the Biblically-oriented Christian community is much more of a niche market). However, a Christian seeking to think through smartphone use, and indeed any social technology, would be well served to give this little book a thoughtful read.

Recommended.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, from sundown of last evening to sundown tonight, Israel and many Jewish communities around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day).

Today, from sundown of last evening to sundown tonight, Israel and many Jewish communities around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day). The day commemorates the 6 million Jews murdered by what was, at the time, the most technologically advanced and intellectual country on earth. The victims were people like me, living a life very similar to what mine would have been at the time. More sobering, the perpetrators were also people like me, living lives very similar to mine. They were educated and cultured, and yet evil still took hold in their hearts and built truly horrific factories of death at places that now will be forever tainted by the evil done there. It’s hard to say the place names, “Auchwitz”, “Treblinka”, or “Sobibor”, without thinking about what happened there.

By Unknown – USHMM website (www.ushmm.gov), Public Domain, Link

I say this, because one of the scary things I find in myself is that I am able to imagine such evil is an “other people” kind of thing. Yet, a culture can turn, and make horrible things seem right (or at least not so wrong you have to stand against it), and few of us have the moral grounding and fortitude to stand against our own community if it corrupts itself. I don’t know if I do. Indeed, I find within myself a willingness to be corrupted, and I worry that many may be like me, and flattering ourselves that if such things happened here, they would stand against it. As Jesus (himself a Jew) says to the religious and morally self-righteous of his time, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’”. (Mt 23:29-30)

The Holocaust reminds us that evil is not merely grotesque, it can be subtle, seductive, and even banal. People, even people we think of as decent, can become convinced of horrible ideas that lead to horrible acts. The prophet Jeremiah, in telling us to trust in the Lord reminds us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

Honestly, it’s hard to say much about the events themselves, without minimizing what happened (I may have said too much already). As with most events of truly staggering evil, it is best to simply let those affected speak, and the rest of us listen. This is the survivor story of John Freund, chosen from The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program, largely at random:

Obliviousness, Covetousness and the World I live in.

Obliviousness of Blessing + Covetousness = corrupt worldview

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, rwith thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Col 3:16.

This morning I’m on my way to Indianapolis for the Gospel Coalition conference. It’s a big deal for me since this is the first time I’ve gone to the big one for the whole movement (I’ve been to a couple of the Atlantic Canada regional conferences).

Coming from Newfoundland, the fact is that your flight is by far most likely to be in the early morning (I had to be at the airport by 4 AM). The crowds here at St. John’s Airport show that I’m not alone.

While I was checking in, I was able to use the check in kiosk with no problem, and when I said that to the agent at the baggae check in, she said that was a surprise, since the system had been off and on all day. I just happened to be “lucky”. Of course, I only knew that I was lucky because I had been notified of the problem, if I hadn’t been notified, I’d have blithely continued as if my good fortune was to be expected, even that it was my right.

How often is my life like that? I mean, I don’t have the stuff that others have, and it’s easy to come up with things that “I wish I had”, yet so often my life is marked by many many little blessings that I’m completely oblivious to, even as I am the direct beneficiary of them. It always seems easier to look at the negatives than at the positives, and to then create a world where I feel sorry for myself because of all the blessings I don’t have. My coveting the blessings I don’t have, actually re-imagines my reality to be far more negative than it actually is.

“You shall not covet uyour neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Ex 20:17.

What I call my world is not simply constructed of the experiences and circumstances i find myself in, but also of the perceptions of those experiences and circumstances. The sin of coveting then is not merely an action, but a colouring of my world… a corruption of my perceptions. A corruption that can only effectively be overcome by simple thankfulness.

Even for something as simple as the check in kiosk working for the few moments I needed it.

5 Things About Canada’s Motion M-103

How should we be thinking about M-103?

Here in Canada, the private member’s motion by Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid has been causing some consternation. As with most things political and legal, the result has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what is actually said, and where the arguments really lie in the debate over the motion. Unfortunately, this has become a bit of a political Rorschach test (with people seeing their own political boogeymen in the issue regardless of the facts), meaning that fair-minded people can get easily confused as to the issues. So here are some points that we Christians should be considering when thinking and discussing this topic.

1) This is a motion, not a bill. There is a very big difference in parliamentary procedure between a bill (which if passed becomes law), and a motion of Parliament (which if passed can only change the rules in parliament at most, and usually simply records the will of parliament). You can see this in the text of the motion, which instructs a Parliamentary committee to do research on a defined set of terms. You can check out this short backgrounder for more information.

2) Religious Discrimination really is a problem. It’s hard to argue that there aren’t people who have hatreds of Muslims in Canada (even evidenced in the pushback the member bringing the motion has faced). In at least one (possibly deranged) case, it has led to violence. As people who are in favour of religious tolerance (i.e. religious people being allowed to be openly religious in our society), Christians generally should be ready to oppose unjustified religious discrimination, whether it is focussed on us as Christians, or on any other religious group. In this way, the motion makes some good statements about dealing with religious discrimination.

3) There really is racism in Canada, and some of it expresses through the hatred of perceived “foreign” religions. Again, this is not particularly a controversial point. Some people (both in support of Muslims, and those opposed to Muslims) mischaracterize their feelings in terms of race. As we will see in a moment, part of the discussion does have to be about language, and so this is more of a complicating factor than it would first appear. That said, as a people purchased by Christ from every tribe and tongue and nation, and who affirm that all humans carry the image of God, we cannot support racial discrimination either, and indeed need to be openly opposing it. Here again, the motion has much Christians can applaud.

4) The issue is language. Contrary to public opinion at present, Islam is not a race any more than Christianity is. Thus, while we need to oppose unjust religious discrimination, and racism, we need to be careful not to conflate the two. The Muslim teacher I have had the best conversations with happened to be a redhead from Newfoundland, who has a whiter complexion than I do, and I have spent more time in the Middle East than he has. Similarly, as Mark Noll has pointed out, the average Christian globally is a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus I would point out that the juxtaposition of systematic racism with what is termed “Islamophobia” is going to cause confusion. To oppose the teachings of any religion is not in itself racist. While Christians need to oppose unjust racial and religious discrimination, we need to be careful to keep open the possibility of disagreeing over religious beliefs.

5) The Term Islamophobia is (a large) part of the issue Here the issue is going to depend largely on how you read the word. If Islamophobia refers to the irrational fear and hatred of Muslim people, there is valid reason to oppose it. As with any fear and hatred of people made in the image of God (regardless of what they believe), Christians must be at the forefront of opposing it. However, recent cultural movements have tended to mobilize the term “phobia” as a means of discrediting all criticism of the thing ostensibly feared. While the applicability of the terms in those cases can be debated elsewhere, when it comes to a creed or religion, applying the phobia moniker may chill free discussion of those creeds or religions.Where this may work against free speech, Christians need to be vigilant, since evangelism, and even internal religious debate within Christianity (as well as within Islam) may be chilled.

Online Reading (Feb. 12, 2017)

The articles I’m reading this morning (and some of what I’m thinking about them).

Music: Ajith Fernando on the benefits of music to our Christian devotions (I go acapella since I can’t play the piano)

Prayer: Scotty Smith prays through the difference between condemnation and conviction

Politics: Should we be building a wall on our southern border, and getting the Americans to pay for it?

Law: American border agents with the authority to detain Canadians on Canadian soil? This was probably a bad idea before Trump.