Empyrean Dialogues 8 – Temptations

In the Empyrean Moses and the Son discuss the transition to the public teaching career and some of the temptations which  might come up – both worldly and other-worldly.

MOSES:  Again, Sire, we know Father will announce his expressed approval of your incarnation in the presence of the Forerunner, but as to timing, he has not revealed whether this will come before or after your teaching mission, or during that mission.

THE SON:  Certainly it cannot come before I have proved my obedience to Father’s will in every aspect of the normal human walk with God.

MOSES:  Whenever it comes, the sign from Father is likely to present something of a crisis for you, Sire, from the perspective of your humanity.

THE SON:  So I understand.  The fullness of my human nature will be so complete that this sign will probably constitute my first real assurance of my divine pre-existence.

MOSES:  It’s going to be a lot to ‘take in’ in one afternoon.

THE SON:  Like I said, I hope to get away for awhile.

MOSES:  You will need both time and wisdom to decide whether to grasp or deny certain innate spiritual rights attached to your divine person.

THE SON:  Even with the dawning of my true self-awareness I doubt I will see the form of divinity as a thing to be grasped.  It should mean only a new phase of Father’s plan for the Incarnation.

MOSES:  The saints believe it will mean the beginning of the end, Sire.  Recognition of divinity will bring more problems than solutions.  Especially if there is resistance from the religious authorities.

THE SON:  We’re projecting a 1 to 3 year mission – probably no longer.

MOSES:  Right.  By the requirement of the No Thrones Rule you should always have in view some kind of fit termination of Father’s plan.

THE SON:  I expect to have this whole question of thrones thrust upon me soon after my recognition of divinity.

MOSES:  Sire, the issue of thrones will come up again and again.  Not only with your own self-recognition but every time somebody else recognizes your divinity – from the lowest demon to your closest follower.

THE SON:  But Moses, by that time, if anyone were to suggest that I go crashing kingdoms and playing messiah or prince, believe me I would get him behind me quickly.

MOSES:  I have no doubt that you will worship the Father eternally, and him only serve.

THE SON:  Even so.

MOSES:  There will also be immense pressure to satisfy human need by resort to your creative power.

THE SON:  Father has expressed a preference for No Bread and Circuses, but has not ruled out my discretionary use of powers.

MOSES:  if you get the people too miracle-minded, Sire, believe me you will lose control of the message in a hurry.  And miracles net you zero in the way of anybody’s saving faith anyway.

THE SON:  Right.  Well I wouldn’t think of it as far as a means of personal protection.

MOSES:  Good.  Don’t tempt the angels to get you out of a jam.  And no spectacles or crowd-pleasers.

THE SON:  It’s the ‘No Bread’ rule that’s going to be tough, Moses – tougher than Thrones, in my opinion.

MOSES:  Men do not live by bread alone, Sire.

THE SON:  Got it.  But I already feel compassion for the hungry and poor, and I’m not even one of them yet.

MOSES:  Look, Sire, if the people get a whiff of anything like mass feedings or the old ‘manna from heaven’ you are done, OK?  After that it’ll be earthly kingdoms all the way down.

THE SON:  You mean Father’s kingdom could be mistaken for a free bread program?

MOSES:  Oh verily, Sire.  And that is sure to pancake right back into Thrones.  You could get a popular groundswell to make you king, after which you won’t be able to show your face in Galilee without political harassment.

THE SON:  It really comes down to “No Circuses” then, doesn’t it?

MOSES:  Miracles and wonders are to be kept to a minimum, yes.  Solve that one and everything else should fall into place.

THE SON:  But Moses, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf..., it’s going to be hard to stay on point.

MOSES:  I can’t tell you what do do with your compassion, Sire.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – the Annunciation

Note:  the Empyrean Dialogues is a recent experiment of mine to see if I can manage a piece of didactic fiction which both entertains a little and presents interpretations of the Bible I believe to be worthy of reflection and discussion from the standpoint of incarnation and divine pre-existence.

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Empyrean Dialogues 7 – the First Sign

In the Empyrean Moses and the Son discuss possibilities surrounding the transition to Phase 2 of Father’s plan of salvation.

MOSES:  You have convinced me, Sire, that you can be a man in full and still live in obedience to Father’s ‘No dynasties’ rule – his prohibition of your leaving any progeny.

THE SON:  You say ‘his prohibition,’ Moses, but in fact my Father has left the ultimate decision, in this and in all matters, to my own free choice.

MOSES:  Oh yeah.  As if…

THE SON:  Nay, hear me out – for example the ‘No thrones’ rule.  Do you think I will not have power on Earth to take a throne if I willed it, and to have dominion over all the kingdoms of the world – and the glory of them too?

MOSES:  That’s a devil of a question, Sire.   But a Messianic kingdom after the second-temple ideal?  I just don’t see it.

THE SON:  I am only speaking of the sovereign power to make it so, Moses.

MOSES:  OK, if you want Israel’s acceptance badly enough you might be tempted in that regard.  But it is my understanding, Sire, that your sovereignty waits upon a day of Father’s own choosing.

THE SON:  Yes, he has appointed a day in which he will make known to me in full his satisfaction with my conduct of life in the flesh.

MOSES:  A day that’s on nobody’s calendars except his.  Some of the saints hold that this ‘day of sovereignty’ won’t come until you have been obedient unto death.

THE SON:  We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, Moses …

MOSES:  Well most of us, Sire, believe Father may reveal his first sign as early as the transition to Phase 2 of his plan – as a judgment of your successful completion of Phase 1.

THE SON:  It’s controversial, but the end of Phase 1 makes sense to me also, if Father truly esteems the early walk with God in any man’s life.

MOSES:  In any case Father has made it clear that at some point, in some manner, he will have it known in no uncertain terms that he is well-pleased with his Son.

THE SON:  I understand it won’t be generally broadcast.

MOSES:    If Father has to repeat himself, it won’t be for your benefit.  But it won’t be a complete secret.  He has indicated he wants the Forerunner present for it.

THE SON:  Yes, John will be witness to our fulfillment of all righteousness.

MOSES:  All righteousness in so far as that can be reasonably manifest in a man’s life.   But the full requirement of the Incarnation is not met until you have also died a man’s death.

THE SON:  To return to my original point, Moses.  Once I have this sign from Father, I can’t imagine I will not recognize therein a confirmation of my own divine identity.

MOSES:  I see where you’re going with this.

THE SON:  Self-conscious recognition of my divinity will entail both a realization of sovereign power and absolute freedom of action.

MOSES:  Sire, whether you attain command of 12 legions of angels early or late doesn’t change the need to do the divine kenosis right – especially if you have not yet been tested unto the shedding of blood.

THE SON:  Let’s keep this about the transition to Phase 2.

MOSES:  Right.  Before Phase 2 gets underway, you will have some monumental choices to make in regard to your conduct of affairs in the business of bringing Father’s message to Israel.  Especially if Father has already vouched for your identity.

THE SON:  I hope I can get away for a few weeks.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – Annunciation

Empyrean Dialogues 5 – God’s plan, Phase 1

In the Empyrean the early phase of the Incarnation is discussed in its deeper implications and Moses asks a question about the possibility of the Son marrying while in the flesh.

MOSES:  Father has not revealed his objectives for the Incarnation in terms of specific events, Sire, but we have received a general plan in three main phases:

(1) your early life and walk with Him,

(2) the public mission on His behalf to Israel, and

(3) the supreme objective: dispensation of His saving grace to the world.

THE SON:  That first piece remains to me the most mysterious and wonderful of the three.

MOSES:  That’s because you have no idea, Sire.  Trust me, the early walk is no walk in the park.

THE SON:  But you know that in your own case, Moses, our Father’s spirit walked the walk with you, and was also afflicted in all your afflictions.

MOSES:  Except I didn’t know it at the time, Sire. I was over 30 before I had a clue what God wanted for me.  And I had already killed a man by then.  It can get complicated.

THE SON:  It was not necessary for you to sin to know your need of God or his will for you; but that fugitive thing did play into Father’s hand pretty well.

MOSES:  It wasn’t until I was raised to the Empyrean (blessed be God) that I realized that a man could be tested in all things and yet remain without sin.

THE SON:  Human insight doesn’t easily grasp that message hidden in the Book of Job, that temptation alone – rightly encountered and defeated – renders the experience of actual sin unnecessary.

MOSES:  But even granted that your own victory, Sire, will require all of your efforts and most holy desires, it will not be possible without God’s help.

THE SON:  May it be his will.  My Father views the inner struggle with human nature in partnership with his spirit as a challenge worthy in full of his own Son.

MOSES:  I must say that all the saints know they have been honored beyond words in that one principle of the Incarnation.

THE SON:  I understand they even view my first 30 years as the centerpiece of my commission.

MOSES:  The commission to bear humanity’s imperfections, yes. Your handling of the day-to-day things, Sire, will be huge from the perspective of the saints.  They’ve been through it.

THE SON:  And I have not.  Am I not secure in the love of the saints, Moses?

MOSES:  Sire you know they love you.  But your lock on their heavenly hearts will be absolutely supreme if your sovereignty is proved at Nazareth – in the heroism of an obscure life of love and duty.  The stuff that makes for steady increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

THE SON:  That squares with Father’s view as well.  He has never referred to the early walk as a “pre-mission” period.

MOSES:  Same with my experience – however mixed.  All my changes were before my return to Egypt – it makes my role in the Exodus seem a little over-rated.

THE SON:  And to be honest, Mo, wasn’t it in Midian, after your marriage to Zipporah, that you found the right path and whom to seek, and how?

MOSES:  She’ll be pleased you remembered, Sire.  Which makes me wonder – you know Father has prohibited your leaving any progeny, and this would seem to rule out marriage and family – advantage or disadvantage?

THE SON:  In some ways a disadvantage, of course.  But Father’s “No thrones” rule clearly stipulates  “No dynasties.”

MOSES:  I saw that too.  Father has again shown his sublime wisdom in forestalling by this measure the chance of theocracy and hereditary priesthoods.  But I’m thinking, with the inevitable female attention – and with you only flesh and blood – how’s that going to work for you?

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 4 – the Mandate

Empyrean Dialogues 4 – The Mandate

While Moses briefs the Divine Son in the Empyrean prior to the Incarnation, the subject turns to the difficulties inherent in the Incarnation Mandate, and the possibility of rejection by Israel.

MOSES:  All the saints pray for Israel’s acceptance of your mission, Sire, but anyone can see Father’s mandate for your incarnation is bad news as far as priesthood and temple are concerned.

THE SON:  No question.  Father wants me to feature nothing less than the whole truth about his divine forgiveness.

MOSES:  So he’s clearly talking about a complete de-authorization of the temple system of atonement – both ritual and sacrifice.

THE SON:  You know yourself it wasn’t Father’s idea in the first place.

MOSES:  We had no temple – nor any of the current sacrifices – during the 40 years in the wilderness, Sire.

THE SON:  Right.  But what is left of the sacred record of such truths?

MOSES:  The Book of Amos, Sire.  End of Chapter 5.

THE SON:  Yeah great.  It’s going to be front-paged when I’m finished.

MOSES:  Don’t be too sure.  Sacrifice is an ancient meme.  What if they spin you as the new sacrifice?

THE SON:  Oh God.

MOSES:   I’m just sayin’.  Never mind.

THE SON:  We know it won’t be popular with the priests and scribes.

MOSES:  But the temple sacrifices are a lucrative business for some of the biggest names, Sire.  They can invoke the highest sanctions against you and could really hurt your overall numbers.

THE SON:  And it’s not just the temple, Mo.  Father wants a new Sabbath as well.

MOSES:  I saw that.  So the temple gets common cause with the synagogues against you.  Terrific.

THE SON:  A perfect storm.

MOSES:  But I understand why He’s upset about how that day of rest turned out – we set that day aside for the people in order to free them from man-made taboos, not to bind them.

THE SON:  Well He’s calling it all in.

MOSES:  Clearly.  This is the big one.  The saints are in awe of Father’s new dispensation. It looks like He’s preparing to shake both the highlands and the low places.

THE SON:  Even the very foundations of Jerusalem.  Nevertheless I’m getting one more chance to gather her under his wing.

MOSES:  Nice, except she believes she’s already there.

THE SON:  Yes, but I find this very real and present trust in God an irresistible quality in this people Israel.

MOSES:  It can’t be denied – even in the face of all their historic failures.

THE SON:  Their sublime trust in Father’s faithfulness has surpassed in power all human intellectual assent to beliefs about Him and His Anointed.

MOSES:  And always will.

THE SON:  In fact, the hope inspired by such trust is what forbids my knowing their final decision until they make it.

MOSES:  Sire, everybody here is thrilled by your sworn faithfulness and hopes you will be preaching forgiveness in the temple right down to the elders’ last possible moment of decision.

THE SON:  Count on it.

MOSES:  It’s just … You may never be able to convince them.  I know this people.

THE SON:  Nothing is impossible with God.

MOSES:  Maybe not, but I think Father is showing a lot of wisdom in featuring both an acceptance scenario and a rejection scenario.

THE SON:  The thing with that is either one of Father’s scenarios manifests His will for man in full.

MOSES:  Believe me, I think you’ll get a pretty good idea which one is in play before the end of your first year in public.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues:

1 – Annunciation

2 – Of Times and Seasons

3 – The Forerunner

Empyrean Dialogues 3 – The Forerunner

The meeting of Moses and the Son goes on in the Empyrean prior to the Incarnation.  Moses has expressed concern that the Forerunner may be adversely influenced by Jewish apocalyptic writing.

MOSES:  The saints are of course thrilled, Sire, that a native son of Israel will be harbinger of your mission.

THE SON:  The son of Zechariah will be the last of a great line.

MOSES:   His birth will precede yours by only months, and your minister has already contacted the parents.

THE SON:  I heard.  They’ll call him John – ‘God is gracious’.

MOSES:  Gracious indeed, to send one last prophet to the Jews in these latter days.

THE SON:  But the saints are concerned that John will be influenced too much by the Jewish end-timers?

MOSES:   Nobody’s kidding themselves, Sire.  As things currently stand, the forerunner is a cipher, an unknown factor.  Left to himself, we think he’ll come out fighting, and with so many answers blowing in the wind, there could be a down side to putting him out there ‘cold’ like this.

THE SON:  But I like the idea of contingencies.  And the contrasts.  You’re suggesting what – that he should be guided by special divine inspiration?

MOSES:   Think about it, Sire.  Many of your best people will probably come from among his followers.

THE SON:  So you’re saying John’s views – whatever they turn out to be – will be a major context for my own teaching in the minds of those who listened to John.

MOSES:  Seriously.

THE SON:  Nevertheless my mission needs an advance man, some grassroots, a native ‘bellwether.’

MOSES:  Some of the saints are saying ‘loose cannon.’

THE SON:   I don’t deny that we have a lot riding on him.

MOSES:   Maybe too much, Sire.  But I heard Father wants this.

THE SON:  Absolutely.  And no cue-cards – one last prophet of the old school, somebody alone with his doubt and his righteousness, and the still, small voice.  It’s in honor of the Promise.

MOSES:  But the parents, in their advanced age, already marvel at his conception.  And our minister’s visit has caused the old man to start fermenting his own ideas about God’s promise.

THE SON:  These things are in Father’s hands, really. 

MOSES:  And I’m not sure I understand the blood tie – a cousin in the flesh?  You know what that will look like in a more skeptical age?

THE SON:  There’s some backstory there that you should know.  First of all – what we already know – Father has made it clear there won’t be any earthly thrones for me – even if I am accepted by Israel.

MOSES:  Right, whether Israel goes with acceptance or rejection, you’ll be back with us when it’s over, ruling from the right hand of Power.

THE SON:  OK, but Moses, the thing is that Father’s acceptance scenario – if it comes into play – may yet feature a king in Israel.  If all goes well – think of it –  John himself could be that King, after I depart.

MOSES:  Sire, I am increasingly in awe of this acceptance scenario!  And Father’s right – your blood relations will be on their short list, if you can’t be king.  This is all very well.  But I’ve also seen the Mandate for your mission, and it’s not all sweetness and light – especially as far as the temple cult is concerned.

So how are you with Father’s plan as far as the rejection scenario goes?

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – Annunciation

Empyrean Dialogues 2 – Of Times and Seasons

Empyrean Dialogues – 2

Moses has greeted the Son in the divine Empyrean prior to the incarnation.  The prophet has suggested a review of future ‘possibilities’ – since the Father has not yet unequivocally revealed whether Israel shall accept or reject his Anointed.

The Son:  It’s just as you say, Moses – our Father’s counsel of mystery with regard to Israel’s reception of my mission extends even to myself.

Moses:  Many of the saints marvel, Sire, that you are no less ‘in the dark’ than the rest of us on this issue which seems so central to your success.

The Son:  I hope it will not offend the saints to learn that our ‘success’ is not dependent upon either acceptance or rejection by the Jews.

Moses:  Right.  On the other hand, many of us take the view that Father’s decision reflects material conditions perfectly.

The Son:  Well it would be disingenuous of me to offer peace to the world through Israel without my sincere hope of her acceptance of Father’s actual terms.

Moses:  Exactly.  In view of the ambiguity of Israel’s prophetic record regarding his Anointed, the feeling is that – depending on how they read it – the Jews could go either way.

The Son:  But these unfortunate ambiguities mean we can only hope that Israel will find and choose the thin but golden thread revealing Father’s true will.

Moses:  Don’t look at me, Sire.  You know I have not vouched for the clarity of their sacred history for over 400 years – not since the Priestly re-write during the exile.

The Son:  And it is not my intention to sort that problem out for them, Moses.  Father and I are going with the current textus receptus.

Moses:  So you must fearlessly feature the new over the top of the old, and desire their complete acceptance of your mission. 

The Son:  There you have both sides of the issue in a nutshell.

Moses:  It always comes down to human free will, doesn’t it Sire?

The Son:  That, and the authority of Scripture.    But I will not see my mission descend to acrimonious debate over the twin unfathomables of written history and editorial fictions.

Moses:  Verily.  I agree that literary criticism of their scriptures would be a fool’s game at this point.

The Son:  On that – and the rest – I am completely one with Father.

Moses:  How did I know? – – But speaking of unfathomables, Sire, things have been recently complicated by a kind of pre-millennial, futurist thing that has been ‘in the wind’ down there at least since Daniel.

The Son:  Actually since Malachi

Moses:  All those guys.  We’re seeing a lot of ‘end-time’ writers lately featuring rather violent scenarios about the Day of the Lord.

The Son:  There has been a certain amount of informed and disinformed anticipation of my coming.  It seems it couldn’t be helped.

Moses:  Well the more recent apocalypses have hooked up with certain miscues in the canonical texts to create a frothy boil in the minds of many of your people.

The Son:  We’ve seen it, and heard it in their prayers.

Moses:  I trust, Sire, that in holy prayer Father will steer your human mind clear of these vain eschatological desires.  But I worry that the Forerunner may not be spared from entertaining such thoughts.  Can we talk a little about that?

[to be continued]

Empyrean Dialogues – 1

Karl Barth saw Christmas the way I do (almost)

Found this from Karl Barth in a quote from a book entitled Christmas posted by blogger ajmoyse :

“The man who is God’s own Word, does not send forth His radiant light from afar, encountering the “darkness” of other men as a king, hero or sage; but the Light that “shines in the darkness” is an ordinary man and gives light to ordinary people. This is incomprehensible, and yet because of it revelation is real and the Christmas gospel is quite different from both the sweet sadness and the false optimism of mere reverie. The Word of God is where we ourselves are, not where we should perhaps like to be, on one of those heights to which by some luck and strong effort we might attain; He is where we really are, whether we are king or beggar, in our torn condition in which we who face death appear–in the “flesh” …

 (Karl Barth. “The Word Made Flesh,” In Christmas. Translated by Bernard Citron. [Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1959], pp. 12-13.)

I was gratified that so high an authority has understood the ‘Christmas’ side of divine Incarnation as I tried to articulate it in my last post.

More Barth:

“Therefore the Word can give power to real people in the world, to become the sons of God. Therefore real people can accept Him and believe in Him… He does not appear in the form of an angel nor of an ideal man (how can anyone who is not as real as we are, address us?) but as Paul writes, in “the form of a servant” ( Phil. II.7), so that we who ourselves exist in this form, are able to hear Him. He encounters the riddle of our “darkness” on its own ground.” (Ibid)

However, Professor Dr. Barth, in his usual way, cannot go very long before attempting to move his theology along purely by means of a rhetorical flourish – and I find my agreement mixed with disagreement.   By a very strange leap of thought Barth attempts to force Golgotha into the Nativity picture as if the two were inextricably joined:

“We can sum up these comments in this way: Revelation
remains revelation by which the veil of divine mystery is
rent. In other words, except we see the Cross of Golgatha,
we cannot hear the Gospel at the crib of Bethlehem.” (Ibid)

I reject this little tour-de-force (one which I hear all the time from evangelicals at Christmas time).  I do see the similarities between the humility of the nativity and the humility of the cross.  But this kind of similarity is only the stuff of good homiletics and cannot support valid theological inferences.

I think the ‘wish’ to see Golgotha at Bethlehem is  incompatible with a full acceptance of the pre-baptism life and the pre-Calvary Gospel of Jesus.   Barth obviously doesn’t agree.  So I’ve got some explaining to do (later).

The test of the Ten-thousand Days

What I like to see in the Christmas story is a divine lord who has donned our own messy and precarious humanity in the trauma of childbirth and family.  Here at the beginning he embarks upon the trial of a full humanity – what I am here calling the test of the ten-thousand days* – a test which he meets in full before his baptism at Jordan.

I think at Christmas Jesus invites us to celebrate with him and in him the obscure but vital humanity he enjoyed with mother and family and friends before he felt called to go out to meet the son of Zechariah.  Does it really matter that our scriptures are almost blank in its regard?  Do we really have no clue as to what an obscure childhood, youth and adulthood might look like?

If at Christmas we contemplate the fullness of Christ’s humanity, maybe we will find that this young lord accomplished, in the daily course of life while he was yet this side of Jordan, a work in which he did not leave our lives wholly unredeemed.

It is on this human side of the incarnation history that we may allow Jesus more fully to meet us as one who knows the potentiality of an obscure setting in life.  I think anyone who will let him live with them for any single part of a year or week or hour may see that he knows well the ins and outs from childhood to adulthood.  And it is neither smart nor even permissible to believe he was without sin if we do not accept his nearness to the temptations and inspirations of our quotidian struggles.  I say this Christmas give him a chance to show his power in the inevitable crises of an uncelebrated human life.

* 10,000 days equals 27 years, 19 weeks, and a day.  If we figure Jesus to be not facing any of the large or small frustrations of life without Mary’s constant assistance until at least age 3, the Ten-thousand day trial puts him on the banks of Jordan with John at “about his 30th year.”

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – Annunciation

The scene is the Empyrean just prior to the divine Son’s incarnation.  His servant Moses enters.

Son:  “I can see you have good news.”

Moses:  “Everything’s at the cusp, Sire.  Mary will hear your new name by announcement of our messenger as soon as she’s with child.  You’re to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

Son:  “Then call me Je’shua – ‘God is salvation.’”

Moses:  “The name, Sire, is supposed to help you remember it’s not about you.”

Son:  “We both know that a true Son of Man cannot forget God and neighbor.”

Moses:  “First order of business will be son of Mary and Joseph.”

Son:  “My immersion in the flesh.  Dear Moses, it’s a mystery even to me how I shall ever, in the fullness of my humanity, recall my divinity.”

Moses:  “Trust in God.  His will for you now is that you be made man.  And the child is always father to the man.  You have a nice family there, I’m sure eventually you will find him who sent you.  But you find him best by seeking him first with all your human mind and heart and strength, as the God of your fathers.”

Son:  “I know it must be first things first, if one day the last shall be first, and the first last.”

Moses:  “May those words come to mean more to them than directions for leaving synagogue after Sabbath service!”

Son:  “I so look forward to childhood, youth, and manhood – to know and suffer them as you did.”

Moses:  “Aye, in family and in tribe and temple, for duty and country.”

Son:  “Day in, and day out – until I find him who sent me.”

Moses:  “And remember how you shall seek him.”

Son:  “Neither here, nor there…”

Moses:  “Perfect.  And when he reveals himself within you, you will preach this inner reign of God so that all might hope that a saving measure of what is yours by divine nature may be theirs by divine grace.

Son:  “I’m solid, Mo.  And so is Father.  If I can learn to get some private prayer time down there we’ll be on the same page by the time the forerunner finishes his course.”

Moses:  “Well enough, Sire.  And since you mention your later career – you know Father hasn’t revealed to us whether your person and teaching will be accepted or rejected by the rulers in Israel.  I think we both see the wisdom of that, but it wouldn’t hurt to run down the possibilities one more time before you’re off …”

[to be continued]

Note:  the Empyrean Dialogues is a recent experiment of mine to see if I can manage a piece of didactic fiction which both entertains a little and presents interpretations of the Bible I believe to be worthy of reflection and discussion from the standpoint of incarnation and divine pre-existence.

History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – II

In this series I’m featuring an old argument by English theologian Lily Dougal that belief in the inerrancy of their canonical scriptures caused the Jewish apocalyptic schools from Daniel to John the Baptist to be dead wrong about the plan of God and his imminent action in Christ. (The Lord of Thought, 1922, p. 18ff).

Dougal sees the adverse influence of belief in inerrant scriptures to be threefold:  moral, intellectual, and spiritual.  My first post introduced the moral dilemma created by a principle which tends to equalize diverse texts of unequal moral value.  The apocalyptic writers beheld the God of blessings and woes who had been written into the scriptures by the Deuteronomist, and turned around and ‘predicted’ a very predictable day of blessings and woes for the whole world.  These would-be seers were unable to see the imminent revelation of a new truth – that God and the Christ of God were beings dominated by self-giving love for both saint and sinner.

The second part of Dougal’s argument moves from the moral to the intellectual realm and shows how the belief that the Jewish canonical scriptures were all-truth played its part in making a ruin of the efforts of these would-be prophets to correctly see and ‘call’ the Incarnation.

“The paradox created by contradictory statements, to all of which equal value must be assigned, creates mental confusion…  The sacred scripture taught God’s love, but its history of the past was self-contradictory; the laws laid down in it were not consistent with each other” (p.18,19)

The idea is that the principle of inerrancy does not enhance but disqualifies and disables a believer’s god-given power of discrimination between fact and fiction, truth and error, good and evil.  It disallows the right of faith to go out on a limb with a teaching that might change everything.  Instead it magnifies the need to pay lip service to infallibility with energetic rationalizations and harmonies of the discrepancies and contradictions which inevitably arise among texts originating at different times in the history of Israel.

The eschatological schools might have benefited from an insightful cherry-picking of superior texts but were prevented by that fatal corollary to inerrancy which disallows intelligent eclecticism.   And so they completely missed the singular truth that the coming kingdom was opposed to the majority viewpoint of the canon.

“Reason never quails before the realization that knowledge is inadequate, that there is more to know about the object of research than is, or apparently can be, known.  It is only before contradiction that reason quails, and thus has always quailed and been unable to accept the God of an ancient and final revelation.”  (p.39)

Great verb, ‘quail’ – perfect for depicting stunned inaction, human reason gone to hiding in the bush.  In my third post I will say more about the flight from reason which so often belittles the religious mind unnecessarily, putting it in thrall to its own idols of infallibility.

Time and eternity

“The human capacity to enter into the eternal, in a limited degree, is what characterizes our religious life and our participation in spiritual reality.  It is the sin qua non of theological insight and conceptualization. …However, the very necessity for interpenetration of divine and human minds places an unavoidable limitation upon revelation in the classical sense, precisely because of the limited capacity of the human mind to transcend its temporal conditions.”  – G. D. Yarnold, The Moving Image, 1966, pp. 201-2

Time and eternity have been my chief objects of philosophical concern recently, a spin-off from recent reading of Kant and Plato on the subjects.  On that same line of thinking I watched the Stephen Hawking documentary film “History of Time” last night

But does anybody else think it seemed a very arbitrary thing when Dr. Hawking rejected his early view that time must have a beginning?  Too easily, I think, he retreats from the necessity of postulating an origin of time in what is clearly an expanding universe.  What will a theoretical physicist not do to prevent the embarrassing impotency of mathematics at singularity?  Plato might have told him that mathematical truth is not nullified simply because it cannot generate a universe out of a theoretical singularity.  It is eternally true that 2+2=4, for example, even if the poor scientist can only use this truth to unpack motions prevailing after the beginning of time.  And there are still greater truths, which also show their independence of time.

“The prophetic figures of the OT provide the most notable instances of the human mind being drawn into an understanding of things divine. … What is vitally important from the point of view of revelation, however, is the bridging of the gap between the eternal and the temporal by the entering into history of One who, while being fully human, comes to the rescue of the limited human capacity for transcending temporality.”  – Yarnold, p.202-3

“At three crises of the national and religious life three voices came to guide it.  Before Samaria fell in 722BC, Hosea came to gather up the life of the past and preserve what was of eternal remembrance in the thought and deed of Israel.  Before the collapse of Judah in 586BC, Jeremiah handed on to a people now without a state the truths by which their souls might still live.  Finally, before the Temple disappeared in 70AD, a greater than both conserved for the world through his living church the enduring things which could not die.”  – Adam C. Welch, “Jeremiah,” The Abingdon Bible Commentary, 1928, p.677.

Lux Mundi (1889)

“… Many plausible attacks upon the Christian creed are due to the inadequate methods of its professed interpreters. Fragments of doctrine, torn from their context and deprived of their due proportions, are brandished in the eyes of men by well-meaning but ignorant apologists as containing the sum total of the Christian faith, with the lamentable consequence that even earnest seekers after truth, and much more its unearnest and merely factious adversaries, mislead themselves and others into thinking Christianity discredited, when in reality they have all along been only criticizing its caricature. The general tendency of thought since the Reformation has been in the direction of these partial presentations of Christianity.” 

“The Incarnation in Relation to Development,” by the Rev. J. R. Illingworth,  in Lux Mundi:  A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation, Charles Gore, ed.; London, 1889

I couldn’t say it better myself, but this was written over 120 years ago!

Lux Mundi is an early document of what might be called “Liberal Orthodoxy,” a cross-denominational movement within Christianity which combined a strong defense of the doctrine of  the Incarnation with a very learned criticism of the unbending doctrines of evangelicals and establishment conservatives, whose views these writers judged were contributing most to the rejection of Christianity by the modern world.

“The Reformers, from various causes, were so occupied with what is now called Soteriology, or the scheme of salvation, that they paid but scant attention to the other aspects of the Gospel. And the consequence was that a whole side of the great Christian tradition, and one on which many of its greatest thinkers had lavished the labors of a lifetime, was allowed almost unconsciously to lapse into comparative oblivion; and the religion of the Incarnation was narrowed into the religion of the Atonement.  Men’s views of the faith dwindled and became subjective and self-regarding, while the gulf was daily widened between things sacred and things secular.  Such men need reminding that Christianity is greater than its isolated interpreters or misinterpreters in any age …”

Even though published under the editorship of the Bishop of Worcester, Lux Mundi was roundly attacked by evangelicals and high church conservatives.  Yet it was revised and reprinted 16 times in less than six years, and continued to be reprinted into the twentieth century.