Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thoughts on the Book of Joel (in many parts); Part 5

Rejoicing dries up from the sons of men

“Wail like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth.  The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the LORD.  The priests mourn, the ministers of the LORD.  The field is ruined, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine dries up, fresh oil fails.  Be ashamed, O farmers, wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley; because the harvest of the field is destroyed.  The vine dries up and the fig tree fails; the pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree, all the trees of the field dry up.  Indeed, rejoicing dries up from the sons of men” (Joel 1: 8-12).

When a drunkard rejoices he often rejoices with wine, women and song; these are the natural man’s holy trinity of joy.  When God judges mankind, he judges them according to the very gods they worship.  Thus, all marriages cease and all forms of fruitfulness fail; families are destroyed before they begin, ministries are abandoned, and livelihoods shrivel away.  My guess is that these people were as oblivious as we are today, and as oblivious as will be the people alive when Christ returns (and we might be them).  “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).

I do not believe this is an indictment for any one or all of the activities cited, but it is an indictment to maintaining an even keel thought-pattern like “business as usual” when something extraordinary is about to happen.  We are required to know the sign of the times, and after we have enjoyed material merriment to the full, we would be wise to look upward for any future fulfillment.  To be materially sated is too often to be spiritually dull, but being blessed to the maximum degree ought to cause more praise and tend towards spiritual vigor.

There are five fruits mentioned in the above verses, one of the vine, and four of trees, plus an allusion to oil (olive oil most likely) and two earth bound grains: wheat and barley.  The vinedressers are lumped together with the farmers, just as both must meticulously attend to their crops should they desire a harvest; plus, both are more earth bound than the matured fruit trees.  The implicative to “wail like a virgin” in sackcloth or mourning for a bridegroom (supposedly lost in battle) is a picture of the worst kind of waste and destitution for it is a waste and destitution of a primary kind.  She is a virgin, has never known marital bliss, and yet, while imagining it with all her might, has it replaced with an irredeemable rape.  So devastatingly thoroughgoing is this fall from grace that attrition has reached even unto mature and historically fruitful trees—the very mainsprings of the land.  Let us look at what these four fruit-bearing trees symbolically represent: fig, pomegranate, palm, and apple.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Freedom Reigns under a Sovereign Sky

Solving the often debated, misunderstood, and controversial dilemma posed by the existence of the seemingly contradictory concepts of God’s Sovereignty and Mankind’s Free Will. 
One of the greatest mathematicians of the past was a man named Pierre-Simon Laplace, often called the French Newton because of his near equal mathematical prowess to Isaac Newton, and the application of his genius to planetary motion and gravitational fields and other things Newtonian.  He had a firm belief in Causal Determinism which basically means that everything done today was caused by everything done yesterday, or in more exacting and elaborate terms, it is “The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs” (retrieved on July 28, 2013 from the website: ( ). 
With this information in mind let us look at a scenario designed to help us see the true nature of our determined and/or freed condition; that scenario, to “Explain the analogy of someone stranded in a deep well with two ropes dangling down” was made by Myers and Jeeves, authors of the book Psychology: Through the eyes of faith.  By painting a picture of someone looking upward from the confining depths of a well, they hoped to illustrate how perspective is everything, and how one’s viewpoint from the bottom of a well tended to distort the actual facts.

The two ropes that someone thought they saw was in reality the two ends of one single rope.  If they had pulled on either end of it long enough, till the entire rope lay at their feet at the bottom of that well, they would have been in serious trouble.  They must give mutual credence to both ends of the same rope, placing simultaneous tension upon each overhanging strand until they lift themselves out of that well.  By analogy, we must give mutual credence to the seemingly diametrically opposed truths of determinism and freedom, placing simultaneous tension upon each concept to extract ourselves from our narrowness of vision or perspective. 

As G. K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy so eloquently put it (referring specifically to the Christian): “He has always cared more for truth than for consistency.  If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them.  His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.” Chesterton would later say that the symbol of Christianity has a “collision and a contradiction” at the center of it (the cross) and because of its center being a paradox it could grow without changing by opening its arms forever to the four winds. 
Because man is made in God’s image and God is sovereign, man must somehow reflect that in limitation; thus, man mirrors God’s sovereignty by exercising his limited version of what sovereignty looks like in him: free will.  Just as a mirror image does not have the dimensionality of the substance mirrored, so man cannot produce true sovereignty like an inscrutable Being.  Nevertheless, we are as free as the scope of our influence or the size of the space we displace by our body and mind.

The bondage of our will that Protestant Reformation pioneer Martin Luther spoke of was the result of the Fall; but it has been modified, even repaired by the work of redemption.  God, indeed, determines our fate; likewise, we are free within the confines of that fate to do as we please, but never outside the boundaries of the scope of that fate.  This only confuses us because of the small size of our impact on the whole of what God is doing compared to the large size of the stage of history upon which we practice our impacting.  We just never seem to realize how impotent we really are: we live and die on that stage thinking ourselves free to pursue our dreams unmolested.  And make no mistake about it: we are free, but not even as free as our imagination [which is often abstract] is divorced from our totality of entity; we are only free within the concrete limitations of our indigenous makeup.  We really do live and die under God’s sovereign sky and not under oppressive manmade artificial lights (which, interestingly enough, are common to stages). 
So, in other words, our free will has free reign within an illimited sky, but owing to extreme size disparity, that fact is lost to us and is therefore essentially meaningless from our narrow and dim perspective.  All definitions are limits, but God and spiritual man cannot be defined.  Additionally, anything known can only be known in relationship to Him and His inexhaustible nature.  Therefore, we do well to exercise freedom only within the prescribed lines of our new nature in Christ.  God’s will for us, though predestined and determinate from His perspective, is unscripted and indeterminate from our perspective.  Ultimately God’s sovereignty is just too large to compare to our freedom; the disparity of scope between God’s freedom and ours is so vast that it is cannot be reconciled in the human mind.