"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Afterlife in Harry Potter

What would a school of witchcraft and wizardry be without a few ghosts?

WARNING: There be spoilers ahead! (Seriously big time spoilers)

Hogwarts is indeed haunted. Nearless Headless Nick, Moaning Myrtle, and other ghosts haunt the school's halls and, well, bathrooms. As in much modern popular fiction, though, not everyone becomes a ghost when they die, most just go on. Ghosts are those who linger and do not move on to whatever waits, as in The Sixth Sense or Medium. In interviews, Rowling has said this the result of the person fearing death.

The moving portraits are not really ghosts, or even living. Harry's visit by the departed in the Goblet of Fire is not a return from the dead either. The closest one comes to this is when Harry uses the resurrection stone near the end of the Deathly Hallows. But even the stone does not truly "resurrect" the loved one(s). It merely brings them to a point where the living can converse with them. Xenophilius Lovegood, in his description of the stone's effects when used by its original owner, says:

[T]he figure of the girl he had once hoped to marry, before her untimely death, appeared at once before him. Yet she was said and cold, separated from him as by a veil. Though she had returned to the mortal world, she did not truly belong there and suffered.

When Harry uses the stone, we are told that those who return to comfort him are "neither ghost nor truly flesh . . . Less substantial than living bodies, but much more than ghosts." In returning it is noted that Sirius is younger than when Harry knew him, apparently returned to the prime of his life.

The closest we get to the the actual afterlife in Harry Potter's universe is in the chapter "Kings Cross." There Harry has a final (presumably) conversation with Dumbledore. This is some kind of limbo, where Harry is given the choice to go on or to go back. In the book one could take this as all occurring in Harry's own mind, but interviews with Rowling indicate something "real" is happening. The figure on the floor is what remains of Voldemort and she calls it "a kind of limbo."

But Rowling does not touch on what the afterlife is like. Apparently the soul continues (otherwise, Harry could not call them back even partially) but little else is known. This is fairly typical in fiction. There are ghosts in Tolkien's works, and little is said about what happens when someone dies. Writers of fiction, with a few notable exceptions like Dante, have tended to avoid attempts at describing the afterlife. It is the great mystery that they cannot reveal. It is beyond a veil they dare not cross.

This stands out in the Harry Potter series in part because death and dealing with death is such a major theme. But as in real life, death is a wall that cannot be breached. Even in Bunyan's great Pilgrim's Progress, little is said about what life is like across the river.

But there is an affirmation of the afterlife. This occurs at Godric Hollow when Hermione tells Harry, regarding the inscription on his parents' grave ("The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" - 1 Corinthians 15:26), "It means . . . you know . . . living beyond death. Living after death." Harry's parents, and those who knew them, have a hope beyond this life.

Whether it is like the hope of the Christian we are not told. For believers, there is not only life beyond this, but life where every tear is dried and joy ever blossoms. Those who have gone on before Harry seem to this settled peace. But even the Bible tells us that eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard what God has for us in heaven. Maybe, therefore, it is for the best that writers of fiction do not try to peer through the veil.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Community in Harry Potter

WARNING: There be spoilers ahead!

Community seemed to me the best word to describe the idea of relationship as explored in the Harry Potter series. At the basic level of community, the novels are about an "invisible" society (community) consisting of those who have magical talent. Their secret is kept by a "law" that they cannot reveal themselves those outside this society. There are some necessary exceptions, as when there is a witch or a wizard that is a member of a family that would otherwise not be part of the "magical" society, e.g. Harry and the Dursleys. Other exceptions include the Prime Minister. But largely this is a community hidden within normal (the "muggle") society.

More interesting, though, are the communities within this society. Especially prominent is the contrast between the community that surrounds Harry and the Death Eaters, Voldemort's "community." Dumbledore's assertion is that part of the flaw in the character of Tom Riddle that makes him Lord Voldemort is that he really has no friends. The Death Eaters may reverence him, like Bellatrix, or they may fear him, the majority of the Death Eaters, but they are not his friends.

In contrast, Harry is defined by his community. In the first book, the sorting hat, which is supposed to choose to which "house" (school community) the first years will belong, leaves the choice up to Harry. Harry's choice of Gryffindor places him in the company of Ron and Hermione, the two friends who will, with the occassional fall out, be his friends throughout the series. While each retains their individuality and personality, they are shaped by their relationship.

The contrast in this regard between Harry and Tom Riddle/Voldemort is striking because of their similarities in other areas. Both Harry and Voldemort lose their parents shortly after birth. Both are brought up in situations where they are unloved, Voldemort in an orphanage, even though his father lives, and Harry by the Dursley's, his aunt and uncle. Both are to some extent feared by those around them. This is obvious in Voldemort's case, where the orphanage is glad to see him go. In Harry's case, the Dursley's are shown to have worried that he would inherit his parent's talents.

Both boys find their first real home at Hogwarts and both fall under the watchful eye of Albus Dumbledore. But Hogwarts is home for Harry because Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Neville, Luna, Ginny, and others there who are his friends. For Voldemort it was home because he was able to hone his power. There he begins to get the "respect" he believes he deserves. His plans are being put in place before he ever graduates from Hogwarts, evidenced by his research into horcruxes.

Voldemort's "community" then is only a group to serve his ends and desires. But Harry befriends the wizarding world's outcasts - Hagrid, a half-giant, Hermione, a mud-blood, and Lupin, a were-wolf. He also befriends the ridiculed - Neville and Luna - and the overlooked - Dobby and other house-elves (this is one of those areas where Hermione influences Harry and Ron over the course of the series).

A Christian worldview of community is defined by our belief in the Trinity. God has existed forever as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To the extent that we continue to bear the image of God, we are therefore beings who find meaning and purpose in relationships because we reflect that eternal relationship.

The Bible tells us that forgiveness and understanding (which is to say love - but we will discuss that particular virtue in a later post, if the Lord wills) are therefore essential to a healthy community. But these virtues are obviously lacking from Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. They are a community, but that community is far from healthy because the virtues necessary for a healthy community are lacking. They represent the worst societies man has produced (many have noted similarities between the Death Eaters and Nazi Germany).

While Harry's community is not reflective of the perfect communion of the saints in heaven, it does repesent a community where the values of the kingdom are esteemed. Harry's relationships, like those of believers in this present age, are not perfect. Dumbledore does not share with Harry all that Harry would desire, hiding his past failings. Ron leaves Harry and Hermione for a time in the Deathly Hallows out of frustration. As with our fallen world, the relationships and community in the novels require work. But they work because kingdom values, a reflection of the character of the Triune God, are part of the lives of stories heroes. There are good lessons about friendship, forgiveness, trust, and love in the Harry Potter series.

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On Harry Potter (and Choices) - II

This post contains no spoilers.

In the previous post I acknowledged that one could chose not to read the Harry Potter series based on the fact it is not gospel focused or the fact that it focused on witches and wizards. However, if you do the former to be consistent you would reject the majority of all forms of fiction. For the latter, consistency demands you reject all fiction that depicts magic in a positive light, including Tolkein. The arguments for why I think neither of these is required is more complex than I can explore fully in a single blog post, and I'm not sure I have the passion for a series.

But if you chose to read fiction, and you're willing to accept Tolkein, Lewis, etc. then I think you have to accept Rowling as well. Given my professed and obvious love for Stephen King novels (my avatar is Roland from the Dark Tower series, King's magnum opus), I obviously don't see an issue with reading this kind of fiction.

One key question in reading fiction is the presented worldview. While I don't think we have to agree with the worldview of the novel/short story/movie, we do need to be aware of it. In the case of the Harry Potter series, it is certain worldview elements that I think make the series not just acceptable for Christians, but, rightly viewed, makes reading the series beneficial.

There are five key themes that help define the worldview of the Harry Potter series. These five are:

  1. Community
  2. Afterlife
  3. Power
  4. Death
  5. Love
Items (1) and (5) are closely related, as are items (2) and (4), but there is enough distinction I want to deal with them separately. Over the next several posts I will discuss each theme of the series, and why it is in accord with a Christian worldview.

Please note that I'm not arguing that Rowling, intentionally or otherwise, set out to create a world that had a Christian worldview. She knows her intentions and I've not heard that she has made them public. Whether the work as a whole has a Christian worldview will likely be debated for decades. But on these key elements, I think there is much in harmony with the Christian worldview.

Compared, for example, to the Dark Tower series, Harry Potter is much more in accord with the Christian worldview on death. Death, as Rowling makes clear early in the Harry Potter series, is final and people do not come back they "go on." In the Dark Tower series, death is not final as Jake Chambers and Father Callahan know too well (except on keystone earth, but that's another discussion). Which is not to say there may not be elements in the Dark Tower series that are closer to the Christian worldview than similar elements in the Harry Potter series.

All that to say that these five themes, while critical to the Harry Potter series, do not de facto give the Harry Potter universe a Christian worldview.

On final word, in the posts that follow there will be spoilers. I'm not sure how I discuss these themes without reference to how they play out in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. You have been warned.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

On Harry Potter (and Choices) - I

Not quite a week after getting "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" I have finished the book. While I will avoid any major spoilers for those who are or plan on reading the book, there will be discussion of themes and ideas in what follows that may reveal plot elements. You have been warned.

I am not about to argue that the series in general or any book in the series in particular presents the gospel. From that sense, if we are gospel focused, one might argue that investing time in reading the series is not profitable. While I think that is an extreme position (I heartily recommend the answer from D. A. Carson and Tim Keller on what causes fragmentation in the church today - bottom of the list as of this writing) that would lead one to nearly all fiction, whether written or otherwise, I see it as a defensible, though not correct, position.

Others would argue that it is not that the books are fiction, but that they deal with magic in a positive light. In the series, there is normal magic that is acceptable and then there are the dark arts. Many Christians would argue that the Bible knows nothing of "white magic" and that all magic is "dark" magic. In his book A Visit to Vanity Fair Alan Jacobs includes an essay titled "Harry Potter's Magic" in which he lays out a case for why the series is acceptable reading for Christians even though witches and wizards are the focus of the series. The normal magic in the Harry Potter books is not typically divination, but is a cousin to technology. Instead of a dishwasher, one uses a wand to clean dishes. But there is also a recognition (one significant scene in the last book stands out in this regard) that some tasks call for doing the hard work instead of taking the easy (magical) alternative.

To consistently reject the Harry Potter series because of magic requires that one also reject Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. There is no legitimate argument that there is a substantial difference between the magic in The Lord of the Rings and the magic in Harry Potter, between, say Gandalf and Dumbledore. Lest we forget, in Tolkein's work Aragorn brings an army of the dead to fight against Sauron's forces.

So one could reject Harry Potter due to series focus on magic. One might be concerned that the series would make readers want to investigate wicca or other occult practices. However, doing so would also require that all books containing a positive view of witches, wizards and magic likewise be rejected.

I understand the basis of the argument, but do not agree. These novels (both Rowling's and Tolkein's) are clearly fictional works, as evidenced by the names of most of the characters in the Harry Potter series. Also, as Jacob's noted in his essay, in Harry Potter's world you either are born with the ability to do magic or you are not. One does not acquire the talent to do magic through investigation or practice. The seeming majority of the world simply cannot do magic.

I have dealt here with some objections as to why Christians should not read the Harry Potter series. I will continue with a discussion of why I think there is benefit in reading the series. But one final word: if your conscience tells you not to read the books, do not read them. Any benefit is not worth an offense to your conscience. If you have a friend who does not think they should read them, do not push them on your friend and thus become a participant in offending your friend's conscience. Finally, I encourage those who do not think Christians should read the books, do not look down on those that do read. You may, gently and in love, present why you think we should not, but do not let it become a wedge.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

On Choices (and Harry Potter)

Reading the following quote the other day, it struck me as a great description of the difference between a Biblical understanding of predestination and a functionally pagan understanding that turns predestination into fatalism:
It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high.

The context of the discussion is between a professor and a student. This particular student has been singled out to have a significant future, which he feels has trapped him. The professor is trying to show the student that what seems inevitable is still the result of choices of all those involved.

Sometimes, in reaction to a preceived rejection of God's sovereignty by those not in the Reformed camp, we go to far and effectively deny the reality of human choice (free will is such a loaded term I'll avoid it for now). But the Bible is clear that we make our own choices. So whatever the future holds for us is not a fatalistic future.

What this means is we can either actively engage the world around us, which is what the Bible calls us to do, or we can passively let life happen to us. A Biblical view of sovereignty does not encourage the latter (whatever will be, will be) but instead encourages us in the former that God is able to take even our failures and ultimately bring about good.

Continuing the quote:

Some people, perhaps, would say that there is little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew - and so do I, thought Harry with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents - that there was all the difference in the world.

- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince p. 512

I was not expecting theological statements from a Harry Potter book, but this fits well a Biblical approach to predestination. What the second part of the quote makes clear is that it matters immensely whether we are fatalistic in our understanding of predestination or whether we believe we are participants in what God is doing.

Yes, I understand that their is a huge gap between Biblical predestination and the fictional prophecy in the Harry Potter books. But Harry has been struggling with a fixed future, the way many of us, or at least I know I did, struggle with what it means that God has already foreordained everything that comes to pass. Some today have reacted so negatively to this idea of predestination that they have become open theists, denying that God knows the future.

But the Bible says both that God knows (and ordained) whatever will happen and that our choices are signficant. What I hear in Harry Potter's thoughts is an echo of the Biblical statements that God works in us to will and to do; that human actions can be meant for evil, but God means them for good; that we are to make our calling and election sure; that both God and Pharaoh hardened Pharaoh's heart, etc. Predestination does not deny that we make choices. It means that God has woven those choices into His plan in a way too mysterious for us to understand.

PS: Yes, I'm somewhat anxiously awaiting the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. On why I don't think this is inappropriate for a Christian, I'll blog about later.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gospel Passion

Recently a group of pastors and theologians met as part of The Gospel Coalition. From my vantage point (not being at the conference) it appears that the driving person behind this group is Dr. Donald (D. A.) Carson. Dr. Carson opened the conference with the message "What Is the Gospel?" from 1 Corinthians 15 (audio or video is available at the website). Dr. Carson states at the start of his message that the Bible

understands the gospel to be the embracing category that holds much of the whole Bible together and takes Christians from lostness, condemnation, alienation from God all the way through conversion, and discipleship, to the consummation, to resurrection bodies and the new heaven and the new earth."

Shortly after that Dr. Carson says:

Perhaps more common yet today is the tendency to assume the gospel, whatever that is, while devoting creative energy and passion to other issues - marriage, happiness, prosperity, evangelism, the poor, wrestling with Islam, bioethics, pressures of secularization, dangers on the left, dangers on the right - the list is endless. But this overlooks the fact that our hearers inevitably are drawn toward that about which we are most passionate. Every teacher knows that. My students are unlikely to learn all that I teach them. I've resigned myself to that for a long time. They are most likely to learn what I am excited about. If the gospel is merely assumed, while relatively peripherial issues ignite our passion, we will train a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus on the periphery. It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins. What is urgently needed is to be prophetic from the center. What is to be feared, in the famous words of T.S. Eliot, is that the center does not hold. Moreover if in fact we do focus on the gospel and understand it aright we shall soon see how this gospel, rightly understood, directs us how to think about and what to do about a vast array of other kinds of issues.

What then, about this blog? What do I focus on and what am I passionate about? I struggle at times to be passionate about the gospel (per Dr. Carson's definition above) and not just jumping into the latest intramural battles that seem so popular in the conservative church today.

What I want, using Dr. Carson's words, is to not get caught up in the periphery, but to speak from the center of our faith. If successful, then there will be nothing new here on this blog. This will be a relay station for a message that has been transmitted for millennia. I'm not the best relay station and I may not have the best range, but I want the signal to be clear. I want to encourage believers, bear witness to the lost, and defend the gospel when necessary.

I acknowledge that I have not always done so in the past, getting caught up in debates over matters about which we should not be expending much effort (matters of conscience). That is to say that I have been passionate about the periphery.

If your faith like my faith is in Jesus who died, was buried, and was raised on the third day, in Jesus who told His disciples that Scriptures speak of Him, then I encourage you by God's grace to reflect on those Scriptures and in doing so to make as much of Jesus as can. Then let us bear witness to Him with as an irenic spirit as possible in a ministry of reconciliaton.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Let Another Speak

Think about it, the best religion would be the one which places the most value in its god, and the one who derives the value of everything else based on the worth of its god, it would base all its morals and standards on that. It isn’t just about which supposed god is the most powerful, but which is the most pure, the most perfect. Not just in claim but in demonstration.

Read the rest on Voice of Vision.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Plague Flight

(HT: Baptist Blogger)

The following is a short excerpt from Martin Luther's "Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague." Think of this in terms of the AIDS epidemic, which is less contagious than the plague in Luther's day.
This I know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper. Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running. And yet they don’t hear what Christ himself says, ‘As you did to one of the least, you did it to me….’ If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him, not outwardly but in his word. If you do not wish or care to serve your neighbor you can be sure that if Christ lay there instead you would not do so either and would let him lie there. Those are nothing but illusions on your part which puff you up with vain pride, namely, that you would really serve Christ if he were there in person. Those are nothing but lies; whoever wants to serve Christ in person would surely serve his neighbor as well.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - The Declaration of Independence

When I was in high school, I read Robert J Ringer's Restoring the American Dream. I was not yet old enough to vote, but I was interested in the political process (a child of Watergate, I guess - "Watergate does not bother me; does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth."). Ringer's ideas gripped me, and I became a Libertarian (not a libertine - which is a moral, not political, category). While I still have some sympathy for the party, I have some issues with it as well. Perhaps more significantly, I have less "faith" that the most significant problems of human existence can be solved by political means.

Libertarians view themselves, I think correctly, as true Jeffersonians. They reflect most clearly the ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson's greatest work. As a teenager, this is what made me a member of the party. Surely connecting back to the founding document of this country was a good thing, right? I was proudly American and saw the Revolution as one of the great events of history.

I don't think, even now, that we can dismiss the American Revolution as not being one of the most significant events in history. Besides founding this country it inspired other revolutions. But this "holy day" seems odd to me these days. I can no longer embrace Jefferson's basic premise in the Declaration. Primarily because I cannot reconcile it with these words:
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. - Romans 13:1-7 (ESV)

Realize that Paul writes this to believers in Rome, under the subject of the Roman Emperor. The same government that would put him to death a few years later.

I really don't want to spoil your holiday and if you can reconcile Paul and Jefferson, then consider me one of the confused. Whatever the case, I do hope you have a good time with friends and family today. I just want us to be Christians first and Americans somewhere else down the list.

PS - My view of God's sovereignty and providence are such that I have no doubt God ordained the American Revolution. I also have no doubt He is using it for His glory. I am also thankful for the freedom we enjoy, particularly our right to worship openly. I pray for the safety and success of our troops. But none of this means, in and of itself, that the American Revolution was a just war. As Joseph told his brothers, "You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good." Great is the mystery of how these two work together, but know that they do.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Calvinism and Arminianism

As I mentioned in the previous post, we do not wade in the shallows when we think about election (or the Trinity or how Jesus can be fully man and fully divine). So if we go out into deep waters, how should that affect our relationships with those that disagree with us. For example, how should a "Calvinist" relate to an "Arminian"?

First, let's acknowledge that there is a danger in being in deep water. One risk is that we become overly rigid and exclusionary. This, it seems to me, is especially true about those who have just discovered these truths. The danger of becoming too exclusionary is present in part because some of these truths are exclusionary. Christians are the only theists who believe in the Trinity. It has been a dividing line between us and Jews and Muslims for centuries. Therefore it is not always easy to know what truths are worth dividing over. The other risk, which seems common in our day, is that the depth of the water makes us despair of being able to know anything.

But I believe that deeper studies, especially if done prayerfully and always with a dependence on the Scriptures, are corrective to each of these risks. Why? Because we will come, with Paul, to understand that we cannot fully grasp who God is or what He has done. We are left with only doxology about how great God is. I am finite and fallen, so I can never comprehend the infinite, holy God fully. But through these studies we will also see that God has revealed Himself, so there are truths about God that we can know and understand.

Second, let us realize we are not called to a war to eradicate Arminianism. Do I think election is important? Definitely. Do I think the Reformed understanding of election as outlined by Luther, Calvin, and the men who follow in their footsteps is the correct understanding? Definitely. Do I think Arminians are lesser Christians? Definitely not. Charles Spurgeon, a far more capable proponent of election than I, noted that two men he held in highest esteem were George Whitefield, a Calvinist, and John Wesley, an Arminian.
Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. C. H. Spurgeon "A Defense of Calvinism" (middle of 3rd paragraph from the bottom)

For a similar perspective on this topic, I would commend to you a post by Mark Dever on the Together for the Gospel blog. In part he writes (emphasis his):
The real front line is not between Calvinist evangelicals and Arminian evangelicals. It is between those who are lost in their sins and those who have been saved by God's sheer grace in Christ.

Third, this doesn't mean we don't discuss, debate, and contend for our beliefs. But it is the kind of contention that allowed George Whitefield to rebuke John Wesley for Wesley's Arminianism, but then say that he did not expect to see Wesley in heaven because Wesley would be so much closer to the throne of God than Whitefield that Whitefield would not be able to see him.

Election is neither an essential doctrine, like justification by faith alone, nor is it a personal conviction issue, like whether Christians are allowed to partake of alcohol in moderation. Election and other doctrines which fall into this middle ground are doctrines which should be discussed. Therefore, the (admittedly difficult) task is to contend for our understanding of truth with a humble, irenic spirit.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Beyond Wading

I'm not really an "art appreciation" kind of guy. Which is not to say I don't like paintings, and I even wish I could paint. I've watched the guy on PBS who can create a nature scene in 30 minutes and he makes it look easy. I still don't think I could do that.

Several years ago a group from the church I was attending in Dallas decided to spend a Saturday afternoon at the Dallas Museum of Art (the DMA). In the late '80s (referenced because I have not idea how the museums have changed in the last 20 years) I generally preferred the museum's in Fort Worth. They frequently had a more western theme. The DMA focused more on "modern" art and, I'm not looking for a lecture on art appreciation, I don't get it. For me, whether it is art, music, or literature, accessibility does not imply that the piece is less worthy, but that's a discussion for another time and place, perhaps.

Why I bring up the trip to the DMA is one painting had a significant impact on me. It was a large painting of a what I assumed to be the throne room for a great king. The room was in disarray, with the king slumped on his throne. At his feet on the stairs leading up to the throne was a woman with her head on his lap. Emotion radiated from the painting, and questions were raised.

What tragedy had befallen the king? Was it personal, or had the whole of the kingdom been affected? Was the woman the queen? I sympathized for the king and wanted to know more about what had occurred. Art, be it paintings, sculptures, stories, music, or otherwise, is at its best for me when it invokes a sense of wonder and stimulates a desire to know more.

At the end of Romans 9-11, after considering election, calling (both God calling us through the preached word and us responding by calling out to God for salvation by confession), and the relationship between Israel and Gentiles, Paul gets lost in doxology, expressing his sense of wonder at who God is. That doxology begins with:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

By saying God's judgments are unsearchable and that God's ways are inscrutable, I do not think Paul is telling us to not try to understand God. Yes, he is saying we will fail if our goal is to understand God fully. There are depths in those oceans that we will never plumb fully, even in eternity.

But that doesn't mean we should stay out of the water. In fact, I think Paul is encouraging us to get in the water and see just how magnificent our God is. Why spend more time talking about election? Because the Bible to me paints a wonder filled picture of who God is when the topic is discussed, and I want to know more. Election and the Trinity are both topics on which I dwell frequently because they are subjects that draw me into deeper waters and stir my soul to join Paul in doxology.

Doxology is fueled by theology and theology is made more potent by diving into the depths of revealed truth. In fact, I think to be all that we were made to be, we must grow in that revealed truth. A few passages I would encourage you to dwell on in this regard are Deuteronomy 29:29; Hosea 4:6; and Hebrews 5:11-6:2.

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