Belated Response to the Declaration of Independence

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Dearest Representatives of the united States of America;

We have received your letter declaring your absolving of all allegiance to the British Crown and we have a few belated issues.

We noticed that your claims consistently made claims to a Supreme Judge, which, by common consent, we can’t deny or support that he-it-or-she exists.

Indeed, you call this Supreme Judge the Creator and the God of Nature when we both agree that random natural processes over an infinite time is the proper teaching of what works behind nature. We must not call nature a “creation”. Calling it Creation assumes a creator, which we can not support or deny as existing.

Be that as it may, like you we agree that there should be a separation of Church and State. Since your decision is so fraught with religious considerations, it has no rational or scientific basis. Your position has no proper justification. And since a ruling can only stand if your proper (British) governor agrees, then your collective decision is simply overturned by default.

It is also obvious that your claims to ephemeral absolutes—like what is wholesome and necessary for the public good, or of self-evident truths, or even unalienable rights—are merely the marks of an oppressive fiction geared towards controlling others in your obvious effort in non-tolerance. We stand for freedom for all and that includes freedom from your specifically religious and biggoted claims.

So we must solemnly decline your request for independence. Ask your own judges and intelligentsia. They would agree with us.

Over You, Truly,

The British Crown.

July 4th, 2013

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How To Save Money Right Now

Recently at a sort-of tech-related Christian meta-blog called Digital Sojourner, I wrote a series of articles on the perfect PC Bible. In one of the posts I mentioned that you can’t just up and buy a laptop: you need to research, you need to plan, and you need to save.

But how can a Christian, or anybody really, save money to buy a car, or a house, or get an engagement ring or whatever? If I were a bit less me, I’d say it this way: how can a Christian be a good steward of his or her money? Too often our purchasing habits are restricted to seasonal shopping (because we think that’s when we deserve it) or to an impulse buy with the intent to pay things back at a later date.

Now mind you, my pocket is tight. With three homeschooled kids and a recent move to a more expensive neighborhood, and a salary that is still short of what I made several years ago, finances are rough. I write this post for myself; feel free to look over my shoulder.

So here are a lucky fourteen ways, in no particular order, that you can save money, right now.

One: Don’t have the money, don’t buy it. Credit is so easy and this is so hard. This gets complicated when it comes to purchasing a house or a business, but it functions as a general rule.

Two: Consolidate debt. You don’t want multiple credit cards with varied minimum payments that aren’t impacting the debt. If you can, consolidate your debt onto a single low interest card or a single low-interest loan leaving you better off in terms of budgeting and debt reduction.

Three: Budget. Consider all your monthly expenses and all your incoming dollars. When you see it in black and white, you’ll know how dire your situation really is and what you can easily trim. (Budget Simple, Mint.Com)

Four: No one needs cable. With high speed internet ranging anything from $14 – 150 a month, you can watch most of your favorite television shows right on hulu. And in fact, if you have a modern television with a digital tuner, and live close enough to a television transmitter, you can probably get all of your regular network channels over the air with an $11 antenna. Check this antenna guide to see what you can do.

Five: Smart phones aren’t smart. If you run your own business it’s a different story, but  you probably don’t need a smart phone or the required 30 dollar a month data package. Quite honestly, if you don’t travel outside of your neighborhood you might not even need a two year contract. Check out the network of TracPhones or a similar product which offer smart phones for more than half of what you would normally pay with one of the big companies. And when that’s all said and done, take a hard look at your land-line and ask “if I have a cell phone, do I really need that?” And no, you don’t save money with those fancy triple packages.

Six: Save on your commute. Living closer to work saves on gas (and more); you can even ride your bike there. If you can’t, use public transportation. And if you can’t do that, car pool. And if you can’t do that, have a conversation with your boss about telecommuting one day a week.

Seven: You probably don’t need it. A new shirt? New boots? New shoes? If you really need it, check your local Consignment Shop or the Good Will. Unless it’s an interview. Then yeah, you do need it.

Eight: Be a smart grocery shopper. Don’t shop when you’re hungry so that you don’t make impulse buys. Make a list that falls within your budget. Use coupons but only on products you normally buy. Family packages of meat are a great savings especially if you split it up into zip-lock containers and freeze them until you use them. Use a freezer. Don’t bother with Costco’s: the bulk size items are usually not that well priced when you compare ounces to ounces and the membership fee is an unnecessary cost. Combine your shopping trips with other activity. If you pass the supermarket from work, that’s two birds with one stone.

Nine: Automatic deposit into a savings account. You can usually set this up with your employer. I would suggest something manageable at first, like $25 dollars into savings, the rest into your checking account, every pay check. If you can’t set it up with your employer, you can set it up with your bank by having an automatic transfer to your savings every two weeks. Again, just start with something small at first.

Ten: 401K is good; company matching is great. If your company has a dollar matching with a 401k then contribute up to that dollar amount. That extra from the company is like a pay raise that rewards you at retirement.

Eleven: Mind your taxes. If you’re freelancing, save about 45% of every dollar for taxes down the road. If you file the EZ tax form, you can probably do it yourself via the phone but if you’re a homeowner, or have kids, or run a business, or are a landlord—get an accountant. The $200-300 that it costs to cover the accountant will be rewarded with their expertise and knowledge of new tax rules. They can answer questions which computer programs don’t know to ask.

Twelve: Share finances with your spouse. If you keep the finances a secret two things are possible: (1) you might spend in secret and thus dig a hole in secret or (2) your spouse might spend unknowingly. Get your spouse involved in budgeting and bills so that you’ll both be aware of the current financial situation.

Thirteen: Careful with Seasonal Sales. Sometimes the prices are good; sometimes they aren’t. Black Friday is notorious for selling product whose prices had been inflated for weeks before to make the drop look dramatic. Use tools like Camel Camel Camel to trend product prices before buying.

Fourteen: Pack your lunch. Don’t bother eating out. Cook a big dinner and take leftovers to work or school.

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Increase Not Decrease: God Grants the Role

“You Yourselves bear me witness that I said ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him’.” (John 3:28)

Of course John’s comment is in light of his ministry. For he says that he was to announce the Christ because he is not the Christ: his role was to prepare the way. John sees that his own life isn’t purposeless but is actually tied up in the work of God by the presentation of the Lamb of God.

He was sent to preach repentance and when he saw the Lamb of God he pointed him out, openly acknowledging that this is the provision that God had made. (John 1:19-34)

To John’s mind, this probably meant something else. He probably thought as Jesus as the Lamb ruler who would forcefully take away the sins of the World. After all, it was only a short time later that he would be imprisoned, still waiting for the Christ to reboot this entire world, and wondering why it hadn’t happened yet.

In Matthew 11, John, seeing that Herod is still in power (and he’s still in jail) sends a message to Jesus via disciples: “Are you the Christ that we’re waiting for?” He spent his life pointing out this person, he could’ve sworn that this was the very thing he was called to do, but things had turned out so differently and dire: could he have been wrong?

Christ responds neither yes nor no but pointing out the work of God. The Lame walk. The blind see. The Gospel is being preached.

The next historical note we have about John is that he’s beheaded at a party for a cruel mother and her daughter. (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9).

You see, Christ explains, John wasn’t merely some spectacle in soft clothes out in the wild—some oddity to ogle. This John was God’s prophet: the very Elijah who was supposed to come (if they would have had him) before the end of the age: the one who prepared the way of the coming of the Lord Himself. This John, in prison who eventually died of beheading, was the greatest of the prophets (Matt 11:11a).

Without a miracle. Without a sign. With a backwater ministry in the Jewish outback. John functioned where he was supposed to function doing what all the prophets before him did, but better. Point to Christ.

Every single prophet in the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ via the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes fuzzily. Sometimes explicitly. But always predicated upon God’s revelation and looking forward to God’s distant promises. John alone, out of all the prophets, announced Him within days, inaugurated him via baptism, and witnessed the descending Holy Spirit upon Him. None of the prophets were given that position (Heb 11:39).

But John didn’t see everything. He was still an Old Testament prophet. He didn’t see  the crowds cheering around the one who comes in the name of the Lord (Mark 11:9; John 12). To him wasn’t given the horror of seeing the Messiah rejected and pinned to a tree (John 19). He would never witness the wonder of the risen Messiah (John 20). To him wasn’t given the chance of listening to the risen Lord for several days before he was taken up into heaven (Acts 1). To him wasn’t given the chance of participating in the prophesying in tongues which was a witness of the Holy Spirit being poured out in the last days (Acts 2).

None of those things were given to him; God didn’t grant John that role.

And he knew that at this point.

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Shock and Awe: Observing Fear

In a Philosophy Friday I addressed the question “Did Jesus Fear” where I pointed out that it depends on what we mean by fear. Fear, I noted, isn’t wrong in itself and might actually be necessary for basic living. But I wanted to make a textual observation that I really didn’t have room for in that post (and plus, it detracts from the primary philosophical considerations).

The textual observation is in regards to Hebrews 5:7

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. (NASB)

Personally I think piety (even knowing the definition) is a strange word to use but the NASB has a habit of doing that. The NIV does a better job of getting the idea across by translating it as reverent submission.

The Greek term there (eulabeias) is later translated by the NASB in Heb 12:28 as awe.

What’s interesting is when you look at the KJV family. The KJV translates Heb 5:7 as “because he feared” while Heb 12:28 as “godly fear”. This clues us English readers about the problem with translating words only with their literal meaning.

What does the word eulabeia actually mean? Maybe it is only the good fear like reverence?

Well, that collides with its usage when we see the word being used to mean actually fearing (Acts 23:10) something like moved in Heb 11:7 (although the NASB translates it there as reverence) and in the Septuagint (admittedly, an older Greek) 1 Sam 18:29 the word could mean something like being astounded.

So now you have a word (eulabeia) which could mean reverence and it could mean actual fear. Hrm. Maybe we can differentiate it by looking at one of the other words for fear: phobos?

The Bible is choc-full of references with this word but the problem of literal meaning comes up once again. In Matthew 14:26; Rom 13:3; and 1 John 4:18 it means terror or fear but sometimes it could mean reverence, respect, or honor (1 Pet 1:17; 1 Peter 3:2; Rom 13:7; 2 Corinthians 5:11).

Indeed phobos, in some cases seems to mean that terror-sort-of-fear but in (strangely enough) a positive sense (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:5; Phil. 2:12).

This is all to conclude that textually, you can’t decide on a position merely because of the words being used. The words can mean something differently in different contexts and within those contexts is where you find the proper breeding ground for this or that position. Mind you, this isn’t to say you can embrace whatever you want. Just because the words have a range of meaning doesn’t imply that you can pick or choose from whatever you want within that range.

In this case a simplistic answer of “No.” or “Yes.” To the question “Did Jesus fear” doesn’t do justice to the words themselves, but it also doesn’t do justice to the text since it doesn’t adress all the complexities involved within the text.

It winds up being primarily a philosophical question (as I pointed out in that other post) based on the implications of the theology of the hypostatic union—which is exceedingly Biblical.


Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 2: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament

Lust, J., Eynikel, E., & Hauspie, K. (2003). A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint

Newman, B. M. (1993). A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament

Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : Updated edition.

Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary : New Testament

 

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Philosophy Fridays: What’s The Point?

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll muse upon the road of good intentions—no, not hell.

I’ve seen this in plenty of discussions in an area where there’s vast disagreement: “yes, that’s important but it’s not the main point”. What the person is wanting to do is point out that although the details of whatever is the subject are present, they are not as important—or perhaps even subsumed—underneath the main purpose of whatever X subject is. Or, more succinctly, they want people to stop getting lost in the details but focus on the overall picture.

So if we were examining what this hammer is for, we might wind up with two sides (though you can easily envision more): generally speaking, one side explaining the parts of the hammer and the other side explaining the essence of the hammer.

“Yes,” says the Essence “those details are important but they aren’t what a hammer is for!” Basically, they’re looking at the purpose of hammer to define its hammerness.  Though, it might just be that the idea of “hammer” that we have isn’t because there is some essential thing about hammers (like for banging nails into beams)—it may just be that the things that cause a hammer to be a hammer are just as important to the intentions of needing a hammer.

On the other hand, an individual saying what necessitates a hammer is such and such parts also falls short. After all, can’t you use a hammer to dig up weds? Doesn’t that mean that the pieces of a hammer are just as important as its purpose and actual usage? Hammers exists not only because of the parts (handle, head) but because of what it is to do (bang into things) and because it is used as such (someone, somewhere hammers things).

But what if a person rejected the details in favor of the purpose: what makes a hammer a hammer is purely the intentionality. In that case you lose any distinction from hammers and bats. They are surely different objects but they can both be used for the same things, even if poorly. And then we shouldn’t really add an idea of maximal intentionality because you can always conceive of a better, less-flawed, better striking hammer.

What this all winds up meaning is that the details to what makes a hammer a hammer are just as important as the purpose of the hammer behind the hammer. Maybe it’s all obvious when studying insects like ladybugs or clownfish, but you have to wonder if it changes when you look at other things—like text.

The modern mind might say yes, it does change (though the postmodern mind will expand on that). It doesn’t matter so much what the text says as long as we understand the purpose of the text (or the intent of the author). So if we know that the purpose of this letter is to attract that girl, then the way the writer describes things are important but are defrayed by the intentionality.

But is that right? You arrive at the purpose by means of the details of the text and in conjunction with the intentionality of the author. Postmodernism would point out that the text is void of author intentionality (they’re not often labeled Love Letter) and now is coupled with reader-intentionality but even with the different lenses, the details of the text are connected to intent.

In the end, what one should conclude—after some philosophical wrestling—is that purpose, or intentionality, doesn’t preclude the points used to arrive there; if anything the points combine as a means and the very fabric of intent but can’t really exist apart from it. This is much more than symbiotic: it is necessary.

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When Is A Door Not A Door?

The other day, my buddy Keith Keyser sent me a link to an article by James Hamilton Jr., an associate professor at Southern Baptist Seminary whereby Hamilton lays down what he sees are the logical ends of adhering to dynamic equivalence theory (going forward I’ll refer to it as functional equivalence) when it comes to Bible Translations. In the end, he says, the translator has decided to translate what he thinks the author means over against the words the author uses. His main examples were grounded on the “glory” language of the Gospel according to John and the importance of retaining that sort of thing. His closing thoughts are that if one doesn’t know the original languages then one should stick to a formal equivalence translation.

I’m torn because I’m a bilingual Hispanic American.

Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand English. I do. The thing is, because I understand both languages, I understand the fundamental problems in adhering to solely a formal equivalent translating theory. But before I get to that I need to explain the problem strictly within the confines of the English language.

Another buddy of mine, Dan, was doing a word study on the term “light” and noted how the word is used in English. Dan realized that he couldn’t really pin down the meaning of the word light.  It can literally mean an electromagnetic radiation that travels in a vacuum at the speed of 300,000km per second and it can literally mean not-heavy. It can just as easily mean something that informs (shed some light on the problem), public knowledge (bringing something to light), or an igniting flame (hey bud, you got a light?)

Dan stumbled across the first obstacle of translation which I’d expand on by saying that the word “light” has no singular literal meaning.

How do you translate light into Spanish? You can’t just translate it luz because you don’t really know which meaning of “light” you’re applying. This is invariably a problem with Google Translator. Type in a single word, and it’ll give you a meaning. Change the sentence and watch the words change. What you need is a context. So if the sentence the word “light” resides in is “turn on the light” then you can translate it to luz. But if the context is “Wow, this baby is very light” you can’t translate it to luz. You would either use the word ligero or the phrase de poco peso (which means of little weight).

But even then, you have to be careful. The receptor language (the language that is receiving the words that are being communicated, in this case Spanish is receiving the translation of the English words) might have a semantic range on words that can cause very strange meanings. For example, in the right context luz means to give birth. So you can have the phrase “Give light” be translated to Dar luz and the phrase “Give birth” be translated “Dar a luz”.

This is another major problem that plagues a formal equivalent translation. Indeed, you don’t even know when words change. So a word in the original language might perfectly translate to “gay” in 1611 but today it causes snickers and you have to use the word “happy” or “cheerful”.

Problems multiply exponentially when you employ idioms or euphemisms.  I remember my father translating for an American English speaker who used the words “That’s totally cool”. My father couldn’t translate it to the literal words because it wouldn’t convey the same meaning at all: something like “that is thoroughly frigid.” So my father used an Hispanic idiom that conveys the same idea but literally has problems if it was coming back to English: “onda max” which literally means “deep wave or depth””.

And forget other idioms like “who let the cat out of the bag” or “he that pisses against the wall.” (the literal translation of a  phrase in 1 Kings 16:11 but which not even the NASB—an exceedingly literal translation—nor the Darby version, translates literally!)

What you quickly discover that if you’re doing any translation, you’re trying to convey what the text means in the original language and you can’t even consistently do that solely with a formal equivalent theory. Of course, a person can then swing completely the other way and decide that because what’s maximally important is the meaning, then the original words don’t matter—and that would be a mistake. Not only because the original words are inspired, but because you’ve stepped into a minefield of trying to clear up specific ambiguities.

For example, going back to our light problem, let’s say you have a guru who purposefully speaks about light shining in darkness, the effects of light to the darkness and how his message is light and that we who don’t come to terms with the message are blind and in the dark. If you translated what the guru was saying by means of explaining what he is saying, you’ve lost the ambiguity the guru was putting forward as well as the very colorful metaphor. What translators tend to do in this case, is keep the words (the form) while trying to convey what the words are doing (the function).

But then, the ambiguity goes even further when you realize that Greek and Spanish, unlike English, can insert gender into nouns and specify the action source within a verb. So while in English we use the word “I” or “You” or “They” for the object of a verb (I say; you say; they say), Spanish just conjugates the verb (to say: decir) with the right form (I say: digo; You say: dice; They say: dicen). English allows you to know that the subject is male or female (he or she) until it’s either personal or more than one: then you don’t have a clue. So if it’s a group of women speaking, you’ll say “they say” but in Spanish we’d add ellas which indicates group of women.

In Koine Greek (the Greek of the New Testament), you can conjugate the verb (lego: I say; legeis: you say; legousin: they say) but you have no clue about the sex unless you have other words (like nouns) which have the gender inserted. In Spanish we sometimes add an –a in the back of the noun to indicate feminine and an –o to indicate masculine but that in no way indicates the object is either feminine or masculine. Los vecinos at the puerta are masculine neighbors at the feminine door but you might just discover that it’s a mixed gender group and your door is totally sexless: a few more sentences and we’ll slam right into the gender neutral language of the TNIV and the NIV 2011!

So what do we do with all this?

Well, I definitely don’t think this means we should be chucking our formal equivalent versions and all purchasing an NIV 2011. Nor do I think that we should follow Hamilton in sticking only with a formal equivalent Bible. I think we should be trying to learn the original languages (they’re so rich after all) but I also think that we live in a very productive day and age with a fine amount of scholarship behind various translations.

The best, I think, is to employ multiple versions and consistently use them all in your studies. If I were to offer a recommendation, I’d say: NASB (formal), ESV (formal with better English) HCSB (mediating with delicious English), NET (mediating with delicious notes), NIV (functional), NLT (functional) and MSG (purely functiona and that links to the audio versionl). I’d make one of the first three my main Bible (mine is the NASB) and I’d check across the others. The MSG wouldn’t be so much for checking, but for seeing how meaning can be conveyed. I’d recommend Gordon Fee’s How To Choose A Translation but with the caveat that he unnecessarily comes down hard on formal equivalent versions.

Oh, and when is a door not a door? When it’s ajar. Yup, I didn’t mention puns, poetry, or plays on words either!

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Philosophy Fridays: Libertarian Free Will

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on about some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I want to talk about Libertarian Free Will in 700 words.

To explain Libertarianism, I have to talk about the other types of Free Will. I think it’s helpful to note that modern Calvinists (I call them Edwardsians since they really follow his philosophical views on Free Will) completely pigeon hole Libertarian Free Will so that they can tackle it. They say things like “Libertarians believe that Free Will is the power of contrary choice” then easily dismantle that position by showing that sometimes we can’t make another choice.

That’s wrong though. The whole debate actually circles around three major spheres of thought.

Sphere (B-Blue) says that some Human actions are free. This doesn’t necessitate that all human actions are free (imagine being told what to do by gunpoint for instance) but it does support that at least some of their actions are free.

Sphere (R-Red) is that all human actions are causally determined by stuff humans have no causal control over. For instance, you may be reading in English because you were born in an English speaking family in a time that is predominantly English. You have no causal control over reading in English but you do read in English. That might be a bad example since being in an English speaking family doesn’t causally determine that you’ll read in English. Heck, you might be born blind so it really didn’t causally determine your reading English. Probably something closer to it would be that any event has some previous event that makes the current event necessary. So the fact you can’t fly isn’t because you chose not to fly, but because nature has causally determined that you aren’t equipped to fly.

Sphere (Y-Yellow) is that it is impossible that humans are free if their actions are causally determined. This sphere just says that whatever is happening in Sphere (B) it is incompatible with Sphere (R).

Now where any two of these Spheres are affirmed the remaining third is denied. So you’ll have Sphere-R and Sphere-B being affirmed but that is a denial of Sphere-Y. This overlap (Purple) is called compatibalism: they think some human actions are free but all human actions are causally determined. Compatibalism is affirmed by a wide group of views: hard compatibalists, soft compatibalits, and fatalists are just a few of them. These views aren’t all the same, but they’re part of the same family.

Overlapping Sphere-R and Sphere-Y would give you a family called determinism that has widely held views such as hard-determinism, soft-determinism, biological , etc. They don’t see any human actions as free.

Then you have the last pair, a joining of Sphere-Y and Sphere-B over against Sphere-R and this is called libertarianism. In this family of views you would have hard-libertarians, soft-libertarians, randomness and so on.

If you note the chart, “power of contrary choice” might go under the Libertarian family—but it doesn’t necessarily account for the entire family. Someone can believe that everything is random and not give a fig about contrary choice and still fall under the Libertarian family. Furthermore, someone can affirm that “Some human actions are not-free”. Like jumping off a bridge then changing your mind (ie: you no longer have the free will to change the fact that you’re falling) and remain a Libertarian.

You can’t, therefore, tackle the Green area by saying it affirms contrary-choice. What you need to establish is that Free will is actually compatible with causal determination and denying and actual fundamental sphere of Libertarianism.

Unfortunately, since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve gone over my limit to explain this.

I owe the simplicity of thought here to Thomas Flint and Kenneth Keathley.

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Should Christians Rejoice Over The Death of the Wicked?

After some (long) time of hunting, the American special forces have successfully found and killed Osama Bin Laden, fulfilling the mission that was implemented under the command of President Bush. As President Obama echoed the words of said president, the American resolve remained united, and an enemy was stopped. And with the preparation for the announcement came a wave of rejoicing: “Ding Dong, Osama’s dead” and “Obama got Osama” and “Thank God, Osama’s dead!”

In all this, an ethical question arises: should a Christian rejoice in the death of an enemy?

In this article I will argue that not only is it fine for a Christian to rejoice, but also it should be done—though not done in the gruesome way that I have seen it being done. I think it would also be helpful if the reader references my examination of an imprecatory Psalm (that is, when the Psalmist prays for the destruction of his enemies) and the post on Christian and Curses and my post on the image of God.

This article will be divided into four major sections: (1) Where Rejoicing is Wrong; (2) Where Rejoicing is Right; (3) Where Theology Meets Practice;  and (4) Conclusion. The first three major sections will each have a summarizing point to help the skimmers but I strongly encourage reading through them and the cited verses.

Where Rejoicing Is Wrong.
It must be frankly admitted that there is a reason why Christians struggle with this. We do have explicit passages that speak into this matter of rejoicing over the fall of an enemy. Proverbs 24:17-18 says:

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; or the Lord will see and be displeased and turn His anger away from him.”

And the passage echoes other passages. Job, for instance, sees himself as righteous because he hasn’t rejoiced at the death of his enemies (Job 31:29). Or when we see the wicked doing it, we automatically know it isn’t right (Judges 16:25; 2Sa 16:5-6; Psalm 35:13-15; 42:10;  Micah 7:8).

Indeed, the Proverbs go on to be careful with gloating at all over disaster (Proverbs 17:5) and call for the righteous to care for their enemies—to clothe them and feed them (Prov 25:21) something our Lord Himself says (Lev 19:17–18; Matt 5:44) and which Paul repeats (Rom 12:14).

This whole idea of not rejoicing for the wicked is evidenced when God says (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11)

“As surely as I live,” declares the Lord God, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, oh house of Israel?”

God would rather the people repent. Peter echoes this idea when he looks back and sees that God’s forbearance is the only reason people haven’t been wiped out (2 Peter 3:9)

Section 1 Summarizing Point: Obviously we see that rejoicing over the death of “my” enemy is wrong. It seems to indicate that the personal tramping on an individual’s enemy is not something that is applauded. We see that although God judges the wicked, he’s not happy about it but rather patient, affording time so that they may repent.

 

Where Rejoicing Is Right.
Now there are also plenty of passages which are overlooked. For example, Proverbs 11:10 says

When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; they shout for joy when the wicked die

The Proverb seems to be working with the antithesis of what happens when the wicked are in charge. When they’re in charge the righteous groan and are oppressed (Prov 11:11; 28:12; 29:2,11 )

Indeed, this idea isn’t foreign to the rest of Scripture either.  For example we have in Psalm 58:10 this idea of the people corporately rejoicing in the death of their enemies

The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.

This bathing their feet in blood (battlefield imagery) happens elsewhere in the Psalms in case you’re wondering (Psalm 68:23). And lest we get ideas that this is something that merely happens and isn’t to be applauded, we have Psalm 91:8 making it an expectation, a final shutting up of the wicked (Psalm 107:42) . All of Psalm 52 seems to be an expectation for the righteous to witness the destruction of the wicked.

In Deuteronomy 32:43 we hear this clarion call to corporately rejoice:

Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.

Indeed, Jeremiah prays for it (Jer 11:20; 20:12).

We find the early church citing Psalm 2 as part of their corporate prayers after Peter and John were beaten (Acts 4:23-30) and they request that the Lord stretches out his hand to heal, perform signs and wonders in the name of God’s servant Jesus. This is interesting, because in Psalm 2, the Lord God is laughing at the enemies of his anointed one (Psalm 2:4) because they stand there daring to revolt. When the early Church prays for God to perform wonders, it is recalling the wonders done before Pharaoh: powerful signs that prove that God, the creator of heaven and earth, is in charge.

Upon the destruction of Babylon the Great, we see a calls or the people of God, heaven itself, to rejoice over her destruction (Rev 18:20):

Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has pronounced judgment  against her on your behalf!

This is a call that is taken up elsewhere in the apocalypse (Rev 12:12 ) and obeyed in the Rev 19:1-4 in heaven rejoicing over the destruction of their enemy. It’s not the first time that there is singing in heaven as we see in Rev 15:3 the people singing the song of Moses.

Which immediately recalls two songs from the day of Moses. The song of Moses from Deuteronomy 32where we have clauses of God defeating Israel’s enemies, and the Song of Moses and the Israelites from Exodus 15 where Moses and the people sing and rejoice because the Lord has destroyed their enemies. It wouldn’t be the last time where the people of Israel rejoice over the death of their enemies (Esther 8:15;  2 Kings 11:20 )

Section 2 summarizing point: We can either conclude that there is a contradiction, or that the rejoicing in these passages is distinctly different from the rejoicing in the previous section. I think that the verses here reflect that, since it isn’t an individual rejoicing against his or her enemy, but an individual joining the corporate rejoicing against their corporate enemy. Rejoicing in this sense is apparently justified and expected. They also reflect that although God is not willing that the wicked perish, he does have the wicked perish and he expects his people to be happy about his activity.

 

Where Theology Meets Practice
I think we Protestants suffer from a very deistic view of reality, something that I applaud the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics for properly addressing (even if they fall short on much). Reality, say the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, is not a two-tier house where you have This Physical Realm and then, the second floor with That Spiritual Realm. Reality is more like one floor where the spiritual and the physical co-exist. Now, they take this to a whole ‘nuther realm by having prayer for the dead and praying to God through icons—which all is wrong—but they make a good point. A point that the Psalter repeatedly makes: justice is not merely the purview of That Spiritual Realm. The Justice of God definitively begins here, in This Physical Realm because it is all (yes, all) God’s reality.

So you’ll have Paul looking at sinful humans acting in accordance with their lusts and saying that the wrath of God is (currently) evident (Romans 1). Or you’ll have Paul warning believers to obey their governing body because it is God’s instrument and it properly carries the sword of wrath against injustice (Romans 13).

And when you have judgment poured out against Israel via the Assyrians or the Babylonians, we find that God is speaking saying that this is his judgment—a foreign people attacking the Israelites like a wielded axe. These foreigners are an instrument in his hand for wrath. So you’ll have the entire book of Hosea speaking about the righteous surviving God’s wrath not so much in some future spiritual realm but right then, holding on to the Lord’s salvation.

The idea of God’s justice is something that results not only in Angels chanting, or people rejoicing, but the very physical creation yearns for it (Romans 8) and rejoices when it happens. So you’ll see a great pairing of Psalms, with one calling for the Lord to stamp down the wicked (Psalm 94), the Psalmist depending on the Lord to do it, and then (Psalm 95 and 96) the mountains and oceans rejoicing when it does happen.

Of course, a point that I made in a previous post still stands: that when imprecation is leveled against the Psalmists’ enemies, it is almost always coupled with self-examination. The reason is that justice is a thematic thread throughout the Psalter—and all of Scripture. There is a constant expectation for the balancing of scales; but when it happens in the Now, there is rejoicing: something that the section up above reflected quite concisely.

You’ll see God saying things like Ezekiel 18:32 where he doesn’t rejoice in the death of anyone—and yet he still has people die and be punished because he judges the earth (Psalm 58:11). We hear Lamentations 3:33 where he doesn’t willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of Men and we have the entire book of Job where God was willing to bring affliction to a child of men.

The problem then becomes one of applying theology to our practical situation. Some Christians take Section 1 Passages and ignore Section 2 Passages, or worse, relegate Section 2 passages to some later day. They forget that the call in the book of Proverbs, is not one so much of law (which we Christians tend to gravitate toward—check out my article on the Pearl Method) but one for wisdom. This is why you have apparently contradictory Proverbs back to back (Prov 26:4-5) and contradictory Proverbs separated by space (Prov 11:10; 24:17). It calls for some serious wisdom on when to implement one over the other; and quite frankly it is sometimes just impossible. The nature of wisdom literature is to paint two extremes so as to reflect on the differences. It is either Lady Wisdom or Harlot Foolishness. It is either Life or it is death.

So when you read Proverbs 21:15

When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.

It’s not a command, nor is it something that will definitely happen, but it paints a picture of the evildoers position against justice being done.

And when you read Proverbs 24:19-20

Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked; for there will be no future for the evil man; the lamp of the wicked will be put out

It might be read as a promise, but it should properly refer to the activity of the wise man in relation to the wave of wickedness.

Summarizing Point: Putting our theology to practice consists of a Biblical robustness that necessarily reaches beyond mere proof-texting. We can’t merely go with the romanticized internal feelings of something not feeling right, or with the rationalistic mentality of something looking like what evil people do. We need to examine a large swath of passages and see how they correlate and a wide variety of circumstances thus allowing God to say what God wishes to be said. God is supreme, and He is judge, and the Kingdoms of the World, when they do right, do right according to His will and should be applauded for that. When they do wrong, even if it is in accordance to his plans, they always are blamed because they willingly did wrong.

 

Concluding Points.
So we have passages that speak of individuals not rejoicing over the death of their personal enemies and passages speaking of corporate rejoicing over the death of their corporate enemies. We have an understanding that God judges in the future, but that we see his judgment and justice sometimes right now in the present—and that rejoicing is expected in these situations. But at this point we have to make some mental ties while avoiding extremes.

  1. One extreme is to become holier than God. Since the sinner has been punished, we should weep and pray for his soul or some such thing. It is appointed for man to die—and if his life is cut off via judgment of his instrument. It is in this world that God has cut the man off to introduce him to judgment. End of opportunity for repentance. A decision has been made. If it happens in the house of God with certain sins, suggests John, what makes us think that the God who even numbers the hairs on heads doesn’t act this way in reality? All of Scripture tells us he does (re-read the book of Daniel for instance). Trying to be holier than God is ultimately idolatrous. God judged, we must agree that He has done right, and we should be happy about that.
  2. Another extreme is to become holier than other believers in not-rejoicing. Christians are told to weep with the mourners and rejoice with the rejoicers but it also tells us to be careful when we do either. If there is a legitimate time for mourning, it is actually wrong to look at fellow tear-shedders as doing something morally wrong.  Christians should be incredibly leery of merely finding a proof-text to justify judgment of fellow believers when there is a very deep theological grid-work underlying all of it.
  3. And yet another extreme is to revel in rejoicing. We’re believers who have been called to live where we are (1 Cor 7) but that doesn’t mean that we are to be carried away in the actions and activity of the world around us. John tells us that the World System is antithetical to the Christian even while Paul tells us that the World’s Systems have been established by God. To do (horrid) things like raising a decapitated head of one’s enemies is just really missing the point of both the image of God and God’s own justice.

All of this tells me that when the enemy of the People is judged by God, cut off, and justice is served: the Lord has done right; the people should rejoice. Just like the Song of Moses rejoices in the cutting off of enemies, there is a rejoicing that should go hand in hand with justice being served. It is not to be avoided merely on the grounds that the Wicked also rejoice in wrongdoing—that just means that they have perverted something that is proper and right.

It might be a sticker situation deciding Who Are The Wicked and Who Aren’t The Wicked but that goes beyond the boundaries of it being okay or not to rejoice. I think that Hitler was obviously “The Wicked” even if the people being killed were sinners. I think that Stalin was obviously “The Wicked” even if the people being killed were unrighteous. In each of those cases, the unrighteous become “The Innocent” that can rightly bring a charge against “The Wicked” and demand a balancing of the scales. In both cases, I think it is right for the people to rejoice over the death of the wicked, but not in some horridly gruesome way (like banners with decapitated heads).

Justice, which belongs to God, triumphed and we should rejoice in that. It happened in time, right now, and that is a foretaste of a future balancing of scales where the God of heaven surely does right and every mouth is shut. We shouldn’t look down on fellow Christians that are rejoicing, but we also shouldn’t become bloodthirsty in our rejoicing.

We should, I think, act wisely in even this and realize that a robust theological foundation is much broader and all-encompassing than a mere proof-text or a blanket statement. One day, we will definitely rejoice when every knee bows, by hook or by crook, to the seated and reigning King—but in the present we can rejoice when we get a foretaste of a government that functions correctly.

Now, what about Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden: should we rejoice that justice has been served against these men? Yes, I think we should. We shouldn’t be morbidly happy about it, but we should say that a government has properly used it’s God-given sword and be happy about that. We shouldn’t be morbidly happy with gruesome depictions of the dead, but we should stand with those who mourned and say “Yes, God’s arm can be seen in this.”

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Teaching Children The Gospel and Moral Responsibility

I have several posts about teaching children doctrine (here about the image of God and here about the meaning of the mistreatment of God’s image and here some messages). Each example is used to give the fundamental Biblical and theological point without all the extra stuff that you or I might believe–by that I mean interpretative conclusions that have very little bearing on the fundamental truth of the Doctrine.

Anyway, I wanted to post about something that came up in Summer Camp last year which doesn’t only apply to Summer Camp.

First some context: this is a camp that has children from eight to fifteen (?) as campers and Junior Counselors In Training (JCITS) starting at around seventeen (sixteen?). So it’s a pretty broad range of kids–all boys. In an effort at hitting all the kids with some straight up Biblical teaching, the directors have decided to have several teaching sessions that are comprised of the entire group. So you’ll have a teaching session in the morning, one in the evening, and some days another in the afternoon focused on how to study or something like that.

BUT. Even with this context, this is not the first time I’ve witnessed the following problem.

The Problem:
After reading the context, at least some of the problems might be obvious to the reader but I want to make it clear what each individual teacher is concerned about: that the older saved Christian boys live moral lives and that those who aren’t believers are saved. So each teacher is concerned enough to make sure the Gospel is in each lesson coupled with a call for moral living. It’s a proper concern.

The first problem, the one I think most would pick up on, is that understanding range is too broad. You can’t possibly warn the fifteen year olds with their moral activity without exposing the young with unnecessary information; and it is exceedingly difficult to speak to the young in such a way that the teens will tune in, sift the points, and apply to themselves.

The second problem is that most of the teachers were not ready. There were maybe two (and not even the main speaker) who had a history of dealing with a broad age range.

The third problem is the teachers’ understanding of what the Gospel is accomplishing. People usually have a habit of divide these two teaching targets (pre-Gospel and post-Gospel) because they rightly know that there is a difference but incorrectly assume the difference is one between Salvation and Sanctification that must be dealt with differently. These teachers generally did the same.

Let me give you an example to make it clear. At one of the sessions, one of the preachers was speaking about the necessity of believing Christ and what He did and confessing Him as savior and being at peac with God. Further down the talk, the teacher quoted 1 Corinthians 15:33 about the necessity of having the right friends. Then he did something horrifying: he pointed out what happens if we have the wrong friends that we turn to God and are rejecting him and his ways we have no more peace.

Now mind you, in the speaker’s mind he had clearly delineated salvation (believing the Gospel) and sanctification (the daily walk) and he was no longer talking about salvation (you must believe to get peace) but requesting believers to keep trusting Christ in their daily behavior else the relationship is strained (lacking peace). My problem is not so much with the theology (though, yes, I have a problem with it) but with the connection of thought that makes this lesson necessary and thus throws the non-Christianized else into a tailspin.

One of my campers wondered if being friends with people who aren’t Christians would make you not go to heaven.  Mind you, my campers were nine and ten so the question likely passed in and out of their mind even though I quickly addressed it to the entire cabin.

The Solution:
On the practical level to the first problem, I think that the age groups need to be divided. Maybe eight to eleven year olds go in one building and the rest go into the other. This way you can really speak at their level and not be worried about missing part of the target audience

As to the second problem, effectively speaking to a mixed crowd is something that takes many long hours of dealing with that problem under guidance and shouldn’t be relegated to a week (or two if you’re lucky) in a camp where kids might come through once. For young kids, get an older experienced guy to teach them. For the teens, the younger guys are fine. The exception is if these younger teachers have been working, under guidance, with kids. I frankly don’t understand why it’s all the rage to get hip-young teachers for little kids when what little kids need (and want, though they don’t say it) is an older, confident, knowledgeable adult.

And the solution to the third problem is this: Preach the Gospel! Stop trying to preach about getting the right friends or the importance of bible study or the need to fight the world. Look, those things are important but you have one week so why waste an hour on them when the Gospel is infinitely more important.

But furthermore, the Gospel is the solution. Clever solutions about “Life after we’re saved” are wrongheaded.  The Gospel is not something that we must get beyond to figure out what we must do now in this time After The Gospel. The Gospel is not merely the door to salvation, it is the fundamental aspect of our theology. Christ, demanding moral living, tells his disciples to crucify their own lives daily or to take up their cross and follow him to Calvary. Paul, speaking about the necessity to stop sin in our members reminds believers that they have died in Christ and have risen again to walk in newness of life. This is based on a Christian-life long theology that Paul (and anyone who believes) has been crucified in Christ and yet lives: therefore it is Christ living in me. When noting the moral problems in a Church at Corinth, Paul doesn’t help them out by offering moral platitudes: it is a constant call to return to the Gospel. Get the leaven out of your house because we’re living in a perpetual feast of Unleavened Bread! Don’t eat meats offered to idols because we are partakes of the Body of Christ! Don’t divorce because we’ve been called and saved where we are! Don’t’ divide because we have trusted God’s Gospel of Stupidity which empties our wisdom.

Indeed, that bit where Paul speaks about friends is a sidebar after he said something stupid: if Christ hasn’t been resurrected (which is fundamental to the Gospel) then we might as well eat and drink because tomorrow we die. Then he quickly jumps in: don’t listen to that stupidity–and quotes a platitude in passing to slap some sense into these silly ADULTS.

Children can get the Gospel. They get it by the droves. What they also need to get is what the Gospel means to them. That although they are kids, they are children of a new family that looks like Christ.

Teens can get the Gospel too. That although they are teens, they can actually look at God and say DAD! That although they struggle from day to day, the ruler of this world has been robbed of his power. That Christ reigns, right now, seated in heavenly places and they are seated with him–and therefore they must look like the young Kings they are.

And so on. The Gospel should not be taken lightly and we must always go back to it. So, Camp staff, if you want to teach kids remember: target your speaking to the age group, keep it simple by not conflating your message, and there’s no such thing as Beyond The Gospel by dealing with moral do’s and do-not’s. We won’t get beyond The Gospel in eternity, so why do it now?

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