Author Archives: Jim Fitzgerald

Good Friday?

Copia desde la Crucifixion dibujada hacia 1540...

Copia desde la Crucifixion dibujada hacia 1540 por Miguel Angel Buonarroti para Vittoria Colonna.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV)

Good Friday for us was a bad day for Christ. Not so much because of his physical suffering, but because of his spiritual suffering. He tells us this himself in the garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). His physical suffering is important and should not be minimized or understated in any way. The incarnation and embodiment of Christ is one of the facts that separates Christianity from other religions and belief systems. Christianity is not platonism. But the cup Jesus prayed would be taken from him was not merely the cup of his physical suffering. Rather, it was the cup of the curse that he would drink to the full resulting in his separation from the Father (Matthew 26:39).

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As the Reformer Martin Luther said, when Christ hung on the cross he was the most despicable man who ever lived. Every sin of his people was laid upon.  Or as Paul put it, “…he became sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ’s cry of dereliction was prompted by the God-forsakenness of the curse–the Son’s separation from the Father.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As the German prison guard told the Jew in a Nazi death camp during World War II: “Here there is no why.”

The mystery of all mysteries is expressed in a monosyllabic question: “why?” But here there is no why. Only a mystery hidden in the secret counsel of God.

All we know is that because Christ took the curse we experience the blessing. In fact this is the meaning of the benediction in Number 6:24-26:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

His face shines upon us because it frowned on Christ. His countenance is lifted upon us because it had fallen on Christ. We get grace and peace because Christ took the full wrath, judgment, and justice of God. We get Good Friday because he took the worst that Friday had to give–and he took it lovingly. He took the bad so we can have the good.

That, and that alone, is what makes Good Friday, good. And like the benediction of creation–it is very good! (Genesis 1:31)

The Lorica

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! In celebration I thought I would share portions of “The Prayer of St. Patrick”  known as the “Lorica” or “Breastplate.”

The Prayer of St. Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

The Final Temple

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19 ESV).

Destroy this temple? Are you kidding me? The temple was the center of Jewish life. It was the center of religious, social, economic, and national life. Even more, it was the place of God’s special presence with his people. To the Jews in Jesus’ day it was a microcosm of heaven and earth. To speak those words were blasphemous and treasonous in one breath. The consequences would be catastrophic for the Jewish people. The temple was the sole place of sacrificial worship. To say, “destroy this temple” was to suggest the destruction of the only form of forgiveness and atonement known to the Jewish people. Nothing could be more scandalous. Nothing could be more shocking. Nothing he could say could be more outrageous than what he said: “Destroy this temple.”

  • Destroy the center of religious, social, political, and economic life.
  • Destroy the place of God’s presence.
  • Destroy the microcosm of heaven and earth.
  • Destroy our only hope for forgiveness and atonement.

And you wonder why they wanted to kill him? In their minds, he was trying to destroy them.

This is, of course, not what Jesus meant at all. But before we are too hard on the Jewish leaders let’s remember that even Jesus’ family, friends, and closest followers didn’t get it.

And what is it that they didn’t get?

What they didn’t get was that Jesus is the temple. He is the fulfillment of what the Jewish temple pointed to. He is the center of life: religious, social, economic, and political. He is the place of God’s special presence. He is the place where heaven and earth meet like nowhere else. Even more, he is not only the temple, but he is the High Priest, and the sacrifice.

He wasn’t destroying these things. He established them and fulfilled them.

The point of cleansing the temple is that they were destroying the temple and everything it stood for. He is his Father’s house. He is the final temple.

The house he had zeal for was his house.

 

 

 

Reformation

According to the German Reformer Martin Luther, Reformation begins with repentance and ends with tribulation. In his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, commonly known as the 95 Theses, Luther argued  that true Christianity is a life of repentance and tribulation.

Thesis 1: When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Thesis 95: And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

The Reformation is, of course, much more than the content of these two theses. But it is never less. Something to think about as we prepare to celebrate our Reformed heritage this Sunday.

A Word for Egypt

Mohammad Hussain Tantawi

It would be nice if the military council of Egypt headed by Mohammad Hussain Tantawi would have taken the same approach with Christians as Darius the king of Persia did with the Jews.

Darius said:

Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site…And whatever is needed…let that be given to them day by day without fail.  (Ezra 6:7-9 ESV)

The modern-day Pharaohs should take a cue from ancient Pharaonic history: God will not sit  idly by watching his people abused and killed.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD…“Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Exodus 9:1 ESV)

Mr. Tantawi has a chance to make all of Egypt free and bring peace prosperity, and security to Egypt. But he should know this: nothing will be able to stay the hand of God against those who abuse his people and keep them oppressed. God will act on behalf of his people.

For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will fall with a very severe plague…  (Exodus 9:2-3 ESV)

God will save his people. He will deliver them.

In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. (Isaiah 19:19-20 ESV)

Tantawi needs to understand that God wants to bless Egypt. But he will bless Egypt through his people.

In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:24-25 ESV)

The latest reports show that  Mr. Tantawi is considering a run for the presidency.  A new political group called “Egypt Above All” has sprung up encouraging him to do so. Most believe this would be a mistake and just perpetuate the policies of the prior regime. Either way, for now, Mr. Tantawi should  be careful how he treats the people of God because God will defend his people and  He will deliver them.

“Blessed be Egypt my people.”

A Declaration of Liberty?

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil

The new interim leader of the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya, Mustafa Abdul Jalil proclaimed freedom for all Libyans Sunday October 23, 2011. This is a historical date for Libya, but perhaps not in the way they think. They are now free from the four decade dictatorship of the Mad Dog of the Middle East (Muammar Gaddafi), but one wonders if this freedom will be short-lived.

Jalil said three things in his speech that ought to give all freedom loving Libyans pause. First, he said that Libya is an Islamic country. Second, that Sharia would be the law of the land. Third, he declared that any laws that are incompatible with Sharia would be discarded.

Ironically, Jalil is said to be representative of the more secular thinkers within the NTC. There will be no real freedom in Libya until the real threat to liberty is overthrown–the Qur’an–and all the so-called sayings of Muhammad.

Unless, the Libyans follow the Turks by inserting a wall of separation between the secular and the sacred there will be no true liberty. The rule of Sharia is a far greater threat to liberty than the Mad Dog of the Middle East or any of the other dictators and Monarchs of the region.

The revolutionaries in North Africa and the Middle East are rebelling against the wrong source of authority. Until they rebel against the authority of religious rule they will never be free.

Jalil would have made a real declaration of liberty had he said Libya is a secular nation. All people will be free to practice their religion according to the dictates of their own conscience. And the government will maintain a distinction between secular and sacred law. Had Jalil made this proclamation he would have made a true declaration of liberty.

Until then, Jalil’s declaration should not be called a declaration of liberty. It should be called what it is–a declaration trading one kind of tyranny for another.

How The Mighty Have Fallen

The mighty have fallen first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, and now finally in Libya. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and  Hosni Mubarak were were first. Followed most recently by Moammar Gadhafi. Ali and Mubarak were not saints but neither were they the personification of evil. That designation belongs to Gadhafi. 

More than a half-a-dozen of the most evil men in history have been deposed, tried, or killed over the past several years. And the citizens who were brutalized at the hands of these despots have rejoiced in their demise. But the future everywhere in the middle east is made more uncertain now.

It is relatively easy to take down a dictator, but it is altogether another thing to build a democracy. As Benjamin Franklin reminded us, it is even harder to keep it once you have it. Democracy is not merely about taking down a despot. It is not simply a more sophisticated form of mob rule which in the end is unsustainable. Democracy is not the automatic result of tearing down autocratic rule.

This is all the more true in the Arabic speaking world. It is not the ruler who is the biggest threat to democracy in North Africa and the Middle East . Rather, it is the rule above all rulers–namely the revelation of the prophet Muhammad known as the Holy Qur’an, and the other teachings of the Prophet in the Hadith and other parts of the Islamic tradition. The

Bismillah, the first verse of the first "...

First Verse of First Surah of Qur'an

idea of democracy in the Arabic speaking world faces a bigger threat from the teachings of Islam than from any dictator that has ever ruled over the Arabic speaking peoples.

Democracy cannot be deduced from the Qur’an. There is no Qurranic wall of separation between religion and state. There is no concept of common grace and common good or separation between God and Caesar.

This means that for democracy to take shape in North Africa and the Middle East the real revolution must be against the Qur’an, or at least against certain interpretations of the Qur’an. The supremacy of the Qur’an was held in check by the dictators who were recently deposed. But now very little if anything stands in the way of the Qur’an as the sole rule of, not only faith and practice, but all of life political and religious.

My only interests are for the minorities in the Arabic speaking world–and specifically the Christian minority. Unless there is a strain of altruism running through all the interim governments in the region (and there is no such strain) we can probably expect something that resembles democracy but without granting equal rights to minorities. The Qur’ran simply does not allow for it. And no leader in either the West or the East has demonstrated that they are willing to stand up for the minorities in these countries.

Western democracies have simply involved themselves in inter-Islamic politics between Sunni and Shia and other smaller sects of Islam. Sadly we have not even demonstrated that we can tell the difference between one sect or another maintaing an unrealistic monolithic view of Islam. Perhaps it is naiveté. Perhaps we are merely pursuing our own self-interests. Maybe it is something even more sinister. No matter, the result will be the same. Christians

A green version of http://commons.wikimedia.or...

will end up oppressed, exiled, or killed. It has already played out in miniature in Egypt just a few weeks ago. There are almost no Christians in Iraq thanks to American foreign policy. No Christians left in Afghanistan. I suspect, if we don’t change our policies we will see that scene replayed over and over again throughout the region. Indeed we have already achieved what Mohammed could only dream of–the continued de-Christianization of the Arabic speaking world.

But I vow to take as many Christians to the region as want to come with me. For every Christian that leaves we should send three to replace them. The church lived and thrived in North Africa and the Middle East for a thousand years before the Islamic invasion. Now they are a struggling but vibrant minority. But if we stand together with them we can help them recover their true heritage and once again become the intellectual and theological capitol of the Christian world.

Difficulties Because of What We Love

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.  ~2 Timothy 5:1-9

These are difficult days. Not as difficult as some days in the past but more difficult than others. From the First Advent to the Second Advent time is characterized as difficult. That is what Paul is telling Timothy: in the last days there will come times of difficulty. We might

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnets...

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

call this time the “in-between times” as if we were perpetually living between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. As if Saturday was just one big long day. These times are not static. Sometimes they are better, sometimes worse, but always to one level or another difficult.

Of course, like Ronald Reagan said, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” Now to be sure that is one of the all-time funny lines in modern political theater. In the theater of life, however, whether we are in a state of recession, depression, or recovery the historical period between the advents of Christ is going to be difficult.

The key to life is not to use your own personal experience to measure how difficult things really are. Rather, we are to use a different standard of measurement, namely, the advents of Christ. The Church Fathers use to talk about the adventus Christi incarne, the adventus Christi in gratia, and the adventus Christi in gloria. That is, the

Russian Icon of the Second Coming used for All...

Russian Icon of Second Coming

coming of Christ in the flesh, in grace, and in glory. Again, we live in that middle period, in the in-between time of Christ’s coming in grace through the Holy Spirit. And so our standard of measurement is not with resepct to how difficult things are, but rather in how much grace God has given for those difficulties. As God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Cor. 12:9). That is our standard during this difficult time.

I want to suggest that the reason for the difficulty during the in-between time is quite the opposite of what we first might think. In fact, it is what we might never guess on our own unaided reasoning power. Indeed, it might be logically opposite of what we currently blame for our troubled time. The reason for our difficulty in this present age is–love. Look at the Greek words Paul uses to describe the character of people during this age that we share with them. They nearly all have something to do with love.

  • Lovers of self… φιλαυτοι (φίλος and αὐτός), loving one’s self
  • Lovers of money… φιλαργυροι (φίλος and ἄργυρος), loving money
  • Not loving good… αφιλαγαθοι (α not. and φιλ lover, άγαθος good), opposed to goodness
  • Lovers of pleasure… φιληδονοι (φίλος and ἡδονή), loving pleasure
  • Rather than lovers of God… φιλοθεοι (φίλος and θεός), loving God
  • Led astray by various passions… επιθυμιων (inward desire)

There are five compound words here that I suspect Paul coined. These terms describe our movement away from God and/or goodness. Each of them shares the same syllable of one of the Greek words for love (philo). I believe that the way these compound words are used here are synonymous with the word passions or desires in verse 6.

In his confessions Saint Augustine talked about ordinate and in-ordinate love.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

Augustine recognized ordinate love when he spoke of coming to love God so late: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!” He spoke of in-ordinate love when he said: “In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.”

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...

Saint Augustine

Moreover these “loves” whether ordinate or inordinate are governing, controlling, and formational. They are the main things in shaping what kind of person we are and what kind of lives we live.

The thing to note is that loving and desiring are here in contrast with learning and knowledge with regard to revealed truth.

They are never (a vey long time when you consider eternity) able to come to knowledge of reveled truth. In other words, you cannot simply reason your way to revealed truth. Rather, it is a much more precognitive function on the level of our loves, our passions, and our desires (Augustine).

Not that revealed truth is irrational or unreasonable, but rather that reason is insufficient by itself. That is, it is not the only or even the main faculty in discovering or apprehending it.

The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.

~ Pascal

Think about these words:

  • Always learning… μανθανουσι (to learn intellectually)
  • but never able to come to the knowledge… γνωσιν
  • of the truth…  αληθειας (revealed truth)

Now take a look at these expressions:

  • “Knowledge is power.” The basis for modernism.
  • “Ideas have consequences.” The basis for world-view thinking
  • “I know better than that.” The basis for moral behavior

Loving and learning are related to be sure. But in much of the evangelical  world (especially the Presbyterian and Reformed part) it seems like we have put an inordinate amount of emphasis on the latter to the almost negation of the former.

As I said in the beginning of this post, most of the difficulty of our time, and I might add of anytime, has to do with love–inordinate love. The same is true of all that is right with our time. Love–ordinate love–is the governing, controlling, shaping, and forming power to get us through this difficult age in-between times.

Hiding What No Wise Person Wants

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will (Matthew 11:25-26 ESV)

Jesus thanked the Father that these things were hidden from the wise and understanding but revealed to little children. It seems to me that this kind of hiding is different from how we typically think about it. My wife likes to hide money from me. Her intent is to hide it so I can’t find it. So she looks for a secret place she thinks I won’t look. But here’s the key: she knows that I will be looking.

Hiding something, from the human viewpoint, only makes sense if someone will be looking for it. No sane person hides what no one wants to find.

And this is precisely where reason lets us down because of its inherent limitations. Here is another example of God doing what no one else would do. He hides what no one with “wisdom and understanding” wishes to find.

It seems that God hides in a different way. He hides things from people who aren’t interested in looking for them at all.  So he can hide them in plain sight and they won’t be found because the “wise and understanding” aren’t even looking.

Revelation is childlike looking. Damnation is thinking I don’t even need to look. It turns out that what God has hidden from the so-called “wise and understanding” is their own imagination and curiosity.

Early Thanksgiving Musings

Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of the Gospe...

Beginning of the Gospel of Matthew

My wife is in New York visiting her mother and some lifelong friends. It’s an annual pilgrimage of sorts. When I spoke with her on the phone yesterday three of them were on their way to a Christmas store of some kind. Without thinking I blurted out something about it not even being Thanksgiving yet so how can they be thinking about Christmas already. That got me to thinking about Thanksgiving this morning as I was reading in the Gospel of Matthew.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

(Matthew 11:25-26 ESV)

A Strange Thanksgiving

What a strange kind of gratitude. Saint Augustine is attributed as saying that job one for us is to learn how to “think God’s thoughts after him.” To take a little liberty with that expression I might add that it is important that we learn how to think God’s thanks after him. There is a strangeness about this thanksgiving.

“I thank you, Father…that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding…”

Thankfulness for things hidden from those who pride themselves on their ability to discover hidden things. This is more than irony. This is tragedy more profound and prolific than ever composed by the entire Greek dramatic tradition. It would seem inhuman to express this kind of gratitude. To twist the words of Fredrick Douglas just a bit, in this case, that which is inhuman not only can be divine–it must be divine.  If, as Chesterton encouraged, “all of our thinks are to be thanks,” it seems we must embrace the necessity of studying the divine being in learning to think God’s thanks after him.

Pope said “the proper study of man is man.” Packer was right to modify the Eighteenth Century poet by claiming that man’s proper study is God. In the end, they are both right. And they are both wrong. Not wrong in their subject but in their approach.

Apprehending a gratitude of this kind is not merely mental, it is moral, and it has more to do with what we love than what we learn.

To borrow from Augustine again (and more re

The earliest portrait of Saint Augustine in a ...

Saint Augustine

cently Jamie Smith), it is a matter of reordering our desires. And the reordering our desires requires living liturgically conscious lives so that we love what God loves. You can’t thank like God thanks unless you love what God loves. And you can only love what God loves by living liturgically conscious lives–in both the broad and narrow senses.

It might be too early for Christmas, but it can never be too early for Thanksgiving. It can, however, be too late.