Saturday, May 17, 2014

Paul Miller on Naïvete and Cynicism

Is it possible to experience childlike trust and delight while still acknowledging a reality that contains evil? Or is it necessary either to be naïve (that is, to be numb intellectually) or to be cynical (that is, to be numb emotionally)?

In his book, A Praying Life [2009, p. 83-85], author and teacher Paul Miller sees Jesus offering a wise third way  something Miller calls "tension" and "cautious optimism." Here's an excerpt:

* * *

Jesus does not ignore evil. When he sends the disciples on their first missionary journey, he says, "I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). The overwhelming temptation when faced with evil is to become a wolf, to become cynical and lose your sheeplike spirit. Jesus tells us to instead be warm but wary  warm like a dove but wary like a serpent.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

C.S. Lewis on Confidence and Humility

Is it possible to be confident and humble at the same time? — to value and use our talents well without thinking we're more valuable than others? Or is it necessary that we either be confident with pride or be humble with self-deprecation?

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis communicates that God's aim is for us to have confident humility (or humble confidence) in Him without it being necessary either for us to be arrogant on the one hand or to debase the value and talents He's given us on the other. Further, this gratitude and diminishing concern for self altogether is an outgrowth of conversion — the change from trusting in ourselves to depending fully on Jesus.

As you may be aware, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, for rhetorical effect, as letters from one demon named Screwtape to his demonic nephew, Wormwood. Therefore, "the Enemy" in this passage (from that diabolical perspective) is God; The "patient" is a human like us.

The following quote is all of Chapter/Letter 14.

* * *

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of “grace” for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad.

I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Louis C.K. and Tim Keller on Grief and Joy

I recently saw an interview on the Conan O'Brien show that caught my attention. In this segment, Conan interviewed comedian Louis C.K., who described a deep sadness that he carries:
Underneath everything in your life, there's that thing, that empty - forever empty... It's the knowledge that it's all for nothing and you're alone. It's down there. And sometimes when things clear away, you're not watching it. You're in your car and you start going, 'Oh, no, here it comes - that I'm alone.' It starts to visit on you - You know, just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it.
He went on to recount a time when he chose to let this deep sadness hit him, causing him to cry on the side of the road (Warning, some language):

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

John Gerstner on How Jesus Reconciles Justice and Mercy

In the last post John Piper described how, in some sense, God deeply opposes the sins of murder and the oppression of the innocent, and yet in some mysterious sense God did still will the sinful murder of Jesus, his innocent Son. Because that's a hard teaching, it may be helpful to consider the reason God planned and predestined this tragedy: This event reconciles justice and mercy in a way that gives us eternal life.

Let's consider the ideas of justice and mercy for a moment. If there had never been any injustice in human history, there would be no need for mercy. All would be fair and even. But we all commit injustice, and to this there are only two responses: Justice or mercy.

Which response is best? Paradoxically, both.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

John Piper on Whether Or Not God Wanted Jesus To Be Killed Unjustly

In his essay, Does God Desire All To Be Saved (2013), John Piper faces mystery and paradox in the Bible head-on. As he does so, he soberly admits that "some of the paths in this book are steep," (p. 9) and that "God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend," (p. 45).

The excerpt that I quote below (p. 19-21) is part of a larger argument in his essay, but here I think it can stand alone with integrity.

In this quote, Piper gives his answer to the question, Did God want Jesus to suffer and be killed unjustly or does God not want people killed unjustly? Piper finds that the answer is both.

(Italicized emphasis below is his.)

* * *

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet, in Acts 2:23, Peter says, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan, but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though Judas’s act was sin.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Relativity, Quantum Theory, and the EPR Paradox

I am not a physicist, but I do fit the technical definition of an "amateur:" I love learning what I can.

In November 2005, the APS News, a publication of the American Physical Society, published a brief article entitled "Einstein and the EPR Paradox" (Volume 14, No. 10, p.2; pdfweb). The article summarizes a significant paradox that currently exists in the scientific world.

On the one hand, it has been proven mathematically and experimentally that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This is part of Einstein's theory of relativity, consistent with classical Newtonian physics. On the other hand, there's quantum physics, which seems to be equally true but appears to violate the Newtonian understanding of physics in fundamental ways, casting doubt on the very nature of matter, space, and time.

This excerpt from APS article explains further (bolded emphasis mine):

* * *

By the 1920s, it had become clear to most physicists that classical mechanics could not fully describe the world of atoms, especially the notion of “quanta” first proposed by Planck and further developed by Albert Einstein to explain the photoelectric effect. Physics had to be rebuilt, leading to the emergence of quantum theory.

Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr and others who helped create the theory insisted that there was no meaningful way in which to discuss certain details of an atom’s behavior: for example, one could never predict the precise moment when an atom would emit a quantum of light. But Einstein could never fully accept this innate uncertainty, once famously declaring, “God does not play dice.” He wasn’t alone in his discomfort: Erwin Schrödinger, inventor of the wave function, once declared of quantum mechanics, “I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Markus Bockmuehl on the Relationship Between 'Natural' Principles and Kingdom Principles in the Gospels

In his book Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics [2003, (122-126)], Markus Bockmuehl takes time to explore the concept of natural law in documents that were influential in forming early Christian ethics. In the excerpt below, Bockmuehl explains how in the Gospels, Jesus demonstrates a tension between the good order that God originally created and currently exists, and the good new order of the Kingdom of God that is both coming and is now here. (Emphasis below is his.)

* * *

The Jesus tradition, then, does contain a number of measured moral appeals to the created order. Against this, however, must be set several important passages in which Jesus takes up a seemingly 'natural' state of affairs only to subject it to subversion and critique. On the one hand, of course, we find a respect for common customs and institutions, and an ethic that is indeed deeply compatible with universal social needs and human aspirations. On the other hand, the disciples are repeatedly challenged not to give unquestioning assent to the seemingly natural assumptions of the status quo: despite a hearty affirmation of creation, mere allegiance to existing conventions is not good enough.

One of the key subersive texts in this regard appears in the context of the second great statement about the Graeco-Roman political system, a kind of foil to the earlier passage about paying taxes to Caesar: