Monday, July 19, 2010

I can hear music

About a year ago, I participated in The Truth Project. This is a sort of video based class sponsored by Focus on the Family to discuss a Christian worldview with respect to a variety of disciplines. Its intent is to serve as a guide, of sorts, and appeals to a reasonably intellectual audience -- high school/early college or so. In an early episode, Del Tackett, the "Tour Guide" said in a sort of offhand apologetics concern, "If there is no God, then why is there music?"

I am not in a position to offer an theological history of music, but I feel comfortable in claiming that music almost certainly was developed as a form of worship. Regardless, music is something that is important and pleasing to God, and there is no shortage of Scripture to back that up. This can be a problem for me, because I sometimes have picky musical preferences. A lot of times, praise music which ought to be encouraged in principle, just does not make the cut in my estimation.

This is not a new struggle for me. I was reminded of it most recently at a contemporary service on Sunday. I do not mean to sound like a snob, but the lazy repetition of lines like "All your ways are just/ You are just in all your ways" does not measure up to "Teach me some melodious sonnet/ Sung by flaming tongues above." It just doesn't. However, praise songs like this one are very real and very emotional ways to worship and vehicles to reach closer to Christ for a lot of people, not the least of whom were those leading the service.

So, when I find myself in a situation like tat, surrounded by people who are singing and getting into it, I have to wonder if his is simply a matter of taste between two people, like when Mandy gave me a hard time for choosing a plain chocolate shake at the Clemson creamery when a whole host of flavors were available around us, or something more egregious, by missing a whole range of ways of worshiping God, ore akin to not eating anything at all. By not feeling the excitement of a Christian praise song that others do, am I not filled with enthusiasm the same way they are? Are all forms of worship made equal?

Both of those questions are complicated. The latter has a few layers, but I think the answer is "sort of." I think that when someone like Brian Moore, an acquaintance, who performed an impressive trumpet solo in church does that, it is a special public worship in part because it took preparation (in order to be taken seriously) and it is not done every Sunday (as to not be simply done by rote). That, in my mind, is better than saying the Lord's Prayer every Sunday to the point of becoming mechanical and meaningless. However, compared to other methods of worship, or even other trumpet solos, I cannot say. If a technically inferior performance followed but represented a higher proportion of the performer's effort, then it might be better, because the second gave more of him or herself, and we would no really know. But compare either of those to the organist who plays every week or to me writing this or even you reading it -- who can say? All I know is that I cannot perform like the do, so I admire it, and I can write like this, so I don't think much of it. The only reason to ask, though, is to judge how well we are using our time. If writing for others was inferior to music, should I take guitar lessons?

The answer to this question is related to the other one I asked first. If you were given one of those talents with the purpose of service and you are not serving, then there is a clear delineation of one being better than another. If Brian chose to shirk his musical talent in pursuit of something else, say acting, and his kills did not help inspire like his trumpet did, then his time is probably better spent with the trumpet. If I find myself in a service with music that is more of a hindrance than help to worship, hen I ought to go somewhere that is not true. However, if I sit with my arms crossed wearing a grinchy face, saying, "This music is dumb," and concentrate on that, not only am I getting in my own way, I can set a bad example for others, too. I think it is important to go where I can do the most good.

The other side of that, though, is a reminder that we should not judge. While I was sitting in that church with a grinchy face, the kernels of this, my own personal form of public worship, were being sewn before I even knew it. This serves both as my public adoration and my public confession; while sitting there, I could not help but thinking "My God deserves better than this lazily written song." The performer could just as easily think, "My God deserves better than to have that sourpuss stand in silence." Of course, we would both be right, but that is what we had, who we were, and what we gave. Worship, sincere worship, is the best we can offer, whatever form it takes.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Could it be... SATAN????!!!!

Our most recent discussion as a fellowship was Satan. We quickly realized that none of us had a very clear understanding of the problem we faced by having Satan be an ever present and unwanted guest in our lives. We do not have theology degrees, and, of course, we are only familiar with our own comfortable lives, really, even as we press on to become more familiar with the nature of God. There is an undeniable value in understanding the way your enemy operates; Sun Tzu made a pretty clear argument for that.

Satan, however, is very difficult to observe. We have a very extensive bit of scripture describing the nature of God, but describing Satan is not the same level of priority. Christ mentions him a lot, and the presentation of him in Job makes me scratch my head. The serpent, whom we all recognize by tradition as being if not identical, very closely related with, Satan himself is a little confusing, too. The whole Fall of Man confuses me, but that's a story for another post.

You might say that "He's the bad guy, and that's all we need to worry about," but that is not any more helpful than than saying, "God is the good guy and that's it." I was never a fan of the "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." bumper sticker because while it is a demonstration of resolute faith, it is of a rather immature sort. Ultimately, because we are choosing to stand with God, it is important to know against whom we are standing and what their business is.

There are a couple of explanations that are commonly held about Satan. The simplest is that he is what God is not; if God is love, forgiveness and justice, then Satan is selfishness, guilt and arbitrariness. The trouble with this is that Satan is not just the bad equivalent of God. He does not possess the same qualities of omnipresence and powers that God does in the negative or else he would be God -- just a fouled and terrible one. The next simplest is to draw an analogy with darkness and heat, defining them by what they lack. Satan is the absence of God or evil is the absence of good. God, however, is omnipresent and all powerful, so this is hard to reconcile. Another possibility is that there is no Satan at all, and it is just a metaphor for our own failings as men. Both of these are tricky, as they do not account for the active nature of evil, and require pretty creative interpretations of scripture and disagreement with Paul. The most common understanding is that Satan is a creature, with an agenda, out to do us harm. Being a creature, though, requires a creator, and why would God create Satan for the sole purpose of opposition? Can God even create something that is evil?

We accept that Satan is evil and just evil. Is Satan really just evil, though? God created men, and men are evil, but not purely so. We were created in His image, after all. So, can Satan be similar? Evil, but not purely so? Satan's name means Adversary. One who opposes. That is action. I think that the source of man's evil is weakness, as shown in the Fall. Adam did not want to oppose God, he just did not have sufficient faith to win the spiritual battle. The serpent opposed God, on purpose. This distinction is no small matter. Men rarely oppose God directly; there are plenty who oppose religion. Atheists oppose the way we worship, but almost none of them oppose love, forgiveness, justice, charity, peace or patience. God is all of those things.

Is Satan not? I do not think we know. Satan's temptations of Christ in the desert showed us the strength of God in the face of man's weakness. Man failed when offered a piece of fruit; Christ was offered a good deal more -- escape from hunger, deliverance from suffering and physical dominion over all He could see. He turned them all down. Satan also entered Judas Iscariot to cause the betrayal, which started the immediate events that led to the Crucifixion, which was tragic of course; but it ended with the salvation of humanity. That was a pretty positive outcome from a Satanic deed. Christ's words, though, about how "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (sounds so much nicer in the KJV) shows that while productive, these actions are not of God. I make the point to say so because the relationship between Satan and God in Job seems oddly chummy, given the understanding of being cosmic nemeses.

I think we can all agree that Satan has skills and knowledge that we do not. The discussion that Daniel has with the divine vision about the Prince of Persia [who is opposing God's messenger] implies that Satan, or his surrogate, is powerful to detain individual actors on God's behalf. (I am hesitant to say angels, because there is an interpretation that Daniel was speaking to a preborn manifestation of the Son of God, I think.) However, he might not have understood the outcome of the execution of Christ. Undoubtedly, Satan had at least the same access to the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah that Jesus did. The worldly understanding of power and the Jewish reading leads to an expectation of political authority, or at least some other earthly exercise of strength. I cannot say that anyone would have been able to predict exactly the nature of Christ's message -- that the whole of the Kingdom of Heaven would be made accessible to anyone simply by asking for it with sincerity, and the forgiveness of the very sin that separated men from God in the first place, which was instigated by the serpent.

This raises a handful of other questions in my mind. Is Satan the sole source of opposition to God? While men may not purposefully oppose God in intent, frequently we do in action. The prophecies in Daniel and Revelation about the Endtimes discuss evil men and creatures rising up and demanding worship, and we naturally associate them with Satan. I do not know if that necessarily has to be true; those men could very easily be just men. Are there other supernatural beings also in opposition of God, like Beelzebub, the Dragon, Screwtape and Wormwood? Christ calls Satan and Beelzebub by name (at least in my NIV translation), are they names for the same thing or distinct? What would that mean? One question that my last paragraph raises that we did not discuss is can Satan be saved? If he repents of his opposition, can he be welcomed into the Kingdom? How much worse is he than the rest of us, anyway?

We, of course, did not come up with any definitive explanations or even new strategies to avoid his spiritual traps. I do feel like we left with a better understanding of God, though. We know that Satan, whatever else he is, is the Adversary to the Will of God. Since God seeks relationship with us and clearly wants triumph over opposition to His own will, He must support us to triumph over that adversity -- or at least be able to survive it. Based on the Book of Daniel and Christ's example, that struggle is real and power and continuous, so must His support for us to overcome it be. That is something I can get behind.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I was poking around while I was at home tonight and came across this article. The contents don't really strike me as much as the comments at the end did. I recognize that there is hazard in taking stock in the bickering of people on the internet, but still, there is some currency to the concerns the raise in their questions. Fundamentally, it centers around the credibility of the Bible as a document and the validity of the lifestyle of the Christian.

Ultimately, the centrality of the teachings of the Bible is a matter of faith. If one reads it, it is hard not to be moved by its message, given the age and overarching consistency of theme. However, the fact that it exists at all is a testament of its endurance; holy books of the Egyptians and Hittites and Atticans are not similarly venerated or even in tact in the way that the Christian Bible is.

There is, however, a fairly strong argument to be made in the failure of Christians in our era to behave like the Christ of our book. Really, it is an impossible task because the example we are held to is perfection, but we, inevitably, will not reach it. We are men, not Sons of God. That does not mean we should surrender. Faith without works is dead, you know.

Our failures are disastrous. They are poison. So we must endeavor to have successes to counter them. Love covers a multitude of sins. There is no shame in aiming for perfection and missing. The shame comes in not reaching it and being satisfied. Christ has bigger plans for us all.