Monday, November 29, 2010

Confessions of a Book Fiend

This cartoon is courtesy of Incidental Comics

This comic is to all my bibliophile friends out know who you are...because your READING a BLOG for goodness sake (which means you probably have scattered and/or stacked books around you as you read this...trying to justify your reasons for NOT fitting the overly realistic morbid caricature of this cartoon)!  Some illustrations are just a little too close to home!  I sure hope my wife doesn't read this blog post ;-).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saints or Holy Ones?

Over Thanksgiving (the U.S. one for my Canadian friends) this last weekend one of the conversations I had with family (my family on both sides is filled with pastors) was about the change made in the NIV(2011) concerning the non-use of "saints".  The conversation entailed whether the change was necessary and why they would make such a break from other Protestant translations (ESV, NASU, NET, NIV[1984], the KJV-family, NRS) that use "saints" in the NT in such a place as Ephesians 1:1 for translating the Greek ἁγίοις. 

While I have enjoyed the "shock-factor" as a preacher of having folks in church turn to one another in recognition of being "saints" my personal translations I've inevitably translated ἁγίοις as something more like "holy ones" or some such term.  In part because of the connotations that it bears for many folks about people long since dead who had a mystical connection to God and supernatural abilities that no one else can expect to have as a 'normal' follower of Jesus. 

The NIV(2011) rendering of Ephesians 1:1 has "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:" (bold added for emphasis).  Interestingly enough the Catholic translations have purposely avoided the very connotations inherent in their theological system by translating it as "holy ones" (NAB) and "holy people" (NJB).  The NCV, NLT, TNIV opted for "holy people" so it seems only natural that the NIV(2011) would follow this translational trend.  I find it preferable and think the choice bears less weight for people who are reading it and don't differentiate the language of "saints" in Catholic dogma from "saints" as represented by the New Testament usage of ἁγίοις.  To be sure, those two definitions are worlds apart (as even the Catholic renderings testify).

I'd be interested to know what others think about this trend in the most recent translations and what your own translational choice of the matter is?

A Fortune Worth Keeping

I took my family to a Chinese restaurant where we passed around the fortune cookies afterward in order to share the funny things written inside (sometimes you can barely even reconstruct the poorly written English, but it makes for lots of good laughs).  As usual we were all having fun sharing our fortunes with each other when my son Bryce suddenly said, "Hey Dad, mine sounds a lot like my memory verse from Sunday School last week."  He had my attention, but I was certain he was somehow misreading it so I had him read it aloud so we could all hear what it said: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  How do you like that?  I couldn't believe a word-for-word quote of the KJV of Hebrews 11:1.  Now that was a "fortune" worth keeping (although I do prefer translations more up to date ;-) ).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Geeky Ugaritic Mug

I just HAD to blog about one of the geekiest things I've seen (this week).  Boy...I wish I had one :-).  It turns out Eisenbrauns is offering a mug that has the story of 'Ilu's drinking party in Ugaritic cuneiform with a helpful translation on the other side (for those not sufficiently adept at reading such texts in cuneiform).  If anyone gets me for a secret pal this year for Christmas...only $15 will snag this beauty...hint-hint.  I can taste the rootbeer floats now...."wtš šbc."

Eisenbrauns 2010 Mug
Eisenbrauns 2010 Mug
The Drinking Party of 'Ilu (KTU 1.114; RS 24.258)

Eisenbrauns, 2010
25 oz., English and Ugaritic
Your Price: $15.00

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Brief Theology of Suffering: The Story of God and Man

There can be no missing that something is terribly wrong with the world.  One need not look far to conclude this.  Sin and evil; death and suffering; sorrow and loss abound.  Not that there is never life and hope or blessing and goodness, but that all things are not well with this world we live in.  How one understands this in the light of the Gospel of Christ is another matter that must be considered carefully.  What follows is a brief personal understanding of the biblical theodicy offered as the story of the suffering God[1] and of the ultimate satisfaction.
In the Beginning...and a World Gone Mad
Everything that is was created by God and for God (Gen.1:1; John 1:3; Col.1:16; Rev.4:11; 10:6) in the very beginning.  This is to say that nothing is an accident of chance or of “fate,” but of purpose and intention.  We, indeed, were created as his special “workmanship” to carry out God's plan of the ages (Eph.2:10) having been made in the very “image” and “likeness” of God (Gen.1:26-27).  If we were created for such blessing and goodness then why is there such suffering and evil?  Obviously, something in this world of ours has gone terribly wrong...was it God's plan that failed?  Or was God unable to keep His plan on track?  God is sovereign and God is love so what went wrong?  Let's look closer.
God IS and It Was Very Good
The Scriptures begin with the simple statement of God's existence (Gen.1:1 – בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים).  He just is and out of the divine freedom of His love He created all that is.  His existence proved (and still proves) to be the very foundation of continuing existence for everything and everyone (Luke 20:38; Acts 17:28; Col.1:17; Heb.1:3).  Existence is therefore a matter of grace and not of necessity.  Life consists always as a gift of God and never more.  This is the nature of His ever abounding Self-giving love that is confessed in the creeds of the Church in the form of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In the account of God's creating, the repetitive refrain that God saw it was “good” (טוֹבGen.1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) is concluded by God seeing everything that he had made as “very good” (טוֹב מְאֹד Gen.1:31).  This does not imply any kind of philosophical perfection (as if to leave no room for any possible fall...which would deny the nature of the “gift” of life as truly “gift”), but it still refers to a world where goodness reigned and happiness was the rule.[2]  Their world was one where loss was yet unknown, because humanity was still clothed in the glory of obedience and the world was all as it should be.
The Fruit of a World in Rebellion
Then through disobedience to the word of God, sin entered and by it…death.  The loss of the wholeness that had been the worlds and humanity’s prior to that moment was no more…lost in an instant.  What had been blessed was now cursed.  The curse of death reverberated even from that very first family (Gen.4:8) and became the morbid litany of all the generations (and of creation itself) to follow despite the longevity attributed to some of them (וַיָּמֹת “and he died” Gen.5:5, 8, etc.).[3]  The world was now a place filled with death and sorrow, pain and loss.  There were moments of happiness to be sure (the birth of sons and daughters, creativity and music – Gen.4:21-22), but none of it could overcome the sign of the curse that hung as a heavy shadow over everything.
Redemption...Now...But Not Yet
In the midst of the world of chaos, God called and covenanted Himself to a man (and to a people).  In so doing, God revealed Himself as the unchanging forever faithful  יהוהwho Himself would save His people and by so doing would work the redemption of the whole world through the redemption of His people (Gen.22:14-18).  His people Israel would not (indeed…could not do this) and so David’s greater son Jesus of Nazareth was the faithful deliverer bringing light to those who sat in darkness…to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Matt.1:21; 4:16; Luke 2:32).  This was a message of redemption and hope for the whole world (John 3:16), but it actually meant the suffering of God with us.  Our redemption was not simply purchased.  God has entered into our very suffering and born our sorrows (Isa.53:4).  God intimately knows our pain and by his own suffering our Lord Jesus has purchased our redemption (1 Pet.2:24).  In the shadow of the cross and the light of the resurrection suffering has been borne and redeemed by God Himself – not that suffering (and death as its sting) has suddenly been denied, but that now it has been swallowed up in victory.
He has not only purchased our salvation, but he has given “gifts” (χαρισματα) by his Spirit to his Church in order that in the midst of suffering and difficulties we may be sustained and built up as the Church (Rom.12:6-21; 1 Cor.12:4-28; Eph.4:8-16).  We must be sustained through encouragement, through timely prophetic messages, pointed teaching confronting us and directing us in the way we should go and acts of mercy when we are down-trodden.  We act in love towards one another by the Spirit which we have received as sons of God and co-heirs with Christ (1 Cor.13; Rom.8:14-17).  In these workings of the Spirit we live as Christ in the midst of a world of suffering declaring that this world belongs to the Lord (1 Cor.12:1-28).  That very Spirit which groans within us in the midst of a world in travail and agony also begs for our glorification that is yet to be revealed in us at the Day of Christ’s coming (Rom.8:18-28) because it will entail the restoration of all things and the end of death.
And yet we wait (not in passivity, but in Spirit-empowered activity) for our Lord’s return and the final establishment of His kingdom where all our tears will be wiped away and these bodies will be changed from loss to immortality (Rom.8:23; 1 Cor.15:53, 54; Titus 2:13; James 5:8; Rev.21:4).  In that Day, suffering will cease.  In that Day, suffering will have new perspective.  Answers seem trite today and overly simplistic (as evidenced by the friends of Job and even Job’s own response or that of the “Teacher” of Ecclesiastes).  But in light of that Day suffering has meaning, because in light of the day of Christ crucified (and risen)…suffering has been given meaning beyond measure in the overflowing free gift of God’s love for us.
Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. 14 vols. Hendrickson Pub, 2010.  Harris, R. L., G. L. Archer, and B. K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody Press, 1980.  Sittser, Gerald Lawson. A Grace Disguised: How The Soul Grows Through Loss. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2004.

[1]  Karl Barth wrote that one must remember "we have to do with the God who Himself suffers pain because of our sin and guilt, for whom it is not an alien thing but His own intimate concern" in Church Dogmatics II/1 (Hendrickson Pub, 2010), 373; and see also the discussion of the God who suffers in Gerald Lawson Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How The Soul Grows Through Loss (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004), 158, 159.
[2]  cf.טוֹב  793 by Andrew Bowling in R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, and B. K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Moody Press, 1980).
[3] With the notable anomalous exception of Enoch who it is said of that he “walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away.” (Gen.5:24 NET)  He may be one who serves as a “type” looking forward to the eventual undoing of death itself in the eschaton as the work of Christ – see 1 Cor.15:26.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

My Favorite Blogs

I just thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorite blogs.  I read quite a few (some have quit blogging of late that I still follow...which is just as well, because it gives me less to follow) every day and just thought I'd pass my top six reads on to anyone here they are (in no particular order):

Euangelion by Mike Bird (and occassionally Joel Willitts) -- Mike offers lots of insight into Reformational theology and has authored a number of helpful books on theology over the last several years.

SAET (The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology) headed by Gerald Hiestand, but with a whole line-up of fellow bloggers.  Theology, now more than ever, needs to be from, for and within the Church...rather than simply the Academy.  Who wouldn't be excited about "Ecclesial Theology" I right...or am I right???

Sunestauromai: Living the Crucified Life by Brian Fulthorp a fellow A/G pastor and missionary is a wonderful blog that deals with theological, ecclesiological and pastoral issues (among other things).  Plus, Brian's just fun to follow!

Cafe of the Book by Joel Banman offers thoughtful reflections on the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (need I say more :-) )...and promises a whole litany of posts in this vein as he works on a thesis in regard to Bonhoeffer's "Ethics".

Ancient Hebrew Poetry by John Hobbins is one of the finest blogs I've ever read on Old Testament literature.  He offers reflections on the Hebrew Bible that are second to none...if only he could find more time to return to blogging at the pace he once was at (but alas pastoring has taken him from us for now...Lord willing only for a time).

And I would be remiss to not mention the latest blog that I'm truly enjoying reading (is it nepotism or just narcissistic navel-gazing?) at I Heart Barth with my fellow theologues and bloggers Joel Banman, Marc Vandersluys and Jeff Wheeldon where we are already well on our way discussing theologians and their respective contributions to theology.

So happy blog-reading to anyone who happens to follow up on any of my recommendations...or not.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Blessed be the One Who Grabs Babylon's Babies and Smashes Them on a Rock: A Psalm

By the rivers of Babylon we sit down and weep when we remember Zion.
       On the poplars in her midst we hang our harps,
for there our captors ask us to compose songs;
    those who mock us demand that we be happy, saying: "Sing for us a song about Zion!"
        How can we sing a song to the LORD in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be crippled!
        May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
and do not give Jerusalem priority over whatever gives me the most joy.
Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
        They said, "Tear it down, tear it down, right to its very foundation!"
O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated!
        How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us!
        How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!
 (Psalm 137:1-9 - NET)
Another psalm of weeping.  But this psalm (unlike my post on Psalm 88) is not about an individual struggle of abandonment.  This a psalm of retribution while in captivity.  One can almost hear the rhythms of this melancholy tune, cried without instrumentation in low groans, beckoning for the God of the covenant to pay back those who have rejoiced at and participated in the judgment of Israel.  It a psalm of remembrance (zākar).  Remembrance of all that Zion was and all it was meant to be.  A call for God to remember the unrelenting and unmerciful cry of victory from Esau over his brother Jacob (Obadiah 10-14).  It is a reminder of the Deuteronomic filial lex talionis (Deut.19:19; Prov.24:29).  It is a remembrance and call for the blessing of one who will destroy Babylon in the same manner that Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and kill her babies by smashing "them on a rock".  In the manner which Babylon has treated the LORD's people...the cry of remembrance goes up in the very heart of the empire..."Blessed ('ašrê) will be the one...".  But alas...who will repay Babylon (and Edom) for the actual slaying and destruction of Jerusalem's children? (2 Kings 25:7; Lam.5:11-15)  Where will he come from?  Who could this one be who is called "happy" in doing the 'dirty deed'?

It seems only appropriate to ask how we who are in Christ can ever pray such prayers?  Can we not just skip this psalm as belonging to a bygone era of legalistic retribution?  No...never.  We must pray it more sincerely than ever those exiled in Babylon knew how to pray it.  They prayed for justice and retribution according to the very will of the covenant keeping LORD.  We also pray this, but with the knowledge of the very embodiment of the LORD...that is of Christ Jesus.  We know for a certainty that our LORD will repay (Deut.7:10; 32:35; Isa.65:6; Jer.51:56; Rom.12:19; Heb.10:30).  We pray for the destruction of all who will not ultimately yield to the Lordship of Christ...but we also pray that all who would yield will yield before that great and terrible Day of His Coming again! In that Day everyone will receive their reward...whether to everlasting punishment or everlasting blessedness.

We do not consider only the judgment of the now, but that which is eternal.  Will we be found hidden in Christ in that Day where our deeds are found to be Spirit-empowered and lasting, or our faith is wanting and we ourselves are among those who are not even acknowledged by Him?  The dashing of children against the stones would be but a small thing in the light of that ultimate assize that awaits us all if have not trusted ourselves to the Lordship of Christ Jesus.  It is the judgment he bore for is the righteousness he now bears for and in us.  If indeed we are rewarded with life (and we know this because we have received the Spirit of son-ship), we say "Blessed is the one who repays...not according to what we have done...but according to the great riches of his mercy and grace which are in glory!"   Blessed be His Name forever!