Uphill Both Ways (Hapax Legomenon part 7)

A song of ascents

Numerous times throughout the Bible is the Lord referred to as “the most High”. I think about this in contrast to the reference where it says Lucifer sought to “exalt [his] throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:13). Were you to open your eyes in a crowded room yet be possessed of no memory whatsoever, all the rules that apply to society would flood in (assuming all you were lacking was memory–still retaining cognition, in other words). To be possessed of this kind of innocence and naivete in the world at large would be an interesting place to find oneself. However, if we awoke with no memory at all, without some vestige of peace or joy or love, life would be hell. I equate this tabula rasa with one aspect of holiness. Granted, mature holiness isn’t just sinlessness but the ability to filter the minutiae of life through “the mind of Christ” (essentially, walking with Jesus). The wavelength, I would say, the angels were on prior to their fall. But the rules still work. Gravity is either your friend or it isn’t. But it doesn’t change. And so, referring again to all those “rules”, consider this. Not only was Lucifer innocent (as in holy), but he did understand. He understood the structure befitting angelic rank and file and all that–similar rules to which we abide by as humans. But we don’t. We would need, like, an extra lobe or two just to process it all.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:” (Philippians 2:5-6)

On the side of the angels

Let this mind be in you…

Do you ever think about the life of Christ? Broad question, I know, but think about it. Do you ever wonder, if maybe in the thirty plus years of His earthly life, He forgot what He was doing? I don’t believe He would have but can you imagine were He as fickle of mind as we tend to be, how that would have fared for us as humans? Assuming you believe that along with God exist entities of spiritual, supernatural evil, I shudder at even the slightest possibility of one slipping between a thought of mine. I hate to sound fanatical but not one thought of Christ’s was out of place. He didn’t just obey His Father by healing the sick and upturning the tables. He thought along God’s lines.

“But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (2:7-8)

A quick aside, “sheer” and “shear” sound the same but mean something different. This is called a homophone. While they share the same Indo-European root–sker, meaning “to cut”–the former holds an Old English (newer than IE) connotation of “bright”. Granted, in comparing and contrasting both Jesus and Lucifer, while one is “the Truth” and the other isn’t in any way, each has an element of “brightness”. And this is where, with reference to the Hapax, both all our wits and also the divine perspicacity of the Holy Spirit (something the devil doesn’t have a substitute for) is necessary to remain on the right (correct) side of the mountain. Lucifer was only the “son of the morning” (Isaiah 14:12). Jesus is “the bright and morning star” (Revelation 22:16) as well as “the brightness of [God’s] glory”. (Hebrews 1:3)

From the ground up

” Being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee? And again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son? And again, when He bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him.” (Hebrews 1:4-6)

See, there are no two ways around it. Jesus is who He is (now) because of what He went through (here). It wasn’t enough to be born of a virgin or even to be crucified-then-resurrected. He had to fulfill each instance and interstice of the Father. Every single qualification and rule befitting an existent being both inside and out. Granted, He enjoyed it and also He was the only one able to do so. But unless that line was unbroken on the way up, there wouldn’t have been any redemption for us at all. This is what Jesus accomplished in His body and this is why this:

“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:9-10)

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)

Ovine, Hircine, Divine (Hapax Legomenon part 5)

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

Ovine: Sheep

Hircine: Goat

Divine: Jesus

“There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going: A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away; A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king against whom there is no rising up.” (Proverbs 30:29-31, emphasis mine)

This is “Agur the son of Jakeh” speaking. Not sure if it’s true, but I’ve read it’s a pseudonym for Solomon. I do know that the whole of the thirtieth proverb reads much like his others. The part of that passage I’d like to focus on, however, is the part about the goat. The word “comely” meaning “beautiful”, why would a goat be comely, i.e. beautiful, in going?

“And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:21)

Scapegoat: Any innocent victim who is picked by a jury or group of peers, to bear the blame for the sins of the many.

This above scripture from Leviticus is where the word “scapegoat” comes from, as you may have guessed, if you didn’t already know. Oddly enough, the Jewish culture wasn’t the only one to practice this custom—of placing the sins of the people on a victim and sending them off. It was common in different forms throughout the ancient world. It makes me wonder how the goat ended up getting the short end of the stick, but the practice of removing guilt and the need to do so is an eminently human thing. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:8-10) Like our Easter baskets, even? Well…

“If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” (John 15:24)

See, guilt comes in many forms. But guilt only happens when you know you’ve done something wrong. One of the complaints leveled at Christianity and Judaism is that they they create the supply for which a demand isn’t needed. Like a mythic bait-and-switch. And this kind of thinking is understandable when you don’t believe in God. At least you’re thinking. At least you have zero tolerance for flim-flam and snake oil. But if the following statements finds no purchase in you, are you at least willing to humble yourself?

“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

“But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” (Galatians 3:22) Sin is, ladies and gentlemen. Look around you and see its effects. There’s more at work than simple faulty wiring and bad-decisions-with-good-intent. Sin is the active opposite of that which God is. And for God to say that He’s provided a way of escape from, not only sin’s effects on this earth, but also sin’s eternal stain separating you from your Creator, we’d do well to delve deeper into the notion of redemption through the Cross, the blood of Jesus.

He took our sin and left it in hell so we wouldn’t have to go there ourselves. Three days and three nights of suffering was all it took for the past, present and future price of sin to be paid and rendered holy before a holy God.

And whereas the scapegoat never returned and the people were left to live another year before needing to do it again, Jesus did return. Because He was holy upon dying, His Father was able to raise Him from the dead. Don’t confuse yourselves with other stories that don’t get to the heart of the problem, that only deal with a cursory understanding of life at large.

Seen this way, it’s understandable how a goat would be “comely in going”.

“But now is Christ risen from the dead…” (1 Corinthians 15:20)

The Body of This Death (Hapax Legomenon part 4)

Happy Easter!

Or is it? Maybe I should say “Happy Resurrection Day”. Reason I bring this up is because the word “Easter” derives from pagan origin. You may know this but follow its etymology back and you come up against “Astarte” the goddess of fertility and reproduction. Really, every ancient pagan pantheon had its reproductive deities. Their days of honor falling around the same time every year—Springtime. Astarte was worshipped under many names. She appears in the Old Testament under “Ashtoreth”, and “Ashteroth”. Being a deity representing fertility, Solomon must’ve been tempted to rely on her false promises of abundance and happiness and subsequently to get his eyes off of God, the God of David his father (see 1 Kings 11:5-6). I’m not trying to draw parallels between him and his mistakes and any modern practices connected with Easter. Let’s face it, part of me couldn’t care less about this kind of stuff, but I do think it’s worth knowing and understanding. And when those who don’t believe know more about this stuff than do Christians, it’s embarrassing and even a little disconcerting.

As long as we’re celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus, right? Because that’s what it’s all about. That’s what makes us who we are in Him. The fact that He died for us, offering Himself in ultimate sacrifice. His tacit acquiescence, His utter willingness to lay down His life silently had manifold and earthshaking consequences. One of which was the ending of the necessity for atoning immolation. It doesn’t end there, obviously, but today (and tomorrow), we’re going to look at the uniqueness of His sacrifice.

“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body has Thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure.” (Hebrews 10:4-6) The writer of Hebrews is referring to David’s psalm in which he expresses sorrow, atonement and repentance regarding his sin with Bathsheba. David says: “For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

Look at this quote from French anthropolgist René Girard (from his little book Sacrifice, the italics are mine): “If the term sacrifice is used for the death of Jesus, it is in a sense absolutely contrary to the archaic sense. Jesus consents to die in order to reveal the lie of blood sacrifices and to render them henceforth impossible. The Christian notion of redemption must be interpreted on the basis of this reversal.”

Okay, so every culture at one point in history has practiced sacrifice. Ending the life of someone or something as a means of honor or appeasement to a fickle deity. One of the vexing conundrums of anthropologists, they have sought long and hard to explain such a practice as beneficial to human culture, society and development. I’m not here to debate on the merits of the practice. Without it, I’d be lost and I’m not ashamed to admit it. If Jesus hadn’t obeyed His Father in dying for me, in my place, I’d have no chance in hell of ever becoming right with God. Sure, I could reject belief in God altogether. Apply my short earthly existence to the tenets of Western culture, ignoring what it took to give rise to the modern (and rapidly declining) way of life and call it good. But:

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:7-8) Droll: Really? Such an intriguing story is too good to pass up and pass over. You mean, that through the atoning death of Jesus, I can actually know God? Because that’s the idea. It isn’t just about gaining Heaven and escaping hell.

More tomorrow!

And Happy Resurrection Day.

The Enunciation (Hapax Legomenon part 3)


Don’t forget to pronounce both ‘l’s and don’t worry, it’s a real word. It’s a linguistic term that refers to the omission of one of two similar and successive phonetic sounds or syllables in a word. Examples include: “February” (pronounced Feb-yoo-ary), “probably” (prob-ly, prolly—I’m fond of that one myself), etc. There are more, I can’t think of any right now. Incidentally, the root for haplology is the same as hapax legomenon. In Greek, the connotation is single, one.

A hapax legomenon, as I mentioned the other day, is a word that has appeared in a language (written or spoken) one time only. Keep this in mind as this is the whole point. An example of an English hapax legomenon would be the word flother. Flother is an obsolete synonym for “snowflake” (another one-of-a-kind thing, interesting). The word flother appeared only once prior to 1900. The whole reason I bring this up is because “among the gods, there is none like unto Thee, O Lord.” (Psalm 86:8, emphasis mine)

When I was in ninth grade, I read Homer’s Iliad. Having been raised Christian, the concept of other gods had never been more than a few references from the Old Testament—never been taken seriously. So I read Iliad with a leery skepticism but was nevertheless intrigued by this introduction to ancient, foreign religion and its pervasiveness in Greek and Trojan life. And please understand, this stuff is essentially non-essential. We really have no business delving into a platonic understanding of another religion unless we truly know Jesus (the aim of the Christian religion, I might add). Along those lines, an unfounded and inordinate interest in anything spiritual other than God, is dangerous. C. S. Lewis put it well when he said: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: The devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:19, emphasis mine)

A point of contention in the debate between atheists and believers is this idea that Judeo-Christianity is nothing more than modern mythology. This inference would seem to be the logical one when you look at the mythologies and religions the world over. Each pantheon and belief system share many of the same stories and divine acts as does Judeo-Christianity: fall from grace, twins at odds (Jacob and Esau), diluvian myth (flood story), etc. With reference to Jesus, the same virgin birth/death/resurrection cycle is repeated numerous times in other cultures. And many deities, according to myth, spent time among humans, as humans. This therefore, coupled with hardness of heart and unbelief, is enough for someone to fold their arms in repose, rest on their laurels and go about their godless life. Never mind any appeal to the physical—that’s a problem for another time. The sad thing is that many people who adhere to this opinion are only parroting back what sounds good to them and meshes with their innate unbelief. In other words, they haven’t bothered to study it out for themselves. Another sad thing is that many Christians haven’t studied these things out for themselves either in order to stem the tide. Let alone turn it. Here’s the point: (John 1:14) “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Jesus—as the living word—is the hapax legomenon. The only Word spoken by God the Father throughout the millennia of human religious belief and practice.

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29

When James says “thou believest that there is one God, thou doest well”, that’s really all that God asks of us (“only believe” Mark 5:36).

Look at Acts 14:11. The people of Lystra (a city of Lycaonia in Asia Minor, vs. 6), when they saw that God had healed a crippled man through Paul, shouted “the gods are come down to us in the likeness of men”. To which Paul and Barnabas responded by running into the crowd and proclaiming the “living God” only (verse 15).

And this is where the analogy of the haplology comes in to focus again: If Jesus is the living Word, Jesus is God and Man. “Emanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) Don’t forget to pronounce both. When we see Jesus as something other than how the Bible describes Him—the only way to God—and how the Holy Spirit witnesses Him to our heart—i.e knowing Him—we mispronounce an integral part of Him as both divine Savior and also human being.

And then all of Christendom is cast in skepticism.

I say all of that to say this: Merry Christmas. Celebrate Jesus. Know Him, love Him, worship Him. Every day.

Enjoy the flothers and we’ll pick this thing up again around Easter.

Syncretism Deconstructed (Hapax Legomenon part 2)

Continuing on in the same vein as yesterday, one of the complaints leveled at Christianity is that it’s exclusionary. Exclusionary, in spite of Jesus declaring “come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)?

Joseph Campbell was born in 1904 in New York City. He was raised Catholic but rejected organized religion in his late teens. His scholarly as well as sports-related travels to Europe in the 1920s opened him up to a broader culture than he found at home in America. He returned with eyes wide open. After spending time on the Monterey Coast, he settled in upstate New York teaching Literature at Sarah Lawrence College. His first love is mythology. Having denounced Christianity, yet still clinging to his belief in the spiritual or numinous, he spent his life elucidating the parallels he felt were inherent in all myths and religions. It would seem he was unable to draw his belief down into absolute atheism and then seek to substantiate the lack of anything spiritual by appealing to the corporeal (physical) only. He accepted the prayers of a young Catholic priest while on his deathbed. The first time he’d even approached belief in some trace glimmer of Christianity in sixty-plus years. He passed away in 1987.

What Mr. Campbell sought to explain was the syncretism of all of religious belief and the symbols inherent therein.

So where do we go from here?

Any ancient religious practitioner, when they decided to travel and teach abroad—becoming itinerant—inevitably brought their deities with them (literally? figuratively? ideologically?). This simplified explanation is what any semi-learned religious scholar will point to when referring to the similarity of most of the world’s religions. Christianity included. This is called “syncretism”. One established religion mixes with another through contact, the doctrines melding into something new. It makes sense on one level but denies anything spiritual.

Jesus says that He is “the way, the truth and the life, no [one] cometh to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). This simple (though not simplistic) declaration negates the doctrine of syncretism among world religions. In other words, not all paths arrive at the God who Jesus revealed. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9), says Jesus. He is “the express image of His person.” (Hebrew 1:3)

Without being argumentative, or polemical (the root word of which refers to war), I would like to say that, fundamentally, all religions—except for Christianity—when referring to salvation purport that salvation, or enlightenment, or whatever, comes from within. You must save yourself. Peter says that “neither is there salvation in any other” than Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). We must be careful when dealing with friends and neighbors who believe differently than we do (I’m speaking to Christians). I have friends, Buddhist, Atheist, Islamic as well as friends Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness and Catholic that I might disagree with from the top down, doctrinally, but love and respect as human beings with the same needs and desires as me. The writer of Hebrews says to “follow peace with all men (and women), and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Not all paths (based on scripture and in my opinion) lead to God. But I shouldn’t be leading someone away from God through an argumentative and hostile spirit. Any argument or attack leveled at a person based on their belief system is ad hominem (purely personal) and illogical. And therefore has no place in religious debate.

And whereas Christianity purports salvation through Jesus Christ—a recreation of the human spirit through the power of the Holy Spirit—any other religion, or lack thereof (atheism, secular humanism), says that we ourselves, through our own efforts only are the only ones able to provide a means of escape from the stain of negativity, guilt, sin and hell.

Looking at it from this perspective, any other religion is syncretistic towards the god of self, which is pride, deified.

“For God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5b)

Semiotics For Mere Mortals (Hapax Legomenon part 1)

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols. What they mean to us (as well as how) as conscious, cognizant human beings. This is the first in a series that seeks to illustrate the primacy and…uniqueness of Jesus as Savior. By the way, the phrase hapax legomenon refers to a word that only ever appeared one time in history.

I’ve always been interested in symbolism. Allegories, parallels. Parables (from the Greek parabola: essentially, “something thrown alongside”). How can you be talking about one thing and have it mean something deeper? Sometimes, something else entirely? It extends into logos and logo design. Flags, too. How can an entire country be represented by a flag? Did you ever think of that? The study of flags, by the way is called vexillology. Pretty cool stuff, I’d say. I think it is. Forgive me, as you read on, if I wax a little obscure. Follow me here.

The root word of vexillology—the study of flags—is veil. A covering. Keep this in mind.

Consider this quote from Andrew Murray’s excellent book The Power of the Blood of Jesus:

“All that was symbolical has passed away, and the deep spiritual truths expressed by symbol are unveiled.”

Mr. Murray (late 19th, early 20th century South African author and theologian) is talking about what happened after Jesus’ death. The children of Israel were commanded by God to sacrifice a lamb at the Passover meal (see Exodus 12:21-28), the first of which took place in Egypt, mere hours from their Exodus–the deliverance from their slavery to the Egyptians. With reference to that, as a Christian I will say this: Jesus is that “lamb” (Revelation 5:12 7:9, 12:11, etc.). See that? There you have it: symbolism. Is Jesus literally a lamb? A sheep with wool and a sweet little face? “Baa, Baa” and all that? No. He’s a human who also happens to be God Himself. Yet the lamb is symbolic of His gentleness and willingness to be led “as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). These broad and deep theological topics might seem obscure and dim and rife with double meaning but that’s normal. We are mortal, He’s not. God’s “ways are higher than [our] ways and His] thoughts higher than [our] thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9). After the lamb was killed for the Passover, the families who partook of the meat were then to wipe the blood of the lamb over the doorframe of the house and remain inside while the Lord passed through (12:22-23) so as to be safe from His wrath. The act of Jesus’ sacrificial death was foretold, presaged by the Exodus story. The story of the Israelites’ escape from bondage (they were enslaved for 400 years), while true, is also an allegory, a parallel of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Delivering us from a lifetime (read:” eternity) of indentured servitude.

Now, consider again the quote from Andrew Murray: “All that was symbolical has passed away, and the deep spiritual truths expressed by symbol are unveiled.”

All that was symbolical has passed away.

All of the symbolism from the Old Testament required to contain such a seismic event as Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were rendered superfluous, or unneeded, by those very events: Jesus’ life. His death. And His resurrection. All of which are part of Him. He’s wonderful.

When Jesus died, “the sun was darkened” (Luke 23:45). That’s what it says and as interesting as that may be, I’m more interested in the rest of that verse. Which says, “and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst (torn in half down the middle).” It just happened (I’m guessing an angel did it, maybe the Holy Spirit). The veil of the temple was an ornate, thickly (four inches—the width of a man’s hand) woven cloth extending from ceiling to floor (sixty feet high!), separating the two chambers of the temple. The inner chamber where God dwelt–where no one but the high priest was allowed under threat of death–was now open to the outer chamber. See that? The veil was torn. It wasn’t necessary anymore. The symbolism has turned into actuality. When Jesus died, He made it possible for us to go in unto God and know Him as no one in history ever had. Or was even able, for that matter. To truly know Him, not just know about Him. This isn’t to say that those in the Old Testament didn’t know God. Just not like we can. Paul says that our “body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:19). While in Athens, Paul makes this declaration: “God…is Lord of Heaven and earth [and He] dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Jesus, because of His sacrifice and resurrection, makes it possible for us to become sons and daughters of God and vessels into which He can put His very Spirit. This one-of-a-kind relationship has been made possible by our one-of-a-kind Savior.

And now, very simply, a verse from Song of Solomon (2:4), “He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner (i.e., flag) over me was love” (emphasis mine). This is how it is. Jesus loves us with “an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). When we believe on and in Jesus, He brings us in and wraps us in His love. It’s reality. No symbols or signs or allegorical stories can compare. It’s just you. And Him. Find it out for yourself. “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 8:10)

“To see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary.” (Psalm 63:2)

A Creative License Suspension

Let’s shed some light on ‘The Muse’. As you may know, the ancient Greeks anthropomorphized the flow of their creativity. The myth has it that there were nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory) and each one was identified as the muse over various disciplines such as writing, poetry and singing. Did they construct this idea so they wouldn’t be culpable if they couldn’t muster up the genius needed to produce said creative arts? Sort of like shifting blame to an unseen entity. I don’t think this is entirely implausible and I do think there’s more to it.

Nowadays, the muse is still seen as a positive thing. Maybe not a literal being with a name, but many writers and artists still see their ideas and inspiration as coming from an outside source and not just from within themselves. “Where do they get this stuff?” Neil Peart, when he sat down to pen the lyrics to Moving Pictures, one of the greatest Rock albums of all time, felt he was cheating because everything came so effortlessly to him.

As we desire to please God, we know that our creative vision comes from Him as well as the gifts and talents needed to see the vision become a tangible reality. This is why purity of heart and mind (James 4:7-8) is vitally important. This is so amazing to me: the writer/artist/musician has the means within to take an invisible idea—like a light in their heart—and turn it into something that every one else can see and partake of. Just make sure it’s edifying and inspiring in turn.

When I realize that I have a gift (Proverbs 17:8) that can be affected by an outside source, whether corporeal (human) or spiritual, it causes me to take a step back on the inside and reevaluate my creativity in light of God’s will. God is the most creative individual in existence, so in no way should I be concerned about being held back or stifled (Isaiah 55:9). What I should be concerned about, however, is that the gifts I’ve been given are put to the use for which they were intended. (See Matthew 25)

Inspiration can come from many sources. Make sure you develop your senses (Hebrews 5:14) along with your gifts so you know where you’re getting your ideas from.