Miracle

mary magdalen at the tomb of our saviour

In the Gospel of Matthew the often repeated words, “he is risen” are preceded by the statement, “he is not here.” Then as evidence of the risen Lord, the angel invites Mary to see the absence of the Lord’s body from the tomb. But the missing body only highlights the questions already burning in her heart. The very questions which caused her arrival in the garden tomb in the first place: where did he go and where is he now?

As is often the case with Christ’s miracles, the supernatural aspect underscore the common reality: people die. And while the body is usually left behind, we are left to wonder how it could be so entirely abandoned. How an object which had once been a man has ceased to present a human being. How the formaldehyde fails to preserve key aspects, even physical aspects, of the person we knew. And it is by this common, natural reality—the incongruity of death—that Christ’s missing body moves us, and not the other way around. The loss of a friend, a father, a lover, a son. Touching a corpse, holding an embalmed hand, kissing a dead man’s lips, nothing more profound than these are required for us to have asked the question: Where did she go? Where is he now? Continue reading

In Defense of the God of the Gaps

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Photo Credit: A Perspective On REALITY

Acts 17:27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us[.]

The “god of the gaps” is much maligned. He could also be called the “god of the not-yet-explained,” and his domain has been steadily shrinking as science explains more and more. People whose sympathies are both with science and against religion may use the label to express the view that religion is founded wholly on ignorance. We did not know why the sun rises in the east so we attributed it to Apollo. We did not know how the animals came to be so we attributed their creation to God. The god of the gaps is the god of uncharted territory—instead of “here there be dragons,” it is “here there be god.” Then astronomy and biology supply alternate explanations that are supported by empirical inquiry, and the god of the gaps has (supposedly) been ousted from the scene. But is religion now—or was it ever—fully explained as a “gap filler”? And when science explains something, is God thereby ousted? Continue reading

Nature of Scripture: Part 5: Conclusions

Image Credit: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2015/11/12/in-praise-of-polyvocality/

Scripture, taken as a whole, is not straightforward and simple, but rather elaborate, polyvocal, heteroglossic, and ambiguous. This suggests to me that the truth about God and man resists capture by human language. Jesus never attempted to set forth the whole truth in plain prose. Perhaps this is because it cannot be done. Jesus instead taught using stories and wordplay and metaphor. The kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price—and then again, it is like a lost coin—or leavening—or a mustard seed. He never gathers all the images and teachings in one—never purports to be able to set forth the whole at once. He gives us momentary snapshots, from different angles. An Emily Dickenson poem sheds light on the issue:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind — Continue reading

Nature of Scripture: Part 4: Scripture as Catalyst for Revelation

Scripture as Catalyst for Revelation: A God Who Speaketh

So what is the most important purpose of scripture? The Book of Mormon is perhaps the clearest of all scripture in stating its own purpose, which I take to be identical with the purpose of all scripture. Nephi and Mormon both state a purpose to bring souls to Christ. But what role, precisely, does scripture play? Scripture is first and foremost a catalyst and preparation for personal revelation—not the ultimate source of the revealed word, as the protestant sola scriptura philosophy would have it, but an aid to obtaining it for oneself directly from God. Continue reading

Nature of Scripture: Part 3: Scripture as Subversion

File:Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Leon Bonnat.jpg

Scripture as Subversion: A God To Wrestle With

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is perhaps the greatest of all subversive stories. It profoundly subverts the authority of the Jewish rulers and of the Roman yoke. It brings into question the justice of criminal law. It subverts reliance on the righteousness of Peter or the other apostles who abandoned their Lord to the mob. It even subverts reliance on any perceived right to feel close to God if one is doing his will, for Christ felt himself abandoned. It casts down the idols of man’s authority, justice, righteousness, and peace (among others), and sets in their place the image of the tortured God-man whose broken heart is still set on his Father’s will.

God is a creator. He laid the foundations of the earth. His work is constructive, not deconstructive. But he is so relentless in purpose and so faithful in his vision of what he wills that he will fiercely cast down all idols, even by torture (e.g., that of his Son). He is the God who took away the gift of language from the builders in Babel, who prophesied that because his people rejected the true foundation, the foundations of the temple and the walls of his city would be torn down until not one stone was left sitting on another.

Lamentations 2:4 He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire.

God is not an antifoundationalist, but is the inveterate enemy of all false foundations that obstruct his building plans. There is therefore a strong streak of iconoclasm (“idol-breaking”) through the scriptures.

Every age has its idols. One of the purposes of scripture is to break them down. One of the chief idols that devours men’s souls in every age is gold, and to every age the scriptures teach that “ye cannot serve God and mammon.” To an age that glorified the warrior above all heroes, the scriptures taught that a king of conquest was not permitted to build the Lord’s house. To an age that idolized rationalism, the scriptures breathed a “peace that passeth understanding,” and taught that “knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifyeth.” To a culture obsessed with the oral traditions that had accreted onto the law of Moses, the scriptures taught a higher law, summarized as radical love and forgiveness.

Our age has its idols too, as do each one of us who persist in sinning. (To sin is by definition to place something above God and his laws.)

Among the idols of our age are equality, tolerance, autonomy, and free expression. These ideals, properly understood and deployed, can accomplish good. But to the degree that any of them become an excuse for sinning or even for failing to reject sin, they are by definition idolatrous. And to our shame they are used in this manner constantly.

Insofar as each person and each age have their idols, the scriptures set themselves against us as an enemy. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, it is not without a long and painful struggle that we obtain the Lord’s blessing, and some part of us will be pulled out of joint. But the result will be that we become worthy inheritors of Israel’s name (“to struggle and prevail with God”).

The struggle is not one of servile submission—a wrestle would be a supremely inapt metaphor for such a struggle. There is give and take, as in a lengthy wrestling match. God has not given us reason and judgment just so that we can sacrifice them on the pagan alter of fundamentalism. This too is an idolatry that will lead a man to damnation if he will not repent of it. The wrestle with God afforded us in the scriptures is in large measure an effort of clear thinking and careful, whole-souled discernment. The wrestle enables us to interpret our lives, our age, and the sacred texts in a correct manner; and while we would do well to hold the text in higher regard than their own instincts or received wisdom, nothing is properly sacrosanct except Elohim (“the Gods”).

Nature of Scripture: Part 2: Scripture as Myth

Scripture as Myth: A God Who Comes Alive Again

Myths and archetypes echo across the pages of scripture just as they echo across Hebrew and non-Hebrew cultures. C. S. Lewis has a great deal of wonderful things to say about this—ideas that come together most beautifully and most powerfully in his greatest novel, Till We Have Faces. For now, I will simply relate that, before his conversion, C. S. Lewis was an atheist who loved myth—who loved it because (among other reasons) it evoked in his soul what he calls “sweet longing.” His initial appreciation of Christianity was mythic—as yet another instance of the corn-God who dies and is resurrected in the Spring, bringing renewed life to his peoples. After he came to be persuaded that it was implausible for this powerful story to have been invented in that culture and in that way and in those words, he came to believe in the story of the dying and reviving God of the Bible as fact. But it was not as fact instead of myth—it was as the “myth that became fact.” And he continued to believe and teach that a man might obtain spiritual nourishment from the myth even if he does not believe in the historicity or the doctrine.

It seems to me that C. S. Lewis is right about this, as about most things. I do obtain spiritual nourishment from the myth. There is an energy and joy that I feel at Christmas and Easter that is non-doctrinal, non-rational, but mythic. Divine fingers pluck the same deep soul-strings that sound the keynotes of the stories of Balder, Osiris, and Orpheus.

There is a long tradition in Christianity that the great poets and philosophers of antiquity were inspired demi-prophets, because so many of their stories and teachings anticipate Christianity. This Spirit-as-muse theory is one way to account for the archetypes and myths that transcend cultures. For members of the church, another possibility is that the shadowlands of the mind retain certain memories from our pre-mortal existence—and although the veil of forgetfulness prevents them from rising as memories, the fine-tuned imaginative faculties of the world’s poets still find access to those shadowlands. This possibility, if true, is both exemplified and discussed in Wordsworth’s great Immortality Ode, where he sets forth the doctrine of the pre-mortal existence (in which he did not believe as doctrine) and explores how we still catch gleams and glints of a forgotten world in which the human spirit was more at home—a world that grows more distant as we are carried in the current of time away from the dayspring of birth.

The whole Ode is worth reading and re-reading, but this stanza is perhaps the most obviously pertinent:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; 
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
          Hath had elsewhere its setting
               And cometh from afar;
          Not in entire forgetfulness,
          And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 
               From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy! 
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
               Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, 
               He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east 
     Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
          And by the vision splendid
          Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away, 
And fade into the light of common day.