Monday, January 29, 2007
“Love of mine some day you will die
But I'll be close behind
I'll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark
If Heaven and Hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the NOs on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark”
The song is I Will Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab for Cutie. I hate the name of that band and when I saw them live for a few minutes at Bonnaroo (there was nothing better to see during their time slot) their dancing around on the stage was very drama-queen-pop-punkish and annoyed me greatly. Nonetheless these lyrics got me thinking about a statement Paul made in a letter he wrote to the church in Rome who kindly preserved the letter they had received for us. It is this:
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Rom. 9:3)
I’ve always been baffled by this statement. There should be a book called, “Bafflers of the Bible” and it should include all the verses that 20 centuries later we just cannot wrap our minds around and feel comfortable with. This verse should be in there. I just looked this up in N.T. Wright’s Romans commentary (it’s the only one I own so far) and Wright says, “This prayer is shocking in the extreme.” The blow is certainly softened in a big way by the insertion of the word could in the verse. Does Paul realize what he is saying here? Doesn’t he know that the literal fiery flames of hell await him and that being united with Christ is the only way to avoid this fate? Surely he does. After all, if he was uncertain about the afterlife then what can we presume to know?
Maybe he was just using a rhetorical device to commend his Jewish people to the Roman Gentiles. After all, he explicitly states that he will play the jealousy card if that’s what it takes to bring them to Christ (Rom. 11:14). If that’s the case, then it is settled. We can just say “false alarm, he was just being facetious there’s nothing to see here, it’s all part of the show,” the show being a desperate attempt at racial reconciliation and the salvation of his fellow Jews.
But I don’t think we can get off the hook quite that easy and not because of some gut feeling I have but because Moses acts out what Paul only could wish. The lyrics to the song above written to an unnamed “love of mine” essentially mimic Moses’ cry, that if heaven illuminates the no on its vacancy sign, he will follow his love, his brothers and sisters into the dark. Moses speaks the prayer that Paul theorizes about when in defense of wayward Israel when pleads, “But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written (Exodus 32:32).” Once again, a prayer that is shocking in the extreme.
In fact, growing up evangelical, I was taught that the acronym J.O.Y. stood for Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. And yet, here we have arguably the two most significant characters in the Bible seemingly ready to swap the J with the O. I can’t find an easy answer to why this is and the statements of Moses, Paul, and Death Cab disturb me greatly.
I can only say that it would be a worthwhile venture to take a second look at what a heartfelt desire for the salvation of the world actually feels like. I’ve never felt that desperation for someone’s salvation and I don’t see myself ever getting to that point. But I can’t help strike a contrast between my own eagerness for the salvation of the world and the eagerness I see in Moses and Paul. I only know that for me the passion and urgency which the gospel message requires is not there right now and until it is, evangelism for me won’t be what it could be. It won’t be what it should be.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
- A 26 year old doctoral student writing on Augustine’s ecclesiology in 1953 shortly after his ordination. His name was Joseph Ratzinger.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Here are a few posts from my favorite blog on the internet. No, everything he writes is not great, but no writer ever writes with that kind of consistency. Michael Spencer has a knack for cutting through the bullshit and presenting the gospel to readers. Some writers are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good, while others don’t bother with biblical exegesis and honest reasonable thought. Spencer is neither of these. For an older guy, he has his hand on the pulse of popular culture. He has strong opinions yet does not come across as any sort of fundamentalist. His writing may make you laugh and it may make you cry. So I hereby recommend to you his blog for weekly reading and offer a few of my favorite recent posts of his for a sampler.