Tuesday, May 26, 2009

To Hell and Back

I was deeply moved by this story that appeared in last week's World Magazine, a fitting reminder of what sacrifices so many have made to preserve our freedom.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Couple of Good Movies

I recently watched a couple of good movies, both about World War II. The first was Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich (2004). The story was told from the perspective of Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary. Bruno Ganz turned in a powerful performance as Hitler. (By the way, Ganz is the same actor who, the year before, played the part of Johann von Staupitz, vicar general of the Augustinian order in Germany and Martin Luther's confessor, in the movie Luther. Ganz was just as convincing playing the pious and compassionate monk as he was playing the maniacal madman. Great talent).

Downfall chronicles the last twelve days of Hitler's life as he huddled in a bunker beneath Berlin, with the Russians advancing on the city. The entire film is in German, so one must endure two and half hours of reading English subtitles. But rather than finding this distracting, I found it to add immeasurably to the authenticity of the film. I felt like I was right there watching the events unfold as they were happening. Check out the trailer here or here.

The second film was The Boy in Striped Pajamas (2008). This was a very moving story about an eight year old German boy named Bruno, whose father is the commandant of a concentration camp. His curiosity leads him to disobey his parents by exploring the woods behind their new home near the camp. When he finds the camp, he meets a little Jewish boy named Shmuel behind the fence, and wearing what he thinks are "striped pajamas." The two boys form a friendship, and Bruno slowly, hesitatingly, begins to learn that his little friend is a prisoner because he's "an enemy" and a threat to the Reich. More difficult for Bruno to accept is that his father has something to do with Shmuel's imprisonment.

The one really odd thing that struck me throughout the film was the fact that all these Germans were played by British actors. It was amusing to hear them speaking English with a British accent while playing Germans. The same I suppose should be true if the parts were played by American actors. But of course, having my ear tuned to American English, that wouldn't have seemed odd at all; although it probably would to a British audience.

At any rate, the film was very powerful. I watched it with the entire family, and we had a very good conversation afterward. Even the next day at lunch, my eighteen year old son, who prefers movies with a lot of action (of which this had none), just out of the blue made the comment, "That movie last night was really very powerful emotionally."

Check out the trailer here.

Second Commandment

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of the Second Commandment:
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Ex. 20:4-6)
The reason we are given this commandment is because the greatness and glory of God cannot be properly expressed by an image. An image necessarily distorts our understanding of God; it limits him; it debases him.

It is not likely, I suppose, that any of us are guilty of breaking this commandment by actually bowing down before a block of wood or stone carved into a physical representation of God. But then again, this isn’t the only way the commandment is capable of being broken.

The commandment is also broken when we willfully ignore or purposely distort the Bible’s teaching about God and his will for us, so that we conceive of him according to our own imagination. Someone once said, “In the beginning God created man after his own likeness; and then man promptly returned the favor.” It’s a humorous way of putting it, but it’s sadly true. We have a tendency to refashion God after our own likeness—to imagine that he is like us, that surely he must think like we do. In the 50th Psalm the Lord rebuked Israel, saying, “You thought that I was one like yourself” (v. 21).

And so I ask you, what is the source of your understanding about God? Is it the Scriptures? Or is it your own fallen reason? Or maybe your imagination or your wishful thinking? How do you conceive of God? And what is the source of your understanding of him?

Beloved people of God, we must be very careful to think of him only according to the way in which he has revealed himself in the Scriptures.

The First Commandment

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of the first commandment:

I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:2-3).

We shouldn’t think that the only way in which it is possible to violate this commandment is by formally confessing allegiance to some other god, like Baal or Thor, or Vishnu or Allah. It is not only those things that are actually called gods or thought of as gods that can take the place of the Lord our God in our thinking. Whatever is loved, feared, trusted in, or obeyed more than God, has in effect become a god to us.

Whatever has the first place in our affections has the place that only the Lord our God should have.

Whatever we most fear, if not God, has an influence over us that only God should have.

Likewise with regard to what we most trust—that person or thing in which we have the most confidence—if not God.

Whatever has a greater influence in the formation of our thinking, in the shaping of our character, and the directing of our behavior, has the place that only God should have.

And so I ask you, is there anyone or anything that you love more than God? Is there anyone or anything that you fear more than God? Is there anyone or anything that you trust in or obey more than God?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

The Lord is in the habit of making friends out of his enemies. I mentioned in my Sunday school class this past Sunday about the conversion of A. N. Wilson, an English writer, known for his critical biographies, novels and works of history. For several years he was an atheist, hobnobbing with the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He recently announced his return to the Christian faith of his childhood. You can read his story here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ron Paul versus Bernake

Would that all our federal legislators understood economics as well as Ron Paul. And would that Bernake would answer questions more forthrightly.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Revolution Legitimized

I've just finished an excellent book, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, by Gertrude Himmelfarb. It was published 50 years ago, on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. She does an excellent job delving into Darwin's early life, discovering the influences upon his intellectual development, recounting the voyage of the Beagle, explaining the idea of natural selection, and tracing the impact of his theory on contemporary society.

She closes by making the point that On the Origin of Species was not so much an original source leading to a dramatic change in worldview for the western world, as it was the result of a change in worldview which had already taken place.

She writes:
The Origin was the cataclysm that broke up the crust of conventional opinion. It expressed and dramatized what many had obscurely felt. More than this: it legitimized what they felt. Coming from so unexceptional a source, with all the authority of science and without the taint of ulterior ideology, it became the receptacle of great hopes and great fears. Those who were already partial to the mode of thought it represented-which could mean anything from a mild naturalism or deism to a belligerent atheism-often fastened upon it as the symbol and warrant of their belief; if they later loosely spoke of it as the cause of their conversion, the error is understandable, the leap from justification to cause being all too easily effected. Similarly, those who had already committed themselves to the other side, finding naturalism uncongenial or unpersuasive, tended to look upon the Origin as the incarnation of all that was hateful and fearful. There were, to be sure, some who experienced a genuine crisis of faith upon reading it, as there were also some who came to it with an open mind and left unconverted; if the former have been more publicized, it may be because the loss of faith is a more dramatic affair than the retention of faith. For most men, however, the Origin was not an isolated event with isolated consequences. It did not revolutionize their beliefs so much as give public recognition to a revolution that had already occurred. It was belief made manifest, revolution legitimized.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A New Supreme Court Justice

Who will be the new Supreme Court Justice, and on what basis will he/she be selected? Obama has given some indications in the past. It is not encouraging.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Evil Spirits From the Lord?

In Judges 9:23 and 1 Samuel 16:14, we read of evil spirits coming from the Lord. How can an evil spirit come from the Lord (especially since the Bible says God is not tempted to sin and does not tempt us to sin)?

Every event is under the sovereign control of God who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). This includes even the smallest details of life. Jesus says that not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of God (Matt. 10:29). In fact, nothing at all could happen unless God were either to make it happen or permit it to happen. We could not lift a finger, or even blink an eye, unless God in some sense willed it.

God’s control of events extends even to the sinful actions of evil men. Take the sin of Joseph’s brothers as an example. Joseph saw the sovereign hand of God behind his being sold into slavery in Egypt. He said,

“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:7-8a).

This is remarkable. “It was God who sent me here.” This is not to say that Joseph’s brothers were not responsible for their actions, nor that they were not sinful when they acted. They were not puppets on a string, or robots doing what they were programmed to do. No, they acted freely in accord with their own will, and thus were responsible for their sinful actions. But God made use of their evil designs to accomplish his own holy purpose, as Joseph later indicated when he said,

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it that many people should be kept alive” (Gen. 50:20).

We see here what we might call a “double intention” in the same event. God intended one thing, Joseph’s brothers another. God’s intention was holy, just, and good. The intention of Joseph’s brothers was sinful, unjust, and evil. God’s sovereignty is so great that he is able to use the will of even sinful men to serve his holy purpose.

The same is true with the sinful actions of evil spirits. Even they are under the sovereign control of God. They can do neither more nor less than what God wills; and he uses them to accomplish his holy purpose.

In the passages which our questioner mentioned (and there are others as well—e.g., Ahab in 1 Ki. 22:19-22), God sent evil spirits to afflict, torment, and deceive the wicked, as a means of punishing them for their sin.

The most striking case we have of God using devils to accomplish his purpose is that of Job. It was Satan who afflicted Job with the loss of all his children and property; but Satan could do nothing apart from God’s will (see Job 1:9-12; 2:4-6), and thus ultimately it was God who afflicted Job (2:3). Job understood this. He understood the sovereignty of God. When the calamity struck him, he traced it back to the will of God:

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (1:21).

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10).

“The hand of God has touched me” (19:21).

The fact that it was the devil who carried it out was only incidental, because the devil could do nothing apart from God.

In the cases of Abimelech, Saul, and Ahab, the evil spirits were sent as a punishment for their sin. In the case of Job, the devil’s afflictions were sent as a trial or a test. Again, there was a double intention. Satan intended to make Job stumble and fall; God intended to test his faith and to purify it. God never sends tests or trials with the intention of making his people fall. The questioner correctly point out, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (Jas. 1:13). God never seeks our ruin or downfall. The tests and trials he sends are intended to strengthen us, to cause us to depend more fully upon him, and to show forth his goodness and glory in the end. This was certainly the experience of Job as we read when we get to the end of the book (42:10-17).

The concurrence of the sinful will of man and the holy will of God is wonderfully set forth in the crucifixion of Christ. On the one hand, Scripture says that Jesus was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). And on the other it says that it was God who “crushed him” and “put him to grief” (Isa. 53:10).

In the same way that the cross is the most profound demonstration of the love of God for his people, so it is also the most profound demonstration of his sovereign will.