Saturday, September 26, 2009

Discerning Light

Three readings seem to be mingling in my frontal lobe today.

The first was in an obit. It included a description of the testimony of Susan Atkins. Ms. Atkins died of brain cancer this week after spending a lifetime in prison for several particularly gruesome and pointless murders back in the 1960s. She was one of the followers of Charles Manson, who spurred his disciples into drug-fueled madness. Though Ms. Atkins appears to have truly reformed in prison, her quotes from the trial about murdering an eight-month pregnant actress were striking. She showed absolutely no remorse whatsoever. At trial, she indicated she "...felt no guilt for what I've done. It was right then and I still believe it was right." When pressed how killing another human being...two, really...could possibly be "right," she said: "How can it not be right when it's done with love?"

Clearly, this was the statement of someone utterly disconnected from the reality of love. The statement is completely incoherent. It is insane.

In reading through a portion of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion last night, I found his assertions about the truth and goodness of the Bible. To the rhetorical question posed about the truth of the Bible's teachings, Calvin responds:
Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of it's own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.
It does, of course. What is good in Scripture is radiantly good, self-evidently good. The central truths that the great narrative of the Bible...the Torah, prophets, and writings, the gospels and epistles..convey can be clearly discerned. That doesn't mean that we always read it correctly. We like to read in our own biases, to see our prejudices and presuppositions instead of what is intended, or to assume a text says one thing when it clearly says another. But using the Bible correctly yields good fruit.

That means not saying evil is good, and not saying good is evil. We have, in the core teaching of the Christian tradition, pretty solid idea of what is good. When we encounter things that clearly violate the intent of Christ's teachings, we are obligated to resist them. Embracing that which is in opposition to the ethic of love for God and neighbor that defines the Way is simply not acceptable.

That includes where that darkness is found in Scripture. Yesterday I read again the story of the "divinely appointed" massacre of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. I've had many a conversation with Bible-believing folk in which they've insisted...with complete earnestness...that there is no tension at all between Christ's insistence that we love our enemies and the butchery of unarmed women and children. It's all God's Word! It must be a manifestation of God's love!

But that, like the delusions of Ms. Atkins, is not real. It is not coherent. It is not sane.

It is also, rather notably, not Christian faith.

8 comments:

  1. that there is no tension at all between Christ's insistence that we love our enemies and the butchery of unarmed women and children. It's all God's Word! It must be a manifestation of God's love!

    That tension David, is not one of love, it is one that dwells within rebellious men; God's Sovereignty offends us. Context - the "offensive" massacre of the Amalekites was judgement sir. God gave Saul an opportunity to be obdeient.

    But that, like the delusions of Ms. Atkins, is not real. It is not coherent. It is not sane.

    It is also, rather notably, not Christian faith.


    Like all anti-Christs, they diminish the authrority of God's word. It appears you have missed the fact that scripture teaches God is Holy, thus your home made defintion of His love is meaningless; specifically "unarmed women and children." It appears you imply that if they were at lest armed men, that would make a diffrence. Perhaps you think God owes man (women and children)?

    Christians don't (should not, especially teachers) alliviate scriptrual "tensions" by editing God's word, that is the work of anti-christs, and the blind who need repentance.

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  2. @ Mark: Knew you'd like this one. Thanks for illustrating my point!

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  3. My pleasure David.

    Do tell...what does God owe you, women and children sir? It would also help if you gave the source for your answer, some opinions are indeed better than others, right?

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  4. "In reading through a portion of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion last night, I found his assertions about the truth and goodness of the Bible."

    So do you think that if Calvin were alive today, he may find himself wearing the label of "liberal/progressive" Christian?

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  5. @ Mark: God owes us nothing. But God does not act in ways that are contrary to God's nature. It's not so much a matter of God's sovereign power, which I do not for a moment question. It is a question of God's nature and the integrity of our witness...and if the histories of God's chosen people are occasionally discordant with Christ's teaching about the nature of God, I'll tend to favor Christ.

    @ Jonathan: I'd think so. He was big into revolutionary reform, and came out with statements like:

    "..it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones...love will best judge what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe." (Institutes IV.x.30)

    Sounds progressive to me.

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  6. "Sounds progressive to me."

    I always find it fascinating when two different conclusions are drawn from the same text. Presuppostions are powerful things indeed.

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  7. @ Jonathan: They are indeed. Mine certainly do keep me entertained. ;)

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  8. Well, the question you pose is a good one. I, for what it's worth, sometimes do have a hard time understanding God's execution of (to our modern minds, horrific) judgment. In the general pattern of the OT, it is indicated that Yahweh is "slow to anger." He always sends a warning to those he will strike; be it Israel, Sodom, Egypt, what have you. He gave Canaan four hundred years to repent before executing the land. I know this view may sound harsh, but I have a hard time saying "no" to it if I want to believe in a God who is concerned with morality. helping the poor and loving your enemies is immensely worthwhile; but so is getting rid of sin.

    But y'know, you may very well disagree with me. THat's wonderful. I honestly love talking to people about this, i just don't really appreciate being characterized as a sadist who worships a sadistic God.

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