Category Archives: Faith

Christian Poems IX: Hopkins, Herbert, Milton

Dry roots (photo by costi, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/957763).

Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavor end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me?  Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare house more thrive than I that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause.  See, banks and brakes
Now, leaved how thick! laced they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes

Them; birds build–but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, sen my roots rain.

In The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, WH Gardner and NH MacKenzie, ed.s (Oxford Univ Press 1967), 106-107.

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Denial

By George Herbert

[Note:  The original poem has various justifications that could not be reproduced here, which does take away from the poem a bit, in my view, so the reader may want to find a printed version of this.]

When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears;
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;
My breast was full of fears,
And disorder.

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasure go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

As good go anywhere, they say
As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come,
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! all day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung;
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung
Discontented.

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favours granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

In A Book of Religious Verse, H Gardner, ed. (Oxford Univ Press 1972), 124-125.

___________

When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

By John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith My Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I [foolishly] ask; but Patience to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.  His state

Is kingly.  Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

In The One Year Book of Poetry, P Comfort and D Partner, ed.s (Tyndale House Pub.s 1999), May 16 page.

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Couldn’t have said it Better: Christians persecuted throughout the world

Western media generally ignores Christian persecution (photo by baikahl, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/250630).

There is now a high risk that the Churches will all but vanish from their biblical heartlands in the Middle East.

Wow.  I just wanted to share this article (below, in part) because I certainly couldn’t have said all that better myself.  I’ve been bad about not posting persecution updates, and it is partly due to the fact that the persecution is just so persistent and depressing.  The killing, maiming, threatening, imprisoning, etc., of Christians goes on everyday in just so many places, that I pray generally for my persecuted brothers and sisters.  It’s a tough one.  Jesus told us we’d be persecuted, so it’s natural to the faith; we are told to take joy in it, since the persecutors are really persecuting Jesus – it’s an acknowledgment of the truth of our faith and of the truth about God.  Still, it’s sad and horrible on an emotional level, and we are to pray without ceasing . . .

Here is the first part of the article by Rupert Shortt, as published in The Telegraph yesterday.  Please click on the link that follows it to read the rest of the article.

Imagine the unspeakable fury that would erupt across the Islamic world if a Christian-led government in Khartoum had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese Muslims over the past 30 years. Or if Christian gunmen were firebombing mosques in Iraq during Friday prayers. Or if Muslim girls in Indonesia had been abducted and beheaded on their way to school, because of their faith.

Such horrors are barely thinkable, of course. But they have all occurred in reverse, with Christians falling victim to Islamist aggression. Only two days ago, a suicide bomber crashed a jeep laden with explosives into a packed Catholic church in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 100. The tragedy bore the imprint of numerous similar attacks by Boko Haram (which roughly translates as “Western education is sinful”), an exceptionally bloodthirsty militant group.

Other notable trouble spots include Egypt, where 600,000 Copts – more than the entire population of Manchester – have emigrated since the 1980s in the face of harassment or outright oppression.

Why is such a huge scourge chronically under-reported in the West? One result of this oversight is that the often inflated sense of victimhood felt by many Muslims has festered unchallenged. Take the fallout of last month’s protests around the world against the American film about the Prophet Mohammed. While most of the debate centred on the rule of law and the limits of free speech, almost nothing was said about how much more routinely Islamists insult Christians, almost always getting away with their provocations scot-free.

Help or pray for girl who lost mom, part of leg, then dad . . .

I wish I could write more about Jackie Angeles and her family, but information is pretty minimal.  Two very short articles about her are provided below, but basically, this 11 year old girl has been through a great deal for her young age, especially for someone living in the U.S.  She had lost her mother quite some time ago, but then she got bone cancer and much of one leg was amputated.  Because of this, she missed a great deal of schooling.  Then just recently, her dad died in his sleep – while waiting for a kidney transplant.

Jackie didn’t stay at home with relatives after her father’s death, but went right back to school.  She’s an inspiration to those around her.  She has a brother but he is hardly mentioned, so I don’t know how he is handling all of this (he may be an adult).  Please pray for Jackie and her brother, and if you feel led to donate any money to a fund for Jackie, the location of the fund is:  Orange County’s Credit Union, PO Box 11777, Santa Ana, CA 92711, Account #92603984, Routing #322281989.  Write the check to Jacqueline Angeles.

When something like this happens, it makes me wonder if the people had lived in an area where something existed that caused all these cancers and bodily failures.  It seems like more than coincidence that cancers (I do not know why Jackie’s father needed a new kidney) like this should effect so many people in the same family.  In any case, I pray that the Lord draw Jackie to Himself, keep her, and that He bless her desire to become a doctor.

Girl Fights Cancer, Heartache With a Smile

Girl Loses Father Suddenly after Leg Amputation, Losing Mother

 

C.S. Lewis’s Conversions: Atheist to Theist, Theist to Christian

Rare early picture of CS Lewis, on the cover of “All My Road Before Me” — from his early and agnostic or atheistic days.A Christian Conversion Experience:  C.S. Lewis

Contemporary apologetics so often focus on the issues of biblical reliability and understanding in relation to science, and on the question of evil, as these are the currently contested concerns.  One apologetic that points towards the existence of God, however, is one that is generally not “scientific” enough, and that is a changed life.  Not a temporary change, which can indicate a simple excitement of a person’s will, but a permanent change evidenced by the long term.   So let’s look at the conversion experience of a well-known person, C.S. (Jack) Lewis.  Lewis was an Oxford and Cambridge Professor (English and Philosophy) and the well-known author of both fictional works like The Chronicles of Narnia and of highly valued scholarly works.

To anyone who comes in contact with atheistic thought, what Lewis wrote to his best friend in 1916 (below) will seem quite familiar.  What made him come to that conclusion, and what made him change his mind?

“I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.  All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention” (Hooper p. 9).

Lewis, or Jack, was brilliant from early age, having been tutored at home until he was nine, when his mother died.  As if this great sorrow was not enough, Lewis’ dad sent him away to school, from their home in Ireland to England.  Lewis’ older brother, Warnie, attended the very small school with him, but Jack hated it, and with good reason.  The headmaster, a Reverend, was abusive and eventually deemed insane.  At his next school, Lewis experienced an occultist head matron.

One can see the progression of Lewis’ road to apostasy from his parents’ Anglican faith:  God did not heal his mother, one school leader was a cruel and crazy believer, and the other was a non-believing occultist.  By the time Lewis attended his third school, he was an atheist.  Hating this school as well, Lewis’ father sent him to learn under a distinguished tutor, who happened to be an atheist also.  Lewis was superb at languages and translating.  As his tutor wrote, Jack had “a sort of genius for translating . . . .  He is the most brilliant translator of Greek plays I have ever met” (Gromley p. 36).

He went on to learn and teach at Oxford, with WWI service (and related injury and recovery) sandwiched in.  After the war he lived with his adopted family, a much older atheist woman and her daughter.

So what would cause Lewis to stray from his atheism?  A couple of strongly held ideas played their parts.  One was the concept and experience of what Lewis termed “joy” – a pang of intense bliss and longing, followed by a strong desire to experience it again.  The other was his concern, from an early age, that if Christianity were true it could be shown that paganism prefigured it, or that Christianity fulfilled paganism.  Indeed, Lewis felt his pangs of “joy” when reading the northern pagan mythologies that he loved so much.

Jack Lewis wanted to be his own man; he did not want to acknowledge a power or diety that demanded loyalty.  Through the years, however, seeking truth and being drawn to authors and friends who helped him with answers to his search for “joy” as well as his concern over God’s communication with the pagan world, Lewis’ heart and mind opened enough to hear God give him a choice.

“. . . a fact about myself was somehow presented to me.  I became aware that I was holding something at bay, of shutting something out. . . .  I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. . . .  I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. . . .  The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional.  I was moved by no desires or fears.  In a sense I was not moved by anything.  I chose to open . . . .  Then came the repercussion on the imaginative level.  I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt.  The melting was starting in my back – drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle.  I rather disliked the feeling” (Lewis p. 123).

This experience of Lewis’ happened in 1929, and it was “conversion” to belief in God, not in an afterlife or in Jesus Christ.  Lewis still thought that parts of Christianity were a kind of myth, yet he wanted to know the truth and to live truth.  God gave Lewis many nudges, even via an ardent atheist who thought that it really did seem as though God made the pagan myths come true through Jesus Christ.  This atheist’s admission shocked Lewis.  Jack’s good friend J.R.R. Tolkien helped him with this issue, too, as did Hugo Dyson, on a pivotal walk in September 1931:

“Tolkien was convinced that myth, such as the Norse myth of the death of Balder, or the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros, was not the opposite of fact.  These stories were a way of expressing truths deeper than fact. . . .  [Tolkien declared that] not only did the truth in myths come from God, but a writer of myths could be doing God’s work in the world.1 As Tolkien talked, there was a sudden rush of wind out of nowhere, as if to underline the message.  The three men held their breath, feeling the importance of the moment” (Gormley p. 95).

Later that month Lewis had a second, more subtle, conversion experience.

“As I drew near the conclusion, I felt a resistance almost as strong as my previous resistance to Theism. . . .  Every step I had taken, from the Absolute to ‘Spirit’ and from ‘Spirit’ to ‘God,’ had been a step toward the more concrete, the more imminent, the more compulsive.  At each step one had less chance ‘to call one’s soul one’s own.’ . . .  I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken.  I was driven to Whipsnade [Zoo] one sunny morning.  When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.  Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.  Nor in great emotion. . . .  It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake” (Lewis pp. 129-130).

So, finally, Lewis found that myth had become fact (that is, Jesus was “the god that died”) and that the pangs of “joy” had been sign posts to God.

As Lewis had written in Surprised by Joy, “all” is required of a person who acknowledges and worships his maker, and Lewis gave his all.  He is considered to be the greatest apologist of the 20th century, having written Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and more.  In addition, he was a very popular layman preacher in Oxford.  As a “secular” scholar and author, he wrote poetry, the highly regarded “A Preface to Paradise Lost,” The Discarded Image, and others.   Lewis was the president of Oxford’s Socratic Club from 1942-1955; this was a philosophy group that delved into the pros and cons of the Christian faith.

As if the schedule demanded by all that was not enough2 – don’t forget that he taught as well – Lewis was kind enough to answer all his letters (as he became “popular” he had the help of his brother, and then his wife).  He always helped those in need–in a very personal way when the opportunity arose–and in a more general way through significant monetary giving.  His apologetics show a concern and love for the common man, being theological and philosophical explanations open and accessible to all.   Jack’s life was one humanly lived and beautifully lived.

_____________

Notes

  1. Indeed, as probably all of you readers know, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the great “modern myth,” The Lord of the Rings.   It’s likely that many fewer are aware of Lewis’ re-told myth of Psyche and Cupid (or Eros) in Till We Have Faces.
  2. Lewis had a truly unbelievable photographic memory, easily quoting pages from books that someone happened to mention.  This gift was obviously a very great help to his studies, writing, lectures, etc.

____________

Sources

Gormley, Beatrice. C.S. Lewis: Christian and Storyteller. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1998.

Hooper, Wlater. C.S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life & Works. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Lewis, C.S. “Surprised by Joy.” In The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis, by C.S. Lewis, 1-130. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994 (1955).

© Vicki Priest 2012 (this is an edited version of my article at Examiner.com, published 2011)

 

What does God say about employer obligations, worker rights?

Hall-Scott Factory workers, undated (late 1800s to early 1900s; http://theoldmotor.com/?p=18973).
Hall-Scott Factory workers, undated (late 1800s to early 1900s; http://theoldmotor.com/?p=18973).

In the Old Testament, Micah tells Israel, “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  Indeed, chapter six of Micah concerns the Lord’s decision to punish Israel because of its practices that opposed God’s laws and intentions:  Israel was full of those who used dishonest scales, who lied, and who were violent.

Many of God’s OT regulations were meant to protect those in weaker social and economic situations. Psalm 146 is a praise to God who, unlike mortal men, “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (7-9).

These ideals are certainly carried through into the New Testament, where it is emphasized that all are to be treated with respect and as one would like to be treated themselves, and that all persons are equal in God’s sight (Matthew 7:12; Galatians 3:28; 1 Peter 3:8). So what did God command concerning the rights of workers?  What was expected of the employer (or master)?  For one, all persons, including hired people and servants/slaves, were to have the Sabbath day for rest (Deuteronomy 5:14).  Second, workers were to be paid at the end of the day (Leviticus 19:13b; Matthew 20:1-16).  Third, employees are to be treated with gratitude, respect, and good will, as this verse from Ruth 2:4 exemplifies:  “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, ‘The LORD be with you!’ And they answered, ‘The LORD bless you.’”

Verses that continue with this idea, but also provide the reason – that all humans are equal – include Job 31:13-15, Colossians 4:1, and Ephesians 6:9.  For example:  “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (Ephesians 6:9).

God also gave warnings to those who would disobey His will and laws in the employer-employee relationship.  In Malachi He says, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.  I will be a swift witness against . . . those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me” (3:5).  There’s more in Jeremiah:   “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages . . .” (22:13). James did not pull any punches when he wrote:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.   You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you (5:1-6).

Another thing to consider about God’s laws and regulations is that they were more advanced and humane than those of the ancient near eastern societies that surrounded Israel.   Some slaves in Israel were the poor who became too indebted.  Instead of becoming homeless and/or being on various forms of welfare, “Someone would agree to pay their debt for six years (or fewer) of labor. After the time was over, the owner-employer sent them on their way, with funds and good.”

One law made it illegal to return runaway slaves to their masters!  “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master.  Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Laws such as these (and there are more) provided a big incentive for masters to treat all in their household fairly.   In contrast, there is hint about how poor persons were treated elsewhere.

In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the son receives his inheritance from his still-living father and then moves to a far-off country.  He soon finds himself without any money left, “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.   And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (15-16).  If the prodigal were paid every evening, would he be without food?  If he had been even a slave in Israel, would he be without food and shelter? I am not advocating slavery (!) but am pointing out a result of our practice and attitude toward the less successful in our country (the United States): the slaves of Israel were better off than the jobless/homeless in America.

(c) Vicki Priest 2014 [edited on September 1, 2014; previously posted by the author at Examiner.com, in 2011]

The Samaritan Woman

The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and ...
The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, by Giacomo Franceschini, 17-18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of the Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well in the gospel of John, chapter 4, is a good example of two items related to our topic:  what Jesus thought of women and what later interpreters have done with this (you will need to know the story to understand this article, and it can be read here).  Many commentaries you can read today, or pastors whom you can hear, unfoundedly portray the woman at the well in a very negative and biased light, which both degrades and takes away from the full meaning of the event.

For people who focus on belittling others and judging, the woman is seen as a (very big) sinner – apparently one that is worse than they are.  They claim that Jesus was making the woman realize her sin to feel guilty about it, in order to come to salvation – but this goes against at least some theological views about repentance and salvation.  “If repentance is cited as a condition of salvation in terms of feeling sorry for one’s sins, then it is wrong usage of the term” (Enns 342).

There is nothing in the story to actually confirm the view that the woman was “loose,” which could be an explanation for her having had many (five) husbands and current “common law” spouse.  It would seem easier to think this of a woman with such a background today, but how in biblical times?  Women could not divorce.  A man could divorce his wife easily, however.  This woman could have been married to some that died, and some that divorced her.  She could have been divorced for fairly simple things, or for not producing children.

Did this woman come to the well with any of her children?  No.  If she had older children, it would seem that at least one would help her.  If she had no children, she would feel shame for this (one could only imagine how she’d feel if they were taken from her, which was common in divorce, or had died in some way).  Being barren would be shameful for a woman at this time, as much of a woman’s worth was based on her producing children.  If she were barren and divorced, then she would have a very hard time of it in life.  It seems possible that she lived with a man because she simply needed to survive, and for whatever reason (legal or social), the man did not marry her.  All of this could be shameful to the woman, and it could simply be her “lot in life” without her being intentionally immoral.  We don’t know, but all these things are possibilities, and maybe more probable than the hussy theory.

And, it is biased for commentators or pastors not to mention that it would not exactly be righteous for a man to divorce a woman for being barren.  Men could have caused her, through no fault of her own, to be in the predicament she was in.  Remember Abraham and Sarah?  Abraham did not divorce her for not producing a child (Sarah was quite old when she gave her handmaid to Abraham so that “she” might have a child); is was not until she was considered beyond the age of conceiving that Sarah became pregnant as God said she would, with Isaac.  Remember John the Baptist’s parents?  Zechariah was a priest, and his wife Elizabeth had been barren.  Zechariah did not divorce Elizabeth because she was barren; she was quite old when she gave birth to John.  Abraham and Zechariah (and Elizabeth, too!) are called “righteous” in the bible (Genesis 15:6; Luke 1:6).

So this woman, who came to the well outside of town, alone, is feeling what?  We can’t know for sure.  The fact that she came to this more distant water source (Bruce 106), in the middle of a hot day, seems to indicate that she was in shame and perhaps something of an outcast.  She must not have had a great outlook on life.   Probably childless, older now, living in shame . . .  And what happens?  The creator of the universe meets her there.  Did he need to do that to make her feel guilty?  No.  He came for something much better.  He came to lift her up.  If indeed her husbands had died and/or divorced her, Jesus came to bring her new life, removing the sadness and disgrace.  Did she repent of her sins there?  No (not outwardly, anyway) — she got happy.

If you read the story, you will see that Jesus said some things that could have made any Samaritan quite angry.  But she was starting to guess that he was the Messiah, not just a prophet, since Samaritans did not believe in any prophets accept the One to come after Moses.   She called him a prophet, but the only prophet possible was the Messiah.  So then, what truly remarkable thing did Jesus do?  He told HER that he indeed was the Messiah!  An “unclean” Samaritan woman; at this time, many Jewish men held both women and Samaritans in contempt.  Search the New Testament and you will find that Jesus told very few people who He really was.  What happens next?  She believes him, loses all her shame and goes and tells the whole town about Jesus!  No doubt it was her transformation, and her seeming sheer nerve, that so impressed the townspeople who they believed her.

Jesus is delightful.  He did not trudge all the way to Jacob’s well in order to condemn the woman for her sins, whatever they might have been, but to transform her.  Transformed she was, running to town and preaching to and teaching men.  Both Origen (died 254) and Theophylactus (died after 1071) considered her an apostle.  That other church leaders have not thought this, or acted upon their knowledge, has nothing to do with God’s view of women, but everything to do with men’s view of women.

Sources:  The Gospel & Epistles of John (FF Bruce); The Moody Handbook of Theology (Paul Enns); Believer’s Bible Commentary (W MacDonald); How Christianity Changed the World and Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology (Alvin J Schmidt).

Vicki Priest (c) 2012.