Monday, February 28, 2005

Letter on the Soul and Free Will

Note to S_______ on the Soul and Free Will

Note: A friend in college emailed me and asked for help on some technical questions related to soul and free will. Here is my answer to her, since they are salient issues – may help others.

Hi S_______!

Your first question: Aristotle argues that the human person is fundamentally a composite union of body and soul; Plato argues that the human person is fundamentally the soul only. Which philosopher do you think is right, why, and why does this matter?

I think this summation of Aristotle and Plato [or, Socrates through Plato] is a caricature.
But to answer both Aristotle and Plato, I would say that Christianity affirms the best streams in both.

Plato saw the soul as immaterial and eternal [and basically personal], whereas Aristotle tied the soul to body as some life force [potentially collective if not tied to body, body makes it personal].
Platonic abuse gave rise to a dualism, which viewed the soul as ‘real’ and pure, but the body and ‘apparent’ and evil [Gnostics]. Some Gnostic teachers tempted early Christians with this doctrine -- to where Apostles had to write and tell them that it did matter what they did with their bodies, and that their bodies were being redeemed along with souls. John affirmed that Jesus did have a body, and it was good [see: Epistles].

Aristotelian abuse gave rise to a kind of early New Age thought that the force of human intellectual activity is not a person’s own intellect or soul but rather a kind of collective, cosmic mind [Averroes and Arabic commentators]. Aquinas addressed this definitively in Summa Theologica [cf. I 76.1:6] and also in his commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima [“On the Soul”].

Short answer: Christianity affirms the best of both Aristotle and Plato in asserting that humans are body and soul, but that this soul is personal and eternal. Christianity affirms the goodness and necessity of the body in the doctrines of Creation [in the Image of God, Imago Dei] and Incarnation [God become actual human flesh in the Lord Jesus Christ]. Christianity affirms the goodness of the body also in the doctrine of Resurrection of the actual body, which will be raised incorruptible and reunited with justified soul: again a whole person…yet redeemed in totality, eternally.

Plato was right to see a reflection of the person in eternity, through soul. Aristotle was right to affirm the necessity of the body to the person. Christianity brings both together in consistent doctrine.

Why does this question matter? Related to the social direction, a consequence for society would be how we view the human person, and affect social help. If the body is a real expression of the person, then we [as Christians] must also be called to improving the physical conditions of others as we can. Does that make sense?

It speaks to our potential redemption of body on this planet [what present sanctification really means] and to our eternal state: will we be persons, ‘known as we are known,’ in redeemed bodies, or just immaterial souls, or…even worse, a drop of water in some collective ocean?

Second question: Albert Einstein argued that God does not play dice with the universe, in other words: that there is no chance and no free will. Werner Heisenberg, his colleague, completely disagreed. And, Dr. Blackburn has provided arguments on both sides. According to you, do human beings have free will or not? If so, why and what are the consequences for your understanding the human person and human society? If not, why not and what are the consequences?

Again, I think this is a caricature of Einstein’s position, definitely…especially his later in life stance. But, I’ll not complain and just address the question of ‘free will.’

The term ‘free will’ is loaded, as in, “What is really meant by free?” I like to treat the issue in terms of human will, rather than linking it with ‘free’ necessarily, because no human is 100 percent ‘free’ simply because of setting in life, physical makeup, emotional issues, psychological motivations, scars of sin, world events, national laws, etc.

Most Christians assert that humans have will, which can be somehow partnered with God [Good], or evil.

However, when we talk about free will or will, we inevitably brush up against a paradox of God’s control of the universe vs. our human choice, i.e. sovereignty vs. free will.

Scripture holds both sides of the paradox strongly, on one hand we see God’s righteous decrees in Christ, and God’s hardening the heart of Pharaoh so that the children of Israel could go free, and later, hardening the hearts of Israel, so that the Gentiles could be brought in. In these passages, there doesn’t seem to be much free will. Yet, almost in the same breath, Scripture commands humans to ‘choose this day whom you will serve.’ And, to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling!’

I think the best way to frame it is to say that we have ‘free will’ within the parameters of sovereignty [grace]. Or, we are commanded to use our wills, and will answer for that usage, but if we exercise our wills against sovereignty, at some point we destroy ourselves from existence.

C. S. Lewis, who affirms free will, puts it this way: ‘Our freest actions are our most compelled.’ Nice answer to a problem, huh? :-) lol.

For me, the hugest issue related to free will is the question of evil it relates to philosophically.
Simply: If there is no such thing as human will, then evil is a result of God’s command.

How can we affirm sovereignty yet also say that God is not the author of evil? Aquinas gave the best answer: God does not dictatorially cause or will the evil of sin:
[God] in no way wills the evil of sin, which is the privation of right order towards the divine good. The evil of natural defect, or of punishment, he does will, by willing the good to which such evils are attached. Thus in willing justice he wills punishment; and in willing the preservation of the natural order, He wills some things to be naturally corrupted... [1]
The statements that evil exists, and that evil exists not, are opposed as contradictories; yet the statements that anyone who wills evil to exist and that he wills it not to be, are not so opposed; since either is affirmative. God therefore neither wills evil to be done, nor wills it not to be done, but wills to permit evil to be done; and this is a good. [2]

Punishment is a function of the good to which evils are attached, not a function of prior divine imperative. God cannot will the sinner to evil, since this is a “privation of right order towards the divine good.” God can will a context in which the sinner chooses evil, but this is only because God has first willed the attendant good. The sinner wills evil, and God wills punishment, or justice, which is a good.

Complex issues require complex answers, and this answer is complex yet clear.

God has caused a context of evil, but it is only because of a creation of good: Humans. Which, to be human is to be willed, therefore evil is in potentiality, not divine decree. God has willed good and done well: He created, in highest order, willed beings carrying His Image.

Yet, because evil is a deprival of right order toward this divine good, it carries with it necessary punishment [and evil]. God has created creatures to live toward Him, and in that living toward, to live abundantly, freely and forever. So, when these creatures turn from Him, they turn from their Source, their Life. Which necessitates punishment and death [evil].

Evil exists in the world only because of its attendant nature related to Good.

We have this powerful answer to the ‘problem of evil,’ only because we also affirm that humans are willed.

Take away the fact of human will, and you have God creating creatures that would fall just so He could punish them, and allow them to wallow in evil…desperate picture, huh?

Anyway, hope this helps! :-)


P.S. Go to library and look in Kreeft’s Apologetics Handbook, page 137 has a discussion of free will that might be helpful [in the chapter, Problem of Evil].
[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I 19.10. From: Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica Edited and Explained for Beginners, edited and annotated by Peter Kreeft (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 176.
[2] Aquinas, ST, I 19.10.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Go forward, Christian soldier

Words: Lawrence Tuttiett, 1861
Tune: Lancashire

Go forward, Christian soldier,
beneath His banner true:
the Lord himself, thy Leader,
shall all thy foes subdue.
His love fortells thy trials;
He knows thine hourly need;
He can with bread of heaven
thy fainting spirit feed.

Go forward, Christian soldier,
fear not the secret foe;
far more o'er thee are watching
than human eyes can know:
trust only Christ, thy Captain;
cease not to watch and pray;
heed not the treacherous voices
that lure thy soul astray.

Go forward, Christian soldier,
nor dream of peaceful rest,
till Satan's host is vanquished
and heaven is all possessed;
till Christ himself shall call thee
to lay thine armor by,
and wear in endless glory
the crown of victory.

Go forward, Christian soldier,
fear not the gathering night:
the Lord has been thy shelter;
the Lord will be thy light.
When morn His face revealeth
thy dangers all are past:
O pray that faith and virtue
may keep thee to the last!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Draw near to me, O God


Father in Heaven! Avert Thy countenance from me no longer, let it once again shine upon me so that I may walk in Thy path, and not lose myself further and further away from Thee, where Thy voice can no longer reach me. O, let Thy voice come unto me, be heard by me even though it overtake me with terror on the wrong path, where I live secluded and alone, as though sick and besmirched, far from communion with Thee and humankind. Thou, my Lord Jesus Christ, Thou who camest into the world in order to save those who were lost, Thou who didst leave the ninety and nine sheep in order to look for the lost one, look Thou for me in the path of my errors, where I hide myself from Thee and from humankind. Thou the Good Shepherd let me hear Thy gentle voice, let me know it, let me follow it! Thou Holy Spirit, come before me with inexpressible sighs, pray for me as Abraham prayed for Sodom, if there be only one pure thought, only one better feeling in me, that the time of trial may be prolonged for the barren tree, O Holy Spirit, Thou who dost bear again those who are already dead, who dost give renewed youth and strength, renew my heart and create in me a new heart -- Thou who with motherly care dost protect everything in which there is still a spark of life! O also preserve me bound ever faster to Thee my Savior, my Redeemer, that I may not, when cured, forget, like the nine lepers, to return to Him who has given me life, in whom alone blessedness is found: bless my action and my thought, so that it may be known that I am His serf now and in all eternity!


O my God, how often have I not rejoiced, given thanks, been unspeakably grateful in discovering how wondrously events have been ordered…that I would do something and only later I would fully understand that the course of events was significant and just. But at times I also have had to say with overflowing joy: "My God, Thy wisdom disposes – in making use of my stupidity." I do not fail to act with considered judgment, but I still do some stupid or imprudent things, and I am at the point of losing courage, thinking that now even everything is lost, and then afterward I understand that exactly this stupidity Thou hast turned into infinite wisdom. Infinite love!


O Lord Jesus Christ, there is so much to drag us back: empty pursuit, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is so much to frighten us away: a pride too cowardly to submit to being helped, cowardly apprehensiveness which evades danger to its own destruction, anguish for sin which shuns holy cleansing as disease shuns medicine. But Thou art stronger than these, so draw Thou us now more strongly to Thee. We call Thee our Savior and Redeemer, since Thou didst come to earth to redeem us – to redeem us from the servitude under which we were bound or had bound ourselves, to save the lost! This is Thy work, which Thou didst complete, and which Thou wilt continue to complete until the end of the world...for since Thou Thyself hast said it, therefore Thou wilt do it – lifted up from the earth Thou wilt draw all unto Thee. Draw me, O Lord Jesus Christ!

Alleluia! Strong Son of God!


Soren A. Kierkegaard, cf. Perry D. LeFevre, The Prayers of Kierkegaard, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

The smell of rain

A cold March wind danced around the dead of night in the Doctor walked into the small hospital room. Diana Blessing, still groggy from surgery, held the hand of her husband David. They braced themselves for the latest news. How could it be good? That afternoon of March 10, 1991, complications had forced Diana, only 24 weeks pregnant, to deliver little Danae Lu Blessing.

At 12 inches long and weighing only one pound and nine ounces, she was perilously premature. Still, the doctor's soft words dropped like bombs. "I don't think she's going to make it," he said, as kindly as he could. "There's only a 10 percent chance she will live through the night, and even then, if by some slim chance she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one." Numb with disbelief, David and Diana listened as the doctor described the devastating problems Danae would likely face if she survived. She would never walk, she would never talk, she would probably be blind, and she would certainly be prone to other catastrophic conditions from cerebral palsy to complete mental retardation, and on and on. "No! No!" was all Diana could say. She and David, with their 5-year-old son Dustin, had long dreamed of the day they would have a daughter to become a family of four. Now, within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.

Through the dark hours of morning as Danae held onto life by the thinnest thread, Diana slipped in and out of sleep, praying...growing more and more determined that their tiny daughter would live, and live to be a healthy, happy young girl. But David, fully awake and listening to additional dire details of their daughter's chances of ever leaving the hospital alive, much less healthy, knew he must confront his wife with the inevitable. David walked in and said that we needed to talk about making funeral arrangements. Diana remembers, 'I felt so bad for him because he was doing everything, trying to include me in what was going on, but I just wouldn't listen, I couldn't listen. I said, "No, that is not going to happen, no way! I don't care what the doctors say; Danae is not going to die! One day she will be just fine, and she will be coming home with us!"

As if willed to live by Diana's determination, Danae clung to life hour after hour, with the help of every medical machine and marvel her miniature body could endure. But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for David and Diana. Because Danae's under-developed nervous system was essentially raw, the lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort, so they couldn't even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chests to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Danae struggled alone beneath the ultraviolet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would stay close to their precious little girl. There was never a moment when Danae suddenly grew stronger.

But as the weeks went by, she did slowly gain an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there. At last, when Danae turned two months old, her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. And two months later, though doctors continued to gently warn that her chances of surviving -- much less living any kind of normal life -- were next to zero. Danae went home from the hospital, just as her mother had predicted.

Five years later, Danae grew into a petite but feisty young girl, with glittering gray eyes and an unquenchable zest for life. She showed no signs, what so ever, of any mental or physical impairment, becoming everything a little girl can be and more -- but that happy ending is far from the end of her story!

One blistering afternoon in the summer of 1996 near her home in Irving, Texas, Danae was sitting in her mother's lap in the bleachers of a local ballpark where her brother Dustin's baseball team was practicing. As always, Danae was chattering non-stop with her mother and several other adults sitting nearby when she suddenly fell silent. Hugging her arms across her chest, Danae asked, "Do you smell that?" Smelling the air and detecting the approach of a thunderstorm, Diana replied, "Yes, it smells like rain." Danae closed her eyes and again asked, "Do you smell that?" Once again, her mother replied, "Yes, I think we're about to get wet, it smells like rain. Still caught in the moment, Danae shook her head, patted her thin shoulders with her small hands and loudly announced, "No, it smells like Him. It smells like God when you lay your head on His chest." Tears blurred Diana's eyes. Danae happily hopped down to play with the other children.

Before the rains came, her daughter's words confirmed what Diana and all the members of the extended Blessing family had known, at least in their hearts, all along. During those long days and nights of her first two months of her life, when her nerves were too sensitive for them to touch her, God was holding Danae on His chest and it is His loving scent that she remembers so well.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

A higher view

A friend sent me this satellite pic, which is fascinating. It is a view from space, which catches the fall of darkness, gradually spreading over the globe at sunset. Half the picture is in night, the other half yet day! The bright dots are city lights...

The foreground is the west of Africa -- note the sand of the Sahara Desert, glowing in night and day. The lights are already on in Holland, Paris, and Barcelona, and it's still daylight in London, Lisbon, and Madrid.

The sun is still shining on the Strait of Gibraltar. The Mediterranean Sea is already in darkness. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean you can see the Azores Islands; below them to the right are the Madeira Islands; a bit below are the Canary Islands; and further south, close to the farthest western point of Africa, are the Cape Verde Islands.

At the top left, is just a bit of frozen Greenland.


I appreciated its perspective...reminded me again of a powerful dream...definitely a higher view! And this is photo shows us just a partial spatial difference! The God that we worship not only enjoys complete spatial perspective, but also temporal, dimensional, and moral -- perfectly, in all perspectives.

Now we begin to see a bit of His glory!

We can trust that kind of God: Our Lord sees perfectly, and loves utterly -- He is the One who orders our path, and 'calleth the night, day' and 'calleth forth those things which are not, to confound the things that are!'

As the song puts it so well:
Who compares to You?
Who set the stars in their place?
You who calmed the raging seas
That came crashing over me.

Who compares to You?
You who bring the morning light,
The hope of all the earth
Is rest assured in Your great love.

You are magnificent,
Eternally wonderful, glorious.
Jesus, no one ever will compare
To You, Jesus.

Where the evening fades,
You call forth songs of joy.
As the morning wakes,
We Your children give You praise.

You are magnificent,
Eternally wonderful, glorious.
Jesus, no one ever will compare
To You, Jesus.

Jesus, no one ever will compare
To You, Jesus.
No one ever will compare
To You, Jesus.



'Till the storm passes by

By Mosie Lister

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face,
While the storm howls above me, and there's no hiding place.
'Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Many times Satan whispered, "There is no need to try,
For there's no end of sorrow, there's no hope by and by"
But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I'll rise
Where the storms never darken the skies.

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

When the long night has ended and the storms come no more,
Let me stand in Thy presence on the bright peaceful shore;
In that land where the tempest, never comes, Lord, may I
Dwell with Thee when the storm passes by.

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

For Thy name's sake, Lord!


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Kierkegaard: That we may be faithful


Thou who in our earliest childhood hast received our promise, Thou to whom at baptism we gave our promise of faithfulness, Father in Heaven, grant that throughout our life we do not forget our promise, our engagement, that we do not forget to come to Thy wedding, whatever excuses we might find, these pretexts are indifferent things; the decisive thing for us would be that we didn’t come to the wedding.


Father in Heaven! Hold not our sins up against us but hold us up against our sins, so that the thought of Thee when it wakens in our soul, and each time it wakens, should not remind us of what we have committed but of what Thou didst forgive, not of how we went astray but of how Thou didst save us!


Father in Heaven! Reawaken conscience within our breast. Bend the ear of our spirit to Thy voice, so that we may perceive Thy will for us in its clear purity as it is in Heaven, pure of our false worldly wisdom, unstifled by the voice of passion; keep us vigilant so that we may work for our salvation with fear and trembling; oh, but grant us also that when the Law speaks most strongly, when its seriousness fills us with dread, when the thunder booms from Sinai – Oh, grant that we may hear also a gentle voice murmuring to us that we are Thy children, so that we will cry with joy, Abba, Father!


This we ask in the strong name of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ,


Sunday, February 13, 2005

Purity of heart reflected in the sea

But purity of heart is to will one thing
. It is this thesis…which we have linked to the apostolic words: “Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you, cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded!” For commitment to the Good is a whole-souled decision, and a person cannot [with words]…lay hold of God while his or her heart is far away. No, for since God is spirit and truth, we can only draw near to Him by sincerity, by willing to ‘be holy, as He is holy’: by purity of heart.

Purity of heart: it is a figure of speech that compares the heart to the sea, and why not just to this? Simply for the reason that the depth of the sea determines its purity, and its purity determines its transparency... When [the sea] is deeply and transparently pure, then it is all of one consistency, no matter how long one looks at it… On this account we compare the heart with the sea, because the purity of the sea lies in its depth and transparency… And today, if you should see it…you would be drawn upwards by contemplating the purity of the sea. If you saw it every day, then you would declare that it is forever sure – like the heart of the human who wills the one thing!

As the sea, when it lies calm and deeply transparent, yearns for heaven, so may the pure heart, when it is calm and deeply transparent, yearn for the Good. As the sea is made pure by yearning for heaven alone; so may the heart become pure by yearning only for the Good. As the sea mirrors the elevation of heaven in its pure depths, so may the heart…mirror the divine elevation of the Good in its pure depths…

Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, translated from the Danish by Douglas V. Steere (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1938), 158-159.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A loyal friend

Monday, February 07, 2005

A hot water bottle and a baby doll

A true story of faith

Helen Roseveare, a doctor missionary from England to Zaire, Africa, told this story in her book "Living Faith." Helen has written about the revival that took place in the 1950's in what was then the Belgian Congo. Some of her vision can be accessed here.

Isaiah 65:24

One night, in
Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward. However, in spite of all that we could do, she died...leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter.

We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive. We had no incubator. We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts.

A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. "It is our last hot water bottle!" she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled
Central Africait is no good crying over a burst water bottle. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. All right," I said, "Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can. Sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm."

The following
noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chilled. I also told them about the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died. During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children. "Please, God," she prayed, "send us a water bottle. It'll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby'll be dead -- so, please send it this afternoon." While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, " ...And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she'll know You really love her?" As often with children's prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, "Amen?" I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren't there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!

Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses' training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time that I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel! I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone, so, I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then, there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children began to look a little bored. Next, came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas -- that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend. As I put my hand in again, I felt the...could it really be? I grasped it, and pulled it out. Yes!
A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle! I had not asked God to send it -- I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, "If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!" Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone: She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, "Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she'll know that Jesus really loves her?"

That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday School class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God's prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child -- five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it "That afternoon!"

Isaiah 65:24:
"And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear."



Saturday, February 05, 2005

The loyalty of a dog

I saw this Peanuts cartoon of Snoopy and Lucy – with Snoopy doing his loyal best to please Lucy, with all his doggy powers, even with her disdain! – and I was reminded of my dog Wyatt.Until Wyatt, I would have never believed a human could have such a connection with a dog. Many times, at just the slightest look or motion from me, he’d do exactly as I wished. He lived to please me: his life a lesson of loyalty!

Which is why, one day, I was so surprised when he seemed not to listen.

We would run through the woods: I’d jog the miles of Pennsylvania trails and logging roads, and he’d run beside me, or range slightly ahead or behind… always coming to heel at my command. So neat! I could be facing away from him, jogging, whistle once, and he’d run, catch up with me, and hit my hand, and then race in front, tail wagging! I wouldn’t even have to look at him to know he’d heed. For him it was a friendly game of tag: joyful obedience.

But this day, I decided to do a longer run, and split off the trail, running along a creek that cut through a mountain gorge. Beautiful scenery, a railroad path through hardwood trees and rushing water! I was caught up in the wonder and glory… Suddenly I realized that Wyatt wasn’t running behind me.

So, immediately I stopped and whistled. Nothing. Then I yelled, “Wyatt!” “Ho!” But still nothing. My voice echoed lonely on the mountain. No Wyatt, not even a distant bark.

This frightened me. Where was Wyatt? We were a couple miles from home now, and surrounded by a forest that stretched out for miles. Why wouldn’t he at least answer? Was he hurt? Or worse, chasing a deer? I had trained him not to do that! But what if a few whitetail deer had tempted him over the line and he was now far away… lost?

All these thoughts poured through my mind. I walked back, calling his name. “Wyatt!” Nothing. Only an empty echo. I grew sick at my stomach. Oh, why had I come this way? Why didn’t I keep a closer eye on him?

The minutes passed, and with each minute, my heart fell further. I breathed a quick prayer, and called again: “Wyatt!”

Suddenly, I heard a yelp. Wyatt ran out of the woods, wet and breathless. Panting. Hard. What was this? He was totally exhausted! Saliva dripping from his mouth, but his tail was wagging non-stop!

Relief surged through me. But then my fear turned to real anger. “Wyatt!” “Why didn’t you come?” “Why didn’t you answer?” I was having none of his tail-wagging nonsense. It was clear: he had disobeyed and risked harm. I grabbed his collar, shook him, scolded him and smacked him. Hard.

In my mind, his life was at risk. If he disobeyed like this in the future, someday he wouldn’t come back! So I was not easy on him.

I’ll never forget the look of confusion in his eyes when I disciplined him. He took it, but there was something else there: he was crushed, and not feeling guilty.

So after stern reprimand I then discerned that he wanted me to follow him. He ran, looked back at me, ran, and looked back… and I followed him. He crashed through the brush, over a ditch, and then picked up his prize, eyes beaming and tail wagging. What? What was this? A groundhog?

Yes! He had chased down a groundhog, killed it. He had carried it over rocks and hilly terrain, through a small creek… to me. He was bringing it to me, as a prize, this huge groundhog fully 30 percent his weight: He couldn’t answer my call because he was carrying that groundhog, running as quickly as he could through impossible terrain!

In his mind, he was not disobeying me; he was treating me and serving me. He had exhausted himself trying to do two tasks: come when I called, yet bring me a prize.

My eyes filled with tears: I knew I had been unjust. Wyatt was trying his best to serve me, to gain my applause… and I had hit him and scolded him instead. Oh!

I held out my arms and called him: “Good boy!” He leapt into my arms. I knelt down then, hugged him tightly, wet hair and saliva and all, and cried. “I’m sorry, Wyatt!” I kept saying over and over, “Good Wyatt! Good dog!” “I’m so sorry!” His entire body quivered with forgiveness and delight. He licked my face as if to say, “Yes, I forgive you!”

I picked up the groundhog then and did a warrior pose with it, held it up as Wyatt’s kill, and his eyes shone!

I hung it high in a tree and hugged Wyatt again. Then I took him down to the larger creek, let him drink, and washed him. I let him sport in the water for awhile to renew his strength, and then we ran home.

I’ll never forget that day.

I learned loyalty from my dog. I learned that justice must often decide between appearance and reality. I learned about myself, about life, and about higher relation with God.

For God never has to decide between appearance and reality. He is always just, ever wise and true: He sees perfectly, first glance. And, oh! If I would have the faith to serve Him – without judging His justice – as Wyatt had served me!

P.T. Forsyth says that the slowness of God is not the absence of God, but rather a form of His wise justice and compassion. George MacDonald comments that life is no series of chances with a few providences sprinkled between to keep up a justly failing belief, but one providence of God.

That is our Master. There is no shadow of turning in Him. His sight is true. His providence for us is perfect and whole, even to the details of this day. His calling is true vision.

What a lesson…

Wyatt lies now in a princely grave, near those same forest trees where he brought the groundhog to me, dead these four years from snakebite.

Wyatt! I bless your memory, my friend and companion! You taught me much about faithfulness…loyalty to my Master, too…

If the resurrection of Christ means anything for souls of animals, then I will see you again, my friend!


Friday, February 04, 2005

Markan secret and modus operandi of Christ

Throughout the gospels, Jesus usually refused to openly affirm His Messiah status. We read the gospels and see Him heal diseased and hurting persons, and then turn around and command them to ‘tell no one!’

And, when discussing His true nature with the disciples, Jesus warned them not to speak of it. This tendency of secrecy has baffled scholars over the years. And since the Gospel of Mark mentions this secretive meme so often, they have dubbed it the “Markan Secret.” And, true to scholarly form, they forever stumble over what it means. “Why would Jesus not make this Messiah fact common knowledge?” they wonder. “If He really was the Son of God, surely He would tell people about it!” “Wouldn’t He?”

So eager to critique biblical faith and biblical texts, they miss some incredible significance…

Scholars who believe in Jesus usually highlight the political atmosphere of the 1st century. Jesus’ “secrecy” showed much common sense… and faith in a higher mission.

In that context, Jewish revolutionaries often claimed the title Messiah in order to rise up against Rome. It was a political statement of resistance, which invited Jewish warriors to pick up sword and throw off Roman rule. Many followers of Jesus wanted Him to be that kind of Messiah. Even the disciples carried a misguided idea of earthly kingship -- right up until the Cross. But Jesus utterly rejected – harshly at times – those of His circle who pushed Him to earthly claim. “Get behind me, Satan!” He said to Peter, when Peter tried to talk Him out of the Cross.

Why so harsh? Jesus had something far more radical in mind than earthly kingship. Jesus came to set human prisoners free from the chains of sin, something no earthly kingdom or Messiah could do.

Jesus came to put the save in Savior. So He rejected what Messiah had come to mean in the 1st century. Instead, He called himself, “Son of Man.” Son of Man! Son of Man was a transcendent title from the Book of Daniel. It conveyed His unique status as Christ and God without making Him a local zealot. This title expressed His divine mission, and at the same time defined His Gospel above mere social or political expectation.

And so there is great practical significance in the “Markan Secret.”

But is there an even larger spiritual lesson? I think so.

Spiritual significance of the “Markan Secret”

For the larger clue, look at Christ, telling so many stories in parables. His stories usually had hidden meanings, cryptic clues and confusing words.

The disciples were so often confused! They questioned Jesus, “Why do you speak in parables?”

Jesus replied with a chilling answer: “There is a time when ‘that which is true will be made hidden.’ But time is coming when ‘That which is hidden will be made plain.’”

“Every eye will look upon him whom they pierced!”

Ah! Here is incredible significance in the secrecy of Christ: Those who find Him must seek, and only those who seek honestly will find; but the time is coming when all will be made plain.

We will look upon the One who was pierced for our sins.

At that time, no more secrets. No more parables. But until then, as Pascal says, we must have 'partial light, partial knowledge for the sake of faith.'

"God wishes to move the will rather than the mind. Perfect clarity would help the mind but harm the will. Humble their pride." [cf. Pensees, 234 and 446]

The Markan Secret is actually an incredibly consistent glimpse into the modus operandi of Christ: He demands faith. All who seek will find, and see the signs.

But only the penitent man, and penitent woman, will pass.

Thus the Markan Secret holds both warning and hope: Eventually, all will bow: Some as friends who bowed in this life; some as enemies who bow then.

But He gives time.

Let us know Him as our friend!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Meditation on blindness

John 9:1ff

Story: Jesus heals a man born blind, and the religious leaders get upset about it...because the healing broke their protocol, and power.

And [the Pharisees] asked [his parents], saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.”

And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”

Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”

Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.”


Lord God, the darkness is as light as day to you. Even if I sought darkness, you would see me there. “Darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as noonday.” I cannot hide from you – I can only hide you from me. I can only blind myself. Yet my heart speaks for light! Even then, my God, I find that you are the Lord of the blind. “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” Ah! Then I am blind, but you are Lord! My blindness is as clear sight to you, my God!

So I see you Jesus. You healed the man born blind in John 9. His physical blindness caused his church no consternation, but his renewed eyesight caused much consternation. Yet they who objected to his healing claimed to see! So the meaning of the act was not about blindness of eyes, but about blindness of heart. I hear your words, Jesus: “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”

Ah, Lord and Christ! Then I am blind, I am blind! I confess: I am blind. Be my God, Lord of the blind, I pray! And in such Lordship, teach me to see.

Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!
Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!

“Child, what would you have me do for you?”

Oh, dear Lord…that I might receive my sight…Rabboni…I pray, Amen.

That I might receive my sight, Amen!

Your sight, Lord! Amen!