Thursday, April 21, 2005

Good and Bad Seasons; meditations from 2 Chronicles 26 & 28

Lately, I've been encountering people who are using their circumstances to determine God's perspective on their life. When things are going well, God must be pleased. When things are going poorly, God must be angry.

What to do? What to do?

That has echoed strangely to me as I've been reading through 2 Chronicles recently.

First, take the story of Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26. The text tells us of some fantastic accomplishments and blessing that the Lord gave Uzziah. Then, suddenly, it says (16) "But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction."

Next, on the same page in my bible, comes the story of Ahaz in chapter 28. The text tells us of some horrific wickedness and judgement that came to Ahaz. That is followed by this phrase (22) "In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord."

May God protect us from both of these things. May He protect us from the pride that comes from strength, and from the faithlessness that comes from distress. And may we use every circumstance as a reminder to live for the Lord with our whole hearts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What about the Pope?

The blog universe has been overrun in recent days due to the Pope's passing. It seemed people needed something equally controversial to run to after the whole Terri Shiavo mess. And it wasn't all respectful, as there was plenty of backlash from the anti-religious folks. But for now, it seems the media frenzy is starting to fade. At least until the white smoke is seen at the Vatican, signifying that the Cardinals have picked the next guy.

Conspiracy theorists, such as Dan Brown, like to convince impressionable people that the Catholic Church is corrupt in a highly organized way. Some Protestants regard the Catholic Church as a cult that we need to rescue people from. But most people just figure that we're all the same, that Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, and everyone else should just ignore their differences and celebrate humanity.

The truth is that we do have differences that will not go away, although faithful Protestants and Catholics agree on most of the essentials: Jesus is God, Jesus is eternal, Jesus is the only way to salvation, the Bible is God's word, etc. However, the Papacy reveals one of the biggest differences: Authority.

Is God's written Word the full authority of His revelation? Or does a man also have the authority to speak for God, adding to-- and possibly changing-- what the written Word says? Catholics believe that the Pope has such authority.

Pope John Paul II was a good man. He had startling integrity. Never once did he compromise to be politically correct. He stood for the dignity of human life in an era where that is frowned upon, constantly challenging world leaders of every political color. And he had tremendous impact. He was centrally responsible for the freedom of Eastern Europe and the fall of Communism. He garnered respect even from people who didn't agree with him.

There is a good possibility that the next one picked won't have as much backbone or compassion. The next Pope may decide to "re-interpret" what the Word says about sexuality, life, or even Jesus. If that happens, we need to stand firm as Protestants on what the Reformers called sola scriptura, that Scripture alone is our authority.

In the meantime, we need to pray that the Cardinals pick another man of integrity.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Sin City (billy)

I saw the movie Sin City last night with a friend of mine. After all as a guy and newly introduced to the 30-something decade, I am still very much that same boy who enjoys the shoot-em-ups, the comic books, the sci-fi / fantasy genre, Star Wars Action figures (yeah, I got a red Ep III Vader), and RP video games. Yet I am also a man in love with Jesus, a man who prays to the Christ each day, studies the Word and teaches others (reluctantly to be sure but nonetheless), a man educated in philosophy, ethics, apologetics, and pop-theology.

So Sin City was incredibly interesting to me on both the artistic and movie-craft level (it was amazing, pioneering, visionary, and visceral) as well as on the moral / ethical / philosophical level.

-Mild Spoilers Ahead-

There are no heroes in this movie. There aren't really any "good guys". Even the "good guys" are dark and seedy and very human in a post-human kind of way. What struck me about the three intersecting stories of the film is how I found myself rooting for and identifying with those characters I was "supposed to" but surprised at how different from me they were. The protagonists were men with exceedingly dark souls who were faced with a moral / ethical decision and ultimately made the "right" choices - even at great personal expense. They were at once martyrs and convicts being justly punished.

Yet while it was easy to cheer for Marv in his quest for just retribution, I admired the rightness of a fervency for justice while I wondered at the basis for his decision. Where did that sense of justice come from? As I rooted for Dwight in his quest to ensure liberty for the self-determined, Henry David Thoreau style "intentionally living" whores of Old Town, I saw the rightness of valuing of liberty. At the same time I couldn't help but wonder why he bothered. As I hoped that Hartigan would survive the injustices and suffering he was made to endure on behalf of another (one truly innocent and pure), I had to question whether or not his day job was really enough to make him do it.

It dawned on me during a post-film discussion with my friend. The film is an excellent depiction of the moral life adrift. Without a transcendent tether, where man is the measure of all things (as Protagoras said through Plato) including those things intangible and belonging to the thoughtful realm (e.g. ethics, morals, knowledge of good and evil), the ability to act righteously or with nobility does not vanish. It exists, it manifests, it may even motivate and spur one to the ultimate sacrifice. Yet it extends only to the edge of the agent's skin.

Ethical acts become bastardized in a very literal way. Every ethical act has a different father, a different cause. Marv, Dwight, and Hartigan each acted righteously. Yet there was no transcendent righteousness in Sin City. This is not because Marv was a thug or Dwight a convicted murderer on the lam or Hartigan a cop with a penchant for vigilantism. It is not because Sin City is a Hobbsian foil to Locke's notions of civilization and government - irrational and unavoidable. It was not because of what each of the characters were. Their righteousness was bastard because they fathered it themselves.

In Matthew 7: 9-11 Jesus makes mention of the fact that even the evil know how to be kind, just, loving, and sensitive. Yet he never claims that this is sufficient for anything (a satisfying life, getting to heaven, being liked by others). He mentions clearly that He is the only thing that is enough.

Bastard morality - morality I father has the sheen of right-ness. I want to root for it. I do root for it. But it's never enough to satisfy, sate, or slake a thirst for lasting right-ness or the peace a lasting right-ness precipitates. For that a transcendent morality is required. Else the peace lasts only as long as the space between the end of this and the start of the next moral crisis.