The Glory of the Cross

Just before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, that the Son may glorify you.”  It is not easy to understand how the crucifixion could be anything other than a painful way to die but this is not the only place where Jesus connected his death with his glorification.  In the third chapter of John, Jesus spoke of his crucifixion in terms of being ‘lifted up’ (ὑψωθῆναι).  Nicodemus could not have missed the play on words, and perhaps he read a deeper meaning into them, for Jesus seems to be alluding not only to the OT story of the brazen serpent but also to  the words of Isaiah: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up (ὑψωθήσεται), and shall be glorified (δοξασθήσεται).” (Isa. 52:13)  Isaiah speaks of the glorification of the Servant, but then Isaiah does something that has puzzled generations of readers.  He begins to speak about the suffering of the Servant as though that were his glorification.

The apostle Paul may refer back to this passage in Isaiah when he writes in his letter to the Philippians about how Christ took upon himself the appearance of a servant, becoming obedient unto the point of death.  Therefore, Paul declares, “God exalted him (ὑπερύψωσεν) and gave him the Name that is above every name…”  This name can be none other than the name Yahweh as every Jewish person knew… and a good many Gentiles too.  But no! Paul says the name is Jesus.  And of course, that is Paul’s point.  Jesus is Yahweh.  Paul continues, “…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς) to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

We find a similar expression in 1 Corinthians and there also Paul identifies Christ Jesus with the name for God in the OT: Yahweh.

But to us there is but one God (theos), the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ (εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς), by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Cor. 8:6 KJV)

This is essentially the New Testament rendition of the Shema.  It is an important statement about the identity of Christ for it places the Lord Jesus Christ in direct relation to God the Father.  The essential unity of this profession is strengthened by the fact that the two names, Elohim (theos) and Yahweh (kurios) are the primary names for God in the Old Testament.

And here is a final challenge from Isaiah 53 that I had not seen before.

He was led away after an unjust trial – but who even cared?  (Is. 53:8 NET)

I think the NET makes a good translation of this verse (cf. “we esteemed him not”, “we did not desire him”, “we considered him stricken, afflicted…”, etc.).  And so that is Isaiah’s challenge for me this Easter, to care.

Through the Eyes of Charity

Jerry: A marked deck?
Rob: Yeah, I am afraid so, it is my magic deck.
Jerry: You mean to tell me you have been playing poker with a marked deck?
Rob: Yeah, but I didn’t know it, believe me Jerry.
Jerry: You mean it was just a coincidence that you have been winning all the hands.
Rob: Well yes!
Jerry: You know the Gregory’s have dropped 10 bucks. They are not going to believe it is a coincidence.  Rob it is hard to believe you have been getting all those hands without reading the backs of those cards.
Rob: You believe me, don’t you Jerry?
Jerry: Of course I do, but the Gregory’s don’t love you like I do…

Grandma

Margaret Jean Cross Gibson, my Grandmother (January 17, 1926 – October 30, 2017)

My best memories of Grandma are connected with the old, Victorian home she and Grandpa owned in small town Alberta.  I remember the flowers she planted around the house, the bird feeder in the back yard, the turned wooden banister and creaking wooden steps that led to the second floor, the dark, scary basement filled with jars of canned peaches and pickles, and the big ole freezer that usually held an ice cream pail full of oatmeal cookies.  My grandmother was always a welcoming and compassionate presence in my life.

In one of the last real conversations I had with my grandmother, she reminisced about the day victory was declared in Europe.  She was in the yard, she said, when they heard the news.  The hired hand picked her up and hugged her!  She was only about 18 at the time.  It was the very best kind of good news, like the word of God, which, though we like flowers fade away, stands forever.

Even to your old age I am he (ego eimi),
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (Is 46:4)

Imagined Love

We can easily imagine, think of, contemplate and be attracted to the idea of giving our whole selves and lives over to God without actually doing it, and think we have done it because we have imagined it.  Our imagination can even become an idol, a substitute.  Dostoyevsky says: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.”  We can think we love God when we are only dreaming about it.  Here is a test whether you really love God.  Have you done or avoided or given up a single thing today solely because you believed that God wanted you to?  (Peter Kreeft and Pascal, Christianity for Modern Pagans – Pascal’s Pensees)

 

Of Men and Turnips – A Comparative Approach

I listened to a lecture by Richard Dawkins some time ago in which he claimed that all intelligent men must accept that they have descended from turnips.  I was surprised to hear Dawkins come right out and say this.  Is Dawkins implying that turnips are somehow a lower life form just because they do not belong to his phyla?  Then I submit that the opposite is true, that turnips are really superior to the human race, as can easily be shown.

The turnip harvests light energy from the sun and uses this energy to split one of the most stable molecules in existence… water.  It accomplishes this tricky and dangerous task with the help of a complex molecular machine called the chloroplast.  Even the authors of my biology textbook, who rarely display any emotion, cannot help but raise their beakers with a toast to the chloroplast.

“…the splitting of water is the most thermodynamically challenging reaction known to occur in living organisms. Splitting water in a laboratory requires the use of a strong electric current or temperatures approaching 2000 deg Celsius. Yet a plant cell can accomplish this feat on a snowy mountainside using only the energy of visible light.” 1

By splitting water, the turnip plant takes what it needs from water (the 2H+ ions and 4e-) and releases what is left over… oxygen.  And by absorbing CO2 and releasing O2 the turnip does a great service to those of us who need O2 and release CO2.  But the turnip plant does much more than scrub the air.  It uses the energy harvested from the sun and the carbon absorbed from the air to make turnips!

It is good that the turnip plant makes turnips because human beings have not yet evolved the ability to photosynthesize.  We need to get our energy from a different source than the sun and it so happens that a turnip contains a lot of energy… if we can get at it.  But reducing a turnip back into usable energy is not easy.  It requires another kind of cellular power plant… the mitochondria.

The mitochondria is a close counterpart to the chloroplast and uses a similar series of chemical reactions, except in reverse. Rather than splitting water and releasing oxygen, it uses oxygen to reassemble a molecule of water. In the process it releases CO2.  Just as it was tricky for the chloroplast to split water, it is also tricky for the mitochondria to put the water molecule back together again.  Here are the authors of my textbook again, now completely hammered,

“A major challenge for investigators is to explain how [oxygen is transformed back into water]. Most importantly, the process must occur very efficiently because the cell is dealing with very dangerous substances; the “accidental” release of partially reduced oxygen species has the potential to damage virtually every macromolecule in the cell.”  2

These two little power plants, the mitochondria and the chloroplast, use each others waste products and final products. One splits water and releases oxygen, the other uses oxygen and re-assembles water. One uses CO2 to create a sugar or starch, the other uses sugar or starch and releases CO2. The complementary nature of the mitochondria and the chloroplast and the way they are both designed to make use of water, carbon and oxygen reveals a hi level of interdependence between turnips and men.

To say that man descended from the turnip is a clear case of phylo-centrism.  And an insult to the turnip!

An Ode to the Turnip

Oh turnip
with leafy green top
and pale yellow root.
You are very nutritious
although you taste
terrible.

  1. Carp, G. Cell and Molecular Biology: Concepts and Experiments, 2010 Wiley and Sons
  2. ibid

That which we have seen with our own eyes…

Much has been written down and preserved over the centuries that was not worth preserving.  If a king had not paid to have the words carved into stone, no one would bother to read them.  And then there are words recorded on humble sheets of papyrus and parchment which were then copied and recopied, translated and copied again; loved and treasured by generations.  Such are the words of Job!

Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!   Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!   For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.   And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!   (Job 19:23-27 ESV)

As far as we know, Job never did carve his words in stone but many others have, the epitaphs of those who died with the hope that they too shall see God with their own eyes “at the last”.

And this is the testimony of the apostle John:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–  the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–  that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 Jn. 1:1-3 ESV)

That which we have seen with our own eyes… looked upon and have touched… the life made manifest… we have seen it… that which we have seen and heard… we proclaim.  He is risen!

Cheapness

Henry Adams was a historian of 12th century France, the last of the Adams political dynasty.  There is a section on him in Russel Kirk’s book “The Conservative Mind”.   According to Kirk, Adams thought that state socialism was nearly inevitable in the West “and wholly odious; it would triumph over capitalism because it is cheaper, and modern life always rewards cheapness.”   That prediction has turned out to be true (if “state capitalism” = “state socialism”) but I wonder how he came to that conclusion?  He was writing long before Walmart, McDonald’s, and Levittown came on the scene.  Why does modern life reward cheapness?

Bildung

For centuries Protestant children have been taught that the chief end of man is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” and Catholic children that “man was created for God,” but in Europe, in the 19th century, educators began to tell their students that “the true aim of our life here on earth… is the cultivation to the full of the talents with which we have been endowed.”1  This view of education can be traced to Rousseau’s Emile, where the philosopher summarizes his view of childhood development as follows: “Plants are formed by cultivation, human beings by education.”2

The skeptical philosopher, David Hume, a friend of Rousseau’s (for a time), likewise states his conviction that the cultivation and nurturing of one’s natural inclinations is necessary to find happiness.  In a short, autobiographical note he explains that “his whole life was lived in accordance with sentiments that he felt naturally springing up within himself – ‘and shou’d I endeavor to banish them, by attaching myself to any other business or diversion, I feel I shou’d be a loser in point of pleasure; and this is the origin of my philosophy.”3  Here are the twin creeds of modern western society.  Pursue your bliss!  Express yourself!

In Germany, philosophers like Kant and Fichte went on to build massive philosophical systems around the Ego – the ‘I’ – which replaced God as the source of truth and certainty.  Their ideas went mainstream in Prussia in 1809 when Napoleon gave Wilhelm von Humboldt charge of the German education system.  Humboldt developed a curriculum that emphasized “individual efflorescence” as the essence of Bildung [Education].  Humboldt believed that early education should stress general principles which would favor “the all-around development of the free individual personality”.  4  For this reason, Humboldt did not focus on teaching the boy’s specific skills but required them to study the Greek language and Classics in depth.  Through the study of Greek, he hoped, students would become Greeks themselves. 5  Biographer Daniel Blue observes that this Humboldtian idea was “essentially secular and, while not inimical to religion, did not demand any specific reference to God.  The allure of this crypto-pagan vision would have been the more insidious because it was internalized almost subconsciously.” 6   Humboldt expresses this “crypto-pagan vision” clearly in the following creed: “The first law of true morality is therefore: Develop yourself.” 7 Like the Greeks who engraved the epigram “Know thyself” above the door of the temple to Apollo in Delphi, Humboldt believed that knowledge and wisdom begin with Man instead of God.

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.  Alexander Pope

Is it any wonder, then, that the young Friedrich Nietzsche quickly abandoned his faith at Pforta, a Prussian boarding school for boys?  Nietzsche’s friend Duseen recalls how their “faith began to weaken” due to their academic studies.   He writes, “[Our fervor] was undermined unnoticeably by the excellent historical-critical method in which the older students were trained in Pforta, and which quite spontaneously was applied to the biblical field, for example when Steinhart in the Hebrew class at sixth-year level explained the Forty-Fifth Psalm completely as a secular wedding song.” 8

Nietzsche imbibed the ideal of self cultivation from his days at Pforta.  He regularly wrote long reports on his life assessing his performance.   In the ideal of Bildung [Education], “he found a metaphysic of self, the belief in an autonomous and guiding individuality that must find expression or die.  If religion stood in the way, it must go.” 9  And where did this metaphysic of self take the young Nietzsche?  Into the arms of Emerson, Feurbach, and Schopenhauer.  Nietzsche was particularly enthralled by Manfred, a poem written by Byron, in which the hero defies God to the end and ultimately commits suicide.  Inspired by these and other stories, Nietzsche wrote a musical composition entitled “Satan rises out of Hell” but abandoned it because he found it difficult “to strike the exact Satanic note.” 10

Let us jump forward to today.  Why are students so quick to take offense at anything that threatens their own particular sense of identity or individuality?  Are they not products of an education system that has taught them that they are “free individual personalities” that must find expression or die; or to put it more succinctly, that the chief end of man is to express himself?

  1.  Blue, D. The making of Friedrich Nietzsche : the quest for identity, 1844-1869. pg 102
  2. On a side note, it is somewhat ironic that Rousseau should write a book on education.  He fathered up to four children with a seamstress and then colluded with her mother to force the poor girl to give them up to a foundling house.
  3. Harris, J. A. Hume : an intellectual biography. Cambridge University Press. 2015. 120-121
  4.  Blue, D. The making of Friedrich Nietzsche : the quest for identity, 1844-1869. pg 104
  5. ibid. pg 104
  6. ibid. pg 102
  7.   ibid. pg 120
  8. ibid. pg’s 120-121
  9. ibid. pg 191
  10. ibid. pg 157

Seneca on the Soul

Seneca was a Roman stoic philosopher and an important statesman during the reign of Nero.   His letters give us some insight into the ideas circulating in Rome around the time of the apostles.  Here, for example, is what Seneca has to say about religious observation and the quest for wisdom.

You are doing the finest possible thing and acting in your best interests if, as you say in your letter, you are persevering in your efforts to acquire a sound understanding.  This is something it is foolish to pray for when you can win it from your own self.  There is no need to raise our hands to heaven; there is no need to implore the temple warden to allow us close to the ear of some graven image, as though this increased the chances of our being heard.   (Letter XLI)

At first it appears that Seneca is advocating pure humanism.  “The truth is within you… etc.”   But when we read further, it becomes less clear cut than that.  Seneca argues for the futility of religion but nevertheless maintains that a man cannot be good without God.

God is near you, is with you, is inside you.  Yes, Lucilius, there resides within us a divine spirit, which guards us and watches us in the evil and the good we do.  As we treat him, so will he treat us.  No man, indeed, is good without God – is any one capable of rising above fortune unless he has help from God?  He it is that prompts us to noble and exalted endeavors.  In each and every good man, “A god (what god we are uncertain) dwells.”  (quotation from Virgil, Aeneid, VIII)

If you have ever come on a dense wood of ancient trees that have risen to an exceptional height, shutting out all sight of the sky with one thick screen of branches upon another, the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, your sense of wonderment at finding so deep and unbroken a gloom out of doors, will persuade you of the presence of a deity. (Letter XLI)

Is Seneca thinking of the deity as the Creator here?  I am not sure.  But what is certain is that Seneca sees evidence for the existence of a deity in the natural world.  (Rom 1:19)  Seneca also thinks of this deity as imminent.  “God is near you, is with you, is inside of you.”  The apostle Paul also emphasizes the nearness of God (Acts 17:27, cf. Rom 10: 7-8) but the dwelling of God’s Spirit is conditioned upon being made right with God through the Lord Jesus.  I am not sure if Seneca conceives of God in this same personal way.  That being said, Seneca does believe that God will judge us for the evil and the good that we do.  Some of Seneca’s statements bear some resemblance to those of the apostle Paul.  Some of the early church fathers maintained that Seneca corresponded with Paul which seems possible.