Split Infinities (Hapax Legomenon part 6)

“Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God? Thou art the God that doest wonders: Thou hast declared Thy strength among the people.” (Psalm 77:12-13, emphasis mine)

It’s almost as if Asaph was saying that there were other gods for which the true God, i.e. Jehovah, was vying among for worship and devotion. There are places in the Old Testament even where God Himself is competing for the Israelites’ spiritual attention:

“Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 6:14-15) Why would God even say that? Is He insecure? Is He referring to actual gods? After all, the same Hebrew word is used for both (elohim). Is this a sly ploy of Moses to keep the people dependent upon him for direction? Clearly Moses doesn’t seem like the kind of person to have a millions-strong following for no real reason.

There are several terms in religious parlance which refer to the consideration and therefore belief in a god or gods. You have pantheism which puts forth that “god” is more of an impersonal force that imbues the natural world with its presence. I wouldn’t capitalize it because “god” in this sense is less of a person than a noun. A figment akin to something you might see out of your peripheral vision only to find it was a tree or some other inanimate object. “God” is everywhere—”god”, is nowhere. Pantheism is similar to deism in that while “god” might be real, it cannot be known. Whether it stepped back from creation after setting it alight, as in deism, or imbues everything commensurately, as in pantheism. It’s the same. It’s the impersonal in each that fails to mesh with the God whom Jesus referred to and revealed. Now, just push “god” back a bit more and add one little syllable and yet another word you’ll find is panentheism. Panentheism includes the definitions of deism and also pantheism and then goes one further in defining the deity as being within and also greater than its creation. From deism—god is but is unknowable. To pantheism—god is everywhere. To panentheism—god is everywhere and beyond. And these three words—were we to start somewhere wanting a god in which to believe—only touch on the inherent existential qualities. Be careful though. They say that if you talk to god, it’s prayer. But if god talks to you, it’s schizophrenia. And while neuroscience is on its way to conclusively explaining away the phenomenon of belief as merely a product of our neurons and synapses, it leaves out the wonder and possibility that God may indeed be the person as revealed through Jesus Christ, two-thousand plus years ago and enumerated in the pages of the Bible. Assuming you have it, where is that kernel of desire coming from? Because if “god” is indeed real, everything going on in our brain is only epiphenomenal and is in one sense, neither here nor there with reference to God. You can understand why, abandoning belief, one would want to look inside the brain only for a perfectly natural explanation for this stuff.

But what about all of the religious debate that centers around the dissonance between religions? The existence or mere mention of another belief system essentially makes a mockery of any attempt at understanding one’s belief system in the world, at large. Because if I assent to belief in the God of Judeo-Christianity, does that negate the gods of the Hindu pantheon? Gods that are just as ardently believed-in as my monotheistic interpretation of the numinous? What about ancient Greco-Roman theology and all their gods and goddesses? And just like that, we’ve jumped to having to explain away both multiple deities and also dual genders! Might as well throw in every belief system the world over from across time and try and make sense of it. Because if the God of my fathers is the One, I want to substantiate it. If I want to be both spiritually fulfilled and also tantamount to that, intellectually honest, it’s as if by assenting to Jehovah, I’ve taken on the position of henotheist, wherein I’m not disbelieving in the other gods, I’m just vested in the worship of One.

Please don’t label me a heretic, but I don’t think the above is too far a cry from Asaph’s declaration at the top of the page. In leaving the interpretation there and going no further, it doesn’t answer the question of personal interaction with a spiritual being. Many people the world over report having conversations with entities on other planes, with those who identify themselves as individual gods that have been named before. Angels, aliens, and humans who’ve passed on to some ‘other side’ too, as vague and ambiguous as all that might sound.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

One of the reasons Christianity has the appeal it does, is because it teaches that the same ‘God’ who spoke in the Old Testament, decided to reveal Himself to the world through a human being. An end-to-end revelation. And this is where it shifts from all of the prior isms, to ‘theism’. Theism purports that ‘god’ has taken pains to reveal himself to the dominant race. To humans by a human (Christianity specifically). That human’s name is Jesus Christ. The simplicity of the stories that take place in the New Testament bely an infinite and near-infinite complexity. And while the God of the Old Testament shares many of the same attributes as a god defined by deism, pantheism or panentheism, He also has a voice:

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.” (Hebrews 11:1-2, emphasis mine)

Here’s the point I’m trying to make. If you have an idea that there could be someone out there, play it up. Try out Zeus or Shiva or Sol Invictus. But be careful. As Jesus led with love, we’d do well to consider the definition for life as laid out by Him. I’m not talking about a spiritual smorgasbordism (not to be confused with Swedenborgianism). I’m talking about a measured and impartial investigation into both the Bible and also anything else that stands up to sound and non-biased analyses. Things have to make sense in the world of the spiritual for it to be real. Don’t stop there. I recommend Jesus. Who did things that no one (god or man) did while they walked the earth. I can guarantee you that none of those entities, were they to show up in all their glory (assuming they’re real in some way, shape or form), has anything approaching the selfless love for you that Jesus has. I believe that Jesus can speak for Himself. And that He can speak to you. That’s my prayer for you.

“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

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Political Theater of War

“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

Coin of the realm

I couldn’t care less how you vote. If you’re following the above, with peace defined as Jesus did: “not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” (John 14:27, emphasis mine), then more power to you. Take advantage of the auspices which are rightfully yours and do your civic duty to your heart’s content. Just make sure you surrender it at the door of the sanctuary on Sunday morning.

“For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates…” (2 Corinthians 12:20)

Aside from Relgion, I know of no more divisive a topic than Politics. I have friends—good friends, Christian and non—from both ends of the political spectrum. And before I go any further, this isn’t some naive and irrational plea for a callow and shallow “love”-based interaction. Love is selfless. And the political machine, while it holds sway over many aspects of one’s life, does so from an indifferent, and also elevated, vantage point. Its own ends in view, it would seem, regardless of the color of the party in power.

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Romans 13:1)

Prayer is the single most effective thing a Christian can do during times of political upheaval and change. And when we vote (if we do), it’s not that we’re placing our faith in the one whose name we punch on the ballot. We’re taking part in something that is a privilege and right. But as Christians, first. And if we take into our churches, an attitude of political posturing that only goes so high and derives its confidence therefrom (i.e. a person in “power”), then the resulting dissonance among otherwise-minded brothers and sisters will affect the worship in the sanctuary and ultimately, the week ahead. Surely you’ve heard Jesus say this: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

Rule of the realm

Jesus introduces by implication, the idea of individual thought and conscience, into the political arena. By comparing the two (Caesar and God), the reader is left with the obvious realization that God is the one to whom all things belong and therefore flow, anyway. But then, what are we to do with this “rule of the realm” in which we find ourselves? Paul elucidates it a little further:

“Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.” (Romans 13:5-6) As an aside, the Christians in Rome met a gruesome fate at the hands of Nero shortly after receiving this letter. Not only were they killed for their faith, but they were slandered and ridiculed and made a public spectacle of as well. Should we all be willing to go through the same? Food for thought.

So he sews up the idea of one’s civic duty, in spite of the fact that Christians are, “not of this world” (John 18:36). The same goes for the one whom we serve. And while the above verses merely deal with the idea of taxes and tribute, the same logic can be applied across the panoply of hot-button issues that offend our sensibilities and rile our consciences. The Christian’s spiritual duty is to align their conscience with Jesus’. Something for which we have an opportunity with every moment we meet and with every fresh encounter. Not just once every four years.

I respect the system. I have a brother presently serving in the Marines and he answers to the President (whomever he may be) through the chain of command. And he’s doing it for me (and you), so my flippance is allayed in light of my love for him. But even before that, my allegiance is to Jesus. Who in turn, through Paul, tells me to respect the system.

Again, I don’t care how you vote, or even if you do. I do care that you know the heart of the one who gave up everything to get you back. And while our short earthly life is subject to the decisions that make up the political atmosphere in our homeland, we serve one to whom all will answer eventually. That may sound fundamentalist and elitist, but it flows out of my belief that Jesus is still alive. And if that’s the case, everything will work out in the end. But this isn’t resignation, this is an active, moment-by-moment walk in which topics of interest are laid at the feet of the Lord and I in turn live out my life at peace among my fellow citizens.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His nameshall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, emphasis mine)

The Kindness of Ravens (For the Birds part 1)

“Blessed be the Lord: for He hath shewed me His marvellous kindness…” (Psalm 31:21)

Ravens have it tough. The official name for a flock of ravens is an “unkindness” (unless they’re grouped together guarding something, then it’s called a “constable”). It’s understandable when you consider that they are primarily scavengers, make horrible parents as they will up and arbitrarily abandon their young on occassion, and also difficult pets, due to their high intelligence coupled with a lack of patience and teachability. Sounds a lot like any garden-variety human being to me.

Identified the world over with trickery, evil omens and gluttonous behavior, the common raven, or Corvus corax, is certainly not the bird you might look to were you to expect something from God. But, then again, God can (and often does) upset our expectations just to show that he can take the profane, and make it sacred.

It’s sort of a sliding scale. As many ancient cultures hold ravens in esteem, it would seem that the mythical and cultural consideration granted is inversely proportionate to the importance of truth and honesty within said culture (that’s my opinion). If one values the hard work of deceit and duplicity in interpersonal interaction, the raven—with his jet-black plumage and ornery temperament—would necessarily stand out as a totem or symbolic representation of those qualities. But:

“With Him is strength and wisdom: the deceived and the deceiver are His.” (Job 12:16, emphasis mine)

The raven was protected, so to speak, under the list of “abominable” or unclean animals in Leviticus (see 11:15). Moses and Aaron were commanded not to eat them for reasons more than symbolic, I’m sure. As they are scavengers, cleaning up what other predators leave behind, they were then free to practice their craft with impugnity. But God used them to feed Elijah, so there’s that. They’re also smarter and larger than their crow cousins, with a wider vocabulary and more intricate flight pattern.

Now, in no way am I advocating lying to get ahead, nor duplicity and cunning as life skills. I’m merely stating that God works His way through the muddled-ness of the world as it is, in order to acheive His ends. He “commanded the ravens” to feed Elijah by the river Cherith near Jordan (see 1 Kings 17). Which they did, morning and evening. The raven also, was the first bird to be released from Noah’s care after the ark settled on Ararat. Unlike the dove, it never returned, but “went forth to and fro, until the waters dried up from off the earth.” (Genesis 8:7) I respect the dedication and singleness of mind evident in that statement.

But all this aside, they appeal to me on another, deeper level also.

The Norse definition of my last name (Ingram) is “raven”. And along with that, I have certainly felt the crippling sting of abandonment by a parent and also had to battle the easy temptation of lying and tricking my way through life—just to stay ahead. This is why the verse from Job resonates with me. “The deceived and the deceiver are His.” When God shows you His love and both lets you know that He will protect you from the liars at large and also that He sees everything going on in your heart, you’re able to lay down that construct of craftiness. There’s no other way, by the way. A main reason to continue on in deceit and manipulation is because you realize that there’s always going to be someone out to trick and take advantage of you. If you continue to hone your craft and exercise your particular “way of lying” (Psalm 119:29), you’ll see to it that you get yours, even if it’s merely scraps on a carcass. But when God receives you, He cleans you up and makes you new.

“Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in Heaven, and in the earth! He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; That He may set him with princes, even the princes of His people.” (Psalm 113:5-8)

He’ll do it for anyone, regardless of symbolism, myth, cultural connotation or biological imperative.

Nothing Old Can Stay

Old

I find that the grace-versus-works paradigm is at work all the time. Even ways of living that held sway over us in our infancy in Christ have a way of becoming stale as we grow older in the Lord. Sometimes, even tried-and-true traditions must be sloughed-off in order to realize God in the now and follow Him into what He’d have us do, where He’d have us go. The point here, is anything that we do that misses out on a living interaction with our Heavenly Father, must go.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, emphasis mine)

New

God ever lives in the now. The Now Eternal. He’s here, not moving through time like we are, but abiding without it’s flow. In some sense, He’s merely waiting for us to get to Heaven in order to be with us (He loves us so much)—though there are things He’d have us know, do and experience while we’re here. When Paul says to the Colossians (3:3), “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” He’s seeking to introduce (and also inculcate) this idea that it’s all over. Jesus said “it is finished” on the cross (John 19:30) and while it means so much more than this one thing, that’s the main idea. So going back to the grace-versus-works thing, we would do well to take some time out of our grasping, busy lives and meditate on the fact that, every thing we think we can do for God—has already been done by Jesus.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 3:5-6)

Got it? It’s easy. And then James has to go and throw this in there:

“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:17-18)

As an aside, I find it inspiring to have so many and varied writers make up this anthology we call ‘The Holy Bible’. It’s more than interesting to get different authors’ takes on something that is so eminently personal in spite of being universal. Like they were thrown together across the strata of time and told to work out something that requires many words and multiple viewpoints. I digress. What do we do? Nothing? Everything? How much nothing can I do for God before I’ll get God to do what I want? If this is in the back of my mind, this gnawing desire to do right by myself by doing what I think is required of me, then I’m looking at it from the wrong vantage point. How does God see it?

Borrowed

“I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (Isaiah 42:9)

God takes things personally. Jesus suffered through the mental and emotional as well as physical torments of His execution. And He also personally experienced all the highs and lows that led Him to Calvary. And He did it all for us—to share it with us. Not for us to then take the reins after salvation. The grace-versus-works thing is ultimately a question, then, of idolatry. Do we carry out our lives in the here-and-now, with reference to God? Or merely focused on our own self-righteousness? Because after accepting Jesus, there’s nothing more we can do to make things any right-er than they’ve already been made. The living God has been given a seat in our hearts. All else is false, an idol. It’s a worthwhile and lifetime endeavor, to realize this fact: it is finished. Let God live through you.

“For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:10)

Blue

“Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt.” Augustine of Hippo

The sky’s the limit.