Nothing screams, “This world is fallen,”louder than death. We were not created to die, but to live with God and each other in natural harmony and to develop creation in God’s will.
We were not made to have our souls leave our bodies. But that happens at death. The run up to this departure is seldom peaceful. It is not natural. The body wants to live. It was created to live. But it must die. It may die piece by piece, ability by ability, word by word. Those who die slowly must take a long and unbidden passage into darkness.
The body wants to live. It was created to live. But it must die.
In dying slowly, not all parts or functions of the body fade or fail at once. The eyes may see, but the brain does not know what is seen. The legs may be strong, but there is no sense of balance and no where to go, since agency is gone. The mouth can chew, but there is no coordination to bring the spoon to the mouth. The vocal chords are in working order, but the brain cannot make them speak or sing. No, death is not like turning off a machine.
My wife will receive a rich welcome when her soul leaves her body. But the process of leaving that body behind–after years of glacial decline–is torture. One second with Jesus Christ will dwarf all her pain and fulfill all of her longings. When she is gone, I can think of this beatitude and thank God for it. But I cannot experience it with her. Only her lifeless body will be left in a dying world; it must be prepared for burial by people we do not even know, whose services I have already paid for.
“How do you fit those two things together?” I paused before answering. I do this more as I age. She and I, along with another bright student (with her dog, Samson), were talking about theology, spiritual formation, and dogs—as we enjoyed craft beer at Living the Dream Brewery. The two things needing fitting together were sacramental theology and the Ecclesiastes kind of life, which is so much of my life.
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all (Ecclesiastes, 9:11; KJV).
Life is unfair and unpredictable for the most important matters. Understanding escapes us, even as we thirst for it.
Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it (Ecclesiastes 8:17-18; KJV).
Under the sun, we walk in the fear of God, committing much to mystery, trying to enjoy what God gives—and takes away.
Sacramental theology, as I tried to tease it out, affirms that the world is full of heaven; the natural speaks of the supernatural; life is rich with symbolic meaning; the finite mediates the infinite. God is with us, in us, and for us. We experience this most dramatically in the Eucharist and in the Spirit-led preaching of Holy Scripture. Consider Anglicanism’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion teaching on communion.
XXVIII. Of the Lord’s Supper.
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ. . .
The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.
Sacramental theology speaks of Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist, but also of God’s presence in and through all areas of life. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Or, as the hymn sings, “This is my Father’s world. He shines in all that’s fare.” So, then, how can a theology of Ecclesiastes faith amidst the ruins of a wrecked world be squared with a sacramental faith that claims God’s good presence everywhere, but especially in the two sacraments (Eucharist and baptism)?
God does vouchsafe his presence and direction through nature, friendship, reading, and much else. He is always there, always here within us. But God sometimes hides himself (Isaiah 45:15) and keeps his own counsel, leaving us dry and dusty—and even desperate. Hence the many sad reflections of Ecclesiastes and elsewhere in the Bible. We should try “read the signs of the times,” while knowing that much of it is indecipherable. This is our lot “under the sun,” our way in a fallen and groaning world that yet awaits its full redemption (Romans 8:16-23).
The sacraments, on the other hand, are not indecipherable. They ring out in sight, touch, and taste. Their meaning is biblically fixed (however much we wrangle about that) and durable. They are the substance of two thousand years of Christian practice. The elements of these practices—water, bread, wine—are common, not esoteric. We don’t need a French deconstructionist to interpret them for us (or anything else). These elements become symbols that mediate the sacred for us through the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth. They are God-ordained, not invented by mere mortals. Nor are they subject to revision. Their meaning is fixed, solid, and reliable—week after week, month after month, year after year. Of this, we can be certain. The sacraments of the church anchor us in the eternal. We may be tethered to eternity as we are blown around by a world that often makes little sense, the Ecclesiastes world “under the sun.”
The church’s sacraments remain true and holy, real no matter what assails us, even though,
the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11; KJV).
And yet, the Gospel is true, no matter what. Christ is Lord, come what may. God has given us his symbols and practices to root us in him in a rootless world, to train us to remember what the world wants us to forget. The more forsaken I feel, the more I cling to the realities that the sacraments reveal to us. For now, that is how I combine Ecclesiastes and sacramental theology. Thank you for asking, my young student. Perhaps we will talk again.
On Billy Graham
Gordon MacDonald, friend and Chancellor of Denver Seminary, mentioned to me that it is likely that few students at my school know much, if anything, about Billy Graham. It is for those not acquainted with the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century that I write these words.
Billy Graham knew his calling and stayed true to it in active ministry for over 60 years. He drew huge crowds through his crusades, a word we do not use today for mass evangelism. These events included congregational singing, celebrity testimonies, and preaching by Graham.
He was blessed with a commanding, but not imposing, presence. He had a strong voice, was good looking, and later wore his hair a bit long. All this added to his distinctive presence. He preached the biblical gospel in every message and around the world. I encourage you to watch some of them online. You may be moved to get saved again (or for the first time).
Graham ended every service with an altar call, asking those who wanted to “receive Christ” to come forward to pray with workers at the front of the stage. Thousands and thousands did so over decades. These services were often televised nationally. I remember seeing part of one in my home in Anchorage, Alaska, sometime in the 1960’s. Sadly, my father did not want to watch much of it.
Graham did much more than preach, however. He led an organization with integrity: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Society. It publishes a magazine called Decision, produces films, and uses every available venue to preach the Gospel. I recently received an evangelistic card in the mail written by Franklin Graham, Graham’s son. I gave it to an acquaintance at a pub. I hope he read it.
While he never strayed from his vocation as an evangelist, early in his career, Graham took a stand against Communism, because it was godless. (He later preached in The Soviet Union.) He supported the Civil Rights movement and was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. He also supported the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Understood more broadly, Graham was at the heart of Evangelicalism in the middle to late twentieth century. He and Dr. Carl F. H. Henry founded Christianity Today. Henry was one of his theological advisers. Graham’s winsomeness helped Evangelicalism emerge from a narrower Fundamentalism. He spent pastoral time with every president from Truman to Obama.
Graham lived out his ministry almost entirely without scandal. The worst of it was when he was recorded speaking of the Jews having a monopoly on Hollywood. He apologized and deeply regretted it. To my mind, the remark is not even anti-Semitic. I think it was only derogatory.
Graham was above reproach. Later in life, he regretted not spending more time with his family, pursuing more education, and not studying the Bible more. But, who lives to an old age without some regrets?
In her book, To Me, It’s Wonderful, Ethel Waters recounts her attendance at a Graham rally. Miss Waters was a successful jazz singer who was committed to Christ, but not involved much in the church. But she attended the crusade day-after-day and deepened her Christian commitment. She would later sing at these events and testify to the saving power of Christ. Her signature song was “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” a reference to Jesus’ teaching about not worrying in Matthew 6:25-27.
What can Billy Graham teach us?
- We must never forget or underestimate the power of the gospel. We must stay true to it. Explain it. Proclaim it. Defend it. Apply it. Graham did.
- We should be above reproach, never cut corners, and never play around with sin. The greater the influence we have, the worse the fall.
- We should find our calling and stay true to it. The church is called to evangelize, but some are better at it than others. I am more of an apologist than an evangelist, but I try to keep the gospel at the center of my work.
- We should capitalize on every opportunity, use every venue, and employ every means to speak the truth in love about our God of truth and love.
- Like Billy Graham, we should stay humble. Despite his fame, he never sought the spotlight simply to increase his celebrity. His remarkable success did not go to his head. Whatever our successes, may they never make us proud.
God of the harvest,
we pause and remember a great man of God,
remembering his virtues and his achievements,
all of which came from the Holy Spirit of truth.
Lord, may we be like him as he was like Christ.
In Jesus’ saving name,
It does not matter how good your apologetics arguments are if no one listens to you. The Apostle Peter says to have an apologetic for everyone who asks you about your faith (1 Peter 3:16). How might we create situations in which people ask us?
One way is by being a Christian neighbor, by neighboring well. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us to be a neighbor to the person in front of us. The expert in the law passed by because the Samaritan was not in his social group. In a way, everyone is our neighbor, but God has us where we are for his reasons (Acts 17:28-29). We tend to associate more based on affinity (people like us) than on proximity (the people next door, down the street, or on the corner). We often do not even know our neighbor’s names and they do not know ours.
We tend to associate more based on affinity (people like us) than on proximity (the people next door, down the street, or on the corner).
Jesus calls us to be good neighbors whether or not this leads to apologetics and evangelism. It is a simple imperative of love. Our neighbors may be quite different from us. So be it. Since relationships trump programs for making friends and presenting the gospel to others, how might we be more open to our neighbors, especially non-Christians?
I cannot say I do this well, but since I was convicted and encouraged by David Runyon’s recent sermon, here are some ideas.
- Spend more time in your front yard or on your front porch, if you have either. Decades ago, front porches were more important than back porches. My back porch is expansive. But I don’t meet anyone there. The front porch is tiny. Still, my wife and I can sit there and greet neighbors.
- Admire your neighbor’s dogs or other pets. People usually love their pets and enjoy talking about them. Our neighbors sometimes bring their dog over to play with Sunny, my dog.
- Don’t immediately shut your garage door when you come home. Look around outside to see if there is someone to greet or help.
- Consider common places in your neighborhood. My neighborhood does not have individual mail boxes, but rather a common mail station with many individual slots. Hang out there.
- Have people over for meals. Be hospitable. Be convivial.
- Have or attend block parties. I realized recently that our difficult neighbor is the one who sponsors the block party every year! I don’t.
- Mow your neighbor’s lawn or shovel their snow. I have not done this in our new house, but our neighbors do it for us! I dig that. They know of our struggles with my wife’s dementia. So, they help.
- Ask a neighbor out to dinner or lunch. I am going to do this with our kind neighbors who shovel and mow. I have given them a gift card, but sharing a meal is more personal. I also know that they both have some intellectual issues they would like to discuss, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I realize that some people, myself included, have troubles that don’t allow them as much hospitality and social interaction as they might like. God understands that
Realize that some neighbors won’t want to get to know you. They, like so many, are too busy. But this should not stop us from trying. We have been given many cogent arguments for Christianity, but we need people to hear what we have to say. And we need to hear what they have to say. Isn’t your neighborhood a good place for that?
See Jay Pathak and David Runyon, The Art of Neighboring.
My mother was a champion letter and card writer. She never missed a birthday, anniversary, or holiday. She wrote me frequently and at length.
After Lillian Groothuis died in 2010, I began writing cards and letters more frequently. I did not write enough cards or letters o my mother or grandmother Groothuis, who was also an admirable correspondent. Now I write many souls frequently, some of whom I don’t know or barely know. Some are in my inner circle of correspondence.
After writing a dear friend’s father, I learned that he read my card to his daughter over the phone and remarked that I should write a book on how to write a short, but meaningful card. I don’t think I could write a whole book on it, but here are a few notions on that theme.
- Writing cards is a way to re-humanize a de-humanized culture. Too much is too automatic and impersonal. When you pen (and I mean pen) a card, it bears the mark of you—your handwriting, your choice of ink and pen. A human, you, emerges from the think lagoon of the pre-set, the template, the standard.
- I often pray, “Lord, who needs a card?” God answers, and I write many cards to many people on many themes. Someone needs a card because she is lonely or suffering or both. Someone may need a card because they have a gift that is largely ignored. I write to commend them, to recognize another gift to man from God.
- I chose my cards carefully, using blank cards with interesting illustrations, such as dogs (always good) or modern art or many other depictions.
- I usually write when I have time to reflect on what I should write. I don’t usually dash them off. Too much is already dashed off in our hurry sickened world.
- I commiserate, thinking through the life of the one to whom I am writing. How can I speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to another person made in God’s image and likeness? What do they need to hear? What might they hear from me that few others have told them?
- I reflect on how Scripture might speak to them. I may quote a verse from the Bible or write some thing like, See Ecclesiastes 9:11, or some other verse. I want biblical truth and wisdom to inform what I write. There is already enough bullshit out there.
- I often end with a biblical blessing, such as 2 Corinthians 13:14 or one improvised on biblical themes.
- I write cards of condolence as often as I can. This is an art. I endeavor to enter their sorry, to restate what they might be experiencing. I do not offer cheap consolation. I lament with one who has lost a friend or relation or who is suffering ill health.
- I often want to teach through my cards, so I recommend books to read.
- I often decorate my cards in sometimes silly ways. Jazz stickers are cool, as are insects. This adds a personal, and for me, a quirky touch.
Consider joining me in my effort to re-humanize the world through the simple, but soulful, act of writing cards and letters.
The eternal God, who forgets nothing, calls us with binding address to remember. “Do this in remembrance of me.”
I need symbols to focus my awareness on what matters. Cellular telephone alerts to do not suffice. Despite my bibliographical and philosophical memory, I am a forgetful man.
On Ash Wednesday, we have ashes rubbed into our forehead so we can remember. In Advent, we light candles to remember. Since we are to pray for one another, we need to remember to pray for one another. “Pray without ceasing,” says the Apostle.
This summer, as I agonized in sympathy for an earnest and betrayed sister in Christ, I took out a sharpie and made a large cross on my inner calf. I added rays coming from it. As it faded, I re-inked it several times.
When I walked into a mountain restaurant, several teenagers laughed at me. I wondered why for a split second, but then I realized. Since I had shorts on, they could see my sharpie cross—and I did not care. I remembered again.
Whenever I saw my sharpie cross on my skin, I was first a bit surprised, but then I remembered to suffer with and pray for. It later faded out and was not re-inked. But my friend is not forgotten. I may ink up for her again.
A few days ago, I was talking to another suffering soul. I saw my inner calf and my sharpie. I made a large cross and a small one underneath it. I re-inked yesterday. She came through surgery with a good report so far. When I see it, I remember and pray.
These are temporary, sacred tattoos—aids to prayer, love, and memory. May the Cross be ever before us.
Americans are being lied to every day. Popular culture tells us that deep thinking and reflective living is pointless. Instead, we must move faster. We need faster cars, faster food, and faster computers—now. We need more things, more toys, more power, and more perks. We need more hair (if baldness threatens), but we don’t need more knowledge or more wisdom. We need less wrinkles (hence Botox parties) and less pounds, but not less vices (as long as we can get away with them). Our media are dominated by celebrities who are not wise, learned or godly people. They are usually over-paid and ego-driven athletes or movie stars. Next to nothing in popular culture encourages us to slow down and cultivate a contemplative life before the God “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Instead we are tempted to believe that God has nothing to do with our most valued activities and dreams. We can do fine without him. Or, we may redefine the God of the Bible and godly religion to fit our designer preferences. Either way, worldliness reigns, world applauds, and the mind is deadened.
The myriad messages of popular culture have been sticking to and deforming our souls. American men and women are not known for their reasoned convictions about those things that matter most. Polls show that Americans are very “religious” concerning belief in God and church involvement. Yet they watch an average of four hours of typically mindless and violent television per day, are terribly ignorant of basic biblical truths, seldom read thoughtful books, and are theologically confused on basic doctrines. Some of the most popular Christian teachers and writers today often lapse into heresy or aberrant doctrine. (Hence the need for The Christian Research Journal’s many articles correcting these errors). Few Christians share their faith regularly or wisely. If they do, they are often stumped when faced with skeptical questions and challenges, since their evangelism is not grounded in solid apologetic arguments (see 1 Peter 3:15-17; Jude 3). Pollster George Gallup found that many of the same people who say, “Yes, Jesus is the only way,” also affirm that “Yes, there are many paths to God.” But this is logically impossible. Jesus cannot be one of many ways—and the only way! Gallup comments, “It’s not that Americans don’t believe anything; they believe everything.” Here Proverbs give a word to the wise: “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15).
So-called “spirituality” is on the rise, but spiritual discernment—even among Christians—is languishing. Many feel free to combine ideas and practices from various religions with little or no concern for logical consistency or allegiance to any received religious tradition, let alone biblical authority. A kind of smorgasbord mentality prevails. One might, for example, consume servings of happy Christian thoughts (“God loves you”), self-effort (“God helps those who help themselves”), and some yoga for physical wellbeing and inner peace—and feel no pain of inconsistency. This is despite the fact that God’s love is not an amorphous energy that permits everything (including Hindu practices such as yoga), ratifies works-righteousness, and condemns nothing. Quite the contrary, God’s love is manifested concretely through the gracious work of Christ who alone liberates us from counterfeit spirituality and the futility of self-salvation. Yet these radical and world-changing truths are easily lost in fogs and bogs of our worldly environment.
The Media Fast: Breaking Free and Reaching Up
The Lord Jesus Christ does not want us to believe everything—only the truth (John 14:6). He commands us to love our God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37), to know the truth that sets us free by following him (John 8:31-32) and to make that truth known to others (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:15). The Apostle Paul commands us to “test all things. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalions 5:21). Rather than letting culture conform us to its mold, we should be transformed through the renewing of our minds so that we know and accomplish God’s will in all of life (Romans 12:2). Similarly, the Apostle Peter wrote his readers to stimulate them to “wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3:1) and to admonish them to prepare their minds for godly action (1 Peter 1:13). In his Pensées, Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal issued a strong indictment: “Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought.” Yet instead of pondering God and the soul, the world inclines us to think more about diversions, such as “dancing, playing the lute, singing, writing verse, fighting, and becoming king, without thinking what it means to be a king or what it means to be a man.”
How do Christians break free from the deceptive temptations of popular culture and reach up to receive with open hands all that God has for us? We need first to disengage from worldly distractions and then engage our God-given minds in constructive and rewarding ways. As the Psalmist cries to God, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
“My mind cleared. I had fewer lustful thoughts. I started to think more deeply about life. I prayed more. I spent more time with my family and friends. I want to be this way more often!” Hundreds of students at Denver Seminary offer testimonies like this after completing a required “media fast” for my class on ethics and contemporary culture. For at least one week they abstain from at least one popular medium (usually television) and meditate on various Scriptures, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-18). Reading their reports is a rewarding task for me, because they reveal that God is at work renewing my student’s minds and liberating them from subtle snares.
Why should anyone fast from media when they are everywhere and so easy to use? Should we become cultural hermits, who spurn all of popular culture? No. This spiritual discipline follows from the spirit of Jesus’ teachings on fasting from food. For a time, we deny ourselves something that is routinely part of our lives in order to focus more intently on God and his Kingdom (Matthew 6:16-18, 33; see also 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 for another application of fasting). In our media-saturated, self-focused, and dumbed-down culture, a media fast is often a tonic for the beleaguered and benumbed mind. Some of my students initially suffer from withdrawal symptoms. The silence roars in and the mind races after they unplug. They automatically reach for the remote control and have to stop themselves. Something must fill the “empty” time. But they soon find there is much to do that refreshes the soul and renews the mind. These principles apply to any Christ-follower, not just seminary students who are doing an “assignment.”
First, the media fast allows for—but doesn’t automatically produce—more reflection, prayer, and a deeper life before God. Instead of being yanked along at a breakneck pace by television, movies, radio, or video games, we can slow down, “be still,” and remember God in all our ways (Psalm 46:10). We can listen to the voice of conscience, repent of our sins, and seek a more godly and peaceful life (Matthew 7:7). Just as King Hezekiah had the temple purified by priests and Levites after many years of defilement and abuse (2 Chronicles 29), so should we purify ourselves from the habitual sins so readily encouraged by popular culture, since our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Second, we discover time to pursue intellectually challenging activities, especially reading. Christian author Larry Woiwode notes that television is a “Cyclops that eats books.” Many Christians don’t read a single thoughtful book in a year because they are too occupied with a myriad of mind-numbing media. If they do read, the are often short, simplistic, or sensational and of dubious theological and intellectual substance. (Consider most Christian bestsellers.) But a deeply meaningful life in Christ cannot be experienced without consistent exposure to and enjoyment of great thinkers. The Bible ranks first in great thoughts since God is its ultimate Author, and because it is the truest and wisest book ever written (Psalm 119). Because it is God’s own word, it cuts to the quick and teaches us the truth we need to know in order to love God and others aright (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12).
We should also seek out and savor thoughtful books and articles about the Bible, theology, apologetics, history, art, ethics, literature, and so on. Great books can be good friends, and for a lifetime. The writings of C.S. Lewis are a treasury on many topics, from apologetics to ethics, to science fiction. He was a delightful and arresting writer, a dedicated Christian, and a brilliant thinker whose works stand the test of time. I have read his apologetic classics—Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and The Abolition of Man—many times and with great profit. You can also stay abreast of contemporary culture from a Christian perspective by receiving Charles Colson’s daily “breakpoint commentary” (www.breakpoint.org) and by listening to Ravi Zacharias’s radio program, “Let My People Think”—as well as by reading their thought- provoking books.
Getting Down to Business
Compare the time you spend on entertainment with the time you spend reading and reflecting on Holy Scripture and profound books. Then compare it with the time you spend in prayer and biblical meditation. Prayerfully seek God for the necessary adjustments in thought, word, and deed. Engage in a media fast for yourself. Instead of languishing in front of the TV with your family and friends (or by yourself), read a meaty book together and talk about it. Invite your family and friends to resist the hollow enchantments of worldly culture and to instead glorify a holy God in their thinking, speaking, and doing (Colossians 3:17). But be sure to begin the process with yourself as you resist worldliness and pursue godliness (Matthew 7:1-5).
My Dear Wormwood:
I lick my parched lips with delight that our propaganda efforts are going splendidly well. Good things come to those who wait—and growl in anticipation. We may have won the battle of words. Not that we have won any arguments—that is expecting too much. But we may have succeeded in eliminating arguments entirely. Oh, the delight in it!
How careless these vermin are with words—words, the very thing that separates them from the rest of the Enemy’s ridiculous menagerie. With our promptings and manipulations, they readily substitute words for thoughts. These talkative bipeds spew out a million words and few of them make up rational assessment or argument. As I said in a previous letter, we must never move the contest into the world of true and false, good and evil, rational and irrational. No, those silly dichotomies are tools of the Enemy—narrow-minded, dualist, rationalist that he is. These categories quicken the mind. We must numb it.
You must push forward a trend already set in place. Take heed to my tips, my young charge, since my words have meaning, and ignoring them will not advance your infernal vocation.
- Always substitute untutored emotion for conceptual clarity. Thus, vilify those speaking for the Enemy. They are so many bad things: narrow-minded, bigoted, reactionary, phobic (how we have profited from that!), and more. Never let them see that, according to the Enemy, reason and emotion should work in tandem, even shake hands with jolly goodness and resolve. Keep them away from that pseudo-intellectual and word-monger, C.S. Lewis, who wrote in The Abolition of Man:
No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical, but they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”
- Attenuate their vocabulary, since the fewer words they have to capture thoughts, the less able they are to make distinctions. It is the philosophers that obsess on distinctions, especially that Nazarene. He outwitted all the rhetoricians and theologians we threw at him during that egregious episode they call The Incarnation. His distinctions dispatched our dialecticians.
But we are advanced in the art of retarding thinking, you know. Reading is considered a luxury or even a vice. Emotive utterances and lazy superlatives—awesome, epic, perfect—have replaced the love of words and books.
- Make the most of slogans that applaud the loss of precise wording for important arguments. Here are a few delicious ones: “You are over-thinking this.” Of course, we know, from thousands of years of amusing experience, that few humans do this—or are even capable of doing this. “It is a matter of the heart, not of the head.” Jump in here, since this expression excuses all manner of cheap emotion, baseless opinion, and fuzzy thinking. Here is one more (there are many others): “It is what it is.” This may be used to mean “It cannot be changed.” But often it means something more helpful to our cause, such as “I cannot think it through. That would be too tiring.” Or this sentence may endorse a mindless fatalism—Stoicism, but without the intellect. You have to love that: Keep a stiff upper lip and a mind unfit for thought.
You should get the idea, Wormwood. Claptrap is our snake pit. Keep an eagle eye on their words, especially when they don’t.
Your Ever-so-insightful Uncle,
“The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” exhorts the prophet Hosea (2:20). Our world is famished for silence, but does not know it. Our needs often hide from our wants. We want more noise—music piped in everywhere, talking screens in multiple rooms of our homes and work and public spaces, words assailing us by displays in stores. Magic phones speak to us even as we attempt to speak to others. Our ears should be ringing, but only our phones do.
But some are waking up from the roar of words and noise. Several books warn us about the noise that is disquieting our souls. Some are secular, but give good advice. Other books, articles, and teachings are spiritual, but in an unbiblical sense. They seek to still the din within by emptying the mind through yoga and other forms of Hindu or Buddhist meditation. Buddhism is seductive, since it promises inner peace, required no worship, and is usually adopted by Americans in a piecemeal and uninformed way. Mindfulness is pursued, but the temple is ignored.
Humans, as fallen mortals, have a limited ability to sort things out. We often hurry through instead of think about. Then, not surprisingly, we act ignorantly—if quickly. But God gives wisdom.
Christian silence carved an opening to quiet the buzzing mind and twitching body in order to hear from The Word (John 1:1). This God is a God who speaks truth and reveals us our condition before “the audit of eternity” (Kierkegaard). But we are often deaf to God himself because of the noise that assails us on every side. Scripture commands us to listen to God, to harken to his speech.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Listening is done best without distractions. Silence creates that space. As Kierkegaard wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century:
The present state of the world and all of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence! Bring men to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today.
The great melancholy Dane wrote this before the advent of telephones, radio, television, or the Internet. Needless noise has emanated ever since the Fall. There is no need to keep silence at all times. There is a time to speak and a time to be enmeshed in noise for the sake of the Kingdom. However, we need to be replenished and rewarded with solitude and silence. Although it is not explained, and is difficult to interpret, the following passage may spark some needful reflection:
When he [Christ] opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them (Revelation 8:1-2).
Even in heaven, silence had its place. It should have its place with us now as well.