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Fearing then Fearing Not

Perhaps it was because I am reading Eric Metaxas’ excellent book Amazing Grace that the words of the hymn Amazing Grace (John Newton, the ex-slaver-Christian-convert likely influenced William Wilberforce to work to eliminate the slave trade) struck me so forcefully at the Good Friday service at my church The Meeting House in Oakville.
It was the lines:

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

It struck me how often this sequence of “ grace teaching my heart to fear” followed by “and grace my fears relieved” is followed.

The fear of the crucifixion … was followed by the joy of the resurrection

John Newton’s fear that his sins were too great to be forgiven … was followed by the joyful revelation that grace is greater than all his sin

The Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus had to endure the fear of blindness … until grace restored his sight and gave him a new mission [Acts 9]

When Peter, James, and John fell on their faces, terrified at the transfiguration … Jesus touched them and said “rise and have no fear.” [Matthew 17:1-13 ESV]

When Isaiah in his vision of the LORD was compelled to cry out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” … one of the seraphim touching Isaiah on the mouth with a burning coal was able to say: “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” [Isaiah 6]

For me this pattern of “grace teaching my heart to fear” followed by “and grace my fears relieved” is important. The first step teaches how dangerous my current state is and how insufficient I am to rescue myself, while the second proves that my rescue is taken care of by someone who loves me. All I have to do is give my honest permission.

Now That the Movie THE SHACK is Coming Out in theaters …

shack-cover-noncomm-no-modI published this post a while ago when I first read The Shack. The original post was lost when my WordPress server had to be decommissioned. Now that the movie version is coming out, this may be of interest.

‘The Shack’ by William P. Young

Warning: If you haven’t read The Shack and are planning to read it, leave this review until later since I do discuss the content.

My overall rating is 4 stars. The Shack is a thought-provoking book well worth reading.

The Shack is a novel that tackles very difficult questions in a way that puts the reader in the very middle of the action and challenges him to tackle the questions in a personal way..

Mackenzie Allen Phillips lost his young daughter to a serial killer. MacKenzie called this trauma, which tormented his life, THE GREAT SADNESS. One day he receives a letter from Papa (his wife’s personal name for God) that invites Mackenzie to meet ‘Papa’ at the shack in the woods where Missy, his daughter, was brutally murdered. The shack is the last place in the world he wants to go, but eventually he decides to go without telling his wife.

God appears as three people (Papa, Jesus and another woman called Sarayu (wind)). Mackenzie is able to watch them interact, watch them serve him, and answer his questions. What Young achieves are scenes that are not simplistic, but rather convey to the readers the complexity of fashioning and then sustaining a world that has free will, independent agents that make moral choices (e.g. human beings) and God. Although God is All Powerful and Good yet He still has to work within His own rules and His own character and honor the free choices made by human beings.

For me, this book caused me to think about who God is and how simplistic my own caricatures of Him are because of the unconscious assumptions I bring to the table when I think about Him. For example, as C. S. Lewis has pointed out somewhere, in God moral character and will must coincide in some fashion. For human beings, morality is something objective that is above us, and we have a duty to obey these moral imperatives. However, if God had moral imperatives in the same sense we have, then He wouldn’t be God, since the moral law would be above Him. On the other hand if moral law were simply an invention by God, it would be arbitrary. As I read the book, I had to grapple with this conundrum. I saw that this fusion of morality and will in God is one of the things that puts Him beyond my understanding.

If you go to amazon.com, and read comments on this book, you will find many that laud it, and some that most emphatically do not. Some of the objections are theological. Respondents argue that the book fails to properly account for some point of theology. I think that claim is fair, but it misses the point. Young has written a novel and wanted to bring us into an interaction with the person of God in a new way. I think it is better to learn what one can from the book, without trying to make it into a theological treatise.

If you’ve read the book or watched the movie, I would like to know what you thought of it.

 

A Response to Stuart Aken’s Blog on “Why are we required to respect religion?”

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Writer Stuart Aken, in his blog entitled I’d Like to Know: Why? #3 Religion, asks the provocative question: “Why are We Required to Respect Religion?” This question is of interest to me as a Christ-follower (even though I would not characterize myself as religious—I know other people would characterize me in that way).
As I thought about Mr. Aken’s blog, it led me to think about how the phrasing of the question channels the responses that this question elicits. It’s always handy to set up a contest or a discussion so that only one side is given the bows and arrows while the other is left only with a shield. It’s like a Canadian or American football game where the rules of the contest allow only one team to play offence (and hence is best set up to score points) while the other is perpetually on defense. I think such a rule-based asymmetry is neither sporting nor does it readily necessarily let the better team prevail.

If one looks at the question in its current form, then Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other adherents of a religion are on trial to justify their beliefs and explain why their beliefs merit respect, but atheists, agnostics, materialists, and secularists are excluded from scrutiny by the form of the question itself.
It seems to me a more instructive and fairer form of the question would be: “Why should I respect the World View of others when their World View differs from my own?” In this context I use “World View” to mean how I and others view reality. I think this re-configuring of the question has important advantages:

1. Now everyone, religious and agnostic alike has a chip in the game and has beliefs that may be called into question.
2. It ought to be understood that everyone intrinsically believes that their World View best explains the real world (material and spiritual).
3. Any criticism that is leveled at another World View can also properly be asked of one’s own. So if one asks if religious world views are prone to violence, one has to ask if one’s own World View is different in this regard and why.
4. In this kind of a discussion, if one begins to believe that many of the key things one genuinely believes about the nature of reality are wrong, this will be a very unsettling development for everyone who experiences it—not just religious people.
5. Finally, I think it prevents participants in the discussion from making the disastrous mistake of assuming that all religions are really the same, merely because they are religions. Even within a religion there may be substantial differences in World View by adherents because of differences in emphasis, in interpretation of sacred texts, in theology, or by reconciliation with other sources of evidence.

Thank you Mr. Aken for raising this important topic. Perhaps as time becomes available, I will be able to give my perspective on some of the other follow-on questions you raised in your post.