Circles and Strains



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Monday, March 31
 
Not much time to post today, but I wanted to ask a question of you, the reader. I'm going to be revamping this site considerably over the next few days, but I have to decide on a cool domain name first. Any suggestions?

Friday, March 28
 
Soulmates

I'm kind of liking the ads Blogspot's been sticking at the top of this page recently. It seems that they're content-sensitive, so that banner's been hawking a lot of end-times books to satiate those who just didn't get enough out of the Rapture series last week. One of these days, I'm going to blog about something really absurd, like monkeys with purple spots or things not to say when you're Saddam's pet weasel, and sure enough, there'll be a children's book, self-help guide or New-Ager of the week who's written a book about that very subject that "will change your life. No...seriously."



I love those little dividers. I call them "dingbats," because that's what the file name says. Peggy Noonan uses them to divide trains of thought in her column, and I guess I use them for the same purpose. Except in my case, I usually lose my train of thought, stick a dingbat in there, and start a new one. That's how I blog.

OK, on to what I wanted to blog about today.



Lately, it seems like it's all the rage to speak of "fate" in Hollywood. "Can't Hardly Wait," "Serendipity," and even Chris Rock comedy "Down to Earth" have based their plots around the existence of fate. It's as if Americans are finally realizing that the 60's, what with its "God Is Dead" refrain, left a giant gaping hole there in their soul just begging to be filled. Thus, we have an abundance of spirituality and syncretistic religion in pop culture. My generation speaks flippantly of finding their "soulmate." Everybody's fine with sleeping around, but nobody wants to settle down until they've found their soulmate.

The word "soulmate" is an attractive concept, but also one that is somewhat loaded in its implication, because it implies that two souls, no matter where they are born, are struggling against time and across the cosmos to meet each other. Watch pop culture for awhile, and see how often this idea turns up. This idea isn't necessarily a bad one; after all, Christianity affirms that God created one man for woman, and since God created Eve especially for Adam, and vice versa, it may be assumed that God does the same for us. The trouble is that in an amoral, Godless culture, people have no compunction about not waiting for the one. In typical postmodern abdication of all personal responsibility, they figure that their souls are somehow magnetized to find the right partner eventually, but in the meantime, why not bounce around aimlessly instead of waiting? It's spirituality wiped clean of a Creator. A master plan without a Master Planner. Some sort of cosmic destiny without anyone to control it. And it's astounding, if not distressing, just how many people have bought into it.

People were not created to be sexual free agents striving to get the highest tally possible before they hit their stride, meet someone's eyes across a crowded room, and live happily ever after. They are meant to live happy lives in obedience to God, putting His wishes before theirs, trusting that God will eventually bring about the one. There is nothing honorable about meeting the one if your history is crowded with almosts, maybes, and backups. There is nothing romantic about meeting the one if the one is actually number forty and one. And how are we supposed to know if the one is the one after all, if there's no Supreme One to let us know? I've known people who've gone through 3 or 4 the ones, and still counting.

Instead of pining for the one who was made just for you, fix your eyes on the One who made you just for Him. Why scour the earth for a soulmate, when the One for whom your soul was made is a breath away? Chances are, if you've been out picking and choosing from the opposite sex, that One hasn't been on your mind in a good, long while.

These people are trying to solve dating. (Link via e-mail.) A daunting task if I ever saw one. Good luck, guys. :)

Thursday, March 27
 
In Nothing We Trust

The long arm of secular education is at it again. Elementary students in Greenville, NC, had made a large sign imprinted with the words "IN GOD WE TRUST" in a show of support for U.S. military fighting overseas in Iraq. The sign was taken down, with the usual "separation of state" and "freedom of religion" defenses cited. Strangely enough, after a little Googling around, I could not find any news article pertaining to this situation, although fellow blogger and personal friend Matthew Lilley reports that the local schools have been flooded with calls from concerned parents.

The eradication of God from the public arena was kickstarted in 1963, when the Supreme Court kicked prayer out of public schools. The reasoning behind the decision was a) The Founding Fathers explicitly said that there was to be no state religion, b) Public schools reflect the "doctrine" of the state, therefore c) Public schools cannot be anything other than neutral towards matters of religion, since the state is clearly supposed to be a secular entity.

The Court, in truth, did nothing to prohibit private prayer or religious expression, and has indeed upheld in recent years the right of students to form after-school clubs that involve Bible study, prayer, or praise and worship. The thing the Court was worried about was that teachers would use their highly influential platform to indoctrinate students and proselytize their own personal convictions. So, this stupid decision most likely will be struck down by a court if the school board does not bend to parental pressure first. The Court's decision in 1963 seemed like the reasonable and egalitarian thing to do. Don't want to squish anyone else's beliefs, right?

The problem with the decision was that neutrality on issues of faith is impossible. The public education system has spent 40 years now weaving around and purposely avoiding the mention of any God so as not to offend the students. Imagine for a moment if the school system spent time avoiding every issue that may cause controversy – biology, for instance. The world's origin has been a hotly debated issue for more than a century, with students holding a diverse array of beliefs. Some believe in evolution, some theistic evolution, others the Christian idea of Creation. (Even that camp is split into long-age and young-age factions.) So, judging from the Court's decision that since not everyone thinks the same, no one should be hurt, the logical thing to do would be to skirt the issue of biology altogether, would it not? Who needs nettlesome details? I'm just as free to be a kook, and believe that we're the descendants of superhumans from planet Zortron, as you are to believe in evolution or creation.

Who's to say I'm wrong? No one cosmological hypothesis has been proven completely wrong or right. Nobody holds a monopoly on truth, and nobody can say they were there when the world began. So who's to say you're any more right than I am? Have the schools practiced that kind of fair, egalitarian approach towards science? Absolutely not. In fact, the schools have been rather intolerant in their promotion of evolution as a reliable and relatively flawless theory. So, while we're imagining that the schools avoided any mention of biology whatsoever, the logical thing for students to assume would be that it was either a bunch of false stuff, or stuff not relevant enough to life to be of any significance. What a tragedy that would be!

So, if students go to schools where the issue of God's existence is consistently ignored or treated as irrelevant, chances are, students will either assume He does not exist, or that His existence is incomprehensible (a throwback to the Dark Ages), because if He does, that would obviously bear huge social ramifications for all of us. The removal of God, the Bible, and prayer from public education do not reflect the neutral position of the state. They serve to send a silent message, year after year, that the state endorses atheism.

One particulary weak response to the plea for freedom of religion in public schools is the argument that "if one religion is let in, all will have to be let in." So what? It would not bother me in the least to have Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian clerics praying at schools. It would be a throwback to the days of Elijah, where he invited – no, encouraged – the worshipers of Baal to pray and whip themselves into a frenzy imploring their gods to come down. I think what the secularists are really afraid of is that if they let people start being free to express their religious beliefs in all corners of society, that they will have nowhere left to hide from the truth that has been gnawing at their hearts ever since they reached the age of understanding. They needn't run. There is great freedom to be found in what they despise. Indeed, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)

Update: WNCT, a local TV station, now has an article up on the incident. However, it is the results of an online poll held by the same station that are most telling. Asked the question, "When it comes to the separation of church and state, how is the United States?", a whopping 95% said we've gone too far. A meager 3% said we need more, and 1% said we're about right.

Another Update: Greenville's local newspaper, the Daily Reflector, published a medium-sized article about the whole affair. In the face of criticism from their district's congressman, Walter Jones, Wahl-Coates Elementary School reversed its decision. Shows what a little outrage can do.


Wednesday, March 26
 
Broken Hearths, Broken Hearts

The demise of the nuclear family in modern culture is a subject that could fill – and has filled – thousands of pages in print and pixels. Most people acknowledge this phenomenon – which overarches the individual issues of divorce, abortion, and homosexuality – to have had a negative effect on culture in general, and on the generations of children coming up in this brave new world in particular.

I do not know if this is a phenomenon unique to the area of the world in which I live (Haiti) or not, but it seems that all the talk of divorce ripping kids in half has had some effect upon parents with foreign commissions. In typical postmodern fashion, they come to Haiti with their careers in mind, and negotiate a kind of terse agreement with their spouses that infidelity and all other sorts of travesties will be permitted under the guise of "doing the right thing." In other words, mommy and daddy can turn the home into a mutually exclusive singles' club if they tell each other it's OK. Everyone seems to be happy with the arrangement. Everyone except the children, that is. It is really on their behalf that I am writing this.



The children are always the victims of their parents' moral indiscretions. I recall very vividly one night at youth group – a father had come to pick up his daughter. She peered over the balcony and caught a glimpse of a strange woman in the front passenger seat of their car. Realizing what had happened, she proceeded to give him the verbal lashing of his life at high decibels in front of the whole group. The venom which she spewed that night flowed freely from a deep source of enmity nurtured by her scorned mother, and nursed by her own self for many days and nights spent fatherless. Some wounds never heal.

The same girl's little sister picked up on the growing friction within the household. One afternoon, at nine years old, she'd had enough. Spying her father flirting with a woman that was not her mother on a beach trip, she proceeded to walk teary-eyed down the long dirt road back to the city. All the words meant to console had no effect. Her heart was hardened at an incredibly young age, and she will probably never heal, either.

The wounds of childhood are not limited to those with cuckolded fathers, or forced to live in homes that are nothing more than revolving doors for their fathers' various mistresses. Nay, I have seen the deepest cuts in children – especially girls – who have wanted nothing more than a close personal relationship with their fathers, and have been denied that basic right since childhood. I will never forget one Saturday – a friend of mine made the mistake of inebriating herself, since it seems that honesty flows forth most freely from drunken lips.

Sitting on the beach, I was assigned for a little while to watch her while her brother ran off to seek help. She began to ramble about sundry things, before spontaneously bursting into a flood of great, round tears. What was the cause of such deep-seated grief? Caught in between her drunken non sequiturs, a buried hurt came forth crystal clear – "I put on my brand new prom dress, and went in to show it to my dad, to ask him what he thought. I wanted him to tell me I looked beautiful. But he just muttered, 'looks nice.' He didn't even turn around, it just 'looked nice.'"



A summer at two charismatic youth camps confirmed that the greatest, deepest need in the youth of America (and the world) today is a filler for the emotional void left by broken homes or negligent parents, or both. When testimonies were called, about 3/4 of the kids that came forward admitted to relinquishing bitterness held against deadbeat dads, resentment because of their parents' divorce, and a million other combinations of such wounds.

About half of all American marriages will end in divorce. The percentage is the same inside and outside the church. The great foundation of Christian society has been severed in half, and children are feeling the strain of growing up in a society that considers it kosher for marital partners, sworn to fidelity, to experiment with other partners, and still be deigned responsible for not divorcing. The pain children feel when their parents fall out of love is not soothed by the absence of a legal document severing their marriage. It is the result of the tiny little fibers of security – being tucked in at night, eating at the same table, parents sleeping in the same bed – being ripped apart one by one. That shatters the hearth and the soul just as much as any court-ordered separation.

Tuesday, March 25
 
Black Tuesday

I'm not sure if I've written about this before, but our maid's daughter lost one of her fingers in a strange incident a couple of months ago. She was out after dark with some of her friends, despite having been told not to go by her mother. The details are sketchy, but it appears that the man of the house attempted to manhandle her, and she rebuffed his advances. She was standing in the doorway, her hand on the embrasure, when he slammed the door on her finger in anger. The ring that she was wearing caught in the doorway, and the skin sloughed off. Without applying a bandage, the girl – Santhia – made her way to the church, where service was just letting out, to meet her parents. They, of course, rushed her to the hospital, where her finger was later amputated.

Since that time, Santhia and her parents have been wrestling with a corrupt medical establishment that gives false diagnoses to compensate for the hole left in their pockets by the absence of their long-overdue government paychecks. After two operations, they finally decided as a last resort to head east to the Dominican Republic, a nation which is light years ahead of their own, to seek treatment. What the Dominican doctors told them was devastating. It seems that their Haitian doctor had needlessly amputated Santhia's finger out of sheer greed. Needless to say, the tone was very dark in the house today. I greeted Angeline (our maid) today, and she muttered back a brief, melancholy greeting. I could see the lines of worry and anguish etched into her face. It is one thing to endure hardship yourself. It is quite another to watch your child suffer needlessly. They are in my prayers tonight. Could you just include them in yours, too?


This site is getting more and more traffic, and is, to be honest, poky and quite unattractive. I've been thinking for a while about upgrading to Movable Type and getting my own domain name. (It worked out quite nicely for Ben Domenech.) But I don't have much money to spend. If anyone knows of some cheap and reliable web-hosting services, or if Blogger Pro is worth the money, please e-mail me.

Monday, March 24
 
The Gospel Is Peace

Picking up where I left off Friday...

Saturday in my world means youth group. Well, not exactly youth group. (In Haiti, it seems that every assertion is followed by a 'well, not exactly...') It's more like one missionary couple agrees to play host, another decides to teach, and voilà, instant youth group.

The history of youth leaders in our little community is long and sordid. We've been through four different youth leaders/visions for radical new youth programs already. The first let us do whatever we wanted, and drew the ire of our parents. The second – whom we loved and who professed to love us – came, saw, went back to Nebraska, and was never heard from again. The third was only here for a month, and had to deal with a bunch of depressed kids. The couple that's doing it now are likeable and open to new things, but they still have the daunting task of somehow moulding a group of 10-15 kids, representing in itself four different nationalities, speaking three native tongues, and comprising an age span of 10-18 years old.

In any case, this couple seems to be sincere and warm-hearted, and we appreciate their efforts, so we attend youth whenever they have it. As the only person in the group who can both play guitar and sing, I always get stuck with leading worship. As usual, I was asked to lead worship, and as usual, nobody but my brother and I sang. Plans were made for the umpteenth time to do bigger, grander, and more exciting things than ever a youth group dared to do before! And as usual, I disregarded them, because in the end, the only people who will ever come through on their promises are the ones that don't promise anything. Color me cynical, but so far, I have a 100% success rate. :)

In any case, let me back up a bit, to the ride to youth. Remember that slippery prominence I mentioned in the last post? We had just come down that prominence, where the road curves slightly to the right, when we saw it. My mom and brother, sitting in the front seats, saw it first. My mom gasped, so I craned my neck over my brother's shoulder, my mind ablaze with imagination. What I saw wasn't pretty.

A red Ford Explorer had apparently come whipping down that prominence, its left tires dipped down into the drainage ditch on the left side of the road, no doubt cruising at breathtaking speeds. The speeding projectile then took out a rusty sign directing motorists to "Shakespeare English School" before flipping completely over onto its roof, where it was resting when my eyes fell upon it. There was already a fairly large group of rubberneckers there, and a crane had been hooked up to the vehicle, so we didn't linger. I meant to get pictures of it, but by the time we came back, the vehicle was gone. Truly, man knows not his time to die, or to do anything else, for that matter. But in a few hours, life had carried on, and everything was gone. The road was clear and ready for another unsuspecting and ego-ridden motorist to take the plunge.


Today my family took a day of respite, and headed out to the beach. At first, I was a little disappointed, since it seemed like it would be overcast, but the sun made a good show. Dragging one of those white plastic lounge chairs out onto the sand, I slipped my headphones on, and listened to music while staring out at the horizon. The sky and sea melded into each other where the earth curved, and my vision failed. It was a slow business day for the small resort. The maître d'hôtel said that he hadn't had any visitors in two weeks – everyone's afraid to travel. There was a small French group there, but they were visitors from the local Alliance Française, not the tourists such enterprises need to survive.


Rachel Cunliffe posted some U2 lyrics, from the song "Peace on Earth." I never cared much for that song, but I downloaded it tonight. The words are powerful, even if the music is nowhere near what U2 is capable of. In the same post, Rachel posted a picture of a little girl lying in a Baghdad hospital, a piece of shrapnel embedded in her spine. You never realize how precious peace is until it's yanked away from you. Indeed, it was kind of ironic that I ended up downloading the wrong version of "Peace on Earth" – I got the "WTC mix," in which the song is played in the background to quotes taken from people during the September 11 tragedy.

I never really gleaned much consolation from anything U2 has written. Much of their work is just too overtly political to be as winsome as Bono apparently intends it to be. However, I do remember some lyrics from the Smalltown Poets' "The Gospel Is Peace."

Pour the oil on troubled waters
Come around lay down arms
Rest between the pure in heart and persecuted
Sound alarms to make calm
Mend the fence convincing some
The Spirit's sense of mercy
Live the Gospel and the Gospel is His peace

Heal the breach and reach out
With the olive branch, allay fear
Live the seventh blessing and expect
To be an heir of God
Meet halfway to pacify
The longing with an answer
Live the Gospel and the Gospel is His peace

For a kiss from Holiness
Discovering the dove lights only when our hearts agree
There is reverence in this
The offering of heart's ease for a spiritual wave of peace

Whatever is in store for this world, one thing all Christians can agree to pray for is that the Gospel will penetrate hardened soil everywhere. No social program, "great idea," or diplomatic solution can replace it. Pray for the Gospel to take root in a society, and you will simultaneously be praying for peace, because the Gospel is peace. Peace in its purest state is the Gospel, as well. Preach the Gospel, and peace will follow.

Friday, March 21
 
La vie est encore belle

Today was a tiring day. I woke up unrefreshed and exhausted, presumably because I spent most of last night finishing The Comedians (excellent book, I daresay). I tried to do school, but ended up falling asleep, and got absolutely nothing done. I woke up at noon, with a page full of math problems still waiting to be filled in in front of me, sticky with perspiration, my head still pounding. I don't know what it is about napping in Haiti - I always wake up with a headache and the dry taste of tepid saliva clinging to the roof and walls of my mouth.

Friday is lady's prayer meeting, so I drove my mom a few miles outside the city, where she joins with the other missionary hens to pray. The little red Nissan pickup behaved as horribly as ever, cutting off and peeling out (the tires are incredibly bald) and reeking of stale air and gasoline. There is a little prominence in the mountain road that leads to my house that dips down rather steeply. It was then that I discovered I no longer had reliable brakes. Throwing the vehicle into first, the tires screeched and locked and finally gripped onto the earthen surface of la route Bel Air. Arriving safely at the bottom of the hill, I assayed to pump the brake pedal into submission. After three or four pumps, the resistance was built up, and I could safely continue. My mom and brother, sitting right next to me, and preoccupied with a combination of their own thoughts and the ungodly noise of the little engine that couldn't, never noticed a thing.

I dropped said family members off at the meeting, and drove off to buy gas. Halfway down the "road," which is no more than a glorified cattle path, I pulled over to allow oncoming traffic to make its way by. I was too considerate - the pickup's front tires lodged in a small ditch, and its back tires were too bald to power me back out. Another missionary ended up rescuing me, pulling me out with his pickup, and I continued on to the gas station. My mom had kindly endowed me with $12 (Haitian), and I went on to the Elf (station d'essence, aka gas station), where I had to pay for the fuel out of my own pocket. Forty dollars, and the needle indulged me only a little, sojourning from just west of the 1/4-full mark to just east. Darn government and its retrogressive economic policies. Pulling back onto the main highway, a black Toyota 4-Runner suddenly whipped left into the station without so much as a signal. Muttering loudly to myself, I shook my head in amazement of the stupidity of the driver's actions, the stupidity of other drivers in general, and finally the grace of God at the unnaturally quick response of my brakes at the urging of my frantic foot.

The only reason I go to ladies' meeting is to hang out with the few missionary kids left in this little city, the sum of whom can easily be counted on both hands. A young Canadian boy is going through the jurassic stage of his adolescence, and annoyed me mightily by squirting the contents of a Windex bottle in my direction. I seized the bottle and returned the favor, but, true to his sex, his pride hasn't yet caught up with his impudence. He returned my amicable gestures with a nice wallop from a rather heavy plastic bottle he had apparently concealed in his right hand. I never saw it coming, and for the first time since childhood romps around the parents' bedroom that usually ended in bumped noggins, I experienced that brief shot of electricity, before being jolted back to my senses by the sound of his laughing.

Laughter! Such insolence must be not allowed, my wounded ego reasoned. Clutching my spray bottle, I proceeded to batter the poor sap over the head. As luck would have it, the top came off, and the contents gushed out over the bed. To make matters worse, the battering hadn't had the desired effect. He was still healthy, and now I felt guilty. When will I ever learn to turn the other cheek?

I drove home, my shifting and footwork a choreography of coaxing a performance out of the brakes, swerving to miss cars that stopped abruptly in the middle of the street, and missing potholes. Driving kept my mind on the surrounding madness, and off the nice little shiner on the left side of my cranium. It was all I could ask for. Back home, I flipped on the TV, and saw what looked like ten square blocks of Baghdad ablaze. Sheesh, who wants to see that? Flip on the computer - a small, cloying window pops out of nowhere THE MOST-WATCHED WAR COVERAGE ON THE WEB! Sigh. An online friend IMs me. Somehow the conversation gravitates to war - at first, it's the usual anti-war rhetoric. Bush is selfish. The world is damned. Etcetera, ad infinitum. "Don't go there, I will talk too much," is the gist of what the other is saying. I've heard enough, and I gladly oblige. I'm tired of war. I am reminded of a line from The Comedians: "There were no heights and no abysses in my world – I saw myself on a great plain, walking and walking on the interminable flats." Again, I sigh.

Fatigue, failure, violence, guilt, remorse, incompetence, fear, gratefulness, nostalgia, and weariness. I was musing over this strange, dissonant melody that composed my day, when my mom called me over to the computer, her voice tinged with excitement. I'd been accepted into college. The worries of the present immediately gave way to anticipation of the future. Today was a tiring, nettlesome day. But tomorrow is the nascency of the future. I have walked the interminable flats, the end is nigh, but la vie est encore belle. It's all I can ask for.

Thursday, March 20
 
Puerile Impulses

The website that did my traffic management, Blogpatrol, has abruptly called it quits. I liked Blogpatrol because of its simple layout and no-brainer site statistics. The one I'm using now, CQ Counter, is much more thorough and complex. Josh Claybourn uses it, so I figured I'd give it a go. (The ones Blogpatrol referred me to mostly have questionable links and advertisements for "adult toys" on their homepages.)

I've been wondering lately if I'm becoming more or less mature with the passing of time. During my early and mid-teen years, I shunned and hated punk rock of any kind. Those were the days when Blink 182 was one of the hottest bands on the planet, and "All The Small Things" was rocketing up the charts. I couldn't stand the simplicity, the repetition, the shallow topics pursued. Now I've downloaded a few songs, and I can't stop listening. They're on constant repeat in Winamp whenever I'm on the computer (which is way, way, way too much).

They say that children have a golden period of happiness where all is bliss, and then they grow up and realize everything sucks and morph into complex, brooding adults in constant need of affirmation and counseling. I'm going the other way - when I was 14, I listened to Nirvana, wore a certain set of clothes, despised "shallow" people, and was the most miserable creature alive. Now I'm 18, listen to once-reviled Blink 182, wear the first thing I see in my drawer, have become one of those "shallow" people, and am pretty happy-go-lucky and ambivalent about almost everything. Life is weird.

Wednesday, March 19
 
Chosen

On Wednesday, March 19, the second Gulf War was launched. This is the moment we've been hearing about for months. The moment the hawks are hailing as the beginning of Iraqi freedom, and the peaceniks are bemoaning as the beginning of, well, war. Let's have a moment of prayer for the troops as well as the innocents who are caught in between the world's most powerful military, and the Middle East's most draconian dictator.

I watched the movie Schindler's List today. It's 10 years old, but this was the first time I'd ever seen it. In the film, of course, Oskar Schindler employs Jews at his factory, saving their lives from concentration camps. It begins as a simple ploy to make money. (The Jews cost less to employ than the Poles.) Schindler eventually grows a conscience, to the point of sacrificing his fortune for every last human life he can save. He puts his life on the line for the people he once despised. Near the end of the film, as "his people" are thanking him for his good deeds, a line from the Jewish Talmud is quoted:

"He who saves one life saves the world entire."

This so convicts Schindler that he looks at his car and his ring, astonished at the remainders of his own greed. "That could have bought 20 people," he moans, pointing to the automobile. "This," he cries, removing a gold ring from his finger, "This was worth one person. One person that I could have saved." Eleven hundred others converge on Schindler to embrace him, and thank him for saving them. Others might have been saved, but they were the chosen ones. They went on to have lives, spouses, and children, thanks to Schindler.

Flash forward 58 years to an era of smart bombs and high-tech everything, and we're still stuck with the same moral dilemma. Are we right in risking lives through diplomacy to prevent the taking of Iraqi lives? Or would we be right in risking Iraqi civilians to save many more Iraqi civilians? It seems to me that people are going to die either way. That method which can most expediently save life, and guarantee a better quality of life for all sides must be chosen. I hate to say it, but that way seems to be war. You can say what you will about the tragic loss of civilian life due to our bombs, and you'd probably be right. But when those holed up in prisons, cowering in their homes, and wasting away in exile are able to feel the sunlight of their homeland burning warm on their faces again, they will have only one thought running through their minds: "We are the chosen ones. We will go on to have lives, spouses, and children, thanks to Bush. We don't know why God has chosen to spare us and not others, but He has, and that's all that matters." (OK, so that's several thoughts. Bear with me.)

Years from now, when the Iraqi people finally have their stories told to the world, I don't think there will be too many tears shed for Saddam Hussein. None of the survivors of Auschwitz said, "Oh, that the Americans had not ruined my hometown fighting Hitler." They were thankful to be alive, and they would rather have had their relatives die in American bombing raids than in Hitler's death camps. I think the people of Iraq—already the forgotten victims of this conflict—will feel the same way. They will not be lucky to be alive. They will have been chosen, from before time, and that is all that will matter.

 
Finally!

Ben's response, for some reason, wouldn't post to Blogger, so I created a Xanga account, and published it there. Click here to read it. (Please ignore the HTML tags, I was too lazy to go back and delete them.)

Tuesday, March 18
 
Amillennialism

I never intended for the discussion to come this far, but apparently the Rapture and eschatology (the study of the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy) are hot topics. In the first post, published last Thursday, I expressed my doubts about the pre-tribulational Rapture theory that is currently all the rage in evangelical circles. The second post, published yesterday, showed why dispensationalism bases its entire view of the Rapture on incorrect presuppositions of God's ultimate plan. From what I have read in the comments box, it seems that a few people are wondering, "If you don't believe this and this and this like we do, then what do you believe?" Good question. I will attempt to answer it as clearly and explicitly as I know how in this post.

First, a quick summary of the main eschatological camps in Christian theology is in order.


Premillennialism

Premillennialism is defined by Atomica as "the belief that that the Second Coming of Jesus will immediately precede the millennium." Dispensationalism falls entirely within this camp, although not all premillennialists are dispensationalists. Dispensationalism, in my view, is an erroneous theory, since it starts with the biblically indefensible premise that God has more than one people. I found a website that says premillennialism contradicts the Bible in 14 ways. I haven't read it yet, so judge for yourself.

Premillennialists usually believe that the Rapture is imminent, so their strength is evangelism. They have become the dominant view in American eschatology by publishing thousands of books, videos, and magazines declaring Christ's imminent return.


Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is defined as "the doctrine that Jesus's Second Coming will follow the millennium." Postmillennialists are generally more optimistic than the premillennialists, who view the Rapture and the ensuing time of Tribulation as foreboding. Postmillennialists believe that Christianity will "conquer the earth" and set up a golden age of humanity—the Millennium—before Christ's return. Where the Tribulation fits into postmillennial eschatology, I am not sure, but suffice it to say that postmillennialists are strong on government. America's Founding Fathers were primarily postmillennial in their outlook on the world, and so they labored to create through the government an environment conducive to the Millennium.

Amillennialism

Also known as nonmillennialism, this theory was introduced by St. Augustine, and is defined by BasicTheology.com as "the belief that the millennial kingdom is indeterminate in length and fulfilled by Christ currently ruling in heaven." Augustine took the Millennium literally, but amillennialists changed their minds when Christ did not return in 1000 A.D. John Calvin and Martin Luther were famous amillennialists. Indeed, the theory was a central part of the Reformation and its creeds. The Catholic church is also amillennial due to Augustine's influence.

If one is honest, one will admit that there are holes in every one of these theories. (Dispensationalism, a subset of premillennialism, sinks itself due to its false assumptions.) I do not believe that any one group of Christians has the full light on events that have not yet happened. There are many ways of reading the Bible, and that is why I am not dogmatic about being amillennial. I do, however, believe that amillennialism has the least amount of holes. Therefore, it is the position that I will assume and try to defend.

According to BasicTheology.com, "Amillennialists use a combination of literal and figurative hermeneutics. They tend to interpret much of prophecy figuratively. They believe that a prophecy cannot be fully understood until its fulfillment, which is why we should not be quick to affirm a literal 1000 year earthly kingdom."

Now, for amillennialism to be right, one has to believe that the Bible cannot always be read literally. (Dispensationalism takes the opposite tack, and tries to append a literal meaning to everything in the Bible.) Can the Bible always be read literally? Let's take a look, courtesy of David L. White:

[Prominent dispensationalist theologian Charles Ryrie] puts it this way, "Consistently literal, or plain, interpretation indicates a dispensational approach to the interpretation of Scripture....To be sure, literal/historical/grammatical interpretation is not the sole possession or practice of dispensationalists, but the consistent use of it in all areas of biblical interpretation is" (Ryrie, p.40). Elsewhere he reiterates this claim, "What, then, is the difference between the dispensationalist's use of this hermeneutical principle and the nondispensationalist's? The difference lies in the dispensationalist's claim to use the normal principle of interpretation consistently in all his study of the Bible" (Ryrie, p.82, italics are Ryrie's). It is my intention in this section briefly to challenge this assertion.

The first thing I would like to point out is that it isn't true. Dispensationalists have not consistently applied this principle; their application has been selective. I won't labor this point except to make three brief comments. First I would direct you to Hoekema's discussion of Hoyt's inconsistencies in Clouse, pp.105-107.

Secondly, I recall a particular dispensational interpretation of Rev.4:1. In this passage a voice speaks to John and says, "Come up here..." The author I was reading saw this as representative of the rapture of the church; hardly a literal or normal interpretation! (Incidentally, Walvoord--to his credit--rejects this interpretation.)

Thirdly, I would like to quote from Blaising and Bock. In their book Progressive Dispensationalism, Blaising says, "When we read Ryrie's claim that consistently 'clear, plain, normal' hermeneutics is the essence of dispensationalism, we have to interpret the remark historically. It may have been true as an ideal or goal for revised dispensationalism, but the statement is not true as a comprehensive principle inclusive of classical dispensationalism....The remark is not true of revised dispensationalism's actual practice...although it did function as a stated goal" (pp.36-37).

This book has much to say about the development of dispensationalism's hermeneutic from the "classical" approach up to the current "progressive" approach. A key point that one ought not to miss is that it has never truly been consistently literal.

Having suggested that dispensationalists are selective in applying their alleged interpretive method, I'll now move to a problem I see in Ryrie's argumentation for this method. He says, "A...reason why dispensationalists believe in the literal principle is a biblical one: the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the first coming of Christ--His birth, His rearing, His ministry, His death, His resurrection--were all fulfilled literally. This argues strongly for the literal method" (Ryrie, p.81). It is my contention that this line of reasoning assumes the very point to be proven and is false.

The point at issue here is whether or not some OT prophecies are fulfilled in non-literal ways in the NT. Ryrie and other dispensationalists--seeing that some prophecies are fulfilled literally--automatically assume that the prophecies that have not been literally fulfilled refer to the second coming. But, Ryrie must prove that only the literally fulfilled prophecies--and no others--refer to Christ's first coming. Rather than offer this proof, Ryrie simply assumes this point and argues from it.

To see that Ryrie's assertion is false all we need to do is to consider some passages that demonstrate that the NT does not always interpret OT prophecy in a literal way. The first that comes to mind is Hosea11:1 "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." This oracle goes on to describe God's love for Israel, their apostasy, and God's continuing love for them. Applying a strictly literal method of interpretation to this passage would lead one to conclude that there is no reference here to any event in Christ's life, rather it is simply referring to Israel's exodus from Egypt. Yet, Matt.2:15 applies this verse to Joseph's, Mary's and Christ's flight to Egypt. So here we have a prophetic section of the OT that an apostle applies to the life of Christ in a non-literal fashion, contrary to Ryrie's assertion.

Another such passage immediately confronts us in Matt.2:17-18 which sees Herod's murder of infant boys as a fulfillment of Jer.31:15. The Jeremiah passage--set within a context of messianic deliverance--is a picture of Rachel weeping for the Israelites who have gone into exile. Again, we have something less than a strictly literal fulfillment in view here.

No doubt much can be said about these two passages (and in fact has been; see the standard commentaries such as Gundry, Carson, Hagner) to reconcile the interpretive difficulties many have here. But the point stands that the OT prefigures events in Christ's life in non-literal ways. So Ryrie's contention that "the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the first coming of Christ--His birth, His rearing, His ministry, His death, His resurrection--were all fulfilled literally" simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

I will finish off this all too brief section with yet another citation from Matthew; Matt.1:22-23 which cites Is.7:14 as being fulfilled in the virgin birth of Christ and His designation as Immanuel. This passage has stirred up much controversy for a couple of reasons. One of those reasons has to do with Matthew's use of the very specific Greek word parthenos (virgin) found in the LXX which translates the more general Hebrew term `almah (maiden). I'll not enter into that part of the debate here. Rather I want to call attention to the contextual literal fulfillment of Is.7:14 within Isaiah itself.

The passage has to do with a sign God would give to Ahaz in connection with an attack against Jerusalem by a coalition of Syro-Ephraimite forces. The sign was to indicate that this coalition would not succeed (7:7-10). Ahaz refuses (v.12). Isaiah says God will give the sign anyways (Is.7:14-17), "The virgin ["maiden" in Hebrew] will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah--he will bring the king of Assyria."

The oracle continues with a further description of God calling Assyria and events to follow. Now notice Is.8:2-4, "Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me. 'Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Before the boy knows how to say 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.'"

It is interesting to stop here and notice that already we have the prophecy literally fulfilled within Isaiah itself. The maiden (Isaiah's wife) has conceived and given birth to a son and before this son will become very old, Damascus and Samaria will be defeated by Assyria. In other words, the son born to Isaiah and his wife is the literal fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy of 7:14.

There are further clues that this is so. Immediately after the passage I just cited, Isaiah describes Assyria's coming dominance (8:5-10). In two places he relates this to the Immanuel prophecy of 7:14 by using the term "Immanuel" (8:8 & 8:10, [note that both the NIV and the NASB transliterate it as "Immanuel" in v.8 and translate it as "God is with us" in v.10, the expression is "Immanuel" in both places in Hebrew]). Also note 8:18 where Isaiah refers to himself and his sons as signs and symbols in Israel, etc.; remember what started this, God offering a sign to Ahaz.

Now my point in all this is to point out that the literal fulfillment of this Immanuel prophecy took place in Isaiah's own day with his own son. As we all know, in chapter 9 Isaiah goes on to prophesy the birth of another child. This son will reign on David's throne (9:7) and will have various titles of deity (9:6). As I see it, the Immanuel prophecy refers to Isaiah's own son in its literal sense and in a non-literal sense to this later son described in chapter 9 (note that this theme continues in chapter 11 as well). Matthew, it seems to me, understood this and applies this passage (7:14) to Christ, even though it is not a strictly literal fulfillment. Again Ryrie's position crumbles under the weight of contrary evidence and we haven't even gotten past the second chapter of Matthew!

I said that was to be my last example (these examples are just way too easy to find), but the author of Hebrews also uses Is.8:18 in a non-literal way. Note Heb.2:13 where the author applies this verse, not to Isaiah and his literal children, but to Christ and His children, i.e. believers.

Ryrie's assertion that the literal fulfillment of OT prophecy in the NT indicates that all prophecy is to be interpreted literally simply does not stand up. It does not even begin to explain the evidence of the text; so we must abandon it along with the theological system that is built upon it.

It seems to me that rather than insist on a consistent application of a literal hermeneutic (something the dispensationalist himself does not do) we should enunciate some principles of interpretation that better reflect the evidence of the New Testament. As a preface let me say that I do affirm literal interpretation. In using this term I am contrasting the literal method with the allegorical method of the middle ages. But this method is not a consistently literal method as dispensationalism claims for itself.


So, not all passages can be read literally. Critics of amillennialism have correctly brought the fact up that if not all passages are to be taken literally, the Bible becomes a guessing game which can be made to say pretty much anything. White suggests a system known as dominical/apostolic interpretation:

By [dominical/apostolic interpretation] I mean that Jesus Christ and the Apostles are to be our authorities in biblical interpretation. If they say something is fulfilled, then it is fulfilled even though it may not be strictly literal. When they give us an interpretation of something, we are duty bound to accept their interpretation.

For example, Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Mal.3:1 and as the Elijah who was to come (Matt.11:10, 14; the latter an allusion to Mal.4:5; see also Matt.17:10-12 [I can't help pointing out that once again we have a less than strictly literal fulfillment of OT prophecy.]). It seems pretty straightforward, the OT predicts the coming of Elijah; Jesus says John the Baptist is the predicted Elijah. Or in the words of Luke, John came "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk.1:17). We are to accept our Lord's interpretation and not to expect another coming of literal Elijah.


Seems like a good plan to me. If Scripture cannot always be interpreted literally, then it makes sense to call fulfilled what Christ and His Apostles have called fulfilled. From here we can explore the amillennial doctrines concerning the Millennium and the Tribulation. Premillennialists, and therefore by default dispensationalists, argue that the Millennium is a literal 1,000-year period that will follow the rapture and tribulation. Here's what Kim Riddlebarger, a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals had to say about it:

First, the "last days" began with the coming of Christ and will continue until Christ returns (Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2). This period of time, "this age," is destined to pass away, and is characterized by war, famine, environmental distress, persecution and even the martyrdom of God's people (Rv 20:4­6). While there is every likelihood that this distress will increase in the period immediately before the return of Christ, no one knows the day or the hour of our Lord's return. Further, Jesus' birth pain imagery most likely means that we should expect alternating periods of peace and intensifying evil that will cause many to unduly speculate about the immanent return of Christ. These are sharp, stabbing birth pains, but not they are not the birth itself. Therefore, our preoccupation should not be with signs of the end, but instead we must be consumed with the task assigned to the church in the last days: the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom.

Second, the return of Christ clearly marks an end to the temporal nature of life as we know it- "this present evil age." At his return, Jesus will raise the believing dead, judge all men, and send the wicked into the fires of Hell. The elements of this Earth burn up and the new heavens and earth will be established. This scenario completely destroys much of contemporary evangelical prophetic speculation, which advocates a "secret" coming of Christ and the "rapture" of believers (and what text can be adduced to argue that Jesus comes back secretly?) a full seven years before the final judgement at Christ's bodily return. Does Jesus come back once or twice, with one of them being secret? Such speculation is nonsense when viewed in light of the clear gospel texts cited above, which universally describe the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the judgement of believers and unbelievers as parts of one event. This senario also destroys the idea of a future earthly millennial reign of Christ after he returns in judgement. Since this supposed thousand­year reign occurs after the eternal destiny of all men and women is forever settled in the judgement, the very thought of Jesus ruling over a world wherein there are still men and women in natural bodies repopulating the Earth is simply not supported by clear texts (remember the one about no marriage?).

If the millennial reign described in Revelation 20 is actually referring to a future period of time, another even more significant problem arises. At the end of the one thousand years, John tells us that there is a great apostasy (a second fall if you will) while Jesus is ruling the nations with the rod of iron (Rv 20:7-­10). This sounds much more like something that would happen in this age, and when viewed against (2 Thes 2:1­-12) an often overlooked parallel passage where a great apostasy occurs before the man of sin is revealed (v. 3), the case for a present millennial age becomes even stronger. Since there can be no people on earth in natural bodies after the judgment (which occurs when Christ comes back according to the clear texts we have seen above), these apostates can only be those same believers that Jesus raised from the dead at his return. In other words, if premillennialism is correct, then it is glorified saints follow Satan and revolt against Christ! But are we really to believe that evil is not finally conquered at Christ's return-even where Jesus is physically reigning and judgement has already occurred? Of course not, and this is self-evidently refuted by the analogy of faith, which expressly tells us that Jesus will destroy all of his enemies and hand the kingdoms of the world over to his Father (1 Cor 15:24) at his second coming. On closer investigation, we see that the events in Revelation 20 do not take place on the Earth at all, for the thrones described in that passage are in heaven, and not on the Earth. Furthermore, in a book such as Revelation, where numbers are always used symbolically, it makes much more sense to argue that the one thousand years are symbolic of the period of time between the first and second comings of Christ, rather than see them as a literal future period with a second fall during Jesus' kingly rule after the judgment. Thus the existence of evil and the supposed apostasy of glorified believers in a future millennial age poses a very difficult problem for all forms of premillennialism.

Third, and most importantly, the two-age model places its entire focus upon Jesus Christ and his second coming and not on idle speculation regarding world events. In the classical Protestant model, the next event on the prophetic calendar is the return of Jesus Christ to Earth. In fact, Jesus may even return before you finish reading this article! The eschatological cry of Protestant orthodoxy has always been, "Maranatha Come quickly Lord Jesus!" As with many other things in life the simplest approach may be the best. The two-age model is clear, biblical, and Christ­ centered. It refuses to allow undue speculation about current events to overturn the clear teaching of Scripture. It is a shame that it has been lost to so many Christians.


Therefore, if a) the Bible cannot always be read literally, and b) it makes more sense to believe that the Millennium is a non-literal period, then the two major points we still have to disprove are the idea of a 7-year Tribulation and the pre-tribulational Rapture. Here's what Dr. J. Rodman Williams had to say on CBN.com's theology section. (CBN, ironically, is run by Pat Robertson, a man with premillennial leanings.)

According to the New Testament, Christians will go through tribulation. Tribulation (Greek: thlipsis) is the lot of all true believers. For example, see John 16:33-"In this world you have tribulation"; Romans 5:3-"We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance"; Revelation 1:9-"I, John, your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation." The word "tribulation" is used three times in Matthew 24: verse 9-"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation"-which unmistakably refers to tribulation throughout history; verses 21-22-"Then there will a great tribulation" so intense that "unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short"; verses 29-30-"But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened…the Son of man coming on the clouds." It is apparent from this sequence in Matthew that Christians (the elect) will go through tribulation, including "great tribulation" (often called "the Tribulation"), just before Christ returns. There is no place in these verses for a pre-tribulation rapture of Christians. (See Renewal Theology, 3: pages 360-70, on the "Great Tribulation.")


In a comment to my last post, "CT" mistakenly equated "tribulation" with "punishment." She was correct in assuming Christians will not bear the brunt of God's wrath, as Romans 5:9 indicates. ("Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!") We are saved from God's wrath through Jesus' blood, not a rapture. That indicates to me (I could be wrong) that the wrath being spoken of is God's final judgment of the unbelieving wicked. We are spared from God's wrath by Jesus' blood, but we are not spared from tribulation. First Thessalonians 5:9-10 further supports my belief:

9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.


This most likely refers to God's final judgment on the unbelieving wicked. There is no reference to a "Great Tribulation." One site I ran across supported this view from another angle:

1 Thessalonians 5:9 contains ample evidence for the view that "wrath" doesn't refer to the great tribulation. Paul is speaking directly to the church in Thessalanica in 51 A.D. and says to them that they will not suffer wrath. But they were not in the great tribulation (and never would be) so this verse would have no application for them unless they understood it to mean final judgment ...

First Thessalonians 2:16 ("In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.") is fatal to the premillennial idea that the wrath of God is the great tribulation. Paul says that the wrath of God has finally come upon the ungodly Jews who killed Jesus and persecuted the true church. Therefore, this word "wrath" is not equal to the great tribulation of the Premillennialists ...

Note that the "wrath" is a result of their "heaping up their sins to the limit" which is an ongoing occurrence. Paul is merely saying that God will even judge the sins of Jews. They are not exempt from judgment based on national identity but must receive salvation the same way as everybody else -- through faith in Christ.


I am getting tired, and would post many more ideas about the Rapture, but I need to get this off before the day is over. There are three main problems with the idea of pre-tribulational Rapture:

  • Proponents of the Rapture often read too much into Biblical passages.

  • The Bible doesn't really support the Rapture in its clearest sense.

  • The rapture is part of premillennialism which also has its problems.

    To summarize, I do not believe in a Rapture divorced from the return of Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes back, the dead will be raised, and will be judged together with the living (Jn. 28-29). The righteous will be "raptured" or more specifically "caught away" (1 Th. 4:16-17) to meet with Christ in the sky. All of this will take place within the same short timeframe. The millennium, the tribulation, and the wrath of God are moot issues, since the first two have been happening during the entirety of the church age, and since the third is not specifically applicable to the end of time. That is amillennialism, so far as I understand it.

    Please understand that my opinion is still incomplete. I have much more reading, study, and prayer to do before my grasp of the issue is complete. The point of this series was not so much to convince you of the rightness of my position, but to increase the hunger for knowledge in you, the reader. Please conduct your own research, and hold an open mind to other theories. (One aside: Please keep in mind that people who fall into a different school of eschatological belief as you are not heretics, and should not be branded or treated as such.)

    Now, in the tradition of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, "Test everything. Hold on to the good." Take this article apart. Ben's will be up tomorrow.

    Resources
    Covenant Theology and Amillennialism
    Reformed Christian Eschatology
    Links to Reformed Theology
    End Time Prophecy



  • Monday, March 17
     
    The Rapture — Part Deux

    Well, in the last post, I managed to stir up a hornet's nest of people who either agree or disagree with my position on the Rapture. First off, a few things need to be clarified about my own position, as many questions were raised:

  • I believe in the Second Coming of Christ Jesus.

  • I believe in the "catching away" of the saints as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. That means that I believe that those who are in Christ will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. You can believe that without believing in a pre-tribulational Rapture.

  • I do not believe that the Rapture, as depicted in dispensationalist books, will actually occur.

    Why not? Well, I've been doing a little reading on the subject, and to get the whole scope of the doctrine, we have to "zoom out," and take ask ourselves the question, "What is dispensationalism?" Once we have answered that question, we can move on to an even bigger one, "Why is a pre-tribulational Rapture necessary?"

    According to Keith A. Mathison's book, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?:

    ``Dispensationalism may be defined as that system of theology which sees a fundamental distinction between Israel and the church. This distinction is the cornerstone of dispensational theology. Other doctrines, [like the pre-tribulational Rapture] which are often considered to be distinctly dispensational, rest upon this doctrine of the church. With this definition of the church in mind, much of the confusion that often surrounds this topic may be avoided."

    So what does this mean? Back to Mathison:

    Though the dispensational doctrine of the church is complex, its essential features can be summarized under seven propositions:

    1. God has two distinct programs in history, one for Israel and one for the church.

    2. The church does not fulfill or take over any of Israel's promises or purposes.

    3. The church age is a "mystery," and thus no Old Testament prophets foresaw it.

    4. The present church age is a "parenthesis" or "intercalation" during which God has temporarily suspended His primary purpose with Israel.

    5. The church age began at Pentecost and will end at the pretribulation rapture of the church before Christ's Second Coming.

    6. The church, or body of Christ, consists only of those believers saved between Pentecost and the rapture.

    7. The church as the body of Christ, therefore, does not include Old Testament believers.

    The author goes on to refute these points. As I do not have the time or the will to include these refutations in this post, I recommend you purchase the book. However, what I see in these seven propositions is this: The essence of dispensationalism boils to one question—How many peoples does God have? The dispensationalist is forced to say two or even three. (OT Israel, the Church, and the post-tribulational remnant.) Is this Scriptural?

    Romans 11:11-24 describes the salvation of the Gentiles as the ingrafting of wild olive branches into a single olive tree. Some of the natural branches (unbelieving Jews) were cut off, and others (believing Gentiles) were grafted in, but there is only one olive tree. God has only one people. The dispensationalist view maintains that Christ will rapture all the "spiritual" Christians first, then the carnal Christians as well as the unsaved will have to endure a 7-year tribulation (the length varies), after which Christ will return again and set up His kingdom on earth, where He will rule from natural Israel. Now do you see why the dispensationalists' view of the end is suspect? The supreme irony of this belief system is that Abraham, an Old Testament figure, according to the dispensationalists is not even a member of the body of Christ of which he is natural progenitor and patriarch. Think about that for a moment.

    On to the Rapture

    The entire doctrine of pretribulationism rests on the shoulders of that faulty theory we just looked at—the dispensational doctrine of the church. According to Mathison's book, "John Walvoord, the most influential and best-known defender of the pretribulational rapture, openly admits that this doctrine is entirely inferential ... Walvoord himself admits that if the church includes the saints of all ages, then it is 'self-evident' that the church will go through the Tribulation. He also allows that even if the dispensational definition of the church is true, pretribulationism is only 'possible' or at best 'probable.' That is not a very strong foundation for a doctrine considered vital to dispensationalism. And since the dispensational definition of the church is biblically indefensible, it is no foundation at all. The person who believes in the pretribulational rapture needs to wrestle with this question: Why believe in a doctrine that originated in 1830 [it was not endorsed by any church figures or leaders before this time] and is not based on any clear teaching of the Bible, but instead rests on another doctrine that is plainly unscriptural?

    Author Gary DeMar, who in his book Last Days Madness titles an entire chapter "No Evidence for a Rapture," shows how dispensationalist thought is based on loose reasoning:

    John Walvoord, an ardent believer in the pre-tribulation rapture, imports an already-constructed pre-tribulational rapture theory into texts that say nothing about the church being taken to heaven. His exposition of Revelation 4:1 is evidence of this:

    ``It is clear from the context that this is not an explicit reference to the Rapture of the church, as John was not actually translated [raptured]; in fact he was still in his natural body of Patmos. He was translated into scenes of heaven only temporarily. Though there is no authority for connecting the Rapture with this expression, there does seem to be a typical representation of the order of events, namely, the church age first, then the Rapture, then the church in heaven."

    If one takes Walvoord's position, then Rosenthal [an ex-dispensationalist] is correct: There is no verse that explicitly teaches this doctrine! All of the texts used to support the rapture theory presuppose the validity of the theory, a theory that does not have a single text to support it. The doctrine has been constructed before texts have been evaluated.

    This unsound approach to Bible interpretation has done little to dissuade the adherents of the various rapture theories. Grant R. Jeffrey, for example, begins with Revelation 4:1 as one of the "five definitive indications supporting the pretribulation Rapture." Here's how the argument goes for those who see the rapture of the church in this verse:

  • The voice that John heard was "like the sound of a trumpet speaking."

  • When Jesus returns to rapture His church, He will do so "with the trumpet of God." (1 Thess. 4:16)

  • Since a trumpet is used just prior to the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, we should assume that a rapture is in view when "a door [is] standing open in heaven," presumably to receive the raptured church (Rev. 4:1-2).

  • The church is no longer mentioned in the Book of Revelation; therefore, the church must have been raptured.

  • John's being directed to "Come up here" is a depiction of this rapture in the same way that the church will be "caught up" at the time of the pre-tribulational rapture. Jeffrey writes, "When John was 'in the Spirit'... he was 'Raptured up' to Heaven...."

    This is absurd exegesis to be sure, but it is standard dispensational teaching.


  • So, in this post, we have seen that a) dispensationalism has no historical precedent, b) dispensationalism rests on a faulty view of the church and natural Israel, c) the dispensationalist view of the pre-tribulationist Rapture has no solid Biblical foundation. This post has been spent dismantling the premillenialist, and more specifically, the dispensationalist view of the end of the world. I realize that I have as yet offered no viable alternative. Tomorrow, I will attempt to delve into my own beliefs with a critical eye. Until then, let us remember the wise words of Augustine, "In essentials unity… in non-essentials liberty… and in all things charity."

  • Thursday, March 13
     
    The Rapture

    I am going to make a simple, and to some, startling statement. I do not believe in the Rapture. Please keep in mind that I fully believe in the return of Jesus Christ. I also believe that the goats will be separated from the sheep, etc. But I don't believe in the Rapture.

    I am certainly open to discussion—I don't really have my facts together on my position, and I know many excellent Christians who believe in it wholeheartedly. But after seeing ridiculous films like The Omega Code, and hearing all the ballyhoo over book series like Left Behind, I am thoroughly unconvinced. Why? Christians who buy into this theory of all the good Christians suddenly disappearing in the blink of an eye tend to be escapists, at least from my own limited experience. They mix a deep distrust of our secular culture with the time-honored tradition of watching CNN with their Bibles open to Daniel and Revelation.

    If I understand correctly, this end-times hysteria has been blazing since the advent of the Industrial Age, when increasing wickedness and encroaching globalization began to make people long even more for the Second Coming of their Savior. Not there's anything wrong with that. I, too, long for the day when nature will be set at ease, and sin will be done away with. But these people have often gone a step farther by trying to predict the exact date of Jesus' return based on obscure Biblical prophecy. They are called "dispensationalists," and they generally believe the return of Christ to be imminent, and that the Jews are God's other chosen people. This gives their evangelism an urgency, and their hearts a soft spot—at times even a blind affection—for the nation of Israel.

    Dispensationalist thought is at best a mixed bag. On the one hand, it may increase evangelistic zeal by stressing the imminence of Christ's return. On the other hand, it may breed eschatological ignorance. (It has produced a plethora of "the end is nigh" books, some so arrogant as to predict the exact date.) It gives Christians a long-overdue love for the Jews, and a compassion for the plight of the Israelis, but it can also blind Christian eyes to the plight of the Palestinians.

    I am not sure how indicative of the whole movement this personal experience is, but I once had lunch with a friend who wanted to join the Navy SEAL's. His dad, a dispensationalist, thoroughly disapproved. He asked him, "What if Jesus comes back, and you're on the wrong side of Armageddon?" With a liberal dose of sarcasm in his voice, my friend responded, "That's just a chance I'll have to take, dad!"

    That's my opinion, too. Christians should not need the threat of a sudden mass disappearance to spur them into evangelism. (After all, atheists and liberals probably want us to disappear just as much as the dispensationalists.) They shouldn't withdraw from politics or retreat from society because of their fear that they have become irredeemable. On the contrary, we should continue to be salt and light. If I am wrong about the Rapture, I can live with that. While the dispensationalists may deride me as one of those Christians trying to believe in the least amount of scary things possible, I know that I don't have to scare myself into irrelevance to serve God.

    Wednesday, March 12
     
    Thank You Jesus!



    After 8 1/2 months, she's finally home!

    Tuesday, March 11
     
    Peace, Love & Empathy

    Every once in a while, you come across something that gives you a whole new perspective on things. I had one of those moments the other night. I pulled up the AIM buddy info for my friend who I've known for years, but never really talked to. Here's what it said:

    This is about a girl who has two sides to her life, the one that everyone knows and sees, and the other no one knows is there. She has lots of friends doesnt do too bad in school, her life just seems great! Some people wonder if there is another side to her. Others know it is there but cant grasp it. She has feelings that run deeper than your veins, some so strong that not even stone could crack. Others...most...more fragile than fine china. She has thoughts,opinions,wants,and needs. And no one knows.

    People tell her they know what she is going thru but none can fathom the intensity of her pain. No one can see the hurt inside her. She feels all alone, like she has no sanctuary, no safety, only pain and sorrow. Her only outlet is thru her writings. There she explains to the blank pages how hard life can be. But yet again no one knows this other side exists.The only thing they know is a girl named (use your imagination).


    I've known this girl for years, but never really talked to her. She was always really quiet and kind of removed, her parents have religious beliefs that don't resemble mine too closely, and I found myself sucked into the trap of trying to be like the cool kids. Reading her words made me remember all the nights I cried myself to sleep because I couldn't find acceptance. I used to crave the acceptance that she seeks now. Why is it that even those who have spent years on the outside looking in betray those left outside once they are admitted to stand by the communal fire? Is it so much to open the door every so often? To share another's pain? By and large, from what I have seen, and felt myself, most would say yes. It is too much effort to reach out. But for Christians, it is not an option.

    The world is full of hurting, lonely, depressed people. I should know, I used to be one of them. We as Christians do not have a choice between reaching out and not reaching out. Our lives should be nothing but reaching out, empathizing, and sharing in one another's joys and pains; in short, being like Christ. As a society, Americans tend to be a people absorbed with themselves. I ask you to examine yourself, and see if there is any way you could better serve those around you. As for me, I have failed my friend for the last 2 years. I implore you not to make the same mistake.

    Rock star Kurt Cobain, after a lifetime of rejection, wrote on his suicide note a summary of things he had never seen - "Peace, Love, and Empathy." Don't let another Cobain pass you by.

    Monday, March 10
     
    Divine Comedy

    I've been reading Graham Greene's The Comedians lately. In the book, Greene muses that life in Haiti would be Shakespearian in its tragedy, were it not inflected with enough absurdity to make it bearable and, at times, even comic. Hence, the title. I believe Greene was onto something. Life is tragic and full of suffering, yet the goodness of what God originally created shines through just enough to make it bearable, even pleasant at times. Sometimes, it seems as though in the grand scheme of things, we are but players in a divinely scripted comedy. We are each born to assume our roles as free agents, who make choices that turn us into angels, villains, or wallflowers. The analogy breaks down, however, because unlike actors, human beings are incredibly self-aware. We all know, deep down, why we were made, what we are here for, and where we are going. We just choose to accept or deny the facts in different fashions.

    So here I stand, on the cusp of adulthood, less than 24 hours from being recognized by the state as a man. Over the next few months, I will be making the final and definitive break with my parents, thrust onto the stage of life to assume the role I was destined to play from before time. The time of rehearsal is no more - it is time to live.

    I woke up to another typical Monday - nothing out of the ordinary. Ate breakfast, made my regular round of blog-checking. Some people quibbling about the war, others about economics, plenty of fiskings handed out both ways. Was kind of sad to learn that my friend Katie, who authored the first blog I ever laid eyes on, is calling it quits. Finally dragged myself away from the computer screen, and drove downtown with my mom and siblings. We bought some drinks down at the local haunt, the Hotel Roi Christophe.

    The sun was out, and the bay was gleaming, but everything seemed a little slower-paced today. The streets were a little more dusty, the cyclists a little more oblivious to the frantic horn-blowing and cars swerving all around them. The Christophe waiters moved a little slower - the manager's out of town on his holiday. (While the cat's away...) In typical Haitian fashion, the resident horticulturalists have taken to the bushes that line the poolside with gusto (and machete blades), leaving their skeletons bare and unprotected against the sun's fury. The dust stirred up from this little foray has drifted down into the pool, giving it a sickly, milky look that matches the bleakness of the sun-baked bricks and denuded foliage.

    In a way, they reminded me of an old neighbor I saw today for the first time in 7 years - he looked exactly the same, but his mannerisms were different. He seemed a little more bent by life, possibly the result of spending over a decade being beaten down by the abusive tyrant he has for a wife. There is no longer a spring in his step, his wary approach and quick departure reveal a hint of diffidence, even his once jet-black hair is betrayed by a strand of gray here and there. It was disappointing to see the man who once seemingly had everything under control so...trodden down. His star is fading, and the youthful good looks that once made him the catch of the town are fading with it.

    Come to think of it, I don't have all that much time left to be young. I have already crossed one border - from innocence into adolescence - but that one was undefined. I can't even recall a specific moment when I stepped across the boundary and embraced the pains and insecurity of adolescence as normalcy. It was only years later that I could look back and remark that I had clearly and unambiguously left childish things behind. This frontier is altogether different. While the exodus from childhood is marked by advice to "not grow up too fast," and a genuine longing to disregard such advice, the passage into adulthood is often accompanied by a longing for the innocence and simplicity of childhood, offset by the excitement of finally becoming one's own person. It is a time where definite breaks with the past are made, and yet it is a time of confusion. Childish things are put away, the mind is put to work, and nests are vacated for the last time. It is an age of excitement, of new beginnings, and peril. There is much to miss, still more to look forward to, but I cannot help but wonder if, in 15 years, I will look as weary and trodden upon as my neighbor did today.

    Will I wind up as a protagonist, an antagonist, or a jester in this divine script? I am at the Rubicon, and only time will tell.

    Thursday, March 6
     
    'Ultimate Reality'

    I apologize in advance for violating copyright laws, but every once in a while you spy a column so powerful that it would simply be wrong not to publish it. I can only hope that perchance some tragic soul tottering on the brink of eternity will read it, and find eternal life. (For full effect, read while listening to Switchfoot's latest album, The Beautiful Letdown, tracks 8 and 9.)

    DURING MY BRIEF SOJOURN AT SWISS L'ABRI IN 1973, a truck one day came careening down the scenic mountainside. When it reached Huemos-sur-Ollon, the driver lost control and plunged with his vehicle into the backyard of the chalet on the tier below. A guy named "Red," who ran the main student house of Schaeffer's commune, pronounced in my hearing the laconic epitaph, as a cluster of us stood considering the truck where it lay in silent finality: "Ultimate reality," he said under his breath.

    I thought of the incident again several weeks ago when a pyrotechnic display gone bad in West Warwick, R.I., (25 minutes from where I grew up) claimed the lives of almost a hundred Thursday-night revelers. As providence—and Providence—would have it, the whole thing was caught on camera, WPRI-TV having chosen that entertainment spot on that evening to do a piece on nightclub safety, in the aftermath of a fatal south Chicago club fire of four days earlier. The carefree raised glasses and inebriate bravado, the obtuse bewilderment at the spark's first igniting of soundproofing behind '80s band Great White, the herd panic and piling of trampled patrons in the last minutes—all preserved on video.

    One morning in 1973, a man wakes up and pulls on his trousers one leg at a time as usual, downs his coffee, snarls a leave-taking in the direction of his wife, settles himself into the cab of his truck and drives off to a destination appointed for him from of old. One evening in 2003, 97 people, all with a rendezvous with God (but under the impression of moving under their own volition) make their way to The Station club for what they expect to be a night of merriment; it is in truth the day of reckoning. The jar of beads that has spilled out, one with every turning of the earth upon its axis, has reached the last bead in the jar today. You envisioned, in your folly, an endless supply, and found instead a finite number.

    What is "ultimate reality"? Every man behaves according to how he answers that question in himself. If we could have focus groups of the dead, say, as they do for blue jeans and toothpaste, what would the Station patrons tell us now? And would we listen? Would their unique perspective puncture the modernist miasma of "merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream"?

    It seems not. "Almost every natural man that hears of hell flatters himself that he shall escape it.... They trust to nothing but a shadow.... If we could come to speak with them ... one by one, whether they expected, when alive ... ever to be subjects of that misery, we, doubtless, should hear one another and reply, 'No, I never intended to come here: I had arranged matters otherwise in my mind.... It came as a thief; death outwitted me" (Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God).

    The wrath of God is a furnace stoked to the seventh degree; a pent-up storehouse of fire, with here and there one lashing tongue that breaks out and licks a spot clean. Fools mock the fear of God. Or they debate it in convivial conversation. I have seen men mill around open caskets and discuss the weekend's ball game, unmoved by their own mortality. What scales have you put on our eyes, Lord, that the ordinariness of sensory experience oft seems more real than questions of eternal destiny, with millions lulled to death by their complacency?

    "Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen.... The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable" (Edwards).

    Were the patrons of The Station any worse than you or me, that they should be cut down so early? "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?" (Luke 13:2-3). Jesus replies, "No," lest we take false comfort to ourselves, and then essays the part that bites: "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

    "O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in.... Let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men or women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God's word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favor to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeance to others."

    - Andree Seu

    Originally published in World Magazine, 3/15/03

    Wednesday, March 5
     
    Lingering Questions

    Today is my last day of freedom before my parents come back and make me go to bed at fixed hours, and knock on my door to demonstrate that they're being polite by knocking on my door. (Don't ask - these are my parents, they're meant to be loved, not understood.) I'm enjoying every last minute.

    I was going to write a long post about my friend, and what she has written in her AOL Instant Messenger info, but she's offline for the moment, and I can't retrieve that information. Come back in a few hours, or tomorrow, and I'll have that written.

    I've had a question burning my mind up lately, perhaps Dr. Byron can help me out again. I've been thinking a lot about the war lately, and I must say that I admire many people from both sides of the argument. Pacifist Rachel Cunliffe once advocated carrying out Christ's command to "love our enemies" to the extreme. Although I can certainly see the pitfalls of it, this is a very appealing and romantic notion to me. It would also require a lot more faith than I currently have at my disposal, which brings me to my question - would such an alternative require more faith in God or less? And was the command to love our enemies only personal, or applicable to all spheres of human relationships? Because, like Rachel, I really, really, really want to do the right thing by humanity and by God, and it would be the most awful shame to get into a war to which there is a better alternative.

    I know some of my recent posts have been downright hawkish. That is because I am afraid of the repercussions of Saddam acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and I feel extremely sorry for the plight of the Iraqi people, and see this as their last great hope. But is America really God's tool to liberate the Iraqi people? And does God expect us to place our first priority on national security, or treating others with the respect that they deserve as human beings? Would staying out of Iraq even demonstrate that respect?

    I think it is utterly simplistic to advocate peace based on your disdain for war. It is equally simplistic to advocate war based on your disdain for a dictator. I do not want to be caught in either camp. So let me reiterate my questions: Would loving our enemies to the extreme work? Is this the government's responsibility? If so, should we do this instead of bombing them? I await your responses in the comment box.

    Tuesday, March 4
     
    Today on the Web

    Every time I begin to tire of the Internet, I find something that makes it worth my while.

    I found Cynical Rantings as a result of a screw-up at Blogger - the recently updated list hasn't been recently updated in 10 hours. It is not really as cynical and jaded as the author thinks it is, but rather warm and funny. It's a between-the-lines look at life that just might make it the Seinfeld of the blogosphere. The writer finds inspiration in small and quirky things. (As of now, the most recent post is about the wily tactics of Girl Scouts to sell cookies at the local supermarket.) Who knows? It might have been a stroke of fate, and she'll wind up with her own syndicated column whilst I toil away with my small readership. Eh, whatever. She's fun to read, and that's all that matters to me.

    Way to Blue is the first photoblog to make its way onto my Favorites menu. It has some really great pictures and a minimalist design, so as not to bog down your precious bandwidth.

    Peggy Noonan ruminates this week on the future of the Democratic Party, and comes out swinging. Her columns read like miniature books—they're considerably longer than your average syndicated columnist's—but then again, this is Peggy Noonan. She provides a balance to the "just the facts, please" attitude of most male writers, adding a sentimental and distinctively female touch to conservative punditry.

    The DC Metro Blog Map is a neat idea—it takes the colored Metro (subway) map familiar to DC-area residents, and allows DC bloggers to add their names to the various Metro stops. Perhaps someday I'll be on there, as I plan to live in the DC area at least once before I die.

    William Luse of Apologia has a burgeoning poet for a daughter:

    Jealousy

    Jealousy is bright red.
    Jealousy sounds like screeching tires.
    Jealousy tastes of a bitter lemon.
    Jealousy smells like burning wood.
    Jealousy looks like a bolt of lightning,
    Striking at everything in its path
    And destroying all.
    Jealousy makes me feel
    Detached from everyone.

    She said it better than I ever could, and in fourth grade, too.

    For anyone who still cares, Britney Spears is apparently not a virgin. Big surprise.

    The Truth Laid Bear is neat. It ranks blogs by how many other bloggers link them on their home pages. Where does yours truly stand? Yipes, I'm an insignificant microbe at #856. The Truth hurts.

    I had one more thing to say—I really admire all the people who give things up for Lent, and I think I'm going to try to do the same this year. Happy Mardi Gras everyone.

    Monday, March 3
     
    Monday's Thoughts

    If you are at all familiar with Catholic countries, you know that the time just before Lent is Carnaval time. That means floats, bizarre costumes, and lots of loud music and drinking - almost the Latin American equivalent of the American rock concert. In Haiti, unfortunately, it usually means debauchery, random acts of violence, and people dressed up as policemen who stop your car and give you fake "tickets" as well.

    The festivities inevitably begin early, and Friday night, on the way to eating out, my friends and I hit a small procession of people who looked like they were dressed for Halloween, all decked out in black capes, horror-movie masks, and fake knives. I'll admit that they were a bit strange, but my friend's mother overreacted, and forced us to take the long route all the way around the city to the restaurant. Meanwhile, the kids, seated in the back of the pickup, yelled things like "I love your work!" to guys in Scream masks.

    I took the weekend off from blogging to catch up on, well, having fun. (I went to the beach Saturday, and burned myself nicely.) But somehow fun always gives way to reality, and I found myself asking others about their positions on the upcoming war with Iraq. One friend, a Haitian, responded that he supported it wholeheartedly. I then inquired as to whether his neighbors felt the same way. He responded that they did, but they wished that America would take out their country's president first.

    Another friend responded that he opposed the war—he doesn't think America should be sticking its nose in others' business. I asked him how national security failed to be America's business. He conceded that I had a good point, and the discussion tapered off into more trivial things. I was content to let it go.

    Getting back to the war—every time I begin to consider the "peace" position, some new information comes along that solidifies my position. Today I found myself watching The 700 Club, of all shows, and they had a guest, Khidhir Hamza, a man who used to be "Saddam's bombmaker." He confirmed that Saddam is seeking nuclear weapons, was very close before the Gulf War, is very close now, etc.

    Originally published in November 2000, the New York Times Book Review called it "gripping and unsettling...a rare account of privilege ...with big houses, expensive cars, glittering restaurants..." (It should be made required reading for Maureen Dowd.) The downloadable version's description hits it more squarely on the head: "The defector once responsible for Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program reveals for the first time what the CIA and Iraq desperately want to keep hidden -- that Saddam Hussein is devastatingly close to manufacturing nuclear weapons and has every intention of using them."

    Enough about war. In my mind, the debate is over. The course is set. One can only hope and pray that Saddam will have a last-minute change of heart. I have often wondered why the anti-war crowd is so vocal about what they most likely cannot change, while ignoring atrocities within their own countries that they can. One such atrocity is abortion. I've written about this topic before. On January 22, I wrote about the need for more grace in many evangelical circles when they touch the issue. I haven't completely settled the issue within my own mind, so I e-mailed Emily Peterson, who maintains a great new blog, After Abortion.

    Here's what Emily (in italics) had to say:

    We do need more grace, kindness, humility, and tender heartedness. Jesus gets angry not at us sick sinners, but at the prideful hypocrites who say they are of God. I think we need to turn our hearts that way.

    Now that we have such beautiful, glowing, life-affirming full-color photos of beautiful little pre-born babies--beautiful and human even at 6, 7, 8 weeks--wouldn't we do better to stand at the side of the road and in front of abortion clinics, waving those wonderful pictures on our signs?


    I agree. I guess what I was trying to get at, though, was whether you think the people who carry posters with pictures of dead, aborted babies are doing the right thing. Do you favor this approach, or would you rather stress the beauty of life rather than the horror of the procedure, or are both necessary?

    I really have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I recognize that gut-level feeling plays an important and respectable part in how we develop our moral view of the world. And certainly our gut-level instinct about abortion is appropriately informed by these pictures.

    On the other hand, I think that we make ourselves look like the mean, bad guys when we display those pictures.

    One of the reasons the pro-life movement has stagnated at times is because people who have soft opinions one way or the other see us as hard-hearted, cold, mean bullies. Displaying those pictures plays into that stereotype of us.

    We don't want to do things where we come off as the opposite of life-affirming.

    I think that by displaying the beautiful, glowing photos of young life, we look life-affirming. I also think that they would do just as much good. People who look at one of those photos can imagine, without seeing it in living color, what happens to the baby in an abortion.

    We've had our say. I leave the debate to the comment box. (Hopefully, someone will actually comment.)